HomeChinese AmericanChinatown activists destroy "wrecking ball" to protest arena proposal

Chinatown activists destroy “wrecking ball” to protest arena proposal

By Heather Chin, AsamNews contributor

The fight against the proposal to build a basketball arena on the border of Philadelphia Chinatown took a playful turn Sunday when protestors took inspiration from singer Miley Cyrus.

#SaveChinatown advocates filmed a parody music video set to reworked lyrics of Cyrus’ hit song Wrecking Ball. Organized by advocacy group No Arena In Chinatown Solidarity (NACS), the protest video shoot featured a multi-ethnic coalition of neighbors carrying signs, wearing wrecking ball hat art and costumes, dancing, and singing at various locations in Philly’s Chinatown. It culminated in a flash mob-style rally over the Vine Street Expressway, where the #SaveChinatown movement began around 50 years ago.

“You came in with a wrecking ball / Completely disregarding us / But you don’t get to make the calls / All your promises are e-e-empty / And we’re re-e-eady!”

Written by songwriter and NACS volunteer Jonathan Leibovic, the parody lyrics “started with the idea of the wrecking ball, and from there, everything else fell into place.” Leibovic took initial inspiration from both the Jewish holiday of Purim and protest art headgear crafted featuring plastic basketballs as wrecking balls.

Members of No Arena In Chinatown Solidarity (NACS) joined residents and community activists in filming a parody music video to protest a proposed basketball arena in Philadelphia. Photo by Heather Chin, AsAmNews

Purim is a Jewish holiday that marks a community arising to save itself, and the downfall of a wicked powerbroker, Haman. It drew parallels to the three billionaire real estate developers who seek to encroach on Chinatown with a new arena that would take over land currently used by a mall, bus station, and numerous small businesses.

“We are using Purim as inspiration to say No, we can’t let this destruction happen here,” noted Rabbi Linda Holtzman, of the Philly-based Tikkun Olam Chavurah. “Purim is completely joyous and festive, yet acknowledges deeply the importance of standing up against injustice.

“For me, it matters also because it is a significant neighborhood of color. I’m White, and it is important to stand together,” added Holtzman. “I can’t say it’s OK, build in that neighborhood, over and over, as if the neighborhood, people, homes, and businesses don’t matter. It’s not reasonable. It’s completely unjust.”

Veteran Chinatown community activist Debbie Wei echoed the sentiment, noting that “it’s the unity and community we build that will win this fight. Allyship is critical. We can’t only fight for Chinatown; we have to fight for everyone. UC Townhomes is here, as well, and we take so much inspiration from them fighting for their homes. Working together makes us stronger.”

Wei was referring to the plight of University City Townhomes residents, who were evicted in September 2022 when the owners of the affordable housing complex in West Philadelphia took steps towards a possible sale. UC Townhomes council member and former resident Sheldon Davids joined the #SaveChinatown music video group, wearing a basketball-as-wrecking-ball hat and dancing out the choreography.

“Even though we’re in different neighborhoods, as a neighborhood against a development complex, the underlying issue is the same,” said Davids. “This is uprooting communities and the displacement of people who are the most vulnerable and dramatically affected. It is part of a larger narrative of displacement in the path of development.”

“No more stadiums, we’re not taking it / No casinos or jails / With a history full of victories / Chinatown will prevail”

Photo by Heather Chin, AsAmNews

As the #SaveChinatown activists danced and sang, and children smashed a paper maché wrecking ball, passersby stopped, stared, pulled out their cell phone cameras, and asked what was going on. Informed of the reason for the protest, many signed a petition against the arena plans or expressed solidarity.

“I saw the protest and came over to support it because you’re coming into someone’s home,” exclaimed Yvette Beckwith, a West Philly native who experienced homelessness for a while and currently lives next to the path of the proposed construction and donned a giant wrecking ball costume for the video. “I had heard about the arena proposal, but didn’t know it was the Sixers.”

Photo by Heather Chin, AsAmNews

“The protest is great. I like the little basketballs on the wrecking ball hats,” said Local 98 member Kenny Cockerill. “There’s no parking here. Public transit won’t work. You just put a lot of money into [the mall] here, why throw it out the window? There are plenty of other vacant places in the city to turn bad to good.”

Avowed Sixers fan Gail Marquis also joined the music video protest, explaining that her father used to bring her to Chinatown when he worked in the area decades ago, and she always found it “beautiful and interesting.”

“I’m a huge Sixers fan, but not an arena fan at all, not here,” said Marquis. “I love Chinatown more than a stadium idea. It doesn’t make sense. Where the Sixers are now is good. Chinatown is an important part of the city.”

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