Fans For Fair Play
Challenging Bruce Ratner’s Brooklyn Atlantic Yards project

Monday, May 31, 2004

Memorial Day 

Since everyone else -- media, citizens and the dead -- have pretty much covered the stated purpose of Memorial Day, I'll take a different tack.

Memories of old Brooklyn.

In other words, the syrupy, sepia-tinted nostalgia that the Gang of Five -- Bruce Ratner, Marty Markowitz, Chuck Schumer, Mike Bloomberg and George Pataki -- exploit in order to sell you and me on their Brooklyn Nets initiative.

The Brooklyn of their mythmaking conjurs a panaceaic tableau -- black, white, immigrant, citizen, rich man, poor woman, white collar, blue collar, politician, voter, trolly rider and trolly dodger. Listening to this Gang of Five, you can hear the trains screeching over Coney Island, the caliope music wafting through the summer air, cotton candy, Philips candy apples, Nathan's hot dogs, the best egg-creams on the planet, and everywhere, on everyone's lips, the fortunes of the Dodgers eminating from Ebbets Field, bringing heart, soul and a community's sense-of-purpose to every man, woman and child in the Borough of Churches.

That was the Brooklyn of Then. Not the Brooklyn of Now.

Quite frankly, a lot of people who wax nostalgic about Dodger-Days Brooklyn left around the same time as the Dodgers did. They didn't leap across the nation, just out to Nassau and Suffolk Counties, maybe Jersey or up to Westchester, Putnam or Orange Counties. They didn't like the new complexion of Brooklyn. Moreover, they didn't like the new feel of Brooklyn...even though they, their parents or grandparents brought similar changes when they arrived.

During the first half of the 20th century, when the Dodgers were mostly a laughingstock baseball franchise, immigrants felt incredible pressure to assimilate to U.S. culture. That meant embracing the country's traditions, and for most that meant embracing baseball. In New York City one could choose from three teams.

In Brooklyn, there was no choice at all.

These days, the country is more diverse -- more cultures and more nationalities, but also more choices for how newcomers assimilate. Plus, there's less pressure to fully assimilate. That's a good thing, because the phrase "melting pot" was never the right idea for the U.S. of A. It meant tossing everyone's ancestry and tradition into a boiling, xenophobic cauldron. The "melting pot"'s harsh result was a gray, formless, tasteless blob instead of a rich, colorful, vibrant tapestry.

Here in the new millenium, the tapestry's grown vibrant again. It's more honest and more self-confident. That means that Brooklyn has come a long way from the days when the Dodgers symbolized, for some, the borough's hopes and dreams.

It means Brooklyn can be the greatest place in the world without having a major league sports franchise shoved down our throats. It'd be nice to have one, but Brooklyn doesn't need one. The Brooklyn Nets aren't the glue Brooklyn needs to stick together.

Brooklyn, at this point, doesn't need any glue to stick together. We have the West Indies Day parade, dog festivals in Williamsburg, the carrying of the Giglio in Greenpoint, the Mermaid Parade at Coney Island, Gay Pride in Park Slope, and events every day that celebrate each of the tapestry's communities and neighborhoods.

Sports-wise we have pickup soccer and cricket matches in Prospect Park, basketball games throughout the borough, and even a minor league team -- albeit the next-to-lowest level of skill in professional baseball -- just off the Coney boardwalk.

Bringing a major league franchise to Brooklyn has to be the borough's decision, not the Gang of Five's. It's been suggested that building a soccer stadium and relocating the New York/New Jersey MetroStars to Brooklyn is more responsive to the needs and wishes of today's Brooklyn population.

However it plays out, the Brooklyn of our days needs to be the Brooklyn of our days, not a redux of a proud and historic Brooklyn of a half-century ago. Future Memorial Days should be spent telling new stories, spinning new yarns, and dreaming new dreams.

If there is to be a new major league franchise belonging to Brooklynites of the future, it cannot be the property of Brooklynites who abandoned our borough those many years ago.

Every time the Gang of Five tries to sell us their sepia-tinted bill of goods, they insult today's Brooklynites by insisting that the only valid hopes and dreams eminate from the musty glories of yesteryear.

We have Today, thank you. Today must be the choice of millions, not the grim, bitter machinations of those stuck in a fading-to-darkness past.

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