We Are Not Broke But We Are Dying

Note: Cross-posted from our other blog, Occupy the Democrats for People Power. Check it out.

Chicago just faced its deadliest month in twenty years with at least 84 murders in the month of August alone. Unlike the gang wars of the mid-90s, most of these shootings and murders were retaliatory in nature and thus even easier to prevent via proactive actions of the city and state. We could easily and adequately fund violence prevention programs like CeaseFire, had summer activities for the youth at the local schools, reopened community mental wellness centers, hired and trained therapists to do wellness visits for youth and children dealing with trauma.

Again and again we are told we don’t have the money for that. We have the money. Don’t let Bruce Rauner and Rahm Emanuel lie to you. We have the money and we sure as hell aren’t broke. Go downtown. We have the damned money.

According to Tom Tresser and a host of other civic watchdogs in the new Chicago Is Not Broke: Funding the City We Deserve, Chicago has hosts of untapped money, potentially up to 5 1/2 billion dollars that could be released annually. That money could be saved or found through addressing city-wide corruption (including in alderman’s offices, City Hall, and among the police and its accessories) [rough estimation at half a billion dollars a year]; ending police abuse [50 million a year]; slashing TIF slush funds [421.5 million per year]; ending and being reimbursed for toxic bank deals [one billion dollars saved from exiting the deals]; a state-wide progressive income tax (Illinois has one of the most regressive taxes in the union) [85 million per year would go to Chicago]; instituting a city-wide financial transaction tax [2.6 billion annually]; and establishing a public bank for Chicago [1.36 billion a year].We’re talking regular influxes of billions of dollars in Chicago alone that can go to public education, housing, libraries, parks, road maintenance, mental health service, jobs. And much, much more.

If you live in Chicago, this book is required reading. If you have friends or family in Chicago, buy this for them. At twelve dollars, we’re talking stocking stuffer.

Our tax dollars need to work for us.

Further, if we significantly reduce the jails, policing, and prison system in Chicago, Cook County and Illinois, we could save billions more.

Where could that money be wisely spent, in a way that will benefit not merely the top 2% (as TIF projects tend to do) but particularly the neglected and high-crime areas? The two-party system has previously only proposed incarceration as a direct solution to the crimes with deeper rooted problems. I propose the ideas highlighted at the beginning of this post, but want to significantly draw out wrap-around community schools.

I first heard of this notion through the work of the #FightForDyett campaign, where roughly a dozen parents and community members of the Bronzeville neighborhood dedicated themselves and went on a hunger strike to reopen a closed open-enrollment neighborhood high school, Dyett High School. They wanted Dyett to serve the needs of the community. While Dyett is reopening as an art school, they have provided fuel for further struggles.

A wrap-around community school would use the facilities and the campus year-round and day-around for the needs of the community: offering affordable/free child-care and preschool; youth-centered programs with sports, media, arts; night classes in GED, ESL, and other curriculum for adults, for example.

These schools can provide a safe-haven for kids, can equip residents by training them in violence-reduction efforts, can practice restorative justice and de-escalation during and after school hours.

They can be centers where the community participants are trained and paid to serve the needs of the community, long neglected in this apartheid state by the titans of industry and the civic leaders removed by segregation. They can be sources of middle-income wages, which also go back to local businesses and help to kick in to economic refurbishing of disinvested communities- without gentrification that merely displaces the impoverished without disturbing the poverty.

Properly and imaginatively funneling otherwise wasted, hidden, and untapped monies into our communities would literally save hundreds of lives a year. And aid in the flourishing of potentially millions more. What is there to lose but fear and violence?

16 Things to Look Forward to in 2016, Chicago

Vigil for Bettie Jones last weekend. Jones was a Chicago grandmother shot by police for answering the door during domestic dispute as cops were shooting through her to 21 year old with a bat.

  1. Rahm Emanuel’s resignation. And not just for the Laquann McDonald cover-up but for hosts of things, some of which will be covered here.
  2. Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez getting booted from office. She was part of the cover-up as well and has been extremely pro-police and pro-incarceration in ways that rival Daley and Giulliani’s pre-mayoral runs as SA’s. I wouldn’t be surprised if she also was planning on running for mayor of Chicago. You can’t use the full weight of the state’s attorney office to cover you any longer, Anita!
  3. Fewer jails. Jail and jail time, with or without prison, lead to time away from work, from the community, from family. Thus they work against communities of color and lead to cycles of poverty and high-crime, particularly where
  4. More restorative justice hubs. The amount of money that Cook County spends on incarceration contrasted with restorative justice – where the person who made an infraction works within the community to make amends and learn how to deal with issues that caused the problem in the first place – is beyond absurd. It is a fraction of a percent, at around $0.5 million to the jail’s $360 million and we need to at least double it the next year.
  5. End cash bonds. These unfairly restrict poor people, primarily those who are charged with petty crimes. Cash bonds put undue pressure on poor people – usually black Chicagoans – and the justice system, including crowding jails and tagging innocent people with guilty pledges so that they can go home. They then have an adverse affect on poor communities of color.
  6. Restore community mental health centers.
  7. Abolish Broken Windows Policing.
  8. Disband the current, corrupt, ineffecient, police-caping Independent Police Review Authority and make it truly independent.
  9. Establish proper, completely independent (no police, no police connections) oversight of the IPRA.
  10. Disarm the police. No shots. No tasers. They must learn to deescalate using actual tactics of deescalation.
  11. National gun control laws that make it nearly impossible to sell large amounts of guns – which are then smuggled into urban areas like Chicago and make it likely to end up in a shooting of
  12. Drastically increase violence intervention and prevention programs such as CeaseFire.
  13. Reorganize the Chicago Public Schools Board. It is run by capitalists and for capitalists.
  14. Fully fund publicly-controlled schools.
  15. Remove Chicago police resource officers from schools.
  16. Insert violence prevention programs and training for all staff at all CPS schools in order to equip students with violence reduction & prevention tools and embodied practice.
Ash Wednesday protest against police violence. Photo by Nancy Stone for the Chicago Tribune

Ash Wednesday protest against police violence. Photo by Nancy Stone for the Chicago Tribune

On Scabs and Transit-Oriented Living

I took my daughter to a gentrification protest earlier this week which I think highlights how White Progressivism works to undermine communities of color while (falsely) representing them. This kind of representation delivers itself in crafty manners that seem to support the marginalized that they claim to speak for until we recognize the work that is actually happening is detrimental to the health and existence of that oppressed community. In fact, the alderman we protested, Joe Moreno, and many of his supporters were themselves Latin@. If we were to judge by representational politics, Moreno could say that his actions – such as getting high-density transit-oriented development (TOD) skyscrapers in a residential neighborhood where most houses are two-to-three stories high – are more pro-Latin@ than his detractors. This would be an error, not least of because representational politics are a tool of White Supremacy. In this case, rich, White developers used Latin@ proxies to represent them and their interests, and this is who the counter-protesters were in effect operating for, but with darker tones and Spanish phrases.

I have lived in the Logan Square and Humboldt Park neighborhoods for most of the last 28 years, back when I was one of the most white elements at (now-closed) Humboldt Elementary. For many years Humboldt Park was very deliberate about maintaining its identity as a Puerto Rican base for long-marginalized Boricua, Black and Mexican/American residents. The highly stylized flags that overlap Division between Western and California are sources of pride, of the recognition of being recognized and belonging for the classic residents of Humboldt Park. I’ve walked with white visitors who gaze at the flag (often with a tinge of confusion) and they get asked if they’re here to take down the flags. The flags are signposts for a home for the very marginalized.

Paseo Boricua

Paseo Boricua

Belonging is integral for people of color and others marginalized by mainstream society. It tells them that there is a safe space for living, for being, where their colors, culture and way of life will not be automatically suspect. Of course, White Supremacy and its relations interrupt – Capitalism in the form of consumerism and underground economies; violence in the presence of guns, turf fights, police harassment; patriarchy in everyday sexism and street harassment, the poverty of single motherhood; Whiteness in the constant devaluing and disinvestment of the community’s resources – schools, medical coverage, mental health clinics, local businesses, etc, etc. They interfere. They interject. Whiteness is colonial. It is an empire and it will exist on every space it can find to make its home.

But to belong is to say there is a home for you, and a chance to fight against the interjection of Whiteness and for your home with your peers. Gentrification, then, is the process of unwelcoming. To gentrify is to disrupt black and brown self-determination, both in terms of dismantling organizing power and of distracting crucial self-awakening. These sound like amenities, but they are vital to black-and-brown survival in a White Supremacist world that seeks to choke them out.

This article by a transit-oriented blog is written from a perspective of whiteness. It presumes that adding over 100 new units where typical prices will run $20,000 per year for a one-bedroom apartment will actually help Logan Square residents remain in their homes. Because, you see, if wealthy folks move into these new buildings, they won’t take yours away from you and you won’t be pushed out because the wealthy people will live in their shiny towers and won’t ever bother you nor raise the property value taxes or squeeze out your businesses and hang-outs nor bring the price of living up. Nope, not at all, nosirree.

The truth is that the very existence of such Towering Monstrosities will force several people out of the neighborhood on its own. It is now a question of mitigating the damage as best we can in order to serve the community and allow us to survive. This should not be such a struggle, and it should not be nearly impossible. As these developers seek both public funds and public approval to help create their Displacement Machines, we should be able to ask for trade-offs in return that will benefit the public good and not just the coffers of the alderman and his people. To receive a Community Benefit Agreement is to enter an agreement where the community gets something in return for giving up ground. In these capitalist, White Supremacist cooperations of city and corporations, we are not allowed communal autonomy to reject these Infernos, but we should be allowed some trade for our willingness such as fifty percent affordable housing under community standards, living wage jobs, and trust funds to local schools for scholarships or supplies. I mean, that’s how we’re told the market works, right? Give and take?

But perhaps what is most troubling about this article is the presumption that only middle class white people are invested in public transit as a means of living. It does not seem to cross the mind of white mainstream and indie media that maybe us poor, black and brown people kinda need to remain around transit hubs in order to get to our jobs and families? That maybe we can’t afford to park in the city, that if we have a car, we only use it on occasion anyway? That someone like me who has only owned a car for two years relies on my feet, bike, bus or train to get every single location?

But no. To the white middle class progressive, we are predictably invisible. And if one brown person stands up and says that these devices hurt us and another brown person says “No, thank you for this,” the White Middle class trusts the word of the latter even though he may be stepping on the head of the former.

No, as I told the Chi.StreetsBlog, the TOD is yet another tactic of the progressive neoliberal used to exploit and undermine the working people of the community. We are constantly told by middle class white people what is for our own benefit when we know that these are tactics meant to divide us, which was also the goal of the counter-protesters. It is a century-old practice used to destroy unions and any other power that the people have.

That is why those counter-protesters are scabs.

Displaced by Rock N Roll

One major way that gentrification – the racist and classist displacement of residents and homeowners of color for increasingly affluent white people –  works in Chicago is that communities of color will band together and work to replace amenities they’ve lost as a result of white flight and disinvestment in their communities and the city will use the newly-gained victories against the community that fought for them. Another way is to gather a large amount of White People in communities of color to show that the ‘hood isn’t so “ghetto” and maybe pretty cool. It’s a marketing strategy, but also a way of taking the few public resources the community has as tools against them.

As the saying goes: People of Color can’t have nothing good in this town.

We see this happening in my community, in the dividing line between Humboldt Park and Logan Square called the Bloomingdale Trail.

Dialogue about turning an abandoned, above-ground rail line into an above ground park in a section of town with many children and little green space started ten years ago with Latinos from the two neighborhoods talking for several years, petitioning aldermen and the city and local businesses. Doing the work to bring good things into their neighborhood. But things didn’t really start kicking off until the neighborhoods started being reinvested.

By reinvested, I mean there was more White presence. More white people followed by other white people followed by a gradual westward displacement. We saw Latin@-owned businesses shut down because developers flooded them with city inspectors who charged them for infractions as petty as paper on the floor to drywall placement, knowing full-well that these are jewelers and hair stylists with low profit margins. At the same time, the developers would send delegates and aids into neighborhood committees and make friends with the neighborhood city councilors.

The result is that now property assessment – and thus property taxes – in the area around the trail has risen this year about 40%. That’s significantly higher than inflation and at rates that working class people cannot possibly keep up with.

Developers know how to market and bring in young White people – such as artists – who want to live in cool areas to be their initial colonizers; buy out lots, and tenant buildings; force out businesses, and consume entire blocks when and if possible (often through associated, partner and umbrella real estate companies); and, thus, considerably raise rents or flip houses or property quickly for substantial profit.

Because they have plenty of capital available, they are able to have their way with residents, with rents, with zoning permits, with architecture – unless there is significant push-back.

But the act of gentrification makes the act of organizing that much more difficult, because the long-term residents are now being scattered to the winds and the ones left have even less resources and fight more fights – just trying to keep the schools open and funded or bringing the kids to schools when the neighborhood schools are being shutted, as my elementary school, Von Humboldt, was and as was threatened to happen to most neighborhood schools in majority-black/brown communities.

There is already lack of funding, lack of time, lack of resources. But gentrification works by removing potential leaders and human capital and by treating people of color and the very poor as not as fully human (totally original concept I know right?) and therefore tabling, moving, ignoring, ramshackling, steamrolling their concerns until they can muster up enough people and action to disrupt the way of things.

Recently within the city, we see another agent and trend of gentrification, White People’s Music. Popular music has been accused of pilfering and gentrifying and stealing poor people’s – and specifically black and natives’ – music for profit for the last century, so it only makes sense that it would be used against communities of color.

Take an Uptown neighborhood concert for neo-folk pop artists Mumford & Sons, for instance. After floods nearly disappeared a homeless community living under viaducts in the neighborhood, the city was nowhere to be found. Until another day or so, when they came to kick the homeless people out. And yes, they are homeless but they are people who need community and security and stability that comes with community like anybody else. The neighborhood has been steadily gentrifying for the last decade, but this location – at the lake and a train or bus ride from downtown – has a large section of homeless people. The city has shut down several homeless hotels in the area (as well as one in Logan Square about three blocks from where I’m writing now) while claiming that the population will be served better by going to shelters. But shelters are not safe for many homeless people or families, where the children are often separated from their parents and the adults are separated from each other.

But we consider poor people to behave like middle class people, where needs are taken care of through money and access to resources. We need community, however, to watch each others’ backs, to take care of needs on a regular basis, to exchange works and skills. Plundering us from these communities of care is to plunder people, to keep the marginalized on the utter ends of the margins.

So to say that the city treated the homeless community in Uptown with disrespect and even outside the law is to cut it some undeserved grace. Alderman Cappelman and the city services in coordination and under cover of White pop music were doing what the powerful do: Breaking up any challenge to their power; justifying endangering marginalized people by considering them “hazards”, thus further marginalizing them; dispersing them with little-to-no preparation; underselling them. Yes, the city makes some money from these concerts, but how much of it goes to the very poor it pushes out?

Answer: Not enough to begin to pay them back. Neoliberalism is making wealth off the backs of the poor through corporate affairs while justifying it through the White Logic of personal responsibility.

Last year and the year before, the Riot Fest – a punkrawk-centric music festival and carnival – occupied Humboldt Park to put on a show that could be heard for roughly a mile away.  Our streets were flooded by strangers, by White people. Several years ago, it would have been an anomaly to see any groups of White people in Humboldt Park.

Riot Fest at Humboldt Park

Riot Fest at Humboldt Park

But remember, developers and realtors know to move in when they see white bodies. So this music event works in many levels to displace the community. For one, more whiteness means, to white people with investment dollars, security. Which means that White people flock around other white people and occupy those places where they see other white faces. They figure the place must be both cool because of the non-whites in the area but also safe enough for them because of the white bodies. Because of the power dynamics at play, they – willingly or not – move out non-white and poorer community members.

As my friend Sharaya Tindal notes in an article for Crain’s,

For the past few years, residents in Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood have seen their namesake park fenced off from the public for weeks. We watched as large machinery tore up the community baseball diamonds and open fields, setting up stages and equipment for the Riot Fest music festival.

But not this year. After a combination of heavy equipment, rain and tens of thousands of people left parts of the park unusable for months last year, residents were fed up. Community members came together to force Riot Fest out of the neighborhood park.

Humboldt Park after Riot Fest

Humboldt Park after Riot Fest

In lieu of going to a non-residential park which could handle the traffic and disruptions, the city decided that colonizing another community of color is preferable. So without input and dialogue from the community, but with vague promises of community investment (again, investment goes to areas when developers believe they’ll get a handsome return), the weekend extravaganza is moving to Douglas Park, nestled between the Latinx neighborhood Little Village and the black neighborhood North Lawndale.

The reason is clear. To get a foothold of whiteness in those neighborhoods as well. This means more revenue at the cost of black, brown and poor people that make up the workforce and the heart of Chicago.

However, there are things that can be done to stall and perhaps even reverse this racist curse of gentrification.

End Capitalist control of housing, for starters. Housing is a human right and should be treated as such. Allow communities to have control of their own homes and property.

In lieu of such radical measures (lolsob): Note that the city is claiming eminent domain in these practices and demand that landowners and renters be rightfully recompensed for being displaced. Call organizers and artists to account for performances they are involved in.  Any artist worth their salt knows that a space is important to the performance. Fight for affordable housing. Get involved in community groups that push for resources while fighting gentrification.

 

If the Good News Isn’t Good News for the Poor…

This weekend I witnessed – mostly through Twitter – my town being taken over by two gatherings for justice, both of which themselves included diverse voices. One was an Evangelical Christian seminar called The Justice Conference, held downtown and featuring an array of Christian voices on issues of justice as identified from a largely White Evangelical perspective. The other was a series of protesting actions to get a trauma center in the South Side, which would be used to save people shot within range as there are no trauma centers for adult victims of shootings on the South Side of Chicago.

I would not argue that one was more important or justice-y than the other. Both were calls to justice but for different audiences. Evangelicals need to be called to economic, sexual, gender, and racial justice. There were problems as Ryan Kenji points out. It largely centered on white and male voices, framed conversations in the problematizing nature of White Privilege, disappeared LGBTQ issues and speakers, and included only one Woman of Color for the mainstage, etc. But at the same time, for many it was revelatory and even earth-shaking to hear voices speak loudly and prophetically against capitalism, patriarchy, prison-as-justice, and White Supremacy.

But the problem was that while the protestors at the University of Chicago were directly confronting White Supremacy, detainment control of poor black communities , and capitalism in order to get a much-needed trauma center open for victims of gun violence in the South Side and save lives, attendees and organizers of The Justice Conference were largely operating in a mode that takes White Supremacy and Heteropatriarchy as norms. We could see this in some of the problematizing of the very definitions of Justice, or in how the conference was arranged in the first place. Calling men “pastors” while calling women “sisters” is a capitulation to a male supremacy ever present in the majority of Evangelical churches – whether or not they call themselves Complementarian* or even know what that term means.

Christianity Today hosted this chalkboard asking "What Your Justice Looks Like"

Christianity Today hosted this chalkboard asking “What Your Justice Looks Like”

At heart was a re-defining of justice to fit into a highly individualistic framing. Oddly enough for a culture at-odds with post-modernism and a society they consider too relativistic, Evangelicalism redefines justice not to movements of people righting societal injustices, but to people individually helping to curb things they consider wrong or unjust. Because there is little room for community-based action and little understanding of corporate responsibility (everything is broken down to individual sin and individual responsibility), it’s a mess for the foreseeable future**.

All of this to say that, in some respects, justice is often a word applied to the top of specific interests of Evangelicals (I believe Daniel spoke about this) and in line with Evangelical priorities (worship, missions, sex trafficking) that either are directly a part of Evangelicalism or can be neatly aligned with it (White Privilege, as opposed to addressing White Supremacy). I’m thinking about this as I’m writing my book on Evangelicalism’s roots and how it nose-dives with neoliberalism, but also as my church is partaking in a several-week-long sermon series on reclaiming Evangelism. And, for a variety of reasons, this discussion gets me in an uncomfortable position.

I don’t necessarily like to be uncomfortable, but I do like to interrogate what could make me squeamish, and why something may be making me uncomfortable and what to do about that.

Being a Christian means – in some aspect – in evangelism as an outpouring of care. I believe that some sort of sharing of my faith, some public performance of it that can be communicated is necessary. It’s an outpouring of love. It’s reproduction, and reproduction is vital to life.

And yettttt, Christian witness of our faith has largely sided against life. It has been and still is a message steeped with death, and given in ways that reflect that. Rich recalled going to a Hell House when he was a youth. For those not familiar with Hell Houses, it’s a Halloween-themed church gathering that uses imagery left over from Dante’s epic poems and Carman’s music videos to scare people away from hell and into the abusive Jesus who would send them there for not believing that he could and would send them there.

Most churches despise this form of evangelism, however. In light of more friendly and effective Evangelists like Bill Bright, Billy Graham and megachurches following in the footsteps of Willow Creek Church, seeker-friendly churches do not pound on doors, do not preach condemnation, rarely-if-ever talk about hell, and go out of their way to show visitors and would-be Christians that they are welcome at the church.

I remember when seeker-friendly was seen as a denigration by my more fundamentalist peers. They were seen as “not preaching the truth”, being afraid of “man’s approval rather than God’s”. I felt then that they may have a point.

I think I agree with them now. Not that the truth is that every person is on their way to hell without affirming some four or five points about doctrine and then saying a prayer. But that their seeker-friendly message was just a veneer, a sleek cover for the same old thing and therefore dishonest.

Gospel was, in early Christian times, a message from the courts of power that meant (in an Orwellian sense) “good news”. That good news was usually the ascension or birthday of a new emperor. Or the conquering of a city.

This was certainly not good news to the colonized. That good news was of suppression and oppression.

Which is why the good news of Jesus was upsetting to that order (and why he was killed by that same state power). Because Jesus’ good news was good for the poor, for women, for the indentured, for the slaves and the nobodies and the prisoners. This was the message when reading from a synoptic gospels-centered view at least (there’s great stuff in Acts, the epistles, Revelations, and John’s Gospel, but I’m convinced that trying to read those outside of the framing of the gospels first is a huge mistake and leads to a recontextualization of the texts that over-spiritualizes them, robs them of their liberating power and upholds current, violent, dominant power structures).

The gospel message of the seeker church is delivered in a nice package, but inside the package is the dominant, oppressive system’s Gospel. It is Caesar’s gospel of war, empire-building, fear, hell, torture, suppression, oppression. Anti-LGBTQ. White Supremacist Euro-American theology with abundance of shame and guilt. Capitalism-entrenched. Patriarchal. Abuse-as-central to salvation. Eternal suffering and torture to justify unnecessary suffering…

When so many White Christians are justifying child abuse that happens in their own communities (whether it happens when a Duggar male child sexually abuses Duggar female children or when cops target, harass, beat up, throw down black kids attending a pool party in a white neighborhood) but blaming LGBTQ people for imagined abuse – or at the least being silent about such abuse coming from their own communities – the “nice” Christianity doesn’t appear so friendly to those on the margins.

As long as the Christianity that we offer to the world is fundamentally capitalist and abusive, then perhaps it’s not a message that needs to get out so much? If the good news that we have to offer to the people is like the good news of empire and dominion and violence, then how does it differ from Caesar’s good news?

Also, if our good news is tied together with a culture that seeks to superimpose over other cultures – if it aligns godliness with whiteness or consumeristic spirituality, for instance – then is it actually good news?

Because if the good news isn’t the good news of liberation, if the good news isn’t good to the poorest and the most oppressed, then it isn’t good news for anyone but the wealthiest. And that is not a gospel worthy of Jesus, (as far as I’m concerned).

So, a new evangelism needs to be tied in with a liberating gospel.

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* Complementarians believe that women and men are essentially different and that each has an assigned gender role to facilitate the other in a heteronormative marriage relationship. Shortly, the man is the head of the household and the woman is his helper.

**Though we can hope for better in the future, yet this may encapsulate structural theological problems within Evangelicalism that will need to be addressed before it may be able to be an effective engine for justice.

Continuing Settler Colonialism into the 21st Century

 

chicago- logan square

Heather Phillips via Flickr (Logan Square, Chicago)

 

Scholar and activist Andrea Smith talks about colonialism and the disappearance of the Indigenous as one of the three pillars of White Supremacy. In this type of logic, the indigenous is constantly being removed from the land so that the settler can claim rights to it. We see it in Western myths about the Bad and Savage Indians and in current myths about the Terrorist Palestinian. We see it in the mascotry of Indian peoples, customs, costumes, and tribes for sports teams, and in the appropriation of spiritual practices of Native peoples.

To expand a bit further: Gentrification is a form of and repetition of settler colonialism. Which is to say that gentrification is a method of stealing land and disappearing native peoples from their property, institutions, history, and even cultures. It’s wealthier, typically white people actively disappearing poorer, typically people of color from their lands and their own communities. The similarities do not end there, though. When we try to argue that gentrification is actually a bad thing, white pro-gentrification forces argue that they are there to improve the neighborhoods. The implication argument, is that people of color and their cultures and institutions are intrinsically inferior. They will ask for proof of the worth of black and brown communities and receipts as if the only piece of value is how much to get from real estate. As if the only thing Black and Latino folk do is gang-bang1 and sell drugs. And as if those are more violent actions than intentional financial destabilization and wealth-denying of white institutions of power for the last five hundred and twenty years.

People of color as individuals, as communities, as institutions are not trusted to have value. Their restaurants and churches and businesses schools2 and social clubs are bulldozed, swept out, shut down, overcome because they are judged inferior by the very forces that want them removed. Settler colonialism needs to continually harvest cheap workers, and so keeps destabilizing the communities of its cheap labor force so as to keep them disorganized, to keep them from demanding more, to keep them from speaking of injustice in ways that will eventually lead to justice.

Are white people ok with these acts of displacement, whether they occur in Australia, or Bolivia, or Palestine/Israel, or Humboldt Park, Chicago3, or within the mostly White missional and emergent church experiences, because we’ve never made peace with the fact that we have and are constantly disappearing Native people from North America? In the process of stealing their lands and constantly stealing their lands, we have said that their forms of education were not adequate, so we put them in the first public schools, with the aim of enculturating them to Middle Class Euro-American values and ways of seeing and doing. When we did not actively work to physically and psychologically erase and shame their languages and customs from existence.

And this process continues, and is always continuing. In the same ways where Israeli propaganda claims that Palestine was not an actual possessed land outside of Jewish occupants and that there is no such thing as  Palestinians; in the same way that the First Nations did not have rights to the land since they did not operate by European laws and feudalities; in the same way that White missional churches enter into heavily churched Black and Brown neighborhoods to “bring the Gospel”; in the same way that children are being adopted out of Indian Country and into White families; so White hipsters, investment bankers, real estate agents, business bureaus, city halls, and developers converge to continually erase the identities and culture and institutions of Black and Brown communities to turn a profit and keep poor people in line.

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1 Remember that the KKK was the first and the biggest racialized gang. Remember also that POC gangs in the Northern urban centers grew out of reaction to the strolling and violent actions of white gangs entering into black and Latino neighborhoods looking for black and Latino youths to beat up.

2 In one year, Chicago’s Mayor Emanuel closed down fifty elementary schools – almost every last one having a population made up almost entirely of Black and Latino students. Almost all of them in poor black neighborhoods. But two of these neighborhood schools were closed in Humboldt Park, where gentrification is building steam. A neighborhood middle school in West Logan Square (also on the fast track for gentrification) that had seen huge investment from the community and was a source of pride and joy for all was turned into a military academy against the community’s wishes. Because we can’t trust non-violent forms of Latino organizing and educating.

3 Where I grew up and there was no investment from white people then. But years later, a white coffeehouse owner would ask me if the neighborhood was getting better while White Supremacist Fox News was playing overhead on his screens

Gentrification Is Not a Solution to White Flight

Chicago has changed significantly over the last fifty years in some ways. In others, it’s been the same old thing – racial segregation tied to economic apartheid. But where and how this plays out has shifted. From the late 60’s through the early 80’s Chicago – like most other north urban cities still in the thralls of exercised anti-black racism in the post-Civil Rights era – experienced massive white flight.

Myopic Books - Wicker Park

Myopic Books, Wicker Park – by MA1216 via Flickr

Actually, that’s a horrible way to put it. First, white flight didn’t just happen to Chicago and second “white flight” is a problematic label that doesn’t in the least describe what was and is (still) happening. What happened to neighborhoods like Wicker Park, Ukranian Village, Lincoln Park, Humboldt Park, Logan Square, and South Loop is what happened to Detroit – white people decided their areas were too tainted, too impure, too scary. And rather than invest in them to make room for all, rather than welcoming, rather than giving back to the very people they’ve (we’ve) stolen wages, labor and wealth from, white people en masse thought it more convenient to relocate.

More to the point, not only did white people relocate to the suburbs and enclaves, but they took the resources, the investments, the capital, the wealth that was made for them by the bodies, the work and the below poverty-level wages and existence that black (and other POC) made for them. When they found that Puerto Rican, Mexican, and Black youth were enacting on the very violence that had been exacted through economic, political and housing segregation, the White patriarchy decided it important to sever ties with the city and retreat to the suburbs. All the better if they could continue to draw resources out of the city and back into the cul de sacs, of course.

White flight, we must understand, is not a problem primarily because White people and their White solutions left the city. White flight is a problem because White people took the dues owed to Black people with them. They stole and then ran.

After a generation of fleeing, they started coming back. In Chicago, they pushed Puerto Ricans east out of the lakefront territory of Lincoln Park and reclaimed it, all of it, for Whiteness. They also discovered that the beautiful buildings and centralized location of Wicker Park were too much to leave to poor black and Latin@ and even poor white folks, so they slowly reclaimed that too, beginning in the late 80’s. They brought in artists and young people, students. All white, all with a bit more disposable income than the current residents. All a little distant from the current community. All raising property value just enough to begin the displacement of the current population. The residents then begin to see their community erode as they lose grip on what they’ve worked so hard to stabilize – community organizations and resources that are mostly built in and through each other and relationships they’ve built over years, decades, generations.

When you are poor, you rely on each other. When you and your neighbors are being forced out, you lose that support. That is what gentrification is: forcing out of black, brown and poor bodies and destroying their supportive networks. But yet gentrification is often approached as a solution, as a counter to White Flight. As if the problem was that middle class and upper class White people and their White ingenuity and work ethic were what was missing. As if the neighborhoods were deteriorating because White People weren’t here. And as if their presence and their example (yes, that is the argument. Yes, that is what they say) would fix what their theft caused.

The main pro-gentrification argument is that the neighborhood improves and bringing in White people with their white money is the only viable solution to improving the neighborhood. What they mean by that is that the neighborhood wasn’t of value under black and brown management. That people of color and poor people don’t have any value to offer. That the crime and poverty is the fault of black and brown people – not their own theft. They are also assenting that property – that the buildings and lots they are referring to when they say “neighborhood” – is more important than humanity – what those of us being gentrified mean when we talk about the neighborhood. And particularly that property is more important than POC humanity.

See, gentrification isn’t the solution to White Flight. It’s the next step. When gentrifiers fill the neighborhoods and the barrios their parents abandoned, they begin a process of completing what their forebearers started – reclaiming their old homes and furthering the solidification of the permanent underclass.

This is what Detroit is about. Forcing out of black bodies so that the city can be reclaimed. To think it’s about anything else is to miss the big picture.

“Rising Property Values” = “Pushing Out Blacks”

The front page story on the daily Chicago rag The RedEye, “Taming the Bloomingdale Trail” is a feature on a long, thin park in the making, developed from unused railroad tracks running through newly gentrified and soon-to-be-gentrified neighborhoods here. And it’s sad that such great things are coming here, because the way that Chicago works, investment in the neighborhoods (like art spaces in my Logan Square or improved public schools) means higher property values.

And higher property values means mass displacement of poor folks – usually Black and Brown people.

Displacement is usually couched in terms of “improving the neighborhood.” And that depends on what one means when one says “improving.” There are other ways to reduce crime and living conditions that do not rely on kicking out Black and Latino residents. But those aren’t as glamorous, and they are investment heavy, with little going back into the banks and coffers of White investors –  investors who specifically profit from Black, Brown and Poor poverty.

House of Quality - 900 W Randolph

So investing in arts and parks is kinda expensive. But like investing in condos or privatizing schools, they know they’ll get their money back with interest.

The median family income for a family or four in the Chicagoland area is $70,500.”

Often, what passes for “affordable housing” in Chicago is targeted toward this manufactured “median”, comprised of pitting extremely rich and middle class  neighborhoods and suburbs against poor neighborhoods, rather than basing it on those who need affordability the most. Consistently, poor people lose when forced to go to battle with the wealthy on the terms of the rich. 

In the region, there are over 740,000 households with incomes at or below $35,000.”

For them, affordable housing that operates under the assumption that $70,500 is the normal income and if affordable means 1/3-1/2 of that spent on rent and utilities means they are displaced. This is the evil of gentrification in one form. The school closings and defundings; the shootings and murders placed in fluxed regions heavy with post-displacement people; the lack of investment; the secrecy of operations in City Hall; the silent white churches; the compliant white renters who talk favorably about rising property value; the white land developers who purposefully use dirty tricks to kick out black and brown businesses, renters, and landowners in fashionable (or soon to be fashionable) neighborhoods – these are direct effects of gentrification. They are only as distant from gentrification in the sense that the gentrifiers can erect protective walls to deny the evil effects of what gentrification does.

Here’s a game, White Chicagoans. Every time you hear someone talking about “Rising property values” think “Pushing out the blacks.”

Every time you hear the phrase, “This neighborhood has improved” add the voice, “Since we moved the Blacks and the Mexicans out.”

Because that’s what those phrases mean. Just be honest about the passive and active racism of White Supremacy. And if it hurts to think of it in those terms, think how much the effects of displacement and apartheid hurts.

Here’s another game: Invest in neighborhoods of color, in local businesses of color as much as possible. Then more people win.

#StopCPScuts: Public education and public under attack in Chicago

Moody’s lowered the bond rating in Chicago. Which means that they believe Chicago cannot be fully trusted to pay back all the money loaned to them in bonds. It’s rich folks talking to more rich folks about how they should spend their money, as my sometimes mentor Don Washington explained to me today. He’s got a great take on it and you should read it because he’s much more knowledgeable about public policy and this stuff than I am, and he speaks in the dual gravitas of a policy wonk and an experienced community activist.

But I just wanna focus on Rahm’s solutions, as they are typical to neo-liberal and conservative tax policies. The solution for taxes for conservatives is always lower taxes. Neoliberals like Rahm don’t necessarily believe that, but their rich allies may. And neo-liberals will side with their allies. Knowing that he can’t bleed more property taxes out of landowners as the rates that have been exponentially raised the last decade, Mayor Emanuel ignores the incredible junket of taxes that are already at this disposal in the slush TIF funds (more than half of the near half a billion dollars put into these funds – largely from downtown and rich areas are taken from money that is supposed to – and that taxpayers are told do – go to the schools. That’s $250,000,000 per year. And we wonder why we’re at this crisis.), and he ignores the tax breaks he gives to the wealthy (like DePaul University which he is buying valuable land for, turning it tax free in the process, and then leasing it to the school – a stunner of a revelation coming out as it did at the same time 49 schools in Black and Brown neighborhoods were being shuttered).

cps protest arrest

So how does Chicago’s City Hall respond to a financial/economic crisis they’ve created? As always, by punishing the workers and the poor. And Rahm responds by firing thousands upon thousands of teachers and crowding classrooms – after closing fifty schools in one year! Because that’ll make middle class families want to stay and relocate in Chicago. And prepare black and poor students for the middle class world which is quickly dwindling.

I see were this is going. We’ll be talking more about this through the week. For now, please read my storify on the demonstrations and attendant thoughts:

#StopCPScuts: Public education and public under attack in Chicago

  1. We need a school board elected by parents and held provincially #stopcpscuts
  2. If #cpsboard cuts 20-25% of budget in #cpsschools, we cut 20-25% of their pay. If they close 49 schools, we close them! #stopcpscuts
  3. 2nd flr City Hall is filling up fast with parents, students, and activists to #stopcpscuts
  4. Each year, more than a quarter billion $$ are taken from #cpsbudget by TIF funds, w/ most earmarked for rich developers & corps #stopcpscuts
  5. Representing the 35th Ward and Darwin School. Remembering Von Humboldt School, RIP. #stopcpscuts
  1. Our children are being hurt and targeted all over the land and thru us by White/Rich Supremacy #stopcpscuts #justice
  1. Ald Maldonado is speaking against militarization of immigration. Wants to militarize school. Parents are angry, rightly
  1. Chicago has TIF surplus of possibly 1.8 BILLION dollars. Give it back to schools and #stopcpscuts!!
  2. We need teachers in the Fall! Not more money for DePaul! #chant @ctulocal1 rally #stopcpscuts
  1. Rousemary Vega, #CPS parent who held sit-in at Lafayette Elementary, forced out of #CPSboard mtg pic.twitter.com/YyMrUrN8qe
  1. “@WBEZeducation Bienen: Structural deficit. We take in less $ than we spend. Either raise taxes, cut expenses, or borrow. #cpsboard” Nope
  1. Again, another false claim by City Hall. There are money but they’re reluctant to use it. May upset plutocrats.

 

  1. Again, the cuts in public school means direct attacks on not just poor, but now also middle class. #stopcpscuts Don’t think you’re safe, Chi

 

  1. #CPSboard & #Rahm ARE Zimmermans. And our kids are suspicious.

 

  1. Maybe he should stop lying! “@CTULocal1 Board President Vitale pleads with CTU President Lewis to stop calling him a liar.”

 

  1. Trend: When horrible, horrible laws/policies are pushed thru (cf Texas abortion bill, Stand Ground) it allows plutocrats to push other ones

 

  1. Trend: When it happens to underclass, it’ll then be pushed through up the scale to middle class. We need more #solidarity #cpscuts

 

  1. White Chicago wasn’t really paying attn when #cpsclosings was happening. But schl cuts will affect their decisions of where to raise kids

 

  1. 20-25%. That takes out essential programs, art, music, gym, teacher aides, support staff – things that CPS have too few of #stopcpscuts

 

  1. Diana Arangulo, student: “We want a school board that is not all rich people! Are you listening to me now?” #CPSboard #StopCPSCuts

 

  1. Student. giving a Declaration of Education. Certain inalienable rights… whether you live on the north side or the south side.

 

  1. We don’t have money for public schools, but we do for DePaul and Wrigley! YAYYY #stopcpscuts

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Not Confined to Republicans or the South

File this under The More Things Change Dept

Fifty years ago we witnessed a huge shift for racial relations in the US South, a turning point that would see the assassination of Medgar Evers, the acknowledgement of full-on racism of a sheriff turning powerful hoses and dogs loose on children, and the gearing up for the March on Washington, mid-year was a pretty tumultuous time.

But not just in the South. Chicago had had intentionally segregated schools for one hundred years itself – and severely segregated housing and neighborhoods climbed and exacerbated under Mayor Richard J. Daley’s first decade in power. Even as Daley gamed the system to push some black leaders forward, he made sure that he was the boss in the machine of Chicago politics.

He got a bit of a run for his money in ’63, though. His main opponent decided that tackling Daley on political shenanigans and corruption wouldn’t be enough – not with backing from downtown business interests, unions, city workers, and even the criminal underground (though that was waning). And he was right, of course. But he figured he would need to garner the white ethnic vote my ramping up the racial tensions in Chicago. He became the segregationalist candidate as he knew he couldn’t budge Daley’s hold on Black votes. Daley did not end up becoming the integrationist candidate, but generally dodged the issue as much as possible. The incumbent ended up trouncing on him by a wide margin, but not wide enough for Daley’s taste – not with all the work he’s done to control the votes and the mechanisms of the votes.

Daley, in recognizing that he only received 49% of the white vote goes on to court the white vote by being more blatant about segregationalist policies. He will not so much court as placate Black votes by continuing to offer city jobs and other perks to select African Americans. Meanwhile, Alderman Despres wrote a memo on:

While controlling the votes of Negro Chicagoans through partisan patronage and the national attraction of the Democratic label, make all necessary concessions to white segregationists by maintaining the pattern of racial housing segregation, school segregation, and social segregation…Since a pattern of housing and school segregation guarantees a growing ghetto and a declining city, the segregation policy which wins each election hastens a tragic explosion.

This language sounds familiar to anybody paying attention in Chicago – because it’s pretty much the same game fifty years later. And while leaders were placated, the people weren’t.

Chicago, incidentally, was to host the NAACP national meeting in Chicago. They asked Daley to lead the parade through downtown, ending in Grant Park. Seeing as the NAACP was concentrating efforts in the South at this point, and as Chicago segregationalists were really only concerned about their neighborhoods, not what was going on in Biloxi, Selma, or Birmingham, and seeing this as an opportunity to shore up votes in Black Chicago (and liberal White Chicago) without risking White Chicago’s ballots, hizzoner obliged.

As the front of the parade arrived at the destination, the mayor was asked to say some words to the gathering crowds. Being the long-winded, rambling glad-hander he was, he obliged and strung together some of his boiler-plate. Daley, of course, was not being honored so much as placated. Local leaders of the NAACP were keeping him happy and making him feel in important and honored largely because their own careers were riding on his pleasure with them. They were kissing his ass. The masses didn’t feel such need for loyalty and a cloud of witnesses started gathering and brewing. The heckling began and picked up steam along the route, finally leading to a flustered Daley ending his speech early and storming off.

Asked by a reporter about the ruckus on his way to his limo, Daley responded that they must have been instigated by the Republicans.

Is any of this sounding familiar yet?

A few days later, interracial groups from the Congress of Racial Equality held mass demonstrations, drawing attention to the apartheid  – including an occupation of the board room at the Chicago Public Schools building. Daley, when pressed, said that CPS authority was autonomous and he couldn’t do a thing to integrate and give majority-black schools equal opportunities as majority white schools.

Again, this was fifty years ago. I’m just saying, it all sounds so familiar to me…

——–

Source: Adam Cohen and Elizabeth Taylor’s American Pharaoh: Mayor Richard J. Daley: His Battle for Chicago and the Nation. Little, 2000.

Mr Mayor, This Is Our Town

Walking through my library and I notice a framed photo of our mayor towards the front, in the information table. It’s where we can find out about events and about what the community and the library are doing.

And it struck me that Rahm Emanuel, like many politicians, is in a position of power and works hard to cultivate this image of his position of power. Not just as a benevolent or wise leader (which is untrue and anybody paying attention to the city and how it is handling the non-business district/non-White Chicago portions of town will figure this out), but as a powerful person and from whom all blessings flow.

Follow him and we get our bike trails, we get our libraries, we get to keep our schools or get better schools (which is the trade-off lie he is selling now that nobody – again, nobody paying attention – is listening to).

But that’s not true. A mayor is a manager. We are in charge of what we desire, what we need, what we have, and who we give it to.

Emanuel is our puppet. Not for the 0.01%. Not for the neo-liberals. Not for the Chicago Mercantile Exchange or DePaul University or Chicago Parking Meters LLC. But for ALL of Chicago.

It’s damned time we remind him of who is in charge.

How Sloof Lirpa Opened My Mind about Rahm Emanuel

I’ve been listening to podcasts on my commute to work. I mean, they’re really long commutes so I need to keep my ears occupied. And I stumbled upon this sensational, silver-voiced, superb citizen (who adores alliteration) by the name of Sloof Lipra. Have you heard of him? He speaks to the common man! He’s just all common sense!

And because of him, I’ve come to realize that maybe Rahm Emanuel is really just a great guy and wonderful politician. He is, come to think of it, just what Chicago needs!

I mean, check this out:

  • Privatization is ALWAYS good! Get the government out of money – they don’t know what to do with it. Business is in the business of people and can serve all of our interests better because of profit and free-market and stuff.
  • We need the police to be militarized! People suck and need to be kept in line by the strongest forces possible. And if you’re not doing anything wrong, then there’s nothing to worry about anyway. AMIRITE?
  • CREAM: Cash Rules Everything Around Me! Nothing else matters. He can be a complete bullying, clueless asshole. So what? He’s rich, b***ches! Sloof has taught me that’s all that matters.
  • Schools in poor neighborhoods need to be closed. Because, they’re poor. And what’s the freaking use, AMIRITE?

Wow. I’m glad I got my mind totes opened by Sloof! Aren’t you!