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YOUNG LORDS' "GARBAGE OFFENSIVE" [1969]

The Young Lords began in 1960 as a Chicago gang, but expanded to New York City in 1969, when a group of young Puerto Rican New Yorkers were inspired by the Black Panthers to start something new. At that time, the NYC Department of Sanitation was largely neglecting Spanish Harlem, while garbage piled up on the streets.  The Young Lords’ first action was to clean the streets and demand that the City of New York increase garbage pickups in East Harlem. They piled garbage up on 3rd Avenue, blocking traffic during rush hour and lighting some garbage on fire to attract more attention. The Sanitation Department responded by cleaning up the garbage in the street and ultimately increased sanitation service to the neighborhood. From 1969 to 1976, they ran a free children’s breakfast program, seized hospital equipment and moved it to where it was needed most, and went through neighborhoods testing for lead paint poisoning and tuberculosis. The Young Lords brought environmental factors like trash and lead-based paint into the discussion of civil rights, race and poverty in NYC. Though short-lived, the Young Lords can “nonetheless provide resources of hope” for today’s activists and anyone interested in the history and theory of social movements.