Re-Building communities: separation or sustainability

Community rebuilding as a means to separation

windowplantUrban rebuilding can be a dualistic/separatist undertaking, benefitting the rich only or one which incorporates the community and benefits all-sustainability. A recent article out of Hagerstown Maryland offers Baltimore city and its cadre of urban rebuilders some great advice: include the community in planning for our community rebuilding or continue rebuilding that leads to divergent paths: those with and those without. In regard the lack of social services for the existing community in current rebuilding plans those working at Hagerstown area nonprofit agencies said: “…they were disappointed that a Philadelphia firm that helped the city come up with a downtown revitalization plan did not address the issues with which that the local organizations deal. Ostoich said Urban Partners, which recommended an eight-part revitalization plan for Hagerstown, has certainly observed situations in other cities that are similar to Hagerstown’s challenges…Ostoich said she would like to see a partnership formed between the nonprofit organizations, the City of Hagerstown and the city’s office of economic development to address issues like homelessness and substance abuse.” link1 Each non-profit providing services for homelessness, housing access and affordability, recovery, mental health and substance abuse treatment, post-incarceration issues, employment reported an increase in their clients and the need for revitalization plans to address these needs.

This is the same pattern of urban rebuilding occurring in Baltimore and beyond: revitalization projects which turn a blind eye to the existing social conditions, many of which are brought about by unemployment and under-employment. Plans do not address the need for recovery programs, or re-entry programs, or mental health programs, or job training, or interview skills, or stress reduction. These conditions are present in Baltimore and other cities which have seen the massive loss of jobs since the 1970’s industrial revolution (substituting machine for human power) and the downturn in the economy since neoliberalism-government joining with private investors to grow their wealth using public subsidies. The outcome of such policies and practices has been the increasing gap between the rich and the poor and the inevitable way vulnerable communities become ill when facing increased stress and little resources to address it. The story in Hagerstown offers a glimpse of what Baltimore has been experiencing for decades: an increase in homelessness, drug use and recovery, mental illness and recovery, unaffordable housing, crime and incarceration. Ostoich speaks about a dual path that revitalization is bringing to the city, one which includes the well-off and those not so well-off. Here in Baltimore we continue to experience the same. Door-knocking and listening in the periphery of the 88-acre Johns Hopkins/EBDI/Casey Foundation/Forest City Bioscience and gentrification project confirms the dual pathway of revitalization. Long time residents share about a fear of not being part of the development as housing prices increase and new neighbors move in. They fear being priced out with property tax increases and rental hikes. New residents are happy with the prices of housing compared to NY or DC and like being in an area marketed for “change” for them. Those with skills and education that allow them to work in corporations and jobs which subsidize housing cost (Live near your work, etc) are mostly happy in their new homes as they wait for more change to manifest around them (one question to ask is how is government subsidizing the employer to offer such housing assistance). Families of generational East Baltimore residents talk about returning from areas north and east but lament the high cost of housing “can’t pay that much but would be nice to come back now that it’s finally changing”. Perceptions of why some locals are home during the day, why some are hanging out on the corner at nights, and the safety of the area persist for the new residents: “I wouldn’t let my mom walk in Patterson Park at night”; while the majority of long time residents don’t mention issues of safety as a concern. Both long time and new residents alike talk about the lack of a place to grocery shop: the type of store will be another tale to tell whether it is affordable for low income residents or not. The new Early Learning Center at the Henderson-Hopkins school is also an issue on people’s mind, especially for those long time residents told they have to be on a waiting list because their income is too high to qualify for admission: “all those Hopkins people have high income and they’re there”. For new residents who are fighting the city about paving an alleyway, they don’t understand why this has to be a struggle: “this is infrastructure of the city, why wouldn’t they pay?” IMG-20121020-00685Indeed, why wouldn’t they pay for this while updating the infrastructure for big development projects in the amount of millions of dollars in tax subsidies is normal, with no effective claw-backs or evaluation as to how the public benefits- Johns Hopkins Medical Institution/EBDI/Casey Foundation/Forest City Developers 78 million, Harbor Point 100 million, Poppleton/La Cite 58 million.

But the marks of a dual path in the rebuilding of Baltimore city goes beyond East Baltimore and West Baltimore. The increased cost of parking across the city is another piece of this dualism as well as the extended times meters are in effect and having to pay to drive the Express Lanes on I-95 (in the White Marsh and 695 region). The Express lanes are accessible with payment only, and in the form of EZ Pass only. These are examples of the separation of those who can afford to participate in what the city has to offer, and those who cannot. If you don’t want to be late you can pay to get on the Express lanes and avoid the merging traffic but when a monthly income is stretched very thin, that extra $3.50 (round trip) can be a significant challenge: in paying your bills and in getting to work on time. Baltimore-20140714-01535This dualistic path of community rebuilding tells the same tale in DC’s 20001 zip code where one shopowner of 40 years posted a sign: “Due to ‘gentrification’ and mixed emotions Jak and Company Hairdressers will be closing”: the landlord would not renew the lease.Link2 Here the white population has grown from 6% in 2000 to 33% currently and the new residents require a different set of amenities. We see the same happening in Harbor East where new development continues while the owners of a local fried chicken and pizza take-out-Kennedy- was told their lease would not be renewed. Just across from the Perkins Homes on Eden and Bank and serving this community for over 15 years his product is not what the new race and class of people being enticed to this area are seeking to buy.Baltimore-20140714-01541

Changing the game for sustainability: community ownership and social movements

This “mixing” of the old and new is a challenge that will not go away today but can begin to be addressed if existing community is at the community rebuilding table. The needs of existing residents and businesses can be addressed in the planning, as well as the needs of the new residents usually represented by the developers whose aim is to attract a class of people able to afford moderate and market rate housing and amenities. Such separation of the old and the new is an age-old challenge of rebuilding and continues today because we continue to ignore the outcomes of previous unhealthy and unequal community building strategies and practices. This chronic disinvestment in low-income and African American and of-color communities has resulted in communities unable to compete in the current market-place for decent employment, over-burdened households with little access to resources, and health burdens that limit access to competitive opportunities. Community rebuilding involving the people as well as the place is crucial. This means assuring equity in not only housing but in employment and resources that will remediate and ready existing communities to benefit from new opportunities. It is not enough for developers like East Baltimore Development Inc. and Forest City to say we cannot hire locally because the people do not qualify (due to incarceration records, drug use, or lack of skill sets). This type of minimalist and separatist community rebuilding is unsustainable and what we have been doing for decades. Like Ostoich said, everyone must be at the table so that the needs of the existing community are incorporated into the plan and not displaced away from sight and sound of the new people. This is why the false type of advertising perpetuated by developers about their rebuilding being “game changers” is misleading and simply provides a narrative for the part of Baltimore with access to resources. In East Baltimore, developers should be ashamed about their contribution to this same ole game of segregation in line with Jim Crow and the removal of Native Americans to reservations. Our policies created our current social challenges and therefore current policies must remediate them. Now that would be a real game changer!

Of course, waiting for government to change, while important is not our only option for change. Organizing and building small and large social movements that challenge the current way we address our most vulnerable is important. Local organizing is key. Many new and old residents alike are unaware of their neighborhood organizations in East Baltimore which is a significant risk factor for not having strong neighborhood cohesion. It is this neighborhood cohesion that offers strength and power to resist government’s plans to rebuild communities without local input. Community fragmentation is an outcome of past and current segregation tactics of community rebuilding. However, it is also a cause of continued segregation and a big obstacle to community power. For example, when a 20-block area has neighborhood associations that don’t communicate with each other or when foundations such as the Annie E. Casey Foundation publicly announces it will only fund one of them (the one with whom it has close relations) collective community power is difficult. Difficult but not impossible. In fact, these same conditions existed in East Baltimore in 2001 and allowed Hopkins/EBDI/Casey/Forest City to come into East Baltimore and expect easy exploitation of land and people. Their expectations were not realized only when the number of people organized exceeded the handful which claimed representation -gate-keepers- of the entire community. The gate-keepers who were willing to stand aside and allow mass exploitation of people and place in the form of unhealthy demolition practices, minimal relocation benefit, minimal payment for existing property were simply outnumbered. The creation of a new organization-Save Middle East Action Committee- then allowed a new vision and practice of community leadership, sisterhood and brotherhood, and mutual respect. Strategies and practices for the people by the people resulted in a powerful force which presented the desires of the impacted people, not a handful with close relations to those with power. We are at a critical impass again almost 15 years later, in East Baltimore, greater Baltimore and beyond.

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Water bills are increasing across the city with little accounting as to why by the city government while private corporations are dictating to government what efficiency looks like, here and across the world. Link3 Private and non-profits are increasingly poised to take over the role of government programs in public education as the new head of Baltimore’s education is leading the way with the promotion of charter schools and privatization. Link4 Using public funds in charter schools skims the little resources away from public schools while private funders manage and dictate educational reform according to their political view. Social service programs are increasingly operated by private and non-profits companies even while race and class-based equity is lacking and little accountability and transparency exists due to their status. This re-distribution of the public wealth into private and the non-profit industrial complexes’ pockets should bare close scrutiny and transparency. We require social movements from below to balance the growing social movements from above and from those with unchallenged power: we need to change the game, truthfully and not leave it to being co-opted by non-profits and private corporations competing for public subsidies. The upcoming social movements gathering/ forum in May in Detroit is one to check into as it will bring together different movements addressing housing access/affordability and water privatization and water as a human right in the US. Link5 Equitable and sustainable community rebuilding requires everyone at the table: to bring about balance and accountability in planning, processes, and implementation, to redistribute power long favored by the few, to move us toward a peaceful co-existence that will heal our segregated communities, and to end old strategies and practices that lead to greater separation and dualism of those with and those without.

Role of public health institutions in public health justice

PDF of slides from talk at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health.
SPH2015march.2
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MariselaGomez
…In these times of historical and current accounting of the effect of anchor institutions in community, at home and abroad, how do we speak truth to power and forge new alliances toward justice? As the field of public health grapples with the social, political, and economic determinants of health, how has a powerful institution like JHU been influential in determining neighborhood health in East Baltimore? Has the development of the institution (and others like it) contributed to the growing wealth and health gap in East Baltimore (and elsewhere)?

Come join us for a discussion with Dr. Marisela Gomez this Wednesday, April 1st at 12pm in Room E6159 for a challenging discussion critical to the past, present, and future of health equity in Baltimore and beyond.

The history of prestigious institutions and their power to exploit those most vulnerable to grow power is vast. To be truthful participants in changing this history we must account for this history and repair it. Transparency begins to hold accountable the past transgressions and find solutions beyond what our fragile human nature has succumbed to thus far. Inequitable health outcomes, arrest rates, educational achievement, income and housing value are symptoms of inequitable communities, of power and privilege. Bridging within and across all our systems-community and economic development, education, criminal, housing, recreation- of society is a large task. How do we forge a path towards equity, while assuring everyone is at the table, and contributing?

Establishing values of inclusivity, accountability, transparency,and reflection/reflexivity in all processes is important. These values must infuse and be embedded in the tools of planning/policy development, practice/praxis, evaluation, public relations/media. And most, most importantly, WE THE PEOPLE, must be involved in all steps of the process toward justice…

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If interested in any slides of presentation, send a contact.

Contemplating peaceful and skillful means to justice,
Marisela

Connecting our struggles across identity politics: a powerful force for justice

Broad-based political organizing

While only 3 months into the Western year of 2015, we have experienced more discussion of the reality of anti-blackness in America than the entire year of 2014. For that matter, 2013 as well. The new media engagement and willingness to report on racism suggests a couple of things: they finally “get it” or there are enough folks standing up and testifying to racism openly. It is unlikely, though wishful, that the media has experienced an abrupt period of enlightenment. We are hearing more about anti-blackness because of the heightened attention of the epidemic of police brutality after the Trayvon Martin case and more recently Michael Brown and the #BlackLivesMatter movement.(1) The movement immediately offered a broad platform which galvanized support from different segregated identity politics: police brutality, criminalization and discrimination of women and children, poverty, community dis-investment, lesbian/gay/bi-sexual/transgendered rights, immigrant rights. The recent outcry from several colleges on black student isolation/segregation is the most recent witnessing of the individual and institutional anti-blackness legacy in the US. But the attention to a culture of anti-blackness is broader and deeper than we may realize: the conservative bastion of medicine in America, the New England Journal of Medicine, published a commentary on “Black lives matter”; faculty members at academic institutions are speaking out about their institutional evidence of anti-blackness; pro-black equity speakers are highlighting at various universities across the US; health departments are documenting the effects of racism and poverty as factors detrimental to health equities. This broad net of protest against the dehumanizing ways society has treated black people and other marginalized communities witnesses-state sanctioned violence, the chronic dis-investment and segregation, the anti-blackness of America. Through policy and practice anti-blackness has enforced segregation and inequity which continues today. The #BlackLivesMatter campaign, formed by three women, invite a coalition of historically oppressed populations to uplift the struggle of each other to build a stronger network of support for each struggle.

Another broad-based social movement has been growing in North Carolina since 2006, increasing public protests after the Republican take-over of the legislature in 2013: Forward Together Movement/Historic Thousands on Jones Street (HToJ). (2) Their platform includes: high-quality public education, living wages, healthcare for all, racial justice, voting rights, affordable higher education, fairness for state contracting, affordable housing, criminal justice reform, environmental justice, collective bargaining and worker safety, immigrants’ rights, a new civil rights act, and bringing the troops home. Their focus has been to challenge and change the state legislative and executive body and political machinery which recently passed legislation inhibiting voter rights and slashing of public funding for social, educational, and health programs. Their movement has spread to Georgia, South Carolina. Tennessee, and Missouri and has impacted the legislation and voting turnout. Consisting of more than 150 coalition partners they continue to stage protests called Moral Mondays at the state assembly in North Carolina.

Identity politics, their connections, and why

These broad-based coalitions emphasize the interconnectedness of identity politics: injustice and oppression mediated through those with power against those without. Communities are segregated by race, income, education, housing, employability and access to recreational and transportation resources. The chicken and the egg argument can be used to describe the segregation of communities of color and its resultant economic segregation. Cities continue to gentrify and segregate by housing cost and education. (3) Here in Baltimore we rank 13th out of 50 large cities in gentrification and the resultant segregation between those with low and higher incomes; Washington, DC took a stunning 3rd place. Even though we see the direct negative outcome on funding for public education from recent public subsidies to wealthy developers who invite more racial and economic segregation, our local and state governments continue to directly and indirectly discriminate against the marginalized. These neoliberal practices of community development: policies and practices which grow the gap between the rich and the poor, drive development in the US and beyond leading to greater segregation. As reported by The Atlantic’s CityLab recently “It is not just that the economic divide in America has grown wider; it’s that the rich and poor effectively occupy different worlds, even when they live in the same cities and metros…Race is a significant factor. Economic segregation is positively associated with the share of population that is black, Latino, or Asian, and negatively associated with the shares of white residents.” (4,5)

The growth in income inequality and the resultant segregation over the last 10 years has raised awareness for some, but most are still asleep to the causes and effects. Scientific American recently commented on the reason for this “dream-like” state that Americans are in: “At the core of the American Dream is the belief that anyone who works hard can move up economically regardless of his or her social circumstances…Sure enough, people think that moving up is significantly more likely than it is in reality…..By overemphasizing individual mobility, we ignore important social determinants of success like family inheritance, social connections, and structural discrimination…We may not want to believe it, but the United States is now the most unequal of all Western nations. To make matters worse, America has considerably less social mobility than Canada and Europe.” (6)

In the 21st century, we continue to live the myth of meritocracy, that we are equally rewarded for our hard work, there is a level playing field that values each person and community similarly. One glaring example of this is the difference in housing value in black and white neighborhoods. The Brookings Institute published a comparison of wealth in white and black neighborhoods showing “wealthy minority neighborhoods had less home value per dollar of income than wealthy white neighborhoods”…“poor white neighborhoods had more home value per income than poor minority neighborhoods.” Of the 100 metropolitan areas studied, even when homeowners had similar incomes, black-owned homes were valued at 18% less than white-owned homes. In effect, the higher the percentage of blacks in a neighborhood, the less a home is worth. This correlation begins when there is greater than 10% of black residents in a neighborhood. (7) Another example of race-based development and housing value is evident by public and private investments targeted to communities which are not majority black (less than 40%) as documented in a recent study by Harvard researchers. (8) This study confirms previous studies on race-based discriminatory community development practices. Development of areas with majority residents of color do occur. However, the displacement of the existing residents and racial gentrification usually result in the neighborhood achieving a majority white status. These practices are well documented through urban renewal in the 1950’s and subsequent government housing programs like HOPE VI and Promise Zones. The 1950‘s and current Johns Hopkins Medical Campus expansion in Baltimore into almost 150 acres are examples of mass removal of more than 1500 black families using eminent domain and tax subsidies as public support. The re-population with a different race and class was the intention of both projects, further displacing low income and black residents for majority middle and market rate residents.

Power of collective resistance

Indeed the marginalization of various political identity communities do not occur in a vacuum, separate from each other. The #BlackLivesMatter and Forward Together movements remind us that the legacy of state-sanctioned violence in all its forms continue to segregate and penalize the less powerful residents of our society. A higher percentage of black-descendant people are poor and live in communities disinvested of healthy foods, competent schools and health facilities with salaries to attract competent staff, healthy environments, safe and sanitary homes, and recreational centers. Low income people of all races/ethnicities are living in similarly disinvested communities. Low income people are employed in high-turnover jobs with little job security, career opportunity, living wages and paid sick leave or time off. The criminalization of people living in low income communities far surpass those living in moderate and higher income communities. The oppression of women, those with disabilities, and sexual minorities occur across all social and economic systems. The power of coalitions to connect across the commonality of discrimination and oppression is great. When each struggle is aware and directly and indirectly support the struggle of another, there is a stronger force moving forward against all oppressive norms and practices. From state-sanctioned segregated and disinvested communities, to disinvested schools, recreation centers, public and social services, health services, to mass incarceration, the thread is a systematic violence against people deemed inferior, of diminished worth. Broad-based movements can offer a platform for various local and national issue-specific or identity political movements to connect and coalesce. Then each small act of daily individual resistance becomes the foundation for building resistance and organizational power across multiple issues; individual organizations/movements collect together to build larger networks of resistance connecting all vulnerable and historically and currently oppressed groups. This type of network of resistance reinforces resilience – I am my sister’s keeper and she is mine. This network of resistance is necessary to resist and change the network of violence currently enforced against all our marginalized communities.

1. #BlackLivesMatter

2. Forward Together Movement, North Carolina

3. Governing. Gentrification

4. The Atlantic.City Lab. Economic segregation

5. New York Times. Income inequality is bad for your health

6. Brookings Institute. Segregation and housing value

7. Scientific American. The myth of the American Dream

8. Jackelyn Hwanga and Robert J. Sampsona. Divergent Pathways of Gentrification: Racial
Inequality and the Social Order of Renewal in Chicago Neighborhoods. American Sociological Review 2014, 79(4) 726–751

2nd Annual DC symposium on Equitable Development

 Please join us for the upcoming second annual symposium in DC:

Equitable Development in DC: Sustainability from below
Thursday March 26, 2015, 9:00 AM – 3:00 PM
The George Washington University
Marvin Center-Great Ballroom 800 21st NW, 3rd Floor

Keynote: Mindy Fullilove, Professor of Clinical Psychiatry, Columbia University; author of Root Shock: How tearing up cities hurt America and what we can do about it; Urban Alchemy: Restoring joy in America’s sort-out cities

Panelists:
! Maria del Carmen Arroyo, New York City Council
! Dominic Moulden, ONE DC
! Jacqueline Robarge, Power Inside
! Jacqueline Patterson, NAACP
! Jessica Gordon Nembhard, ONEDC
! Schyla Pondexter‐Moore,Empower DC
! Tommy Wells, District Dept of the Environment
! Zorayda Moreira‐Smith, Casa de Maryland

Equitable Dev flyer 3.26.15 event 3

RACISM IN THE UNITED STATES: A MULTICULTURAL PERSPECTIVE

Stan Markowitz
Paso Training and Consulting

White History

History has been a powerful tool in shaping our values and our behavior. Yet, quite often what many of us consider to be history is a significant distortion of our complex past–a biased amalgam of truth, half-truth, and outright distortion. In his book, First Peoples: A Documentary Survey of American Indian History, Professor Colin Calloway argues that American history has been “written and taught as a single story, a narrative of nation building and unending progress that united diverse participants. . . .in a single American experience”. Calloway continues that our history, if we accept the perspective of the great majority of historians, has been the “triumph” of a society “based on the principles of liberty and equality”. In recent years in particular Calloway and others have oncluded that this “narrative has generally ignored or dismissed people whose experiences and perspectives did not conform to this perceived epic of nation building”.

Nowhere has this been truer than in the way our society has dealt with race and racism. For those of us who are white, our perceptions about all people of color, their cultures, and their homelands, were indelibly and negatively impacted by racist “history”. “History” was often used to justify violence against people of color, vicious stereotypes, and the withholding of basic political, economic, social and intellectual rights and opportunities. Just as often it was used to deny that violence, stereotypes,
and inequities occurred or existed. The great majority of people of color, despite efforts by their families and institutions to provide an alternative perspective, were exposed to the same distorted “history”. While for whites history justified white supremacy and white privilege, people of color had to struggle to maintain a sense of identity and
worth in the face of a racist onslaught. Racist “history” was one of the factors that caused people of color in the United States to wrestle with the powerful impact of internalized oppression–the pressure to identify, in subtle and overt ways, with the judgments that the dominant society made about them. Clyde Warrior, a Ponca activist in the 1960′s spoke to this point in noting that American society makes Indian children feel unworthy. He went on to say “as you know, people who feel themselves to be unworthy and feel they cannot escape this unworthiness, often turn to drink, crime and self-destructive acts”. Warrior added that the great majority of Indians were poor, but perhaps ” our lack of reasonable choices, our lack of freedoms, our poverty of spirit, are connected to our material poverty”.

African, Hispanic, Asian, and Indian children had to wonder to what extent the continuous barrage of propaganda called history was true?* If not true, where was the evidence to refute it? When people of color and some whites provided evidence–both historical and from there own lives–to refute the established “history”, the dominant culture refused to acknowledge any revisions that challenged prevalent stereotypes and paradigms and threatened white supremacy and white privilege. A recent study noted that in the past fifteen years increased knowledge about DNA has convinced over 90% of
all scientists that “race” is a social construct and there are no significant differences among people with different skin color. Yet, the study also noted that most white Americans did not accept that.

History, as a Tool to Divide and Conquer

The history of the United States is full of examples of how white society has utilized simplistic and distorted historical interpretations to denigrate one or more populations of color , and to intentionally foster hostility and misunderstanding among people of color. A fairly current example is the myth of the “model minority.” According to the “model minority” thesis Asian Americans are gaining educational and financial success at a far more rapid rate than Indian, Hispanic, and African Americans. Why? According to the “model minority” mythology Asian Americans are working harder, saving their money, maintaining stable families, etc. The clear implication is that similar results could be obtained by other non-white populations if they emulated the “all-American” behavior of Asians. When the “model minority” idea emerged in the mid-1980′s politicians and the media alike, jumped on the bandwagon. In 1986 alone, Fortune, Newsweek, U.S. News and World Report, and the McNeill/Lehrer Report, among others, applauded Asians as “America’s Super Minority.” The term “model minority” quickly became ammunition for those who blamed African, Indian, and Hispanic Americans for their “failure” to take advantage of the opportunities supposedly available to everyone in the United States.

Ronald Takaki, a Japanese American historian at the University of California, has been one of several scholars who have challenged the “model minority” mythology. Takaki argues that Asian American success has been exaggerated and distorted. He notes that while some Asian Americans have been successful, many more are mired in poverty and are the victims of racist institutions and attitudes. Takaki, further states that the proponents of the “model minority” thesis have distorted the history of Asian Americans. He argues that the “model minority” argument incorrectly assumes that all people of color in the United States have had the same history. It ignores differences in experiences and
culture. Even if it can be successfully argued that a larger percentage of Asian Americans have had more success economically than Latino/a, Indian, and African Americans, it is unreasonable to attribute that success simply to harder work and more ambition. Complex historical factors, if taken into account, provide a very different analysis. That point is extremely important because European Americans have systematically ignored the significance of differences in culture, experience, and
history when making judgments about “others”. The results are distorted and simplistic
generalizations like the “model minority”. An additional, and in some cases intended result, is the development or continuation of conflict between and among people of color

Another dramatic example of how distorted history contributes to internalized oppression and conflict among peoples of color can be found in the powerful documentary the Color of Fear. In the documentary about race and racism in America, several men of color discuss negative stereotypes that their communities hold towards one another. The men also acknowledge that skin color is still (in the 1990′s) an issue in their communities–often lighter skin color is still highly valued. By the end of their discussion the men are unanimous in the belief that their communities (African, Hispanic, Indian, and Asian American) have been manipulated by attitudes that to a substantial degree come from the
dominant white society. They conclude that “when we are hostile to one another we bring all of us down and we strengthen white people and white supremacy”. The articipants in Color of Fear also express their concern about having their discussion about conflicts with one another and attitudes about skin color, in front of white people. They are very clear that historically whites have used conflicts among people of color, conflicts that whites have created, to rationalize white racism. The idea being that if it can be shown that people of color have ‘racist’ attitudes towards one another why blame white people for their beliefs?”

In recent years yet another way in which “history” as written and taught in the United States, has created problems for and among people of color has been the competition for the “margins” of American history–that small space allotted to address the lives and experiences of those that do not fit the “master narrative”. Since the 1950′s the history of African Americans slowly began to be included in history books and classes to a greater degree than before. Black history and the black experience filled up a good part of the “margin”. Still more recently, Indian history has begun to emerge from invisibility. That has been less true for Asian and Hispanic populations in the United States. This has become another divisive issue among people of color and among anti-racist whites as well.

American Racism: Does Acknowledging the Centrality of the Black Experience Diminish the Impact of Racism on Other People of Color?

stairs

I saw this issue emerge during a project with which I was associated several years ago. One aspect of the project involved study circles to discuss race and racism. The content of the study circle discussions focused on the African American experience. A number of participants supported that focus, arguing that while all people of color have been victimized by racism in the United States, black people have been the most visible victims of racist oppression and stereotyping. They expressed their strong belief that in order to understand racism in America the centrality of the black experience had to be acknowledged and understood. Others just as emphatically argued that if the discussion centered on the oppression of black people it would detract from the experiences of Indian, Asian, and Hispanic Americans and the ways in which racism has devastated those communities. They feared that any efforts to understand racism that makes the black experience central cannot accurately reflect the reality of American racism. For them, any discussion of racism had to be inclusive. How do those of us who want to understand race and racism in the United States deal with this issue? It’s that question
that I want to focus on in the remainder of this essay.

Balancing the Centrality of the Black Experience and the Importance of Inclusiveness When Examining Racism in the United States

Racism in the United States has never been only a black-white issue. Racism helped to determine government policies and individual behavior toward Indians early in this nation’s history–policies and behavior that were catastrophic in its impact on Indian land and culture. People from Mexico, the Caribbean, Central and South America, the Middle East, China, Japan and Southeast Asia have all experienced the destructive impact of racist values, behaviors, institutions and policies in more than a century and a half of this nation’s history. Even some white Europeans were affected by attitudes and behaviors that were, for a time, racist in nature. Any serious effort to understand racism in the United States must include all of these stories and how they intersect.

However, it is also true that, for a variety of reasons, white Americans made black Americans the central minority in the United States and that has had important consequences. When the Europeans first encountered Indians and Africans they had similar reactions. Europeans and American colonizers were very aware of the differences in culture between themselves and these “others.” Whites, particularly the English, were also affected by differences in color. Slowly, between the mid-sixteenth and the mid- nineteenth centuries, differences in culture and skin color would justify a doctrine of white supremacy as Europeans, and later Americans, increasingly sought to rationalize conquest, control, and enslavement of people of color. During this period both Indians and Africans were considered inferior races and both were exploited to satisfy European and American objectives.

Yet, with regard to racial attitudes and perceptions, Africans and African Americans began to have a central place. There are a number of reasons for suggesting that this occurred but I want to emphasize two of them. First, beliefs about skin color had a dramatic impact on the English, the European culture that would come to dominate in colonial America and the United States. In Shakespeare’s time the dictionary defined the color black as : “deeply stained with dirt….foul…dark or deadly…sinister…malignant ….wicked”–twenty-six negative connotations in all. Much later a descendant of Scotch-Irish immigrants wrote “….the first difference that strikes us is that of color….and is this difference of no importance?….Are not the fine mixtures of red and white preferable….to that immovable veil of black that covers the emotions of the other race?” In that statement, Thomas Jefferson, reflected the 18th century perspective of the great majority of white Americans, North and South. In Notes on My Native Virginia he described blacks as inherently less beautiful than whites. (It is no less significant that Jefferson also stated his belief that black people were less intelligent than whites or Indians). By Jefferson’s time color had become a major determiner of status in the United States. Dark skin was considered a sign of inferiority and the darker the complexion the more critical the judgment. Indians were not white, but they were not black either. Also many white people, like Thomas Jefferson, came to believe that Indians could be Assimilated-that with “proper training” they could become “white”. The sons and daughters of Africa
could not.

Second, while anyone reading an honest version of our history between 1600 and 1890 cannot doubt that many white Americans believed Indians were “savages” and felt intense hatred towards them, interactions between Indians and European Americans occurred in a very different context from black-white interactions. Indian peoples were separate nations in the Western hemisphere and for a long time many of them were strong enough to hold off the Europeans, American colonists, and after the American Revolution, the United States. At times debates took place over whether the Indians
were actually nations with the right to self-determination and the right to the land they occupied. Despite the debates, colonial and US policy were consistent and Indian nations were exterminated, dispersed, or removed from their lands and forced onto reservations. Racist rationales to justify this country’s “Indian policy” continued to exist, but by the 1830′s, for most Americans East of the Mississippi, Indians became a small, nonthreatening, population. By the end of the 1880′s a similar conclusion can be drawn about much of the area West of the Mississippi. Unquestionably, Indians in the United States would continue to be faced with a powerful and systematic effort to destroy their
culture and their identity and to exploit and occupy their resources and land. Policies by federal and state governments, almost always in collaboration with private business interests, would exploit Indian land and resources in violation of treaty and human rights. Those efforts continue to the present. I think it is fair to say that no population within the United States has been treated more appallingly than the first inhabitants of this continent. Yet, as each successive wave of settlers and the American government moved westward, the Indian presence and the Indian as an adversary diminished in more and more of the United States. Indians did not exist for most Americans or they were not perceived as a threat or an obstacle to others. In time they were even romanticized and idealized by many whites.

The African American experience has been dramatically different. While Indians diminished in number and were increasingly isolated, African Americans increased in number and lived among whites. As early as the 1640′s slavery was evolving in colonial America. By the early 19th century enslaved people had become “property” in the eyes of the white South and most white Northerners agreed or at least acquiesced in that judgement. At a time, the mid-19th century, when the remaining Indian populations comprised several hundred thousand people, the African American population was
approaching five million. Increasingly, white society and white Americans felt the need to dehumanize black Americans in order to “prove” that the growing enslaved population was in fact no better than property “that black people had no souls and were meant by God to be a “mudsill” population whose menial labor was essential to support the efforts of the superior white culture. White America also had to justify a totalitarian system of physical and psychological control and abuse by arguing that enslaved African Americans were a recalcitrant and potentially rebellious population. That took a great
deal of effort since slavery was in every conceivable way the antithesis of the values expressed in the Declaration of Independence and the values of a “democratic” system that supposedly characterized the nation’s belief system.

A profound result of this effort was the creation of a vicious combination of stereotypes. One was “Sambo”– a childlike, lazy, shuffling, irresponsible, dishonest, untruthful, and hedonistic male. A second was “mammy”–the overweight, jovial, good-natured, and appreciative nanny and female servant for white folks. Third, another female image–promiscuous, passionate, exotic, seductive and dangerous-the reason so many white men raped black women. Fourth was the lustful, hard-drinking, and criminally inclined black male–a sexual threat to white women and to civilized society- a stereotype that would be a large part of the justification for the lynching of black men in America. Finally, there was the loyal and loving black person (glorified by Hollywood in movies like Gone With the Wind and countless others) who accepted, and even appreciated his/her situation and
would lay down his or her life for the master or mistress or boss–the white fantasy which helped to deny the vicious nature of slavery and Jim Crow. The documentary Ethnic Notions and Director Spike Lee’s recent film Bamboozled, provide detailed evidence of how common and universal the racial stereotypes defining black Americans were and how indelibly they were woven into the fabric of American thinking about race.

Consequently, by the middle and end of the nineteenth century when new immigrant populations entered the United States, black Americans had become the standard for determining ” inferior” races of people. American political leaders in the North and the South, the Supreme Court of the United States, and every important institution in the society participated in the creation of that standard and they would continue to do so for decades. Black Americans became the standard against which the racial inferiority or superiority of all would be measured.

The White “Others”

Other populations labeled “undesirable” by the dominant white culture began to enter the United States in significant numbers around the middle of the nineteenth century. The first of these groups, the Irish, had filtered in during the 17th and 18th centuries. However, between 1815 and 1920 about five and one-half million Irish entered the United States. A people who had been brutally conquered by England, many Irish saw parallels between themselves and enslaved African Americans and the earliest Irish immigrants often supported the abolition of slavery. In 1842 thousands of Irish immigrants signed a petition calling for the Irish to “treat the colored people as your equals”. Once in the United States, however, Irish immigrants found themselves described as “apelike” and “a race of savages” whose intelligence was at the level of blacks. They were often referred to as “Irish niggers”. Irish men and women provided labor for roads, canals, and railroads and worked in factories and domestic service. They found themselves at the bottom of the economic ladder competing for jobs against
enslaved and “free” blacks, and by the 1850′s, Chinese immigrants as well. As they competed with blacks and bristled at the stereotypes linking them with African Americans, the Irish began to emphasize their whiteness. Faced with nativist hatred towards them as foreigners they attempted to become Americans, in part, by claiming membership in the white race. Historian, Ronald Takaki, notes that “the victims of English repression and prejudice in Ireland redirected their rage against the people who were most victimized in the United States”. The once anti-slavery Irish became one of the most pro-slavery populations in America. Over time the Irish worked hard, became citizens, gained the right to vote and the opportunity for education. Slowly, they became integrated into the mainstream American culture. They could do so not because they worked harder than others but because they were white and they were European.

Other white, ethnic, Catholic, immigrant populations mainly from Eastern, Central, and Southern Europe would also face intense hostility in the United States. They too found themselves in competition with enslaved and “free” blacks, as well as Chinese, Japanese and Mexican workers. Jewish immigrants, many from Germany, Poland, and Russia, faced the same hardships and had to deal with a long history of anti-Jewish bigotry as well. Like the Irish, all of these populations were confronted with the fact that the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were times of intense racial identification. Pseudo-scientists were declaring racial distinctions not only between whites and
people of color but among whites. For a time Italians, Poles, Greeks, Jews, and other European populations were perceived as racially inferior and efforts were made to limit their access to the United States for fear that they would “mongrelize” the Anglo-Saxon race. Yet, despite the racist and ethnocentric hysteria that existed in the United States during this period, and despite the major hardships they faced, these white Europeans populations, they too worked hard, made gains, and moved forward. In time, the dominant society would distinguish between them and people of color–particularly African Americans. The negative stereotypes of these white immigrants disappeared
slowly and some did not always disappear but opportunities for political, economic and social advancement increased. They had the same powerful advantages that the Irish claimed–they were European and they were white. If you were white and European you could assimilate. If you were white you immediately had a degree of white privilege and you could aspire to more.

Non-White “Others”

birds

The experience for non-European immigrants was always different from that of the “undesirable” Europeans. Mexican people, the first Latino population in what had become the United States, were profoundly affected when the boundaries of Mexico and the United States were altered following the United States and Mexican war which ended in 1848. (While in this country we refer to the war as the Mexican-American War, the country that is considered the aggressor should be identified first.) Thousands of Mexicans had land in what became Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California and
chose to stay amid promises that their land would be safe and they would have opportunities to become citizens. Those promises were broken. White Americans already had a low opinion of Mexico and Mexicans prior to the war. Once Mexicans became part of this country the stereotypes hardened into racism. The first of many Hispanic populations that would emigrate to the U.S., Mexicans were characterized as “an idle thriftless people, who. . . lacked the enterprise and calculating mentality” of Anglo Saxons. The fact that Mexicans were a mixture of Indian and Spanish culture and blood (and African as well) was used to justify racist policies, attitudes and actions
directed against them. In 1849 the Anglo legislature in California passed an anti-vagrancy act called the “Greaser Act.” The act defined vagrants as “all persons commonly known as ‘Greasers’ or the issue of Spanish or Indian blood.” In the 1890′s Texas laws deprived Mexican Americans and African Americans of the right to vote by creating poll taxes and white primaries. Other efforts in California and the Southwest denied Mexican Americans their lands. Like white immigrants Mexicans worked hard
on farms, in mines, as domestics, and more. Entry into jobs that required more education and particular training would come far more slowly due to the impact of racism. They organized unions, on occasion with Japanese workers. As did the European immigrants and their children, they contributed in very important ways to the growth of this nation. But unlike white immigrants, Mexicans were linked to blacks and Indians. The negative stereotypes did not diminish. The “Jim Crow” laws that were created to exploit and control black Americans were often used against Mexican Americans. As hard as they worked, as much as they tried to “fit in”, they could not. They were, according to one white grower, “natural farm laborers” just as blacks were “natural slaves.” Other people of color—whether from Puerto Rico, Nicaragua, Salvador, or elsewhere in the Caribbean, Central or South America—faced similar degrees of racism and the resulting violence, exploitation, and denial of opportunity. Their Spanish or Portuguese heritage, while European, was viewed negatively in Anglo-Saxon America. The opportunities eventually made available to white, non-Latin Europeans came far more slowly to Latino peoples. Only in recent decades has the prejudice against Latino Americans begun to diminish in
some ways. Yet, by no means have the great majority of Hispanic Americans gained the opportunities and privileges of the great majority of whites.

Asian entry into the United States began in 1849 when Chinese immigrants began to come in fairly large numbers. In part, they came because they were recruited to build the railroads. They also came to escape the harsh military, economic, and political conditions in China which resulted to some degree from Western imperialism. Early on the Chinese found themselves compared to African Americans. They were viewed as a threat to “racial purity.” A common depiction can be found in a cartoon published in a California magazine which depicted the Chinese as having “slanted eyes. . . .a dark skin and thick lips”. They were often described as “morally inferior, savage, childlike and lustful.” The editor of the California Marin Journal claimed that white America had won the West from the “red man”, why should it now be surrendered to a “horde of Chinese”. In 1879 President Rutherford B. Hayes warned Americans about the “Chinese Problem” noting that the American experience with “weaker races–the Negroes and Indians–is not encouraging.” The President favored discouraging the Chinese from coming to the U.S. Despite the fact that the Chinese made up just .002% of the population, the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed in 1882, and in 1902 it was extended indefinitely.
The Chinese were followed by the Japanese who began to enter the United States in growing numbers in the 1890′s. Japanese immigrants would meet the same level of racial hostility as their Asian predecessors. Like other ethnic or racial minorities Asian Americans made major contributions to this nation through farming, railroad and factory work and later in professions and business. In part, it was the very success of Japanese farmers that helped precipitate the placing of Japanese Americans in detention camps during World War II. In recent decades other Asian peoples have migrated to this
country. All of them to a greater or lesser degree have faced racist attitudes and institutions that would inhibit their success in a way that never impeded white ethnics. For Asians skin color and “alien” culture has made a difference.

Any discussion of racism that doesn’t include the experiences of all people of color cannot fully assess the true nature of American racism–of white supremacy and white privilege. At the same time the discussion must recognize that the hostility towards black Americans in the United States has been unique. While African Americans have worked as hard as any other population in America and have contributed in myriad ways to this nation, when most white Americans hear terms like affirmative action, low test scores, busing, welfare, homelessness, crime, drugs, and more, the first image that comes to mind is still an African American. As the men who participated in the documentary Color of Fear suggest even many people of color from other cultures have come to share some of the stereotypes about African Americans that were created by the dominant white culture.

The history of the United States indicates that as people of color move towards becoming a non-white majority (in a nation that has always equated “white” and “American) it’s inevitable that efforts to confuse, distort, and to “divide and conquer” will continue. Without collective action by all communities of color and white people who are seriously trying to understand and oppose white supremacy, racism in the United States will not be defeated. That collective action requires the use of a history that limits distortion to the greatest degree possible and that rejects the assumption of a “single white narrative”.

*This essay was written in the late 1990′s and reflect terms describing racial/ethnic groups during that period.

(Note: An important source used in this essay was: A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America, by Ronald Takaki)

Invitation to submit an abstract on Community Rebuilding to the Socialist Caucus of the American Public Health Association

Please consider submitting an abstract for a special session(s) of the Socialist Caucus of the American Public Health Association’s annual meeting in October 2015. 

Session Title: 

Moving toward equitable community rebuilding: 
Combatting neoliberal, racist, and classist ideals and practices

Although neighborhood-level factors are understood to affect public health, the field lacks a robust conversation on how the processes of community (re)building and community (re)development impacts health within the contexts of global capitalism and neoliberal policies. As community development initiatives continue to sweep across cities worldwide, with goals of improving safety, decreasing poverty, and increasing quality of life, careful attention must be given to ascertaining whether the benefits from such projects are distributed in an equitable manner, and how community residents, especially traditionally marginalized and vulnerable groups, are involved in the process. This section aims to foster dialogue on these topics and exchange ideas among an interdisciplinary group of professionals from diverse geographic regions in the US and internationally. We invite abstracts that focus on the practice and research of community rebuilding and community redevelopment within the frameworks of racism, classism and capitalism. Abstracts that showcase examples where healthy communities are established through community-driven strategies, including community organizing and activism are encouraged. Community based participatory research, and studies that are informed by, or include, community narratives are also preferred. Specific topics for consideration include, but are not limited to, uneven/territorial/economic development, gentrification, creative destruction, income/wealth inequality, environmental justice, residential segregation, land exploitation, capital accumulation. We encourage scholars and practitioners from the fields of sociology, urban planning, community development, public health, geography, political science, law, education, and environmental science to submit abstracts. Preference will be given for presentations which include a community presenter or co-presenter.                   

View from St.Wenceslaus
Deadline for submission: February 12, 2015

When submitting through the APHA website here are some guidelines to assure your abstract finds the session:

1. The Socialist Caucus link:
 Socialist caucus link:

2. Choose the following topic:
The Impact of Global Capitalism on Health, Health Care and the Environment 

3. In the title section write the title of the abstract you are submitting and in  ”Comments to organizers” box on the submission form (in ‘part 2- Title’) write the title of the session Moving toward equitable community rebuilding: 
Combatting neoliberal, racist, and classist ideals and practices.

Link for meeting details on conference:
 Meting details

Link for detailed instructions for submitting an abstract:
Detailed instructions for abstract submission

A minimal number of scholarships for registration for the conference will be available for low-income community-based presenters!

Deadline for submission: February 12, 2015

Contact Marisela Gomez at socialhealthconcepts@gmail.com for questions.

Moving toward individual and social equity

It’s a new year, 2015, and we have much to be grateful for. Our health, our families and friends, and all the other pieces of life that make us smile, and sometimes groan. The new year offers us an opportunity to keep doing the same thing as the previous, or do something differently. After some reflection or contemplation, we may decide that staying with the current status is good enough, or not. 


The label of “revolution”

For those in some aspect of counter-culture movement toward equity, maybe we can take a period of reflection and decide if our perceived revolution is simply a different angle or smaller imprint of the status quo of inequity. For example, some of us who have been involved in “social justice” struggles may be tired of dealing with the sexist attitudes of our male colleagues who promote racial and class equity but grow their egos by disrespecting females. If you have been involved in ANY movement, you know this pattern. The same goes with those involved with class struggles who time and time again practice racial inequity- talking down to racial/ethnic minorities. The white liberals who feel that their progressive stand on racial equity erase their white-skin privilege might also take a look at their continued participation in racial inequity when they claim their struggles are equal to those of people of color. There are others…the anti-gay, anti-immigrant, anti-elderly behaviors many of us practice while participating in our favorite issue of social change. Many of us have lost sight of the different nodes making up the network of oppression that stifles all of us thereby binding us together in oppression. This network of oppression will continue to exist, made up of all the factors of injustice, until all the factors are challenged to accomplish a social transformation.

A network of freedom

This type of social transformation- of all the factors- will result in a network of freedom for all. Each node or factor making up these multiple oppressions must be unraveled so its energy supports the freedom of the other for a new network to take effect-a network of freedom. These structures that allow injustices to grow- based on class, race/ethnicity, neighborhood, gender, sexual orientation, place of birth, language, spirituality, physical and mental ability- allow for the age-old human need to find self-worth through demeaning another human form. Yes, we stand on the backs of our sisters and brothers so we can appear taller to ourselves and others. A deep reflection in this new year is to consciously become more aware of the times we demean someone else in order to make ourselves feel more powerful or better. Such a violating path toward happiness and self-appreciation causes harm to others. The structures of social hierarchies or network of oppression-racism, classism, sexism, etc- offer each individual a way to make themselves feel superior to another, for each one of us maintain multiple identities within society. A white female has white-skin privilege in the very moment she may be demeaned by a male while a black male has male privilege in the same moment he is demeaned by a white-skinned individual. And so it goes for all the different ways we walk through this lifetime. And no, there is no math that can add up the “oppression” score and rank us within this violating system. But maybe you get the idea? This awareness and undoing of the personal hierarchies and violations will offer us insight into the larger social hierarchies and oppressions and allow a more truthful and connected revolutionary movement.

It’s up to us…to commit to a new year with new awareness, alertness, and ardency. We can begin to transform an oppressive society toward one of equity and freedom when we are conquering the very seeds growing in us that we say we want to uproot in society.

May we all dive, step, stand, sit in freedom, together!

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Baltimore and beyond: where are the affordable housing?

A recent repot from Mc Kinsey Global Institute warns us “… Decent, affordable housing is fundamental to the health and well-being of people and to the smooth functioning of economies. Yet around the world, in developing and advanced economies alike, cities are struggling to meet that need. If current trends in urbanization and income growth persist, by 2025 the number of urban households that live in substandard housing—or are so financially stretched by housing costs that they forego other essentials, such as healthcare—could grow to 440 million, from 330 million. This could mean that the global affordable housing gap would affect one in three urban dwellers, about 1.6 billion people.”
McKinsey Report

Nationally the lack of affordable housing has been reported on by multiple sources, in Baltimore and beyond. The most recent figures suggest the largest lack of affordable housing in the US. “Like many American cities, Baltimore faces a serious housing crisis. Vacant lots and homes pervade the landscape, yet a large number of residents are struggling to find affordable places to live. Close to 50 percent of metropolitan Baltimore households are “rent-burdened” — defined by the federal government as paying more than 30 percent of income on housing. The once thriving industrial economy that powered this city, like so many across the country, has all but vanished, leaving in its wake a shrinking population and a dearth of well-paying jobs to afford the ever-increasing rent. Of 80 low- and moderate-income Baltimore jobs analyzed by the Center for Housing Policy, less than 35 percent make enough to meet the threshold of rent affordability for a two-bedroom apartment.”
alternet

The Atlantic

Baltimore Brew

And yet, we continue to build housing for the wealthy, gentrify our neighborhoods, displace our social challenges into someone else’s back yard, and guarantee profit for the rich.

Tonight neighboring cities Baltimore and DC are fed up. At a rally this evening in front of city hall in Baltimore residents and advocates called for a negligent city government to resist the continued privatization of public services: the most recent being water in the city of Baltimore. But the lack of affordable housing and living wage jobs due to corporate take-over of our public servants and and inadequate funding of our programs runs a close tie to the issue of water privatization.

water rally

In DC today, long-time residents are participating in a sit-in at Councilman Bowsor’s office. Why? Because their public housing rent has been increased more than 50%, some as much as $600/month, after the limit on affordability expired and city representatives allowed market forces to run public housing. This pattern of privatization is running like wildfire in our cities as strapped governments turn over their duties and responsibilities to corporations. In effect, they are continuing their negligence to the public by not only assessing lower tax rates on the wealthy, but also offering additional tax breaks for developers and corporations to build unaffordable housing, take over property and land with generous government subsidies, ignore equitable hiring practices, treat social challenges like dirt to be hidden from the eyes of the elite, and build schools which discriminate against the poor. When will we end these persistent injustices that sustain inequity? Perhaps we can take a lead from our DC sisters and brothers!
ONE DC

Eminent domain and land takings: private gain, yes; public benefit, no.

As we wait for Governor O’Malley’s promised 8000 jobs to materialize to benefit the public in the Johns Hopkins eminent domain-driven expansion into 88 acres of Middle East Baltimore, a recent publication in regard the benefit of eminent domain is of interest.

“Given the controversy surrounding the Kelo decision and the potential implications for long-run economic growth, it is worth investigating the effects of eminent domain for private
benefit. This paper contributes to the current literature by empirically examining the effects on government revenue and revenue growth. …Ultimately, we find virtually no evidence of a statistically significant positive relationship between eminent domain and the subsequent level of state and local tax revenue. In contrast, we find some limited evidence of a statistically significant negative relationship between eminent domain and the subsequent growth of state and local tax revenue. These results are robust across a variety of specifications.
Our results contradict one of the primary arguments often made by politicians in favor of eminent domain activity (and cited as a constitutionally valid justification by the Supreme Court)—that it will increase revenue. One possible explanation for that contradiction is that economic impact studies of new local developments are often plagued by double counting and the omission of opportunity costs. As a result, the subsequent impact on the local economy, and therefore on government revenue, is often much lower than anticipated. While much further work is needed in this area, one implication of our results is that voters ought to be much more
skeptical about politicians’ and developers’ claims regarding the revenue impact of eminent domain activity for private purposes.”

Takings and Tax Revenues: Fiscal impacts of eminent domain.

While private benefit to private developers is consistently clear in redevelopment in our abandoned communities mediated through tax breaks and credits, loans and grants, and contract favoritism and cronyism, Harvey’s analysis of the dispossession of black and brown communities during the foreclosure crisis provides a necessary comparison. He asserts that the 40-80 billion in assets lost in the African American and Latino/a communities during the foreclosure crisis parallels the 40-80 billion gain for the Wall Street gang during the same time period. These relationships of wealth lost through dispossession of land in black and brown communities and wealth gain in private corporations must be quantitatively confirmed. Because we know such studies will not be initiated by government-who facilitate private capital in wealth dispossession of our most vulnerable-it is up to community-driven organizations, think tanks, and community activists to take it up. Waiting for those who steal from the poor to tell us exactly how much they gained from their thievery does not benefit the poor.

David Harvey

The displacement of the people in Middle East Baltimore was trumpeted by politicians and Johns Hopkins, the Annie E. Casey Foundation and its sister followers as benefiting those impacted by historical segregation and systematic disinvestment. The health of the people would be impacted positively was the consistent media soundbite. Some studies continue to affirm that voluntary relocation of residents during development provides a positive impact on health, greater in some than others. However, a careful analysis of all of the impacted residents in communities targeted for redevelopment shows a different picture. Research by Sabriya Linton and others confirm that drug activity which was previously localized in the Middle East community before displacement/redevelopment was decreased after displacement but correlated with an increase in drug activity in neighborhoods where residents were relocated-shown by number of calls for narcotic services. Such data confirms the historic and current redevelopment practices which intend only to remove the ‘faces of poverty’ but not to help or remediate the causes or social or health consequences of poverty. This study shines light on the disrespect of and lack of benefit to local residents by the powerful stakeholders who ignored the organized efforts of residents of Middle East Baltimore demanding greater benefit for their entire community, social programs to help those in need, and work force development processes which would ready their community to benefit from the redevelopment. This research by Lipton adds to the data showing the intention and result of this redevelopment project of Johns Hopkins and its development proxy, EBDI, to ignore and displace its existing community partner in an attempt to expand to attract a whiter and richer population to be its neighbors-gentrification.
S-1. Linton et al. J Urban Health 2014

These data offers us evidence of the capitalist means of expansion-through dispossession of land and human right to health and safety- mediated by a premier hospital and research and teaching university willing to ignore the health and social needs of its community neighbor. We are offered a glimpse of the definition of what so-called anchor institutions actually intend to carry out in the communities they inhabit.(submitted for publication, From Anchor Institutions to Anchored Communities: Displacement, Ethics, and Countering the Threat to Public Health Lawrence Brown et al). In fact, this pattern of development through displacement dates back more than a century and continues today under new labels: urban redevelopment, community revitalization, RAD, Choice neighborhoods, HOPE VI, Promise zones- mediated not through industrial capital but private:public partnerships and neoliberal practices.

Participatory democracy: right-to-vote, right to participatory development, and the right of government to prevent foreclosure

Right to vote in Hong Kong

Assuring democracy in countries which claim democratic governments is already difficult! What about countries which make no qualms about non-democratic systems of government? The current struggle in Hong Kong for voting rights in Hong Kong’s upcoming election is just that. Residents of Hong Kong are demanding that they have representative vote of their region’s interest in the new chief executive-governing leader- and have been ignored by the powerful government bodies of China and Hong Kong. (1) In response students in Hong Kong have taken to the streets and occupied them, initially called Occupy Central. This has expanded to the general public now called ‘the Umbrella Revolution or Movement’. Their intention is to gain support for their demands for some form of participatory democracy. This past weeks’ demonstrations witnesses this struggle and has garnered solidarity across the globe-from US to Germany, Australia to Belgium, UK to Canada. (2) In spite of such massive turnouts and show of people power protesters have met with violence from the police authority as well as anti-democratic thugs. The occupation of public space continues today with people camping on streets as Hong Kong demands public / human rights to determine their lives-participatory democracy. (3)

Right to equal participation in development in DC and Baltimore:participatory development

In the District of Columbia, public housing residents have been organizing and demanding that the city government and housing authority stop development which threatens their displacement and continue gentrification. OneDC, a local grassroots organization has led the momentum for resident-owned and -driven development for many years. Now they confront city officials to demand that they are part of all development plans which involve their community. (4) Such a demand, representation in decisions that affects your life, seems quite reasonable and certainly would be an assumption for those in power. But for these same individuals who make decisions for public housing residents, their exclusion of residents from planning seems to suggest that these rights should not be afforded to low-income and of-color communities. Such blatant discrimination in housing and community development and urban planning in the US is meeting greater challenge as evidenced by OneDC’s challenge to the powerful stakeholders’ deciding the faith of public housing residents in the ‘People’s Platform’. (4) They are demanding participatory development.

In Baltimore, RHA (Right to Housing Alliance) and residents have led the charge to assure HUD’s recent program to privatize public housing (RAD, Rental Assistance Demonstration) does not leave residents with no rights. While some have called for minimizing or removing private capital from this demonstration project, Baltimore has demanded that residents remain a direct party in the decision-making between management and tenants. (5,6) Even though everyone would expect such a right, HABC appears to feel that public housing residents should relinquish their rights to decision-making in their homes. Such discrimination by Baltimore’s city leaders, supported by neo-liberal policies and programs of the US continue to assure that those without power remain separated from and at the mercy of those with power. RHA has organized and rallied in support of more transparent decision-making and negotiation on contracts being formulated for private developers-demanding participatory development. (6, scroll down for full article by Cohen).

The development for community equity has not found a foothold in Baltimore as yet, but we have hope that participatory development will rise up in Baltimore. The recent project announced in Sharp Leadenhall could potentially lead to more gentrification or equity: dependent on resident’s organizing and assuring a place at the decision-making table with a Community Benefits Agreement in hand for negotiation. (7) Anything else would leave too much dependence on the developer to make a ‘good-faith’ effort to accomplish in regard benefit to existing community. In the past, these ‘good-faith’ efforts, whether in legalize or verbal, have amounted to nothing. This is evidenced by the current Hopkins/EBDI/Casey development in East Baltimore which continues to project moderate and market rate housing, more Hopkins buildings, a school to attract higher income residents, a hotel and a park intended to benefit new residents while affordable housing or permanent employment for local residents remain missing. East Baltimore residents may well heed West Baltimore’s lead in suing the state of Maryland for development of transit-Red Line train system- which excluded their participation in deciding on a route which will disrupt their community and cause harm. (8) All of these development projects continue to receive large government subsidies in the form of new market tax credits, state grants and loans, TIFs, and PILOTs. The city of Baltimore could easily assure that these government subsides make their way back into the pockets of residents by legislating affordable housing in each development is assured for 99 years, a living wage is paid by all new businesses which receive government subsidies, and mandating local/co-op business ownership in each development area. New York City recently legislated a realistic living wage mandate for development and businesses which receive more than $1 million in city subsidies. (9) The current wage of $7.25/hr required by law in the state of Maryland will do absolutely nothing to lift working class people out of poverty, if they benefit from employment in new or ongoing development projects-some ongoing development projects are exempt from recent local-hiring mandates exempting major developments that have benefitted unfairly from public subsidies such as the Hopkins project in East Baltimore. Until we revolutionalize the accepted unjust and neo-liberal policies and practices governing housing, community, and economic development in Maryland we will continue to grow the health and wealth disparity gap in Baltimore, already ranked in the top 10 (of 50 big cities) in regard income inequality. (10)

Government can prevent foreclosure

Across the US citizens affected by the foreclosure crisis-an outcome which was enabled by the banking industry and real estate groups- are demanding their rights through legal strategies. Several cities are challenging the courts to allow city governments to use eminent domain to take late or default mortgages and negotiate with residents for a more affordable rate. For example, New Jersey admits that this strategy may force banks to negotiate with owners for fear of their mortgages being taken by the city through eminent domain. (11) Richmond, California has already implemented eminent domain to seize mortgages greater than the value of homes with San Francisco pending a decision next week on similar strategies. The two cities are considering pooling resources and promoting a national movement toward taking underwater mortgages back from lenders and offering home owners a more affordable mortgage. (12) The use of eminent domain in this way forces lenders who participated in driving up the housing market through loans based on ghost collateral to re-negotiate in more just ways with those they offered credit. City governments willing to stand up for public rights welcome in a new era of democratic participation through public offices. Cities which continue to document foreclosure challenges, like Baltimore, would benefit from similar strategies for participatory democracy. (13)

participatory democracy

1. Live stream from Occupy Central / Umbrella Revolution in Hong Kong
2. Solidarity for Hong Kong across the world
3. Ongoing coverage from Hong Kong news sources
4.People’s Platform for an Equitable DC
5. Rental Assistance Demonstration Program
6. Right to Housing Alliance, RHA
7. Proposed mega-project in Sharp-Leadenhall get tentative support
8. W. Baltimore homeowners sue state to block Red Line
9. DeBlasio to raise living wage
10. Gentrification, inequality, and the paths toward housing equity.
11. New Jersey Mayor address foreclosure problems
12. San Francisco to decide on eminent domain to prevent foreclosures
13. 2007-2013 foreclosure data in Baltimore, MD