On Tuesday morning at 5 a.m., before the oysters of the day were unloaded from their fishing boats and the first bikes were churned out at SoulCycle, 16 protesters showed up on East Hampton’s Further Lane, one of the mega-richest blocks in one of the nation’s mega-wealthy enclaves. . They were there to organize what they describe as “billionaire wake-up calls.”
The group, mostly members of New York Communities for Change — a progressive, grass-roots nonprofit focused on everything from taxing the rich to making housing affordable to combating climate change — wanted to start at the summer house. of the controversial, Donald Trump-supporting Blackstone Group chairman and CEO Stephen Schwarzman.
But they had the wrong house.
“We just received information that it belongs to Ellen Schwarzman, his ex-wife,” said Alice Nascimento, NYCC policy director. “And it may have been sold in 2017.”
Never mind, said Alice Hu, a climate activist for the organization: The second home on the list, belonging to hedge fund manager and activist investor Daniel Loeb, was three minutes away.
“We can start there and then go to Schwarzman’s house,” said Ms. Nascimento, who now understood it was in Water Mill and wasn’t about to waste the opportunity to troll a tycoon whose philanthropy is even among the super-rich. stands out for how often it gets its name on buildings – see New York Public Library, Yale University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. (In 2010, Mr. Schwarzman infamously compared President Obama’s corporate tax hikes to Hitler’s invasion of Poland, for which he later apologized.)
So the group packed up their belongings — including pots, pans, tambourines, a portable speaker, posters saying “WANTED FOR SOCIETY DEBTS” above Mr. Schwarzman’s photo, and a pair of pitchforks. Instead, they rode in Ms. Nascimento’s borrowed Toyota Highlander and Uber to the nearby mansion that Mr. Loeb, 60, bought in 2003 for just over $15 million.
The NYCC has helped lead primary campaigns against centrist Democrats, lobbied for bills around taxing big business and the super-rich, and successfully helped push through 2021 legislation that would cut the minimum wage for fast food workers in New York State. has increased to $15 per hour.
But the most visible work is in direct action, organizing theatrical events that attract press attention. (Of course, a reporter was welcome to ride along for Tuesday morning’s protest.)
The NYCC first came to the Hamptons in 2017 while campaigning for Wall Street accountability they called Hedgeclippers. In 2020, they returned for a tax-the-rich campaign called Make Billionaires Pay. (This year’s campaign is Occupy the Hamptons.)
Embarrassing billionaires “is fun,” said Ms. Nascimento, who harassed Mr. Schwarzman in 2019 during an onstage interview he gave to promote his book “What It Takes: Lessons in the Pursuit of Excellence.” It was great therapy, she said, to see the look on Mr. Schwarzman’s face when she asked him if he had any idea how much people are suffering because of his environmentally unfriendly investments and pursuit of deregulated capitalism. “He looked so crazy,” she said. (Neither Mr. Schwarzman nor Mr. Loeb agreed to comment on this article.)
Jose Gonzalez, the group’s data director, says he sometimes looks at the campaigns and says to himself, “What the hell are we doing?” He is aware that bringing plastic pitchforks to billionaires’ homes will not cure climate change. (“We bought them at a Halloween costume shop in Brooklyn,” Ms. Nascimento said.) Still, said Mr. Gonzalez, even “demanding and vigorous” campaigns with concrete objectives are at their best with “a touch of humor.”
In New York City, Ben Furnas, the former director of the mayor’s office for climate and sustainability, said the organization’s “splashing actions” have delivered tangible results on legislation related to building emissions. “They make good problems,” he said.
Tuesday’s wake-up calls were the culmination of a five-day agitation in the Hamptons in support of an upcoming New York state law to impose a tax on the very wealthy New Yorkers, which would be used to pay for green, affordable housing.
On Friday, about 150 people had protested on Main Street in Southampton in front of the local outpost of Sant Ambroeus, the Milanese-style cafe where a cappuccino costs $8.50. Some of the posters they held up about preserving land for the Shinnecock Nation, the area’s Native American tribe, seemed a little dated to Southampton’s city warden Jay Schneiderman. “Much of what they ask, we already do,” he said, citing as an example land the city recently purchased to preserve the tribe’s ancestral burial grounds.
On Saturday, NYCC members — in concert with people from organizations such as the Long Island Progressive Coalition, the Suffolk Democratic Socialists of America and the New York Taxi Workers Alliance — marched down nearby Southampton’s Meadow Lane, otherwise known as Billionaire’s Lane. (It is home to real estate developer Aby Rosen, private equity guru Henry Kravis, and Leon Black, the investment banker whose close ties to sex offender Jeffrey Epstein resulted in the loss of his chairmanship at the Museum of Modern Art and his job as head of Apollo Global Management.)
They then went to Cooper’s Beach to offer support to members of the Shinnecock Nation who are angry at their inability to get the free, coveted parking stickers given to villagers, despite making a deal in 1640 with the white settlers of the city that granted the tribe permanent access to the beach. On Sunday, they protested outside Cartier’s East Hampton store. And on Monday, they placed a protester atop a twenty-foot tripod in the middle of the road in front of the East Hampton airport, blocking access to the building’s main entrance, though anyone could still get onto the tarmac.
Overnight, about 30 people affiliated with the NYCC stayed in — or around — a five-bedroom Airbnb in Southampton. Some slept in a U-haul in front of the door. Others on sunbeds in sleeping bags. 16 people were arrested between Friday and Monday.
Ms. Nascimento, 35, who grew up in Salvador, Brazil, received her BA from New York University in 2009 and a master’s degree in public policy from the University of Cambridge in 2014. “Half of my classmates are McKinsey consultants,” she said.
“Same,” said Ms. Hu, 24, a first-generation Chinese American who grew up largely in Champaign, Illinois, and graduated from Columbia University in 2019. “I see them now and they ask me what the prison is like.” She estimates she has been arrested “six or seven” times for civil disobedience, but not this past weekend.
After leaving the house, whether or not the ex-wife of Mr. Schwarzman is on Tuesday morning, Mrs. Nascimento and her crew continue along the undulating greens of the historic lily-white Maidstone Golf Club.
“Looks like mowing is in order,” Mrs. Nascimento said, shortly before parking on nearby Dune Lane. This was as close as protesters could legally get to Mr. Loeb’s; the short way to his house has a no-entry sign.
Winsome Pendergrass, a home care assistant, led the crowd outside Mr. Loeb’s property in a series of chants, including “Billionaires You Can’t Hide, We Can See Your Greedy Side.” (Almost every clapboard mansion behind her was obscured by hedges.)
Mr. Loeb, a major donor to Congressional Republicans as well as former Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Eric Adams, has pledged millions of dollars to LGBT causes and has been an outspoken supporter of criminal justice reform and charter schools. He has also caused controversy. Last year, he wrote a Facebook post comparing a black member of the state senate to the Ku Klux Klan.
None of the neighbors came to look. But someone appeared to have called 911. A police car pulled up just as the protesters left to search Mr. Schwarzman’s home. (“We never get permits,” said Ms. Nascimento.)
After 15 minutes, the car passed a mansion that was clear of any fences or shrubs. “Wow, that’s big,” said Jeremy Maldonodo, a 26-year-old janitor and Uber driver, who normally recruits people for climate change charities as they longboard through the city.
Shortly after, the cars parked on a cul-de-sac overlooking Mecox Bay, and the protesters again removed the anti-Schwarzman signs. This time they were able to walk up his driveway to the front of a white wooden gate. But the property, bought in 2005 for about $35 million, was largely obscured by trees. Still, Ms. Hu had to admit one thing: “This is fun.”
That seemed to give her energy to the microphone. She denounced the Blackstone Group’s previous investments in fossil fuels and fracking. “While he is condemning us to a miserable future, he lives here in this beautiful house with these beautiful trees, next to this beautiful bay.”
“And this clean air,” someone shouted.
The action ended at 6.15 am. “People have to catch trains,” Ms. Nascimento said, getting into the car and putting the key in the ignition.
She looked to the right and saw a man standing in the driveway next to the door. He wore the typical Hamptons uniform—a black polo shirt on top, something khaki on the bottom—and shot a video on his iPhone. With the window open, Mrs. Nascimento yelled, “Your neighbor sucks.” (Mr. Maldanado noted that he thought the man had a walkie-talkie and was in fact security personnel.)
The Toyota drove off. The birds kept chirping. The only memento that remained was the anti-Schwarzman poster, left at his gate, supported by two pitchforks.