100 Most Powerless New Yorkers

A 'power list' for the rest of us

39. Parents of children in "co-locating schools"

When charter schools move into a school building, they can bring exciting choices for the families (as the Voice profiled in a February 2011 story, "Class Struggle," about the Bronx Success Academy 2). But when a charter moves into a building, it also cannibalizes space and resources. For the other school in the building, this can be terrifying, and it often leaves the students, teachers, and parents—who deal with rough circumstances in the first place—feeling powerless as they lose resources and real estate.

40. The Occupy Wall Street crust punks

43. Stuytown residents
Caleb Ferguson
43. Stuytown residents
35. Citibank customers
Caleb Ferguson
35. Citibank customers


When Zuccotti Park was taken over by Occupy Wall Street protesters, the "crust punks" were pariahs from the beginning. Everyone including Fox News, the NYPD, and even some of the more "serious" OWS politicos, who found the crusties were weighing them down, derided them. One of the best tweets we read after the Zuccotti raid pointed out that it wasn't an assault on the right to free speech but rather on the right to free assembly, another step in making homelessness itself illegal.

41. Riders who get on the M15 Select Bus without a receipt

If the police catch you on the new M15 bus without a receipt from a kiosk, even if you have an unlimited ride MetroCard on you, you will not be able to escape a $150 ticket. Even Michelle O'Neill, a kindergarten teacher and cancer patient who, on her way to her oncologist a year ago, unwittingly got on one of the new buses without knowing about the new rules (and pleaded her case before a judge), was powerless to avoid the fine.

42. Street vendors who sell porn magazines

Porn in the back of bodegas (and off to the side of the occasional newsstand) used to pull in customers so reliably, shop owners could also talk them into buying a pack of $14 cigarettes. But in the age of the Internet, who is buying porn on the street? (Indeed, who is paying for porn at all?) Yet, in a handful of the few remaining bodegas that haven't been replaced by bank branches or pushed out of business by a Duane Reade, you can still find that special section.

43. Tenants of Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village

For decades, Stuy Town was one of the few harbors of middle-class living in Manhattan. When Met Life's public-private partnership was finished with the city, the complex was sold in the biggest residential real estate transaction in the history of the United States. When Tishman Speyer wasn't able to evict all the rent-stabilized tenants they'd hoped to and quickly make a profit, they walked away from the property in 2010 to avoid bankruptcy. Ever since, the 25,000 tenants of the development have been in a bizarre limbo while dealing with a holding company and looking into going co-op in some fashion.

44. Postal workers

Post-office workers in New York, long mocked even though they let "neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night" stop them from delivering on foot in this town, now have a new level of hellish powerlessness: the possible closure of 30 post offices right here in the five boroughs.

45. Pay-telephone users

Pay phones were always grimy, and they've taken on a new stigma at a time when even some poor people can get subsidized cell phones. The most recent time we attempted to use one, we tried six in a three-block radius before finding one that barely worked. Having to rely on a pay phone requires bringing your own cleaning devices, and they don't even send or receive texts.

46. Verizon workers who went on strike and then back to work without a contract

When 45,000 Communications Workers of America went on strike at Verizon last summer, they created the biggest labor stir the city saw in the past year (until a little thing called Occupy Wall Street). After blinking and agreeing to go back to the bargaining table, they have been working for months now without a contract and have lost the power that being on strike gave them while showing Verizon that members couldn't last indefinitely.

47. Retail-clothing workers

In Sweden, a worker at a retail store must, by law, receive a work schedule one year in advance. In New York, a worker is lucky to get one a week in advance. This makes arranging for child care, trying to take college classes, or budgeting what you'll be earning almost impossible. Stuart Appelbaum of the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union is trying to pass the Living Wage Bill, which would at least make any business getting city tax subsidies pay their workers a minimum of $10 an hour.

48. Security guards (every last one of them, everywhere)

Yes, security guards (at libraries, office buildings, schools, and shops) might look in your purse, poke a flashlight in your backpack, watch your X-rayed naked form, and do everything short of checking your body cavities while asking you to turn your head to the right and cough. But they are truly, utterly powerless individuals. There is no rhyme or reason to how they search your bags, everyone who passes them tries to shit on them, they have the outfits of law enforcement without the power to enforce the law, and nobody—not their employers nor the people whom they allegedly protect—respects them. (And, as the Voice's Nick Pinto showed last week, even security guards at our airports are paid poverty wages.)

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