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New York is a city of workers | US & Canada News

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When I was booking a vaccine appointment online for my father – an essential worker and a senior with preexisting medical conditions – I did not expect that the process would be as arduous as it was. As elders who are not tech-savvy and whose English is imperfect, my immigrant parents have often struggled to navigate the multilayered machinery of the city’s healthcare, education, labour, and political bureaucracies without assistance.

As I booked my father’s appointment, it dawned on me that there are probably thousands of others like him who may not have someone to do this for them.

It might be hard to believe that the city widely held to be the economic and cultural capital of the country – perhaps the world – would fare so poorly in administering the COVID-19 vaccine, especially given how quickly it became the epicentre of the virus when the first wave reached the United States.

But this is also the city where excess vaccines are being discarded due to lack of coordination, where the mayor and governor have been promoting conflicting guidelines about public gatherings, and where the corpses of those whose lives were taken by the virus had to be piled up in trucks because existing infrastructure could not hold them.

With the frenzy of the presidential election out of the way and a new administration at the helm, New Yorkers must now contend with the frenzy of the mayoral race in our city. And given the centrality of the city as a cultural engine and economic powerhouse – not to mention the home of some of the biggest American media outlets – the mayorship is consequently a national discussion.

The entry of former presidential candidate Andrew Yang into the arena, followed by his choreographed performance shopping at an exceptionally large and clean bodega, prompted a flurry of responses on Twitter ridiculing his claims to the city, drawing renewed attention to the question of who counts as a “real New Yorker”. But these questions, lighthearted as they are, obscure much more than they reveal. Who dictates the criteria and who gets erased by them?

I was born in Brooklyn in the 1990s and have resided here ever since, in the type of working-class immigrant community where you could live for decades without spending much time anywhere beyond your neighbourhood because everything you needed and everything you knew – the mosque, the school, the clinic, the supermarket, the tech and retail stores – existed within a ten-block radius.

You had your community “uncles” who were as affectionate as they were harsh, your hole-in-the-wall corner stores and restaurants manned by overworked teens who hooked you up with free food, your awkward stoop kids who spent the whole day… on the stoop, your neighbourhood troublemakers to avoid, your unhoused buddy who offered sagely wisdom to everyone that needed it, your friends you only knew through a single place like the café or the park or the mosque, your religious leader who seemed both omniscient and totally out of touch, and so on. Everyone had their proper place, as if it were the will of a higher cosmic order.

This was not an anomaly, as there were dozens of Black and brown communities like mine. But the passage of time has exposed me to the realities of unprecedented change that come with living in a fast-paced city. In my lifetime, I have witnessed four major tragedies in this city: the September 11 attacks of 2001, the stock market crash of 2008, hurricane Sandy of 2012, and the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020-2021.

And with each one of these crises, many of the aforementioned characters who were everyday fixtures eventually became no more, their lives upended in myriad ways. Some were deported by the government in the post-9/11 “war on terror”, others rendered out of work due to massive layoffs, some were left homeless by the superstorm, and many lost family members to the virus.

After September 11, we witnessed the sharpest rise in anti-Muslim attacks ever seen – rivalled only by the Trump era. After the stock market crash, we saw big banks and corporations receive billions of dollars in bailouts. After hurricane Sandy, we witnessed the wealthiest districts receive electricity service within days, while many, including my own, were deprived of it for weeks. And now with the pandemic, brought upon us in the midst of a global uprising for racial justice, we see how unequal “the great equalizer” truly is.

Every city has its own idiosyncrasies. New York, perhaps unlike any other city, has its own internationally recognisable quirks. We are the city of tough love and thick skin. We embody a rough, resilient, and resolute kind of urban culture. And while Yang’s performance at the “bodega” – or supermarket as I would call it – was an attempt to demonstrate his own bona fides, it spoke to something much larger about New York that is often forgotten: This is a city with actual people, poor and working, Black and brown, immigrant and refugee.

To say this might sound cliché, but even a cursory glance at the media discourse about New York shows that it only pays lip service to this essential character of the city. It is why the question of whether or not “New York City is dead” was raised after the city became Ground Zero of the pandemic last March.

Perhaps one can say that the question came as a natural response to the devastating impact of the virus on the city’s economic life, but asking it reveals less about the city and more about the one asking the question. It would never cross the mind of anyone from the neighbourhood I grew up in. New York City… dead? Why would it be dead? Are we not still here?

In all of the New York talk, ordinary New Yorkers are conspicuously erased: Those of us who grew up in inter-generational households, who went to New York public schools (gasp!), and who were here when the pandemic ravaged our city and who will be here long after it is gone. And if we are truly to make this city function as a city that represents all of us, we need to centre those people and voices that are erased but that have otherwise always been here.

This is not to play nativist or to gatekeep who gets to call themselves a New Yorker, but rather to hold ourselves accountable to the very ideals we claim to embody, regardless of whether we have been here for two years or 20.

How many working-class people did not receive any stimulus packages because they were undocumented or did not have the resources or ability to file their tax returns? How many will be neglected because they could not navigate a byzantine healthcare bureaucracy to book an appointment for a life-saving vaccine?

We should be less concerned about endless cultural debates about “real New Yorkers” or whether “New York is dead” than we should be about the material conditions of the ordinary people who call New York their home.

New York is not only the glitz and glam of Times Square or the shows on Broadway or the Opinion Pages of the New York Times. It is also the gyro stand worker who serves you a hot chicken over rice in cold weather while barely making ends meet. It is the cabbie who makes sure you get to your home safe while dealing with racist passengers and the destructive effects of the gig economy. It is the mail carrier who ensures that you receive your mail in the midst of a pandemic while their profession deals with cuts in funding. It is people like my father whose labour was only deemed “essential” when the city that he gave his life and labour for was struck by a deadly virus.

The pandemic has forever transformed public life in the city and forced all of us to reconsider questions of inequality, labour, urban design, and transportation. Wherever you stand in the cultural debates, let us all affirm that if New York is for all of us, it must first and foremost be for its workers. When we talk about New York – our beloved, pained, and defiant city – let us make sure that we talk about a city that is for all of us.

That, to me, is what being a New Yorker is about.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.



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Iran and world powers hint at talks over nuclear deal | Nuclear Energy News

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Tehran, Iran – Unofficial talks between Iran and world powers that signed an ailing 2015 nuclear deal appear to be the only way forward as neither side seems willing to take the first step.

Iran says the United States, which in 2018 unilaterally abandoned the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), must first return to full compliance under the accord by lifting all economic sanctions it imposed.

President Joe Biden has said former US leader Donald Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign has failed, but nevertheless insists Iran must first reverse steps to reduce its commitments under the deal in response to the sanctions.

This week, Iran said it is considering an offer by the European Union’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell to hold unofficial talks with the P4+1 – China, Russia, the United Kingdom, France and Germany minus the US – that would also include the US as a “guest”.

Ali Vaez, director of the Iran Project at the International Crisis Group, said it is likely officials from Tehran and Washington would sit together at an informal meeting hosted by the EU in the coming weeks.

“There, they are likely to agree to an interim set of measures to buy more time for negotiating a timetable for a mutual return to full compliance with the JCPOA,” he told Al Jazeera.

The meeting was called in light of Iran’s latest move on Tuesday to stop voluntarily implementing the Additional Protocol – a document that gives the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) broad inspection authorities of Iranian nuclear sites.

In a statement after Iran stopped providing the United Nations’s nuclear watchdog with short-notice inspection capabilities, the three European signatories of the nuclear deal called the move “dangerous”.

“It will significantly constrain the IAEA’s access to sites and to safeguards-relevant information,” the E3 foreign ministers said. “It will also constrain the IAEA’s ability to monitor and verify Iran’s nuclear programme and nuclear-related activities.”

Three-month window

But an agreement Iran’s government reached with the IAEA on Sunday seems to have bought more time for diplomacy.

After IAEA General Director Rafael Grossi travelled to Tehran, the two sides agreed Iran would continue monitoring activities of its nuclear sites, but would not hand over the camera tapes.

The Atomic Energy Organization of Iran announced that if the US fails to lift sanctions on Iran within those three months, the data would be permanently deleted, leaving a gap in the IAEA’s monitoring of the country’s nuclear activities.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said earlier this week the US has imposed 1,600 sanctions on Iran, all of which need to be lifted to restore the nuclear deal.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei also said this week Iran could boost its uranium enrichment to a purity of 60 percent from the current 20 percent if the country needs to, but stressed his nation does not seek nuclear weapons.

On Wednesday, Iran’s ambassador in Geneva told the UN-sponsored Conference on Disarmament it is up to the United States to make the first move.

“The onus is on the offending party to return, restart, and compensate for the damages as well as to reassure that they would not renege again,” Ambassador Esmaeil Baghaei Hamaneh said.

‘Increasing suspicions’

Vaez said the IAEA agreement “deferred a crisis that could have derailed diplomacy before it even had a chance of getting off the ground”.

Barbara Slavin, director of the Future of Iran Initiative at the Atlantic Council, said the time bought by the deal could open the way for all sides to negotiate – and implement – a road map back to JCPOA compliance.

She told Al Jazeera “it won’t be the end of the world but it won’t be good” if the nuclear deal signatories fail to come to an agreement in those three months.

“Iran will continue to take steps out of the JCPOA and to reduce cooperation with the IAEA, increasing suspicions that it is working on weapons,” Slavin said of the ramifications of a no-deal scenario.

“Iranians will continue to suffer from the impact of sanctions. Iranian politicians opposed to the deal and to any relaxation of tensions with the West will get stronger, and Iran will likely also be more difficult to deal with in Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan, et cetera.”

Presidential elections loom

The fact that the June presidential elections in Iran are fast approaching only adds to the pressure to find a solution to the nuclear deal dilemma.

President Hassan Rouhani, who won his office by promising to engage with the West and improve Iran’s economy by ending isolation, is nearing the end of his second term.

It is widely believed a conservative or a hardliner – who could come from a military background – will emerge victorious in the elections.

Iran’s last large-scale elections came in February 2020 when the lowest voter turnout in the f40-year history of the country gave way to the current hardline parliament whose December law obliged Rouhani’s administration to boost uranium enrichment and restrict IAEA inspections.

“It is obviously much easier to negotiate a return to the nuclear deal with individuals who negotiated it in the first place than to work with a new cast of characters – or old ones from the Ahmadinejad days – who are much more antagonistic to the United States,” Slavin said in reference to former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Vaez concurred saying: “It will be a risky gambit for Washington not to restore the JCPOA fully before its key proponents in Iran leave power.”

But he added it would be unlikely for the next Iranian president to undo what has been state policy as the supreme leader is always the ultimate decision-maker.

Meantime, however, Rouhani’s opponents are likely to mount more opposition to his dealings with international stakeholders.

On Monday, angry legislators said Iran’s agreement with the IAEA is “illegal” and called for the president to be handed over to the judiciary for legal punishment.

The heated confrontation even prompted the supreme leader to intervene, saying they must resolve their differences so a single voice would be communicated from Iran to the world.



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