Naomi Schiller’s public humanities project, “On the Line: Land Use, Food Access, Climate Justice and Organizing in New York City” aims to document the ongoing battles over land, coastlines, housing, and access to food in a city facing multiple overlapping crisis.

Disruptive Engagement: An Organizer’s Guide to Building Community Power for Justice in Land Use and Housing in New York City

Handbook Publication

About this handbook

Disruptive Engagement: An Organizer’s Guide to Building Community Power for Justice in Land Use and Housing in New York City is a guide by organizers for organizers.

Land and housing are foundational to our ability to live and thrive. When we attempt to shape what gets built and sustained in New York City neighborhoods, we face a confusing system that instructs individuals to attend hearings, submit written comments, and testify in front of neighbors and officials. Disruptive Engagement is a handbook that draws on the knowledge of organizers from across New York City about how to disrupt the official community engagement apparatus in the most productive ways possible towards the goal of building justice in land use and housing.

With specific examples from New York City neighborhoods, this guide provides practical advice for how to maneuver official public hearings, build deliberate alliances, pursue legal challenges, upset the land-use review procedure, launch effective petition drives, and resist business as usual. We explore the challenge of trying to win gains within the existing system while at the same time working towards radical rupture with dominant logics.


Editors: Naomi Schiller & Vanessa Thill

Contributions and interviews from
: Karen Blondel, Julia Byrant, Seonae Byeon, Luisa Cuautle, Jen Chantrtanapichate , Jenny Dubnau, Ramona Ferreyra, O.K. Fox, Ted Freed, Jeremy Kaplan, Lena Melendez, Cheryl Pahaham, Jack Riccobono, Naomi Schiller, Alina Shen, Vanessa Thill. (See full bios & photos below).

Book Details
: 150 pages, perfect-bound, book design by Partner & Partners, published by the Center for the Humanities at the Graduate Center, CUNY in collaboration with Birds, LLC press.

For any questions, or help purchasing, please contact us at [email protected]

Publisher & Sponsors: This handbook is a collaborative project sponsored by the Seminar on Public Engagement and Collaborative Research from the Center for the Humanities at the CUNY Graduate Center, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Published through the Center for the Humanities publishing platform Distributaries. See the full list of co-sponsors and thank you's below.

Oral History Project & Interviews with Organizers:

The full interviews with organizers (in both audio & text formats) from our oral history project on which the handbook is based, can be found here:

Click here for a full list of contributors and more info about the handbook.

Click here for more info about the book launch event for this handbook

In Line: Facilitating Conversation and Listening on Sixth Street Community Center’s Weekly Food Distribution Line

Naomi Schiller (Brooklyn College & The Graduate Center, CUNY, Department of Anthropology) is working with Jen Chantrtanapichate, Program Director at Sixth Street Community Center (SSCC), and interpreters Chloe Lin and Ziyi Li to support SSCC’s emergency food distribution program and engage community members in conversation about their experiences during this period of deepening food insecurity.

Sixth Street Community Center (SSCC) has been involved in community organizing around food, health, and the environment in the Lower East Side since 1978. Since the onset of the COVID crisis, Sixth Street Community Center has been involved in direct relief work, distributing boxes of food once a week.

Sixth Street Community Center Food Deliver Oct 28 2020 / Photo by Naomi Schiller

Carts Lined Up, Oct 1, 2020 / Photo by Naomi Schiller

Food Box Contents, Nov 11, 2020 / Photo by Naomi Schiller

As months have passed since the start of the pandemic, the line for food at Sixth Street has stretched longer, and with that, the waiting time and anxiety of those in line has grown. The stress of waiting has been exacerbated by inconsistent delivery schedules and the fluctuating number of food boxes delivered , leaving SSCC staff, volunteers, and community members uncertain about wait times and whether or not everyone in line will receive food. Tensions have emerged between people in line.

This project seeks to help facilitate logistics of the food distribution process and spark conversations among people waiting in line about their lives, needs, concerns, and hopes.

Naomi Schiller and Chloe Lin Talk with People Waiting in Line, Nov 4, 2020 / Photo by Dan Fethke

People Waiting in Line Nov 4 2020 / Photo by Dan Fethke

Line Stretches Around Corner, Nov 4, 2020 / Photo by Dan Fethke

Citywide Organizing for Justice-Centered Land Use

This collaborative research project aims to document and make accessible histories and activist knowledge of land use organizing in communities across NYC, with a focus on changing waterfronts. The goal of the project is to help galvanize the general public around local land use issues and to support the growth of collective knowledge among organizers engaged in battles over zoning, displacement, and resilience infrastructure.

Naomi Schiller is working with research fellow, Vanessa Hill, an artist, writer, and organizer involved in anti-displacement organizing with Art Against Displacement and the Chinatown Working Group.

Naomi and Vanessa are joined by undergraduate Brooklyn College interns Onyx Clarke and Teresa Rodriguez, to help facilitate the collection, transcription, and archiving of peer-to-peer interviews among land use activists from across the city.

Brooklyn College assistants Onyx Clarke and Teresa Rodriguez

Combining approaches from multiple disciplines, including history, theater and performance, anthropology, and the digital humanities, this project will document and disseminate this knowledge through a series of public conversations anchored around an accessible oral history archive, a handbook for action, and a public exhibit.

No Towers No Compromise, Activist from the Coalition to Protect Chinatown and the Lower East Side Protests ULURP October 2019 / Photo By Naomi Schiller

Protest in Chinatown, October 2019. ULURP is the NYC’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure. Photo by Naomi Schiller.

Listen to Naomi Schiller discuss the problems with ULURP at a Land Use Town Hall organized by the Lower Manhattan Branch of Democratic Socialists of America in August 2020.

More About Naomi Schiller

Naomi Schiller is associate professor of anthropology at Brooklyn College and The Graduate Center, CUNY. Naomi researches, writes, and teaches about urban politics, climate justice, visual and media anthropology, and the state in Latin America and the United States. She is author of Channeling the State: Community Media and Popular Politics in Venezuela (Duke University Press 2018). Her research also appears in American Ethnologist, Dialectical Anthropology, Transforming Anthropology, Latin American Perspectives, and Mass Communication and Society. Her current research focuses on community activism, social class, race, urban governance, coastal adaptation, and climate change in New York City.

Seminar Faculty Leader


Image: Film still from On the Line. Carts lined up against a colorful graffiti wall along the sidewalk in the Lower East Side; a bicycle blurs by in the foreground.