Looking Back, 2005: A Breastfeeding Protest in the Winter Garden

During a protest in July 2005, Jennifer Grant (left) and Jung Min Lee nurse their infants in the Winter Garden at the World Financial Center. Photo: Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib

Feb. 04, 2017

Editor’s note: We look back on a protest in the Winter Garden at Brookfield Place (then the World Financial Center) in Battery Park City when about two dozen mothers staged a “nurse-in” with their infants. The story, which appeared in the September 2005 print edition of The Tribeca Trib, is one of an ongoing series from the archives of the Trib.

It was a steamy July afternoon when Battery Park City mother Leandra McCormick wheeled her stroller into the air-conditioned chill of the World Financial Center’s Winter Garden. There, in the middle of the lunch crowd, she found an empty bench, released her daughter from the stroller, raised her tank top, and began to nurse.

She was quickly approached by a security guard.

“I was told I had to either cover up or go back outside,” McCormick said.

Infuriated, McCormick returned two weeks later, this time bringing along photocopies of the New York State Civil Code Section 79-E that reads in part: “A mother may breastfeed her baby in any location, public or private.”

She also brought along two dozen other mothers, who in turn brought along their hungry infants. And a little before noon on July 21, as a small detail of police officers and World Financial Center security guards hovered nearby, there was a showdown of sorts.

McCormick, who put the word out through local mother-and-baby groups and in Internet chat rooms, was hopeful that the sight of so many mothers breastfeeding at once in the Winter Garden would provoke a reaction from mall management—perhaps even an apology for the earlier incident.

“They haven’t said anything yet, but let’s see what happens when I whip my boob out,” she said.

“I think the word is ‘breast,’” her friend gently corrected. “When you whip your breast out.”

Few eyebrows were raised, however, and security personnel kept a respectful distance once the mass feeding began.

“This truly is like a dinner party for babies,” one mother exclaimed, as all around her infants took in their lunch, blissfully unaware of their role as agitators.

“It’s her first protest,” said proud mother Jen­nifer Grant, a Battery Park City resident, as she nursed her infant daughter. “‘Don’t get yourself arrested,’ my mother-in-law said to me on the way here.”

Yvette Aronesty commuted from Williamsburg, Brooklyn, to take part in the “nurse-in.” She even brought protest signs. “Wall Street needs some mama love,” read one.

“A kid’s gotta eat,” said a man seated at a bench nearby. “I’m not offended by it. I am sort of taken aback by it sometimes, though.”

One observer, who denied he was with the mall’s security detail but was later seen huddling with them, said he found breastfeeding in public to be offensive. “My wife wouldn’t do it,” he said. Nor, he added, “would I walk through here with my pants off.”

Dorian Irizarry, corporate director of security for Mulligan Security, the company that handles security for the mall, sounded a more diplomatic tone. He offered a private apology to McCormick after the protest, explaining that it was a “miscommunication.” And he told the Trib that nursing mothers would not be asked to leave the Winter Garden in the future. Unless, he added, a guard were to get a complaint from someone offended by the sight.

“We have to keep the peace,” he said.

Anna Grossman, founder and executive director of the Hudson River Park Mamas, the group that helped organize the protest, later informed her members that Leandra McCormick received an apology from Brookfield Properties and was told that the security guard's action was an isolated incident. Security, they said, had been debriefed about the laws and rights of women who breastfeed in public.