Film Club: ‘Takeover’ – The New York Times

Dorothy S. Bass


[CINEMA REEL CLICKING] “We all thought that we were going to a party. But there was something weird, because there’s no music.” “I had my suspicions something’s up. But what was up, I didn’t know.” “We had to figure out how we would be able to do this secretly, because we didn’t want the police to know about it.” “And finally —” “Yo, check it out.” “Listen up.” “— the leadership announces why everybody came.” “— paired up in groups of two.” “We’re going to take over Lincoln Hospital in the morning.” “No phone calls.” [MUSIC PLAYING] “To try to get everyone energized and prepared, we had the poet Pedro Pietri perform ‘Puerto Rican Obituary.’” “They worked 10 days a week and were only paid for five. They worked, they worked, they worked, and they died. Juan, Miguel, Olga, Manuel all died dreaming about America, all died dreaming, hating, and waiting. Dead Puerto Ricans who never knew they were Puerto Ricans. Juan, Miguel, Olga, Manuel, from the nervous breakdown streets where the mice live like millionaires and the people do not live at all.” [MUSIC PLAYING] “There was a giant-ass rented U-Haul truck.” “The adrenaline is pumping because we know we’re going to go do something really big. We could all be killed, and we could all be shot up, beaten up.” [MUSIC PLAYING] “In the early 1960s, you had a huge influx of Puerto Rican migrants to the United States. I was born in East Harlem, and I grew up in South Bronx in a Puerto Rican community. People played stickball in the summers and snowball fights in the winters.” [MUSIC PLAYING] “But the Puerto Ricans, even though they were U.S. citizens, were not considered Americans. They were considered foreigners.” “You had white store owners. You had a white landlords, along with white police. White gangs — Jewish and Italian — at random attacked Puerto Ricans and sometimes families that were walking together. We knew when to go home.” “We were the sons and daughters of this huge displacement of poor people. We had seen their suffering and the discrimination. And we also lived it as the next generation.” “Puerto Ricans not only migrate into the United States. They migrated into the civil rights movement.” “My senior year in college, Martin Luther King was assassinated.” “There were riots in 125 cities in the week after Martin Luther King was killed. Not one, not two — 125 cities in the United States had riots.” “Who was dying in the Vietnam War? Who was going hungry? You can’t trust the government. They’re going to kill you.” “National movements in this country begin to rise in a way that had never happened. You couldn’t be living during that period of time and not be impacted by the Black Panther Party.” “The primary objective of the Panther Party is to establish revolutionary political power for Black people. We want freedom, the power to determine the destiny of our own community.” “Even though I was born in Puerto Rico, most of us were born here, and we weren’t going to take the kind of abuse that they were heaping on our parents. We were going to insist on respect.” “I was approached by Mickey Melendez. He had grown up in East Harlem, and he played baseball with my two cousins. So gradually, we started meeting, just trying to figure out what we could do to improve the situation of the Puerto Rican community.” “One of the things that we do all the time was read The Black Panther paper. And there was this announcement of the Puerto Rican organization. And it was called the Young Lords.” “We met with the leaders of the Young Lords of Chicago, Jose “Cha Cha” Jimenez. And he gave us the go-ahead to start the East Coast wing of the Young Lords.” [VOCALIZING] “The Young Lords didn’t drop from the sky one day and all of this happened. We were part of a continuum of history, of a legacy that had gone before us.” “For that revolution that’s within the United States, we see ourselves hooking up with Black people, with Native Americans, with Asians, with other Latinos to form a united front as oppressed people to wage against the real enemy.” “I started out as a cadre in the Young Lords in 1969. I became deputy minister of education. I was co-founder of the Women’s Caucus.” “I was the first chairman of the Young Lord’s party. We are ideological in that we believe in the principles of socialism and that we believe in cooperative effort and that we believe in unified struggle.” “It’s all about pride. It’s all about community. It’s all about being together. I was one of the co-founders of the Young Lords organization in New York City.” “Now there’s a real movement in the sense of people committed to social change.” “We were convinced the revolution was coming any moment.” “I had various positions in the Young Lords — deputy minister of education and health, and I was minister of defense.” “I was 14 years old when I joined the Young Lords. It was not unusual for people that young to join a revolutionary organization. I became part of the Defense Ministry.” [SINGING] “When you joined to be a full Young Lord, you left home. You quit your job. If your family didn’t — if you had a spouse or whatever that didn’t want to be a part of it, you left them. So when we said you’re a Young Lord 25 hours a day, we meant it.” “I became the first woman on the Central Committee of the Young Lords. We were coming from a place of love and of respect. But we also didn’t take any [expletive].” [MUSIC PLAYING] “Within 10 minutes, we barricaded ourselves inside of the hospital. People were already assigned what floors to go and what exits to cover.” [MUSIC PLAYING] “We’re not here to hurt you, so don’t resist us. You know, that’s the only way that you’re not going to get hurt. If you resist us, you may get hurt.” [MUSIC PLAYING] “We had people with baseball bats and with nunchucks because we had to impress upon the New York City police department that if you came in, there was going to be blood.” [EMERGENCY SIRENS] “I was a third-year resident at Lincoln in July of 1970. I was on call, maybe went to sleep at 2 or 3 in the morning. And I heard this commotion outside. Wasn’t sure what it was.” “My job was to go into the administrators’ office and ask that the administrators to leave. We have been asking for these changes to take place here in the South Bronx at Lincoln Hospital for over a year. And you’ve paid no attention to us, and you’ve called the cops on us, so now we’re putting you out. We’ve taken over the hospital. We’re going to run it. You’re out. I’ll walk you to your car. [MUSIC PLAYING] “We made it clear that there was a new administration. And to accentuate who we were, we put a Puerto Rican flag, a giant Puerto Rican flag, outside of the hospital.” “We had a sign that said, “Lincoln Hospital, the People’s Hospital.’” “I went to the window and looked outside. And I turned around to my friend Fitz, and I said, ‘Wake up. The revolution is here.’” [MUSIC PLAYING] “I was administrative assistant to John Lindsay. I got the phone call from the mayor. And he said, ‘The Young Lords have taken over Lincoln Hospital. They have hostages. The chief of police is holding back, waiting for you.’ This is really off the charts and had to be solved immediately. This is a place where people are going for emergency treatment. Ambulances are coming in and going out. People are being admitted. Operations have to go forward. And that could cause a life.” “We got dressed immediately, and we went downstairs to see what was happening. It was kind of overwhelming.” [EMERGENCY SIRENS] “The South Bronx was one of the poorest congressional districts in the United States. Every health indicator was high. And for the Young Lords, health was always a priority.” [MUSIC PLAYING] “One of the things that we just developed in our community is a high incidence of tuberculosis. And we began to see it as an epidemic.” “The way the TB testing works, the Young Lords would go out every Saturday. A couple of days later, you had to go check. So if it was positive, then you needed to get an X-ray to confirm whether or not you actually had TB. So of course, we didn’t have an X-ray machine.” “The city had this huge TB truck, an X-ray mobile TB truck.” “But where they assigned the TB testing truck to go was an affluent area, where probably no one had TB.” “What we then decided to do was we were going to take over the truck. So the truck parks … We took over the truck. We put the two technicians in the back of the truck. I was in the cabin of the truck. Now mind you, the technicians, they initially were very scared. I mean, this was a takeover. They were being kidnapped, basically, for all practical purposes. Once we got to the place and they saw the number of people lined up, they just stayed there all day. They gave great statements to the press. The technician said that they had never X-rayed as many people as they had that day.” “By nightfall, people stopped coming. The police came and took the truck. But we’d already made the point that there was a tuberculosis problem the city was not addressing.” [MUSIC PLAYING] “We had established a certain level of fame and respect in the community.” “We also learned that doing actions on a Sunday could get news.” “I was covering the movements for social change, the civil rights movement in the ’60s, and along came the Young Lords. They were so smart about being packaged in such a way to be seductive for the camera. The Young Lords looked around and found an issue that had to touch the hearts of anybody whose heart was not frozen. And that was the terrible quality of medical care inside the barrio.” [MUSIC PLAYING] “And so these media-hip kids came up with a plan to occupy institutions to get attention.” [MUSIC PLAYING] “The next occupation that was really interesting was in the Bronx, Lincoln Hospital.” [MUSIC PLAYING] [CHEERING] “But why Lincoln Hospital?” “What we want this rally for is to express our desire to have community worker control of Lincoln Hospital, a hospital that for some time has been condemned — 15 years, to be exact. Paint is chipping from the emergency room. Our uncles, our grandmothers, our mothers have died in that hospital. And nobody has pushed malpractice suits. Not the politicians who we’ve elected, nor the officials that’s supposed to speak for the Puerto Rican people.” “It was one of the dirtiest hospitals I’ve ever set foot in.” “If you walked in the emergency room, you would see bloodstains on the walls, you’d see bloodstains on the floors.” “You know the cart that they bring around that has, like, the little cups with the pills in when they’re dispensing medications to the patients? There’d be roaches in the cups.” “You’d go in for a kidney transplant or surgery on your right kidney and end up with having your left kidney removed. People would leave surgical instruments inside of the patients. The infant mortality rate was unbelievable.” “That is a fact. The infant mortality rate in the barrio is three times that of the national average. That is a fact. When you have to see a mother die in childbirth, you then understand. God, what are we doing in this country? Why is it that she has to die?” “Lincoln Hospital is a butcher shop, and we go there and get butchered. No. Political? We live political. The toilet paper we buy is political.” “Not only is there print journalism and television but also the police. This was an invasion of city property. It was quite a threat. And of course, it’s illegal. So it got hot, as you would say.” “The police came with everything they had. It was unreal.” “We had a press conference announcing that we have taken over the hospital, that we had demands.” “Community worker control of the hospital, higher wage for the workers at the hospital, preventative health programs.” “A very important demand was the provision of child care. Day care is key to the involvement of women.” “And we announced that we were not leaving until the city made a firm commitment to build a new hospital.” “Some of the nurses and other hospital staff were very anxious. And some were immediately embracing the Young Lords. They weren’t Young Lords themselves, as far as I know. But they were embracing their platform. So that created a lot of tension.” “Then we worked it, fully based there, and I guess it was Gonzalez —” “Sid Davidoff and Barry Gottehrer, Lindsay’s top negotiators, tell us, ‘Are you guys out of your mind? Do you know you just took over a city institution?’ And Barry Gottehrer went off on the side —” “OK, look. This is real simple. This is not going to be be resolved by you — by us building a hospital today.” “There are nearly a million Puerto Ricans in New York today. Among the chief beneficiaries of the Puerto Rican migration are the city’s hospitals.” “Before the takeover of Lincoln Hospital, we started aligning ourselves with hospital workers.” “Many of the workers, they were also patients because they lived in that same community.” “And now it’s the Health Revolutionary Unity Movement, HRUM.” “HRUM was a group that was started by Black and Puerto Rican hospital workers.” “I got a position as a community mental health worker at Lincoln Hospital in 1967. I was, like, a nice kid, but I was very strong politically. And everyone knew what my views were. I was the co-chair of the Health Revolutionary Unity Movement.” “Other hospitals in the northern Bronx and other communities do have their new buildings. Lincoln Hospital’s still not getting what we need. I mean, we have 360,000 people in the South Bronx. And Lincoln Hospital cannot serve those people. Lincoln Hospital must belong to us.” “I happen to be not only involved in HRUM. I kind of quit my job at Lincoln Hospital. And I became a member of the Young Lords Party.” “Here’s where Mickey, shown, Cleo Silvers, shown, because they had already established a relationship with the revolutionary doctors in there —” “This was not something that just jumped off. This was over a long period of time, of study, of work in the community, of going into the administrators’ offices, of demonstrations. We did everything before the takeover. We had no tethers holding us back. The conditions are so bad, how can we not do it?” “Negotiations between the Young Lords and the hospital’s administration are still underway. And more and more hospital workers are being attracted to the Young Lords’ program for hospital service improvement.” “Is your emergency room service adequate?” “Absolutely not. It could not possibly be adequate in the physical plant that we have at Lincoln Hospital. We desperately need a new physical plant.” “And Sid Davidoff said, ‘It’s already being worked on.’ And I slammed my hand, said, ‘It’s not being worked on! That’s why we’re here! You guys taking your time. This is not politics as usual, man. We’re doing this because we need to do it.’” “I went to the pediatric ward and spent the day there giving care. I don’t have any recollection that the Young Lords interfered with any of the medical activities. You recognize that sometimes to make radical or significant change, you have to do something dramatic.” “Yoruba, what’s happened?” “What’s happened now is that while we were negotiating and while we were trying to reach some kind of a settlement, the first thing that we had come up with was that we would be clear and we would be free to negotiate as long as they move the pigs back. They said they were going to move the pigs back. And while they were saying this, they tried to sneak a pig in to yank one of the Lords out, to yank one of our brothers out. As this was going down, we then had to tell them, look, we know where you at. This is a breach of good faith, and we can’t deal anymore. I’m going to have to leave now, because they’re trying to mobilize now and I have to go deal.” [MUSIC PLAYING] “We say, ‘Look, this is real simple. If we don’t resolve this with you right now, the next thing that’s coming is the guys with the guns. You don’t want the guys with the guns coming in here.’” “The police hated the Young Lords. And they’d love the opportunity to get us all in one place.” “Because the Young Lords had seen the killing of Fred Hampton, the leader of the Chicago Black Panthers by police officers, they had reason to be afraid.” “We were terrified that they were going to come in there and they were going to beat us into pulp and no one was going to help us.” “And then the deputy mayor finally said, ‘Look, the police want to come in here. We’re trying to keep them out. We cannot announce that we’re going to build a new Lincoln Hospital. But I give you my word that if you leave, we’ll build a hospital. We’ll build a new hospital.’” “I don’t like people to be too optimistic —” “We were skeptical. Never once did we put down our guard and begin to trust them.” “So we have to make a decision at that point. Well, do we stay in here and force the mayor’s hand and have the police come in? Or do we figure out a way to declare a victory and leave?” “The cops began to mobilize.” “And someone came up with the great idea of getting us scrub coats and stethoscopes. The police surrounded the hospital, but there was one exit that they had not covered.” [MUSIC PLAYING] “It was the hour where the workers and patients were also going home. So we blended in with the patients and the hospital staff that was leaving the building.” “We walked out in between the police cars, which had lined up around the hospital. So, yes, just walked by like nothing’s happening, but you’re scared to death.” [MUSIC PLAYING] “And when they got in, there was no one — there was no one left.” [MUSIC PLAYING] “By the end of the day, the world knew that Young Lords took over Lincoln Hospital.” [MUSIC PLAYING] “My mantra was ‘Maximum damage, minimum loss of life.’” “We were willing to put our lives on the line to demand quality health care. But you don’t always win.” “Even if all the changes demanded by the Young Lords are made, there still won’t be enough money and enough space and enough staff to meet the needs of this poverty- stricken community.” “So here’s a young woman, 31 years old, mother of two kids. Prior, she had been hospitalized for her heart condition.” “Carmen Rodriguez was from the South Bronx. She was pregnant. And in addition to her pregnancy, she had rheumatic heart disease. Her doctors recommended abortion because of her rheumatic heart disease. And that was in her charts. But the doctors did not have Carmen’s medical record. And they went ahead and did a saline abortion. Well, that was not the right decision to make if you knew she had rheumatic heart disease, because saline would put significant stress on the heart.” “She went into a coma. She never woke up. So, of course, the community was enraged because the chart was there but he didn’t bother to read it.” “This was something that should not have happened. And it was very — I mean, I have to take a deep breath when I say it was very tragic. I mean, the whole hospital was — and this was within days of the takeover.” [CHANTING] “Now is the time for us to say we’re not going to sit by and allow more Carmen Rodriguez abortion deaths there. We have to begin to stand up for the people, the Puerto Rican people, and say, ‘That’s enough. That’s enough.’” “We said it’s genocide against third world people, Black and Puerto Rican people. And that’s why we’re charging the city with murder.” “The death of Carmen Rodriguez and the takeover made the city build a new hospital in South Bronx.” “Had we not organized that occupation, they would never have done it. They would have just continued to make promises and not build the new Lincoln Hospital.” “The other thing that was significant after the Carmen Rodriguez death was the drafting of the Patient Bill of Rights.” “To be treated with dignity — that was the first demand, to treat people with dignity and respect when they come into the hospital for care. We have a Patient’s Bill of Rights that’s found in every hospital room in the United States, which has been significantly watered down compared to the original Patient’s Bill of Rights.” “These are the ones that were watered out. Door-to-door preventative medicine programs, to choose the doctor you want to have, to have free day care centers in all hospital facilities, to receive free health care.” “One of the fundamental things that we believe was that health care was a right and not a privilege. Forty-five years later, I think people are beginning to kind of understand that.” “The people who were most impacted and affected by the conditions of capitalism should have a say in the policies and the procedures. Community control is really at the heart of our work. And everybody played a role.” “We wanted a revolutionary change to the health system in this country, and we still do. There may not be a Young Lords right now, or they may not be a Black Panther Party, but guess what. A lot of us are not dead, and we’re communicating this to a young generation that’s going to carry that struggle forward.” “Health care was never a consideration for poor people. It’s something that we fought for — poor people fought for — throughout U.S. history.” “Health care is a bigger issue today than it was back then. The issue hasn’t changed.” “Fundamentally, I am a revolutionary. And I believe in dressing nice. I believe in vacations. And you know, I believe in taking care of your children and buying houses. Revolution has nothing to do with that. Revolution is a desire to change the class, caste and race system of the United States of America. That’s what it’s about. And here we are, 50 years later, talking about the Young Lords. What it says is that a good act can never be erased. A revolutionary act cannot be erased.” “They captured the heart of the people to be moved to the streets. And change doesn’t happen if you don’t have people on the streets.” [MUSIC: HURRAY FOR THE RIFF RAFF, “PA’LANTE”] “(SINGING) From el barrio to Arecibo, pa’lante! From Marble Hill to the ghost of Emmett Till, pa’lante! To Juan, Miguel, Milagros, Manuel, pa’lante! To all who came before, we say, pa’lante! To my mother and my father, I say, pa’lante! To Julia and Sylvia, pa’lante! To all who had to hide, I say, pa’lante! To all who lost their pride, I say, pa’lante! To all had to survive, I say, pa’lante! To my brothers and my sisters, I say, pa’lante! Pa’lante! Pa’lante! To all who came before, we say, pa’lante!” [MUSIC PLAYING]


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