If you're on Facebook, you know about the new "reactions," a set of emojis you can choose to react to a post. Instead of just "like," you can now express: Love, Haha, Wow, Sad, and Angry. You can probably guess that this is all about collecting emotional data for the purpose of advertising. But it also provides data to the individual user about how readers are reacting to their posts.
And that confirmed something I've long suspected about the emotional state of New Yorkers--at least the ones who follow Vanishing New York.
Last week, we experienced a number of losses in the city, especially in the East Village. Trash & Vaudeville left St. Mark's Place. St. Mark's Bookshop shuttered for good. The Stage restaurant announced it would not reopen. I posted the news on my Facebook page and people reacted. While the majority still used the old "like" button, many others opted for an emoji.
How do people feel about these closures? Most feel sad. And not enough feel angry.
Reacting to the news of The Stage vanishing, 22 people chose Angry while 43 chose Sad. For the closing of 69 Bayard in Chinatown, 15 were angry while 26 were sad. For Trash & Vaudeville, 80 were angry and 148 were sad. For each post, it seems that twice as many people choose sad instead of angry.
And that's not good.
While sadness is certainly a natural reaction to loss, the emotion often comes with resignation and hopelessness. It can collapse on itself, coupling with a sense of futility, and may lead to apathy. Sadness does not move anyone to take action. Sadness curls into a ball. Or it sits on the couch, clicks buttons, eats snacks, and says, "What's the point?"
Anger, on the other hand, is energizing. It helps people to move, to fight, to stand up and say "No!" Anger can lead to action and creativity. Anger can lead to positive change.
While I understand the despair and its attendant feelings of powerlessness--I feel it, too--this city needs angry people. But every time I post news of a closure, I watch the Sad faces multiply twice as fast as the Angry faces.
I suspect that you feel more sad than angry because you think that all these losses are inevitable, part of the natural cycle of normal urban change. Listen: These losses are not inevitable and they are not natural. They are the direct result of decades of public policy. And policy can be changed--but only angry people can change them.
We can act up against the homogenization of our city. We can act up against hyper-gentrification. We can act up against rising rents and evictions. It is not futile. We are not powerless. But you're going to have to get angry. You're going to have to muster something better than a sad face.
Go to #SaveNYC and Take Action. Send a letter. Start a group. Organize an event, a protest, a rally. Make public art. Even simpler: Just talk about what's happening in a different way.
This is important. Stop saying "it's sad." Stop saying "New York is always changing." I'm sick of hearing that one. While there is of course truth in that statement, it is being used to disempower you and distract you from the truth. While we're on the topic, you are not "just being nostalgic." You are watching a city die. It is a global pandemic. It is real. And it has been engineered by the people in power. Doesn't that piss you off?
We have to change the discourse around this or we will not have a city tomorrow. At the very least, shift your emotions. An emotional shift can take us in a different direction. Get angry. Then tell your friends and families and coworkers that you're angry. Tell them that these changes are not natural. Tell them you're not just being nostalgic. And tell them what can be done to save the city.
Let New York see your angry face. It's now or never.