NYC Radical History Tour

NYC Radical History Tour, New York, New York (A)

As the former industrial center of the United States and its current financial capital, New York is one of America's center of struggles for economic, political, social and sexual rights. Spanning just over a hundred years, this tour uncovers struggles for dignity that aren’t always visible in the hustle and bustle of the city that never sleeps.
How it works: The full article is featured in the app "GPSmyCity: Walks in 1K+ Cities" on Apple App Store and Google Play Store. Download the app to your mobile device to read the article offline and create a self-guided walking tour to visit the sights featured in this article. The app's navigation functions guide you from one sight to the next. The app works offline, so no data plan is needed when traveling abroad.

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Sights Featured in This Article

Guide Name: NYC Radical History Tour
Guide Location: USA » New York
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Article (A))
# of Attractions: 16
Tour Duration: 5.0 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 12.4 Km or 7.7 Miles
Author: Ariel Sheen
Author Bio: Ariel Sheen is a writer, historian and political scientist who loves to travel.
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Zuccotti Park
  • 23 Wall Street
  • Bluestockings Bookstore
  • CBGBs
  • Yippie Museum
  • KGB Bar
  • 77 St Marks Pl
  • Emma Goldman's Former House
  • Ferrer Modern School
  • Warren Weaver Hall
  • Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire
  • Tamiment Library
  • Stonewall Inn
  • Revolutionary Communist Party Bookstore
  • 23 5th Avenue
  • Thompkins Square Park
Zuccotti Park

1) Zuccotti Park

Occupy Wall Street was conceived in the pages of the post-left journal Adbusters and those aligned with it’s decentralized methods for achieving it’s general goals soon started camping out in 1 Liberty Plaza, an address ripe with symbolic meaning but of practical insignificance. Starting September 17, 2011, they attempted to draw attention to the financial inequalities and governmental shortcomings of America.

While the movement was able to get a lot of press for it’s initial, carnivalesque actions, their ideology made it impossible to sustain viable growth or support from pre-established economic justice organization, as evidenced by their occupation of one of Manhattan’s smaller parks and the critical distance which followed an initial rush of positive sentiments.

Regardless of this, their slogan of “We Are the 99%” and their anarchistic practices of consensus have now entered into popular discourse in a manner it wasn’t before.
Image Courtesy of Jagz Mario.
23 Wall Street

2) 23 Wall Street

On September 16th, 1920 a horse drawn carriage carrying 100 pounds of dynamite and 500 pounds of small pieces of metal parked at this corner, which was then the busiest intersection in the Financial District. The explosion and shrapnel killed thirty-eight people, injured 143 and superficial building damage. The marks on the outside walls from where the shrapnel hit the building are still visible.

While no final culprit was ever apprehended, it’s widely believed that the people who did this were follwers for Edward Galleano, an Italian anarchist that advocated propaganda-by-the-deed in the form of bombings and assassinations.
Image Courtesy of NortonJuster7722.
Bluestockings Bookstore

3) Bluestockings Bookstore

The term “bluestockings” used by the bookstore is a historical one that refers to 18th century educated intellectuals. A combination bookstore and radical community space that defines itself as being in opposition to all forms of hierarchic oppression, here you will be able to purchase queer histories and read them while drinking fair-trade coffee and noshing on vegan baked goods. Check their website before visiting to see if there are any speaking engagements or special events.

4) CBGBs

While its name and grungey veneer have been swept away by the current owner, fashion purveyor John Varvatos, the inside has been preserved and flyers for past concerts held there has been preserved as their wall paper. In the late 70’s and early 80’s, CBGB’s was one of the meeting points for the counter-cultural punk and hardcore movement and it’s influence is still visible based on the number of shirts still sold which has it’s now world-famous logo.

Despite having a relatively insightful anti-establishment criticisms of capitalist and bourgeois values and institutions, the practical side of the punk’s beliefs was usually limited to socializing at music performances, non-traditional forms of dress and hair styling as well as drug and alcohol abuse. Their DIY, or “Do-it-yourself”, ethic appealed to those wary of the emerging technocratic society and consumer society by encouraging people to live simply and make goods rather than purchase them.

Ironically enough, and much to the disdain of those that once attended such shows, gentrification has turned the area surrounding the former CBGB’s into a fashionable commercial zone.
Image Courtesy of Sbazzone.
Yippie Museum

5) Yippie Museum

In the turbulent era of the late 1960s, the New Left emerged from those unhappy with the prevailing direction of government affairs but were unwilling to engage with socialist party politics. While the movement had a large number of tendencies and organizations, they were grouped together as they made many of their appeals to the masses by seeking liberate libidinal impulses.

One of the groups, The Yippies, embraced political theatrics to such a degree that their movement garnished a large amount of media attention even though they were a nominally small group. Thus though they have achieved little, their political inheritance is still strongly felt today. Prominent Yippies included Allen Ginsberg, Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman.

Before the Yippies took over this building it was a cigar box label factory and then a warehouse. Now it is a café, performance and community space and museum for all things Yippie related.

6) KGB Bar

Before the time when unions spent the majority of their dues money on political candidates, they spent them on bars offering beer and entertainment with prices lower than for-profit businesses so as to encourage their members to socialize and thus create a culture of solidarity.

KGB Bar is one such bar that originally served Ukrainian Socialists and has the distinction of not having its inside redecorated to serve the taste of the moment. Thus as you enter you get to see it almost exactly as the 19th century Socialists who once frequented it did, with dim lighting and double doors to allow for safe meeting during the various Red Scares that sent people to prison for the political beliefs.

Now the bar attracts different literary types on different days of the week. According to New York Magazine, KGB Bar is the best literary venue in the city and while you won’t be able to connect with comrades, you will still be able to get a good beer.
77 St Marks Pl

7) 77 St Marks Pl

Leon Trotsky was a Marxist revolutionary that helped established the first socialist state in Russia. Prior to his role in the revolution, however, he lived in various countries on the run from the Russian autocracy. In 1916, immediately before the Russian revolution, he worked at the Russian language socialist press in this building Novy Mir, New World, while living in the Bronx.

Leon’s writings about his time in New York indicate that though he lived there for only a short while – his character was amenable to that of the typical cosmopolitan New Yorker. In his autobiography he describes New York as the “city of prose and fantasy, of capitalist automatism, its streets a triumph of cubism, its moral philosophy that of the dollar. New York impressed me tremendously because, more than any other city in the world, it is the fullest expression of our modern age”.

A meeting held at this building to raise money for Leon and his family’s ticket to Russia following the February revolution would later be used by Stalinists as libel that he was in the pocket of foreign governments.
Emma Goldman's Former House

8) Emma Goldman's Former House

Emma Goldman was so renowned in her time as an anarchist and woman’s rights advocates that she, along with Mary Harris, were considered “the most dangerous woman in America”. Goldman has been featured in numerous historical novels and movies since she first stood up on the soapbox to decry the deaths of the Haymarket martyrs and explained acts of political assassination as endemic to an oppressive political system rather than originating from mentally imbalanced people.

When not traveling the country for free speech fights or lecturing on a variety of self-taught topics, she lived in New York as an orator, writer and nurse until she was deported to Russia during the Palmer Raids.

A plaque outside the building indicates that the famed anarchist writer and activist once lived here.
Ferrer Modern School

9) Ferrer Modern School

Currently Amsterdam Billiards and Bar, this building once housed one of the first “modern” schools outside of Spain. Formed along the standards put forth by anarchist educator Francisco Ferrer, the schools sought to educate children apart from the prevailing religious and political orthodoxies through emphasis on social history and personal autonomy in education.

Shortly after the initial success of this school liberal, libertarian and socialist intellectuals founded more modern schools in other major cities, however this school was special as it counted Will Durrant, Jack London, Voltairine de Cleyre and Upton Sinclair as those that would visit and teach the children.
Warren Weaver Hall

10) Warren Weaver Hall

In May, 1970 over 200 concerned students occupied this building in protest against atomic energy and America’s continued involvement in the Vietnam War. Once inside, the students threatened to destroy a 3.5 million dollar computer used to do nuclear calculations unless they were given one hundred thousand dollars that were to be used as bail money for the Panther 21 trial then going on. The money was never given out, the computer was never destroyed and instead the students involved all faced disciplinary hearings by the state and university institutions. The spirit of student resistance to the university systems unwavering support of government and alienating policies is manifested is still visible in publications such as NYU’s Disorientation Guide and the occasional building occupations that still occur, most recently down the street at the Kimmel Center.
Image Courtesy of NYU Student.
Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire

11) Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire

The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire occurred on March 25, 1911 and was the deadliest industrial disaster in the history of New York City. It resulted in the fourth highest loss of life from an industrial accident in U.S. history, causing the deaths of 146 garment workers who died from burns, smoke inhalation, or falling to their deaths trying to escape the building. The story was particularly significant as most of the victims were recent Jewish and Italian immigrant women aged sixteen to twenty-three and because the managers had locked the doors to the stairwells and exits.

The fire led to legislation requiring improved factory safety standards and helped spur the growth of the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union, which fought for better working conditions for sweatshop workers.

The factory was located in the Asch Building, now known as the Brown Building, which has since been designated a National Historic and a New York City landmark. Annual commemorations are held outside the building by unions such as the SIEU.
Image Courtesy of Dmadeo.
Tamiment Library

12) Tamiment Library

A center for scholarly research on labor history and radical political movements, the Tamiment Library is on the 10th floor of NYU’s Bobst library and has one of the largest collections of original radical American publications in the United States. They hold occasional symposiums and lectures by eminent guest speakers in order to spread the knowledge of American radical and labor history.

At a time when it was likely that their papers would be destroyed in raids, the library received reams of original documents from the Communist Party. Bobst Library has recently made the press for several student suicides that occurred there, which has since led NYU to install glass walls to prevent such occurrences. Visitors are able to see the collection by getting a free pass at the information desk, but access to sensitive materials is restricted.
Stonewall Inn

13) Stonewall Inn

One cannot give a holistic account of the gay-rights movement in America without including the Stonewall Riots of 1969. The Stonewall Inn was one of the few places in New York City that people of marginalized sexual orientation didn’t face discrimination or harassment by owners. Following a police raid on the establishment to arrest men that were dressed as women, those that had been released for dressing within appropriate outfits stayed in the area, leading to a confrontation between the police that soon escalated into a riot that night and the next day. The discussions after the conflict led to the formation of several Gay Rights activists groups.

The building maintains is still a gay club and holds weekly events listed on their website.
Image Courtesy of Gryffindor.
Revolutionary Communist Party Bookstore

14) Revolutionary Communist Party Bookstore

Despite never having a large political base in New York, or anywhere else, the headquarters of the Revolutionary Communist Party is here. Like The Weather Underground, it’s membership emerged from the Students for a Democratic Society group with the belief that the non-violent movement was insufficient and that greater assistance was needed for working people’s struggles. Following the 9/11 attacks in New York and Washington, the RCP gained national prominence for one of it’s front groups “Not In Our Name,” which sought to organize against retaliatory attacks.

All of the literature produced by the Party’s founder Bob Avakian is available here, as is a large collection of Marxist literature. The headquarters has weekly events to help raise the proletarian class- consciousness such as poetry readings and lectures.
23 5th Avenue

15) 23 5th Avenue

This is the former residence of Mabel Dodge, a wealthy patron of the arts who transformed her apartment into a salon that was a center of New York bohemian culture in the second decade of the twentieth century. Individuals such as Emma Goldman, "Big Bill" Haywood, Walter Lippman and her eventual lover John Reed frequented her place to discuss the politics and culture of the day. Though her influence on these politically oriented people was not of any significance as her concern was primarily with aesthetics, through her money and creating of temporary communities, she helped the literary culture of the radicals.
Thompkins Square Park

16) Thompkins Square Park

One of the largest parks in Lower Manhattan, Thompkins Square Park has been the sites of several riots stemming from class issues. In 1874, following the start of a depression that would last several years, workers attempting to organize government to enact protective measures coalesced here following the call of the newly formed Committee of Safety, a group with clear alignments to the French Communards and their Committee of Public Safety. The demonstrators were crushed by an orgy of unabashed police violence.

A similar, though much smaller situation occurred again in 1988, when an attempt to clear out undesirable elements was met with resistance by community advocates. Currently, the park holds the annual Howl Festival, named after Allen Ginsburg’s poem, as well as a weekly Food Not Bombs.
Image Courtesy of David Shankbone.

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