Whitey Flagg is aiming to “occupy” the attention of New York’s largest borough.
The 40-year-old Jackson Heights resident, who participated in Occupy Wall Street during the movement’s first month and was arrested while marching on the Brooklyn Bridge, is hoping to bring principles promoted at Zuccotti Park to Queens.
“After spending so much time there, I realized that the future of the movement was going to be when the general assembly started moving into people’s communities,” said Flagg, the founding member of Occupy Queens. “I decided my time was better spent helping start something here in Queens.”
To initiate the Occupy Queens movement, a general assembly was held on November 11 at the Jewish Center of Jackson Heights, located at 37-06 77th Street. More than 150 people attended the assembly to voice their concerns and opinions regarding the major issues facing the borough.
“I came here because I think that we need to get together and organize for jobs,” said Molly Charboneau, a resident of Sunnyside. “The unemployment rate is too high and we’ve lost too many jobs. In Queens in particular, we have had so many closings and layoffs. We need to band together and fight this. I hope this will put regular people in touch with one another because we are the ones that really have the power. It’s the everyday people who have to organize together and fight back.”
Among the topics discussed at the meeting were housing foreclosures in Queens, prejudice against immigrants, the lack of open spaces in Jackson Heights and public transportation issues in the borough.
During the assembly, a teacher addressed the failures of the public school system.
“I’m tired of seeing our kids falling through the cracks,” he said. “I have kids who can barely read the words ‘the’ and ‘that.’”
In order to facilitate widespread change, the movement organizes working groups, which each tackle specific issues. Any person can start a working group to address a subject they deem important.
The next general assembly will be held on November 18 at the Jewish Center of Jackson Heights. Flagg is hoping the movement will spread across Queens and adopt the personalities of each of the borough’s unique communities.
“This is really about the frame of mind that people should be involved in their democracy again,” he said. “Every general assembly will be different, and people are supposed to alter it for their community. It is not about any particular topics. It is about what each community is interested in and what each community wants to change about their environment. I hope people get involved, start to realize that their voices do matter, and if they come together, they can make a change. We want to facilitate change.