By Jess Clarke and Marcy Rein
The resurgence of direct action as a viable strategy for change has energized a new generation of activists and provides a springboard for launching a movement of movements that can challenge the domination of capital in social, economic and political spheres. Street protests are just one part of this expanding constellation of strategies. Cultural consciousness and personal healing are also being brought to bear in the effort to foster long-haul sustainability. From inside of prison, from inside the heart—people are moving out into community and into connection with the earth.
The Movement for Black Lives is bringing together a broad cross-section of African American organizations and communities to conduct intersectional analysis and practice of advancing Black liberation beyond the defensive position of denouncing state violence and reforming policing practices. (Garza p. 21) *
The civil rights movement, circa 1955-65, was a critical factor in paving the way for the anti-war, environmental and feminist movements of the late 1960s and early 1970s.1 But after historic achievements in voting rights, housing rights and environmental regulation, and a pause in the imperial war-making, the end of the 1970s saw an increasing “silofication” of political work into single-issue or neighborhood-scale organizations that often lacked a race or class analysis. Progressive movements fractured as neoliberalism began its ruthless ascent.
Now, new formations are emerging that recognize how a revitalized Black liberation movement is pivotal, not only for advancing a racial justice agenda but for building effective coalitions that more broadly challenge capital (M.Clarke & Shekar p. 26). But these are not just coalitions of the relatively privileged. Nicole Lee, founder of Urban Peace Movement, articulates some of the core strengths of street culture that support healing from trauma and power grassroots challenges to the system of racial profiling and mass incarceration. (Lee p. 33) Participants in a landscape-gardening training program at San Quentin documented by Kelly Curry come out with a new view of the food system and ways of combatting racial injustice. (Curry p. 38). Homeless people are leading a multi-state coalition of homeless organizations that is pushing back against direct corporate rule by Business Improvement Districts and pushing forward legislation to provide human rights protections to those without a house. (J. Clarke p. 87) Activists in Oakland and San Francisco have successfully defended their rights to health and homes in battles over coal transshipment and condo tower developments in Oakland and San Francisco. (Arnold p. 10; Tepperman-Gelfant & Zisser, p. 84; D. Phillips, p. 77) All of these approaches refuse the dominant narrative about disposable populations and celebrate healing and life.
Arts and Culture
Our work as media-makers and weavers of the cultural fabric that protects our psyches from traumatic destruction makes up a large part of the content of this edition of RP&E. In our reimagining process, we identified “Arts & Culture” as a key strategy for change, opening the door to a new dimension of coverage. The articles, brought together by contributing editor Christine Joy Ferrer and correspondent Jarrel Phillips (pp. 52-76) include storytelling by Black artists from San Francisco and interviews with cultural curators Joyce Gordon and Joana Cruz. These are practical visionaries who are carving out liberated zones that rejuvenate the soul and ready us to continue the struggle.
Silicon Valley, Regional Engine
The epicenter of the wave of displacement chronicled by so many of the Black artists from San Francisco lies to the south, in Silicon Valley. The tech industry rooted there has become the Bay Area’s economic engine, shaping land-use, housing and transportation—deepening income inequality and feeding the epidemic of gentrification sweeping the region. The intertwined realities of historic economic and racial inequality are playing out in new and alas, familiar forms.
Across the region, pressure on housing prices comes partly from the growing numbers of well-paid professionals at the high-end of tech’s income gap. A spate of media reports on tech’s disproportionately white and male workforce has prompted some companies to reassess their hiring practices, but this industry has been segregated and stratified since its earliest days when it incubated at Stanford University, nourished on U.S. Defense Department contracts. White men held managerial and technical jobs, while production fell largely on immigrant women of color. Today, Blacks and Latinos hold less than 5 percent of high-paid technical positions, but a majority of the low-paid service jobs. From its beginnings, the tech industry also aggressively opposed unions, hampering workers’ efforts to better their wages and conditions. As it grew, it turned to the use of contracted workers, making life even more precarious for the people in those jobs. (Bacon, p. 125)
High-end demand puts pressure on a housing supply already constricted by a legacy of redlining, racially restrictive covenants, and exclusionary zoning. Since 1980, California law has required communities to plan and zone for their fair share of regional housing needs at all income levels. Silicon Valley cities have routinely shirked this responsibility. (Rein p. 93)
The scarcity of housing near jobs further inflates the cost of housing and makes commuting inevitable. The limited coverage and infrequency of service offered by the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority forces commuters into cars, creating pollution and congestion. Low-income families pay the biggest price, driving long distances to work, sacrificing their quality of life and paying on average 70 percent of their income for housing and transportation. Families of color are even more likely to be cost-burdened. (Goldman, p. 105)
Bob Allen, director of policy and advocacy at Urban Habitat (and our contributing editor who worked closely with Marcy Rein to pull this section together), says organizers and public officials are up against a veritable “company region.” Tech giants directly provide or fund public functions like the old company towns of the industrial era.
Several companies run their own private bus networks; Facebook has paid for additional police in Menlo Park; and Google funds city planning staff positions in Mountain View. Instead of paying taxes, they engage in large-scale giving and offer services as they see fit—but their programs lack even the flawed accountability and input structure of public services.
Now the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, which represents the region’s largest employers, is proposing a Santa Clara County transportation sales tax to “keep the region competitive” and meet tech’s demands on the region’s transportation system.
This regressive measure must be passed by two-thirds of the voters and will disproportionally burden the poorest. Of course, most tech companies don’t pay much in the way of sales tax; they have offshored manufacturing and pay no tax on the ads they sell or data they serve. Even their property taxes are lower than what residents pay. Without additional revenue, public transit will fall even further out of line with community needs.
Bus riders and their allies are organizing to win the best transportation funding measure they can within this flawed process. (Barkin, p. 115; and Rein, p. 109) Renters and low-wage workers are also organizing. Battles for living wages and rent control are keys to improving conditions for all workers. (Smooke & Ruiz, p. 99; Bloch, p. 122).
To effectively challenge the hegemony of capital in Silicon Valley and the region as a whole, our organizing needs to move beyond the silos of a transit access or housing affordability reform. A conscious analysis of where power is concentrated can help us begin building momentum to democratize the spaces where decisions that deeply affect our lives are made. We have to have staying power to affect the long drawn-out processes of public planning. We also need to bring to bear the wisdom of the dispossessed people of the street, the healing capacity of our cultural heritages, and the confrontational energy of direct action into ever more powerful coalitions.
Reimagine! writers, editors, photographers, and artists are not bystanders in this process. We are participant observers, embedded in our respective roles within our movements, and reaching out to our colleagues to try to spark a dialogue that is reciprocally strengthening.
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* Italic references are to the author and page number of an article in this issue.
1. Carl Anthony: Earth Day and Environmental Justice—Then and Now, RP&E, Vol. 17 No. 1. 2010.