As the United States draws closer to becoming a nation with people of color in the majority, it is also moving into an economic and social program of privatization, cuts in social programs and real wages, restrictions on unionization, a focus on investment in export industries, an emphasis on balanced budgets, and a re-valuation of its currency.
In most of the developing world, this program is called “structural adjustment.” It is a bitter remedy often prescribed by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund after economic speculation and the looting of national wealth by a narrow elite has driven a country into near or actual bankruptcy. While it’s ironic that the prescription is being written by the same Wall Street banks that conducted the looting in our country, this is the way the global North has treated the global South since World War II.
It’s increasingly apparent that Wall Street executives see the working population of the United States as some sort of “other,” very much as the colonial empires of the 20th century viewed the people of their colonies in Africa, Asia, Latin America, or the Middle East. This has always been true to some extent, but with the crash of the latest global pyramid scheme, has become ever more critical for the top tier to reap more of their income at home.
That the future retirees who are most likely to lose their pensions are workers of color is no coincidence. This should not pit white workers against workers of color. On the contrary, just as effective public health policy rests on providing care for the most vulnerable communities, all workers should realize that those most poorly paid and facing the worst working conditions are most likely to win changes that will benefit us all.
A popular demonstration placard at rallies over the past few months has been: “Egypt can do it—so can we.” As the economic imperatives of globalization come home to the United States, clearly a renewed commitment to democratic control and social solidarity is required.
We do, indeed, need to look to the strategies and tactics of people in the developing world to shape our response to the current crisis. But just as the demographic reality of empire lives in the population of the United States—with immigrants streaming here after being displaced from their home economies—so, too, do creative, committed, and enduring strategies for winning justice live within our communities.
issue of RP&E takes a crack at a very complex question: How can we
live through structural adjustment and build sustainable, diverse
cities? Some possible answers:
Low-wage workers are conducting national campaigns—combining job site organizing, government policy initiatives, and public education—to improve conditions for domestic workers, restaurant employees, and farmworkers.
organizations are restructuring their cities and reclaiming public
space through community benefit agreements, economic development
strategies rooted in ethnic arts and businesses, and transit-oriented
development planning processes that actually include local residents.
Communities negatively impacted by the cap-and-trade system proposed by former Governor Schwarzenegger’s California Air Resources Board are challenging the prevailing wisdom about how to combat climate change—and a California judge has ruled in their favor.
Multiracial, multi-issue organizations capable of uniting constituencies for social justice action have never been more critical. Urban Habitat has long played this role regionally, and increasingly at the national scale. With that in mind, I am especially pleased to welcome new leadership to Urban Habitat in the person of Allen Fernandez Smith. He has committed to taking Urban Habitat to the next level—and we’re looking forward to the journey.
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