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?

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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.