For the purposes of this research, I have chosen to approach FTP as a case study to examine the intersections of police abolition and the fight for free, accessible transit in New York City as one cohesive struggle. Between November 2019 and June 2020, there were four FTP actions in total. For the purposes of this case study, I will only be examining the first three as they specifically targeted Governor Cuomo’s $17 billion crack down on fare evasion, while the fourth action took place as part of the Uprisings of 2020. The events of FTP exist within a contemporary framework, and there has been no academic research conducted on the role of these protests within abolitionist or urbanist organizing. For this reason, I have collected most of my data from primary sources such as newspaper articles, blogs, city databases, and materials distributed by the FTP formation. Additionally, the role of interviews with participating organizers have played a significant role in shaping the trajectory of this case study. Interviews with Marz Saffore and Conor Reed of Decolonize This Place (DTP), have been key contributors to this research.
It is critical to analyze the social and political contexts, both within New York City and within the United States at large, that created grounds for the FTP protests to occur. Social and political movements have long been relevant to the formation of change within the urban landscape, from the Student Nonviolent Committee (SNCC) organizing lunch counter sit-ins in the 1960s, to ACT UP protests in the 1980s, to the 1980s and 1990s protests that evoked the passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990. While many may regard the eras of the 1960s through the 1980s as times of pivotal social change and political upheaval, movements in the mid to late 2000s into the 2010s have also played a key role in laying the groundwork for FTP as well as the Uprisings of 2020. Within New York City, the mid to late 2000s and 2010s saw a rise in political action, particularly within the Occupy Wall Street movement and the inception of Black Lives Matter. These social and political movements provided a solid foundation on which FTP’s organization, ideology, and strategic direct action were built upon. FTP’s contingency on decentralized direct action tactics, the targeting of major institutions, and reliance upon models of mutual aid and political education can all be traced back to the aforementioned movements, and were all essential tools within the formation (ACT UP NY, Reed Interview on February 22, 2021, Decolonize This Place, 2020, Ephemeral New York, 2016, Saffore Interview on January 30, 2021).
While I will later explore the significance of FTP’s categorization as a formation rather than a coalition, it is important to note that FTP was distinct in its culmination of community organizing, activist, and affinity groups from across New York City. As such, FTP brought together varied but intersectional struggles, unifying under a single common denominator. While tens of groups participated in the organization and facilitation of the formation in a decentralized manner, much of the media coverage that the actions received accredited DTP as the sole leader of the movement. This accreditation occurred for a variety of reasons, including DTP’s prominent online presence and reputation through previous actions and events that they had facilitated. Though FTP had no singular leader, I have chosen to focus on DTP’s participation as their previous work in targeting cultural institutions throughout New York City provides significant grounds on which to examine FTP’s targeting of the MTA (Reed Interview on February 22, 2021, Saffore Interview on January 30, 2021). Before exploring FTP as a case study, it is first paramount to address the trajectory of policing tactics as they have unfolded within New York City, particularly from the 1980s until present day. It is additionally important that I address the conditions of the MTA as a piece of crumbling infrastructure within a backdrop of increasingly invasive policing and surveillance tactics. I will now turn to an analysis of the conditions of both policing and the MTA, as they informed both Governor Cuomo actions, and the subsequent FTP formation.