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  • Writer's pictureR.L. Brody

A Place for Solidarity in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn

The Indypendent

By Elia Gran & John Tarleton

Election campaigns are ephemeral by nature.

Months of leafleting, door-to-door canvassing, phone banking, speechifying, debates, controversies real and manufactured culminate on Election Day. Then, the candidate either triumphs and advances into public office, or is vanquished and returns to private life. The singular sense of purpose and community that a strong grassroots campaign provides vanishes overnight. Poof. Gone.

Last Wednesday evening saw a change in that familiar script as veterans of Ross Barkan’s recent unsuccessful campaign for a South Brooklyn state senate seat threw a “grand opening” party to celebrate the transformation of their former storefront campaign headquarters into a community event space. Located at 307 82nd Street in Bay Ridge, Solidarity Space is a nascent hub of activism and arts in a traditionally conservative corner of Brooklyn that is rapidly taking on a more progressive hue. In 2017 Palestinian socialist Khader El-Yateem narrowly lost a race for a Bay Ridge City Council seat. This year Barkan garnered 42 percent of the Democratic primary vote running on a platform of Medicare-for-All, free public college and the abolition of Immigration and Customs Enforcement against a more cautious opponent favored by the Democratic Party machine.

Recent years have seen a flourishing of new left-wing social movement centers in New York City including The People’s Forum in Hell’s Kitchen, The Brooklyn Commons in Boerum Hill and May Day Space, Starr Bar and The Base in Bushwick.

With Barkan returning to his previous career as a political journalist, Solidarity Space is being run by a team of volunteers who are working to keep the space going while paying $2,000 per month for rent and utilities. With hopes running high at the grand opening, we invited attendees to share their thoughts on the new space and what they hope they can accomplish with it.

— John Tarleton

Daniel Hetteix Co-producer of the Radio Free Bay Ridge podcast Lifelong Bay Ridge resident | 32-years-old

What does Radio Free Bay Ridge expect to accomplish here?

We’re hoping to encourage people to do citizen journalism, to look at their own community with a critical lens, and to get people to learn how to tell their own stories in an audio format. We want to figure out how to make those stories have wider play within the neighborhood in order to counter what is usually a very conservative, right-leaning media narrative for South Brooklyn. There are a lot of progressives here who don’t get their stories out.

Why is this space unique?

This is actually an ideal space for StoryCorps kind of things — getting oral histories. Right now Radio Free Bay Ridge operates out of my guest bedroom. This would be a nice, larger space to have like five to seven people in and hold panel discussions as well as having a kind of neutral space for people to come in and do long oral history projects. It would be great to be able to rent this out and just have people come in for an hour to tell their entire life story, whether it’s seniors or people who have just grown up going to school in the district.

Most activist groups either have to meet at church spaces, local wine bars or restaurants. Even the Bay Ridge Democrats meet in a diner to hold their numbers. Something like this is right off the street and accessible including wheelchair accessible. Activist groups can come and meet and organize in a dedicated space that they have the keys to.

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