Conversations on Race and Resistance

By Jess Clarke

Today’s emerging resistance movements can draw on a long and varied history to challenge the reactionary US government. Racial justice organizing has been the leading edge of progressive change for generations, and lessons learned and leadership from Black liberation struggles are key to moving beyond resistance and toward revolutionary abundance.

This issue of RP&E, Conversations on Race and Resistance, brings together the voices of dozens of organizers and artists working in today’s racial justice movements, particularly Black Lives Matter (BLM), to explore the history and trajectory of struggle—from the Black Panthers, to the founding of the Environmental Justice (EJ) movement, to the present.

Articles by Eric K. Arnold and J. Douglas Allen-Taylor examine the strengths and weaknesses of BLM organizing; interviews with Cat Brooks (Anti-Police Terror Project and BLM Oakland) and Robbie Clark (Just Cause) give us first hand accounts of the ideological and practical origins of this work. Brooks zeroes in on the fact that police violence toward people of color is not an accidental system failure but the necessary action of a system of suppression. Clark digs deep to place gentrification in a broad spectrum of state violence perpetrated through policing, health and housing policies. Both Brooks and Clark situate BLM in a continuum of organizing for Black liberation and challenge organizers to evolve new approaches to educating the broader public about how capitalism itself needs to be attacked at its roots.

Steve Martinot describes a process of racialization that began with white fear of slave revolts and came to fruition with the incarceration of people of color in a prison system clearly descended from the slave plantation. He proposes that we see “race” as a verb, something done to people, not a noun describing their identity. Martinot asserts that one essential function of BLM organizing is affirmation in the face of the racialization process that devalues Back people. Opal Palmer Adisa echoes that sentiment by taking the occasion to interview 11 Black men talking about why “The Living Matter.”

This is very much in line with the “I Am San Francisco” Black oral history project that we began publishing in 2015.  In the current edition, in addition to several short excerpts, we feature an interview by Jarrel Phillips with Emory Douglas. The conversation opens a window into how, over 50 years ago, an aspiring artist taking graphic design classes at City College of San Francisco was drawn into the newly founded Black Panther Party (BPP) and to propagating its influential 10-point program. Douglas, who became the minister of culture of the BPP, went on to create iconic art that shaped the imagination of a generation of Black liberation struggles, including the next wave of organizing under the banner of environmental justice.

As Dana Alston details in her RP&E reprint from 25 years ago, 300 activists from a very broad range of organizations met at the First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit and came to consensus on “the 25 principles of environmental justice” (see page 82). For its time, environmental justice was a high-water mark in understanding how different structures of oppression intersect.

In a panel discussion commemorating the 25th anniversary of the summit, Dr. Mindy Fullilove, a professor at The New School in New York, probes the complex interaction of segregation, health outcomes and how gentrification is creating intergenerational trauma. She tracks how government-sponsored redlining maps, developed in the 1930s, moved segregation out of the legal system and into the financial system where it continued to metastasize. She analyzes the common origins of environmental injustice—siting toxic facilities in communities of color—and gentrification and displacement.

This sort of intersectional analysis is an urgent task for our movements today. We need to be able to put together coalitions that can encompass the displaced residents of Mossville, Louisiana driven out of their homes by petrochemical corporations  and urban tenant organizers fighting evictions and rent hikes caused by corporate hyper-commodification of land in cities across the country. The Renters Day of Action in fall 2016, when local organizations across the country coordinated a national day of protest, was a step in the right direction. The multisector solidarity shown at Standing Rock is another encouraging sign.

Resistance to gentrification, access to public education, defense of workers’ rights and preservation of public ownership all intersect in the battle to save City College of San Francisco. A multifaceted campaign saved the college from losing its accreditation—and won a November 2016 ballot measure that taxed luxury real estate sales to fund tuition-free classes at the school for San Francisco residents. But despite approval by the voters and the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, backers of “Free City” have had to battle Mayor Ed Lee to release money for the program.

In our latest installment on this story, Marcy Rein follows the controversy over the Balboa Reservoir, one of San Francisco’s largest tracts of undeveloped public land. Will this parcel next to City College be used for affordable housing and for the transportation needs of the students—or luxury condos? In light of the passage of free tuition for the school, perhaps this fight can also be won.

The right-wing attacks by the Trump regime and corporate monopolists make it easier than ever to understand how our struggles are linked and Dawn Phillips makes an eloquent and impassioned case for why collaborative action is essential to successful resistance. But absent systematic theoretical frameworks—including, at the minimum, an understanding of how capitalism uses race to make investment and disinvestment decisions—joint actions may wind up simply assembling a lowest-common-denominator grab bag of reformist demands.  We need to aspire to a higher goal than reforming systems whose actual purpose is to defend the economic structures that oppress and exploit our communities.

The Movement for Black Lives platform (policy.m4bl.org) is a useful starting point for crafting a multi-issue, multi-strategy alliance that can challenge the white supremacist dinosaurs and fossil fuel barons whose time has passed. Coherent action using every available means of resistance, including mass protests, blockades, boycotts, strikes, divestment, local government resolutions, municipal and state legislation and constant pressure on elected and unelected leaders in government and business are time-tested methods of creating political space for real change.

Black Lives Matter, like Occupy before it, harnessed the power of social media and mass public dissent to change the nature of the national discourse. The widespread cultural resistance that has continued to grow from these are strengthening our communities.  But the next stage in our movement must move beyond changing the conversation to reshaping the terrain of conflict. To create revolutionary abundance for all, we need to Reimagine!—everything. ~

Jess Clarke is Reimagine! project director and an editor at Race, Poverty & the Environment.

 

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" ...lessons learned and leadership from Black liberation struggles are key to moving beyond resistance and toward revolutionary abundance."

Living Black

Martin Luther King Jr. March in Oakland. c. 2015 Daniel Arauz

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Raimagine!

The BLM Effect: Hashtags, History and Race

Janelle Monae and members of Wonderland at SF rally for victims of police violence.  © 2016 Eric K. Arnold

By Eric K. Arnold

Four days after the election of Donald Trump to the US presidency, legendary hip hop group A Tribe Called Quest appeared on Saturday Night Live (SNL). Emcee Q-Tip announced, “Everybody stand up, one fist up in the air!” and proceeded to perform “We The People,” the most overtly-political song of their 26-year career. Tip peeled off some incendiary lines which referenced police brutality—“You be killing off good young brothers.” The song’s chorus took a direct stab at the bigotry aroused during the long Presidential campaign: “All you Black folks, you must go/ All you Mexicans, you must go.”

Post-election, even as much of America doubled down on bigotry or despair, Kamala Harris, California’s newly-elected Senator, offered her own message to immigrant families and communities of color (via her Facebook page): “We are going to come together and build a movement of people who will fight back against hate, xenophobia, racism and sexism.”

These are two of the most powerful recent examples to date of the “BLM Effect”—a willingness for Black people to use whatever platform they have—be it social media, political protests or SNL’s stage—to directly address issues of race and inequality. From everyday people swarming to the site of the latest incident of police murder, to Colin Kaepernick’s protest during the national anthem, the BLM effect is empowering a new generation to challenge the racist practices and institutions.

Birth of a Movement
On July 13, 2013, George Zimmerman was found not guilty by a Florida jury of murdering 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. The night of the verdict, Oakland prepared for the worst. Several downtown businesses boarded up their windows in anticipation of property damage—a reasonable assumption, given that protest marches had been frequent occurrences since the murder of Oscar Grant III by a BART policeman on New Year’s Day 2009. Many Oakland residents were pained by another failure of the courts to administer justice, yet tired of hearing police helicopters circling over downtown. As darkness fell, hundreds of protestors took to the streets. Once again, trashcans were set ablaze, anarchist graffiti was sprayed and store windows were broken.

Alicia Garza, a community organizer with the National Alliance of Domestic Workers, watched the verdict on TV from a local bar. Logging into Facebook, she wrote a long post which ended with, “Black people. I love you. I love us. Our lives matter.” Garza’s friend, prison-reform activist Patrisse Cullors, commented “#blacklivesmatter” on Garza’s post. Cullors started tagging friends’ Facebook walls with the hashtag; others did the same, and it quickly went viral.

The next day, Solespace, a downtown art gallery, offered a safe place for traumatized people to express themselves constructively, by making art. Garza spent her afternoon writing the slogan on sheets of colored paper over and over again. Afterwards, Garza, Cullors and another activist-organizer friend, Opal Tometi, announced through social media they had decided to form a new organizing project, called Black Lives Matter (BLM).

More than three years later, BLM has grown from a hashtag into a full-fledged, yet oft-misconstrued, movement. In August of 2014, following the murder by police of Mike Brown, Black Lives Matter organizers put together a bus tour to bring 600 Black community activists to assist with on-the-ground efforts in Ferguson and St. Louis. Their direct solidarity with Ferguson networks of young African Americans brought BLM into national prominence. The movement gained further momentum in 2015, when the first-ever National Convening of the Movement for Black Lives in Cleveland was attended by more than 2,000 “freedom fighters.”

Journalist Jamilah King, then a staff writer for Colorlines, covered BLM extensively during its early days. Her reportage helped demystify a movement which seemed to come out of nowhere and identified BLM’s cofounders as three Black women who were grounded in progressive social justice circles. In a 2014 Colorlines article written by King, Garza explained how the movement’s focus extended beyond the outcome of one legal case, toward a larger vision of making Black lives matter through effecting transformative change: “What’s going to make those lives matter is working hard for an end to state violence in Black communities, knowing that that’s going to benefit all communities.”

BLM has been at the forefront of what’s frequently been called a new Civil Rights movement, infusing fresh urgency into discussions around race in America. In 2015, BLM was a runner-up for Time Magazine’s “Person of the Year” award, and Garza has gone on to give TED talks. The social media hashtag has become a global network with more than 40 BLM chapters worldwide. BLM is one of 28 organizations in the Movement for Black Lives (M4BL) coalition of 28 affiliated organizations, which has issued a platform for Black liberation, and numerous policy briefs outlining necessary steps in that direction. Endorsers of M4BL include Color of Change, Race Forward, Brooklyn Movement Center, PolicyLink, Million Women March Cleveland, ONE DC and dozens of other organizations.

Shifting Pop Culture Toward Consciousness
“Black Lives Matter is arguably a more powerful cultural movement than it is a political one,” suggests King. “I say that because you have these moments in pop culture [where] we’ve seen the biggest shift: Kendrick Lamar at the Grammys, Solange [Knowles] releasing her album.... Those are really incredible moments [that] people are talking about.”

Nowadays, King says, “you can’t not talk about race publicly on a huge platform.” In 2015, singer Janelle Monae’s BLM-inspired song, “Hell You Talmbout” recalled the social protest anthems of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s; Monae followed up by joining with local community organizers against police violence during every stop on her national tour. The awakening of R&B singers extended to J. Cole and D’Angelo, while dozens of politically-conscious underground rappers—from St. Louis’ Tef Poe to Chicago’s Lil Herb to Pittsburgh’s Jasiri X to Oakland’s Kev Choice—also felt inspired to make protest songs. In the BLM era, attempts at colorblindness by Black celebrities like Stacy Dash and Lil’ Wayne have been met with furious clap-backs from their peers and social media commentators alike.

We’ve even witnessed an emergent social and political consciousness coming from star athletes—whose voices have been mostly silent since the late ‘60s—symbolized by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s refusal to stand for the National Anthem. Kaepernick subsequently held a youth camp in Oakland called “Know Your Rights” which outlined a racial-justice platform.

In an ESPN interview, Kaepernick related that “[The] spreading of knowledge is happening... you start to break down ignorance, you start to break down some of those prejudices.”

Local Organizing, National Networking
BLM has also impacted conversations within activist circles, King says, adding, “The effect has been cultural and political, and that cultural element has given people a way to talk about race.” Well-intentioned POC [people of color] groups have attempted to insert their own ethnicities into the “___ Lives Matter” slogan, only to be met with swift rebukes.Harsher criticisms have been directed at onerous attempts to redirect BLM’s message, e.g., “All Lives Matter” and “Blue Lives Matter.”

The movement’s biggest single political action to date may have been the decision, as an organization, not to endorse a candidate in the 2016 presidential election. Yet BLM’s most impressive accomplishment has been the networking, coalition-building and on-the-ground organizing work it’s done to assemble its social justice troops into formation for what’s to come under a Trump presidency.

In the Bay Area, BLM helped organize direct actions like a shutdown of BART on Black Friday and protests held at the Oakland Police Department’s headquarters, but it’s also hosted candidate forums in heavily African American City Council districts. It’s helped to bring police reform efforts into mainstream awareness, resulting in increased political pressure. BLM members were active in the “Frisco 5” protests which directly led to the forced resignation of San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr; a Department of Justice report on the SFPD subsequently found “numerous indicators of implicit and institutionalized bias against minority groups,” and made 272 specific recommendations for reform.

BLM’s national actions include lending organizational assistance to direct-action efforts in cities across America; disruption of the Republican National Convention and presidential debates; and most recently, on the ground mobilizing around the efforts to stop a proposed pipeline threatening a Sioux reservation in Standing Rock, North Dakota. Many BLM members are veteran community organizers who have long been involved in issues, such as immigration rights, affordable housing, police accountability, prison reform, medical cannabis, economic equity, media justice, gender identity and other interconnected issues which all relate to the Black experience in America.

BLM has garnered praise from Barack Obama—even though Garza criticized his State of the Union Address—yet it’s also been the target of considerable backlash. Right-wing pundits have labeled it a terrorist organization. Others have taken issue with its queer-friendly focus—Garza’s husband is transgender, and BLM has been outspoken about violence against the Black queer community. BLM’s critics have included both expected sources like Fox News and Breitbart flacks, and the unexpected: NAACP leaders complaining about direct action tactics; and former Black Panther Chairperson Elaine Brown, who accused BLM of having a “plantation mentality.”

BLM takes a strategic approach regarding disinformation, says Malkia Cyril, executive director of the Center for Media Justice, and a member of BLM’s communications team. As Cyril explains, “We know disorganized truth can be overcome by a well-organized lie. Sometimes, we simply don’t respond, to not give the lies credibility. Sometimes, we put out press releases and statements to correct inaccuracies. But mostly, we try to build a powerful counter-narrative. We communicate, strategically, as part of a larger strategy for change. But we are up against a powerful disinformation campaign driven by historic national commitment to white supremacy, so we take it one day at a time.”

Selassie Blackwell, one of the “Frisco 5” hunger-strikers. © 2016 Eric K. ArnoldPanther Parallels, People Power
Numerous points of connection between BLM and the Black Panthers suggest a historical continuum is at play. It’s no coincidence that both the Panthers and BLM originated in Oakland, or that the Panthers’ Ten-Point Program demanded freedom, full education, a jail moratorium, and an end to police brutality, while the M4BL’s platform states, “We demand an end to the criminalization, incarceration, and killing of our people.” Such apparent similarities explain why many see BLM’s emergence as part of the Panther legacy. Conversely, BLM’s existence has affirmed the continued relevance of the Panthers.

“People are feeling the conversation about race and justice, not only in the presidential election, but also in the era of Black Lives Matter,” says Rene de Guzman, curator of a recent Oakland Museum of California exhibit. “All Power to the People: The Black Panthers at 50.” In addition to archival material, and recent photographs of more than 100 rank-and-file former Panthers, the exhibit featured a video installation of BLM activist Cat Brooks speaking, driving the point home about the BLM/BPP connection.

The Panthers’ legacy, Cyril says, is “one of brilliant Black militancy and also deep fracture and suffering. As a Panther Cub, I’ve been shaped by both. Today, as a member of the Black Lives Matter Network specifically and the Movement for Black Lives in general, I see tons of similarities between the two organizations—and some important differences.”

According to Cyril, “Both organizations were birthed by organic intellectuals whose love for Black people and all oppressed people is unwavering. Both organizations seek alliances across the lines of difference and make every attempt to embrace and engage all Black people, but especially those pushed to the margins of society. Both organizations have an internationalist approach, both (in different ways) value and uphold the leadership of women, and both have made a unique commitment to rejecting homophobia as a principle and a practice. Both have a critical and clear commitment to the concept of Black Power, as articulated by Kwame Ture [aka Stokely Carmichael]. Also, both were/are under attack by the FBI and local police and under constant and illegal surveillance for democratically-protected activities.”

Cyril is careful to note that “these organizations... didn’t emerge in the same political context and shouldn’t be expected to mirror each other. The Black Panther Party emerged after several decades of decolonization movements in the global South, including the independence of Cuba. BLM emerged after three decades of neoliberal attack on the Black communities of the US, specifically decimating national and global movements, a massive expansion of the prison system, and a systematic destruction of public education.”

Hodari Davis, organizer of Oakland’s annual Life Is Living festival—held in DeFremery Park, a former Panther stronghold in West Oakland—points out that “the Panthers didn’t have hashtags. They didn’t have social media. They weren’t able to Tweet their story.” Still, he says, the phrase “Black Lives Matter” reminds him of Panther slogans like “Black is Beautiful,” which he says had a “profound” impact on him as a child.

For Cyril, some of the takeaways from the Panther experience reflect a more evolved view of social equality and civil rights: “The lessons we must learn are how to not allow patriarchy, heterosexism and internalized racism to become the fracture points that open the door to FBI surveillance and COINTELPRO-style activities. These weaken movements and threaten them as well.”

The specter of state-sponsored repression has indeed loomed large over every would-be revolutionary uprising since the Panther days. The tools of oppression, however, have only gotten more sophisticated over the decades; the fire hoses of Bull Connor’s time have been updated by mobile sonic disruptors and portable cellphone signal-collecting devices.

Different Day, Same Movement
Ultimately, both BLM and the Panthers are part “of one movement: the movement for Black liberation,” Cyril says. “It’s a continuation of the resistance that Black people have been engaged in since the first slave revolt,” adds Brooks.

Similarly, Brooks says, “Direct action is not new to this moment in time. The Freedom Rides were a form of direct action. The lunch counter sit-ins were a form of direct action. The Montgomery bus boycott was direct action. All of those things interrupted business as usual.... You can’t uphold those [actions] and then call those of us who shut down freeways or BART trains or presidential debates troublemakers.”

While BLM is “not your grandfather’s Civil Rights Movement,” Brooks says, the economic reality for Black people in America means the movement must revisit what the Panthers called “survival programs.” Some communities of color, she explains, don’t engage in political activism because of pressing economic hardships, like paying electricity bills, or grappling with rising rents and eviction notices. That’s why, Brooks maintains there’s also a need “to be articulating and advocating for policies that make it less oppressive to live in this country.”

BLM may be many things to many people, but one thing it has consistently been is a wake-up call. Most people are unaware, as Davis points out, that the Panthers’ membership was two-thirds female. When museums curate exhibits on BLM five decades from now, there should be no denying that Black women and queer folks were at the forefront of the movement. As King notes, that would be a key pivot from the downplaying of queer Civil Rights-era figures like Bayard Rustin and Ella Baker, who are rarely mentioned in the same breath as Dr. King and Malcolm X.

Eric K. Arnold is a contributing editor to Race, Poverty & the Environment and the founder of oakulture.com.

Endnotes

1.           http://au.complex.com/music/2016/11/tribe-called-quest-saturday-night-live-performance
2.            http://www.cnn.com/2013/07/13/justice/zimmerman-trial/
3.            http://www.cleveland.com/metro/index.ssf/2015/07/thousands_of_freedom_fighters.html
4.           http://www.colorlines.com/articles/facing-race-spotlight-organizer-alicia-garza-why-black-lives-matter
5.           http://time.com/time-person-of-the-year-2015-runner-up-black-lives-matter/
6.           http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/how-blacklivesmatter-changed-hip-hop-and-r-b-in-2015-20151216
7.           http://www.nydailynews.com/entertainment/music/t-blasts-lil-wayne-black-lives-matter-comments-article-1.2861145
8.           http://www.espn.com/nfl/story/_/id/17918655/san-francisco-49ers-qb-colin-kaepernick-hosts-know-your-rights-camp-oakland-area-youth
9.           http://www.oaklandrising.org/es/blog/black-lives-matter-election-town-hall-and-candidate-forum
10.           https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/justice-department-report-blasts-san-francisco-police/2016/10/12/becb841c-90a2-11e6-a6a3-d50061aa9fae_story.html
11.           http://time.com/4179702/black-lives-matter-obama/
12.           http://www.eastbaytimes.com/2015/07/07/black-lives-matter-leader-cat-brooks-playing-the-role-of-her-life/
13.           http://www.spiked-online.com/newsite/article/black-lives-matter-has-a-plantation-mentality-elaine-brown-black-panthers/18888#.WAqKD2Wt59I
14.           https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ten-Point_Program
15.           https://policy.m4bl.org/end-war-on-black-people/

 

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From everyday people swarming to the site of the latest incident of police murder, to Colin Kaepernick’s protest during the national anthem, the BLM effect is empowering a new generation to challenge the racist practices and institutions.

Movement in Motion

Cat Brooks leads a press conference at Oakland Police Department headquarters.  © 2016 Eric K. Arnold

Interview with Cat Brooks by Eric K. Arnold

If you live in the Bay Area, it’s practically impossible to ignore Cat Brooks. She’s seemingly everywhere; on any given week, you might find her leading women’s marches against state-sponsored violence, holding press conferences at police headquarters for the Anti Police Terror Project (APTP), co-hosting KPFA-FM public affairs show “UpFront,” writing op/eds on how to correctly protest for the East Bay Express, speaking about the Black Panthers in a video installation at the Oakland Museum of California, pushing back against Oakland mayor Libby Schaaf on Facebook, or starring in a Lower Bottom Playaz stage production at theater venue The Flight Deck. And you thought your life was busy.

Brooks, whose background is as an attorney and actor, first came to prominence as a community activist as a member of the Onyx Organizing Committee (OOC), whose blog describes it as “an Afrikan liberation organization dedicated to the empowerment of all people of color.” OCC was active in the struggle against police violence in the years following the murder of Oscar Grant. During Occupy Oakland, the group maintained a POC presence at demonstrations, and occasionally clashed with would-be allies like the Revolutionary Communist Party over tactics —OCC spoke out against the destruction of small businesses and low-income communities of color, arguing that such actions would be more appropriate in affluent neighborhoods which lack diverse populations. OOC is currently on hiatus, but the same cannot be said of Brooks, who is highly active in both Black Lives Matter Bay Area and APTP. Recently, Reimagine! RPE caught up with Brooks. Here’s what she had to say.

Eric Arnold: Now, you’ve stated in past interviews that the murder of Oscar Grant was a catalyzing moment for you. Since then, we’ve seen similar scenes of police murder and violence against Black Americans caught on video all across the country. What needs to happen for this to change?

Cat Brooks: The first thing that we have to all come to a consensus on is that policing can’t be reformed, and it can’t be fixed. It can’t be fixed or reformed because it’s not broken. It’s not like policing was going along working well for Black, and Brown, and poor people in this country and then something went awfully awry and now we have to get back on track. Most people know that policing in this country was born out of the slave trade, the slave-catchers in particular, whose job then was to hunt, catch, kill, and/or incarcerate Black people. And that’s what it’s continuing to do. This particular moment in time affords us an opportunity to have some bold, and what some would consider crazy, conversations. And what I mean by that is: admitting that policing (and prisons for that matter) don’t work for anybody—Black, Brown, white or otherwise. White supremacy has done 600 years of damage. We’re hurt people. We need something as we try to unpack and heal from the last 600 years, but punitive and militarized policing and prisons is not the answer. So that needs to be the long game.

In the short term, we do believe that radical reforms need to take place in the meantime. This is the system we have now, so how do we create the conditions that stem the tide of Black and Brown bodies that are falling all over the streets of America at the hands of law enforcement? Radical reform looks like arresting, convicting and jailing police officers who murder unarmed citizens. It looks like leave without pay. It does look like body cameras but not in the sense that body cameras are the answer, right. And we have to really talk about what regulations around body cameras and consequences for not turning on cameras and where that footage goes, and all of those things. It looks like police commissions that are community-controlled, and by that I do not mean what is happening in Oakland. I want to be really clear about that. I mean what the Panthers were calling for 50 years ago and what we need to continue to call for today, which is community control of the police with the ability to hire, fire and discipline.

Arnold: Why, in your view, is it so difficult for police to comply with accountability regarding misconduct?

Brooks: I don’t think anybody is really seriously holding them accountable. I think that we’re getting paid a lot of lip service. The police in and of themselves aren’t the problem. So we should start there. Law enforcement, police departments across the country in and of themselves are not the problem. They are the frontline troops that enforce the mandate of the larger political. There are systems and institutions of white supremacy that impact who lives where, who gets what education, who has access to what jobs, who gets pushed out when, who gets incarcerated, etc., [and] the police are mandated by other people to utilize force.... Nobody’s having a serious conversation about dismantling systems of white supremacy and inequitable opportunity in this country; nobody’s serious about holding police officers accountable and they know that. The policing can’t be fixed, because it’s not broken, and tinkering around the edges of it are never going to get us the results that people are looking for. It’s only the kinds of courageous conversations that will actually start to push the needle towards really looking at what policing is and has always been in this country. Why, in a country that believes in democracy and equitable opportunity for everybody and, you know, land of the free and home of the brave, that model does not work along with those messages. They’re not conducive to each other.

Arnold: You’re a member of both the Anti Police-Terror Project (APTP) and Black Lives Matter (BLM). What’s the difference between the two organizations, and how do their platforms intersect?

Brooks: The first difference is that, while APTP is definitely concerned with Black liberation as a whole and engages on a variety of issues in solidarity, we have decided that our primary focus is to deal with base; engage and combat what we feel is the immediate threat to the physical safety of Black and Brown people in this country. The other difference is that, while we are Black-led, we are not an all-Black organization. We work across race and nationality. [An]other difference is that we’ve got a much more structured leadership formation than BLM. And I’m saying all this with no judgment.

Arnold: What do you make of the comparisons between the Black Panther Party and BLM, and what lessons can we learn from the Panther struggle?

Brooks: I don’t compare Black Lives Matter, as an organization, and the Black Panther Party, as an organization. They are completely separate organizations that exist in two different time frames and two very separate conditions that dictate the type of organizing that needs to happen. What I think we can compare is the Movement for Black Lives right now and the movement for Black liberation that was happening then.... One of the things that I hear people say [is], this isn’t your grandfather’s civil rights or your grandparents’ civil rights movement. You’re right. Ain’t nobody being lynched. Ain’t nobody being drug out of their house by the Klan. Ain’t nobody being set on fire on buses. Ain’t nobody being bitten by dogs, turned on by fire hoses. That said, the levels of surveillance that we’re under are so much more intense, and the complexity of the beast that we’re fighting is so much more intense and violent that it’s caused folks to really think through how, when, where they engage. The other lesson that we need to be pulling from the Panther Party that nobody is doing a very good job at—and actually APTP is in the process of pivoting our work to focus more on that—[is] the survival program. We’re really rooted in the theory that if someone is worried about their life, or they’re worried about feeding their kids, or they’re hungry, that there’s not a lot of room to think about liberation. We need to get back to the basics. In Oakland, we need to be east of 73rd [in the Acorn], organizing those folks, meeting their needs, lessening the boot of oppression on their neck a little bit so they can move around some and think about liberation, and deliver them the tools and the skill sets that some of us have been privileged enough to [bring] into those communities, so that they can rise up and they can lead the next steps of the revolution.

Arnold: You’re also known for your confrontational tactics. Why is confrontation and direct action necessary?

Brooks: Interrupting business as usual is normal because what we’ve learned, as can be seen in the 50-year drought of having conversation about racial equity in this country, unless Black and Brown folk are taking it and shoving it in the face of the establishment and in the faces of mainstream America, nobody’s going to talk about it. It isn’t until we interrupt your daily flow, until we interrupt your commerce, until we make you as close to uncomfortable as we can, to understand what it feels like to be Black or Brown in this country, that anybody’s ever willing to have a conversation.

Arnold: NAACP leaders have called actions like the BART shutdown “counterproductive.” Assuming you disagree with that statement, why is that not the case?

Brooks: You know, it’s unfortunate to me to see the way that some of our more established civil rights organizations in this country have responded to the current moment. Again, these are tactics that they were engaged in when they were younger and more active.

Arnold: You called out Barbara Lee on her support of Libby Schaaf.

Brooks: I called her out specifically around a grant that is coming to Oakland to put 15 “community-oriented police” on the streets of Oakland, and she’s saying that she’s doing it in the name of improving relationships between community and police, in the name of stemming the tide of violence that Black communities are facing at the hands of law enforcement. So how do you use a quote from a mayor who, in the face of an international movement—screaming about police violence—spends her entire first day unapologetically with one of the most corrupt and bloody police departments in the country? Who [stands] by their side as they murdered seven Black men in 2015, one of whom was asleep in his car?

Arnold: Where BLM is concerned, how important is it to have a national platform to address the same issues we’ve been dealing with in Oakland since the Panther era?

Brooks: Movement for Black Lives put out the platform, which is a coalition of a bunch of groups. I personally believe that we’ve got to be moving simultaneous paths. What I was talking about earlier in terms of specific police reform—we’re really talking about liberation for Black people in this country. We have to both be divesting from the system and investing in our own communities, and, by that, I mean trading models by which we can rely on the state less and less and empower the people that take care of our own business because the truth is that America is never going to treat us like full human beings. In the meantime, we do need to be articulating and fighting for policies that make it less oppressive for us to live in this country. I believe it’s a policy platform providing opportunity for folks who may not want to engage in direct action with some of the other tactics that we’ve been using to still fight for liberatory conditions in this country.

 Oree Original’s “justice for...” portraits decorate the window of Oakland’s Solespace. © 2016 Eric K. ArnoldArnold: What inspired you about the BLM organization or the Movement for Black Lives?

Brooks: I was inspired by what the organization ignited in the hearts and minds of thousands of Black people across the country and the world. I’m inspired by the numbers of people willing to put their bodies, and their freedom, and their money on the line in the name of Black liberation. I’m inspired by the unapologetic love that people that are working The Movement for Black Lives have today. For BLM, specifically... they bravely and boldly came out and said we’re talking about all Black lives, including our queer and trans brothers and sisters. I thought that was a critical pivot from where we had been previously to where we need to move towards.... [I’m also ] inspired by the unapologetic support of and upliftment of Black women as leaders in this movement. That’s also particularly unique to BLM.

Arnold: What do you say to people who say BLM and APTP should address Black on Black violence?

Brooks: As far as BLM is concerned, and the platform makes it evident, BLM is not just concerned about police violence. BLM is concerned about all of the ways in which the war is being waged on Black lives. If you look at the membership, or the affiliates or the allies that are working in concert underneath that banner, you’ll see that reflected in the work that’s happening across the country. Similarly, APTP is part of the Black Power Network. The Black Power Network is a coalition of Black organizations that are working for Black liberation on all fronts. We work in three areas in particular: reform, reactive and revolutionary. Reform is a policy arena. Reactive is definitely when we’re out in the streets, but that has not just been around policing [but] also around housing, gentrification and other stuff. Revolutionary is the longer term work that we’re doing in creating models for disengagement from the system that we currently have and investing, demonstrating for the people, and empowering the people with alternate models that don’t rely on the state as much.

Black on Black crime. Our value system is that all violence is state violence, and we have reacted repeatedly to inner communal violence locally here in Oakland and there are other groups that are doing it across the state, with the narrative, the understanding, the analysis that it’s the conditions of white supremacy [which] creates and perpetuates inner communal violence. I won’t even call it Black on Black crime. We hurt the people we live closest to, and no matter what lies America tells the rest of the country about the fact that we live in a desegregated society, America is incredibly segregated. So we harm those we live closest to. White people kill mostly white people. Latino people kill mostly Latino people. Black people kill mostly Black people.

Arnold: Any thoughts on the attempted coopting of the BLM hashtag, such as “all lives matter” or “blue lives matter?”

Brooks: Yes, all lives do matter. [But] it should say something about the levels of anti-Blackness and the ways in which white America, and others, see Black... the assertion of the importance of Black lives as such a threat and the unwillingness to really examine anti-Blackness in this country and the way it plays out for Black people in particular, that we would have to have that kind of response. The truth is that’s the courts, the powers that be, the police, the school systems, our local elected officials, [who] aren’t clear that Black lives matter too. If they were, Black people would not be subjected to the conditions that they’re subjected to. So we’re going to focus on Black life right now, and what we promise y’all is that your liberation is intertwined with ours.

Arnold: Any final thoughts?

Brooks: I do know that movements ebb and flow and that we’re flowing right now. This is not a new movement. It’s a continuation of the resistance that Black people have been engaged in since the first wave of revolt. That said, what we do know is that at some point the state is going to react in a violent, harsh, dramatic manner and that will let us know what happens next.

Eric K. Arnold is a contributing editor to Race, Poverty & the Environment and the founder of oakulture.com.

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Black Lives Matter: Opening a Second Front

BLM Member Chaney Turner © 2016 Eric K. ArnoldBy J. Douglas Allen-Taylor

The time has come—where it’s not happening already—to open up a “Second Front” in the direct action campaign to save and preserve Black lives in cities like Oakland, California.

The term “Black Lives Matter” was coined in the immediate aftermath of the July, 2013 acquittal of civilian George Zimmerman in the 2012 shooting death of Black Florida teenager Trayvon Martin. But even before the term was created, the movement that would later be identified with it had already opened up its “First Front” following the 2009 shooting death of Oscar Grant by a Bay Area Rapid Transit police officer at a BART station in East Oakland. The name “Black Lives Matter” now refers—sometimes interchangeably—both to the chapter organizations set up by the three women who coined the phrase as well as to the larger movement of organizations and individuals who rally under its banner. In this article, I use the term to refer to that larger movement and not necessarily the chapter organization.

While there has been a large turnover in the leadership and membership in this ‘larger movment’ BLM in Oakland since the days of the Oscar Grant protest, the tactics have remained generally similar. Each time a police officer shoots and kills a Black person in Oakland (and often when the killing occurs elsewhere in the country), a rally is organized in some central location in Oakland—usually in the plaza in front of City Hall—with a march following, which often ends with an action of civil disobedience somewhere within the streets or public spaces of Oakland or on the freeways traversing the city.

And while there have been variations in the tactics used during these marches and demonstrations over the years since Oscar Grant’s death, the geographical location of the battleground has largely remained the same: within the confines of the city of Oakland. These rolling rounds of demonstrations have come at a large cost of tax money, business revenue, and Oakland’s city image, and there is ample evidence that they have have forced some positive changes in the attitude of Oakland’s police leadership towards Oakland’s Black population and city leaders’ attitude towards its police problems.

Better or Worse?
In the fall of 2015, for example the San Francisco Chronicle reported that “Despite several recent officer-involved shootings, a Chronicle analysis of Oakland Police Department [OPD] data shows [use-of-force] incidents are becoming less common. Officer-involved shootings, excessive force complaints and incidents in which officers used force have all declined precipitously over the past three years in Oakland.” 1

More recently, in the November 2016 election, a city council-sponsored ballot measure for a Community Police Review Agency to oversee some of the actions of the Oakland police was passed by the voters. And while some advocates for strong citizen police oversight argued that the review panel could have and should have been stronger, the Mercury News quotes Tom Nolan, a retired Boston police lieutenant and criminology professor at Merrimack College, as saying that “This could arguably be the strongest police oversight board in the country, what many hope would be a national model.”

But while there have been positive steps in the past few years, there is also evidence that Oakland police actions towards Black Oakland residents have gone in the opposite direction during the same period.

That downturn in OPD use-of-force reported in the San Francisco Chronicle, for example, looks not quite as good on closer inspection as it does on the surface. In the same article, the Chronicle reproduced a chart based on police sources that showed no suspect shootings whatsoever by Oakland police in 2014. That might be cause for celebration, except for the fact that the number of police-involved shootings immediately rose to six the next year, roughly the same average number as in the five years prior to 2014.

In a Democracy Now! June 2016 interview, Cat Brooks of the Oakland-based Anti Police-Terror Project2 (APTP)—one of the organizations most active in the Black Lives Matter protests in Oakland—charged that the six men shot and killed by Oakland police in 2015 were murdered.3 Brooks also included a seventh man in the “murdered by police” statistic: an African-American named Richard Linyard who, according to Indybay online newspaper, “police claim suffocated to death after he squeezed himself between two buildings during a police chase.”4

And earlier this summer, Stanford University released the results of a two-year study of traffic and pedestrian stops of citizens by Oakland police that found “significant differences in... police conduct toward African Americans.”5

“Among the findings,” the study concluded, was that “African American men were four times more likely to be searched than whites during a traffic stop [in Oakland]. African Americans were also more likely to be handcuffed, even if they ultimately were not arrested.”

The directly contradictory nature of the above statistics and charges raises the difficult questions: have the marches and demonstrations under the general Black Lives Matter movement banner improved the police situation for Black Folk in Oakland, have things gotten worse since the demonstrations started seven and a half years ago, or have things remained much the same? They appear to have done both, depending upon which are of concern you’re talking about, and some of the reasons for that mixed outcome goes directly to who is targeted by those demonstrations, the location in which most of these demonstrations take place, and who is most affected by demonstrations in those locations.

Second Front
One approach to understanding what’s changed and what hasn’t is to revisit the role of the targets of the street demonstrations. Who is targeted by these demonstrations? And given the location in which most of these demonstrations take place, who is most affected by them?

Strangely, the group that rarely receives direct pressure—and the emphasis is on the “direct”—are the rank-and-file Oakland patrol officers themselves and their immediate supervisors. While individual officers are often named in the protests—officers, for example, who may have shot and killed an African American or Latino in Oakland—the protesters rarely demand anything from these individual officers themselves or their fellow officers or supervisors. Instead, the demand is almost always for the district attorney to prosecute offending officers, for the chief to discipline them, for the mayor to fire the chief, if the chief doesn’t do enough disciplining, and, most importantly, to direct the officers under his or her command to change the ways they deal with African American and Latino residents in Oakland.

The problem with the last demand is that while police administrators have some control over the actions of the officers under their command, many of their officers’ activities— particularly the ones of interest to the demonstrators—are left to the discretion of the officers themselves. Whether an officer should intervene with a stop-and-search or with the more serious use of force is highly subjective. Police departments put out general directives and parameters for actions and reactions police officers can and must take in different situations, but leave it to the officers to decide—often in a matter of seconds—what actions are appropriate in the moment.

But, of course, it is the presence of such department-authorized officer discretion in potentially dangerous situations that greatly increases the ability of bigoted officers to discriminate against African American and Latino suspects and still stay within department guidelines. In a situation where officer response could go in one of several ways, it allows officers to decide that a situation is already so dangerous that a suspect must be taken by force, up to and including shooting the suspect, even if another officer encountering the same situation might either talk the suspect into custody or decide that there was a mistake and no detainment or arrest was even necessary. Officer discretion also allows officers to purposely escalate a situation with a Black or Brown suspect in order to put themselves in actual immediate danger, thus meeting one of the key requirements that make the use of force necessary in effecting an arrest.

We know from experience and anecdotal evidence that racial discrimination and excessive use of force are being carried out by a minority of Oakland police and, in the case of the most extreme instances, such as unnecessary shootings of civilians, by a small minority.

We also know that while the vast majority of Oakland police officers are not committing these actions, they are also standing by and doing nothing to stop the excesses; nor are they reporting them to their superiors, even when they privately disagree with those actions. In many instances, officers on the scene but not committing the offenses—as well as supervising superiors—are actively participating in cover-ups to keep the offending officers from being disciplined or having legal action brought against them.

“And the Earth Did Not Swallow Them” by Precita Eyes Muralists  © 2015 Max Allbee, Marina Perez Wong, Suaro Cervantes, Fred AlvaradoIn fact, the legendary “blue wall of silence” all but requires police officers to remain publicly silent when they see their fellow officers break or bend the law. It even encourages police to give false reports and testimony to help their fellow officers avoid the consequences of discriminatory actions. And despite the fact that we have seen a small upswing in officers around the country reporting on fellow officers in recent months, the truth is that the vast majority suffer the wrath of their fellow officers if they stand up and tell on their own.

One should never forget the story of Keith Batt, the former Oakland rookie officer who blew the whistle on the self-described “Oakland Riders,” the four OPD officers who were arrested in 2000 for a massive campaign of falsifying reports, planting evidence and beating suspects, most of them Black.

“Batt quit the Oakland force after coming forward” and went to work as an officer in the Pleasanton Police Department, according to a 2004 article in The San Francisco Chronicle.6 “Under questioning... by [the Alameda County] Deputy District Attorney,” the Chronicle article continues, “Batt said he had kept quiet at first about the alleged misconduct of the Riders, knowing that if he broke the code of silence and decided to ‘rat on cops,’ fellow officers would ‘turn their back on me.’”

What is true for OPD’s use of deadly force policy—discretion in application and cover-up by fellow officers and immediate superiors—is even more the case with regard to searches during police foot and traffic stops. OPD’s November 15, 2004, policy on “Prohibitions Regarding Racial Profiling And Other Bias-Based Policing”7 only requires that “investigative detentions, traffic stops, arrests, searches and property seizures by officers shall be based on a standard of reasonable suspicion or probable cause in accordance with the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.”

Despite the fact that Oakland’s foot and traffic stop policy specifically requires police officers to “articulate specific facts and circumstances that support reasonable suspicion or probable cause,” and forbids the consideration of “actual or perceived race, ethnicity, national origin, gender, age, religion, sexual orientation, or disability” in determining that suspicion or probable cause, OPD officers still managed—as we have seen—to search African American men during a traffic stop at a higher rate than appears necessary to protect the safety of Oakland.

This can happen because—as with the use of force—it is up to the discretion of the police officers themselves to decide whether somebody’s actions in each particular case add up to enough “reasonable suspicion” to warrant a stop, or a stop and a subsequent search.

And so, while Oakland’s mayor and chief of police can be pressured, like Shakespeare’s Glendower, to summon the spirits of racism and bigotry from the “vasty deep” of Oakland’s police, they cannot force those demons to come out.

Why Cops Don’t Care
In many instances of concern expressed by the Black Lives Matter protests in Oakland, the exorcism of the OPD’s bigoted and discriminatory practices lies not in the hands of the mayor or the police chief or anyone else at the top of the chain of command, but rather in the hands of the rank-and-file police officers themselves, along with their immediate supervisors. And Oakland’s rank-and-file police are rarely directly challenged to change their ways by marches and demonstrations taking place inside the city limits of Oakland because—to the suprise of few—most of them don’t live in Oakland.

According to a 2014 article in Oakland North newspaper, “only 49 of 626 sworn [Oakland police] officers live in Oakland. Most OPD officers commute from Contra Costa County or other parts of Alameda County, according to police data from June.”8

And so, while Oakland businesses are adversely impacted by Black Lives Matter demonstrations, and Oakland city services are cut back in order to pay for massive overtime costs to provide police for those demonstrations, the rank-and-file police themselves go back to their own communities to find their own parks and libraries and playgrounds undisturbed, and their businesses unbothered by the problems they have left behind in Oakland.

This, then, is one of the major reasons why there has been such a mixed response to the Black Lives Matter demonstrations over the years, with significant progress in some areas of police conduct, but a stubborn, dug-in stagnation in others.

That mixed response will not likely change until Oakland police officers and detectives and their immediate supervisors begin to feel the heat of the demonstrations, not in Oakland, but in their own communities. When their residential taxes are forced to go up to pay for police supervision of demonstrations, when their own businesses suffer, when their own friends and neighbors and family begin to complain about the inconveniences, when Contra Costa residents begin to howl about police misconduct in Oakland, that is the point when these Oakland police officers will begin to understand that whatever happens in Oakland will not stay in Oakland but will follow them to their own homes.

Not until then will Oakland police officers living in outlying communities have the incentive to change the way Oakland streets are patrolled and its Black and Brown citizens treated.

This is why we need a Second Front opened up in the direct action campaign to save and preserve Black lives in cities like Oakland, California. This is not a call for demonstrations in Oakland to stop. Rather, it’s a call for some of those marches and demonstrations to cross over the eastern hills and take the struggle into those quiet and pleasant communities where Oakland police officers live.

J. Douglas Allen-Taylor is a freelance journalist and author who was born and raised in Oakland, California. You can find an archive of his writings at www.safero.org.

Endnotes
1.           www.sfchronicle.com/bayarea/article/Sharp-downturn-in-use-of-force-at-Oakland-Police-6481637.php September 2, 2015

2.           www.antipoliceterrorproject.org
3.           www.democracynow.org/2016/6/21/blacklivesmatter_activist_oakland_needs_to_name
4.           www.indybay.org/newsitems/2015/08/27/18776752.php
5.           news.stanford.edu/2016/06/15/stanford-big-data-study-finds-racial-disparities-oakland-calif-police-behavior-offers-solutions/
6.           www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/OAKLAND-Riders-lied-brutalized-man-2629441.php
7.           www2.oaklandnet.com/oakca1/groups/police/documents/webcontent/oak032293.pdf
8.           oaklandnorth.net/2014/09/18/kaplan-proposes-hiring-50-percent-oakland-residents-for-next-police-academy/

 

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Raimagine!

Gentrified Violence

Robbie Clarke affordable housing and tenant’s rights symposium . © 2015 Eric K. Arnold

Interview with Robbie Clark by J. Douglas Allen-Taylor

Robbie Clark was born and raised in Oakland, California. They’ve worked with Just Cause for almost 10 years and have been the Housing Rights Campaign lead organizer for the last six years. Clark is currently transitioning into building up the Just Cause Black Priorities Project.

J. Douglas Allen-Taylor: You’ve defined some of that work as battling gentrification. A lot of people have a definition of gentrification, which is simply that it’s a case of taking an existing lower-to-moderate income, primarily African American neighborhood, and slowly or quickly replacing it with a middle-to-upper income white neighborhood. Is that your definition?

Robbie Clark: I think it’s definitely one that resonates with a lot of people and a lot of the ways that people understand it, and it is also a piece of gentrification. But we have to look at the entire process of gentrification in order to identify what are real solutions to the problem and to the issue.

Gentrification is state violence. You can’t talk about the state of Black people in the Bay Area without really talking about gentrification and talking about all the ways that state violence manifests itself: from the police, to housing, to what our education looks like, to our health and access to health, our economic health. All of those things are related to expressions of state violence. By saying gentrification is state violence, it really puts the role of the state at the forefront and names it as violence at the core of it.

I think that there are still some people that will say that there isn’t anything that the city can do about gentrification because that’s just how things are. You know, that’s just how things move, and that’s business as usual. As profit moves, as capitalism grows and develops, it has a detrimental impact on Black People. That’s just what it is. But that simplified definition really doesn’t hold the state or the city accountable in relationship to being able to do something to fight or stop that problem.

The more people see how much gentrification is related to and is just an extension of, or the way that capitalism works in a city, on a city level, the more people see that, the more we can actually agitate people to have a critique of capitalism and think about transforming the economy, transforming the way that money flows, transforming the way that development happens, and doing development from a place of preservation of human beings, and of Black People in particular, in cities like Oakland and San Francisco.

Also, working on trying to get some of our folks back, so really being focused on that. I feel like it’s comparable to the way that they won’t put money into rehabilitation. They don’t want to fix anything. They just wanna do something new. They want to forget there’s anything to fix. I feel like that’s what happens with gentrification. In fact, they just want to build new things in East Oakland, forgetting that there were older buildings that just need to be prepared, repaired and fixed. Those kind of material things or built environment are not the only things that have been neglected and that are in disrepair. The people who have lived there have been neglected, and the economic base there has been neglected. That is in disrepair.

Black Lives Matter march in Minneapolis, Minnesota. cc. 2015 Fibonacci BlueThe way that we want to do development, it’s not just about what the streetscape looks like or how tall they build the buildings. Even though that kind of thing’s important, it’s not just about the facade. It’s really about, like, everywhere our neighborhood could grow. We have to think about many existing institutions. You know, how are the churches, and how are the stores in the area? How are the local businesses in the area? How are those things that make a community what it is? Our goal is letting the residents of that city define that, not the economics define what happens in our neighborhood.

Allen-Taylor: How does that work on the gentrification issue with Just Cause relate to your work with Black Lives Matter? Is it intertwined? Or is it different?

Clark: A lot of the relationships that I have with both have been relationships that got built through me doing this work at Just Cause. And when we decided that we were going to do the Black Friday action and block the West Oakland BART station, in addition to responding to the call coming out of the people of Ferguson, was to be able to talk about the many dimensions of state violence, including gentrification.

Allen-Taylor: The popular perception of Black Lives Matter is that it either began or is a movement primarily concerned with the killing of African Americans, either by police or by non-African-Americans. Obviously, things that you’re talking about are much broader than that. Is it that the movement started out of those killing issues and moved into the broader area at some point, either quickly or later? Or is it that it was always involved with the broader issues and it’s just that the popular perception did not pick that up, for whatever reason, maybe because of the media?

Clark: When we started the Bay Area chapter specifically, we were very clear from the beginning that we really wanted our chapter to broadly take on state violence—in that we wanted to do our work in a way that really highlighted a number of different aspects of state violence. But the killing of Black People at the hands of police, at the root of it is capitalism. At the root of it is white supremacy. So I think that the killing of African Americans by police and non-African-Americans is definitely something that is going to get picked up and carried throughout the media. But if you see The Movement For Black Lives’ “Vision For Black Lives” platform online (policy.m4bl.org), that goes into a number of different issue areas: relationship to land, relationship to economic and Black institutions, education and health. I think that policy platform is an expression of the way that a number of Black People who have been organizing Black People throughout this country specifically see how the violence manifests.

Allen-Taylor: How would you describe your relationship to the Bay Area chapter of the Black Lives Matter? Are you in leadership?

Clark: Two years ago I was a part of some of the folks that first came together to create a chapter.

Allen-Taylor: So you were one of the founders of the chapter?

Clark: Yeah. There were a lot of us who were founders. I don’t usually talk about myself as being a founder, but I guess so. When it gets down to it, there were a lot of us who came together to make it happen and to make the Black Friday action happen.

The first thing that we did was the BART shutdown, and even though there were 14 of us, I was one of the 14 that locked up BART and was part of the Black Friday 14. I think people started to see us 14 as being kind of the leadership of the chapter because there was a lot of attention around our holding BART accountable, taking up some of the demands that a lot of folks had on BART after the murder of Oscar Grant, things like that.

But there were over 200 people involved and played a role and had a relationship to that action, and about a quarter of those folks were planning day-to-day [to make] it happen. So there’s been a lot of leadership roles in the development of the chapter.

Allen-Taylor: How should they view what you are saying in relationship to Black Lives Matter? Are you simply speaking for yourself and not for the chapter? I’m assuming that there are no specific leadership positions like chairperson and so forth.

Clark: Yeah, we don’t have any specific leadership positions like that. We have a team of folks who we call our core team, and different ones of us take up different roles to build us out. I’m part of the core team.

Allen-Taylor: Who is authorized to speak for the Black Lives Matter Bay Area chapter?

Clark: I think for me, for most of us who are actually in the core team of Black Lives Matter Bay Area, we have been doing work in more traditional organizations where it’s a lot more cut and dried in terms of who can speak for the organization and all these different things. I think what we’re trying to do is when we do specific actions, or hold specific events, we identify people for those actions, for those events, who are speaking on behalf of Black Lives Matter Bay Area. Sometimes those people are the same and sometimes they’re different people, depending on their relationship to the work.

When we’re putting out something and we’re making a statement, then those people are speaking for the organization. There are people who speak for certain projects who are part of building those projects, and if I wasn’t a part of the work, I wouldn’t talk to you about that program. So I think it’s a lot different from how people traditionally have done things in organizations. Our model is that the folks who are doing that work are the ones that are talking about that work.

Allen-Taylor: Is there room within Black Lives Matter for others to have differing views, slightly differing positions? Is that fair to say?

Clark: I think it’s fair to say that people are going to have different views and positions, but that we want to make sure that they’re aligned with the principles that we have. As long as everyone fits under those principles, if it isn’t a contradiction of those principles, then, yeah, there’s space for folks to have different perspectives and different views.

People have a number of different strategies on how we should get there. So what we’re doing is trying to make this space where as much of that can happen and in a way, where leadership is a little bit more decentralized, because we want people to take ownership of what it is that we’re doing and building and use that as a shield to do what’s going to be best. We’ve done a number of different events as Black Lives Matter Bay Area partnering with other Black organizations, and people will feel connected to Black Lives Matter because we worked together on actions. And they’ll also be building out their own specific group or affinity group or organization.

We’re not looking to be the place where all Black organizing needs to happen. What we’re really looking to do, what our hope is to, like I said, nurture more Black organizing, nurture more Black leadership, and support those folks that are already doing that organizing, that leadership. And having an all-Black space where we’re able to talk about, connect across different issues, different struggles, and really be able to imagine together. So often people are only thinking about how to do “x” thing, or this strategy, or this tactic, and sometimes we just need the space to be in Black communities and just build with each other; talk about our journey as Black People and utilize that to really shape our imagination and utilize our desires for our own self-determination, and for our own liberation.

Art by Jessica Sabogal. cc.  goodfromyou.coWhatever kind of negative stereotypes we’ve learned, we try to create a space where we’re able to leave all of that outside and just bring Black love together. In that, there’s a lot of power—just being able to connect with each other and just have Black love and Black joy with each other—and [build] a space where Black imagination can grow. That’s really critical in the Bay Area.

The more that we get pushed out, the more it’s critical that we have that space to imagine what it would look like. To imagine those paths together of how we get to having more self-determined Black communities that are exercising their power politically and in other ways, to stay here, to stay alive, to be healthy.

Allen-Taylor: Getting back to your work with Just Cause, what is the Black Priorities Project going to be?

Clark: It started at POWER—at People Organized to Win Human Employment Rights. POWER merged with Causa Justa a little over a year ago. We were, like, we have to continue to do this work, so we continued to do the base-building work.

Allen-Taylor: To do what kind of base-building work?

Clark: The base-building work is the part of organizing that I think people don’t see as much as other things, like a direct action. There are different things like that which are a little bit more flashy, a little bit more kind of exciting to look at, but, really, the base-building work is what’s at the core of organizing—building out your constituency, building out the people who know and identify with your organization and also identify who are going to be the folks that are going to be a part of it, who are going to be leading the organization, who make the decisions about the direction that we go.

So, the base-building portion is really critical, and it’s also really very different from what it looked like when I first started at Just Cause in terms of, like, how spread out over the region the lives of Black People are now, due to gentrification and due to the housing problem. It’s accelerated over the past decade. So, yeah, that’s a lot of where that work is but, again, the goal is to build Black political power in the Bay Area. One of the racialized aspects of displacement and the impact that it has on Black People is that our political power dwindles, and that has a direct impact on our ability to access the social safety net, our ability to grow economic bases, specifically Black economic bases.

Our strength is our unity and the more that we’re able to come together, then that unity is actually at the core of our ability. Our base of power to be able to push these reforms into the next level really comes from the strength of the unity that we have built. That just takes time. It’ll take people being open. It takes a little trust in people.

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Raimagine!

A Call to Cultural Transformation

Occupy4Prisoners: The Injustice System on Trial action in Oakland, California  highlighting injustice in the prison industrial complex in April 2012. cc. 2012 Daniel Arauz

By Steve Martinot

Black Lives Matter (BLM) broke upon the scene in mid-2013 with the voices of enraged crowds from Baltimore and New York City through Ferguson and Chicago to Oakland and Los Angeles. It added itself to a growing US uprising against police murder, mass incarceration, racial profiling, terror against immigrants and continued racial segregation in housing, employment and education. It quickly took hold as the name for a movement, a catalytic crystal that gave coherence and coordination to hundreds of separate events scattered across the country. And it appeared internationally in demonstrations in Peru, Tokyo, Germany and elsewhere. The world was evidently watching the US very carefully, weary of its pretensions to democracy and humanitarian enterprise, as Black Lives Matter turned the shutdown of expressways and neighborhoods at home from local responses to local atrocities into a global event.

The slogan meant, first of all, that the war on Black people must stop. But second, it demanded recognition of autonomy for all communities of color, their struggles for justice and their power to determine their own destiny. That demand led to a myriad of interruptions of board rooms and brunches, hearings and banquets, by teams of Black people loudly affirming, “We’re here and we exist.” These many groups then coalesced in Cleveland early 2016 to form the Movement For Black Lives, pooling their voices in their “Vision For Black Lives” founding platform to call for “a world in which the full humanity and dignity of all people is recognized.”1

 Behind that proclamation, “Black Lives Matter” became a call for what is essentially a cultural transformation of the world. As BLM cofounder Alicia Garza says, “The existing system is not what we ultimately want, nor will it ever substantively meet the needs of Black people.... Work has to be done [beyond non-participation] to make sure those systems are transformed, or that new systems are built.”2 These broad sentiments, in their common recognition of a national and international endeavor, also dovetail with two specific issues that must be addressed. One is the enormous problem of the huge denationalized population in the prisons of the US, the vast majority of whom are people of color. The other is the nature of race itself, the nature of what it means to be Black and, therefore, what it means to be white.

The United States operates the largest prison system in the world. With just 5 percent of the world’s population, the US holds 25 percent of its prisoners. And it is they for whom Garza’s call for cultural transformation is both most urgent and most familiar. They are the ones taken prisoner by a police system that in 2015 killed over 1,100 unarmed Black people in the streets of the US (which averages out to more than three a day; a “war” indeed). Since the majority are imprisoned for victimless crimes, they are there for their race, first and foremost. Those who survive the mind-destroying conditions of indefinite sentences, of decades-long solitary confinements, of torture at the whim of officials, guards and politically-appointed parole boards, are the ones who dream most deeply of a humane and dignifying world.

Poster Art by Annie Banks and Mutope Duguma, called “Each of Us.” Duguma is a New Afrikan author and educator, currently imprisoned in the SHU (Solitary Housing Unit) at the Pelican Bay State Prison in Crescent City, CA. www.anniembanks.wordpress.com/Of course, the racialization of Black people has always depended on imprisonment. Slavery is more properly understood as “prison labor,” since the “ownership” of a person is blatantly oxymoronic, having meaning only for white landowners. Under Jim Crow, Black people were imprisoned in a debt structure that tied them to the land. Any attempt to escape led to a chain gang, or contract labor on a plantation (indistinguishable from slavery).

Today, not only have prisoners joined the leadership of many of the movements for justice from which BLM has sprung, they have been at the forefront of the search for new mythologies on the basis of which a society that is human—granting dignity to and recognizing the sanctity of human beings—might be possible; as also, a world in which the dehumanization and irrationality of racialized violence would not be possible.

Some among the incarcerated turn to ancient African thinking, others to contemporary (20th century) African philosophy; some turn to various indigenous traditions from the Americas, some to a variety of Asian philosophies and religions; and some simply take a hard look at the degrees of dehumanization that surround them and attempt to imagine an antithesis.

The struggle of the incarcerated for human rights, recently sparking hunger strikes and labor strikes throughout the country’s prisons, has been at the heart of the BLM call.

Those among the incarcerated who politicize their imprisonment are the ones most likely to be thrown into solitary confinement by prison administrations. It was with an intent to destroy them that the government invented the humanity-breaking “control unit” and “secure housing unit” policies in such institutions as the Marion Federal Prison in Illinois and Pelican Bay State Prison in California.

Criminalize at Will
What is often covered up, along with the lives of those thrown into the nation’s solitary confinement dungeons, is the police ability to criminalize anyone at will. They can act autonomously because the system of victimless crime laws relieves them of the need for a complainant. Police racial profiling has been legitimized by the Supreme Court (Terry v. Ohio; see Michelle Alexander’s analysis in The New Jim Crow). Police have been given enhanced obedience statutes that enable them to issue humiliating commands and immediately arrest or punish anyone who defends their sense of self-respect by disobeying. With impunity, they divide civil society between those whose humanity will be respected (the non-profiled) and those whose humanity can and will be disrespected (the racially profiled). In other words, the police have become the new “color line.” They have used it to imprison millions of people.

This is what led the Movement For Black Lives to announce in their founding platform a call for, among other things, “an immediate end to the criminalization and dehumanization of Black youth across all areas of society including, but not limited to, our nation’s justice and education systems, social service agencies, and media and pop culture. This includes an end to zero-tolerance school policies and arrests of students, the removal of police from schools and the reallocation of funds from police and punitive school discipline practices to restorative services.”

Meanwhile, the urgency of the BLM call for cultural transformation poses certain questions. To whom is this call addressed? What are “Black lives”? Do they just stand in opposition to a militarizing government, or is their existence more profoundly linked to the surrounding whiteness of this country’s socio-cultural framework?

We know the institutional elements to which the call is addressed. There are the prison walls constructed to replace the walls of segregation that the civil rights movements tore down. There is the police and prosecutorial impunity that subverts the equality and dignity that the civil rights movements made available. There is the ongoing pillaging of “Third World” national sovereignty by the Euro-American corporate structure, using centralized manipulation of economic factors (interest rates, exchange rates, import-export charges, etc.) to determine local politics in any area of the world.

In other words, to be made Black is not something that happens once; it happens for the rest of a person’s life. But this simply signifies that being made white is also something that never stops. When white people racialize Black people as Black, they are also racializing themselves as white, though generally without awareness that that is what is happening. Their enactments, whether arbitrary cruelty or thinly-veiled contempt, have substance primarily for real or imagined white audiences. And whenever the coherence of that audience is broken, when the hegemony of white cultural identity has been eroded by pro-democracy movements—such as abolitionism, Reconstruction and the civil rights movements—the government has stepped to reconsolidate it.

Graphic courtesy of bytheirstrangefruit.blogspot.com/The Origins of Whiteness
When the English first got to what is now Virginia in 1606, they did not refer to themselves as white. “White” was still only a descriptive and not a racializing term. A racializing language had not yet been developed. The first record in Virginia of the English referring to themselves as “white” as a social identity only occurs in 1691, 85 years later. And it didn’t become a cultural identity until the early 1700s. (I have given a step-by-step account of how this happened in my book, The Rule of Racialization.) “Whiteness” was only “naturalized” as the modern concept of “race” by the European “naturalists” of the 18th century. But the identity of whiteness developed first in the wake of Nathanial Bacon’s 1676 rebellion of white colonists against the Virginia colonial governor. It emerged from a fear of Black rebellion, which fear required an inchoate sense of defensive solidarity, and which solidarity required a violence to make the fear seem real. Today, when a cop shoots a Black person and then says, “I felt threatened,” he is intoning the innermost essence of whiteness as a cultural identity. Thus, the cop and the media that explains him keep making all Black people Black again and again, so that all white people can see themselves as white again, across the verb “to racialize.”

To simply oppose “racism” is thus insufficient. As we grow a movement against racializing violence, following the BLM call to end the war against Black people, we also need a movement that can expose and contest the paranoia that is culturally ingrained in white culture and white identity. And we need a movement that reveals the relationship between white solidarity and white identity, between the project of reconstructing whiteness (the new Jim Crow) and reconsolidating white hegemony as a violently reimposed system.

What Is Black Life?
To address the problem, we must start at the edges. What, after all, is a “Black life”? This is neither a biological nor an anthropological question. It is a cultural question. Is existence in a Black community what makes a life “Black”? But Black people have to be Black before constituting a Black community. Were Black people, therefore, born Black? Only some societies racialize dark-complexioned people as Black, showing that race is a social construct. It happens to people after they are born.

So, in the US, Black people aren’t born Black; they are made Black by a white supremacist society. Similarly, white people aren’t born white; they are made white by the same entity. The difference is that they are racialized differently by the supremacy that constructs them.

If there is nothing inherent in the concept of race, then race is something done to people. It is done in the same sense that poverty is done to people by an exploitative economic structure, and prison is done to people by a vengeful and oppressive judicial structure. Race is “done” by a white supremacist culture. But that means “race” is not a noun. It doesn’t name an inherent condition. It is a verb. The verb is “to racialize,” and it is something that one group of people does to others. In the US, it is something that white people do to those they proclaim non-white.

We all know what a racializing structure does. It marginalizes, it reduces social status, it produces social deprivileging, it disenfranchises (politically and culturally), and it humiliates through the generalizations it imposes on individuals. These are all forms of social violence, enacted by some whites, though not all. Some whites struggle against doing it; some do it unconsciously; some do it even though they try not to; some do it because it is essential to their identity; and some do it because they love the violence and paranoia of it. But ultimately, none escape their whiteness because it is given to them by others. Though their whiteness is given them as a juxtaposition to Black people, it is not Black people but other white people who demand that they accede, whether consciously or unconsciously, to the enactment of that verb.

“White lives” become what they are through having others to racialize, by making others the objects of the verb. Some abjure the alliance this requires and refuse the role. Others become strongly white-identified, white-oriented to the point of embracing their given role as agents of the verb. White anti-Black racism is the result. It is a performance by white-identified people whose audience is other white people, not those racialized by it. Racism is a relationship between white people for which Black people are the means. That is why its irrationality is so egregious. The racialization of others that whites enact becomes a form of dues paid for membership in whiteness as a cultural structure.

It is across this verb of race that Black Lives Matter is spoken. Its real power, then, becomes its ability to “flip the script.” It puts Black people in the subject position of a different verb, the verb “to stop.” And it thus renders all white people, and their governmental institutions, the object of that other verb.

In other words, Black Lives Matter is most importantly addressed to Black and Brown people, to those who suffer the terror of racist assault, and who wonder if they are going to get home each night because there is killing going on. “Take heart, you matter, you count.” This is its inclusionary value... it speaks to the invisible and the unheard. It is the voice of a history that has been dedicated to the same cultural transformation that the present now necessitates. It was the voice of Gabriel Prosser, of Denmark Vesey, of Nat Turner, of David Walker, of Marcus Garvey, of W.E.B. DuBois, of Ida B. Wells, of Malcolm, of King, of the Panthers, of Black Power, of Sandra Bland, and now, of Alicia Garza and the Movement for Black Lives. We/you/they matter. We/you/they count. It is not new. It has been around for centuries in all the areas that call themselves the United States. It appeared in the multiple progeny of the civil rights movements: La Raza, AIM [American Indian Movement], ACT-UP and the vast spectrum of women’s organizations, all wrestling themselves out from under their own objecthood.

We must all take heart. Since “race” had a beginning, it will inevitably also have an end.

BLM not only addresses the government and says “stop;” it also addresses white-oriented people and says, “Get up off the subject position of that verb by letting us be subjects in our own right, and not objects for you to use to construct your cultural identity.” Many white people demur and say, “I don’t see color; I don’t care what race a person is.” But that remains empty rhetoric. It allows the entire cultural structure to speak for them. It ignores the role model for the violence of the prison system, the objectification that police impunity enacts, and the paranoia played up by the media.

White people should welcome removing the verb “to racialize” from the social landscape. It would free them from the necessity to play the role of white person through that verb, to perform all the arbitrary generalizations or objectifications that their membership in whiteness requires. It would enable them to simply enjoy the company and variety of real people.

There is, after all, more than one form of prison from which the incarcerated need to be freed.

Steve Martinot is Instructor Emeritus at the Center for Interdisciplinary Programs at San Francisco State University. He is the author of The Rule of Racialization: Class, Identity, Governance and Forms in the Abyss: A Philosophical Bridge between Sartre and Derrida (both Temple). He has written extensively on the structures of racism and white supremacy in the United States, as well as on corporate culture and economics, and leads seminars on these subjects in the Bay Area.

Endnotes

1.           www.policy.m4bl.org/platform/
2.           Email interview with Karen Kamp published October 3, 2016 in Moyers & Company
www.billmoyers.com/story/black-lives-matter/

 

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The Living Matter: Honoring Those in Our Midst

Window art highlighting the BLM cofounders in Portland, Oregon. cc. 2015 Travis Wise

By Opal Palmer Adisa

From the beginning, and throughout time, Black women have been formidable shakers and shapers in movements that have pushed for equality and justice for Black people and, by extension, for other people in the US and globally. Black Lives Matter (BLM) co-founders Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi are sisters who are following the well-worn path of their foremothers (See sidebar).

While BLM as hashtag and movement began after Trayvon Martin’s murderer was acquitted in 2013, Garza, Cullors, Tometi and others were already doing work to eradicate social injustice in this country. Expanded into a national movement by 2014, BLM has grown to over 30 local chapters—an inclusive, decentralized mass movement that does not appear to have a hierarchal structure. (For a fuller description of the origins and structure of BLM please see article on page 8.)

I commend Garza, Cullors and Tometi for starting this movement and applaud the community and the larger society for joining in these efforts. However, I am inviting us to expand and shift the focus of the BLM movement from those who have been martyred to those who are living.

In the 1980s many of us adopted a dangerous talk, saying that Black boys were endangered and would be lucky to live beyond 25 years. I was vehemently opposed to that fatalistic talk and to counter that negative portrayal of our boy children, I wrote a poem for my son Jawara and other Black boys entitled, “I Will Not Let Them Take You.” I know that words are very powerful, so I only speak into the universe what I want. I want all our boys to live long and productive lives. I insist that we continue to affirm and demonstrate to the world that our lives matter, to us as individuals, but also to our families and the whole community. The society needs each of us.

“Millions March” in Oakland. cc. 2014 Amir AzizThe killings of Black people began from our enslavement, continued with the lynching, burning and hosing down during the civil rights movement, and exist in the new form of slavery: privatized jails. In particular, police killings of Black men, is nothing new. The late poet June Jordan, one of the first writers I read, was documenting this issue from the 1980s. An amazing African American poet whose work I love, Henry Dumas, was gunned down in a New York subway on May 23, 1968, by New York City Transit Police. The circumstances surrounding Dumas’ murder were, at best, murky. Conveniently, official records of his killing were destroyed.

Every time one of us is struck down, the community, like the family of the one killed, is deprived. While it is imperative that we remain vigilant and work to make sure police officers and others know they cannot murder Black men and women without facing criminal charges, and that we will not stand by any longer and let this happen, we must speak and create another reality. We must celebrate the living.

Because I believe acutely that Black lives matter, I recently spoke to 10 Black men between the ages of 13 and 82 to ascertain what they know about the movement. I conducted these interviews so that we could hear first-hand from Black men of all ages why their lives matter and how they are assessing the present reality.

But first, I ask myself the same question I have posed others: Why does my life matter?

My life matters because I am a mother of three amazing young adults. I am a writer whose stories of mostly working-class Jamaican women need to be heard. I am a teacher who guides and nurtures future minds. I am a friend, a lover and a creative being.

I invite each of you to daily celebrate your life and the lives of all those you encounter. BLM is a humanitarian movement that says let’s come together and ensure that life matters.

Opal Palmer Adisa is a Jamaica-born writer of both poetry and prose, photographer, curator, professor, educator and cultural activist, Adisa has lectured and read her work throughout the United States, South Africa, Ghana, Nigeria, Germany, England and the Czech Republic, and has performed in Italy and Bosnia. An award-winning poet and prose writer, Adisa has writeen 14 books, including the novel, It Begins With Tears (1997).

How many of these women’s names and stories do you know?

Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Dorothy Height, Diane Nash, Rosa Parks, Ella Baker, Daisy Bates, Mary McLeod Bethune, Mary Church Terrell, Anna Julia Cooper, Marian Wright Edelman, Amy Ashwood Garvey, Claudia Jones, Amelia Boynton, Fannie Lou Hamer, Yuri Kochiyama, Septima Clark, Shirley Chisolm, Kathleen Cleaver, Peaches, Elaine Brown, Regina Davis, Ericka Huggins, Angela Davis, Assata Shakur, Charlotte Hill O’Neal, Tarika

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Why Does Your Life Matter?

Interviews and photos by Opal Palmer Adisa

James RobinsonJames Robinson, 82 years strong, West Oakland resident, is a retired Contra Costa County deputy sheriff. He began the interview by saying he has seen a lot of injustice against Black people in his lifetime. Growing up in Oklahoma in the era of Jim Crow segregation, he witnessed “white only” and “Black only” fountains, was told to go to the back to enter restaurants, and was once kicked out of an A&W restaurant in Jackson, Mississippi, by a white waitress who said she didn’t care that he was in military attire. The two white soldiers with him were also denied service, because they had come with a Black man.

Discrimination followed Robinson long after the end of segregation and after he had left the South—the type of discrimination that many non-Blacks do not see or think unimportant, but which contributes to a general theme of the African experience in America. A week ago, Robinson relates, “I was at a bar at a golf tournament in north Vallejo. The bartender looked at me and two other Black guys and turned to a white fella and said ‘I see you have been waiting a long time. Can I help you?’ I just had to speak up, and say we have been waiting longer than he has. [The bartender] recognized that he might have made a mistake, and waited on us. But the mere fact that he could do that says racism has not gone away, it is unconscious....”

In defense of 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, Robinson said, “A lot of people have misunderstood [him] when he kneeled for the National Anthem. If you listen to him, he is saying some very important things about people and that Black life matters.”

Robinson wants to be seen, “As who I am, not based on how anybody else lives, but how I want to live. I am me. I remember thinking as a young man that the most important thing for me to do is to take care of the people around me, at any expense. As I have grown older, I’ve learned that you also have a responsibility to take care of yourself.”

A father of four, grandfather of seven and great grandfather of four, James Robinson’s life matters to at least three generations.


 

Joshua WestJoshua West, 13, is an 8th-grader at Claremont Middle School in Oakland, an athlete and all-round good student; he spoke with great insights on why his life matters.

“I am aware of BLM. I don’t know why different races be trying to kill Black people. They kill all races, but Black people the most. We are human beings. We all should be treated equally. I just don’t get it....”

West’s response is common to so many young Black men who are truly puzzled by this country’s injustice against Black people.

“My life matters because God put me here for a reason,” he says. “He didn’t put me here just so you could take me out. I want to be seen as that person who always makes you laugh, and who is always there for you. I want to be the person who everybody likes and have fun with.”


 

James HadleyA passionate man, 64-year-old consultant James Hadley says his life matters “because of the love, respect and upbringing my parents, their parents and our ancestors have given me. It matters because I have a responsibility to raise my kids and others on the importance of things I have learned: Right, Wrong, Respect, Peace, Love and Faith.”

Hadley speaks about the systemic entrenchment of racism, which is why he supports BLM. “The kind of violence perpetrated by police and others against Black folks and people of color is despicable. Cellphones capture crimes committed against our folks and Grand Juries around this country continue to release these criminal cops. We Black folks are the main target of racist policies that have existed throughout the history of this country.”

Despite living in such a state, we should marvel that many Black men are still gentle and kind and display their humanity—a quality that is evident in Hadley. “I would like to be seen as a good person who helped out and tried to share my happiness, joy and sometimes sadness of being part of the human race,” he says.


 

KellyFor 23-year-old Kelly, a senior Graphic Design Student at the California College of the Arts and a transplant to San Francisco from Washington, D.C., the life of a Black man is, at best, trying.

Articulate and self-contained, Kelly believes, “there’s a silent war against me in the United States due to the high percentage of police brutality and mass incarceration. I do agree, All Lives Matter and should be equally represented. However, I feel, whenever the Black community fights for its overdue justice, everyone wants a part and that results in us being pushed to the side. So, until I see and experience change within my community and how we are treated in America, no lives matter but Black lives.”

Kelly engages with a diverse group in his life and respects who they are and their rights. He just believes that Black folks have to take care of themselves first. He considers himself “a proud, God-fearing, unapologetic Black man.”

“I want to be an inspiration (hero) one day to a Black child who’s seeking guidance in identifying their purpose in this world,” says Kelly, not to be seen “as an animal or as a criminal, but a human being.”


 

Clint CollinsRapper Clint Collins, 32, is a practicing Muslim who integrates all aspects of his life. “I always want people to look at me and see a Muslim, not the negative picture of Muslims the media tries to paint but actually someone who practices Islam, which is a religion of peace. I would like to be viewed in society as a good person who contributes to making the world a better place. I want society to see a successful, intelligent and strong Black man.”

Collins, whom I have known for at least 15 years, has a big heart. If you wonder why his life matters, he sums it up best:

“My life matters because I’m a Black man in America and I haven’t done anything for it not to matter. My life matters because my ancestors were stolen from their homeland and forced into slavery and I’m living proof that the ones who fought for freedom didn’t do so in vain. My life matters because I positively affect so many other people’s lives and I’m always trying to make the world a better place. My life matters because my mother and grandmother told me it does.”


 

Khalil ChatmonAmani Chatmon of Oakland, 16, a junior in high school, possesses a wisdom beyond his age. He realizes that when Black people are “witnessing innocent Black bodies harshly and unjustly being killed without any recognition of actual loss of life—this is where the outrage is coming from.” A diligent student and a hard worker, Kahlil’s life matters because, as he declares, “I have so much to offer to my family, my community, my country and my race. As a Black young man I have a responsibility to study my history and analyze the situations that are happening in the present and come up with a way to better the future, not only for myself, but for the people around me. I have a vision.”

A wisdom seeker, Kahlil says, “I want to be seen as a humble and knowledgeable king who isn’t scared to combat corruption. I want to be seen as an equal, but I need the world to recognize the power my people possess, as well as the historic depth.”


 

Seventeen years old, handsome and charismatic, Oakland student Jordan Dabney Jordan Dabney puts it succinctly when he says why his life matters. “I have potential to do amazing things in my lifetime, and to bring joy to a lot of people throughout my lifetime. But honestly, I shouldn’t need a reason to matter other than the simple fact that I’m alive. I live, therefore I matter.”

“I want to be seen as an individual with choices, and I want people to respect that these choices put me in control of my life, successes and failures,” he adds. “I also want to be seen as someone who has the potential to contribute positivity to all of my communities.”


 

Marc SingletonAn up and coming designer from Philly, 23-year-old Marc Singleton, a senior at the California College of the Arts, wants to be seen “as a popular role model in the Black community. But I value how I see myself more. I just want to be content with myself and the work I have produced that helps, improves and inspires other’s lives.”

Raised with a sense of community and responsibility, Singleton knows his life matters “because of the sacrifices of others before me. So, making others’ lives matter gives me a sense of completeness. Being able to open doors for my brothers and sisters in career fields they never knew were obtainable.”


 

 Ozem RobertsThe quest to be seen and be recognized as a man is a long-standing petition and demand of Black men. There is a famous picture from the ‘60s of a Black man wearing a placard around his neck which reads: “I am a man.” I know and recognize this image of manhood in the life and worldview of 31-year-old Ozem Roberts, assistant manager in the media services division of an Oakland educational institution.

Roberts gets right to heart of the matter about the value of his life. “My life matters because I live to love, teach and encourage others. I matter! I’m a believer of hope, change and growth from all angles. I want to be seen as the strong person that I am.”


 

YousefOakland resident and father, 37-year-old Yousef is grounded in community and family and draws his strength and identity from that foundation. “My life is very important as I have a family that depends on me,” he affirms. “I have young boys that I have to lead into becoming young men.”

About the larger question of his individual self-worth, he says, “I want to be seen as a human being, as a role model, a positive person, a hard worker; not as a drug dealer; not be looked at like I’m going to steal your purse or break into your car.”

Certainly, a goal of BLM is to shatter the stereotype of all Black men as criminals. There are countless Black men, such as Yousef, who go to work daily, provide for their families and live decent, honest lives.


 

It seems appropriate that the youngest should have the last word.

DeMarcus ThompsonDeMarcus Thompson, 13, is also an eighth grader at Claremont Middle School, whose eyes glow as he confronts these issues. He appears very present in the world and has given my questions a lot of thought.

With a rushed breath he says, “We do a lot of good things. We don’t just do bad things because we are Black, so we should be equal to everybody else. It shouldn’t be different. My life matters because I am a good person. I have a family that loves me, and I have people that look up to me, and I feel that I’m going to do something good with my life. I want to be seen as a good person, a humble person. I want others to see me as something good when I get out of college. I don’t like to see people depressed. I don’t like to see people be put down. I just want everybody to be happy.”

DaMarcus is the voice of tomorrow, so we need to listen and keep him safe so that his voice indeed matters and the beaming light of happiness evident in his face spreads and helps to light the world.

 

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I Am San Francisco Exhibit - Closing Reception, Feb. 22, 2018 - 6-9pm Free!

Closing reception for I AM SF exhibition and RP&E Release
February 22,2018  7 p.m. SF State

San Francisco State Univerity,
Caeser Chavez Student Center Art Gallery
1600 Holloway in SF.

This interview and the excerpts that follow are portions of an on-going project called I Am San Francisco: Black Past & Presence (IAMSF). Created and curated by Jarrel Phillips, IAMSF was presented as an art exhibition at City College of San Francisco’s Rosenberg Library in 2016 and at San Francisco State 2017-18. The purpose of IAMSF is to recognize the depth, beauty, complexity and abundance prevalent within ‘Black Life’ in San Francisco—culturallly, communally and individually. For more information, visit avesidea.org.

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Exhibit continues through Feb 2018. Join us for the Closing Reception on Thursday February 22, 2018 6-9 pm at SF State University.

Where Revolution Abounds

Emory Douglas © 2016 Jarrel Phillips

An Interview with Emory Douglas by Jarrel Phillips

Emory Douglas is the former minister of culture and revolutionary artist for the Black Panther Party, who continues to be a progressive artist dealing with social commentary in his artwork.

Jarrel Phillips: Can you tell me about your beginnings as a social movement artist?

Emory Douglas: I came out when the Black consciousness movement was starting; when you had Black power and Black people beginning to find themselves and who they were, as opposed to the mainstream society, and finding who you are as Negroes. Then we began to define ourselves as “Black,” “African,” “African American.”

I used to work in advertising—cutting and placing, doing display signs—close to Macy’s on Geary Street; also at community print shops. During that era you had high levels of frustration because of police abuse and it always being justified. Young people were looking for something to become involved in, such as now with the Black Lives Matter and Occupy and all the things that are taking place today. Some 50 years later, the same things that we were confronted with then, we are still confronted with today. Having transitioned into the Black Panther Party here in the Bay Area, I have been able to hone and develop my skills for today’s Black arts movement.

Jarrel Phillips: Why is it important for children to grow up around Black art?

Douglas: Youth can see themselves in the artwork and identify with issues and concerns about themselves. It reinforces maybe positive issues as they evolve and grow. They can begin to question what’s in the art that’s about themselves. When you see something that you can see yourself in, it can be an inspiration to you to maybe want someday to be creative in that respect yourself or to be creative in other ways. Art can help you to focus and be disciplined in relationship to carrying out a project and can help you to critique and be critical of what you do. Because you can evaluate it if you choose to, if you don’t get caught up in the subjective aspects of what you’ve done and open yourself to evaluate your work, trying to improve it. You could always see something in it that you can improve or do better; or add on and enhance what you’ve already done that may be of a good standard and quality as well. So it can help you in that way: discipline, focus, creativity, imagination, visual. You might have to do research and other things that connect you to art to do certain artwork that you may need if you’re talking about some social issue. Then there’s research that comes in and all those things that play into it.

1969: The Black Panthers promoted gender equality, and many women were members of the movement © Emory Douglas/PRPhillips: Going into the Black Panther movement, can you talk about its beginnings in Oakland and in San Francisco? What was the connection?

Douglas: The Black Panther Party was called the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense at first. It was local in Oakland and then evolved into San Francisco and then had chapters and branches around the country and developed over periods of time. But in San Francisco we used to work out of a studio apartment of Eldridge Cleaver’s, who Huey Newton and Bobby Seale had been kind [enough] to contact [when] he got out of prison during that time in 1967. He was working for a magazine publication here in San Francisco. So they were able to get in touch with him when Huey and Bobby did the security for Malcolm X’s widow when she came to the Bay Area.

They got him to work on the paper in [its] beginning stages. There was no chapter or branches at that time. It was just where we worked on the newspaper. It was out of his studio apartment. Huey and Bobby had an office in Oakland but it was not necessarily open to the public. They used to do the patrolling in the communities and observing the police misbehavior in the community and that was where they used to meet at, but it wasn’t an open office to everybody. It was [later] that we began to have a chapter in San Francisco. We opened our headquarters, I believe, in Oakland, California. We finally had our distribution in the East Bay in different locations. Then we were able to get the location on Fillmore [in San Francisco] where the nightclub Yoshi’s used to be. There’s a plaque on the street that says “Black Panthers” and that’s where the office used to be. That became our central distribution for our newspaper [from] where we would ship it all over the country and all over the world.

Phillips: How did you end up in the Black Panther Party?

Douglas: Like many other young people. There were a lot of murders of young Blacks going on then, as it is today. There’s high levels of frustration of wanting to do something to try to deal with that issue. When I went to the meeting where I was asked to do the poster that Malcolm X was coming to the Bay Area, they said some brothers was coming over to do security for that event and they were going to come over to the next meeting. When they came, there was Huey Newton and Bobby Seale and couple more Panthers. It was after that meeting that I asked them how I could join. This was in late January of 1967 about three and a half months after the inception of the organization itself.

Me [as] minister of culture came about when Huey and Bobby were working on their first edition of the newspaper, which was 8 1/2x14, legal sized sheet of paper. Bobby was laying it out with markers for a masthead and it was written on a typewriter, the text. There were a lot of cultural events [that] used to take place at a place we called the Black House in San Francisco. Eldridge Cleaver lived upstairs in [this] Victorian house [and] the cultural activities took place downstairs.

I went there one evening to see if there was anything happening. I saw Bobby working on that first issue of that newspaper. Because I had been going to City College and had kept a lot of the materials that I had from doing graphic designing, I told them, well, I could help him improve the quality of what he was doing and I’d go home and get the materials and come back. He said, “Okay.” I lived on Divisadero and 8th. Took me about 45 minutes to walk home and come back. When I got back he said, “Well, we’re finished with this one but we’re going to start the newspaper and we know your work as an artist. So we want you to be the revolutionary artist and eventually become the Minister of Culture.” They had a whole vision about the newspaper, telling our story from our perspective, our point of view. It could criticize you on the one hand and praise you on the other, being like a double-edged sword. It was informative, enlightening, all those things.

In relationship to the vision of the paper, having a lot of photographs with captions and headlines [helped] so that those who weren’t going to read those long, drawn-out articles could get the gist of what the stories were about by just seeing the images. That was the whole concept of the paper. And making headlines accessible to seniors by making text bigger—[for those] who couldn’t read the whole article or see well enough to read all the fine text.

Phillips: Your images are very, very strong on the posters and in all your work. Can you talk about the significance of image in the face of how Black image is typically portrayed?

Douglas: The images I turned in were just common folk images in that sense and the beauty within the essence of that. People could see themselves in those images.

The culture and expression of Black folks: self-determination, the suffering, the pain and the love. If you can capture that in your artwork, you’ve made the connection with the community and the broader community as well. We were talking about revolutionary culture for transforming society. Our art was a reflection of what was going on in the world.

The 10-point platform of the Black Panther Party talked about decent housing, full employment, and quality of life… all those things were part of the education. Part of what the Black Panther Party was about. That’s what the artwork is about too.

Phillips: A lot of images portray the police as pigs. Why is that?

Douglas: Yes, that came about when Huey Newton was working on the paper. Eldridge and Huey and Bobby came out from organizing and came over to check on how things were going. At one point they began to define what a police was, and those kinds of words came into the statement. Huey brought over an idea and told me he wanted me to do this pig drawing, which I did on four hooves. We were going to put the badge number on the pig each week [of] a bad actor in the community, and it just so happens that the first badge was 206. It was the pig named Fry. The policeman who got killed when Huey Newton got shot. He was notoriously known to abuse his power in the community. That was the first badge number we put on the drawing. That was the early issues of the Black Panther Newspaper.

Phillips: It sounds like a lot of individuals in the Black Panther Party had dealt with the law a bit. Do you think that was significant or was that intentional in some way?

Douglas: The first group was young people like myself, 13 [to] 19 years old. Huey Newton and them understood that those who were organizing and recruiting the party were brothers and sisters out there in the hood who had firsthand experience with the police, as opposed to when they were arrested for whatever violation they did. They weren’t just arrested, they were abused. They understood that. If they could get to them and organize them, then they would become a force to deal with that situation out there. That’s why you had a lot of those youngsters who became that first cadre, because of their experience.

Then it also had others who came in as well who were students, intellectuals, all those became part of the organization. But that first group of people who they organized were the youngsters off the block because they were confronted every day with the issues of profiling and abuse and harassment.

They started the Black Panther Party for self-defense in the beginning then [it] turned into the Black Panther Party. They started off with patrolling the communities against police abuse, which was point number seven of the Black Panther Party’s 10-point platform. We wanted an immediate end to police brutality and murder of Black people. It started off because of the urgency of the situation at the time.

Phillips: Can you talk about any connection or insight you see in relation to that and Black Lives Matter and what’s going on in San Francisco specifically?

Douglas: You still have the police murders. That’s at the core of the Black Lives Matter. Even before it was called Black Lives Matter, Black lives was mattering. That’s why people were standing up. That’s why people were resisting and that’s why all of a sudden that name came to be—Black Lives Matter—because of the abuse [at] the hands of the system itself; starting with the police abuse and murders always being justified, always demonizing those that are killed to make them look as though they should have been killed.

Phillips: How did you define safety and self defense?

Douglas: Safety was part of defending the community and educating them about their basic rights when they were stopped. But also, yes, there were things that... when the Black Panthers came on the scene there was less community gang banging and stuff going on during that time. It existed but there was less of it because of the respect the Panthers had and could intervene in certain situations. Not only that, the P. Stone Nation, one of the most notorious gangs in the United States out of Chicago, where we had a chapter, had great respect for the Panthers. We were the only ones who could come into their territories and do these social programs, have doctors and stuff come into the projects and check on seniors and those who were ill; or set up free breakfast, all those kinds of things.

Phillips: Can you talk about the significance of having individuals who are protecting you? You talk about quality of life, but can you talk about quality protection by those that are here to serve and protect?

Douglas: We say quality protection is when police come into this community and respect community, like they do in the white community. They come in there and talk respectful. They go and walk the kids across the street and help them cross the street. They don’t come in like an occupying army as they do in our community. So that’s the difference.

Phillips: My generation, what is our responsibility? How do we pick up?

Douglas: Well, you pick up in being just what is. The fact is that these institutions exist. You’re going to be a part of these institutions at some point in time until they negate it or transform. Don’t get into it and do what other generations have done before [as] they become compromised. In the context of standing strong and tall in relationship to what needs to be done, being able to make that commitment and not get in there and get caught up in the compromise, come together with others on how you can get alternative institutions and fund them.

Out of the situation in this country that’s created the situation where you have more people coming together, yes, generation over generation, between the young and old and what have you—lessons to learn from everyone. You got a lot of insight from a lot of folks who’ve been through a lot of the challenges in life that can be inspiring in order not to duplicate some of the limitations that have taken place now and in the past. You’re bombarded by mainstream success which has nothing to do with community success or community. It has to do with exploitation and selling yourself. Community success requires self-determination. You can define for yourself who you are. You create community and institutions in [the] community that you run.

Phillips: What does the Black leadership look like in San Francisco?

Douglas: It’s compromised just like most when they get into the city. You got those who are outspoken and maybe mean well. But when they take the oath they can only say so much. They can’t do what they said they were going to do because [of] the system. It’s the system that’s racist. It’s the system that compromises them as well. When I talk about the artwork that I do, I’m talking about it in the context of the system, not the individuals. It may be used as the symbol of the individual but it’s about the system itself. It’s the system that has to be transformed, changed, negated or purged. That’s an ongoing process that’s going to exist for a while, so you have to stay diligent in relationship to exposing and enlightening and informing people, the community, about what that system is about— from the vision that you see in relationship to what you understand through your observation, the research and validation of things that have shown how corrupt it is. When you get in that comfort zone, that’s when you compromise. When you assimilate you negate your own self, your own identity. ~

Jarrel Phillips is a curator, youth worker, capoeira instructor and storyteller who uses performance, writing and photography and film as his mediums. He is also a Reimagine! RP&E correspondent. Learn more about his work at avesidea.org.

 

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"Community success requires self-determination. You can define for yourself who you are."

Thomas Robert Simpson

Thomas Robert Simpson © 2016 Jarrel Phillips

One of the things I experience, and something I see in other people, is a sense of freedom when they are free enough and open enough to allow themselves to be vulnerable. In our culture we’re frequently so tied down and we have so many restrictions on how we’re supposed to be or should be, or things we can do or can’t do. The arts, at its purest, unbuckles some of those things to allow different parts of us to show itself, parts that sometimes we don’t want to show, the negative part, the sensitive part, the shy part, the ugly part, the happy part... It’s a means of healing. The arts allow us to explore each one of these areas. Its transference from the artist to the audience allows the audience to share the same type of experience. This can be something physical but it can also be something emotional, but more importantly, it can be something intellectual. I have this idea that when the lights go down, minds open up. We’re sitting in the dark, not being watched, something is happening on stage, and we’re reacting to what’s happening. We’re focused on the stage. Sometimes it can make you think, “Hmm. I never thought about it from that point of view” or “Oh, no that person is wrong.” You’re having this conversation with yourself, but in some ways you’re having a conversation with the artist too.

Thomas Robert Simpson
Founder and Artistic Director of the AfroSolo Theater Company

 

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Raimagine!

Mestre Urubu Malandro

Samoel “Mestre Urubu Malandro” Domingos © 2016 32k Productions

It’s sometimes hard to get people to understand why they should KNOW their history, culture and African heritage. Find out where your family tree comes from. We are here, but we could be in Haiti, Uganda, Jamaica, or some place else. We came from one place only, and that place is the continent of Africa. They were our ancestors. There are so many historians in Brazil that studied everything about the Africans who were taken from their homes and died leaving their legacy. I know capoeira. I will do my best to learn as much as I can about Candomblé, but not just African religion, I want to learn about anything that the Africans brought with them or developed. I do Samba, Frevo, Maracatu, and I drum because it’s part of my culture. In capoeira we have this drum called a berimbau. The berimbau was used for calling people and gathering their attention to a particular thing. African slaves in United States were not allowed to drum. Many of them lost their hands trying to play drums because their oppressors knew how powerful the drum could be. Rhythm unites a community.

Samoel “Mestre Urubu Malandro” Domingos
Founder of Capoeira Ijexa

 

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Stewart Shaw

Courtesy of Stewart Shaw

The African American community has a long history of storytelling. It’s important to tell your story. We’ve always passed down legacy from one to another. Black presence is having a voice. Our society will quickly run you over if you’re quiet. I always heard this phrase from my mother, “A squeaky wheel gets the oil,” and “A closed mouth doesn’t get fed.” That’s why a lot of these social movements are very loud. The Black Panthers, AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) that formed in response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the gay community... ACT UP was so vocal. They knew if they weren’t loud they weren’t going to get fed. With Black Lives Matter, they get out there. They protest. They have to be heard. Now, not every protest has to be loud, but until you are heard, no one’s going to care about you. I think writers know that, especially the poets. Poets are the philosophers of society. They’re the truth-sayers. And they know voice. Their voice can be very quiet, but they speak loudly. You have to be in the world putting your soul on the line in some form. Just because you’re alive doesn’t mean someone’s going to care about you. You have to make your presence known. Even if it’s in a whisper, announce yourself.

Stewart Shaw
Program Manager, San Francisco Public Library’s African American Department

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Kristine Mays

Kristine Mays c. 2016 Jarrel Phillips

I refer to San Francisco as my city, my love or as my baby. My baby is in an awkward position right now. I feel like it’s in some awkward teenage stage where… you know, when you see an adolescent kid and they haven’t quite formed into anything yet. I question myself over and over again as to why I’m here in San Francisco. Why don’t I just throw in the towel and go somewhere else? Yet, I’m still curious to see what’s going to happen. What’s going to come out of it?

I’m concerned. At times, I’m really disappointed and at other times very distraught, which is funny to me because that’s probably how parents are when they’re looking at their teenage kid. If anything, I’m just hoping that San Francisco grows up. And, grows into something that I’d be proud of, into a place where I’d still be welcomed and loved.

I think for a lot of parents of minorities, they’re always hoping their kid remains and retains the core essence of who they are. So for a Black person, they would hope… I don’t know. I’ll speak for myself:

If I had a little kid I would hope that my kid would still enjoy, embrace, and love the fact that they’re Black and not feel like they have to conform to mainstream America and a Eurocentric way of life. I hope the same for San Francisco.

I hope that this doesn’t become some whitewashed, Silicon Valley secondary home, but rather that it maintains all of its flavor, zest and whimsy; free-spirited feel that it used to have. So even though it’s in this awkward stage, I keep waiting with bated breath hoping that essence won’t crumble away completely and I’ll still be able to see it come into fruition.

My love has not changed. It’s a love-hate relationship at times, but I just want the best for my beloved San Francisco and I hope to see it come into that fullness. Just as history goes full circle, I hope that San Francisco will too, and that it won’t take so long and it won’t have to go through falling on its face in order to come back around into the goodness that’s always been there.”

Kristine Mays
Wire Sculptor, Three Point Nine Art Collective

 

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Resisting Displacement

Art by Ernesto Yerena

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Her Arkipelago

By Christine Joy Ferrer

Interview with Marie Romero, founder and owner of Arkipelago Books, the only Filipino Bookstore in San Francisco, with a foreword by Beatriz Datangel, her daughter.

Marie Romero. Courtesy of Kanlaoan/anthropologist.wordpress.com.Arkipelago Books has thrived in San Francisco’s SoMA district for over 20 years. It has a wide selection of readings, from fiction and nonfiction, to poetry and children’s books, as well as historical text from a wide variety of Filipino and Filipino American authors. There used to be a larger population of Filipinos in San Francisco. In the 1960s, San Francisco was home to a vibrant Manilatown, which stretched almost 10 blocks along Kearny Street near Chinatown. Then, Filipino businesses and residents were forced out after the expansion of the Financial District in the late 1960s. And in 1977, many Filipino tenants faced eviction from the International Hotel. In the aftermath, some businesses and residents left the city altogether, while others migrated to the South of Market, filling the residential hotels and small apartment buildings along the district’s many alleyways. In 2017, the struggle for cultural communities to hold space in San Francisco continues.

Foreword: Beatriz Datangel on Marie Romero
When I was a kid, I remember always coming to the bookstore [Arkipelago] and reading. My mom couldn’t find a babysitter, so my brother and I just sat around and read a lot. Some of my favorite books in general are reading the bilingual children’s books with colloquial sayings in English and Tagalog and looking at the illustrations. The stories remind you to be playful. They teach the real deep enchanting mysticism of the Philippines.

My mother wanted to raise us to be proud of who we are. A lot of folks that are my age or my brother’s age, their parents were so ashamed of being Filipino. They didn’t want to teach Tagalog or their native dialect. They wanted you to “enjoy being American,” because we immigrated here.

My parents immigrated here, too, and they wanted to teach us about Filipino and Filipino American accomplishments. But that wasn’t common knowledge and it wasn’t easily accessible. You just didn’t see it. You hear about Ceasar Chavez, but don’t hear about anyone else in the farm movement; or you learned about the history of interracial marriage between Blacks and whites, but not about other interracial relationships.

Most of the books we sell are from the Philippines. In the last 15 years there’s been a resurgence of people who want to preserve [their] history and document their own stories. In the young fiction collection, a lot of writers have been documenting their families; their lolas (grandmothers) and their struggles—listening to our grandparents speak only Tagalog, trying to translate their stories into English. Everyone’s family has struggled to be who they are now. It’s a mix of things from the Philippines but also folks like me who are first generation, and so forth.

My mother instilled in me, as a young woman, pure respect and appreciation for a female-owned store in San Francisco, where it is a highly competitive market. She was a single mom with health issues, yet remained steadfast in owning and maintaining a store. You think a hard life, first world problem is “Oh, I missed my meeting,” or “I can’t miss my deadline.” But what she does is real work, day-in, day-out. It has always been about community loyalty, belonging and empowerment.


Interview with Marie Romero
Christine Joy Ferrer: What made you want to open a Filipino bookstore in San Francisco?

Marie Romero: Twenty-something years ago you couldn’t find any reading materials geared to Filipinos or Filipino Americans, especially for the young ones. You’d go to libraries and, nothing. Or if you did find something, its pages were falling apart. In the early ‘90s, I started collecting books for my children. My daughter Beatriz was barely walking. I wanted to read her bedtime stories. Because I couldn’t find any books, I traveled back and forth to the Philippines, finding books, buying books, then I started sharing my books with friends back here in America. Then it was the funniest thing because my friends started arguing over the books, about who was going to borrow what.

But, this gave me an idea to start a mail order and book publishing business. Word spread about our first location on 6th street between Bryant and Harrison. When more and more locals started visiting us, my husband and I expanded our office into a show room. But then we divorced, and I carried on the business by physically having a bookstore. My ex-husband was more into publishing. I moved the bookstore to the Mint Mall on Mission and lasted there for [about] 10 years. And now, I’ve been at the Bayanihan Community Center since 2006.

Ferrer: The Mint Mall in the late ‘90s early 2000s was one of the last Filipino community spaces in the city. And a decade before that, the combination retail and low-income housing building, was home to about a dozen Filipino businesses and organizations. Then evictions reduced the number of Filipino businesses to a handful. Did you fear displacement?

Romero: I was a lucky one. I actually was one of the few businesses to have a long-term lease. There were about eight of us Philippine-owned businesses then [but] most didn’t have leases. And if we did have a lease, we still worried that the owner of the building would shut us down. Conditions were also very poor. Water leaked from the ceiling, walls and floors. The insurance companies didn’t even want to insure us anymore. The dot-com boom threatened everyone.

But, our communities rallied behind us. Rain or shine at City Hall, I remember hundreds of people coming out to support us. Many of my customers attended the rallies —librarians, locals, other community organizations—it was just such an overwhelming support from so many. We really appreciated it. And from that paved the way for Pistahan [The annual Pistahan Parade and Festival is a celebration of Filipino culture and cuisine. It’s deemed the largest celebration of Filipino Americans in the U.S. organized by the Filipino American Arts Exposition] and SoMA Pilipinas [San Francisco’s newly established Filipino cultural and heritage district that honors the rich history and legacy of the filipino community in SoMA].

But eventually everyone vanished. And then it was just me as the forefront tenant until the Bayanihan Community Center invited me to join their space. I have never felt unwanted.

Courtesy of Arkipelago BooksFerrer: What is like being a Filipina business owner in San Francisco?  What has sustained you?

Romero: It’s all about trial and error. I got divorced, was awarded the retail side of the businesses and did the best I [could] with two kids. It’s survival that teaches you. The bookstore has been my fulltime job for the last 20-something years. Libraries all over the world support my business—Norway, Russia, countries in Africa—I didn’t even know there are Filipinos in Russia. I focus solely on Philippine literature. I must admit, I don’t get walk-in traffic as much, but a lot of institutional orders. Local Filipino community organizations and teachers from San Francisco State University and City College send their students here.

I could write a book about the experiences I’ve had. I love what I do. Every day I look forward to coming to the bookstore. I’m excited every time a book arrives in the mail. I get to read it. I scan it so I share it with my costumers in case they are looking for something of that particular topic. I used to travel everywhere to sell my books. We get invited to San Jose, New Jersey, New York... but it requires a lot of marketing and I no longer have the time or energy. I hope one day someone will carry on its legacy. If I win the lotto, there would be more Arkipelago bookstores.

Ferrer: Can you tell me a little bit about your immigrant story?

Romero: I am under 60 years old. I’m from Baguio City in the Philippines and came to America at age 16 or 17. My dad was a bank officer in the Philippines who traveled for work. Dad first got sent to New Orleans. Immigration was really easy then. So the rest of my family followed. My dad would travel back to the Philippines every six months. It was such a long journey from Louisiana to Texas and then from California to the Philippines. So when my mother got sick, our family decided to settle in California.

I graduated from San Francisco State University in 1981 or ‘82 and majored in business  and accounting/hotel and restaurant management. I also went to culinary school at City College of San Francisco (CCSF). There were so many Filipinos at CCSF during that time.

After I married and had children, I decided to raise my kids in San Mateo, but I picked San Francisco to open my business because it’s an international city. It was so welcoming when I first came. I have always loved the Golden Gate Bridge, the fog and San Francisco food is so good.

Ferrer: What is one of the most memorable events you’ve had at Arkipelago Books?

Romero: It was the book launching of Memories of Philippine Kitchens by Amy Besa and Romy Dorotan. [The book is] filled with food stories and documents the role of Filipino food in society. The hallways at the Bayanihan community center were transformed into a mini house with a cooking demo. We had three [multi-generational] speakers: one talked about cooking for the dead; a little boy, about 10 years old, told everyone about his grandmother’s delicious cooking; and someone else spoke about Filipino food in the 1920s and ‘30s. We sold almost 500 copies. People were so homesick.

And that’s what the bookstore is. It allows people to remember. While others just want to learn more about their culture.

When I first opened the bookstore, I remember this student who would come in regularly to buy books. Then she disappeared and after a few years she came back with two children in tow. “I haven’t been around because I had two kids and have been so busy,” she told me. Her kids are now eight and 10 [and] she’s collecting children’s books. It all comes full circle.

Ferrer: Why is it so important for a bookstore like this to exist; a cultural space that allows the knowledge of Philippine ancestry, culture and history to be passed on?

Romero: Our identity has been covered up politically for so long, but we are here to stay. A good percentage of Arkipelago books are from the Philippines. And U.S. publishers are increasingly accepting manuscripts about Philippine culture and life—on becoming Filipino and Mexican; being of interracial decent; other ideas that were normally taboo. Publishers like University Press simply can’t turn [us] down.

When I first started the business, I remember going to BookExpo America in New York City. They discriminated against me and didn’t take me seriously as a Filipino publisher and for being a woman from the Philippines. Here I was, braving my way to New York and bringing my books, showing people that we do have such a thing as literary and scholarly materials. I felt like [saying] “Yes, we draw well, we write well and we have wonderful messages in our content, even if our overall packaging isn’t up to your standards!” No one can deny our presence anymore.

Christine Joy Ferrer is a designer and web editor for Reimagine! RP&E and founder of Eyes Opened MVMNT, Media + Design, eomvmnt.org.

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"When I first started the business, I remember going to BookExpo America in New York City. They discriminated against me and didn’t take me seriously as a Filipino publisher and for being a woman from the Philippines..."

Time Runs Short to Stop SF Public Land Giveaway

Street art by Ivy Jeanne McClelland, part of Clarion Alley Mural Project in San Francisco’s Mission District. cc 2017 Marcy Rein

Community college and low-income residents face big loss of public resource

By Marcy Rein and Christine Hanson

On weekdays the windswept lot next to the main campus of City College of San Francisco (CCSF) can hold close to 1,000 cars belonging to students and teachers. On weekends a motorcycle safety class practices there, as does the marching band from Archbishop Riordan High School. This lot, the Balboa Reservoir, is one of the largest tracts of public land in land-starved San Francisco—and a key arena in the city’s fight to stem displacement of its vulnerable communities and the institutions that serve them.

The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) dug the reservoir in 1957, but never used it to store water. The utility owns 60 percent of the property. The rest of the parcel belongs to CCSF, the 80-year-old community college that many call “San Francisco’s most important working-class institution.”

In 2014, the reservoir became the first site to be studied under San Francisco’s Public Land for Housing program, which is supposed to ensure 30,000 units of new housing by 2020, one-third of them affordable.

After two years of community outreach tightly managed by the city, the Balboa Reservoir Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) issued their “Principles and Parameters” for the project. These development guidelines cede the 17.5 acres of public land to private interests, and do little to protect City College against encroachment, including loss of its parking lot. They address existing traffic congestion with proposals to encourage alternatives to driving, and to build shared off-street parking to absorb the impact of as many as 500 new housing units.

“The Reservoir has implications for the whole city; there is an opportunity to set precedent for the [use of] public land and impact the housing crisis,” says Jessie Fernandez, an organizer for PODER (People Organized to Demand Environmental and Economic Justice). “The attack on public resources like City College is consistent with the attack on housing,” he says.

Planning Slams the Door on Alternatives
Mayor Ed Lee and Supervisor Norman Yee, who represents District 7 where the project is located, appointed the nine members of the CAC. City staff from the mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development (OEWD) and the Planning Department worked directly with the committee. From the first CAC meeting, members of the community commented that the project seemed to be a “done deal.” Indeed, the city always seemed to be driving the committee towards a destination, with the voices of the community trailing along behind like cans tied to a bumper.

“The Mayor brought his people out there to school us, show us what is what, and make a show of listening,” says Monica Collins, a resident of the nearby Sunnyside neighborhood and recently retired CCSF employee.

The city proudly announced that the guidelines call for 50 percent affordable housing, but in fact only one-third meets the definition of affordability under state law, and only 18 percent is earmarked for low-income families.1 Two-thirds will be unaffordable or market rate—in a city that is falling far short of its affordable housing goals.2

“They need to construct decent housing for low-income people,” says PODER member Maria Elena Ramos. “All the families I know pay high rents, and we have no space for our children,” she says. The city maintains that the market-rate housing is necessary to subsidize the affordable units.

“Without these subsidies, the Balboa Reservoir affordable housing would take funds away from other affordable housing projects in the city,” OEWD’s Emily Lesk explained to the December 2016 CAC meeting.

Affordable housing experts say that other building and financing options are possible. Cutting the cost of land, for one thing, would go a long way towards reducing the costs of development and making more affordable housing feasible.

“There is no reason to pay market rate for the land. There are provisions in the City Administrative Code that would permit sale below market rate for enterprise departments, including the PUC,” says Joseph Smooke, an affordable housing developer and activist who serves as the Richmond District Director for the Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco.3

“The mayor’s office is caught in an ideological world-view in which the only solution is market-driven,” says Council of Community Housing Organizations (CCHO) Co-Director Fernando Martí. The Council brought a paper to the CAC that laid out several scenarios for increasing the project’s affordable housing, but the group wasn’t granted space on the agenda. Instead, it was restricted to two minutes in public comment.

“The Reservoir Project has been able to steam ahead because the City has successfully framed it as an affordable housing effort,” says Alvin Ja, a Sunnyside resident who has followed the issue closely. “It needs to be framed, instead, as a transfer of public assets to private interests.”City College was built on public land that had been the Sheriff’s Ingleside Jail from 1876-1934. Courtesy of Bancroft Library, UC Berkeley.

Transportation = Education Access
Development at the reservoir site will eliminate the lot that furnishes one-third of the total parking spaces at City College’s Ocean Campus. Failure to replace these spaces could cripple the school, already battered by an accreditation crisis that began in 2012. Enrollment has plummeted by an average of 6,000 students per year—from more than 90,000 to around 66,0004—since the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) issued its sanctions. (See RP&E Vol. 21-1, “‘School Reform’ and Land Grabs Threaten SF’s City College.”) City College is a commuter school; Ocean is the largest campus and the only one of CCSF’s ten locations with direct freeway access. Loss of parking would create another obstacle for students already struggling with class cuts, restrictions on repeating courses, and other rules student activists call “push-out” policies.5

“Our students’ lives are fragile, packed. You have single parents, part-time workers, people who have to take a car if they want to go to City College. They don’t have time to take one MUNI bus after another,” says Collins, who worked in CCSF’s financial aid office for 15 years. In a survey of CCSF students, faculty, staff and administrators, 90 percent cited “arriving on time” and 73 percent named “travel time” as “very important” or “extremely” important considerations when choosing transportation to school.6

Parking will also be essential for CCSF’s long-planned Performing Arts Education Center (PAEC). The PAEC, with its 650-seat theater and audio/video recording facilities, would complete the college, allowing it to expand its job training, and raise revenue by hosting performance festivals and events. The CAC didn’t discuss the reservoir project’s effects on City College until six months into its process, and the first draft of the Principles and Parameters failed to even mention the possibility of the PAEC. CCSF supporters gamely endured presentations on such issues as “design variation in building architecture” and “landscape, lighting and greenery” before being able to voice the school’s needs. After multiple meetings, they got language into the Principles and Parameters that acknowledges the PAEC and promises to “ensure that development at the Balboa Reservoir site does not negatively impact City College’s educational mission and operational needs.”

The Principles and Parameters are merely guidelines, however; they have no legal standing. And they neither call out the impact that loss of parking will have on the school, nor name mitigation of the loss as a solution. “The Reservoir is a tipping point,” longtime CCSF Music Dept. Chair Madeline Mueller says. “If they take the parking and don’t replace it, we’re on our way to being a really small college.” City College will need to aggressively enforce its interests—and administrators installed since the 2013 state takeover have so far participated in the downsizing of the school, the sell-off of land, and private meetings with city agencies.

Emergency Managers Sell Off Land and Partner with the City
After the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges ruled in July 2013 that City College should close, the California Community Colleges Board of Governors put the school under emergency management. Robert Agrella became the Special Trustee With Extraordinary Powers (STWEP) and the elected Board of Trustees was sidelined.

In September 2013 Agrella scuttled the PAEC, sending $38 million in matching funds for the project back to the state. Next he began marketing the college’s administration building at 33 Gough Street. Then the Civic Center Campus was closed on a half-day’s notice at the beginning of the 2015 winter term, displacing 1,700 students, most of them new immigrants learning English as a second language.

After the elected trustees regained power early in 2016, the development agenda rolled on, with several City College administrators, all hired by Agrella when he was STWEP, consulting regularly with the city planning department, the mayor’s office, and the SFPUC on the Balboa Reservoir project as well as City College facilities planning.

At the CAC meeting in January 2016, CCSF music instructor Harry Bernstein inquired about these unpublicized meetings among city staff and college administrators. “It is appropriate for public sector colleagues to meet,” OEWD’s Emily Lesk said in her prepared response at the next meeting. But the process has lacked transparency: The proceedings of these collegial meetings weren’t even shared with campus committees charged with facilities planning.

Ultimately City College signed a deal with a private developer to build housing at 33 Gough St., only one-third of it affordable.7 It is still pondering development plans for the Civic Center site. A revived PAEC appears in the draft of the college’s new Facilities Master Plan, alongside a 60-foot-wide access road leading not into the campus, but into the planned reservoir development. This comes after the CCSF trustees stated in their July 2016 resolution, “CCSF cannot grant the city a roadway between the Multi-Use Building and the planned PAEC.” The elected board, however, is not invited to the meetings between city staff and college administrators. Site of the proposed Balboa Reservoir project, now a CCSF parking lot. © Madeline Mueller

Moving Forward
The city took its first public step toward finding a developer for Balboa Reservoir in November 2016. The developer’s proposal must pass an environmental impact review under CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act), and secure approvals from the SFPUC, the Planning Dept., the Planning Commission, and the Board of Supervisors. Each of these approvals can be an opportunity for community mobilization.

The CEQA study in particular offers City College a valuable tool, though the administration will need to be pushed to use it, according to Alvin Ja. The Trustees and administration could insist that the reservoir project be required to pay for replacement of all the parking it takes away. “This would be in line with CEQA requirements for mitigation of adverse impacts on public/educational services,” Ja says. It would also help the adjacent neighborhoods, whose streets take up the slack when parking demand exceeds capacity.

But the CEQA review won’t come up until 2019, according to the San Francisco Planning Department.8 well after community members and City College students, staff and faculty will have been worn down by four years of frustrating advisory meetings, and the even longer fight to defend and rebuild the college.

“It’s late in the process for leverage,” says Joseph Smooke. “If people want to change the direction of the process, they will have to build serious power,” he says, and confront a Board of Supervisors that tilted towards developers in the 2016 election.

The stakes are as high as the challenges are daunting. “Sites like the Balboa Reservoir represent an indispensable public resource that should be prioritized as a public good for this and future generations,” says CCHO’s Martí. Providing 100 percent affordable housing while protecting the parking needed by CCSF students and faculty is eminently possible, according to Martí. Indeed, the Ocean Avenue side of the reservoir is already home to an attractive apartment building featuring 100 percent affordable housing, built on public land acquired for less than market rate. “It is totally a question of political will,” Martí says.

Christine Hanson is an Equine Bodyworker, continuing CCSF student and Save CCSF Coalition member who lives in the Excelsior District. Marcy Rein is a longtime contributor to Race, Poverty & the Environment.

Endnotes
1. The city gets to 50 percent affordability by offering 18 percent of the housing for low-income families earning up to 55 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI), or $56,050 per year for a family of four; another 15 percent for families earning 120 percent of AMI, $129,250 for a family of four; and another 17 percent for a range of income levels up to 150 percent AMI, $161,550 for a family of four.

2. Peter Cohen and Fernando Martí, “The ‘affordable housing balance’ keeps getting worse,” San Francisco Examiner, April 16, 2016, http://www.sfexaminer.com/affordable-housing-balance-just-keeps-getting-worse/ accessed Dec. 8, 2016.

3. For more information, see Dyan Ruiz and Joseph Smooke, “Chasing Unicorns! 5 Reasons Why SF is Delusional Giving Up Public Land for Market Rate Development,” April 6, 2015, http://peoplepowermedia.net/housing/chasing-unicorns-5-reasons-why-sf-is-delusional-giving-up-public-land-for-market-rate, accessed Dec. 26, 2016.

4. California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office—Data Mart. (2016). Retrieved September 28, 2016, from http://datamart.cccco.edu/Faculty-Staff/Staff_Demo.aspx)

5. From 2012-2016, 774 classes were canceled, and the City College administration announced plans to cut another 26 percent by 2020. Students are also facing bureaucratic rules that make it more difficult to enroll, cuts in federal Pell Grants for tuition, and loss of state fee waivers if they try to return after failing to complete more than half their classes one semester.

6. CCSF Facilities Planning Survey, May 5-20, 2016, accessed at http://www.ccsf.edu/dam/Organizational_Assets/About_CCSF/Admin/facilities_planning/English TRANSIT only.pdf

7. Michael Barba, “CCSF cuts $11.5 million deal as fiscal cliff looms,” San Francisco Examiner, Oct. 19, 2016, http://www.sfexaminer.com/ccsf-cuts-11-5-million-deal-developers-fiscal-cliff-looms/ accessed Jan. 3, 2017.

8. http://sf-planning.org/balboa-reservoir - timeline

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“The City has framed the Balboa Reservoir as an a affordable housing effort. It needs to be framed, instead, as a transfer of public assets to private interests.”--SF resident Alvin Ja

Renters Rise

San Francisco Renters Day of Action ©2016 Joseph Smooke

By Joseph Smooke

Under the banner of “Homes For All,” renters from coast to coast are pulling together in a national movement to demand a freeze on rent increases and an end to unfair evictions.1 Their National Renters Day of Action2 in fall 2016 announced that they are organized, united and ready to fight for their right to a stable home—and that their level of unity and resolve is more necessary than ever, now that a real estate tycoon with a documented history of discrimination and abuse of tenants is occupying the White House.

An alliance of diverse groups called Right to the City3 created the Homes for All4 campaign “to protect, defend and expand housing that is truly affordable and dignified for low-income and very low-income communities…”5 Homes for All coordinated actions in 48 cities on Sept. 22, 2016, declaring a National Renter State of Emergency. Some of the rallies involved hundreds of people like the one in Los Angeles organized by the Renters’ Day LA Coalition and the protest in San Francisco staged by the Anti-Displacement Coalition. Others were important for being the start of people coming together to make demands on housing issues. One such mobilization was organized by the statewide 9 to 5 chapter in Colorado whose members, working women, came together to rally as tenants for the first time.

For generations, there has been the myth of the democratization of land ownership, the unattainable goal for everyone to be able to own their own home, as foundational to the “American Dream. The rate of US homeownership peaked in 2004 at 69.2 percent and has since dropped to 63.4 percent, which is the lowest in nearly half a century.6 Many see this decline in homeownership as the rise of a “renter nation.”7

The national homeownership rate became inflated by a system of corruption, collusion and greed. A system of banks and the government-backed secondary market for home loans made home buying look deceptively easy. People across the country with no financial capacity to purchase a home suddenly found themselves living beyond their means. When the whole fraudulent scheme came crashing down, it nearly took the world’s intertwined economy along with it. So many millions of people experienced first hand that banks and the government never really meant to democratize land ownership, they only meant to profit from it. The whole system was a cynical exploitation of people’s dreams of stability and ownership. By far the hardest hit when the foreclosures started sweeping the country were Black and Latino families.

After that bubble burst, it only became re-inflated by the insatiable demand at the high end of the market made possible by the government using our tax dollars to bail out all the corrupt banks, and the simultaneous explosion of massive tech corporations paying extremely high wages so they could maintain an advantage over their competition. The real estate industry’s shift to the highest end of the market supported by this frantic race for highly specialized talent created an upward trend that landlords have twisted themselves around to take advantage of. Tenants who are at the moderate and lower tiers of the economic spectrum have found themselves at risk as landlords look for every law and loophole to get lower paying tenants out in order to replace them with high wage tenants. This phenomenon is not just contained to “hot market” cities like San Francisco, New York and Los Angeles where tech has a firm grip. As rents in these cities become expensive for all but the most lucrative companies, others trying to compete have had to attract talent to other more affordable cities like Nashville and Denver that have started to experience the same rise in rental costs and evictions as the “hot market” cities. Again, Black, Latino and working class households are the most impacted by rising rents.

Pressures facing renters are diverse across the country, from struggles in public housing to abuses by private landlords. Many tenants are also facing challenges that go beyond housing instability. Therefore, a number of the Homes for All members such as 9 to 5’s Colorado chapter are also involved in fights to raise wages, have better public transportation and access to work. As Andrea Chiriboga-Flor, Organizer for 9 to 5 Colorado said, “access to public transit is the lifeline for low wage working women,” so having housing that’s affordable near public transit is essential for getting out of poverty. Organizers at 9 to 5 Colorado are seeing low wage workers being displaced as new light rail lines are being built, so low wage workers are pushed farther away from work. Andrea says, “when they’re forced to leave, they live in outlying areas of the Denver metro area” farther from work and farther from quality public transit which is why the women they organize have started to identify housing as their number one issue.

Los Angeles Renters Day of Action ©2016Farther west, issues for workers in Los Angeles are similar. Mike Dennis of the East LA Community Corporation (ELACC) said “Renters Day was born out of Los Angeles in response to a housing affordability crisis that has crippled the working poor – the very folks that make LA the great city that it is. Homes For All made a collective decision to scale up the Renters Day movement because these conditions aren’t unique to LA or California. Millions of renters are continuing to be marginalized, criminalized and oppressed through market forces that aim to extract profits over their human right to affordable and dignified housing.”

Each of the local actions made demands specific to the condition of renters in each area, but months of coordination led to Homes for All making the following set of global demands:

  • A National Rent Freeze, a National Livable Rent and a Livable Wage for all people; a national Livable Rent Standard that ensures no family pays more than 30 percent of their income on rent.
  • A freeze on ALL unjust Evictions. We call for any eviction without cause to be met with fierce community resistance AND for local, state and federal governments to institute immediate moratoriums.
  • Community control over land and housing in our communities. No one should be forcibly or violently displaced as a result of development. Vacant, underused and foreclosed upon land should be placed under the democratic control of communities through Community Land Trusts and Cooperatives to create affordable housing and serve the needs of communities of color and working class communities.
  • The right of all tenants to organize and bargain collectively with landlords without fear of discrimination, retaliation or eviction.

Not Just Big Cities
Pressures facing renters are not confined to desirable major cities like Los Angeles, Denver, New York and San Francisco. The same issues of rising rents and forcible evictions have left residents homeless in cities often thought to be more affordable like Nashville, Tennessee.

Shamita Granberry tells the story about how her landlord evicted her from her apartment in Nashville with no notice, and confiscated her belongings. Finding a new place that she can afford has meant putting her name on wait lists for public housing, Section 8, private apartments, any vacancies and opportunities she can find. She asks, “When you’re able to go to school, get your education, work, are able-bodied, and are homeless. How does that happen?”

She continues to ask further, “How would you feel if I came to your house and I said, ‘I want your neighborhood? It’s like someone coming to your home and saying ‘This is my street now. You have to go. You’re no longer wanted here.’ That’s what it feels like. It feels like our whole city’s getting evicted.”

The overriding issue is that housing, the basic need for all people to have shelter in order to survive, is not seen as a human right in the U.S. Instead, it’s seen as a commodity where the owner has absolute power, and any attempt to shift any control to a renter, to someone who doesn’t have any ownership standing is seen as an offense. Malcolm Torrejon-Chu, Organizer with the Right to the City Alliance said, “Housing as a human right is the internationally affirmed idea that all people need and deserve a safe home to be able to survive and thrive at their fullest potential. Sadly, in the U.S. and around the globe, the housing crisis is fueled by developers, politicians and speculators that prioritize corporate profits over this fundamental human need.”

Nearly 250 years ago, the founders of the United States retained the social stratification inherent in land ownership and all the legal systems that protect land owners which meant that tenants have less rights and less economic stability than those who own. Throughout the U.S., the gap between landlords and tenants is the same as the widening gap between rich and poor, and disproportionately has profoundly destabilizing consequences especially for people of color.

The Renters Day of Action was timed to raise awareness of this nascent movement as the presidential campaign was hitting its peak. Malcolm Torrejón-Chu says that “The Renters Day of Action was a call for us to radically rethink how land and housing are controlled and used in the U.S. and around the globe. The Renters Day of Action emerged following the historic Homes For All #RenterPower2016 gathering in Chicago in April 2016 at which more than 125 leaders from throughout the country came together to build unity and strategize the future of a national movement for housing as a human right.”

In addition to that high profile presidential race, the San Francisco Bay Area had a fistful of Rent Control and Renter Protection measures on local ballots.

On the positive side, Oakland, Mountain View and Richmond all voted to approve new or increased protections for renters. In San Francisco, voters rejected two cleverly crafted measures from the realtors that would have meant less affordable housing.

Of great concern for the movement is the fact that the new president is notorious for his evictions and abuses of tenants.8 He also has a history of excluding people of color and people with low incomes from renting in his buildings.9 The concern, now that Trump has been elected president is that he will support landlords who deploy such discriminatory and abusive business practices. His pick for Housing and Urban Development, Ben Carson, indicates that public housing will likely face a renewed assault.

Stabilizing renters means stabilizing communities, and our economy. Unfortunately, this is seen as a threat to the ruling class of elite landlords. It will take a sustained campaign and building a movement of renters acting locally and in coalition nationally to bring justice to this issue of systemic denial of people’s basic human right to housing.

Joseph Smooke is cofounder of peoplepowermedia.net, an online platform broadcasting community voices to impact public policy. He is also a program director with Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco, a member organization of Right to the City and Homes for All.

Endnotes

1           http://homesforall.org/renters-day-of-action/demands/
2           http://action.righttothecity.org/p/salsa/event/common/public/search.sjs?distributed_event_KEY=737

3           http://righttothecity.org
4           http://homesforall.org
5           http://homesforall.org/renters-day-of-action/about/
6           http://www.cnbc.com/2015/07/28/home-ownership-rates-drop-to-lowest-since-1967.html
7           http://finance.yahoo.com/blogs/breakout/u-s—becoming-a—renter-nation—says-olefson-151329558.html
            
http://righttothecity.org/cause/rise-of-the-renter-nation/
8           http://money.cnn.com/2016/03/28/news/trump-apartment-tenants/index.html
9           http://www.salon.com/2011/04/28/donald_trump_discrimination_suit/

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Under the banner of “Homes For All,” renters from coast to coast are pulling together in a national movement to demand a freeze on rent increases and an end to unfair evictions.

Resist!

Resist! We Are the Ones We’ve Been Waiting For
Commentary by Dawn Phillips

Art by Shepard Fairey The Trump victory is devastating. Devastating for communities of color, immigrants, women, Muslims and queer communities. Devastating for us.

Trump has given new voice to deeply rooted white supremacy, gender violence, xenophobia and hatred. Hatred of everything that we are. Hatred of everything that we have struggled for.

There are no illusions, we have lived a long time with terror and injustice. But it is no illusion that this marks a new phase: A new phase in the development of fascist demagoguery in the belly of the beast.

We were not ready to jump on the Clinton bandwagon. Not ready to support her neoliberal agenda at home and promotion of American empire abroad. Not ready to forget her tone-deaf engagement with Black and immigrant organizers and lack of interest in taking action on race. She was not our grandmother and she did not speak for us. But despite her limitations there should be no illusion that we have ended up with the greater of two evils. Trump’s fascism over Clinton’s neoliberalism.

We have always resisted. Resisted the lies of the two-party electoral game. Resisted police beatings and murders. Resisted environmental degradation and the evils of corporate polluters. Resisted male violence and transphobia. Resisted the rich bosses and landlords who own the airwaves and politicians.

This is not about an election or a policy or a political party. Our vision of transformation is deeper and will require not only a change in the system, but a change within ourselves.

Resistance is our legacy. Resistance is our duty. We have resisted a long time. We will continue to resist.

Our goal is transformation.

A world where housing is a right and there is a guaranteed living wage for all. A world where neighbors come together to decide the future of their communities and development serves human need, not profit.

A world where treaties are honored, where there is self-determination for Native and Black peoples. A world where women, young people and queer folks make decisions about public resources and policies. A world without borders, where we are free to move for health, for love, for work, for family.

We want to transform racial divisions between and within our communities of color. We want to transform structures of hetropatriarchy in our families. We want to transform the very nature of our relationships from the individual, to the community, to the societal.

This is not about an election or a policy or a political party. Our vision of transformation is deeper and will require not only a change in the system, but a change within ourselves.

Our strategy is to organize and build power.

We will continue to talk to our neighbors, to those facing evictions and deportations. We will come together in our living rooms and kitchens to share our struggles, articulate vision, strategy and plans. We will take collective action to fight and win locally where we have had the greatest impact on improving lives and conditions.

We will build movement. We will engage our differences with respect and honesty. We will connect our humanity and unite around our shared needs and interest. We will build trust and solidarity.

Local Organizing
A renter movement has emerged in the Bay Area that is as concerned with racial justice as it is with housing justice and this vision is reverberating nationally.

Immigrant women are growing a domestic worker movement that is invigorating the labor movement and winning local and state level fights across the country. In Maricopa County, thousands of Latinos organized to oust Joe Arpaio and end 24 years of racist policing.

Local organizing matters. Local power matters. Change and transformation will rise up from our neighborhoods and cities, it will not flow down from D.C., the President or the Democrats.

The outcomes and impacts of this election are still unfolding. While our assessments and interventions are still in development, one thing is clear. Now more than ever, there is a need for our resistance, our vision of transformation and the hard work of organizing, building power and growing our movement.

There was no illusion that things were going to get easier, only the reality that our struggle continues and must become stronger and more effective.

Onward.

Dawn Phillips is Co-Director of Programs at Causa Justa :: Just Cause and Executive Director at Right to the City Alliance.

 

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City College: Free, Accredited and Still Fighting

By Marcy Rein

Relentless organizing by labor, students, and community members won San Francisco the most inclusive free community college plan in the country. Yet the program approved by the City College of San Francisco (CCSF) Board of Trustees on Feb. 9, 2017 fell short of proponents’ goals. Assistance for students who already get state tuition waivers will be much more limited than originally planned, and many undocumented students will get no help at all.

Approval of the free tuitiThe campaign for Proposition W clearly linked the tax to Free City Collegeon plan came just weeks after City College learned that it would be fully accredited for the next seven years. The Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges announced its decision Jan. 13, after putting the school through a four-and-a-half year ordeal that bled it of students, faculty, and classes. (See “School ‘Reform’ and Land Grabs Threaten SF’s Community College,” RP&E Vol. 21-1)

“Nothing could be better for City College than to turn the final pages of the accreditation crisis into a victory that looks like this. This is a victory for public education,” says Alisa Messer, a CCSF English teacher and political director for American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Local 2121, which represents City College faculty.

AFT2121 launched the “Free City” initiative in 2016 as a way of galvanizing support for the school, and enlisted San Francisco Supervisor Jane Kim to champion it at the Board of Supervisors. The Board voted 10-1 to put the tax that would fund Free City on the November 2016 ballot—a tax on the purchase or sale of real estate worth more than $5 million.

Local 2121 anchored the campaign for the “mansion tax,” Proposition W, working closely with student organizers. The San Francisco Labor Council, along with community groups such as Jobs With Justice, Young Workers United, and Community Housing Partnership, turned out members to rally and canvass, as did progressive local candidates. On Nov. 8, almost 62 percent of San Francisco voters approved the measure. (It was a good election for City College all around. The extension of the parcel tax to support instruction at the school passed with 83 percent of the vote, the biggest “yes” for anything on the ballot, and two strong advocates for rebuilding the school, Shanell Williams and Tom Temprano, won election to the Board of Trustees.)

But San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee used the election results as an excuse to refuse to fund Free City, defying the voters and the supervisors. His office cited the defeat of a local sales tax that would’ve funded transit improvements and services for homeless people, and the fear that the city would lose federal dollars because it is a sanctuary city.[1]

Technically Mayor Lee had the right to shift budget priorities. San Francisco’s charter gives the mayor lots of power, including discretion over spending, and Prop W was put on the ballot as an unrestricted tax so it would only need a simple majority to pass. (Taxes for restricted purposes, like the parcel tax, need a two-thirds vote.) But all the discussion of Prop W linked it to Free City, as did the supervisors’ votes and posters all over town.  

“A promise is a promise,” Supervisor Aaron Peskin said at the Dec. 15 board meeting. “Ten of 11 members of this Board voted to prioritize City College with Prop W, and it was all there in the campaign,” he said.

Lee’s stance reflected his history and priorities. “The battle over Free City and the revenue measure is example of the mayor’s lack of leadership in saving this institution that is so very important, especially for San Francisco’s low income and immigrant communities,” says former supervisor Eric Mar. “It’s consistent with his not being there for City College during the crisis,” says Mar, who represented the city’s Richmond district until he was termed out at the end of 2016.

Free City backers began a determined effort to push the mayor to do the right thing.  The supervisors took two more votes in favor of a $9 million appropriation for the project and the Democratic County Central Committee passed a resolution supporting it.

“We hoped by building enough public pressure we could encourage Mayor Lee to avoid the embarrassment of going against the will of the voters who passed Prop W to fund Free City,” says Local 2121’s community organizer, Athena Waid. On Jan. 6, Supervisor Kim stood next to the mayor as they announced an agreement that the city would use $5.4 million of the mansion tax revenues to fund Free City. The news went viral, with Lee claiming his share of the credit for the project he tried to scuttle. "To California residents who are living in San Francisco, your community college is now free," Lee said at the news conference.

San Francisco’s program is far more inclusive than other free community college plans. Free City is available to all residents of SF who qualify for in-state tuition at CCSF, no matter their age or educational path. It isn’t restricted to students who enroll in specific majors, attend full time or make good grades. Students who receive tuition support through the state Community College Board of Governors’ fee waiver program will get a stipend they can use for books and other costs, such as transportation to and from school.

But the $5.4 million the mayor agreed to spend is just a little over half the amount appropriated by the Board of Supervisors, and is only 12 percent of the $44 million[2] the San Francisco Controller’s office estimated the tax will net in an average year. This cut means the stipends will only run about $500 per year instead of the $1,000 Prop W backers originally hoped. And the majority of undocumented students, who pay out-of-state tuition, will not be eligible at all.Community support lights up the side of CCSF’s Science Building. Courtesy of the San Francisco Projection Department.

The plan agreed on by the mayor and Supervisor Kim will only cover college-credit courses for undocumented students who fall under AB540 and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA); non-credit courses such as beginning English will continue to be free to all.  AB540 is a state law that allows students, regardless of immigration status, to pay in-state tuition at all of California’s public community colleges and universities. To be eligible, they must have graduated from high school in California after attending for at least three years, and meet other criteria. DACA is an Obama-era policy that allows eligible undocumented residents to work in the US legally for two years.

Non-AB540 students were excluded by replacing the words “San Francisco resident” with “California resident” in the agreement, and excluding part-time workers. San Francisco issues an ID card to all residents, but students holding the card might not meet state residency requirements. If they didn’t, the city would need to cover the much pricier out-of-state tuition fees, $280 per unit rather than the $46 per unit charged to California residents.[3]

“There is some proposed legislation that would extend AB 540 eligibility that we hope to help move,” says AFT’s Messer. “There are a lot of ways we could cover these students, and I think we can do it—and it’s going to take some additional work to get there in a way that is thoughtful and responsive to the times,” she says.

“The decision to exclude the San Francisco ID is politically motivated,” says Lalo Gonzalez, who was a student organizer at CCSF at the height of the accreditation crisis. “It would've conflicted with business interests that depend on immigrant labor (the underground economy) and the cost would be much higher for the City,” Gonzalez says.

Members of the CCSF students’ Solidarity Committee took the lead in protesting the exclusions at the Board of Trustees. “There is no liberation for some of us unless there is liberation for all of us,” said Solidarity Committee member J.J. Vivek Naryan. “If we are truly to be a sanctuary campus, we need to be committed to fighting to be sure this reaches all of our students.”

The Trustees passed a resolution directing the administration to secure funds for grants or scholarships to help the excluded students, and passed the Free City proposal amid much jubilation at their Feb. 9 meeting.

“People keep coming up to me and saying, ‘Is city college going to be free? I’m going to come back and take these classes,’” Trustee Shanell Williams said. But they may not find the classes they want. Williams and like-minded trustees are fighting alongside students and faculty against a program of deep class cuts set in motion by the current administration installed during the state takeover. City College has earned passing grades from the accreditors, and broad public support, but the fight against the policies of austerity continues.

 

 

 

 


[1] Emily Green, “Trump’s sanctuary city threat, shortfalls lead SF to revise budget,” San Francisco Chronicle, Nov. 28, 2016

[2] San Francisco Controller’s Office, Office of Economic Analysis, “Transfer Tax Increase on Properties Over $5 Million in Value: Economic Impact Report,” Item #160604, June 29, 2016

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Looking Back, Looking Forward

25 Years of Environmental Justice

World Social Forum in Porto Alegre cc. 2004 Raquel Tannuri Santana

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The Exodus of the People of Mossville

March for Mossville on Sasol on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. © 2016 Liana Lopez @lianalisaa

By Rebecca O. Johnson

Mossville, a small community in Southwest Louisiana, was settled over 220 years ago by 12 Black families led by the freedman Jim Moss. At its founding in 1790, the area was still controlled by France and while Blacks weren’t fully enfranchised as citizens, the French government did allow African Americans to own land. Mossville wasn’t allowed to incorporate as a village or town, but it was one of those African American places that governed itself, schooled its children, grew food, fished and built businesses. A century and a half later, Mossville has survived annexation by the United States, the Civil War and Jim Crow rule of the 20th century. But today, the town stands on the brink of disappearing, wiped away by multinational petrochemical companies.

“Sasol can’t pay for our suffering, our pain and everything, but we got to get out to save our lives,” said Christine Bennett of Mossville Environmental Action Now, at a town hall meeting to address the ongoing buyout of the town by the South African petroleum conglomerate.

Sasol (originally known as the South African Coal Oil and Gas Corporation Limited) is one of the 14 refineries and chemical processing facilities operating out of the industrial zone surrounding Mossville. It had been, since its arrival in 2001, largely opaque in its operations and seemed relatively benign—as producers of industrial toxins go—to the people of the community. But about five years ago, the oil giant cut a deal with the State of Louisiana to build a gigantic new facility that would completely overshadow the town. Sasol had been approved to commence construction of the first shale gas to liquid (GTL) processing facility in the country.

March for Mossville on Sasol on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. © 2016 Liana Lopez @lianalisaaSasol, with the support of the state government of Gov. Bobby Jindal, presented a so-called “Voluntary Property Purchase Program (VPPP)” to the residents of Mossville. The residents, working with Mossville Environmental Action Now (MEAN), had been organizing for over 30 years on multiple fronts: advocating for environmental justice; educating residents about the health and environmental impacts of toxic pollution; attempting to compel federal and state environmental agencies to enforce human rights laws; and advocating for health services, relocation and pollution reduction to improve the lives and health of residents.

MEAN has shown that their community has been disproportionately affected by the more than 1,000 tons of toxins collectively emitted each year into the air, water and soil by the industrial plants surrounding the community. They have lobbied for many years for a just and fair relocation of their community to a safe, healthy and toxin-free location. The offer made by Sasol raised hope that the community would finally find the relief they desired.

At an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) town hall held in October 2016, Dorothy Felix, president of MEAN, described the sad circumstances that have led many in the community to consider accepting the buyout:

“Mossville was to us... the life to have. We had our schools, churches, stores, cafes and families helping families; sharing with each other. Families had gardens, fished for food, raised cattle, chicken, hogs and other animals for meat. After all the energy and effort we exerted to make Mossville our lovely community, the government ignored, completely disregarded our hard work by permitting the plants to move in and surround us.... Now there are 14 large plants around us... we have pollution—chemicals, toxins, releases, upsets and health problems. They continue to poison Mossville.”

I began working with Felix back in 2010. Mossville was already beginning to suffer from depopulation. Since then, Felix and I had been looking into something that the Calcasieu Parish government administrators of the area made sure not to study, that is, just how many of Mossville’s homes were actually inhabited. Back then, we counted 375 structures. In June 2016, we found about 100, by mid-October that had dropped to 88.

Mossville was more than a thorn in the side of the industries and the police jury (what we might call a county commission or council in other, less authoritarian places); it was land, the resource needed for expansion of their already enormous industrial footprint, inconveniently occupied by disposable Black people. The state and local governments were acting with the same twisted glee they had displayed with the evacuation of poor Black folk after Hurricane Katrina. The Black-majority town of Mossville has been very nearly ethnically cleansed. But despite this depopulation, they continue to fight on, kicking off 2016 with a Martin Luther King day action at Sasol.

What is a Voluntary Property Purchase Program?
What does voluntary mean? In the case of the VPPP, it doesn’t refer to the residents freely offering their properties to Sasol in an open market that recognizes the value of their land to the company’s current and future expansion plans and profits. The voluntary purchase program offered to Mossville, as well as those described below, use funding provided by local or state governments as industries seek to avoid regulatory scrutiny, accountability and the cost of environmental remediation. For example, among the most egregious enticements the state of Louisiana granted Sasol in exchange for building their GTL facility was $115 million to buy out the people of Mossville, and dispossess them of their ancestral land.

This is a battle that has gone on for several generations.

The circumstances that would bring Mossville to this moment, its demise in sight, can be traced back to 1934, the moment the state approved the construction of a 35-mile shipping channel from Lake Charles to a bayou called Calcasieu Pass.

In 1936 Louisiana instituted a 10-year industrial tax exemption (Allen 2002) for all refineries and chemical processors that built, expanded or improved in Louisiana. This is equivalent to a permanent exemption from paying taxes, undermining efforts in the 1920s to provide healthcare and education to the residents of Louisiana.

Soon, oil refineries would open—Continental Oil in 1941, Cities Service in 1942, Cit-Con in 1947, Esso Standard Oil and Shell in 1949—and continue with ever greater encroachment on the land and legacy of Mossville.

Felix recounted to me the oral history she had learned from that time.“I heard stories that when they built the plant where Georgia Gulf sits, in the 1950s, that there was a cemetery there, a Mossville cemetery. I heard they tore up the bodies and threw them in the river.”

Louisiana and Voluntary Property Purchase Programs
Oil and chemical industries are well schooled in the dispossession of communities. Across the United States, from Maryland to California, multinationals have used a voluntary purchase process to uproot working-class and people of color. No state has better facilitated this dispossession than Louisiana. Mossville is not the first, but it will be the largest. Five communities founded by formerly enslaved Black people have been wiped off the map since 1987.

“My Dad walked across the yard. My grandfather walked across the yard. This is a special spot. My people are in this place, and there are some things you can’t put a dollar value on. To relocate will be difficult.... They tell you that you have the choice of saying yes or no, but you really don’t. I see my shelter, my comfort being torn down around me. I don’t have a choice.” Morrisonville resident to Louisiana Advisory Committee to US Commission on Civil Rights, 1993.

Revilletown, Sunrise in West Baton Rouge, Wallace, Morrisonville and the Diamond residents of Norco were all faced with the choice, continue the struggle in the face of poisoned wells, toxic air and deteriorating health, or accept a buyout. Rather than the proudly self-sufficient communities they once were, these residents had become “refugees in place” (Nixon) with industry closing in all around them.

Mossville Experience
While these voluntary purchase programs are not uncommon, their fairness is not well documented. MEAN members have carefully tracked the interactions of Mossville residents in their negotiations with Sasol. Analysis of their experience can serve as a model for other communities resisting similar displacement efforts.

The Sasol VPPP promised a guaranteed minimum offer, real estate appraisals to determine value above the minimum, and fair treatment of those residents who chose to remain in Mossville. These assurances have been ignored in the actual negotiations with residents. MEAN’s review of over 600 deed conveyances finds wildly uneven offers for similar structures. Rather than appraising based on acreage and as-built structures, appraisers have made disparaging judgments about the aesthetic quality of the housing that the owner will be required to destroy and dump in order to complete the buyout.

Folks in Louisiana are very place- and family-oriented. Those with land try to keep their kin nearby, frequently building so children and grandchildren can live on the same land. Before the buyout, seven generations of the Felix clan lived within eyesight of each other. The Sasol land grab ignored this reality, leaving many young people homeless and elders living in precarious conditions.

IThe stalwart residents who carry on the fight. Left to right back row: Ericka Jackson, Monique Harden, Christine Bennett, Desmond D’Sa, Dorothy Felix, Delma Bennett, Gail Garrett, Larry Allison, Ronald Carrier. Front row (left to right) Errol Hartman, Van Jackson and Karl Prater.n facing the inflated local housing market that has resulted from the VPPP, the Sasol offer has left many who accepted it with less community, more debt and poorer housing. And the company has not kept its promise to those who have refused the offer as inadequate or who are choosing to stay. Sasol successfully secured industrial zoning for all of Mossville, turned off street lights, blocked streets and imperils the day-to-day safety of residents who remain.

Polluting Industries Remain Unaccountable
Sasol buyout negotiations have let other toxin-emitting industries off the hook for the damage to residents’ water, land and health.

“The issue we were fighting was our health problems caused by the refineries in our area,” said Delma Bennett, treasurer and spokesperson for MEAN. “It has become just about Sasol, and that’s not fair. There are too many people who died, too many people got sick, and that’s not fair. We don’t even talk about the pollution anymore.”

A 2000 study showed that Mossville residents suffer from disproportionately high rates of dioxin exposure. The effects of dioxin and other exposures are long-lasting. There are no provisions for tracking Mossville residents’ health and well-being post relocation. The burden of industrial toxins on the human body does not just disappear when someone relocates. The people remaining are more, not less, at risk as state and local government have enabled not just Sasol but other facilities to jump the industrial fence line into Mossville, while approving the construction of three additional facilities. Sasol’s land grab brings the fence line to new communities. It will continue to grow as far as the industrial sector desires.

Slow Violence and Mossville
According to Rob Nixon, “Turbo-capitalism” is characterized by the elimination of what multinational extractive industries have found inconvenient to their profit-making aspirations.1 Louisiana has courted and kowtowed to their demands, conceding to everything industry wants, regardless of the needs of its citizens.

Concessions are what multinational companies call the legal agreements they make with governments in developing countries to access the environmental resources under the ground. These governments concede control of populations, workers and environmental protection in exchange for petro-dollars that rarely benefit the people consumed by Big Oil’s hungry maw. It is Louisiana’s state-wide concession of tax dollars, public health and its citizens’ land that has brought about the exodus of the people of Mossville and the scattering of the 12 founding families. But MEAN is steadfast in demanding accountability from state and federal officials. MEAN demands that Gov. John Bel Edwards withhold all allocated and promised state funds until Sasol engages in an accountability and restitution process with Mossville residents. Sasol must provide fair replacement value, address the housing market inflation caused by the VPPP, guarantee community control of the historical and cultural legacy of Mossville and address the harm they have caused through both monetary and non-monetary compensation. And the federal government must be held responsible as well. MEAN demands the EPA investigate the Voluntary Property Purchase Program scheme, abolish it and create greater accountability of toxin-emitting extractive industries to their fence line neighbors.

The people now in this struggle encourage all those in the environmental justice community to vigilance of and heightened resistance to the widespread peril of extractive industries to our environment, our health and a sustainable way of life.

Rebecca O. Johnson is a writer and activist living in Akron, Ohio. She works with environmental justice groups in the South and teaches at Sarah Lawrence College.

Endnote
1           Nixon, Rob: Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor, Harvard University Press, 2011.

 

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Environmental Justice — 25 Years and Counting

World Social Forum in Porto Alegre. cc. 2004 Raquel Tannuri Santana
Excerpt from the introduction to a panel discussion by Michelle DePass at the New School in New York City.

The First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit held in October 1991, in Washington, DC, drafted and adopted 17 Principles of Environmental Justice that have served as a defining document for the grassroots movement for environmental justice. (See page 82.) On the 25th Anniversary of the Summit, the Tishman Environment and Design Center of The New School held a panel discussion on the themes of the Principles in New York City. In this issue we present excerpts from that discussion and two pieces from RP&E published in 1992.

In October 1991, over 300 Black, Latino, Native and Asian American delegates gathered in Washington, DC, for The First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit.

Many of these delegates are people we all know, work with and admire and this panel discussion is part of celebrating the anniversary of the summit, as well as an exploration into the ways that academia can contribute to the discussion, research and actions of the environmental justice movement.

Dana Alston, an advocate for environmental and social justice, and a co-convener of the Summit described its purpose and guiding ideals this way, and I quote:

“People of color gathered not in reaction to the environmental movement, but rather to reaffirm their traditional connection to and respect for the natural world, and to speak for themselves on some of the most critical issues of our times....This broad understanding of the environment is a context within which to address a variety of questions about militarism and defense, religious freedom and cultural survival, energy and sustainable development, transportation and housing, land and sovereignty rights, self-determination, and employment.” (For the complete text see page 90.)

These words of Dana ring true to this day and we really have to lift up and acknowledge Dana, who is not with us anymore, as one of the real pillars in terms of the environmental justice movement.

Delegates to the Summit exchanged stories of environmental racism experienced by their communities, which were routinely targeted for disposal of toxic waste, or the placement of hazardous industries. They noted not just the environmental impacts of these practices, but the human health effects like cancer, birth defects, asthma and miscarriages.

Delegates worked to also develop solutions and policy proposals to support a just and equitable approach to address the environmental crisis, the ecological impact of war, underground nuclear testing, the international waste trade and U.S. foreign aid and trade policies. Through a process of consensus building, they also penned and adopted the 17 Principles of Environmental Justice to guide the movement “to eradicate environmental racism and bring into being true social justice and self-determination.” (See page 82.)

Now we are gathered here on the 25th anniversary of the adoption of the Principles, to explore the themes of the Principles and opportunities for achieving environmental justice across different social movements, the practices and multidisciplinary perspectives. Many of the concerns voiced by delegates to the Summit are still very real today.

In 2014 activists took to the streets, led by frontline communities, to advocate for global action on climate change in the People’s Climate March. In 2015, outside the closed-door meetings of the COP in Paris, we saw a growing unification of movements for climate justice, the deepening of transnational, solidarity movements across the globe and the creative expressions of people and communities determined to achieve solutions to the climate crisis in their own terms. Last year we looked on in disbelief when the news broke about the lead and other contaminants poisoning the water in Flint, Michigan—a community that is 56 percent African American. The fight is still very much on, they still have to use bottled water and there have been nine deaths and numerous lives that have been irrevocably harmed from the crisis in Flint. Tonight, and in recent weeks, our thoughts are with the tribal nations and their allies standing in solidarity in opposition to the Dakota Access pipeline.

On this commemoration day, we are recognizing that institutional racism and a long national history of undervaluing certain people and places have left a persistent legacy of environmental injustices....

We’ve come a long way from the Letter to the Green Groups in the early ‘90s, when the environmental justice community held them to task, the big Environmental Groups, to say that, “You’re not addressing issues of environment and people.” Remember that the Environmental Protection Agency actually protects human health and the environment. It’s both! They created a federal agency, a bipartisan creation of the EPA to do both. Yet, there was this recognition by environmental justice communities that the larger institutions weren’t doing so.

Pipelines have been stopped by local activists in the past, and they can be stopped today. Technological advances and efforts to promote digital equity are supplying frontline communities and grassroots organizations with new resources with which to advocate for justice, health and wellbeing. Let us elevate dialogue on issues of race and the environment in the 21st century and concentrate on finding ways that we can contribute to a more equitable future.

Michelle J. DePass is Dean of the Milano School of International Affairs, Management, and Urban Policy, Director of the Tishman Environment and Design Center, and Tishman Professor of Environmental Policy and Management. From 2009-2013 she worked in the Obama administrations Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Prior to joining the EPA, DePass was a program officer at the Ford Foundation.

 

 

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People of color gathered not in reaction to the environmental movement, but rather to reaffirm their traditional connection to and respect for the natural world, and to speak for themselves...

Principles of Environmental Justice

People of Color Summit delegates rally on U.S. Capitol Building steps. © 1991 Robert Bullard

Reprinted from Race, Poverty & the Environment (RP&E) 1992.

PREAMBLE

WE, THE PEOPLE OF COLOR, gathered together at this multinational People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit, to begin to build a national and international movement of all peoples of color to fight the destruction and taking of our lands and communities, do hereby re-establish our spiritual interdependence to the sacredness of our Mother Earth; to respect and celebrate each of our cultures, languages and beliefs about the natural world and our roles in healing ourselves; to ensure environmental justice; to promote economic alternatives which would contribute to the development of environmentally safe livelihoods; and, to secure our political, economic and cultural liberation that has been denied for over 500 years of colonization and oppression, resulting in the poisoning of our communities and land and the genocide of our peoples, do affirm and adopt these Principles of Environmental Justice:

  • Environmental Justice affirms the sacredness of Mother Earth, ecological unity and the interdependence of all species, and the right to be free from ecological destruction.
  • Environmental Justice demands that public policy be based on mutual respect and justice for all peoples, free from any form of discrimination or bias.
  • Environmental Justice mandates the right to ethical, balanced and responsible uses of land and renewable resources in the interest of a sustainable planet for humans and other living things.
  • Environmental Justice calls for universal protection from nuclear testing, extraction, production and disposal of toxic/hazardous wastes and poisons and nuclear testing that threaten the fundamental right to clean air, land, water and food.
  • Environmental Justice affirms the fundamental right to political, economic, cultural and environmental self-determination of all peoples.
  • Environmental Justice demands the cessation of the production of all toxins, hazardous wastes and radioactive materials, and that all past and current producers be held strictly accountable to the people for detoxification and containment at the point of production.
  • Environmental Justice demands the right to participate as equal partners at every level of decision-making, including needs assessment, planning, implementation, enforcement and evaluation.
  • Environmental Justice affirms the right of all workers to a safe and healthy work environment without being forced to choose between an unsafe livelihood and unemployment. It also affirms the right of those who work at home to be free from environmental hazards.
  • Environmental Justice protects the right of victims of environmental injustice to receive full compensation and reparations for damages as well as quality health care.
  • Environmental Justice considers governmental acts of environmental injustice a violation of international law, the Universal Declaration Of Human Rights, and the United Nations Convention on Genocide.
  • Environmental Justice must recognize a special legal and natural relationship of Native Peoples to the U.S. government through treaties, agreements, compacts and covenants affirming sovereignty and self-determination.
  • Environmental Justice affirms the need for urban and rural ecological policies to clean up and rebuild our cities and rural areas in balance with nature, honoring the cultural integrity of all our communities and providing fair access for all to the full range of resources.
  • Environmental Justice calls for the strict enforcement of principles of informed consent, and a halt to the testing of experimental reproductive and medical procedures and vaccinations on people of color.
  • Environmental Justice opposes the destructive operations of multinational corporations.
  • Environmental Justice opposes military occupation, repression and exploitation of lands, peoples and cultures, and other life forms.
  • Environmental Justice calls for the education of present and future generations which emphasizes social and environmental issues based on our experience and an appreciation of our diverse cultural perspectives.
  • Environmental Justice requires that we, as individuals, make personal and consumer choices to consume as little of Mother Earth’s resources and to produce as little waste as possible; and make the conscious decision to challenge and reprioritize our lifestyles to ensure the health of the natural world for present and future generations.
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Redlining Trauma

Mindy Fullilove © 2016 Tishman Environment and Design CenterBy Mindy Fullilove
From a panel discussion moderated by Michelle DePass.

Dr. Mindy Fullilove is Professor of Urban Policy and Health at The New School and a board-certified psychiatrist who examines links between the environment and mental health. Using psychology of place, Dr. Fullilove has examined the mental health effects of such environmental processes as violence, rebuilding, segregation, urban renewal and mismanaged toxins.

Michelle DePass: How does your professional work and scholarship relate to EJ?

Mindy Fullilove: I am a psychiatrist, and the type of psychiatry that I work in is called social psychiatry, which looks at how social systems relate to the problem of social health. I started doing research in AIDS, and what really became obvious a couple of years into the AIDS epidemic was that Blacks and Hispanics had higher rates of infection than their white counterparts. Why? The primary reason for this was the destruction of Black and Hispanic neighborhoods, and one of the principal offenders was the policy of planned shrinkage, which was carried out here in New York throughout minority neighborhoods.

So the issue that I’ve worked on is, what does the destruction of neighborhoods do to people, that creates the problems that lead to AIDS? How does it become related to intravenous drug use? How does it change life in neighborhoods, so people are at sexual risk? That lead me to delve deeply into the long and terrible history of segregation. This is an ever-evolving, constantly changing and really ever-worsening problem. Right now, the piece that we are living with is gentrification, but we have been through other policies in other decades, including: urban renewal, planned shrinkage, disinvestment and deindustrialization, Hope VI programs directed at federal housing projects, and now, gentrification. These have piled up one on another, creating a sorting by race and class, which paralyzes the whole nation.

Environmental justice is part of this longer story of—once you segregate a nation, how do you use the land, and how do you use the people? Step one: put toxins in ‘disposable’ places where Blacks live.

But, it becomes more complicated because places aren’t stable, and there’s no specific place that has to be Black. The Black people have to be Black, but the place doesn’t have to be Black. That’s the point of gentrification. Look at Harlem. Soon there probably aren’t going to be a lot of Black people living in Harlem. Hence, Harlem will not be Black anymore. So, then the toxins that were in Harlem will probably get cleaned up.

So, it’s a very complicated story and what I’ve tried to contribute is, really tracking down this long history of how segregation plays out, and how it has become hidden, so what we call urban policies are really racial policies.

DePass: I would love to hear a little bit about how you can riff on what Maya was just saying in terms of thinking about reassembling people, place and land to be able to combat some of these structural issues.

Fullilove: We might not have a theory of space in the United States, but we certainly have a practice. And our practice is what I call the redlining paradigm. To understand this, you actually have to go back to the origins of this practice.

[Redlining, instituted by the federal government’s Home Owners Loan Corporation (HOLC) in 1937, was designed to steer investment away from risky places. These were defined as those places with older buildings and non-white residents. Literally, the presence of a single Negro family meant that an area was given the worst possible rating, thus setting up the material basis for white flight. Hanchett observed, “The handsomely printed map with its sharp-edged boundaries made the practice of deciding credit risk on the basis of neighborhood seem objective and put the weight of the U.S. government behind it.]*

There are about 237 redlining maps (still not digitized by the federal government—even under President Obama) and what they are about is what is called “infiltration and encroachment.” What they deemed desirable was homogeneous neighborhoods. In particular, white neighborhoods had to be protected from undesirable racial elements. If we were moving in, that’s infiltration and encroachment. That’s literally what the surveys are about.

So, last time you were renting an apartment did you think of yourself as infiltrating? Last time you were on a spy mission did you think of yourself as infiltrating? Infiltration is not something people do when they are house hunting. They’re just looking for a place to live. Encroachment. Have you thought of yourself as encroaching when you were living in a neighborhood? Really, we don’t think of house hunting as either infiltration or encroachment.

In creating these maps, they would rank the neighborhoods—at the top you would have places that were “green” which means there were new buildings, new people and had good restrictive governance to keep the undesirable racial elements out. Maybe we don’t want to call it a theory, but this is the practice. This is the practice of the redlining paradigm.

If you look at what’s happening in the United States, New York City for example, look at where they are putting buildings and for whom are they putting up buildings. You will find that they are putting up buildings in places that they have declared “green.” Meaning, they’re for white people, that is whoever they consider white. These are all arbitrary terms. It has nothing to do with skin color, it’s what they deem desirable elements. Who are the people that are desirable?

They are putting up buildings for those people and they have restrictive covenants, the most powerful restrictive covenant at this point is money. So, where there are neighborhoods that are red, meaning the neighborhoods where poor people live, the undesirable elements and the undesirable people, there are no new buildings going up. If there are new buildings going up, it signals that those people are about to be pushed out because part of the process is ethnic cleansing.

We may not have a theory of space, but we do have a very active practice—a very unstable practice constantly sorting by race and by class, following the rules of the redlining paradigm. Take a look at those 237 maps and look at the supporting documents. Become familiar with the practice of race and space. Because it’s governing your life, my life and the life of all of us. It is the fundamental environmental injustice that is being constantly played out.

Displacement Trauma
What does this do to society? This creates trauma. If you’re going to push people out of their neighborhoods, it’s going to create trauma. Anybody who lived in Harlem and has seen their neighborhood be transformed from an African American neighborhood to a different neighborhood, how are they feeling about that? What’s going on in Fort Greene and Bedford Stuyvesant, and what do they have to say about that? These are terribly traumatic experiences, but they’re built on other previous terribly traumatic experiences. Black people used to live where the Lincoln Center is, and Puerto Rican people, and poor Irish people, and they all got pushed out. So, it’s one after another, after another cumulatively, synergistically destroying communities, which people try desperately to rebuild but then destroy them again. So, not only is there trauma in the present moment that’s happening to communities, but it’s built on previous traumas. What we really do need is to imagine the paradigm that we want. Can we extract ourselves from the redlining paradigm that has been governing the history of our nation? Can we overturn a paradigm that was founded in abusive plantation agriculture that was ecologically destructive of people, place, of the globe? Can we emerge from that ecological self-mutilation, to a way of governing space that’s inclusive, democratic and fun? Can we imagine that?

We’ve got to imagine this new way of how we’re going to live together. Can you have a Black land cooperative? How are people going to own the land?

We’ve got to think about how people are going to own the land because under current conditions, the hyper-commodification of land will destroy people’s habitat—humanity’s habitat. People have to live in communities because that’s our DNA. If we can’t live in healthy communities, we can’t be healthy. Hyper-commodification of the land is completely inimical with long-term sustainability of the earth, for our planet. Certainly for our species. So, what’s the new imagination? That’s your job. You know yourselves to be the kind of people who are going to imagine a better future. That’s really why you are here. So, now that we’ve given you your homework assignment, we would like it tomorrow.

 

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A Long Way to Go

© 2016 Tishman Environment and Design CenterExcerpts from a panel discussion at The New School in NYC.

Ana Baptista
Dr. Ana Baptista grew up in the Ironbound community in Newark, New Jersey, and was the director of Environmental and Planning Programs for the Ironbound Community Corporation where she oversaw a wide range of environmental justice, community development and community-based planning for the Ironbound community. She is Associate Director of the Tishman Environment and Design Center, Chair of Environmental Policy & Sustainability Management at The New School, and Assistant Professor of Professional Practice.

DePass: Can you talk a little bit about some of the changes that you’ve seen in the arc of what you’ve been talking about with frontline communities over the past 20-25 years, to strategies that they are employing now?

Ana Baptista: In 1994 when President Bill Clinton signed the Executive Order on Environmental Justice, there were four states that had explicit environmental justice policies in the country. As of 2015, all 50 states have some version of an environmental justice policy. You would think that would be a huge victory, and that we would be celebrating. Except for the fact that if you really look at what these environmental justice policies do, what the substance is of these policies and the actual output of them, it’s very little in terms of what you see on the ground. A lot of it is symbolic.

Even in the realm of environmental regulations, we haven’t made very big strides because to this day, if a company comes to the City of Newark—for example, the Hess Corporation—and they want to build a huge megaplant, they will still, to this day, get their permit. Even though we know all this data and all this science, and even though we have an environmental justice policy on the books, there is still not an affirmative stance on disproportionate impact. So, we still have a long way to go.

I grew up in Newark, in a place called Ironbound. Seventy-five to 85 percent of the City of Newark is people of color and it’s highly segregated. I was an immigrant kid in the city, and I went to a school that was 95 percent Black and Latino and I didn’t speak English. So, I got a very different introduction to America than I think lots of other kids did. You walked outside your door and you could taste the air, you could smell the sewage, you could see the air pollution. The incinerator was a couple of blocks from my home. Today, my parents and my family still live there, right across the street from the local elementary school—a building that was 160 years old then and where still today, every three to five minutes we have to stop talking because of the jets that are flying overhead.

My parents’ attitude was “You know you’re an immigrant kid, so your goal should be to get out. Go to school, get an education, and get out.” So, that’s what I wanted. But my parents were also really involved in protest movements at the time: protesting waste incineration, tire incineration, sewage sludge incineration. So that was my first introduction to this thing called environmental justice, protesting and getting involved and empowered for the first time.

Resistance was really important because it’s a way to be heard and be seen. To be recognized as dignified human beings and dignified places. Because a lot of the dumping that happens is also a stigmatization, saying that you are less than, you know? Your community is not as valued as other communities. You’re invisible. Our community was always the place that’s somewhere else. It’s where the something else goes. It’s where your trash goes, where your sewage goes, it’s where everything that you don’t want goes. That’s also where the people that you don’t want go. Prisons, people of color, public housing. It’s where anything marginalized goes.

So, resistance was also a form of self-determination and of self-recognition. But, how do we go from just fighting all the time, what we don’t want, to having a vision for what we do want? And how do we actively and affirmatively build that for ourselves rather than waiting for someone to come and do it for us? Or just continuing to struggle to just resist constantly.

[After I graduated from college]I decided I want to go back to my community. I want to give back, and study urban systems and urban planning. So, I went back home, actually, to do my Ph.D., which was a wonderful gift. My parents thought I was crazy, and were like, “You’re coming back?”

So, when I came back to the community, I saw this evolution of EJ. I saw that EJ was building a movement of political organizing and community organizing that was based on planning and envisioning what we wanted. What does our future look like? How do we build it from where we are? That was really rewarding because I got to see, first hand, the value of community innovation even though it was at a small scale. It was like people testing things out, and people taking risks. Seeing how they can not just deal with creating environmental regulations but also community innovations.

It’s going to take a lot more work from various different sectors to develop EJ solutions on many fronts, including housing issues, the segregation in our cities, the complete collapse of our infrastructure in our cities, and disinvestment in cities. How do we rebuild our communities systemically? When I started out there were all these pockets of people doing little things, but there were no national or transnational networks or solidarity networks that were innovating and that were sharing and creating models for how you do that work. So, I’m really invested right now, still building community development, community work in Newark linked to those networks. And also looking at models for how we can report that same type of community in areas throughout the country. Sometimes in solidarity to people in other parts of the world.

The best examples that I’ve seen since then of trying to [move beyond symbolism] are states that have tied environmental justice and climate justice to economic policies, housing policies, transportation and public sector investments. How do we drive investment? How do we open up opportunities and access in a different way? Not just narrowly within the realm of the environment regulations.

The New York Renews Bill is a really good example of doing this affirmatively. Saying that, “We have environmental justice communities, and that means we are going to invest in those communities.”

If we are really going to do anything on climate change, if we’re really going to do anything on racial and economic justice, then we have to see ourselves as part as a collective.

How are you connected to your place, and space? Are you connecting back to it? Also, how are you connecting to this community of people and communities of institutions and organizations that are mobilizing, that are actively struggling, and that are actively innovating? There is so much richness out there.

I really want to encourage students to find those places, find the frontlines, listen to those stories, and connect to some kind of collective action and collective movement and solidarity and mutuality. Because I think that as long as we are kept in these little individual boxes, where we’re just making money and accumulating things and extracting things and increasing our own privilege, then we define success in the way the dominant discourse defines success, which is to continue to propagate injustice. But we can, again, reimagine what that could look like. What does regenerative economy look like? How am I a part of that? How are communities all across the country doing that? How do I become a part of that or generate that in my own community?

Everyone is captured with Standing Rock, and what’s happening with Standing Rock, but these points of resistance and blockade are happening all over the world. In communities where you come from, or where you’re living now, there is some form of resistance, some form of innovation that is happening. n

 

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Raimagine!

Transforming a Movement (1991

Reprinted from Race, Poverty & the Environment (RP&E) 1992.

Dana AlstonBy Dana Alston 

Rarely do people get the opportunity to participate in historic events. But each of the 300 African, Latino, Native and Asian Americans from all 50 states who gathered for the first National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit in late October must have left with a sense that the atmosphere in which environmental issues are debated and resolved is changed for good. And for the better.

Joined by delegates from Puerto Rico, Canada, Central and South America, and the Marshall Islands, those present at the October 24-27 meeting in Washington, DC, set in motion a process of redefining environmental issues in their own terms. People of color gathered not in reaction to the environmental movement, but rather to reaffirm their traditional connection to and respect for the natural world, and to speak for themselves on some of the most critical issues of our times.

For people of color, the environment is woven into an overall framework and understanding of social, racial and economic justice. The definitions that emerge from the environmental justice movement led by people of color are deeply rooted in culture and spirituality, and encompass all aspects of daily life—where we live, work and play.

This broad understanding of the environment is a context within which to address a variety of questions about militarism and defense, religious freedom and cultural survival, energy and sustainable development, transportation and housing, land and sovereignty rights, self-determination, and employment.

For instance, it has been known that communities of color are systematically targeted for the disposal of toxic wastes and the placement of this country’s most hazardous industries—a practice known as “environmental racism.” Three out of five Black and Hispanic Americans live in communities with uncontrolled toxic waste sites, while about half of all Asian/Pacific Islanders and Native Americans live in such areas. Government, church and academic research has confirmed that race is the strongest determining factor (among all variables tested) in the location of commercial hazardous waste facilities.

Even armed with this knowledge, delegates were shaken by the reports of widespread poisoning, oppression and devastation that communities of color are experiencing—including water, air and land contamination, which cause cancers, leukemia, birth defects and miscarriages.

All present were moved by the testimonies of communities, such as Reveilletown, Louisiana, a 100-year-old African American community that was forced to relocate in 1989 due to poisoning from neighboring industries. Even more disturbing were the accounts of the Carver Terrace subdivision in Texarkana, Texas, and the farmworker housing project in McFarland, California, that were built on top of abandoned chemical dump sites.

Economic constraints make it difficult for residents of these communities to “vote with their feet” by moving away from the contamination. Demands for relocation assistance from the government have gone unheeded.

Delegates despaired at learning how Native Americans die at each stage of the development of nuclear energy and nuclear weapons, but were energized by hearing how reservations are fighting back. Among the stories told were those of the Havasupai Nation of Arizona and its organizing against uranium mining in the Grand Canyon; of Native Americans for a Clean Environment’s efforts to close Sequoyah Fuels’ nuclear conversion and weapons plant in Oklahoma; and of the Western Shoshone’s civil disobedience aimed at stopping the U.S. government’s underground nuclear testing on their ancestral lands in Nevada.

These struggles, some of them more than 15 years old, dispel the myth that people of color are not interested in or active on issues of the environment. On the second day of the Leadership Summit, delegates were joined by another 250 participants and observers from environmental, civil rights, population, health, community development and church organizations. In addition, academic institutions, labor unions, legal defense funds and policy makers were represented. Some came to learn, others came seeking partnerships and strategies for coalition-building.

The issues of partnerships between people of color and the environmental movement was a major topic of discussion during the summit. So-called mainstream environmental organizations are now in a flurry to diversify by actively recruiting African, Latino, Native and Asian Americans to sit on their boards and to staff their offices. Many delegates feel that the push towards inclusion is a result of the challenges brought by people of color, in particular a series of ground-breaking letters sent in early 1990 to the national environmental and conservation organizations by the Gulf Coast Tenants Organization and the Southwest Network for Environmental and Economic Justice.

These letters and the publicity that followed outlined what is perceived as the racist practices of the green movement—which is generally viewed as white, middle- and upper-class, and insensitive to the needs and agendas of people of color. The letters point out that diversification of boards and staffs alone does not guarantee accountability.

Delegates detailed numerous examples where the unilateral policies, activities and decision-making practices of environmental organizations have had a negative impact on the social, economic and cultural survival of communities of color in the United States and around the world. A particularly telling example is the controversy between Ganados del Valle, a Chicano rural development organization in Los Ojos, New Mexico, and the Nature Conservancy, the self-styled multimillion-dollar “real estate arm of the conservation movement.” The Conservancy purchased 22,000 acres of land in 1975 to preserve biological diversity, ignoring the good land stewardship practiced by traditional communities. Ganados members had used that land for decades to graze sheep for cooperative ventures and preserve an age-old link between culture and land for Chicanos and Native Americans.

Delegates also raised questions about the leadership of the National Wildlife Federation, whose board members include Dean Buntrock of Waste Management, Inc., the nation’s largest toxic waste disposal company. Waste Management’s subsidiary Chemical Waste Management has been continually charged with perpetrating environmental racism by locating hazardous waste facilities near communities of color. Chicago’s South Side (72 percent Black, 11 percent Latino), Sauget, Illinois (73 percent Black), and Port Arthur, Texas (70 percent Black and Latino), are home to Waste Management’s major toxic waste incinerators.

Presently the company is trying to locate another huge incinerator in Kettleman City, California (95 percent Latino). And Emelle, Alabama (90 percent Black), is the site of a Chem Waste hazardous waste landfill—the nation’s largest. Summit delegates who are engaged in life and death struggles with Waste Management were hard-pressed to understand why such a corporation is represented on the board of directors of one of the largest and most influential environmental organizations.

For people of color, environmental issues are not just a matter of preserving ancient forests or defending whales. While the importance of saving endangered species is recognized, it is also clear that adults and children living in communities of color are endangered species too. Environmental issues are immediate survival issues.

The clear message from delegates is that if there is to be a partnership made with the environmental movement, it must be based on equity, mutual respect and justice. The environmental justice movement of people of color rejects a partnership based on paternalism.

Discussions at the leadership summit were not limited solely to reciting a litany of problems. Solutions and processes for developing solutions were an important outcome. For instance, strategy and policy groups convened to create action plans and formulate policy recommendations that would guide future organizing. An international policy group was formed in recognition of the global nature of the environmental crisis and the need for international cooperation to achieve solutions.

It was also decided that the policy recommendations growing out of this session would be presented at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), scheduled for June 1992 in Brazil. Policy recommendations include statements on the ecological impact of war, underground nuclear testing, the international waste trade, and U.S. foreign aid and trade policies. Statements related to paternalistic and oppressive behavior toward developing countries by some northern environmental organizations were also included.

In addition to the strategy and policy work groups, summit delegates went through the painstaking process of formulating the Principles of Environmental Justice. Final agreement on the preamble and accompanying 17 principles was arrived at by consensus-building. Collectively, delegates surmounted the barriers that have historically divided us—regionalism, culture, gender, language and class. Most important, this victory was achieved in a society that has used racism to pit one group against the other in an attempt to control the whole. By the end of the summit, those gathered spoke with one voice as part of a movement “to eradicate environmental racism and bring into being true social justice and self determination.” 

Dana Alston was a member of the planning committee for the People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit. She died in 1999 at the age of 47.

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