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book, 328 pages, 28 x 21.6 cm | Soft Skull Press, New York 1999

Seth Tobocman: War in the Neighborhood, 1999, book

Experience the ‘war at home’ up close and personal from the front lines throughout a decade of struggle against police brutality and gentrification on Manhattan’s Lower East Side as told through dynamic black and white imagery. Tobocman squatted on Manhattan’s Lower East Side and participated in and recorded grassroots efforts to take over abandoned tenements in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. Along with a ragtag neighborhood collection of working-class blacks, Puerto Ricans and whites, as well as artists and homeless people from all backgrounds, Tobocman broke into abandoned, crumbing tenements in hopes of securing affordable housing. As the neighborhood gentrified in the late 1980s, the squats became the center of a housing movement that eventually collapsed under the weight of its diverse membership and from the unrelenting opposition of real estate developers, the police and the city government.

War In The Neighborhood offers a creative and highly subjective documentation of those years. Although names have been changed and fantasized elements have been added, Tobocman revisits the violent battles with the police, the local characters who organized and rehabbed the squats and the slow disintegration of the movement, and the complex infighting among the squatters, who not only were fighting city hall but confronting poverty, paranoia, drug addiction, and class conflicts within their own membership. The combination of the stark black-and-white woodcut-style of his drawings and the passion and the brutal honesty of Tobocman’s live narration will produce an amazingly compelling story of urban housing policy that appeals to audiences no matter their politics.