Rabble Rousers

They fought Robert Moses, the real estate industry and five mayors to create the first Community Land Trust in New York City
by
Year Released
2022
Film Length(s)
83 mins
Closed captioning available
Remote video URL

Introduction

A trailblazing housing organizer and her diverse working class neighbors fight Robert Moses, the real estate industry and five mayors to create the first Community Land Trust in New York City - an oasis of permanent low-income housing in the heart of the rapidly gentrifying Lower East Side.

Featured review

Rabble Rousers is not just a beautiful portrait of a leader and a movement, but a how-to guide for insurgent planners seeking to imagine a better future and organize to make it a reality. If this film doesn't inspire you to take action for the future of your city, check your pulse.

Samuel Stein
Author of Capital City: Gentrification and the Real Estate State

Synopsis

In 1959 New York City announced a “slum clearance plan” by Robert Moses that would displace 2,400 working class and immigrant families, and dozens of businesses, from the Cooper Square section of Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Guided by the belief that urban renewal should benefit - not displace - residents, a working mother named Frances Goldin and her neighbors formed the Cooper Square Committee (CSC) and launched a campaign to save the neighborhood. Over five decades they fought politicians, developers, white flight, government abandonment, blight, violence, arson, drugs, and gentrification - cyclical forces that have destroyed so many working class neighborhoods across the US. Through tenacious organizing and hundreds of community meetings, they not only held their ground but also developed a vision of community control. Fifty three years later, they established the state’s first community land trust - a diverse, permanently affordable neighborhood in the heart of the “real estate capital of the world.”

Produced and Directed by Ryan Joseph, Kathryn Barnier and Kelly Anderson.

Reviews

Rabble Rousers will become an essential part of undergraduate and graduate coursework in American urban history, New York City history, urban policy and politics, and social movements. This riveting film gets directly to what it is -- and what always has been -- at stake in public conversations about urban redevelopment.

Laura Wolf-Powers
Author of University City: History, Race & Community in the Era of the Innovation District & Associate Professor of Urban Policy and Planning, Hunter College (CUNY)
Rabble Rousers is at once a history of New York's Lower East Side through the eyes of tenant organizers, and a how-to guide to beating the rich and powerful at their own game. And Frances Goldin is an utterly unforgettable heroine. It's a joy to watch, and will make you want to go out and raise hell.

Sarah Jaffe
Author of Work Won't Love You Back & Necessary Trouble

Director Commentary

RABBLE ROUSERS began 12 years ago in an experimental class that brought together Hunter College graduate students in documentary film and urban planning. Ryan Joseph, one of the film’s directors, met Frances Goldin in her Lower East Side walkup apartment as he and his class partner, Dave Powell, were searching for a documentary subject.

Fran was 85 at the time, with dyed purple hair, a sharp-tongued wit and a radiant no-nonsense energy. A literary agent, Fran represented an impressive roster of radical writers including Mumia Abu-Jamal, Barbara Kingsolver and Adrienne Rich. But what struck Ryan and Dave most was Fran’s fierce commitment to the Cooper Square neighborhood where she lived – an involvement that had led her and a group of creative and committed activists on a 50-year journey to create the first Community Land Trust in New York City.

Fran died in 2020 at the age of 95. In the years before her death, the filmmaking team evolved. Ryan and Dave decided that the subject matter warranted a feature documentary, and brought in Editor Kathryn Barnier who eventually became a third producer and director on the film. Kelly Anderson joined in 2014 to help raise funds and clear archival materials. Along the way, in a case of life imitating art, Dave was hired by Cooper Square as their Director and had to leave the project.

The three of us worked together from 2014 to get the film finished. It was a labor of love we stuck with because we believed Fran’s legacy needed to be preserved and broadly disseminated. Cooper Square is a rare, replicable success story in a sea of stories about “lost neighborhoods” where gentrification and displacement were not prevented. It is an inspiration to communities and people fighting for equity at a time when the world needs concrete stories of community power and models of successful organizing.

Today, there are dozens of community land trusts in formation in New York City, and thousands all over the world. Cooper Square was the first urban land trust of its size, and its story should be seen widely. Rabble Rousers also documents a small space of old New York that will never be gentrified, a gem that exists because of 50 years of struggle by a committed group of residents whose story is inspirational and still relevant.

Features and Languages

Film Features

  • Closed Captioning
  • Subtitles

Film/Audio Languages

  • English

Subtitle/Caption Languages

  • English

Promotional Material

Promotional Stills

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