The Park Slope Food Coop Israeli Boycott Meeting

Yes, we tweeted snarky things. Yes, Samantha Bee mocked us all on “The Daily Show,” and allowed three eccentric coop members to create satire simply by being themselves.
But I came away from the vote last night feeling renewed affection for the Coop. I was impressed by the level of debate, intelligence of the speakers, surprisingly low heckle quotient, and the organizational know-how that made the proceedings go off with only a few technical glitches. I came away feeling like the Coop is a utopia within the dystopia of Park Slope. I grew up in middle-income housing in the midst of Brooklyn Heights. Our building was nothing like our ZIP code. I feel the same way about the Coop. It’s nothing like 11215. It’s the only place in my neighborhood where I see very different people bonding, connecting, disagreeing, getting into it, engaging with each other.
It is this engagement that is wholly lacking on the sidewalks of PS. People gossip behind each other’s backs, snicker about ill-behaving dogs/children/spouses, even sound off on message boards, but are afraid to say what they really think to the person or people who pissed them off in the first place. Park Slope is getting too much like Sweden. The Coop is more like . . . Tel Aviv.
I took the B41 to the event and crossed Lafayette around a quarter to seven to find the line snaking its way from South Elliott Place (where Brooklyn Tech is) down Lafayette to the corner of Fort Greene Place. I couldn’t believe so many people had made time to come and vote on whether to vote.
I inspected the faces, trying to guess where people stood on the issue. This was not an easy task. The suited, bearded sixtysomething man in a suit in front of me had a Brooklyn accent and reminded me of my dad but said he was in favor of a boycott. I assumed that the banged, thick-accented Argentine girl smoking cigarettes next to me was anti-boycott until she said she would vote no, but was excited to come to the meeting because she loves the democratic process. “In my country,” she said, “people just riot.”
As I snaked down Lafayette to South Elliott Place, I thought of the old Fort Greene. One of my childhood friends grew up in Fort Greene pre-gentrification. Her family’s brownstone, across the street from Brooklyn Tech, now houses Jhumpa Lahiri, who bought it for a few million in 2005. My friend’s parents paid about $30,000 in the seventies. For a great article on the diversity of South Elliott Place, the block, check this out by awesome writer Stacy Abramson. The fact that Fort Greene is no longer the old Fort Greene is a part of the story, as is the fact that Park Slope is no longer the old Park Slope.
The media spin on PSFC/BDS was that the new Park Slope (New Slope) doesn’t care about a potential Israeli boycott because New Slope (white banker/lawyer parents with kids) shops at the Coop for foodie-ish, not political reasons. It’s a funny hook but it’s facile.
And it was not borne out by what I saw in line. I saw a lot of white yuppies my age. There was also museum curators; international grad students; my buddy Ricardo Cortes, the illustrator of Go th F*** to Sleep; old-school Slopers and their kids, now raising their own kids in the Slope; cute twentysomething gay girls reading The Hunger Games when bored; hipster thirtysomething Israelis looking distressed; a freelance Orthodox Jew named Matt Hue; local rabbi of Garfield Temple Andy Bachman; and the usual roundup of bloggers and tweeters like Brian Braiker, Irin Carmon of Salon, and Reuters’ Chadwick Matlin. There were a few black-hats but not nearly as many as I expected.
If the vote when the way it went due to the black-hat contingent, I hope those families are honestly reporting the number of people over 18 in their homes so that they are not scamming the Coop of work shifts. I see a lot of Lubavitcher women working, not too many men. Just sayin’.
Was the meeting a cartoon of eccentricity? Of course. People who want to stand up and have their say are stronger personalities. There were dreadlocked white people. And stand-up acts (the woman who urged us to fight for our right to party appeared to be dressed as a fake Hasid, an ill-conceived comedy act), yellers (the African American man and thirty-year Coop member who reminded us this process was as painful as an enema), and a self-identified black lesbian who said it’s political every time she walks into the Coop. This got twinkles. There were also impassioned Jewish-American women who support BDS and feel human rights abuses in Israel go against Jewish values. And some hateful people. An older BDS supporter stood up and made her case by spitting the names “Bloomberg” and “Lander” with a venom that shocked me. I remembered that I had trained this woman how to use the checkout machine.
There was also a wacky white-haired hippie in a Hawaiian shirt who actually had a good idea: a straight up-or-down vote on a boycott. The idea was not voted on and Mr. Albert Solomon was asked to leave the stage.
I expected the vote to be no and it was. It was about 60-40, closer than I had expected. The BDS movement is gaining momentum. In another five years if BDS comes up for a vote again at the Coop, it will probably pass. The movement will not go away and it got huge media attention based on this event, certainly one of its goals.
I love the people that came to the meeting last night, even those whose politics disgust me. But there were 14,000 people who stayed home or worked. As my neighborhood gets more and more affluent, we are going to start to see people joining the Coop for reasons that have nothing to do with the principles of its founding. It will become more like Whole Foods. (Even though we will soon get our own Whole Foods in Gowanus.) Maybe the plastic bag ban will be reversed. I have many peers who send their children to public school for political reasons even though they could afford private school. To them it’s a statement. It’s like choosing to drink tap water instead of bottled. There will be people who join the Coop with a similar line of thinking. It makes them feel good in the kind of vague, noble way that sending a check to WNYC does.
I hope that these people get politicized when they walk in, and I hope all the bat-shit-crazy people on both sides of the issue keep coming to PSFC even as more coops pop up in neighborhoods where a lot of batshit-crazy people live. The Slope needs to be more like the Coop but I hope the Coop never gets too much like the Slope.

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