Category Archives: Gentrification

The Banality of Evil Creeps into those Who Believe They Are Good

I was at a city hall meeting in Beaverton, Oregon, the other day when a few questions I had for the presenters dropped jaws. We’ll get to that later, the jaw-dropping effect I and those of my ilk have when we end up in the controlled boardrooms and chambers of the controllers – bureaucrats, public-private clubs like Chamber of Commerce, Rotary, and both political operatives and those who liken themselves as the great planners of the world moving communities and housing and public commons around a giant chessboard to make things better for and more efficient in spite of us.

Look, I am now a social worker who once was a print journalist who once was a part-time college instructor (freeway flyer adjunct teaching double the load of a tenured faculty) facilitating literature, writing, rhetoric classes, and others. The power of those “planners” and “institutional leadership wonks” and those Deanlets and Admin Class and HR pros and VPs and Provosts to swat down a radical but effective teacher/faculty/instructor/lecturer isn’t (or wasn’t then) so surprising. I was one of hundreds of thousands of faculty, adjunct,  hit with 11th Hour appointments, Just-in-Time gigs and called one-week-into-the-semester with offers to teach temporarily. Then, the next logical step of precarity was when a dean or department head or someone higher got wind of a disgruntled student, or helicopter (now drone) parent who didn’t like me teaching Sapphire or Chalmers Johnson or Earth Liberation Front or Ward Churchill in critical thinking classes, it was common to get only one or many times no classes the following semester. De facto fired. They fought and fought against unemployment benefits.

Here’s one paragraph that got me sanctioned while teaching in Spokane, at both Gonzaga and the community college:

As for those in the World Trade Center… Well, really, let’s get a grip here, shall we? True enough, they were civilians of a sort. But innocent? Gimme a break. They formed a technocratic corps at the very heart of America’s global financial empire—the “mighty engine of profit” to which the military dimension of U.S. policy has always been enslaved—and they did so both willingly and knowingly. Recourse to “ignorance”—a derivative, after all, of the word “ignore”—counts as less than an excuse among this relatively well-educated elite. To the extent that any of them were unaware of the costs and consequences to others of what they were involved in—and in many cases excelling at—it was because of their absolute refusal to see. More likely, it was because they were too busy braying, incessantly and self-importantly, into their cell phones, arranging power lunches and stock transactions, each of which translated, conveniently out of sight, mind and smelling distance, into the starved and rotting flesh of infants. If there was a better, more effective, or in fact any other way of visiting some penalty befitting their participation upon the little Eichmanns inhabiting the sterile sanctuary of the twin towers, I’d really be interested in hearing about it.

We are talking 17 years ago, Ward Churchill. The Little Eichmann reference goes back to the 1960s, and the root of it goes to Hannah Ardent looking at the trial of Adolf Eichmann, more or a less a middle man who helped get Jews into trains and eventually onto concentration camps and then marched into gas chambers. The banality of evil was her term from a 1963 book. So this Eichmann relied on propaganda against Jews and radicals and other undesirables rather than thinking for himself. Careerism at its ugliest, doing the bureaucratic work to advance a career and then at the Trial, displayed this “Common” personality that did not belie a psychopathic tendency. Of course, Ardent got raked over the coals for this observation and for her book, Eichmann in Jerusalem.

When I use the term, Little Eichmann, I broadly hinge it to the persons that live that more or less sacred American Mad Men lifestyle, with 401k’s, trips to Hawaii, cabins at the lake, who sometimes are the poverty pimps in the social services, but who indeed make daily decisions that negatively and drastically affect the lives of millions of people. In the case of tanned Vail skiers who work for Raytheon developing guidance systems and sophisticated satellite tethers and surveillance systems, who vote democrat and do triathlons, that Little Eichmann archetype also comes to mind. Evil, well, that is a tougher analysis  – mal, well, that succinctly means bad. I see evil or bad or maladaptive and malicious on a spectrum, like autism spectrum disorders.

Back to Beaverton City Hall: As I said, last week I was at this meeting about a “safe parking” policy, a pilot program for this city hooked to the Portland Metro area, where Intel is sited, and in one of the fastest growing counties in Oregon. Safe parking is all a jumbo in its implications: but for the city of Beaverton the program’s intent is to get three spaces, parking slots from each entity participating, for homeless people to set up their vehicles from which to live and dine and recreate. Old Taurus sedans, beat-up Dodge vans, maybe a 20-foot 1985 RV covered in black mold or Pacific Northwest moss. The City will put in $30,000 for a non-profit to manage these 15 or 20 spaces, and the city will put in a porta-potty and a small storage pod (in the fourth space) for belongings on each property.

This is how Portland’s tri-city locale plans to “solve” the homeless problem: live in your vehicles, with all manner of physical ailments (number one for Americans, bad backs) and all manner of mental health issues and all manner of work schedules. Cars, the new normal for housing in the world’s number one super power.

This is the band-aid on the sucking chest wound. This is a bizarre thing in a state with Nike as its brand, that Phil Knight throwing millions into a Republican gubernatorial candidate for governor’s coffers. Of course, the necessity of getting churches and large non-profits with a few empty parking spaces for houseless persons is based on more of the Little Eichmann syndrome – the city fathers and mothers, the business community, the cops, and all those elites and NIMBYs (not in my backyard) voted to make it illegal to sleep in your vehicle along the public right away, or, along streets and alleys. That’s the rub, the law was passed, and now it’s $300 fine, more upon second offense, and then, 30 days in jail for repeat offense: for sleeping off a 12-hour shift at Amazon warehouse or 14-hour shift as forklift operator for Safeway distribution center.

So these overpaid uniformed bureaucrats with SWAT armament and armored vehicles and $50 an hour overtime gigs and retirement accounts will be knocking on the fogged-over windows of our sisters/ brothers, aunties/uncles, cousins, moms/dads, grandparents, daughters/sons living the Life of Riley in their two-door Honda Accords.

Hmm, more than 12 million empty homes in the richest country in the world. Millions of other buildings empty. Plots of land by the gazillion. And, we have several million homeless, and tens of millions one layoff, one heart-attack, one arrest away from homelessness.

The first question was why we aren’t working on shutting down the illegal and inhumane law that even allows the police to harass people living in their cars? The next question was why parking spaces for cars? Certainly, all that overstock inventory in all those Pacific Northwest travel trailer and camper lots would be a source of a better living space moved to those vaunted few (20) parking spaces: or what about all those used trailers up for sale on Craig’s List? You think Nike Boy could help get his brethren to pony up a few million for trailers? What worse way to treat diabetic houseless people with cramped quarters? What fine way to treat a PTSD survivor with six windows in a Chevy with eight by four living space for two humans, a dog, and all their belongings and food.

The people at this meeting, well, I know most are empathetic, but even those have minds colonized by the cotton-ball-on-the-head wound solution thinking. All this energy, all the Power Points, all the meeting after meeting, all the solicitation and begging for 20 parking spaces and they hope for a shower source, too, as well as an internet link (for job hunting, etc.)  and maybe a place to cook a meal.

While housing vacancy has long been a problem in America, especially in economically distressed places, vacancies surged in the wake of the economic crisis of 2008. The number of unoccupied homes jumped by 26 percent—from 9.5 to 12 million between 2005 and 2010. Many people (and many urbanists) see vacancy and abandoned housing as problems of distressed cities, but small towns and rural communities have vacancy rates that are roughly double that of metropolitan areas, according to the study.

This is the insanity of these Little Eichmanns: The number of cities that have made homelessness a crime! Then, getting a few churches to open up parking slots for a few people to “try and get resources and wrap around services to end their homelessness.” Here are the facts — the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty states there are over 200 cities that have created these Little Eichmann (my terminology) municipal bans on camping or sleeping outside, increasing by more than 50 percent since 2011. Theses bans include various human survival and daily activities of living processes, from camping and sitting in particular outdoor places, to loitering and begging in public to sleeping in vehicles.

I am living hand to mouth, so to speak. I make $17 an hour with two master’s degrees and a shit load of experience and depth of both character and solutions-driven energy. This is the way of the world, brother, age 61, and living the dream in Hops-Blazers-Nike City, in the state of no return Nike/Oregon Ducks. Man oh man, those gridlock days commuting to and from work. Man, all those people outside my apartment building living in their vehicles (I live in Vancouver) and all those people who have to rotate where they live, while calling Ford minivan home, moving their stuff every week, so the Clark County Sheriff Department doesn’t ticket, bust and worse, impound.

I have gotten a few teeth – dentures — for some of these people. Finding funding to have a pretty rancid and nasty old guy in Portland measure, model and mold for a fitting. That’s, of course, if the people have their teeth already pulled out.

Abscesses and limps and back braces and walkers and nephritic livers and dying flesh and scabies and, hell, just plain old BO. Yet, these folk are working the FedEx conveyor belts, packaging those Harry and David apples, folding and stacking all those Black Friday flyers.

Living the high life. And, yet, these Little Eichmanns would attempt to say, or ask, “Why do they all have smart phones . . . they smoke and vape and some of them drink? Wasteful, no wonder they are homeless.”

So that line of thinking comes and goes, from the deplorables of the Trump species to the so-self vaunted elite. They drink after a hard day’s work, these houseless people. Yet, all those put-together Portlanders with two-income heads of household, double Prius driveways, all that REI gear ready for ski season, well, I bicycle those ‘hoods and see the recycle bins on trash day, filled to the brim with IPA bottles, affordable local wine bottles, and bottles from those enticing brews in the spirit world.

So self-medicating with $250K dual incomes, fancy home, hipster lifestyles, but they’d begrudge houseless amputees who have to work the cash register at a Plaid Pantry on 12 hour shifts?

I have been recriminated for not having tenure, for not being an editor, for not retired with a pension, for not having that Oprah Pick in bookstores, for not having a steady career, for working long-ass hours as a social worker. The recrimination is magnificent and goes around all corners of this flagging empire. Pre-Trump, Pre-Obama, Pre-Clinton, Pre-Bush. Oh, man, that Ray-gun:

He had a villain, who was not a real welfare cheat or emblamtic of people needing welfare assistance to live back then in a troubling world of Gilded Age haves and haves not. That was January 1976, when Reagan announced that this Welfare Queen was using ”80 names, 30 addresses, 15 telephone numbers to collect food stamps, Social Security, veterans benefits for four nonexistent, deceased veteran husbands, as well as welfare. Her tax-free cash income alone has been running $150,000 a year.”

Four decades later, we have the same dude in office, the aberration of neoliberalism and collective amnesia and incessant ignorance in what I deem now as Homo Consumopithecus and Homo Retailapithecus. Reagan had that crowd eating out of his hands as he used his B-Grade Thespian licks to stress the numbers – “one hundred and fifty thousand dollars.”

Poverty rose to the top of the public agenda in the 1960s, in part spurred by the publication of Michael Harrington’s The Other America: Poverty in the United States. Harrington’s 1962 book made a claim that shocked the nation at a time when it was experiencing a period of unprecedented affluence: based on the best available evidence, between 40 million and 50 million Americans—20 to 25 percent of the nation’s population—still lived in poverty, suffering from “inadequate housing, medicine, food, and opportunity.”

Shedding light on the lives of the poor from New York to Appalachia to the Deep South, Harrington’s book asked how it was possible that so much poverty existed in a land of such prosperity. It challenged the country to ask what it was prepared to do about it.

So, somehow, all those people reminding me that my job history has been all based on my passions, my avocations, my dreams, that I should be proud being able to work at poverty level incomes as a small town newspaper reporter, or that I was able to teach so many people in gang reduction programs, at universities and colleges, in alternative schools, in prisons and elsewhere, at poverty wages; or that I was able to get poems published here and stories published there and that I have a short story collection coming out in 2019 at zero profit, or that I am doing God’s work as a homeless veterans counselor, again, at those Trump-loving, Bezos-embracing poverty wages.

Oh, man, oh man, all those countries I visited and worked in, all those people whose lives I changed, and here I am, one motorcycle accident away from the poor house, except there is no poor house.

Daily, I see the results of military sexual trauma, of incessant physical abuse as active duty military, infinite anxiety and cognitive disorders, a truck load of amputated feet and legs, and unending COPD, congestive heart failure, and overall bodies of a 70-year-old hampering 30-year-old men and women veterans.

They get this old radical environmentalist, vegan, in-your-face teacher, and a huge case of heart and passion, and I challenge them to think hard about how they have been duped, but for the most part, none of the ex-soldiers have even heard of the (two-star) Major General who wrote the small tome, War is a Racket:

WAR is a racket. It always has been.

It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives.

A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the people. Only a small “inside” group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes.

In the World War I a mere handful garnered the profits of the conflict. At least 21,000 new millionaires and billionaires were made in the United States during the World War. That many admitted their huge blood gains in their income tax returns. How many other war millionaires falsified their tax returns no one knows.

How many of these war millionaires shouldered a rifle? How many of them dug a trench? How many of them knew what it meant to go hungry in a rat-infested dug-out? How many of them spent sleepless, frightened nights, ducking shells and shrapnel and machine gun bullets? How many of them parried a bayonet thrust of an enemy?

How many of them were wounded or killed in battle?

Out of war nations acquire additional territory, if they are victorious.

They just take it. This newly acquired territory promptly is exploited by the few — the selfsame few who wrung dollars out of blood in the war. The general public shoulders the bill.

And what is this bill?

This bill renders a horrible accounting. Newly placed gravestones. Mangled bodies. Shattered minds. Broken hearts and homes. Economic instability. Depression and all its attendant miseries. Back-breaking taxation for generations and generations.

For a great many years, as a soldier, I had a suspicion that war was a racket; not until I retired to civil life did I fully realize it. Now that I see the international war clouds gathering, as they are today, I must face it and speak out.

More fitting now than ever, General Butler’s words. Structural violence is also the war of the billionaires and millionaires against the rest of us, marks and suckers born every nanosecond in their eyes. Disaster Capitalism is violence. Parasitic investing is war. Hostile takeovers are was. Hedge funds poisoning retirement funds and billions wasted/stolen to manage (sic) this dirty money are war. Forced arbitration is war. PayDay loans are war. Wells Fargo stealing homes is war. Lead in New Jersey cities’ pipes is war. Hog  excrement/toxins/blood/aborted fetuses pound scum sprayed onto land near poor communities is war. Fence lining polluting industries against poor and minority populations is war.

So is making it illegal to sit on a curb, hold a sign asking for a handout;  so is the fact there are millions of empty buildings collecting black mold and tax deferments. War is offshore accounts, and war is a society plugged into forced, perceived and planned obsolescence.

Some of us are battle weary, and others trudge on, soldiers against the machine, against the fascism of the market place, the fascism of the tools of the propagandists.

Some of us ask the tricky questions at meetings and conferences and confabs: When are you big wigs, honchos, going to give up a few hours a week pay for others to get in on the pay? When are you going to open up that old truck depot for homeless to build tiny homes?

When are you going to have the balls to get the heads of Boeing, Nike, Adidas, Intel, the lot of them, to come to our fogged-up station wagon windows in your safe parking zones to show them how some of their mainline workers and tangential workers who support their billions in profits really live?

How many millionaires are chain migrating from California or Texas, coming into the Portland arena who might have the heart to help fund 15 or 30 acres out there in Beavercreek (Clackamas, Oregon) to set up intentional communities for both veterans and non veterans, inter-generational population, with permaculture, therapy dog training, you name it, around a prayer circle, a sweat lodge, and community garden and commercial kitchen to sell those herbs and veggies to those two-income wonders who scoff at my bottle of cheap Vodka while they fly around and bike around on their wine tours and whiskey bar rounds? Micro homes and tiny homes.

My old man was in the Air Force for 12 years, which got the family to the Azores, Albuquerque, Maryland, and then he got an officer commission in the Army, for 20 years, which got the family to Germany, UK, Paris, Spain and other locales, and I know hands down he’d be spinning and turning in his grave if he was alive and here to witness not only the mistreatment of schmucks out of the military with horrendous ailments, but also the mistreatment of college students with $80K loans to be nurses or social workers. He’d be his own energy source spinning in his grave at Fort Huachuca if he was around, after being shot in Korea and twice in Vietnam, to witness social security on the chopping block, real wages at 1970 levels, old people begging on the streets, library hours waning, public education being privatized and dumb downed, and millions of acres of public sold to the “I don’t need no stinkin’ badge” big energy thugs.

I might be embarrassed if he was around, me at age 61, wasted three college degrees, living the dream of apartment life, no 401k or state retirement balloon payment on the horizon, no real estate or stocks and bonds stashed away, nothing, after all of this toil to actually have given to society, in all my communist, atheistic glory.

But there is no shame in that, in my bones, working my ass off until the last breath, and on my t-shirt, I’d have a stick figure, with a stack of free bus tickets, journalism awards, and housing vouchers all piled around me with the (thanks National Rifle Association) meme stenciled on my back:

You can have my social worker and teaching credentials and press passes when you pry them from my cold dead hands!

Urban Madness: Inequality and the Right to the City

The weekend edition of the Financial Times dated April 7/8 featured a story in the House and Home section under the title ‘Barcelona hits the Brakes.’ The story describes the negative effect of last October’s Catalan independence referendum on Barcelona’s real estate market. The Times cites data from the Spanish property website Idealista. During the summer of 2017 (Q3 2017) properties in the city gained an impressive 018 percent compared to the previous year. In Q4 2017, in the midst of uncertainty stemming from the referendum, the prices fell 1.2 percent, with the sharpest drop taking place in the priciest neighborhoods.

The most interesting nugget of the story reads like this:

Foreign buyers’ sensitivity to Catalonia’s uncertainty political situation bode ill for the city’s property market in the mid-term since they form an increasing share of the market. Years of steady appreciation has meant that much of the city’s stock has become too expensive for locals. Salaries have been stagnant says Encinar (founder of Idealista). ‘Today, when you ask local agents about business, they talk to you about ‘investors’ rather than ‘clients.’

Meanwhile in February the British Columbia Finance Minister Carole James announced measures targeting foreign buyers and speculators. Foreigners now have to pay a 20 percent tax on top of the listing value (up from 15 percent), and a levy on property speculators will be introduced later this year. Starting this fall foreign and domestic investors who don’t pay income tax in the province where the property is will pay a speculator tax of 0.5 percent of the property’s assessed value in 2018 and 2 percent thereafter. The government also vowed to crack down on the condo pre-sale market and beneficial ownership to ensure that property flippers, offshore trusts and hidden investors are paying taxes on gains.

The flashpoint for the legislation is Vancouver where foreign, particularly wealthy Chinese capital, has been driving double digit gains in property value. Media accounts report that Vancouver casinos and real estate have in recent years become vehicles for laundering proceeds for Asian high rollers and drug dealers with ties to the fentanyl trade. There were also two seasons of the very corny reality TV show Ultra Rich Asian Girls which followed the exploits of daughters of wealthy Chinese families as they shopped and partied around the city. With Chinese capital flowing housing prices in Vancouver have skyrocketed-in 2016 CBC reported that price of a single family home shot up 30 percent in one year to an average of $1.4 million even as the city claims that over the past decade the housing stock has grown by 12 percent and the population by only 9 percent. Toronto and Montreal appear to be on the cusp of similar transformations.

This kind of thing is happening in cities all over the world. In Lisbon a flood of foreign investment and financial deregulation has in the city center up 30 percent over the past two years. Yet the average monthly wage in Lisbon is about €850. Over in London research conducted for mayor Sadiq Khan revealed foreign investors are buying up thousands of homes suitable for first-time buyers. Of the 28,000 new homes built between 2014 and 2016 3600 were scooped up by foreign buyers with the majority from Singapore and Hong Kong followed by Malaysia and China. Last year it was revealed that an entire new 81 unit complex in Southwark (on the site of the former Heygate council estate) was bought by foreign investors while the same was true for 87 percent of Baltimore Wharf, a development on the Isle of Dogs where apartments started at £400,000. Accounts of Russian oligarchs living the high life have filled the press, at one point in 2016 campaigners connected to Russia’s opposition leader Alexei Navalny organized London’s first ever ‘kleptocracy’ tour. Charles Moore, a former editor of the Telegraph, said a few years ago that London’s property market has become ‘a form of legalized international money laundering.’

In New York, early numbers from the latest Census Bureau’s Housing and Vacancy survey show unoccupied apartments ballooned by 35 percent in the three years since the last survey. Over 100,000 units are occupied temporarily or seasonally (74,945), basically meaning investments and vacation pads for the wealthy, or for unexplained reasons (27,000), no doubt a good number of the latter fit the former description.

According to data compiled by the firm PropertyShark, cited in the June 2014 New York magazine article titled ‘Stash Pad’, since 2008 about 30 percent of condo sales in large-scale Manhattan developments have been to purchasers who either listed an overseas address or bought through limited-liability corporations (a method favored by wealthy international buyers). The marketing firm Corcoran Sunshine, which specializes in luxury buildings, estimates that 35 percent of its sales since 2013 have been to international buyers, half from Asia, with the remainder about evenly split among the rest of the world. Data from the Census Bureau’s 2012 American Community Survey revealed 57 percent of apartments in the three block stretch from East 56th Street to East 59th Street, between Fifth Avenue and Park Avenue, are vacant at least ten months a year. From East 59th Street to East 63rd Street the vacancy rate is almost 50 percent.  Stretching it out further the Bureau estimates that 30 percent of all apartments in the entire quadrant from East 49th to East 70th Streets are vacant at least ten months a year. This coincides with New York’s homeless population reaching an all-time high.

It is difficult to conceive a more absurd reflection of global inequality than the building of cities specifically for elite investors at a time when urban homelessness is spiraling. Indeed global inequality has reached absurd levels. According to Oxfam’s report An Economy for the 99%, since 2015 the world’s 1 percent has owned more wealth than the rest of the planet. The richest eight men own the same amount as the poorest half and over the next 20 years 500 people will hand to their heirs over $2.1 trillion- a sum larger than the GDP of India. While global development is slowly narrowing inequality between countries, inequality is rising within countries everywhere. The World Inequality Report 2018 reports the share of income going to the top 10 percent has increased somewhat in Europe, remained high in Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East and has exploded in the United States, Russia, and Asia.

The city-as-investment dynamic is also a logical consequence of neoliberalism. Neoliberalism, defined as an economic system of liberated markets, free trade, deregulation, privatization, and the withdrawal of the state, emerged from the economic stagnation of the early 1970s. Neoliberalism hasn’t been good at producing productive profits as the rate of profit has remained low. U.S. productivity growth is at its lowest level since the 1800s.However, if production is producing profits at a reduced rate where are capitalists to go to increase wealth? Get the state to cut your taxes. Break unions and freeze wages. Invent and expand creative financial assets. Buy back your company’s stocks. Build and invest in urban properties.

Since the mid-1980s corporations have become by far the most important buyers of their own stock. The dirty fact is that money cannot be made as fast by actually investing in production, meaning new plants, equipment, workers, etc., as it can by pumping up stock prices. The price-earnings (P/E ratio) measures a company’s current share (i.e. stock) price relative to its per share earnings. Since the mid-1930s the median P/E ratio for the Standard & Poor 500 stock index is 17. It currently stands at about 25. Another metric is the CAPE index, ‘cyclically adjusted price-earnings’. It measures real earnings per share over a 10 year period and corrects for inflation. The historic median is 16. Currently it is at just almost 33.

For the U.S. this has caused inequality to explode. The World Inequality Report 2018 breaks down American income growth by selected percentile from 1980-2014. Income for the bottom 20 percent of the population grew by a mere 4 percent over that period. The bottom 50 percent grew at only 21 percent, less than 1 percent a year. The top 10 percent grew 113 percent, the top 1 percent grew 194 percent, the top .001 by 423 percent, the top .0001 by 616 percent.

As the planet grows more unequal it grows more urban. For the first time in history the world’s urban population outnumbers the rural population. Cities have absorbed about two-thirds of global population growth since 1950. In 1950 there were 86 cities in the world with more than one million inhabitants. As of 2016 there were 512 such cities, by 2030 there will be an estimated 662. Urbanization spans a vast gulf from the very wealthy neighborhoods of ‘International’ cities such as Shanghai, London, and New York to teeming slums all over the global South. Around one billion people, or roughly 1 in 8 people worldwide, live in slums. In this period cities have emerged as a key part of capital accumulation, absorbing surplus capital and labor. Gentrification has transformed from a local process, even an exception to urban disinvestment, to the pillar of global urban planning.

This inevitably makes the Right to the City movement of paramount importance to the International Left. The struggle against gentrification in London and San Francisco is easily linked to the struggle against displacement, and for basic human needs, in the pueblo jovens of Lima and favelas of Rio de Janairo. At bottom is the right for people to exist in space and time. This goes far beyond just an individual right to the resources a city contains. Since the process of urban change is a collective one, thus is the right to the city. Geographer David Harvey was surely correct when he wrote that ‘the question of what kind of city we want cannot be divorced from the question of what kind of people we want to be, what kinds of social relations we seek, what relations to nature we cherish, what style of daily life we desire, what kinds of technologies we deem appropriate, what aesthetic values we hold.’

This never will be easy.  As inequality deepens and urbanization expands, state militarization grows with it. Stephen Graham, in his important book Cities Under Siege: The New Military Humanism, shows boomerang effect of the War on Terror on policing in Western cities. Drones are now involved in crime patrol. Security Zones, based on efforts to build Green Zones in Baghdad, are prominent in big cities. Temporary Security Zones are set up around sports events and political conventions. Since the 1990s over $5 billion worth of surplus military equipment has been transferred to police departments across the country.  During the Obama years, before limits were put in place which have since been rescinded by the Trump administration, police departments received tens of thousands of machine guns, thousands of pieces of camouflage and night-vision equipment, along with hundreds of silencers, armored cars and aircraft. The number of SWAT teams has skyrocketed since the 1980s. Originally established to deal with hostage situations and heavily armed criminals, SWAT teams are now deployed tens of thousands of times a year, mainly for drug searches (well glamorized by the CBS show S.W.A.T.). There was a glimpse of these possible confrontations with social movements during the protests against police brutality in Ferguson in 2014. There is no reason to expect these trends will cease and every reason to think they will expand.

Such is the specter that justice movements may have to confront in the future. Still, future social revolutions will be in cities or nowhere.

The Housing Crisis Is a Feminist Crisis That Democrats Need To Hear

Image via Boston Globe by John Tlumacki

Every election year, Democratic candidates download the latest changes to the Democratic Party platform. They usually make sure to hit refresh on the Wikipedia page for feminism and check for new developments.

It’s a miracle, with an unapologetic sexual assaulter in the White House, that reproductive health and the gender pay gap are getting any airtime at all. For statisticians and pundits, support for these issues is the best way to make a back of the envelope calculation of odds.

If you follow political punditry, you’d think Americans were split on Roe v. Wade. The fact is, only a quarter of Americans support rolling it back. For perspective, the anti-vaxxer movement has about as much support. The truth is that most Americans are in favor of social equity and access to basic social services.

As it stands, women still make 70% of what men do. Women are more often bound with being the sole breadwinner of single-parent households. Women often have more debt and lower credit scores than men. Women are also the fastest growing section of the homeless population.

Every potential obstacle for having a roof over your head is in the way for women.

Given that Democratic political candidates want to show their support for social justice, feminist, and lower-income issues, you’d think they would commit to ending the housing crisis. With a ratio of six-to-one between the number of vacant homes (18 million) and homeless Americans (3 million), you’d think they’d want to close the gap.

Housing, displacement, and gentrification should be stronger feminist issues injected into the Democratic party platform, as they affect the most dependable Democratic voters, women of color, first. This could bring new life and new energy to the platform.

The Wealth Gap Isn’t Closing

So long as women make 70% of what men make, while paying 100% of housing costs, the wealth gap between men and women will persist.

Women are also saddled with two-thirds of the student debt in the U.S. While women make up a few percentage points more of the college population than men, they are far less likely to get a high-paying job without a college degree or to inherit a family business.

Women also pay more in healthcare costs, paying an average of 30% more than men do. Just staying alive is more expensive for women.

Even high earners and entrepreneurs face a obstacles to affordability. With just 16% of business loans being given to women, companies owned by women face a glass ceiling when it comes to growth.

The Parenting Gap Is Real

In New York and California, where the minimum wage is headed toward $15 an hour, women are required to work two jobs to afford adequate housing. The cost of a two-bedroom apartment for a parent and their children in these states is around $26 an hour. The simple dignity of privacy after being a dedicated and productive contributor to the economy is denied to many women.

There are social expectations for women to take responsibility in the event that the family is a single-parent household. When men are tasked with single parenthood, they’re deeply lauded and appreciated in ways that single mothers aren’t.

Single mothers are often perceived as defective and plagued by problems they’ve somehow caused on their own. Single fathers are perceived as strong, emotionally complex, and courageous more often than single mothers are. Meanwhile, single mothers account for over 70% of all single-parent households.

Homelessness Is Increasing For Women

Unemployment numbers don’t tell a complete story. Unemployment is down as people need to take 2-3 part-time jobs just to get by. Single women and families with children form 50% of the homeless population and their numbers are growing, even though many of them have employment.

While elected officials propose small concessions and programs to act as a band-aid, they simply don’t solve the issue.  Homeless advocates are constantly struggling with elected officials who tell citizens to help the homeless by calling police, public safety, 311, 911, or an endless list of 800 numbers.

This reveals how abstract our understanding of housing insecurity is. People will sometimes endure homelessness as a way to escape an abusive parent or partner. If their abusers are in the local shelter system, elected officials are offering a thoughtless solution that fails to address both chronic homelessness and chronic abuse.

Another problem in the relationship elected officials have to housing insecurity is in the scapegoating of the mental health crisis. Plenty of people with mental health issues have homes. However, living with housing insecurity can cause all kinds of untold damage to the psyche.

And Yet Women Are Still Voting

Elected Democrats continue to stand on banal feminist platforms and telegraph their support for the right to choose and closing the gender pay gap. After decades of denying these rights or the visibility for these causes, this feels like progress.

Cynics could say that these changes could be attested to by the fact that more women vote than men. Others could say that Democrats are waking up to the fact that their most dependable demographic is women. However, given that in 2016 an infamous misogynist got the majority of votes from white women, Democrats can’t rely on women as an unspecific monolith.

Democrats are losing voters as you go up the income bracket, with people making more than $50,000 a year dropping off precipitously. This has been hard for Democrats to face, as they’ve enjoyed funding from the real estate and financial services industries. Angling for the people who are voting for them most dependably would win elections but require a disruption to the fundraising that pundits tie to a candidate’s ability to win.

So Where Do The Democrats Turn?

The people who you’d think would be too busy to vote, working single mothers who might have to work two jobs on a Tuesday, are showing up for Democrats. Why aren’t they showing up for women, especially their most loyal voting block, black women?

Just as the DNC ignored the “flyover” states in the 2016 presidential election, just as the assumed conservativism of the south is being turned on its head, the future of the Democratic party can’t survive on the steam built up by the current Democratic establishment. Democratic voters want new issues, an inspiring platform, and something more than just a team to root for.

We should push that our Democratic platform includes intersectional feminist principles that feature housing prominently. We must then demand that Democrats start putting those principles in practices.

As the 2016 presidential election proved, Democrats can’t and shouldn’t count on anyone to turn out. That’s all the more reason to work to earn our trust. So long as they withhold progress on this front, we should withhold our endorsement of their platforms.

Ethical Stardom: Pursuing Dreams in Cities Under The Shadow Of Gentrification

As cities become increasingly difficult to afford for middle-income Americans, how do we reframe the concept of ethical consumption to fit the requirement for creative people to move to a major cultural center to succeed?

Banksy, Follow your Dreams

The idea of moving to New York to pursue your dreams or a better life has a history dating back centuries. There are chefs from around the world who wanted to open a restaurant sharing their hometown cuisine with American audiences. There are artists, writers, and musicians from the Midwest who wanted to be in the biggest city in the country for the most opportunities.

It’s a romantic story that’s no less interesting and unique because it’s so common. While native New Yorkers rightly show off their stripes, go back a generation or two and you’ll find most of their families were based somewhere else.

This narrative continues as people arrive by bus, train, and plane every day. However, this is a different era with different conditions.

I’m not talking about immigrants seeking refuge or people who’ve bravely fled war-torn countries for survival. I’m talking about people who choose New York purposely, because of its cultural capital.

Where once this was a city to arrive in with a dollar and a dream, it’s now a city that requires you to save for months or years in advance to land on your feet.

Moving to New York, or most American cities, to pursue your dreams has become both a privilege and a requirement in many fields, especially the arts and humanities.

But with city populations ballooning and real estate prices skyrocketing, cities already have a great pool of talent vying for every position.  There are kids growing up in the Bronx struggling to get the change together to take a train downtown for an art or music camp their parents saved up to bring them to.

It takes a charming arrogance to presume that as a small kid from Minnesota, you could be better than every other dancer or poet living in New York. It makes for a great origin story. Sometimes it works out and it’s hard not to identify with that underdog story.

The only problem is that type of success is starting to look a lot less like luck and a lot more like a victory lap.

It’s not always a victory lap for the young person who hasn’t made it. Not everyone who moves to a city comes from wealth and comfort. But often in pursuit of the familiar, a transplant fuels a system that’s in motion to suburbanize the city.

This system aims to make New York and every other major city a safe and familiar tourist attraction. People come to New York to eat at the Applebee’s in Times Square, to shop the Disney Store or visit the Nike store—all things they could find in their own nearby malls.

They don’t come here for the now-closed shows, luncheonettes, and hat shops. There’s a closed commercial loop between the box stores in suburban malls and the businesses that now populate the tourist capital of New York City. There’s a responsibility that’s fallen on the city in maintaining a welcome environment for small businesses rather than trying to offer family friendly entertainment to tourists. In failing this, they’ve driven small business to the margins of the city, where tourist dollars are needed, but where they’re never directed to go.

Jeremiah Moss writes:

… Combined with a record-high population of 8.5 million, the city is being destroyed by its own so-called success […] Locals avoid the city’s art museums because they’re jammed with tourists clamoring to take selfies with the masterpieces. […] The green-jeweled oasis of Central Park is “being trampled to death,” as former parks commissioner Adrian Benepe told the Times in 2016. And still City Hall wants more. The latest goal is 67 million tourists per year by 2021.

Young, enterprising, low-income New Yorkers need to pursue alternative paths to pay for their dreams. Without credit, assets, or property, they might have to take out pricier loan options, making the whole enterprise of following their dreams a higher stake venture than it is for large established businesses.

This is not to discourage anyone outside of a major city from following their dreams. But if you achieved your dream in someone else’s hometown, you have a responsibility to your community to try to make room for two of you.

If your neighbors speak a language you don’t know, learn their language. Buy groceries from their shops. Sincerely love the neighborhood you live in, or don’t move there. If you choose a neighborhood because it’s got cheap rent, realize your role in harvesting the fruit of someone else’s life and work.

You need to ensure that local public schools can offer the opportunities you had. You need to make sure that a single parent can do what you’ve done without having to struggle and sacrifice in ways you’ve never had to.

The garment district is moving to Brooklyn. The art world has moved from SoHo, to Chelsea, to Chinatown. Long Island City is starting to look like Dubai.

While other cities like Detroit and Philadelphia have tried to attract more of this cultural capital that once went exclusively to New York and LA, it’s important not to just repeat the same mistakes in a new environment.

I implore other aspiring artists to bring their talents wherever they feel they’re needed. But if it looks like the boat is full, why not check with the passengers before you jump on. There will always be another boat.

Photo: Move NY