Uber & The 606: The Worth and Work of Women of Color in the Neoliberalism Era

While riding with my daughter the other morning, we traveled down the new above-ground park-slash-bike/jogging trail called conversely The Bloomingdale Trail and The 606. While grabbing some water on the way up the 606, I noticed the trail was extra busy, with many joggers and walkers as it was such a brilliant, nice day. Two joggers I noticed in particular were white women just coming out of an Uber driven by a black woman. The moment was too delicious for simple irony, yet too bitter to b satisfying.

For those unfamiliar with the history of the Bloomingdale Trail, a railroad line heavy with cargo used to pass through the Chicago neighborhoods of Bucktown, Logan Square, and Humboldt Park. While the lines it adjoins to the west are still in heavy use, over the last fifteen or so years, the nearly three mile stretch grew weeds and would occasionally host the straggling jogger.

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Bloomingdale Trail pre-park via Field Guide to Nature

About ten years ago, members of the Logan Square and Humboldt Park communities would meet to discuss plans for how to use the railway to benefit the neighborhoods. At this time, both neighborhoods were largely working class LatinX and – with the exception of the large and beautiful Humboldt Park and the boulevard system running through it – possessed very little green or public space. So they began a dream of turning the infrastructure of the railway into a pedestrian park.

This dream was fast-tracked some years later under Mayor Rahm Emanuel when he realized this park was a way to build up a tax revenue base. Which is to say it was a good way to build more outside interest in an area already facing massive gentrification. The months surrounding its opening saw people being priced out of their homes as nearby rents dramatically increased 40-100% and long-term homeowners were scared off by the prospect of substantially higher tax rates.

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Normally not as festive. Credit: Adam Alexander Photography via The Trust for Public Land

What is becoming common knowledge in gentrified Chicago is that our city uses good things to draw in wealthier and wealthier people – not just to build a tax base, but to drive the poor apart from their collective actions so there is little recourse left but to give up. It is systemic disengagement and disunion of Black and Brown communities. This is especially lethal as Black and Brown communities cannot rely on common or familial wealth, nor of basic services. Thus they must and do rely on support networks in their communities. 

So gentrification isn’t making the community better, it’s using long-delayed improvements of the community which were called by the community to displace and fracture that same living and fighting community and replace it with a permanently mobile economic force. One that either cannot or does not need to fight back.

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Logan Square Neighborhood Assn protest against gentrification. Photo by Tyler ReViere via Chicagoist

What gentrification does to black and brown communities, however, the Sharing Economy as highlighted by Uber does to worker communities.

The taxi business has largely been run by immigrants and, while far from perfect, has been a means for people of color to survive when few other options are available. Because of the intimacy of the ride, the dangers of the road, the semi-freelancing of the gig, the potential violence that drivers face, the taxi business relied on safeguards such as unionization, licensing, and medallion-winning to protect the consumer and the worker.

Most of these regulations have been sidestepped by the would-be taxis in the ride-sharing business. When Uber and Lyft, et al, came to Chicago, the neoliberal administration headed by Emanuel did away with most of those regulations. But they came with technology that made it easier and faster to hail a cab, as well as an economic structure that made too much sense on the face of it. In its introductory phase, the cost of a ride in an Uber was considerably cheaper than one in a taxicab. Outside of the share that is given to Uber for the technology and use, the rest is given to the driver-owner, who is not leasing a car but using their own. Of course, this model is only possible because the driver is not an employee (and thus the costs of living are transferred to someone else, such as other employers, the drivers, and the government) and thus Uber gets to have and eat its cake.

However, in a model learned from Wal-Mart, as this cheaper model of taxiing begins to saturate the market, it forces out the old cab drivers and their unions – the communities that they built up. As the competition is being gutted, Uber raises the fees for both the consumer and the contractor. This has already started happening at certain peak hours, where costs are exponentially higher.

So Uber will eventually out-Uber itself as a de-unionized, untrained, and even unvetted workforce rises to replace an older community of working class people of color, only to themselves be ushered out by more desperate people looking for even fewer scraps.

In short, more working class women of color will be driving more professional class white people to a park dreamt up by working class women of color but implemented by professional class white people in order to drive out the working class women of color – but for less and less payout.

The Age of Late Neoliberalism is especially adept at not just taking crises and turning them into opportunities for the Investor Class, but also at taking lovely things – often things we create – and turning those against us. See for instance how the city of Chicago turns neighborhood parks into music festivals (often featuring artists of color from working class roots) as an aid in gentrification and homeless erasure. Or how art, artists, and art fests have been used to displace Logan Square residents (while LatinX and Black art are still drastically underfunded starting at the school level). Notice how a Logan Square developer/evil landlord boasts about investing in neighborhood as a means to drastically raise rents.

Despite these tactics, enjoy the beautiful and the lovely. I travel the 606 with pride, as do many WCPOC. This is our neighborhood. We’ve lived here and suffered the worst through disinvestment and we should have good things available to us without guilt. Like your music and your coffee shops. But it is to say that the tools of the Neoliberal Age toward its anti-communal goals are tricky, and we must recognize them to navigate them and beat them to the punch.

Enjoy your day. Party. And fight.

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White Liberalism and Muslims

Sometimes the difference between liberals and conservatives really isn’t that far. In The Nation, while reviewing White Liberal thought that led to increased incarceration of black people during the last fifty years, Willie Osterweil made the point that White conservatives don’t believe that racism exists but fundamentally believe that race does. White liberals, however, believe that racism exists, but not race. American liberalism is rooted in individualism and has a difficult time seeing past that, even while it makes sweeping generalizations. I think the same can be said for White/Western liberals and conservatives irt Muslims and Islam.

White conservatives think that Muslims (as in the people of color – North Africans, Sub-saharan Africans, Middle Easterners, Central Asians, etc.) are savages and so their religion reflects that. White liberals will say that Muslims aren’t savages naturally, it’s just that their religion makes them that way.

It’s a blood-thin line, you see.

Outside of the racism (which neither will admit to, arguing that Islam is a religion and ignoring the fact that the vast majority of its adherents are non-White), this view of Muslims as point-of-fact savage in one way or another is justification for endless war. While the endless war is a tool of empire and capitalism, it needs to be justified to a population that sees itself as civilized. The Myth of Civilization in fact needs an alter ego, a demon – the uncivilized. The Other. The foreigner. The Oriental.

Edward Said would look at the vast majority of portrayals of Muslims through popular entertainment and news media and would not be at a loss. In the 1990’s, even before the mass upgrade of the Military Industrial Complex’s to the permanent War on Terror, even before the literal bombardment of Muslims through perpetual foot soldiers, mercenaries, US-based oil companies, and drones, Muslims were exotified, other-ized, villified, barbarianized in the popular US imagination through movies and pop culture (in much the same way Natives have been within this land through popular imagination, through the Cowboys and Indians mythos of traveling road shows and John Wayne movies and Tonto-ism). The Oklahoma City bombing was first blamed on Muslim extremism. Muslims and Middle Easterners were and are the easy villains of popular imagination – from Blackhawk Down to Alladin‘s Jafar to the literally faceless hordes gunned down by Chuck Norris and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Popular media primed the Western mind for the War on Terror.

Now every terrorist attack – whether domestic or international – is blamed matter-of-factly on Muslims and Islam. It doesn’t matter that most of the victims of terror done by extremist Muslims are Muslim. White Conservatives will blame Muslims while White Liberals will blame Muslim Extremists – by which they mean REAL Muslims.

Christians and Atheists and Jews get to come in various forms and in different aspects with vastly different worldviews within their prospective religions (or lack-of-religions). But not Muslims. Because Muslims are Orientalized, they are simplified. In this imagination, there are, at most, Good Muslims and Bad Muslims just as, in the popular White imagination, there are Good Black people and Bad Black people. The Good ones are like us. The Bad want to kill us.

There are of course concerns within the wide world of majority-Muslim countries. There are concerns within Islam. Patriarchy and gendered violence is strong in many of these regions. And there are many attendant factors within that which shock Westerners. But shocking does not preclude the fact that very similar things happen in our own shores and next door and possibly in our own homes. Domestic violence is rampant in the US and in every demographic. Every day, three women are killed by intimate partners in the US. These are de facto honor killings. Domestic violence happens predominantly and exponentially in impoverished communities. It is nine times more likely to happen among the poorest in the States than among the richest. So, community and resource investment is important. So is dismantling patriarchy. But this must be internal. Sending poor people from here who are already predispositioned to violence (due to economic and psycho-socio violence perpetuated on them through generations upon generations) is a perverse practice of perpetuity. American violence is exported to the Middle East, intensified and imported back again to the American household and against our own women.

There is an irony that one of the primary justifications for anti-Muslim violence is to free women from the oppression of Islamic violence, forgetting that we are also bombing and killing Muslim women. Through the pretense of fighting for the independence of women, anti-Muslim fears welcome and perpetuate anti-women violence both home and abroad.

Yet talk of “spreading democracy” and freeing them from their own oppression is not just meaningless, it is in itself an act of violence. White liberals who say this are advocating the same “blow it all to smithereens” policies that white conservatives argue for. A democracy that is forced on the people through warfare is no democracy. It is colonialism and despotism.

That seems a lesson that is not just difficult for White Conservatives but for White Liberals as well. But then whiteness is, after all, primarily colonial, primarily conquering, primarily about supremacy.

Instead of a Show

“You twist justice, making it a bitter pill for the oppressed.
You treat the righteous like dirt”

I’d like to see this song played in churches. And then take it where it needs to go. Dismantling the production of the Sunday Morning Worship Industrial Complex in order to do and be the work of God’s hands and body in an unjust and cruel world.

Jon Foreman, the lead songwriter, singer and guitarist for the pop-rock band Switchfoot, has deep roots in the Contemporary Christian Music industry (their first records were produced by Charlie Peacock and mostly available via Christian bookstores). But unlike most – and with a few notable exceptions – they also have deep roots in the justice arm of Christianity. In addition to this solo song based on Amos 5, also check out “The Sound: John Perkins’ Blues” from Switchfoot’s Hello Hurricane.

The Blitz for Progress

Play this all day long.

The Blitz is a movement, not an organization, formed out of a biting need to move our country and world forward.

This is what it’s about:

Philosophy

 

  • A government of, for, and by the people must represent the people and be held accountable to same.
  • Taxation must be fair and progressive.
  • Corporations are not people and must not be treated as such.
  • War is immoral and non-productive and has no place in the 21st Century. The only purpose being served is to further enrich those who have already lined their pockets with blood.  Our troops must be brought home and utilized in assisting to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure.
  • Every individual must have the opportunity to be gainfully employed and to earn a fair and livable wage. The creation of jobs and job programs must be the number one priority of all government representatives.
  • All workers have the right to be treated fairly and equally.
  • Every individual has the right to shelter, food, and clothing. No individual must ever be forced into homelessness. A fair, equitable, and progressive taxation program would assist in eradicating this blight on America.
  • Every individual, at the age of consent, has the right to love and marry the person of their own choosing.
  • Every individual must be treated fairly, justly, and without prejudice under the law and within the judicial system.
  • Nothing must ever abridge the human rights of any individual.
  • Health care is a human right from birth to death, free of private corporate interest and must be provided through a non-profit, publicly financed system. The failure to provide such care is the REAL death panel in this country as well as our shame.
  • Every American must be provided the opportunity to gain a free, accessable, and viable public education. An educated citizenry is essential to our economic, environmental, and social survival.
  • The development of clean, safe, and stable energy resources must begin today as our environmental future is dependent upon just that. Clean water, clean air, and protection of our natural resources are crucial to the survival of not only our country, but our planet.

 

And this is the direction the movement is going:

Paths To Progress

 

  • Disruption of Corporate practices through non-violent distrubance of everyday business transactions.
  • Resisting the status-quo through massive boycotts, protests, street-action, work-stoppages, and displays of passive-resistance.
  • Community outreach, recruitment, and education.
  • Demonstrations of public outrage and other media attention-getting methods such as flash-mobs and guerilla theater.
  • Exerting public pressure on the President and Congress, as well as corporate America to meet our demands or meet with further resistance from the populace.
  • Utilization of all media forms to educate and recruit.

 

If you’d like to be a part of this, check out more here: http://www.theprogressiveblitz.com/

Re-think Christmas

Are you tired, as I am, of spending so much time and money buying gifts that you think are meaningful for fairly wealthy Americans and then hoping-upon-hope that they appreciate and/or use your gifts into the New Year?
Are you tired of paying into the Machine of Hyper-Consumption?
Are you tired of gift cards and the need to use them?

Re-think Christmas. Instead of buying yet another Starbucks Coffee card, send love by giving water to the waterless.

Re-think Christmas. Because the life you save may be your neighbor’s.

Sweet Home Chicago (Come On! Baby Don’t You Want to Go?)

Chances are, if you’re at all 1) a Chicagoan and 2) involved in local politics, you’ve heard of TIFs (Tax Incremental Financing). You also know that TIFs are a form of tax that are supposed to be diverted to help blighted communities (such as Lawndale) garner business interests and stay together. Of course, they’re not being used for that purpose. They’re largely being used to court big businesses that least need the incentives.

So, let’s make it about retaining community. Sweet Home Chicago is a coalition of various community groups that advocate for affordable housing funding from TIFs.
The Sweet Home proposal:

Each year the city would dedicate 20 percent of TIF funds collected towards affordable housing. If this were in effect in 2009, $99 million would have gone towards housing.
Developments would qualify to receive funds if 50 percent of the units were affordable to households earning less than $37,000 for a family of four. In addition, citywide, 40 percent of the units created each with the dedicated funds must serve households earning less than $22,600 a year for a family of four.
For housing that is for sale, units would have to be affordable to families of four earning less than $60,300. 

Please sign the petition for Sweet Home Chicago.

The ability to pay rent and stay housed comes before any other need of a community. If TIF (tax increment financing) dollars are meant to build and support blighted communities, there is surely no greater way for Chicago to use them than on affordable housing. 

Affordable housing needs to be a priority. It is the long-term sort of investment that is too often overlooked for short-sighted, quick infusions of cash that don’t sustain communities. We agree with other housing advocates and organizations that the language of the Sweet Home Chicago bill can ensure planning flexibility while still prioritizing affordable housing.

Please don’t let this opportunity to ensure a place to live for Chicago’s neediest citizens pass by.

This petition is to let the Mayor and Councilmen of Chicago know that, as negotiations on the bill move forward, the provision of affordable housing must remain a priority.