Freedom from Want (Introduction to "Rights...")

— Franklin D. Roosevelt
From the State of the Union Address to the Congress, January 6, 1941
“ In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.

The first is freedom of speech and expression--everywhere in the world.

The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way--everywhere in the world.

The third is freedom from want--which, translated into universal terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants--everywhere in the world.

The fourth is freedom from fear--which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor--anywhere in the world.

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Illustration © Art Hazelwood


Editors Emeritus
Carl Anthony
Luke Cole

Juliet Ellis


B. Jesse Clarke

Design and Layout
B. Jesse Clarke

Copyediting and Proofreading
Merula Furtado, Marcy Rein
Christine Joy Ferrer

Publishing Assistant
Christine Joy Ferrer


Brooke Anderson, Scott Braley, Derek Chung

Urban Habitat
Board of Directors

Joe Brooks (Chair)

Romel Pascual (Vice-Chair)   
Mayor's Office, City of Los Angeles

Tamar Dorfman (Treasurer)
S.F. Mayor's Office of
Community Development

Carl Anthony
Cofounder, Urban Habitat

Malo Andre Hutson
Department of City and Regional Planning
University of California, Berkeley

Felicia Marcus
Natural Resources Defense Council

Arnold Perkins
Alameda Public Health Department (retired)

Organizations are listed
for identification purposes only.

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RP&E was first published in 1990 by Urban Habitat Program and the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation’s Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment. In the interest of dialogue, RP&E publishes diverse views. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of the editors, Urban Habitat, or its funders.


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Everyone Has the Right to... From the Editor

By B. Jesse Clarke

When President Franklin Roosevelt addressed the United States Congress in January 1941, he called for “a world founded upon four essential freedoms”—freedom of speech and expression, freedom of worship, freedom from fear, and freedom from want. Popular conceptions of rights at the time moved beyond the constitution’s narrow framing of civil and political rights to include basic social and economic rights.

When Roosevelt gave this speech, the depression still lingered on. The official figure for unemployment in California was at 11.7 percent. As it happens, in March 2009, California was once again facing an unemployment rate of over 11 percent, the highest since 1941. Today, the politics of fear and the ubiquity of want have many calling for a new “New Deal.” In this issue of Race, Poverty and the Environment we take a look at the kind of organizing needed to win social and economic rights for all.


As the current recession deepens, fundamental rights to housing, employment, healthcare, and safety continue to retract. As usual, low income people and communities of color bear the brunt of the economic crisis. Foreclosure and unemployment rates in African American communities are double the national averages. The tragic murder of Oscar Grant on New Year’s Day in Oakland by a transit police officer is emblematic of how even straightforward civil rights to life and liberty are in daily jeopardy.

While civil rights organizing has a long and successful history in winning social justice in the United States, a broader human rights framework—which includes the rights to housing, employment, healthcare, and safe communities—has less often been central to building mass movements. In this issue’s roundtable discussion on rights, participants discuss ways in which this platform is being brought into existence in organizing campaigns in cities and counties across the country (and around the world).

As David Harvey says in his interview with Amy Goodman, the “Right to the City” Alliance and parallel campaigns across the world are raising questions about democratic control of public resources and even private priorities. Capitalism has always depended on state intervention to reconfigure itself following the inevitable financial collapses brought on by monopolies and speculation. But workers have also sometimes succeeded in using these crises to meet their own needs. Despite the fact that the Obama administration refused to attend the recent United Nations conference on racism and has taken reparations for African-American slavery “off the table,” grassroots agitation for redistributive justice is on the rise.

Towards the end of Roosevelt’s life, he engineered the creation of the United Nations but died shortly before its founding conference. However, his wife Eleanor Roosevelt continued to advocate for social and economic rights and became the chair of the United Nations subcommittee of the Commission on Human Rights and led the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Article 25, which declares “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services…” is the inspiration for this issue’s cover art.*

The silver lining in the current catastrophe is that ever more people—including many who previously refused to consider alternatives to capitalism—are understanding that the existing system is fundamentally flawed, and broad based coalitions for structural change are becoming a reality?

This issue’s cover photo by Robert Terrell and Jean McIntosh and the illustration on page 4 by Art Hazelwood are excerpted from the traveling exhibition. Hobos to Street People: Artists’ Responses to Homelessness from the New Deal to the Present presented by the California Historical Society and curated by  Art Hazelwood.  (See page 78 for details of the exhibition.)

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From the Director's Desk

While the current recession has trapped countless people under the weight of a foreclosed home, unexpected loss of employment, or the evaporation of a life’s savings, those who were struggling before this economic meltdown to meet their basic needs are more vulnerable than ever. This is certainly the case in Richmond, California where the housing crisis has resulted in more than 2,000 foreclosed properties, most of them in the city’s poorest neighborhoods.

Simultaneously, cutbacks in public transit services, fare increases, and the related dependence on automobiles, oil, and freeways are increasing the isolation of poor communities. At Urban Habitat, while continuing our long-term commitment to land use issues, equitable development, and regionalism, we have also been working hard to win basic rights in the two key arenas of housing and transportation.

As a founding member of the Richmond Equitable Development Initiative (REDI), a diverse coalition committed to ensuring that the city’s low-income people and communities of color benefit from development policies and financial investments, Urban Habitat has been advocating the right to affordable housing for Richmond residents for over four years.

In March, Urban Habitat and REDI organized a town hall meeting on housing to hear community voices and to present a set of demands to elected officials from the city, county and state. Over 500 people participated—including families in foreclosure, renters, and concerned community members. Notably absent were the banks responsible for the majority of foreclosures in Richmond: Wells Fargo, Bank of America, and JP Morgan Chase.  (See story on page 55.)

Emotional testimony from homeowners in foreclosure put a human face on the tragedy of this crisis, while data presented by REDI revealed the discriminatory patterns in mortgage lending to Latino and African-American borrowers of all income levels. REDI partners pressed officials to endorse a list of proposed actions, which include stopping all preventable foreclosures and setting long-term housing goals for the city. A majority of the Richmond city council signed onto the platform and committed to focus on translating the recommendations into action.

On the transportation front, Urban Habitat was a keystone member in a broad coalition of groups that brought Measure VV to victory in last November’s election, thus preserving low-cost AC Transit bus passes for youth, seniors, and the disabled.  But despite the coalition’s victory at the ballot box, the fundamental structural inequality in transportation funding and investment in the Bay Area continue.  Bus systems which serve low-income people are shortchanged and expensive infrastructure projects are funded for billions. To secure transportation as a right, we need a fundamental shift in political power. We have now joined with others to build a national coalition. (See story on page 67.)

To get to the systemic issues that plague this country and the world, we need to confront the central problem of the haves and the have-nots—those that have rights and those that do not. At Urban Habitat, we define environmental justice very broadly: people have the right to live, work, and play in environments where they’re not disproportionately burdened by toxics, or a lack of housing and transportation.

For the past 20 years, we have worked with community partners and progressive allies in labor, business, philanthropy, and government, to address the pressing issues that threaten our region’s most vulnerable communities. As we move into a new economic, social, and political landscape, I look forward to our ongoing partnership. Please visit our website, to learn more about all of our programs.

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Rights Roundtable

Interview by B. Jesse Clarke


  •    Juliet Ellis, Executive Director, Urban Habitat
  •    Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, Executive Director, Green for All, Former Director,  Working Partnerships USA
  •    Dorothy Kidd, Co-Chair of Media Alliance and Professor of Media Studies, University of San Francisco.
  •    Adam Kruggel, Director, Contra Costa Interfaith Supporting Community Organization
  •    Shalini Nataraj, Vice President of Programs, Global Fund for Women
  •    Renee Saucedo, Community Empowerment Coordinator, La Raza Centro Legal

Clarke: One of the themes that we’re trying to investigate is whether you make a rights framework (tenants’ rights, workers’ rights, immigrants’ rights) part of your organizing work. The United States has a long tradition of civil rights with a certain level of successful organizing, particularly to gain equal rights for African Americans and overcome the legacy of slavery. But people organizing around the right to a job or the right to housing have a much more challenging environment. It’s not a given that people believe that you actually have a right to housing or a right to a job or a right to freedom to control your own social and economic participation.

Do you organize around expanding civil rights to embrace a broader concept of social and economic rights? What are some of the strengths of this approach? What are some of the drawbacks that you’ve run into? Whyen do you or don’t you use it when you’re working on specific campaigns?

Kidd: The international network, “Our Media”, is made up of advocates in community radio and video and in human rights groups and other social movement groups who are fighting for national legislation to protect independent and alternative media. Internationally, for about the last 10 years, people have been trying to use the idea of communication rights as an umbrella to bring all of those groups together. Many groups, particularly in Latin America and India, already use a human rights framework that is a lot wider than that used in the United States and includes social, political, and economic rights. The idea of communication rights resonates with a lot of organizations in Africa, Latin America, and Asia. The people’s right to be able to communicate links groups fighting for better water, quality education, women’s rights, and many other issues.

Urban Habitat
Urban Habitat is a 20-year-old social and environmental justice organization. The framework we use focuses on a large definition of environmental justice. It allows us to work on different issues over time. Our organization has worked on everything from food security and jobs to land use, transportation, and affordable housing, all under the umbrella of trying to ensure that low-income and communities of color are able to impact decisions that affect our lives. The issues may change over time but this kind of larger framework—building around constituents having voice, having power, being able to control their destinies, looking at issues of disproportionate impact—is the common thread. In the last couple of years we have dealt a lot more with housing and transportation and their connection with quality jobs. But if you were to look back five years ago, 10 years ago, there were different issues on the table, yet we still supported marginalized communities that usually don’t have the voice to impact decisions.
—Juliet Ellis, Executive Director 

The problem in the United States is that those rights are not taken for granted. The United States government has not signed on to the United Nations covenant for social, political, and economic rights. But some groups are trying to not only organize at the grassroots for the right to quality media but also for groups to be able to direct their own media to represent themselves. The rights approach can be useful. But the problem comes in when people think of rights as something that can be secured through law or through courts. That’s not going to happen for a long time.

Saucedo: We absolutely put organizing around immigration rights issues and immigrant workers’ issues into the framework of building human rights in the United States. Because the mainstream media almost always uses the term “illegal immigrant,” migration gets characterized as a criminal issue rather than as a product of international economic policies that force people to leave their loved ones behind, and risk their lives to come to the United States for any work that they can find.
Huge challenges go along with that. It justifies oppression against immigrant communities through intense enforcement and denial of benefits. The opposition is formidable. It’s an uphill battle. Not that we don’t or can’t win, because we do, thanks to the courage and inspiration of the immigrants themselves. But as long as the discussion around immigration or immigrants’ rights is limited to punitive law enforcement, we have to keep working on really making it part of a larger human rights framework.

Nataraj: We use the human rights framework to assess the proposals that come to us for funding, but in some circumstances—in the midst of occupation conflicts, such as in Iraq—that may not be very strongly articulated. So we work with groups where they are, while striving for the systematic and transformative change that has to happen in order for women’s rights to be honored and valued.

Rene Sauceedo was just speaking about the rights of migrant workers and the factors that send them in search of economic and human security. We try to address that on the other side, on the ground, in these communities; to see what women need to really push their own agendas, to promote their rights to sustainable development and for a voice in the decisions and policies of their countries. The United States has a very heavy footprint all over the world. We see a strong linkage between what we do overseas and how that expresses itself here in this country.

Working Partnerships USA
Working Partnerships was created as a partnership between the labor movement and communities of color and the faith communities. It started out of a regional labor federation that has about 110,000 members who came together with community groups to figure out how to transform the new economy that is being created through technology and make sure that working people have a voice and that the solutions being created actually make their lives better. We’ve done everything from universal health care legislation for children, to small business [development], to living wages. And now we’re trying to figure out how to leverage those public and private investments into change that’s measurable We ask ourselves how to connect the labor movement with people of color and faith communities to create a majority that’s capable of contesting for power and change. Our strategy is based on building power to make change happen.
—Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, Former Executive Director WPUSA, Incoming Director, Green for All

Ellis-Lamkins: We also use a human rights framework. When it comes to the right to organize [as described in the Declaration of Human Rights, we are specific. Beyond that, we try to make the case that people have fundamental rights to healthcare and housing, and we talk about what that looks like. People respond well when we talk about opportunity. For example, when we say children should have an opportunity for a good education and point out that a smart child from a low-income background performs worse in school than a less-intelligent child from a more financially stable family, people respond.

When you say, “Look, we want to figure out what conditions people need to be able to succeed,” you get to rights, but you also look at the process of how you get there. We don’t ever just start and say, “Everyone should have healthcare.” We start with, “Kids don’t do well.” And then you graduate to, “And parents can’t participate in school when they don’t have healthcare or when they don’t have time because there isn’t housing that people can afford in their community so they end up commuting two hours a day.”
I think the framework is right but the process of how we get there is as critical as the framework.

Based on my experience at Urban Habitat, the idea that everyone is entitled to human rights runs counter to United States culture. Whether you talk about housing or healthcare or gay and lesbian rights or folks who are incarcerated, it’s not generally accepted that people have intrinsic rights.

La Raza Centro Legal
La Raza Centro Legal in San Francisco sponsors several programs, among them the San Francisco Day Labor Program and the Women’s Collective. We work with day laborers and domestic workers, many of them undocumented migrants. Through our organization, they find work in a dignified manner and are able to empower themselves and organize around issues that impact their lives. At the San Francisco Day Labor Program, we provide our members with comprehensive services, including leadership development and organizing. Members decide what they need in order to be able to find productive employment and to assert their legal rights as workers. We provide job referrals, training, and support services to prepare individuals for the work force. Our program develops the leadership of these workers, not only locally but also at a national and regional level, so they can protect their own rights. Our national organization is the National Day Labor Organizing Network. The Women’s Collective (which consists of domestic workers) is part of the National Alliance of Domestic Workers. Participants learn about the law and educate fellow workers, organize pickets against unscrupulous employers, campaign to stop police harassment of day laborers on street corners, and obtain dignified space for day laborers’ centers. This year our main campaign dealt with national immigration reform. One of our central tenets is that members decide which campaigns they work on, including the agenda, and strategies involved.
—Renee Saucedo, Community Empowerment Coordinator

At Urban Habitat, we’ve defined environmental justice very broadly: people have the right to live, work, and play in environments where they’re not burdened disproportionately by toxics or by a lack of education or lack of transportation.
We also promote the general concept of what we are for: environmental justice, economic justice, social justice, equal access, opportunity, and self-determination. But we very often don’t approach the conversation with the idea that there are basic human rights that people are afforded. And I think it’s unfortunate, because if you want to get to the systemic issues the country and the world are facing, the central problem is that there are haves and have-nots. In fact, some people have rights and some people don’t. Whatever human right you are talking about, most of the communities we work with are the “have-nots.” For many people, it’s a big leap to say that everyone is entitled to a certain level of rights.

Kruggel: To consider how we are called to live with one another, we draw on some of the many different faith traditions that have given us teachings and reflections on this over the last several thousand years. All of the work we do is shaped by the idea that we are “created in the image of the creator.” We believe that every person, by virtue of their birth, is sacred and precious and that we are called to build a world that honors that sacred value. Within that there are core values that shape how we build our society—one being that the needs of people be provided.

When we talk about rights in this country, we talk a lot about the Constitution. When we work with immigrants, we spend a lot of time talking about what the Constitution means. The Constitution isn’t just for citizens. It doesn’t just apply to legal residents. It applies to everybody. Regardless of your country of origin, regardless of where you’re at, you have rights, by virtue of the values that shape our country.

We believe, in a very clear, programmatic sense, that people have rights to healthcare, to adequate shelter, to quality education, to work, and to live in a healthy community.

Right now, nationally, we’re having this debate about the fundamental right to quality affordable healthcare. That’s indisputable. If you don’t have healthcare, you will die in this world. It’s a central right and need that everyone has.

But to win your rights, you need to have the power to compel. We don’t always invoke the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, because we’re trying to build power. We’re not trying to rest on documents; we’re trying to create power to create new things. We have an over-arching vision that people have all these rights but we try to scaffold it by building power and being strategic and helping to create change.

I think the limitation of rights language is that it fails to communicate the urgency of the action that people need to take to make rights real, to make them active and alive in our society. It has this danger of becoming a rhetorical device or a platitude. The United Nations Declaration of Human Rights is a beautiful document, but the UN has no power to make it real. I think it’s a vision and an aspiration that’s beautiful but it’s meaningless if we’re not building power to create those concrete changes.

Contra Costa Interfaith Supporting Community Organization (CCISCO)
CCISCO is based in one of the fastest-growing counties in California. It has undergone tremendous demographic transformation over the last 10 years. We have the largest population of young people and the highest homicide rate for people ages 16 to 24, in the Bay Area. It’s a tremendously diverse county that’s home to crushing poverty and fantastic prosperity. Our work centers on the issue of equity, how you build regional and local communities that are equitable and have opportunity for all people.
We work in cities like Pittsburg, Antioch, and Richmond, California that have been some of the most violent and deadly cities in the state and the country. They’ve been at the epicenter of a number of crises, with some of the lowest educational attainment and high school graduation rates in the state, and some of the highest foreclosure rates in neighborhoods with some of the highest unemployment rates. These communities are just a few miles away from some of the wealthiest and most prosperous communities and cities in the country.
We primarily work through institutions that exist in religious congregations within communities. We also work with neighborhood councils and schools. We have close to 40 different religious denominations that we currently organize with across the country. And so our constituency is incredibly diverse and it bridges a diverse geography over race/class, ethnicity, language, and generational differences.
—Adam Kruggel, Director

Clarke: I’m interested in the ways in which the rights framework can bridge some of the tensions that historically exist between groups that should be progressive allies but actually end up working at cross-purposes or in opposition when it comes to certain kinds of political issues.

In what ways are you building change within existing institutions that have historical tensions—or building alliances among constituencies that sometimes haven’t worked together?

Ellis-Lamkins: Any time you work with people, you need to recognize where they start. And so we always remind people that, in this moment, construction and building unions have almost 30 percent unemployment. They have democratically elected officials, and they’re trying to figure out how to get their members to work, because that’s what they are good at and because they believe in it. The really practical challenge for us as a movement is to understand where people come from and to try to make that okay and then help them be successful. In San Jose, we’ve done that by recognizing that local people want to have an opportunity to have quality jobs, which means union jobs. As a person of color and a woman I see the best route out of poverty is to be a member of a union.

I just sat in a room full of [people from] national women’s organizations who were all saying that the unions offer the best way for women to move out of poverty and stay out. It’s the same thing for people of color. We have to recognize that we need to be able to meet each others’ needs and help each other.

For example, in the East Side Union High School District, as they were building, we created a programto help move kids in a predominantly Latino school district into apprenticeship programs. They got to work in their school, but they also got the chance to find permanent jobs. And whether people are undocumented, or just out of work, or in communities that are struggling, everyone wants to figure out how to get a quality job. We have to figure out how to meet those needs and not see them as competing interests. So I actually think it’s a challenge that our movement hasn’t risen to at this point.

Global Fund for Women
At the Global Fund, we don’t do direct organizing within the United States, but we are the largest women’s fund that supports women’s rights by  organizing and mobilizing. In our 21 years, we’ve worked in about 167 countries. So, in a way, we are just the opposite of Adam Kruggel, who talked about Contra Costa County being a microcosm of the world.
We work in the world and we’re trying to see how building local connections can help us further our own agenda in terms of really being able to promote and protect the rights of women overseas.
The focus of our work is building women’s agency, getting their voices to decision-making in all areas of society, and realizing that women face multiple discrimination from class, caste, poverty, culture, and social factors. And those of us who work with immigrant and migrant communities in this country know that such discrimination carries over from the countries of origin.
The linkages are very strong and clear. We look at ways we can work with organizations that are addressing how international development aid is deployed from this country, to make sure that it really takes the concerns of women into account.
—Shalini Nataraj, Vice President of Programs

Clarke: Can you talk about some of the successful examples of building cross-constituency coalitions?

Kidd: I agree with the point about the rhetoric of the Human Rights Declaration being really difficult. I come from Canada where we have a different social contract. But in my experience, campaigns or struggles around rights—whether it’s the right to water in Bolivia or the right to education for the girl child in India or union rights in Colombia—concrete campaigns for real people have always been really inspiring and motivating. And those kinds of intersections are really important to encourage.

In the last year, I’ve been working on the Raising Our Voices program in East Oakland. We had a group of people from different social justice organizations, from different immigrant communities. Whether it was from Central America or Mongolia or from the Caribbean, the sharing of experiences around how they’ve made their own campaigns, and of their personal life stories, was probably the most significant learning experience. I think communications are key to all of this. One of the most important things that Race, Poverty and the Environment can provide, and communicators can provide, is that opportunity for people to intersect and find out about struggles in other places.

Nataraj: Increasingly, in organizing overseas, those linkages are being made between environmental, social justice, human rights, and women’s rights movements. As we all know, there are very disparate agendas within the women’s rights movements. One of the things that I think helps in promoting a funding agenda is to look at opportunities that can really catalyze those linkages. There are also different approaches overseas that can be used here more effectively. One is the notion of class action suits. Now that isn’t very widely used here in the United States, but actually bringing suits under international law to promote things, such as the right to housing or the right to healthcare, would be a very strong organizing tool.

Media Alliance
Media Alliance is about 30 years old. In the last 10 years, as media and technology have been available more inexpensively, our emphasis has gone from working with the professional gatekeepers to working with social justice organizations to teach media and communication skills so they can represent themselves. Broadly speaking, we utilize a communication rights framework that supports both people’s right to represent themselves in media and  their right to receive quality information.
Recently, we’ve been involved in two campaigns. One is a media training program in East Oakland called Raising Our Voices conducted with leaders of community organizations. Areas of concern have been on attacks on immigrants, violence concerning youth, and lack of quality education in the Oakland schools.
The second is to build a more equitable communications system. For example, the federal government is directing stimulus money toward increasing internet broadband access. Working in coalition with the media justice network (MAGNET) and also the Media and Democracy Coalition, we are trying to ensure that the stimulus money actually goes to organizations redeveloping their own community’s communications infrastructure.
—Dorothy Kidd, Co-Chair of MA

Clarke: How do you see moving forward with human rights organizing in your work?

Kruggel: This is an important time in history to be doing this kind of work. Some of the work done by our sister organizations in Rwanda and in El Salvador has allowed us to see how people, in the most marginal and desperate conditions, have been able to reclaim a spirit and sense of dignity and truly organize around basic human rights. People in our country need to learn from this quickly.

We’ve had a tremendous experience over the last year in building alliances across different arenas with labor, educators, and healthcare providers, between immigrants and non-immigrants. We’re standing on the edge of an abyss, but we also have a tremendous opportunity to make a lot of these linkages. Our organization just had a big action last night in Antioch, California. We had Tongan and Latino and African-American students from the high school and from the community all working together on a comprehensive agenda for reforming the high school system so that kids can get access to apprenticeship programs, and eventually land living wage jobs and gain access to decent housing. We were also able to link it to a new form of transit-oriented development. We had the Central Labor Council supporting it. This is a catalytic moment where we have the opportunity to dramatically transform their way of living so we can save the planet and really save each other.

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David Harvey on The Financial Crash and the Right to the City

The Financial Crash and the Right to the City
An Interview by Amy Goodman

David Harvey is a Marxist geographer and distinguished professor of anthropology at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. He’s the author of several books, including The Limits to Capital and A Brief History of Neo-liberalism.

Goodman: Can you talk about what you mean by “the right to the city”?
What I mean by the right to the city is that we have a real need right now to democratize decisions as to how a city shall be organized and what it should be about, so that we can actually have a collective project to reshape the urban world. Here in New York, effectively, the right to the city has been held by the mayor and the Development Office and the developers and the financiers. Most of us don’t really have a very strong say. The democratization of the city, of city decision-making, is crucial. And I think we want to reclaim the right to the city for all of us, so that we can not only have access to what exists in the city, but also be able to reshape the city in a different image, in a different way, which is more socially just, and more environmentally sustainable.

Goodman: What do you think of the proposals from the government regarding the financial crisis?
Harvey: What they’re trying to do is reinvent the same system. There’s a lot of squabbling on the details, but the fundamental argument they are making is, how can we actually reconstitute the same sort of capitalism we had and have had over the last 30 years in a slightly more regulated, benevolent form, but not challenge the fundamentals? I think it’s time we challenge the fundamentals.

Goodman: What are those fundamentals?
Harvey: The fundamentals have to do with the incredible increase in consolidation of class power. Since the 1970s, we’ve seen a tremendous increase in inequality, not just in this country, but worldwide. In effect, the assets of the world are accumulating more and more in fewer hands. When you look at the nature of the bailout programs, the stimulus programs and all the rest of it, what they really do is to try to keep those assets intact while making the rest of us pay. And so, I think it’s time we stop that and say, “actually, we should be getting more of the assets and much greater equality.”

Goodman: And how would we get more of the assets? How would there be greater equality?
For example, the nature of the bailout of the banks and the sort of restructuring that is going on is about saving the banks and saving the bankers, while actually sticking it to the people. I mean, we’re the ones who are going to have to pay for this in the long run. So what I’m arguing for is a political awareness that this is happening.
In fact, it has been happening over the last 30 years, sort of step by step. It’s been disguised in this kind of rhetoric about individual liberty and freedom of markets. But if you look backwards, you will see that this is not the first financial crisis we’ve had. We’ve had many of them over the last 30 years, and they all have the same character. We had our own savings and loan crisis back in the 1980s. There was a Mexican debt crisis back in 1982 when Mexico was going to go bankrupt. And if they had gone bankrupt, then the New York investment banks would have gone under. So what did they do? They bailed out Mexico, therefore bailing out the New York investment bankers, and then they made the Mexican people pay.

Goodman: If you were the Treasury Secretary what exactly would you be doing?
I would take a lot of that money, and I would put it into some kind of a national reconstruction corporation. And I would say, “Look, your first duty is to take care of the foreclosure crisis and the people who have been foreclosed upon. So go into cities like Cleveland and areas in California that have been devastated and take care of the foreclosure crisis.”xvc NB
One of the ways you could do that is to start buying out all of those houses that are about to be foreclosed on and put them into a municipal housing association or some collective form of that kind, and then allow people to remain in those houses, even though they’re no longer necessarily owners. So the ownership rights would shift.
What we’ve seen in the housing market is a tremendous plundering of the assets of some of the most vulnerable people in the country. I mean, this has been the biggest loss of asset wealth to the African American population that there’s ever been.

Goodman: What is the connection between gentrification and the mortgage crisis?
Harvey: The gentrification process here in New York was again about reconstructing urban environments. A lot of the reconstruction entailed a big investment in housing, particularly when it was corporate-led. You then have the problem of who’s going to buy the housing. And it’s not only gentrification, it’s also new development, new condominiums and all the rest.
It’s interesting. Finance controls both, the creation of housing and also its consumption. You lend money to the developers. They go in and gentrify a neighborhood. You then lend money to the people who are going to occupy it. You’ve got to find that market for gentrification once that process goes on. And so, the connection in this is that the financial operators are working both ends of this game.

Goodman: Do you see neo-liberalism as dead?
Harvey: I don’t see neo-liberalism as dead, if you say neo-liberalism is about consolidation of class power, because actually we’re seeing the further consolidation of it right now, rather than the lessening of it. And that’s what I was referring to when I was talking about the bank bailout—that’s what it was doing. This is why I’m concerned.

Goodman: Were you for no bank bailouts?
Harvey: Well, I was in favor of solving the foreclosure crisis. You see, if you’ve solved the housing crisis, the banks wouldn’t be holding any toxic assets. If you had gone in and bailed out all of the people, there would be no problem on Wall Street. You wouldn’t have the foreclosures. So we should have gone in there right at the beginning and actually held down the foreclosure crisis.

Goodman: And why didn’t they?
Harvey: Because that would mean bailing out poor African Americans and people of that sort, and they’re not concerned with that. They’re concerned with protecting the bankers, not the people.

Goodman: Is there anything that gives you hope?
Harvey:  I think now people might see that this is what has actually been happening over the last 30 years—it hits you in the face straightaway. Something different has to happen. Some sort of movement has to come out and say, “Look, enough is enough. We’re not going to continue in this particular way.”

Goodman: What do you see as the role of social movements?
Harvey: Right now, it’s a desperate moment. In the sense that if we’re going to come out of this crisis, it’s going to be because of the formation of very strong social movements that say enough is enough. We’ve got to change the world in a very, very different way.

Social movements of this kind don’t form overnight. They take a little while. It’s interesting when you look back. In 1929, there’s the stock market crash. The social movements didn’t really start getting into motion until 1932. It took about three years. Right now, I think we’re in a legitimization crisis. They’re trying to rescue the system as is. And I think more and more people are beginning to say this is an illegitimate system, and therefore we have to think about doing something different. Out of that, various kinds of social movements will arise.

We have this relatively new movement called the Right to the City Movement. It’s here in New York City, and it’s in several other cities in the United States. There’s a national coalition. It’s small right now and it’s getting its act together. But these kinds of things can grow very fast, very quickly. So there  are likely to be many movements of that kind. In other countries, there are already quite massive social movements. [The United States] is a little bit behind on that trajectory.

Goodman: And what would you identify as those massive social movements elsewhere?
Harvey: In Brazil, for example, there is a Right to the City Movement around housing provision and a landless peasants’ movement, which is very active and successful in what it is trying to achieve. There’s a peasant movement in India, too, which is actually really quite strong.

There’s a real moment here, where we also have to think about these things connecting globally, which is, of course, where the World Social Forum originated. And so, there are ways in which we can start to think about coordination between different parts of the world.

Amy Goodman is host of Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now! program where she conducted this interview. She is co-author of three books written with her brother, David Goodman: The Exception to the Rulers, Static: Government Liars, Media Cheerleaders, and People who Fight Back; and Standing up to the Madness: Ordinary Heroes in Extraordinary Times.

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A Tale of Two Zip Codes

Recession Worsens Rights gap between Rich and Poor

At the corner of Turk and Hyde Streets in San Francisco’s Tenderloin, just a few blocks from the glittering commerce and bustling tourism of Union Square, lies a little slice of the Third World that visitors rarely see—unless they go to India or Africa. In just a minute’s stroll, fashion stores and boutiques hustling Armani and Prada, and European-style cafes peddling panini, cappuccino, and white wine give way to adult book stores, liquor markets, pay day loan stores, overnight SRO (single-room occupancy) hotels, drug rehab clinics, and bargain-basement deals on crack.

Nestled in the heart of downtown between Union Square and Civic Center (the city’s house of government), the Tenderloin is a chaotic theater of suffering, struggle and survival, performed in the open every day yet eerily separate from nearby neighborhoods that rank among the nation’s wealthiest. Fundamental rights that most Americans take for granted—rights to privacy, housing, health, safety, and employment—are starkly absent. Even the post office, that most democratic of government institutions, won’t guarantee they will deliver the mail.

This paradox of normalized, unabashed poverty and extreme separation from the city around it—“we know we’re not welcome outside our neighborhood,” says an elderly man with red sores freckling his face—maintains the Tenderloin’s status as an island surrounded by rivers of cash and opportunity that rarely wash ashore.

Amid the deepening economic recession, the ranks of homeless and poor folk are rising while anti-poverty programs are shriveling—posing an as yet unmet challenge to address intensifying poverty. In a city famous for its liberal politics and its pockets of epic wealth—much of which remains despite the tanking economy—the recession has also revived questions of how the public sector can redress the widening chasm between rich and poor. 

“The biggest problem in the neighborhood, after crack, is bed bugs,” says Joseph Jones, a 70-year-old retired janitor who lives in a Tenderloin SRO. Jones, a 26-year veteran of the Tenderloin and a self-described “amateur social anthropologist” with a Master’s degree in Asian history, is speaking at a meeting of tenant representatives at the Central City SRO Collaborative, a city-funded nonprofit that fights for SRO residents’ rights. Behind the group, butcher paper pasted to the wall lists “Bed Bug Myths,” such as: “can’t get disease,” “alcohol kills eggs,” and “only happens to the poor;” and “Facts” like: “drink blood,” “in seams of mattresses,” and “7 eggs a day.”

In the middle of the meeting Jones declares, “I just killed a bed bug right here.” Another tenant rep tells of finding bed bugs on toilet seats in his hotel, and ongoing resistance by management to get rid of them. Heat kills the bugs, one rep informs the group, to which another responds: “Global warming.” Bed bugs, causing all manner of skin rashes, insomnia, and other maladies, are “epidemic” here, says Jeff Buckley, director of the SRO Collaborative. The Department of Public Health “just doesn’t have the manpower to check every hotel.”

The Health department and the Department of Building Inspections each have just two monitors tasked with evaluating conditions in roughly 350 San Francisco SROs, of which about 250 are in the Tenderloin, Buckley says.

A host of other indignities pervade Tenderloin residents’ daily lives. Water damage in walls and ceilings is common. Buckley and SRO reps say tenants are forced to ask building managers for toilet paper—“imagine that you have to take a dump and you have to ask the manager for permission to do it.” Broken elevators stay in hazardous disrepair for weeks (“luckily we haven’t had anyone die in an elevator breakdown, but it’s just a matter of time,” Buckley says). During a rather fortunate bathroom visit one evening, a man narrowly escaped a chunk of ceiling which fell where his head would have been had he been sleeping in his bed.

Then there’s the mail. It never comes. “The Post Office doesn’t want to deliver to poor people,” Buckley says. “They don’t consider SROs as permanent housing, so people don’t get their mail delivered... all the stuff that anybody else takes for granted, they’re still fighting for.” In April 2006, following a campaign by the Collaborative and District 6 Supervisor Chris Daly, San Francisco initiated a mailbox ordinance requiring the Postal Service to deliver to SRO residents. But the Post Office refuses to comply, Buckley says, so a lawsuit may be in the works to enforce mail delivery.

Poverty Deepens, Aid Decreases
As I interview Joanne Harris, a thin, red-headed 39-year-old white woman donning a camouflage sweat jacket, a man crouches by a car a few feet away and fires up his crack pipe. “He does that right out in the open, like it’s legal, that’s what drives me crazy,” says Harris, who lived on the street for two years before moving into an SRO hotel with her boyfriend. “The police crack down on public drinking but they ignore the crack.” The recession, she says, has pushed the newly unemployed out of her SRO, into the streets and out of town—“the only people doing well are the drug dealers.”
The streets here are always rugged, but life in “the TL” is getting tougher as jobs disappear and services dry up due to massive city budget cuts. “It’s getting a lot more tense, people are more stressed,” says Yvette Love, a 40-year-old homeless African American woman in a wheelchair. “There’s a lot more fighting over money, and people stealing from each other a lot more.”

Despite its reputation for egalitarianism, the City by the Bay is a town divided—the extreme and entrenched poverty of the Tenderloin butting up against bastions of comfort and extreme wealth.  Examined through the lens of two city zip codes, the numbers tell a story of Dickensian disparity.
Consider the gulf between gritty Tenderloin (94102), which includes part of slightly better-off Hayes Valley, and tony Marina/Cow Hollow (94123), just a mile away over the mansion-topped crests of Pacific Heights.  Marina residents take home roughly five times what Tenderloin denizens make, and nearly twice the city average. In the Tenderloin, the official poverty rate soars over 23 percent, more than double citywide and state levels, while it’s virtually non-existent in the Marina. Despite the Tenderloin’s ballooning poverty, San Francisco boasted the seventh-lowest municipal poverty rate in the nation in 2007, Census data show.

Rich Get Richer
Meanwhile, the Bay Area millionaire population keeps growing. According to the 2007 annual World Wealth Report produced by Merrill Lynch and consulting firm Capgemini, 123,621 households in the Bay Area “had $1 million or more in financial assets in 2007, up 10.8 percent from the year before,” the San Francisco Chronicle reported. Some 665 of those resided in zip code 94123, a surprising 116 in 94102. The report projected ongoing millionaire growth despite economic turmoil. 

“It’s kind of like Third World and First World,” says Don Simms, who lives in a Tenderloin studio condo and works in a retail store in the Marina.

When the Mayor’s Office of Housing examined 2000 Census data, it found the Tenderloin median household income was less than half the citywide amount. The Tenderloin was home to several of the city’s 33 “areas of low-income concentration,” census tracts where more than half of households had incomes below 80 percent of the city median.

San Francisco sports some remarkable racial, geographic, and income divides. A 2006 city Human Rights Commission (HRC) report, citing 2000 Census data, showed that, per capita, whites in Supervisorial District 2, which includes the Marina and other well-off neighborhoods, hauled in $80,256 on average, while Asian/Pacific Islanders in District 6 (the Tenderloin, South of Market, and other neighborhoods) took in just $17,074; worse yet, Asian/Pacific Islanders in the city’s 9th district (the Mission, Portola, and other working-class hoods) earned just over $10,000.

In 2005, San Francisco’s official homeless count (widely viewed as a serious undercounting) showed an even more stunning poverty divide. Of the 2,497 homeless people counted in shelters, service centers and jails, almost half, 1,232 were in District 6, while just 22 were found in District 2. While African Americans made up about 6.5 percent of the citywide population, 36 percent of San Francisco’s homeless were black.

Drilling down further, the data reveal severe disparities in wealth, health, and education. Nearly half of the Tenderloin’s 964 families with children aged 5 to 17 hovered just above the poverty level in 2000, while just 21 of Marina/Cow Hollow’s 435 such families endured this stress, the HRC found. The Tenderloin zip code ranked among the city’s worst areas for asthma hospitalization rates, while the Marina rested at the comfortable bottom with one-third as many incidents. The HRC also showed a huge education gap: District 6 had half as many high school graduates as did District 2, and just a third of the number of college graduates.

The Right to Shop and Dine in Style
It’s a clear warm afternoon, a mellow breeze ruffles the well-manicured hedges next to me, and I can see Angel Island resting in the Bay. It’s quiet here on the corner of Green Street and Steiner in the Marina at about four-thirty, at a peaceful remove from the urban crush. In place of rattling shopping carts and angry street disputes, I’m met with the occasional jogger, a multi-task unit of mom-kids-dog-cell phone, and, every couple of minutes, a passing Prius, Mercedes, Lexus, or Range Rover. Recession?

Underneath the hood, there are in fact signs that the recession has hit the Marina/Cow Hollow area hard. It’s different from Tenderloin hard, though: “I don’t think people are losing their homes here, they’re just not buying dresses,” says Heather Sweeney, who works at Flaunt, a fine women’s clothing boutique on Union Street.

Flaunt is upscale: T-shirts are $60, jeans go for $200, and those dresses run up to $500. But Stephanie Stokes, the soon-to-be owner, says her clientele are “a lot of trickle down from Pacific Heights, women who usually spend one-thousand dollars, and they’re not doing that right now.” Sales are falling off, as even wealthy shoppers cut back and others flock to big discount stores. “Business is sucking right now,” says a retail worker at a high-end men’s clothing store. “Union Street is kind of a train wreck.” 

At least 18 Union Street businesses have shut down in the past year (a couple due to retirements), says Leslie Drapkin, co-owner of Jest Jewels, who writes a column for the neighborhood’s monthly Marina Times. With commercial rents falling by 20 percent, and small-business stimulus on the way, she’s “edging toward the positive now.” But she adds, “it’s been crazy, everyone is worried... the thirty-some-things that have never experienced a recession, that’s our clientele.” Even the rich, she says, are spending less: “the percentages go all the way down the line.”
Her business partner, Eleanor Carpenter, president of the Union Street Merchants Association, is fast-talking and bullish. “It’s time to move now, time to go—I’m looking to expand,” says Carpenter, sporting stylish thick-frame glasses and a pearl necklace, and multiple bracelets draped over her wrist. She’s planning to tap Small Business Administration money for expansions. But the longtime Marina resident acknowledges people there are retrenching: “I don’t think they choose to eat out as much, or spend money on Armani or Prada.”

When asked about poverty in the Tenderloin, Carpenter and Drapkin vent exasperation. “There are all these programs,” says Carpenter, “why aren’t these people using these programs? What’s wrong with them? I guess they’re just collecting their checks? It breaks my heart that they’re in the condition they’re in, but they don’t help themselves.” Drapkin adds, “I’m not one for the homeless programs we have—people need to work hard.”

From Raw Deal to New Deal?
“Every single day, positive and beautiful things happen in the Tenderloin,” says James Tracy, a veteran organizer with the nonprofit Community Housing Partnership, which runs housing and transition programs for homeless people. “All the ingredients are here,” he says, citing activist tenant councils and grassroots organizing groups fighting for better conditions—but he says something bigger and bolder is needed.

“We should have a green municipal New Deal,” argues Tracy, a stocky, bespectacled San Francisco native. “We should be paying people to do community theater, to put solar panels on these buildings. Why can’t they make sure the kids who grow up in this neighborhood learn how to do the sound and lights in the theaters here?” Expanding public sector employment and union organizing rights, too, “would help all workers, shrink the surplus of labor, and give working class people more leverage” in the marketplace.

Instead, the kinds of programs that train and employ the homeless are fading from the public landscape even as poverty intensifies.

Meanwhile, the number of homeless in need of help appears to be rising. A survey by the city’s Shelter Monitoring Committee in October 2008 found two-thirds of homeless people were being turned away from shelters. Providers, such as Tenderloin Health, are seeing three times as many homeless as they’re contracted to serve, says Jennifer Friedenbach, director of the Coalition on Homelessness.

“We have this huge increase in the number of people who are poor, and a disintegration of the cornerstone poverty abatement programs, such as job training and affordable housing,” says Friedenbach. “It’s the exact opposite approach of what you would want. You would want in this time of recession and increased needs to have this really creative response from city government to turn it around, and instead the proposals on the table are to balance this huge deficit on the backs of the most vulnerable San Franciscans.”

Facing a massive $438 million projected deficit, Mayor Gavin Newsom has called for stinging budget cuts that hit the Tenderloin especially hard. The Tenderloin Community Resource Center, the area’s primary resource center for homeless folks, loses its funding as of July 1. The Tenderloin’s main day treatment clinic for the mentally disabled, run out of the Tenderloin Outpatient Clinic, is also getting axed. Shelters at Geary and Polk are limiting access, and job training programs are “being pretty much decimated,” says Friedenbach. 

The cuts have inspired a feisty response in legislative chambers and on the streets. At a protest in front of City Hall in late March, 700 city workers railed against cuts to health and human services and demanded a different approach. “People are losing their houses, people are losing their savings, their retirement, and it’s the services in San Francisco that help those people in crisis,” said Damita Davis-Howard, president of the Service Employees International Union’s (SEIU) municipal workers local.  

Barbara Lopez, a community organizer with the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, which will also see deep cuts, sees a growing contradiction between the federal stimulus and local policies. “I think the stimulus is about protecting the safety net and stabilizing communities, so why does our mayor feel the need to cut these services?” asks Lopez. “The city leadership has moved to the right of national leadership.” San Francisco, she says, “has this reputation as a very liberal city, and socially it is liberal, but I think our dirty secret is that we’re really economically conservative.”

Lopez and others pointed to the Mayor’s hiring of 58 new executive managers in the past year (allegedly to the tune of $8 million), and chauffer and limousine services for fire chiefs and others, as symbols of misplaced spending priorities. The unions and advocacy groups propose a blend of alternate cuts and revenue measures to restore vital city services for the poor and working/middle-class San Franciscans. 

Indeed, there is a growing push to counter the deficit and the cuts by taxing some of San Francisco’s phenomenal wealth. In February, Supervisor John Avalos called for a special election this summer—as yet unplanned—that would install a gross receipts tax on large firms (it was repealed in 2001), along with taxes on downtown commercial properties and sales. “If these corporations pay their fair share, we can generate millions that will go towards keeping health clinics, youth and senior services, and jobs safe for San Franciscans,” Avalos said in calling for the election. “The shock of the deficit is being used to make some of the changes that more conservative forces in the city have been trying to make— privatization, reduction in services to the most needy, and cutting health services that are primary care services,” says Avalos, who represents a largely working-class district. “We can’t lay off people to get out of this, we have to raise some revenue. We have a lot of wealth in this city, and we have to move it around to alleviate the deficit.”

The Mayor’s office has yet to support or oppose specific revenue measures, but press secretary Nathan Ballard insists, “We’re open to new revenue measures, but it’s got to go hand in hand with reform, which includes consolidating departments and streamlining government.” Ballard says the Mayor “stands by his decisions... there are no easy choices. Every cut has a constituency.”

Meanwhile, the Coalition has produced alternative budget cuts that focus on capping salaries for upper-level administrators, trimming some high-paid city executives—the number of which has risen dramatically since 2005, according to a Chronicle report—eliminating city limousine chauffers and other bloat.

It remains to be seen whether advocates for the poor and small business groups might act in concert to push for a fairer distribution of wealth and opportunity. Such a coalition could, for instance, press for stimulus monies and revenue streams from new taxes to create new jobs and training programs, and to channel small-business supports to the Tenderloin and other embattled areas.

“You can’t have the division that we have,” says Tracy. The solution, he says, “has to be beyond generosity—there has to be improved community hiring… There’s employment apartheid here. What about City Hall opening its doors to jobs for Tenderloin folks—not just make-work, but make-future?”

Christopher D. Cook is an award-winning journalist and author based in San Francisco. His work has appeared in Harper’s, the Los Angeles Times, The Economist, The Christian Science Monitor, and elsewhere. He is the author of Diet for a Dead Planet: Big Business and the Coming Food Crisis. Reach him through This article was jointly produced with, an open source project for “community-funded reporting.”

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