NYC struggle over racist subway ads

New York — When the far-right blogger Pamela Geller collaborated with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in September to run a series of racist, anti-Islam ads in the New York subways, the reaction on the part of New York’s progressive community was instant.

Virtually all of the ads Geller paid the MTA to run were defaced within days. Add that to the protesters who invaded the MTA board meeting that month to confront Geller and take a stand against racism, and it’s clear that her ad campaign got the treatment it deserved.

Now, Geller is back with a new round of ads. Different words — same disgusting, pro-war, anti-Islam message.

This time, the MTA has helped her by placing more of the ads higher up, alongside clocks that hang from the ceilings in the underground subway system. Geller claims they will be too high to be defaced.

We’ll see. What is also a question is whether activists will be able to expose the MTA’s role in all of this. The board members played martyr in September, claiming that a court order forced them to run the ads. “Our hands are tied,” they said.

Nonsense. With SWAT teams that patrol the subway with submachine guns, attack dogs, and racist-profiling backpack checks, the MTA long ago became a willing accomplice in the bogus war on terror.

It was no accident that Geller’s ads ran in September, when the United Nations was in session, at the height of the media’s hysterical anti-Ahmadinejad campaign.

The MTA’s sorry attempt to cast its war propaganda as a free speech issue is transparently hypocritical: it still hasn’t run ads paid for in September by the International Action Center. These ads say, “Resist Another War: No to Racism & Anti-Muslim Bigotry, Tool of 1% Rule. We — the 99% — Need Unity & Solidarity!”

Exposing the MTA’s role is more than just anti-war sentiment. It opens up the potential for more allies in the struggle for contract justice for the transit system workers and the fight against the yearly transit hikes.

It also avoids simply giving Pamela Geller the kind of media soapbox she relishes. When people come out to protest, she uses it as a chance to get more air time for her bigoted pro-war line.

That’s harder to do if the movement’s target is the MTA.

The 99% use and run the subway system. It belongs to the people. Yet riders are forced to accept higher and higher fares, and now have to be accosted by racism when they take the subway. And the transit workers — who heroically revived the subway system after Hurricane Sandy — are being asked by the MTA to accept no raises for three years.

The MTA has gotten the media to report that riders are resigned to being treated like ATM machines, with fares automatically going up every several months, as though that’s the fault of the workers. But the outrage against the racism being promoted in the subways shows how thoroughly what should be a public service has been taken over by the 1%.

The basis for classwide unity to take back public transportation is growing. It’s time for the movement to take advantage of it.