Autumn Awakening

From Civil Rights to Economic Justice

The Autumn Awakening underway across the United States is an inspiring moment of hope after decades of overt social, political, and economic reaction. The arrival of the Occupy movement was heralded by the student-worker-citizen occupation of the Wisconsin state capitol last winter. But just a few months ago, a sign bearing the words, “If Egypt can do it so can we” signaled a plaintive cry more than a compelling mandate. The formulation, “We are the 99%” articulates a new, broad-based democratic politics focused on economic justice. While the slogan is by its nature inclusive, the emerging movement is still coming to terms with the fact that the majority of the 99% are women and people of color. (See On Occupy, page 75*)  In this issue, we take a look at how the changing demographic complexion of the United States is shifting the political calculus in many arenas—electoral, economic, and in the new movement called Occupy. Driven by displacement and gentrification (Bullard) and in search of jobs, housing, and education, African Americans, once confined to the South and the urban core, are on the move (Sullivan, Kromm). Some see the departure of African Americans from the cities as a threat to the community’s political power, while others see new opportunities for people of color to build a historic new coalition. [More]


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Introduction: Autumn Awakening

From Civil Rights to Economic Justice

 Occupy San Francisco protest. ©2011 David Bacon

The Autumn Awakening underway across the United States is an inspiring moment of hope after decades of overt social, political, and economic reaction. The arrival of the Occupy movement was heralded by the student-worker-citizen occupation of the Wisconsin state capitol last winter. But just a few months ago, a sign bearing the words, “If Egypt can do it so can we” signaled a plaintive cry more than a compelling mandate. The formulation, “We are the 99%” articulates a new, broad-based democratic politics focused on economic justice. While the slogan is by its nature inclusive, the emerging movement is still coming to terms with the fact that the majority of the 99% are women and people of color. (See On Occupy)  In this issue, we take a look at how the changing demographic complexion of the United States is shifting the political calculus in many arenas—electoral, economic, and in the new movement called Occupy.

Driven by displacement and gentrification (Bullard) and in search of jobs, housing, and education, African Americans, once confined to the South and the urban core, are on the move (Sullivan, Kromm). Some see the departure of African Americans from the cities as a threat to the community’s political power, while others see new opportunities for people of color to build a historic new coalition.

Historical patterns of segregation in suburbs and exurbs like Pleasanton are being overturned as economic justice advocates push for equity in new areas (Rein,  Schafren). Latinos, the fastest growing ethnic group in the country, are coming into new prominence, both as voting blocks in key swing states and as vilified immigrants subject to racial profiling and racial exclusion (Vargas, Eaton). At the same time, as part of a voter suppression strategy, many states have passed laws restricting the right to register to vote (Celock). Incarceration (increasingly in for-profit institutions) and the denial of a path to citizenship for immigrants are excluding people of color from the electoral process (Sakala, Kilgore).

Every 10 years, the U.S. Census sets in motion a constitutionally mandated process of re-aligning voting districts to reflect population changes in federal, state, and local jurisdictions. California carried out its redistricting through a Citizens Commission for the first time (Galambos Malloy), but in most states, tried and true political in-fighting, followed by extensive legal challenges, is now underway (Rowe, Abdullah).

In California, where people of color are the new majority, African American communities were able to preserve their political position; Latino communities saw an increase of 10 districts with Latino majorities; and a new district with majority Asians was created. With redistricting for local jurisdictions starting up under the new California Voting Rights Act (which has more teeth than the federal legislation), organized communities of color stand to gain even greater electoral representation (Cedillo).

In places like Mississippi, African Americans and Latinos have made common cause to turn back the kind of legislative assault on immigrants seen in Arizona and Alabama (Eaton). In Ohio, a revitalized labor-community coalition won a referendum overturning the state government’s attacks on public employees (La Botz). But even if emerging majority coalitions can win elections, they will confront an obvious and glaring flaw in the current system: political power is not actually allocated on a one-person, one-vote basis. The reality is much closer to “one-dollar, one-vote”. Using campaign cash, lobbying, interlocking directorates, and revolving-door regulatory positions, ‘the 1%’ exert overwhelming influence on writing and passing legislation that governs this country at every level.

For decades, progressive policy institutes and think tanks have been methodically researching and proposing legislative and administrative strategies for making the U.S. a more equitable society(Treuhaft). For example,  African American unemployment rates, which have long been  double those of whites (Kroll), could be reduced by hiring African Americans for public infrastructure projects (Arce, Quamie). Progressive forces don’t lack policy remedies for increasing equity, rather they lack the political force to move these solutions into reality in a system owned by the rich. Real solutions have been rejected, and rejected, and rejected, until finally, the excluded 99% are now awakening to the fact that the system is broken.

We are now beginning to see glimmers of the sort of force that might be able to change this system—not just in the Occupy movement but in unions once again starting to find their voices; in the courage of prisoners in solitary confinement going on hunger strike; in the massive educational fora that have sprung from the World Social Forum, and above all, on the international stage where imperial power has over-reached militarily and economically. If these factors converge with an empowered, diverse electorate, progressive forces will begin to see more victories like the one in Ohio. We can hope for new coalition formations, which can connect emerging majorities to unions and community organizations to begin implementing a positive prescription for jobs, fair and affordable housing, public transportation, universal health care, decent education, and other vital needs (Poblet).

A system as entrenched as that of the United States will not be transformed easily. Capital uses many tools to ensure its survival—among them, mechanisms of state power, such as the highly militarized police forces that have displaced Occupy encampments in city after city. Disinvestment after the riots in Detroit might be seen as a response to the globalization of industry, but it can also be understood as a political and economic response to the pressure from unions for living wages, and from African Americans for political power in municipal governance.

In the wake of the 1967 riots that marked the beginning of Detroit’s decline, Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) launched an effort to move the civil rights movement towards more explicit struggles for economic justice. King’s support of the sanitation workers in Memphis was part of this strategy. After King’s assassination, Ralph Abernathy Sr. continued to lead a Poor People’s Campaign to arouse the nation to address the deep and visible inequalities between rich and poor. Caravans from across the country converged on the nation’s capital to stop business-as-usual with civil resistance, and established a massive encampment known as Resurrection City. Despite the SCLC’s valiant efforts, police put an end to that occupation after six weeks. Abernathy spent three weeks in jail for refusing to evacuate and the effort to move civil rights victories into the economic realm failed.

Four decades later we have a new opportunity to bring the causes that King championed at the end of his life to the next stage (Lawson).
It won’t be a short struggle. Ten months after the fall of Mubarak, it’s apparent that the mass mobilizations of the Arab Spring were only the first stage in winning freedom and dignity for the Egyptian people.

Our own Autumn Awakening is tentative. To come to fulfillment it will require systematic organizing on all fronts: in the streets, in the courts, in elections, and in occupations of public and private spaces, and reclamation of resources that are monopolized by the 1%.

The intersection of the emerging Occupy movement with the heirs to the institutional victories of the civil rights movement creates challenges for both. For the Occupy movement to become capable of making change, it must recognize that people of color make up a growing share of the 99% and that racial injustice is integral to the economic system. But established organizations and movements that have been working on these issues for decades are also challenged to incorporate the tactics of mass civil resistance used by Occupy, and to articulate strategies that can transform an entire system that is dependent on racial and economic injustice for its functioning. The awakening of conscience now underway will need to be fueled by practical accomplishments—but already we see new horizons opening for the first time in many years, and hear conversations about class all over the public square.


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Credits, Vol.18 No. 2

Editor Emeritus
Carl Anthony

Connie Galambos Malloy

Editor & Art Director
B. Jesse Clarke

Assistant Editor
Merula Furtado

Layout & Design Assistant
Christine Joy Ferrer

Collaborating Outlets

Special thanks to members of The Media Consortium and other collaborating outlets, including Equal Voice Newspaper, Making Contact, Mother Jones, The Nation, New America Media, Tom Dispatch, and Uprising Radio (KPFK) who provided access to authors, interviews, and articles featured in this issue. (See article credit lines for details.)

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ISSN# 1532-2874

©2011 by the individual creators and Urban Habitat. For specific reprint information, queries, or submissions, please email

In the interest of dialogue, RP&E publishes diverse views. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of the editors, Urban Habitat, or its funders.

We are pleased to announce that RP&E has joined The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent journalism organizations in the U.S. working together to strengthen the role of media in creating a democratic society. We have also been invited to join the comprehensive online academic journal archive JSTOR.

Urban Habitat Board of Directors

Allen Fernandez Smith
President & CEO, Urban Habitat

Joe Brooks (Chair)

Romel Pascual (Vice-Chair)    
Mayor's Office, City of Los Angeles

Tamar Dorfman (Treasurer)

Carl Anthony
Co-Founder, Urban Habitat

Wade Crowfoot
Governor’s Office of Planning and Research

Malo Andre Hutson
Department of City and Regional Planning
University of California,?Berkeley

Debra Johnson
San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency

Felicia Marcus
Natural Resources Defense Council

Asha Mehta
San Francisco Beacon Initiative

Arnold Perkins
Former Director, Alameda Public Health Department

Organizations are listed for identification purposes only.


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Urban Habitat 3.0

Allen Fernandez Smith

Urban Habitat staff, board members, allies, and over 2000 equity advocates from across the country gathered recently at the Equity Summit 2011 convened by PolicyLink in Detroit. There, we saw firsthand the consequences of decades of displacement and disinvestment on such a proud city. We heard from an array of advocates and analysts about the challenges facing Detroit and numerous other regions across the country. We delved into the current economic crisis and saw how people of color—the fastest growing segment of U.S. population—are taking the hardest hits.

We came away better informed and energized to take on the daunting task of moving our nation toward a more fair distribution of resources and decision-making power, and into a more equitable growth agenda. We are looking forward to sharing those discussions and advancing that agenda at the Social Equity Caucus' annual State of the Region Conference in the Bay Area in April 2012.

The sad truth—as evidenced by the ongoing employment crisis and the political gridlock in Washington—is that our political and economic systems have failed us. Progressives need to redouble efforts to restructure these systems so that they do not punish the people who most need services and access to opportunity. We must build support for equitable policies that enable us all to enjoy basic human rights to clean air, good jobs, health care, education, affordable housing, and reliable transportation.

The Occupy ‘moment’ has opened a window for broader public engagement by base-building groups that have been working for years in the areas of housing foreclosures, job creation, and equitable economic development. Here in Oakland, we have begun to see more joint actions between Occupy and community-based organizations. It’s clearer than ever that we need sustainable, equitable policies to match the movement’s action energy.

Urban Habitat is building capacity and consensus to ensure that new economic development in the Bay Area provides affordable housing; that it is built near emerging job centers and that public transit is frequent, reliable, and affordable. We also need to address the fact that people of color and low-income people do not live only in the urban core. Displacement and gentrification have driven many of them into outer-ring suburbs. They need the same level of attention, resources, and organizing support that the urban cores require.

A crucial dimension of our strategy for regional equity is Urban Habitat’s Boards and Commissions Leadership Institute (BCLI), which identifies, trains, places, and supports low-income people and people of color for priority boards and commissions in the Bay Area. With 25 alumni already on local commissions and our third graduating class moving into position, we have begun defining “success beyond the seat” and are working on tools to support our graduates in equitable policy alignment around the Bay Area. We need to widen recognition of the fact that the 99 percent is increasingly people of color and to cultivate a new generation of leadership that is grounded in and accountable to our communities.

Urban Habitat 3.0 is about engaging a broader spectrum of voices, deepening support for base-building community groups, and strengthening core programs on transportation, land use, housing, health, jobs, and the environment. We are one part of a social justice movement that is building a Bay Area that is equitable for all. Join us!

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Geography of Race

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Lawsuit Breaks Suburban Affordable Housing Limits— Challenges Affluent Sprawl

On a warm afternoon, late lunchers linger at sidewalk tables in downtown Pleasanton. Small shops and restaurants fill Main Street’s carefully restored Old West-style wood buildings. Business parks ring the town and beyond them, low rolling hills meet the skyline.

Money magazine ranked Pleasanton among the 100 best small cities in the U.S. in 2010. The article pegged the median home price there at $465,000, and the median family income at $134,282—more than double the California average. It touted Pleasanton’s strong school system and abundance of parks, trails, public art spaces, and jobs.[1] This eastern Alameda County city of 70,000 has more than 2.3 jobs per household, the most lopsided ratio in the region.[2] Pleasanton, it seems, has plenty of everything—except housing.

Thou Shalt Not Build

City ordinances, ballot measures, zoning decisions, and General Plan provisions put in place since the 1980s have created a severe shortage of housing, particularly affordable housing. Pleasanton’s Housing Cap, approved by city voters in 1996 and reaffirmed in 2008, barred it from ever building more than 29,000 units of housing.

The housing restrictions prevent many who work in Pleasanton from living there, forcing them to become commuters. Of the 47,000 people who work in the city, around 42,000—almost 90 percent—commute to their jobs. Only about 4,000 of them take Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) trains; the rest drive, adding to the pollution and traffic congestion in the region.[3]

A lawsuit brought by San Francisco-based Public Advocates on behalf of Urban Habitat and housing activist Sandra DeGregorio overturned Pleasanton’s most stringent housing restrictions. The settlement in Urban Habitat, et al v. City of Pleasanton, et al required the city to plan and rezone for more affordable housing and sparked a broader conversation about what makes a community sustainable.

“For decades, the standard definition of sustainability focused on environmental sustainability,” says Connie Galambos Malloy, senior program director at Urban Habitat. “Now we are learning how closely environmental sustainability and equity are linked.”

Keeping it Green for the People Who’ve Got ‘Green’
Ironically, when the slow-growth majority on Pleasanton’s City Council first put the Housing Cap on the ballot in 1996, they framed it as environmental protection.

“We put the Housing Cap on the ballot because we wanted to keep growth within bounds that our infrastructure—especially our sewer system—could handle,” says Becky Dennis, who served on the Council from 1993 to 2002.

The Council originally paired the Housing Cap with an urban growth boundary to rein in sprawl. The Growth Management Ordinance, in place since 1986, limited the total number of housing permits that could be issued annually to 750. The city’s refusal to zone for high-density residential uses effectively blocked construction of affordable housing.

Without zoning in place, each proposal to build apartments or other high-density projects had to be debated and approved separately. This led to many Planning Commission hearings, prickly negotiations with anti-growth neighbors, and usually a reduction in the number of affordable units getting built.
Most of the low-income housing that made it through this process served seniors rather than families. Only 20 of the very-low-income units built between 1999 and 2006 were open to families with children.[4]
Regional Housing Needs Assessments (RHNA)
To distribute housing needs evenly within each region of the state, California’s Housing Element law provides for “Regional Housing Needs Assessments” (RHNA), prepared periodically by regional councils of government (COG). Schedules vary by region, but the assessments typically cover an eight-year period.
The RHNA includes existing and projected needs for housing at all income levels: very low-income (50 percent or less of area median income); low-income (50-80 percent of median); moderate income (80-120 percent of median); and above-moderate (more than 120 percent of median).
COGs calculate housing needs by looking at population and employment growth, existing employment, and household and employment growth near transit in the entire region and in each city or town. A jurisdiction’s housing needs obligation reflects its share of regional growth.

As Pleasanton was tightening its housing limits, it was becoming more racially diverse. It changed from 95 percent white in 1980 to 67 percent white in 2010 (in a county that is only 35 percent white). But the city’s power structure remained 99 percent white and upper middle class, and housing policy became “the electric third rail in Pleasanton politics,” says Dennis.

“Opposition to developers and residential growth presenting itself as environmental heroism is irresistible political candy,” she says.
While Dennis herself became an outspoken advocate for affordable housing, the growth limits became tools for exclusion—just as they did nationally after the federal Fair Housing Act passed in 1968. Because the Act barred overt discrimination, suburban communities turned to zoning to enforce de facto segregation.

“The power to zone entails the power to exclude,” said Richard Marcantonio, managing attorney at Public Advocates and lead counsel on the Pleasanton suit, explaining that communities use zoning powers to block affordable and multifamily (apartment) housing.

The landmark court decisions outlawing exclusionary zoning asserted that land use and zoning policies must serve the regional welfare, holding that regions thrive environmentally and socially when all communities have a share of affordable housing.[5] By 1980, housing activists in California had secured a state law that required periodic “Regional Housing Needs Assessments” (RHNA) to evenly distribute housing for all income levels. (See box.)

 The 1999-2007 RHNA tasked Pleasanton with building 5,059 units of housing; 729 of them had to be affordable for very-low-income families and 455 for low-income families. By 2006, the city had not even rezoned sites for affordable housing, despite the best efforts of Citizens for a Caring Community (CCC)—a small interfaith group that has become Pleasanton’s most vocal and persistent housing advocate.

Thanks to CCC, Pleasanton’s 2003 Housing Element included a plan for accommodating its affordable housing need. Under Program 19.1, the city had one year after the adoption of the Housing Element to identify enough sites for high-density residential use to meet its regional housing needs goal. It then had until June 2004 to modify its general plan and rezone so the housing could be built.

For three years, CCC lobbied for enforcement of Program 19.1. Members wrote to the Planning Commission, the City Council, and the California Department of Housing and Community Development; they met with commissioners and council members and testified at zoning hearings.

“We kept speaking out at City Council about fair share, but it was like talking to a stone wall,” says CCC activist Pat Belding, who then sought legal help from Public Advocates.

By June 2006, the number of units that could be built under the Housing Cap was too small to meet the city’s RHNA. City staff reports disclosed that only 1,686 units could be built under the Cap, far fewer than the 2,889 units in the RHNA. Public Advocates sent Pleasanton an official “demand letter” detailing the city’s violations of state housing law,6 and a coalition made up of CCC, East Bay Housing Organizations (EBHO), the East Bay Community Foundation, and the Tri-Valley Interfaith Poverty Forum began meeting to discuss next steps.

When All Else Fails, Sue
“Because Pleasanton’s low- and moderate-wage workers could not afford to live there, they were effectively without a voice to impact the policies keeping them out,” Galambos Malloy says. “That’s why it became important for regional groups to take action.”

Public Advocates filed suit against the city of Pleasanton in October 2006. Urban Habitat, et al v. City of Pleasanton, et al charged the city with violating state laws that require communities to meet their fair share of regional housing needs and with discriminating against people of color, female-headed households, and families with children, all of whom suffered disproportionately from the lack of affordable housing.

Settlement Points Way for Climate Change Planning
By opening up this opportunity-rich community, the settlement in Urban Habitat, et al v. City of Pleasanton, et al could make Pleasanton a model for organizers trying to ensure that the regional planning required by SB 375 serves equity as well as the environment.
SB 375—one of the laws passed to implement California’s climate change legislation—seeks to reverse decades of suburban sprawl. It directs regions to develop a “Sustainable Communities Strategy” (SCS) that will reduce driving and greenhouse gas emissions by supporting transit service that links jobs and affordable housing.
“The same policies that drove segregation and disinvestment in communities of color have also generated the sprawl that SB 375 aims to curtail,” says Richard Marcantonio, managing attorney for Public Advocates and lead counsel on the Pleasanton suit. “SB 375 provides a powerful opening for redrawing the regional map of opportunity and exclusion—on top of its environmental goals.”
Though Pleasanton has one of the region’s sharpest imbalances between jobs and housing, many other Bay Area communities follow its pattern. Most Bay Area cities and towns of more than 25,000 people—41 out of 57 studied by the Association of Bay Area Governments—lack sufficient housing for their low-income workers.
Since SB 375 only sets goals and does not prescribe the planning strategies for regions to bring jobs, affordable housing, and transit closer together, Bay Area activists have formed a broad network called “6 Wins for Social Equity” to engage in the SCS planning process. They are advocating for a strategy to bring affordable housing to all the area’s job-rich transit-connected communities and expand existing local transit service. This will help spread the social benefits of communities like Pleasanton and reduce sprawl as well.
Cities that export their housing needs, as Pleasanton did, create a sprawling “commute-shed” of low-wage workers. Affordable housing near jobs will cut vehicle miles traveled to work and greenhouse gas emissions, benefiting low-income workers and the regional environment alike.

Because the case included a discrimination claim, one plaintiff had to be an individual who had been harmed personally. Sandra DeGregorio, a Latina single mother and student teacher who had been active in the Tri-Valley Interfaith Poverty Forum for years, stepped forward.

DeGregorio had been spending more than half her income to rent in Pleasanton. “Some places said they had affordable apartments, but they had a waiting list and it took more than two years for one to open up,” says DeGregorio. She and her two children ended up moving out of town to find housing that would not break their budget.

Because the case also claimed that Pleasanton’s actions impacted the entire Bay Area, Urban Habitat stepped in as a plaintiff to represent the regional welfare.

The Alameda County Superior Court dismissed the case in May 2007. Public Advocates and its co-counsel, the California Affordable Housing Law Project, appealed and won reinstatement of the suit. The California Attorney General’s office joined the suit in 2009, concerned that the imbalance between jobs and housing would keep the region from meeting the greenhouse gas reduction targets set by AB32, the state’s climate change law.

Superior Court Judge Frank Roesch upheld the plaintiffs’ claim when the case came to trial. His March 2010 ruling overturned Pleasanton’s Housing Cap and ordered the city to zone for affordable housing. Pleasanton opted to settle rather than appeal.

By the Numbers: Exurbia Stays White

While suburban America overall is becoming much more racially diverse, there exists great demographic diversity among suburbs within metropolitan areas. In particular, the peripheral, low-density portions of large metro areas, often termed “exurbs,” remain distinct exceptions to the melting pot image.
Exurban counties represent 2.5 million people or just over 1 percent of the total large metropolitan population, but many are expanding very rapidly.
The 20 fastest growing exurban counties in the 2000s are located in a broad range of U.S. regions, from metro areas in the South (Atlanta, Richmond, Raleigh), to the West (Ogden), Midwest (St. Louis), and Northeast (New York). Population growth in these counties proceeded at three to five times the U.S. average rate from 2000 to 2010.
In contrast to the overall suburban populations of their metropolitan areas, most of these exurban counties are overwhelmingly white.
Sixteen of the 20 are more than 75 percent white. (Wilson County, TX near San Antonio is the most diverse, with Hispanics representing 38 percent of residents.)
Whites also account for the bulk of the recent population growth in the exurbs—at least 80 percent in 15 of the 20 exurbs.
Across all exurban counties, whites account for 73 percent of recent population growth, many times that group’s 8 percent contribution to overall U.S. population growth in the 2000s. In some ways, these exurban areas reflect the historic image of suburbia in terms of new housing, growth, and demographic detachment from the more urban portions of their metropolitan areas.
Excerpted from “Melting Pot Cities and Suburbs: Racial and Ethnic Change in Metro America in the 2000s,” a Brookings Institute report.

Under the settlement agreement signed in August 2010, the city agreed to pass an ordinance prohibiting discrimination against families with children needing affordable housing; to prepare a new Housing Element for its General Plan by August 2011; and to rezone three sites in Hacienda Business Park for high-density housing, with a minimum of 15 percent or 130 units (whichever is greater) of affordable housing.

Settlement Helps Community Rethink “Green”
In implementing the settlement agreement, Pleasanton opened a new community conversation on sustainability. It set up a 20-member task force to review plans for the new development at Hacienda Business Park and held community meetings to get input on the new Housing Element, especially on potential locations for affordable housing.

CCC members began working with the Great Communities Collaborative to ensure that the settlement terms were fulfilled. The collaborative comprises seven organizations that are dedicated to equitable transit-oriented development. The Non-Profit Housing Association of Northern California and EBHO took the lead in Pleasanton, with support from Greenbelt Alliance and Urban Habitat.

“People were having conversations about density, about what Pleasanton means to them,” says Peter Cohen, former policy director of EBHO, which has been involved in Pleasanton housing issues for years. “They were changing their idea about protecting the community and seeing their community in relation to the region.”

If the Hacienda Plan discussions prompt a broader shift in thinking, Pleasanton could be a model for other communities trying to move toward a more inclusive, regional perspective—one that sees affordable housing near jobs and transit as a building block for sustainability, not an obstacle to it.
“Pleasanton has some real lessons to teach us about how to find common ground in a political moment of dramatic demographic change,” says Galambos Malloy.

3.    Data compiled by BART between July 2010 and May 2011 show an average of 3,666 people taking the train from Pleasanton during the evening commute.
4.    Letter from Public Advocates to Pleasanton City Manager Nelson Fialho, June 20, 2006.
5.    Southern Burlington County N.A.A.C.P. v. Township of Mount Laurel, NJ, 1975 and Associated Homebuilders of Greater East Bay v. City of Livermore, CA, 1976.
6.    Letter from Public Advocates to Pleasanton City Manager Nelson Fialho, June 20, 2006.

Marcy Rein is a freelance writer and editor living in Richmond, California who works with Urban Habitat as a communications consultant.


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Social Justice in Suburbia

East Contra Costa Needs Regional Resources

For three years running, poverty has been rising and median income declining. The latest U.S. Census report paints a dire picture of the state of the working family today. Yet, as Bay Area social justice advocates chart out their next  moves, they must recognize that the geography of race and class has shifted. Big things are happening in outer-ring communities like eastern Contra Costa County—a.k.a. East County—and the region needs to pay attention.

The Changing Landscape of Race and Class
In his landmark book about race and class in Oakland and the East Bay, Robert Self describes the suburbs surrounding Oakland as the “white noose.”[1] The line between predominantly black East Oakland and almost exclusively white San Leandro was well known in the country and helped to reinforce the common perception of “white” suburbs and “black” cities. But in the Bay Area, which has long been multiracial, with a complicated and spread out geography, this was never completely the case. Yet, it has been a fact of life for African Americans to be confined to a handful of cities at the core of the Bay—namely, Richmond, Oakland, San Francisco, and East Palo Alto.

Over the past generation, this geography has been changing. The Bay Area’s low-income and communities of color are no longer concentrated exclusively in inner core cities. They have been moving in large numbers to the outer suburbs—most notably, to the eastern Contra Costa County communities of Bay Point, Pittsburg, Antioch, Oakley, and Brentwood. Today, over half of East County’s 250,000 residents are African American, Latino, Filipino, or East Asian.
For new immigrants, as well as longtime residents, East County is a place of both opportunity and struggle. Many were able to become first-time homeowners by taking advantage of East County’s relatively affordable housing stock. But rampant predatory lending practices that targeted buyers of color led to skyrocketing mortgage payments and declining home values that put East County at the epicenter of the national foreclosure crisis. In Brentwood, nearly 2 percent of the homes faced foreclosure last August.[2]

As the housing industry slump spread to other parts of the economy, increased unemployment put further pressure on East County families. Even with the recession “officially” over, East County continues to suffer from some of the highest unemployment rates in the Bay Area. Pittsburg’s unemployment rate was 17 percent last July and overall unemployment was nearly 14 percent for East County.[3] To make matters worse, the USS-POSCO steel plant in Pittsburg—one of the largest employers in the area—has announced a partial closing this winter, threatening the livelihood of over 700 workers. According to Oakley resident and local community organizer Nancy Marquez, the combined impact of foreclosure and unemployment has been particularly devastating for African American and Latino families.

Fight for Social Justice Goes Suburban
The streets of East County may not remind anyone of Cairo’s Tahrir Square, but activists and a small but vibrant social justice community have been diligently working in the suburban terrain not normally associated with social activism. What is truly notable about the current level of activism is that the organizers are not going it alone. They are forming different, often interlocking partnerships for different issues at the county, regional, state, and national levels and working with everyone, from local governments to major hospital chains.

Groups, such as the Contra Costa Interfaith Supporting Community Organization (CCISCO) and the Alliance for Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), have been building coalitions and campaigns to target issues at the local and regional levels. ACCE is part of the East County Environmental Justice Collaborative—a partnership between La Clinica de la Raza and the Contra Costa Health Department—which has worked on everything from clean water to speed bumps, with a focus on the low-income unincorporated area of Bay Point. La Clinica has been a local partner of the regional Great Communities Collaborative (GCC), a Bay Area regional effort to link transportation with affordable housing and socially just land use planning around transit stations. And CCISCO has successfully partnered with GCC and La Clinica to bring a new low-income health clinic to the fast growing city of Oakley.

The idea for a health clinic came from organizer Marquez and some youth members of CCISCO’s Oakley Local Organizing Committee when they found out that 40 percent of their church members were uninsured. The county had been considering a school-based clinic to meet the growing demand for low-income health services. “But none of it was ever far east enough for people to benefit,” says Marquez. So, they took matters into their own hands—building relationships with local health providers, such as John Muir, Sutter Delta, Kaiser Permanente, and La Clinica. They also got critical support from the City of Oakley, which stepped in to guarantee the lease for the clinic in 2010, thus adding bricks and mortar to the plan. Remarkably, the campaign was conducted through the worst years of the foreclosure crisis when organizational resources were simultaneously needed for anti-foreclosure work at multiple levels.

Forming Alliances for a New American Majority
CCISCO and ACCE are partners with their parent organizations and groups—such as the National People’s Action, the Industrial Areas Foundation, the Right to the City Alliance—in the New Bottom Line coalition efforts to link the foreclosure crisis to a broader conversation about the economic structure of rising inequality in America. They are all part of what CCISCO Director Adam Kruggel calls, “Alliances for a whole new American majority.” They have been involved in protests in Oakland and San Francisco and local rallies that have garnered national attention and appearances in Antioch by Jesse Jackson. Last May, a prominent pastor and CCISCO leader from Antioch was arrested at a Wells Fargo shareholder meeting—part of a regional action involving more than a dozen local organizations.

Despite their successes, East County organizers are anything but sanguine about the roadblocks they face. The growing poverty, lack of local jobs, and poor transportation network make it physically hard to get everyone together. And while its diversity is one of East County’s great strengths, it also puts forth the challenges that are all too familiar to inner-city activists involved with organizing across race, class, and ethnicity.

Organizers frequently have to overcome what Kruggel calls “the Levittown mindset,” especially among homeowners who blame themselves for their personal housing crises. Trying to explain the structural issues behind bad mortgages, low property values, and lack of local jobs is difficult in a place without a deep tradition of community development institutions. So, CCISCO focuses instead on basic community-building among faith communities to help people connect their personal struggles to the conditions of society as a whole.

Regional Responsibility Through Sub-Regional Coalitions
There is one challenge, however, that local organizers do not feel they should have to endure—a lack of resources and support from the region’s core. “The biggest obstacle we face is finding resources—for CCISCO, for schools, for cities, for everything,” says Marquez. Foundation support and attention from regional social justice organizations like Urban Habitat and EBASE is primarily focused on the region’s core, especially on gentrifying neighborhoods and communities still struggling with the legacy of disinvestment, redlining, and redevelopment. Even the Great Communities Collaborative recently decided to curtail its involvement in East County following the completion of certain land use campaigns they have been working on.

Much like the debate about personal responsibility in the foreclosure crisis—rather than assign regional responsibility for a crisis with deep structural and historical roots—many point to the mistakes of East County cities and homeowners for the problems they face. In truth, the East County’s hardships were not entirely self-inflicted. At the local level, anti-growth policies and rising housing costs in the Bay Area’s inner core pushed many lower-income families to the outer regions in pursuit of affordable homeownership. At the regional level, transportation planning failed to keep up with the East County’s growing population, 80 percent of whom commute to work. The federal government, which heavily subsidized the earlier Bay Area suburban cities, turned its back on suburban development in the last 30 years. It also changed regulations to make it easier to sell subprime mortgages and other predatory finance structures to uninformed home buyers and owners. East County cities were pretty much left to deal with the sudden influx of primarily working class African American and Latino residents by themselves.

By the Numbers: Urban Suburban Population Trends

Hispanics now outnumber blacks and represent the largest minority group in major American cities. The Hispanic share of population rose in all primary cities of the largest 100 metropolitan areas between 2000 and 2010. Across all cities in 2010, 41 percent of residents were white, 26 percent were Hispanic, and 22 percent were black.
Well over half of America’s cities are now majority non-white. Primary cities in 58 metropolitan areas were “majority minority” in 2010, up from 43 in 2000. Cities lost only about half as many whites in the 2000s as in the 1990s, but “black flight” from cities such as Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, and Detroit accelerated in the 2000s.
Minorities represent 35 percent of suburban residents, similar to their share of overall U.S. population. Among the 100 largest metro areas, 36 feature “melting pot” suburbs where at least 35 percent of residents are non-white. The suburbs of Houston, Las Vegas, San Francisco, and Washington, DC became majority minority in the 2000s.
More than half of all minority groups in large metro areas, including blacks, now reside in the suburbs. The share of blacks in large metro areas living in suburbs rose from 37 percent in 1990, to 44 percent in 2000, to 51 percent in 2010. Higher shares of whites (78 percent), Asians (62 percent), and Hispanics (59 percent) in large metro areas live in suburbs.
Fast-growing exurban areas remain mostly white and depended overwhelmingly on whites for growth in the 2000s. Whites accounted for 73 percent of population growth in outlying exurban counties, well beyond their 8 percent contribution to national population growth over the same period.
Excerpted from Melting Pot Cities and Suburbs: Racial and Ethnic Change in Metro America in the 2000s, a Brookings Institute report.

“No one ever thought that Antioch was going to be one of the largest cities in the county. Yet, we don’t have the same voice as Richmond and Concord,” says Councilmember Mary Rocha. “Everyone points the finger at us, but why can’t we get the same opportunities like the rest of them had?”

Bay Area Take Note, East County is Here to Stay
East County has an active and ambitious but under-resourced activist community that has to largely fend for itself. Moving beyond the current situation requires concrete steps at the East County and regional levels.

Regional foundations, think tanks, intermediaries, associations, coalitions, and social justice networks need to see East County as an integral part of the Bay Area that is fundamental to the question of social and spatial justice over the next decade. There needs to be a broader commitment to working diligently on this critical frontier of suburban struggle, as well as finding the necessary funds and resources for it. Regional organizations that engage in advocacy in the East County must work to build the deep and lasting relationships needed to support local community leadership. They must move forward a serious social equity agenda, rather than taking a campaign-by- campaign approach. These lessons have been learned repeatedly in Oakland and Richmond and must not be forgotten in the East County.

Moving out of the foreclosure crisis and combating poverty, underfunded schools, and significant fiscal challenges requires a major investment in the economy and transportation network of the area that no single actor can manage on their own. Historical divisions between the East County and the rest of the region, and divisions between social justice activists and elected officials have to be overcome to create a new, broad-based coalition to push for regional, state, and national investment in the East County’s future.

History could have been written differently if critical thought and investment had gone into managing density, accessibility, and transportation in the region’s core. East County cities might not have had to cope with such rapid growth. But as things stand today, the East County is home to over a quarter million people of all incomes and ethnicities—many of them transplants from the urban core. It’s high time the Bay Area took regional responsibility.

1.    Self, Robert, American Babylon: Race and the Struggle for Postwar Oakland, Princeton University Press, 2005.
2.    Data from RealtyTrac.
3.    Data from U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics. (Note: Unemployment rates are not seasonally adjusted.)

Alex Schafran is a doctoral candidate and Chris Schildt is a graduate student at the Department of City and Regional Planning, University of California, Berkeley.

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African Americans Moving South—and to the Suburbs

The U.S. Census Bureau released findings from the 2010 Census this month that reveal a dramatic migration underway within black America. Over the past decade, hundreds of thousands of black people have relocated to the South and around the country, have moved from the cities to the suburbs.

Nearly 60 percent of the black population now lives in just 10 states, six being in the South, with the black population in Florida, Georgia, Texas, and North Carolina growing by more than 20 percent in the past decade. Overall, between 2000 and 2010, the percentage of the nation’s black population living in the South grew (from 53.6 percent to 55 percent),* while the percentage living in the Northeast and Midwest shrank (to 17 percent and 18 percent, respectively). The number living in the West remained about the same (8.8 percent).

Much of this growth is due to black migration to the South from other regions of the country, according to the Brookings Institute. The numbers are clear: black people have been gradually migrating below the Mason-Dixon Line.

They are also moving from inner cities to suburbs. The proportion of the black population living in the biggest city of a given metropolitan area decreased in all 20 of the nation’s largest metro areas in the past decade.

For example, the percentage of the Detroit area’s black residents living in the city of Detroit itself dropped by 16 percent. Other major cities home to large black populations, including New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington, DC, and Oakland, have all experienced large black population losses as well, as residents have left these places for suburbs or the South—or both. Notably, Southern metro areas top the list for national gains in suburban black residents.

The movers—like migrants worldwide—also tend to be strivers. A few studies have found that among them is a sizable cohort of first-time Southern dwellers who tend to be younger, wealthier, and more educated than the larger black population.

So what do these striking trends mean for black communities, both those that are growing and those that are shrinking? Patterns of residence and migration are shaped by many complicated factors. There are institutional forces, like housing and labor markets, government incentives, and neighborhood characteristics. And there are individual and interpersonal factors, like age, education, and family relationships. But there are also important consequences. Where one lives can affect access to housing, employment, social services—and to the basic structure of a community that so many families depend upon to survive and combat hard times like the ones in which, we now live.

Southern Discomfort
For decades, major cities in the Northeast, Midwest, and West have suffered from de-industrialization and the associated job loss, residential segregation, infrastructure decay, and cost-of-living increases. The impact of these changes have been especially strong in black communities. Before the 2008 recession even began, the black populations of many big Midwestern cities had double-digit unemployment. “Folks are moving here for the lower cost of living,” says Sendolo Diaminah, who recently moved from New York to North Carolina and founded the community organization, People’s Durham. “Some had family who were here. There are tons from New York. Some wanted to get their kids out of a situation of violence and drugs.”

But families fleeing the economic collapse in Rust Belt and Northeastern cities have likely found similar troubles in the South, which has suffered some of the hardest blows in the current downturn. The South used to outpace the nation in economic performance, due to in-migration and development. That trend has ceased. And while the South may have entered the recession with low unemployment rates, those rates have since risen dramatically, exceeding even some of struggling post-industrial cities in the Northeast and Midwest. Black unemployment in Atlanta hit nearly 16 percent in 2010—twice the rate of 2007.

On top of the job loss, suburban metropolitan areas in the South, like Atlanta, Miami, and Houston have high rates of job sprawl, in which jobs are neither centrally located nor equally distributed throughout the metro area. That makes job opportunities harder to find and jobs more difficult to manage once found. In fact, suburban poverty rates find their peak in Southern metro areas. And once-enticing housing markets have been damaged by high rates of foreclosure, which disproportionately affects blacks in Georgia and Florida (though other Southern states with large black populations, including Texas and North Carolina, have not been as severely affected).

The same dynamic is playing out in many suburbs. Desires for better employment opportunities, affordable housing, safer neighborhoods, and better schools are surely drawing many black families to the suburbs. But the trend of relocating to the suburbs may not always be driven by choice. Gentrification is likely pricing black families out of their homes in places like San Francisco, Oakland, and Washington, DC, cities that have seen significant black population loss paired with an influx of whites. Meanwhile, poverty is rapidly expanding in suburban communities and black population rates have grown fastest in lower-income suburbs, according to the Brookings Institute.

Furthermore, blacks are less likely than whites to live in suburbs with high job availability and suburban social service organizations often lack the capacity and funds to address increasing need. Many suburban governments have also been unwilling to accommodate new lower-income residents, reluctant to build multi-unit housing, and opposed to the construction of shelters and social service centers. It is difficult to say that the suburban dream is being fulfilled for black America, especially when predatory lending and foreclosure rates continue to disproportionately impact black families and the nauseating wealth gap between blacks and whites further deepens.

The Cities Left Behind
Inner city neighborhoods that have lost black residents also face new challenges as a result of this migration. In cities across the country, community schools have been shuttered as the number of school-aged children has dropped. Inner cities, which still have high levels of need, can expect fewer federal funds as Census results inform the distribution of money for community development, utility assistance, Head Start programs, and senior housing.

The increased dispersal of black families across municipal boundaries may also impact the election of politicians most willing to address the unique concerns of black constituents. Black concentration in major cities allowed for the election of black mayors, city council members, and congressional representatives in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s. With the black population spreading beyond central city neighborhoods, will black voting power be weakened? This is of specific concern now as states are redistributing and redrawing political districts based on the Census.

Connections to family, friends, and organizations in old neighborhoods will likely change as well. Will congregations shrink? How will personal relationships be maintained or strained?

N’Tanya Lee, a former director of Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth, a grassroots organizing and policy advocacy organization in San Francisco, reflects on how housing stability and relationships stretched from city to suburb are impacting San Francisco Bay Area families. “A black high school student goes to school in San Francisco, stays with an auntie, but their mom lives with her boyfriend in Richmond and grandma lives in Hayward. She kind of lives here; kind of doesn’t,” Lee says, painting a hypothetical picture of the instability. “What’s the anchor? Where’s the ‘home’ to organize around? Parents move to Sacramento and kids still go to school, crash with friends, or live with grandparents. Families are constantly traveling by BART and highways to visit core members of their families, who are spread out.”

As Lee suggests, with more black families spread across the metropolitan landscape, the strategies of progressive and grassroots organizers must adapt, too. How will organizing efforts arise from growing black communities themselves, as residents strive to add their voices to communities that may be experiencing racial diversity for the first time? Looking closely at the causes and consequences of black migration to the South and the suburbs, we can see there are new challenges to building power to make fundamental change.

Despite these challenges, it is important to remember that the growth of strong Southern black communities and the loosening of urban segregation are exciting events. Black America has responded to migrations that were both larger and more culturally significant than those we see today with adaptation and redefinition and renewed vitality.

The Applied Research Center is exploring black population shifts with an intent to serve organizing efforts and also reflect them. We are following and supporting a number of community organizations to learn more about movers and their communities and also to capture the trends and strategies they will use to organize in the midst of these population shifts. By looking up from Census reports and directly engaging community organizations, researchers can better compile, tailor, and disseminate clear and persuasive pictures of population change to support fights for powerful communities.

John Sullivan is a research associate at the Applied Research Center, which publishes Colorlines (, where this article was first published.  

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Black Belt Power: African Americans Come Back South, Change Political Landscape

Much of the media buzz about the 2010 Census has focused on the role of Latinos and new immigrants in changing the face of the country.
It makes sense. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about half of the nation's growth over the last decade was driven by growth in the Latino community, much of it in Southern states.

But equally influential in the South's rapidly-changing demographics is another story with a longer historical arc: The return of many African Americans to Southern states after a decades-long exodus during the Jim Crow era.

The Great Migration of some 6 million African Americans from the South between World War I and 1970 is one of the most significant demographic upheavals in U.S. history. According to author Isabel Wilkerson, at the turn of the last century, 90 percent of all African Americans were living in the South. By the end of the Great Migration, nearly half were living outside the South, mostly in the cities of the North and West.

The civil rights movement did not end racism, of course, but it did change the South enough to entice many African Americans to come back, igniting a reverse migration movement that continues to gain steam.

As a result, the South's share of the black population—57 percent—is now the highest it has been since 1960.* That is still less than the 90 percent mark before the Great Migration, but as the New York Times reported earlier this year, it is a dramatic change.

During the turbulent 1960s, black population growth in the South, and Southern states was less than 10 percent of the national increase. Since then, the South has increasingly claimed a greater share of black population growth—about half the country's total in the 1970s, two-thirds in the 1990s, and three-quarters in the decade that just ended.

The shift could significantly strengthen the political power of African Americans in the South, especially in the historic Black Belt stretching from the mid-Atlantic to East Texas. (See map on page 16 showing where the South's African American communities are concentrated, according to the latest Census data.)

 A glimpse of the political force this represents was seen in 2008, when record-breaking African American turnout helped push Florida, North Carolina, and Virginia into blue territory.

It's also seen in Georgia, the epicenter of the Black Belt, where the African American community grew by more than 579,000 since 2000—the leading ingredient in making it the seventh fastest-growing state in the country.

The 2010 Census also offers a glimpse of how Southern African American communities are changing. Atlanta echoes a trend found across the South and the country, where suburban black neighborhoods are growing at the expense of the urban core. The New York Times notes that “just 2 percent of the black population growth in the last decade occurred in counties that have traditionally been black population centers.”

African Americans moving South also tend to be young: 40 percent were ages 21 to 40, meaning that the political force of the latest phase of African American reverse-migration to the South will be felt for years to come.

Chris Kromm is the executive director and publisher of Facing South and Southern Exposure where an earlier version of this article appeared.


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By the Numbers: Black Flight in the S.F. Bay Area

  • There were 480,000 African Americans living in the Bay Area’s nine counties, accounting for 6.7 percent of the area residents.
  • The three counties with the largest share of African Americans were, Alameda (190,000), Contra Costa (97,000), and Solano (60,000), which accounted for nearly three-quarters of all African Americans living in the Bay Area.
  • The three counties with the smallest African American populations were, Napa (2,600), Marin (7,000), and Sonoma (7,600).
  • Only two counties had African Americans making up more than 10 percent of their total population: Alameda (12.6 percent) and Solano (14.7 percent).
  • Income Levels for African Americans
  • The median household income for African Americans in the nine counties was $48,000.
  • The lowest median household income reported was in San Francisco County ($29,000), followed by Alameda County ($38,000).
  • The highest median household income for African Americans was in Solano County ($60,000), followed by Sonoma County ($58,000).
  • Counties with the lowest median household income had the largest percentage decrease in their African American population since the 2000 census.
  • African American Transit Ridership
  • On average, 14 percent of the Bay Area’s African Americans used public transportation to get to and from their jobs.
  • Transit ridership was the highest in San Francisco County (39.9 percent), followed by Alameda (15 percent) and Contra Costa (12 percent) counties.
  • Transit ridership was the lowest in Santa Clara County (2 percent), followed by Solano (3.5 percent) and San Mateo (7 percent) counties.
  • Counties with the largest percentage increase in their African American population also showed the lowest transit ridership.
  • Black Flight Between 2000 and 2010
  • Overall, African American populations in the nine Bay Area counties decreased by 30,000 or 5.8 percent since the 2000 census.
  • Five out of the nine counties—Santa Clara, Marin, Alameda, San Mateo, and San Francisco—showed a decrease in their African American populations.
  • Three counties showed the largest percentage decrease in African Americans even as they showed an overall increase in populations. They were San Francisco (-19.2 percent; +3.7 percent), San Mateo (-17.7 percent; +1.6 percent), and Alameda (-11.7 percent; +4.6 percent).
  • Alameda County had the highest absolute drop in the numbers of African Americans (-25,000), followed by San Francisco (-11,000), and San Mateo (-4,000) counties.
  • The four counties with the smallest percentage growth in population over the last 10 years—San Francisco, Marin, San Mateo, and Alameda—were also the counties with the largest decrease in their African American populations.
  • Black In-Flight Between 2000 and 2010
  • Three of the four Bay Area counties with the largest percentage growth in overall population also had the largest percentage increase in their African American populations: Napa (+62 percent); Sonoma (+16.7 percent); and Contra Costa (+9.4 percent).
  • The three counties showing the largest absolute growth in the numbers of African Americans were: Contra Costa (+8,300), Solano (+1,900), and Sonoma (+1,000).
  • The four counties—Napa, Solano, Sonoma, and Contra Costa—showing an increase in their African American populations were primarily suburban or rural.
  • The counties with the highest percentage growth in their African American populations also had the highest median household income and lowest transit ridership in the region. Conversely, counties with the largest percent decrease in African Americans had the lowest median household income and highest transit ridership. 
Frank Lopez is Urban Habitat’s Social Equity Caucus coordinator.


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Twenty Point Plan to Depopulate Black Atlanta

Atlanta is often affectionately called the “Black Mecca” of the South but the city has undergone a dramatic demographic shift over the past four decades. Black Atlanta is shrinking and there are 20 major reasons—a “20-Point Plan”—that account for this depopulation. Many of them are detailed in a book I edited in 2007, entitled The Black Metropolis in the Twenty-First Century.

The 2010 census revealed a significant exodus of blacks (29,746) out of Atlanta city over the previous decade. At the same time, the number of blacks in the metro Atlanta area grew by 490,982—a 40 percent increase. The lion’s share of blacks who migrated to metro Atlanta settled in the suburbs—not the city—a trend unlike the one that gave the city a black majority and its first black mayor, Maynard Jackson, in 1973. Metro Atlanta now has the second largest black population of all U.S. metropolitan regions, surpassing Chicago and just behind New York.

Atlanta’s overall population grew from 467, 455 in 1960 to 496,973 in 1970—with the share of blacks increasing from 39.9 percent to 51.3 percent. During the 1980s, the city’s overall population decreased from 425,022 to 394,017—but the share of blacks increased from 66.6 percent to 67.1 percent. In the first decade of the 21st century, the overall population grew from 416,474 to 420,003, but the share of blacks jumped downward from 61.4 percent to 54 percent.

Atlanta’s demographic transition is not an overnight phenomenon. It is important to note that the black exodus happened in an era of black mayors and majority black city councils. The impetus behind this demographic shift may be summarized in the following 20 points:

1.    The 1996 Summer Olympics, which set in motion a surge of policies and practices that fueled the black depopulation trend.
2.    Demolition of public housing in the city.
3.    Overt hostility towards the poor and homeless populations.
4.    Heightened class warfare between black elites and the black underclass.
5.    The squandering of Atlanta Empowerment Zone funds designed to revitalize low-wealth minority neighborhoods.
6.    Diversion of public funds into private ventures, away from the city’s core black neighborhoods.
7.    Dismantling of the public health safety-net through privatization of Grady Hospital.
8.    Failing public schools.
9.    Defunding of the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA).
10. Racial redlining and disinvestment by banks, mortgage firms, insurance companies, and commercial enterprises.
11. Predatory mortgage lending.
12. Gentrification and displacement in urban core neighborhoods.
13. Shortage of affordable housing.
14. Discrimination in both, housing rental and sales.
15. Racial steering by real estate agents.
16. A spatial mismatch between black residential areas and job centers.
17. Movement of jobs from city centers into the suburbs.
18. Black suburbanization and re-segregation in low-jobs suburbs.
19. Closures of grocery stores and supermarkets in black areas, leading to expanding “food deserts.”
20. Breakdown of de facto power-sharing arrangement between white business elites and black political elites.

These 20 points are by no means exhaustive. Nor are they ranked by order of importance. But taken together, they explain the powerful forces behind the depopulation of Black Atlanta—a long-term trend that will likely continue into the future.

The 1996 Summer Olympics was Atlanta’s Hurrican Katrina—setting in motion a surge of policies and practices that fueled the black depopulation trend. Atlanta’s 20-point plan is strikingly similar to the “20-Point Plan to Destroy Black New Orleans,” which I wrote several months after Katrina and its floodwaters devastated that majority black port city in 2005.

2010 census data shows Black Atlanta moving towards a numerical minority in the near future—a population shift that has profound implications for local electoral politics. A smaller black footprint will most likely mean a loss of black political power in the city.

Current Mayor Kasim Reed won by a slim margin of 714 votes in 2009 and some pundits predict that Reed may well be the last black mayor of Atlanta for some time to come. But then again, the pundits had made similar predictions during the tenure of previous mayor, Shirley Franklin. Only time will tell.

Robert D. Bullard is a professor of Sociology and director of the Environmental Justice Resource Center at Clark Atlanta University.

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Black-Latino Coalitions Block Anti-Immigrant Laws in Mississippi

One year after Arizona’s dread SB 1070 took effect, progressives have transferred their fear and loathing to the 2011 winner in the mainstream media’s toughest-immigration-law-in-the-nation contest: Alabama’s HB 56. Its unconstitutionality and inhumanity go further than Arizona’s law by requiring children to prove legal residence before enrolling in public school and making it a crime to give an undocumented person a ride in your car.
The good news is that Alabama and Arizona are still immigration policy outliers. While legislators in at least 24 states filed Arizona-like legislation this year, just five—Alabama, Utah, Georgia, South Carolina, and Indiana—passed watered-down versions of SB 1070. In many states—Georgia, Alabama, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Nebraska and, most triumphantly, Mississippi—the threat of a viral SB 1070 has engendered and strengthened coalitions between immigrant supporters and African American elected leaders who have played visible, pivotal roles in opposing, softening, and defeating Arizona copycats.

“It is a new kind of Southern strategy,” says James Evans, a five-term Mississippi state representative, AFL-CIO organizer, minister, and leading member of the legislative black caucus.

“This is a fight against a kind of venom that black people in Mississippi understand on that heart level,” Evans says, tapping his heart. “But this is hearts and minds working together. Walking together is how we all win, now and further down this long road.”

Richard Nixon pioneered the old Southern strategy through which Republicans pandered to racism and won over Southern white Democrats disaffected after desegregation and civil rights legislation. Now, though, Latinos’ growing presence and electoral clout in the South and other regions, coupled with the moral authority of civil rights, has yielded a new game plan. This one depends not on racial and cultural division but on unity. In Mississippi, a methodically constructed alliance of African Americans, immigrants, and their supporters has grown downright formidable and, Evans suggests, “can help show the country a better way, a path to higher ground.”

It hardly happened overnight. But in the past few years, Mississippi activists’ formula of black and immigrant partnership within a “workers’ rights/civil rights” frame, abetted by dogged labor organizing, has added up to visible success.

In the 2011 legislative session, Mississippi lawmakers introduced 33 bills that sought to make it easier to deport immigrants, or else make life more difficult for them. They included bills that would have: denied undocumented people access to public benefits (which is already prohibited under federal law),  restricted immigrants’ ability to rent apartments (federal courts have ruled similar bans unconstitutional), and mandated “English-only” in conducting government business. By April, all the bills were dead, including an Arizona copycat—SB 2179—which, after it passed both chambers, advocates had assumed was unstoppable. The bill would have made it a crime to fail to carry immigration papers and would have authorized state, county, and local police to determine the immigration status of a person during a “stop, detention, or arrest.” The bill went further than Arizona’s by allowing for immigration checks during traffic stops. The version that passed the Mississippi State Senate would even have allowed people to sue municipalities or law enforcement officials for failure to enforce immigration laws. Through legislative legerdemain, Democratic members in the House, led by black caucus member Edward Blackmon Jr. and Judiciary Committee Chair Willie Bailey, killed the bill.

Similar bills died similar deaths in 2010 and previous years as black lawmakers spent significant political capital fighting them. Black caucus members are regular speakers at immigrants’ rights rallies. They take to talk radio and attend community forums, urging constituents to oppose harsh immigration bills and to join pro-immigrant marches. In recent years, African American legislators have used the power of their committee chairmanships in the House to let anti-immigrant bills languish and expire—despite the fact that their own legislative heft has hardly come easily in Mississippi, the only state whose official flag incorporates the Confederate flag.

Hellbent on Unity
There are no Latino or immigrant members in the Mississippi Legislature. Compared with Georgia (where 9 percent of the population are immigrants) and North Carolina (7 percent), Mississippi has few foreign-born residents (only 2 percent, or about 60,000 people), according to the U.S. Census. Latino immigrants living just outside the capital, Jackson, complain of roadblocks where police and sheriff’s deputies ask for papers, jail people who can’t produce any, and hand them over to federal authorities for deportation. In February, local police in several towns around Jackson cooperated with federal agents in raids on immigrants’ homes. Mississippi, then, might not seem the most fertile ground for growing a pro-immigrant coalition. But in 2000, a white labor organizer named Bill Chandler founded the advocacy group Mississippi Immigrant Rights Alliance (MIRA), hellbent on unity.

Raised in a racially diverse neighborhood of Los Angeles, Chandler had worked with Cesar Chavez’s United Farmworkers across the South and later in Mississippi, organizing mostly African American workers in a variety of industries. He witnessed the migration of Latino workers who first came for jobs in the state’s burgeoning casino industry and chicken processing plants and later to clean up and rebuild after Hurricane Katrina. Chandler understood why the growing presence of exploitable labor worried the struggling African American workers he had helped organize over the years. (About 44 percent of African Americans in Mississippi live below the federal poverty line.) He also feared that white conservatives would exploit potential tensions to divide two disenfranchised groups. But he had long ago learned how to intercept that problem by organizing workplaces with significant shares of both Latino and African American workers, so that “everyone benefited.”

With MIRA, Chandler embarked on a parallel legislative strategy. He began by approaching African American leaders in the state legislature to seek support for immigrants and by organizing an annual “Unity Conference” that cemented relationships between traditionally black civil rights organizations, labor, and immigrant activists. Meanwhile, MIRA staff members organized Latinos and African Americans in workplaces and through community forums in their neighborhoods. Chandler vowed never to ask white legislative allies to sponsor pro-immigrant legislation. He turned first to Representative Evans and to a former teacher and union leader, State Senator Alice Harden, to sponsor bills. Pro-immigrant proposals included efforts to provide undocumented immigrants access to driver’s licenses (a measure passed the Senate but failed in the House) and to offer undocumented students in-state rates at public colleges (the measure died this year). Several local black civil rights activists sit on MIRA’s board, as do union officials. In community forums and meetings with immigrants, most of whom come with no knowledge of the bloody protests and legal struggles that dismantled segregation, Chandler and others point out that if it were not for black civil rights leaders, the immigrants’ rights movement would have no foundation.

“And now? We would not be able to do anything for immigrants without the black caucus beside us. We’d be nowhere,” Chandler says. “This coalition would not benefit anyone if a Latino worker could not see African Americans as their allies.”

Local Government Responds
MIRA’s strategy has trickled down to local government. Right after SB 1070 passed in Arizona, the majority black City Council in majority black Jackson responded by implementing an anti-racial-profiling ordinance designed to protect immigrants. MIRA’s legal project director, Patricia Ice, who is African American and married to Chandler, first presented the idea to the prominent black civil rights lawyer and newly elected City Councilman, Chokwe Lumumba. Ice wrote the legislation, which prohibits police from asking people to prove their immigration status, and Lumumba introduced it.

“This was a message to immigrants that they are welcome here in Jackson,” says Lumumba. “A bigger Latino population would help us politically, sure. But it is right, morally. If we’ve learned anything in Mississippi, it’s how to stand together against oppression.”

In the coming months, Chandler and Ice hope to persuade other municipalities to adopt ordinances like Jackson’s. They think there may also be support for such a measure in Canton, a majority black town of about 12,000, just north of Jackson.

Just days before a pro-immigrant march on the state Capitol, MIRA staff members had driven out to a dusty trailer park in Canton and talked with dozens of Latino immigrants about the proposals before the legislature. Most of the immigrants who rent the dilapidated trailers here work in the chicken processing plants that have become a staple industry in Mississippi. Isela Gonzalez, who hangs and cleans chickens in a Peco plant next to the trailer park, went to MIRA’s meeting. On the day of the rally, Gonzalez, who was pregnant at the time, recalls waking up “tired and sad.” Her common-law husband, the father of her children, had recently been deported, she said, after a sheriff’s deputy stopped him while he was walking back from work and asked him for papers he did not have.

“I became happy when I got to the march,” she says, cradling her newborn son in her arms. “I saw that we are not alone. There are people with us.” Gonzalez joined “a lot of Mexicans and Guatemalans and white people” that day, adding, “I saw many more black people who seemed like important people, the bosses, that day.”

Gonzalez’s correct perception upends the ubiquitous narrative that casts African Americans and Latinos as adversaries in a zero-sum game. As journalist David Bacon documents in his book Illegal People, African Americans in Mississippi have seen themselves displaced by employers who have hired more easily exploitable Latino workers. But as Bacon also points out, and as MIRA takes pains to bring to light, the true villains are the less visible forces undermining economic security for all low-wage workers. Research bears this out. After conducting a large statistical analysis, Yale University economist Gerald Jaynes testified to Congress in 2007 that he and colleagues found very modest effects upon African Americans’ wages resulting from immigration. Jaynes, like MIRA, stresses that African Americans’ economic stability is undermined far more by factors like the decline of manufacturing jobs, weakened unions, a computerized information economy, and educational inequalities.

“Look, everyone needs to put food on the table. Everyone wants to walk down the street without getting harassed,” Chandler says in MIRA’s scruffy Jackson office. Outside his door, immigrants sit waiting for the start of a workshop on the naturalization process. “We need to respect the different histories here between groups. But the folks in that waiting room and African Americans looking for a living wage? They are engaged in the same struggle, and it is not with each other.”

Black leaders on the national level, too, have spoken out in recent months against efforts to pit the two groups against each other. In March, Michigan Democratic Representative John Conyers and Maxine Waters, a Democratic representative from California, sharply questioned Republicans’ motives for holding a hearing on the effects of immigration on U.S. unemployment.

“The notion that is underneath the surface of pitting African American workers against Hispanic workers and immigrants is so abhorrent and repulsive to me that I want to get it on the table right now,” Conyers said.

Also in March, a few weeks before an immigration enforcement bill passed in Georgia, Congressman and civil rights icon John Lewis showed up unannounced and joined a rally against the measure. Outside the Capitol in Atlanta, Lewis stood with members of the state’s legislative black caucus. With microphone in hand, he strode straight toward the metal barricade cordoning off the mostly Latino crowd. His voice boomed over cheers and applause.

“I was involved… in the civil rights movement. I got arrested… I was beaten, left bloody. But I didn’t give up,” he said. “And you must not give up.” The crowd quieted and Lewis flowed into preacherlike cadence: “We are all brothers and sisters. It doesn’t matter if we are black, white, Latino, Asian American, or Native American. We all live in the same house. If any one of us is illegal, then we all are illegal.”

Before putting down the microphone, Lewis, a leader of the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery, offered his fellow protesters a parting gift: “If any of you get arrested and go to jail, I am prepared to get arrested and go to jail with you.”

Susan Eaton, research director at the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute at Harvard Law School, is the author, most recently, of The Children in Room E4: American Education on Trial. This article was originally published in The Nation

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Census Bureau Contributes to Prison-based Gerrymandering

When Brooklyn native Ramon Velasquez was sentenced to prison, he was transported to the Attica Correctional Facility, about six hours and 350 miles from his home. Although acutely aware that he was far from where he lived, Velasquez did not realize that his transfer to Attica would also result in his community’s political clout being displaced. That’s because the U.S. Census Bureau—contrary to the provision of the New York State Constitution, which considers Velasquez a resident of Brooklyn even during his time in prison—counted him (and all other incarcerated persons in the United States) at the location of the prison rather than at his home.

Velasquez assumed that he would be counted in his home district during his prison sentence. After all, he had no connection to the local community in the district in which he was imprisoned. Incarcerated people  are not allowed to use local services and do not participate in local community affairs in any meaningful way. If allowed to vote, they are required to cast absentee ballots in their home districts. As Velasquez wrote in the Huffington Post, “I always considered Brooklyn my home, which is where my family lives.” And that’s where he returned directly upon his release.

Effect of Prison Populations on Democracy
Following the 2000 Census, New York’s Redistricting Task Force drew new legislative districts based on the population data, which counted 71,466 incarcerated people at the wrong location, posing a serious problem for democracy in New York.

Using incarcerated populations to pad numbers in districts with prisons artificially inflates the number of “constituents” in those districts. It gives extra political clout to some people solely on the basis of their residential proximity to a prison, while reducing the political representation of others, especially urban residents and communities of color. “Prison-based gerrymandering” dilutes the political clout of voters in districts with disproportionately high incarceration rates, such as Velasquez’s home borough of Brooklyn.

Furthermore, the practice of counting incarcerated people as though they were residents of the county in which they are confined undermines the constitutional principle of “one person, one vote” and distorts our democracy on every level, from local school boards to state legislatures.
The New York legislature has since ended prison-based gerrymandering with a 2010 bill that reallocates incarcerated people to their home districts for redistricting purposes. But most states and many local governments have not put forth similar legislative solutions to ensure that incarcerated populations are counted in their home districts.

Anamosa: A Case Study in Gerrymandering
The city of Anamosa, Iowa provides one of the clearest and most dramatic examples of how prison-based census data can skew matters. In 2005, Anamosa resident Danny Young was voted onto the City Council as a write-in candidate with a total of two votes. The two people who cast ballots for Young—his wife and his neighbor—were among the few true residents of the city ward with a legal vote as the balance of the “constituents” were the 1,321 people incarcerated in the Anamosa State Penitentiary.

Since the city had included the prisoners in the general population count during a 2002 redistricting, the 58 true residents of Young’s ward ended up with as much power in local government as the over 1,300 residents in each of the other wards. In other words, padding the ward with the prison population gave 1 percent of Anamosa’s population a 25 percent stake in political representation. Asked whether he considered the prisoners his constituents, Young told the New York Times, “They don’t vote, so, I guess not.”

The Anamosa City Council was a stark, if likely unintentional, example of prison-based gerrymandering. When viewed through the lens of state rather than local districts, however, the effects on minority voting power become quite striking. The prison population is nearly a third African American or Latino, but Anamosa is a small, rural city where less than 2 percent of the residents are black or Latino.

When Iowa draws its state legislative districts, the district that contains the Anamosa prison gets credit for the prison population. All other districts will suffer as a result of padding this state district. The biggest victims of prison-based gerrymandering are the urban communities like Waterloo and Iowa City that send disproportionate numbers of people to prison and are denied their true population at redistricting time.

Hearkening Back to Slave Population Counts
Across the country, prison-based gerrymandering has the effect of siphoning off political clout from the communities where most incarcerated people come from, and transferring it to the districts where they are confined but cannot vote. This use of incarcerated “phantom populations” has a disconcerting resemblance to the pre-civil war practice of counting slaves as three-fifths of a person for the purposes of U.S. Congressional apportionment. It artificially boosted Southern representation under the 1787 Constitution’s infamous “three-fifths” clause.

Soaring incarceration rates are actually escalating the harmful effects of prison-based gerrymandering on minority political power. The prison population in the United States nearly tripled between 1987 and 2007, and the over 2 million people currently behind bars make up more than 1 percent of our total national adult population. Our nation’s unprecedented reliance on incarceration raises many social, economic, and cultural concerns, with some of the most disturbing statistics reflecting the racial disparities in our criminal justice system. In 2009, black men were incarcerated at a rate 6.4 times higher than white men, and Latino men were incarcerated at a rate 2.4 times higher than white men.

While a disproportionate number of the incarcerated are people of color from urban communities, the majority of new prisons are built in non-metropolitan, predominantly white communities with low incarceration rates. In fact, we found that in over 173 counties in the U.S., more than half the black population is incarcerated. This does not reflect heightened racism in these counties. It merely demonstrates that the people behind bars in those counties are not from the area. Despite this critical demographic difference, the Census Bureau counts incarcerated people—who have been unwillingly transported far from home and who cannot vote or participate in the local community—exactly as if they were residents living freely in the community with a stake in local government.

Wisconsin Should Rethink its Districts

The issues that concern the residents of a district with a prison are generally substantively different from those of the incarcerated in that district. When incarcerated people need to access the legislature, they reach out to representatives from their home districts. As Henry Hamilton III of the Wisconsin NAACP explains, “Legislators from communities where prisoners are from, and [to which they] will likely return, are more inclined to sponsor and support legislation that will benefit the prisoners upon reentry, as well as their victims and their communities.”
In the current round of redistricting based on the 2010 Census, Wisconsin displays some of the more dramatic instances of prison-based gerrymandering. The 53rd Assembly District, for example, has the highest concentration of prisons in the state and 5,583 of its “constituents” are to be found behind bars. Without the prison population, District 53 would fall below the required population size for a district—beyond the allowable 10 percent deviation from ideal population size. Including the prison population in the census count gives every 90 residents of District 53 the same amount of political clout as 100 residents of any other district. Moreover, demographically, District 53 claims a sizable African American population. But a closer examination shows that only 590 of its 2,784 African American “constituents” actually reside outside prison walls.

Movement to End Prison-based Gerrymandering

While states like Wisconsin continue to use flawed census data in redistricting, there is a growing movement to end prison-based gerrymandering that has inspired changes at the national, state, and local levels. Maryland and New York have both passed legislation to count incarcerated people at their homes for the current redistricting cycle, while California and Delaware have passed laws to fix the problem during the 2020 cycle. At the local level, more than 100 county and municipal governments across the country already exclude incarcerated populations from redistricting plans.

Although the Census Bureau once again counted incarcerated people in the wrong location for the 2010 Census, it has agreed to publish detailed data on incarcerated populations much earlier than in the past. This gives state and local governments the information they need to avoid prison-based gerrymandering in time to use it in their redistricting processes.

As for Anamosa—as soon as citizens discovered that prison-based gerrymandering was compromising the fairness of their City Council, they wrote up a petition to switch to an at-large system that ensures equal weight for each vote cast. Council Member Danny Young was one of the first people to sign on. 

Leah Sakala is a policy analyst at the Prison Policy Initiative.

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Immigration and Mass Incarceration

In July 2011, Representative Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) was arrested during a demonstration in Washington, DC, to protest President Obama’s refusal to use his executive powers to halt deportations of the undocumented. Gutierrez’ arrest came only two days after Obama had addressed a conference of the National Council of La Raza, reminding attendees that he was bound to “uphold the laws on the books,” conveniently forgetting the history of the civil rights struggle that had made his presidency possible.

With over 392,000 deportations in 2010, more than in any of the Bush years, many activists fear a repeat of the notorious “Repatriation” campaign of the 1930s and the infamous Operation Wetback of 1954, both of which resulted in the deportation of hundreds of thousands of Latinos. But a few things are different this time around.

One crucial distinction is that we are in the era of mass incarceration. Many of the undocumented are being sent to prison for years before being delivered across the border. While the writings of Michelle Alexander and others have highlighted the widespread targeting of young African American males by the criminal justice system, few have noted that in the last decade the complexion of the faces behind bars has been changing. Since the turn of the century, the number of blacks in prison has declined slightly, while the number of incarcerated Latinos has increased by nearly 50 percent, crossing the 300,000 mark in 2009.

A second distinction is the rise of private prison corporations. For prison industry leaders, such as Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and the GEO Group, immigrant detention has been their lifeblood. Just over a decade ago, their bottomlines were sagging. Newly built prisons sat with empty beds while share values plummeted. For 1999, CCA reported losses of $53.4 million and laid off 40 percent of its workforce. Then came 9/11.

Steven Logan, then CEO of Cornell Industries, a private prison company that has since merged with GEO, spelled out exactly what this meant for his sector: “I think it’s clear that with the events of September 11, there’s a heightened focus on detention, both on the borders and within the U.S. [and] more people are gonna get caught… So that’s a positive for our business. The federal business is the best business for us. It’s the most consistent business for us, and the events of September 11 are increasing that level of business.”

Logan was right. The Patriot Act and other legislation led to a new wave of immigration detentions. Aggressive round-ups supplied Latinos and other undocumented people to fill the empty private prison cells. Tougher immigration laws mandated felony convictions and prison time for cases that previously merited only deportation. Suddenly, the business of detaining immigrants was booming. PBS Commentator Maria Hinojosa went so far as to call it the new “Gold Rush” for private prisons.

The figures support Hinojosa’s assertion. While private prisons own or operate only 8 percent of general prison beds, they control 49 percent of the immigrant detention market. CCA alone operates 14 facilities providing 14,556 beds under contract with ICE and have laid the groundwork for more business with a vast lobbying and advocacy network. From 1999 to 2009, CCA spent more than $18 million on lobbying, mostly focusing on harsher sentencing, prison privatization, and immigration.

One significant result of their lobbying efforts was the passage of SB 1070 in Arizona, which nearly provides police with a license to profile Latinos for stops and searches. The roots of SB 1070 lie within the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a far right grouping that specializes in supplying template legislation to elected state officials. CCA and other private prison firms are key participants in ALEC and played a major role in the development of the template that ended up as SB 1070.

For its part, GEO Group has also been carving out its immigration market niche. Earlier this year, they broke ground on a new 600-bed detention center in Karnes County, Texas. At about the same time, the company bought a controlling interest in BI Corporation, the largest provider of electronic monitoring systems in the U.S. The primary motivation for this takeover was the five year, $372 million contract BI signed with ICE in 2009 to step up the Bush era Intense Supervision Appearance Program (ISAP 11). The Feds hired BI to provide ankle bracelets and a host of other surveillance for about 27,000 people awaiting deportation or asylum hearings.

Sadly, the Obama presidency has consistently provided encouragement for the likes of CCA and GEO to grow the market for detainees. While failing to pass immigration reform or the Dream Act, the current administration has kept the core of the previous administration’s immigration policy measures intact. These include Operation Endgame, a 2003 measure that promises to purge the nation of all “illegals” by 2012, and the more vibrant Secure Communities (S-Comm), which allows local authorities to share fingerprints of all detainees with ICE. Supposedly intended to capture only people with serious criminal backgrounds, S-Comm has led to the detention and deportation of thousands of people with no previous convictions.
At the La Raza conference, Obama tried to console the audience by saying he knows “the pain and heartbreak deportation has caused,” but his words failed to resonate. Instead, Rep. Gutierrez and others took to the streets to demonstrate that “I feel your pain” statements and appeals to the audacity of hope carry little credibility these days.

It is time for a serious change of direction on immigration issues, or pretty soon the mass incarceration of Latinos may come to be called the “New Operation Wetback.”

James Kilgore is a researcher at the Center for African Studies at the University of Illinois. He is the author of two novels, We Are All Zimbabweans Now ( and Freedom Never Rests, both written during his six-and-a-half years of incarceration. 

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Redistricting and Voting Rights

A group of civil rights demonstrators march from Selma to Montgomery,1965. ©1965 Bruce DavidsonEvery 10 years, the U.S. Census sets in motion a constitutionally mandated process of re-aligning voting districts to reflect population changes in federal, state, and local jurisdictions. California carried out its redistricting through a Citizens Commission for the first time (Galambos Malloy), but in most states, tried and true political in-fighting, followed by extensive legal challenges, is now underway (Rowe, Abdullah).

In California, where people of color are the new majority, African American communities were able to preserve their political position; Latino communities saw an increase of 10 districts with Latino majorities; and a new district with majority Asians was created. With redistricting for local jurisdictions starting up under the new California Voting Rights Act (which has more teeth than the federal legislation), organized communities of color stand to gain even greater electoral representation (Cedillo).

In places like Mississippi, African Americans and Latinos have made common cause to turn back the kind of legislative assault on immigrants seen in Arizona and Alabama (Eaton). In Ohio, a revitalized labor-community coalition won a referendum overturning the state government’s attacks on public employees (La Botz).

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A Commissioner’s Perspective on California’s Redistricting

When Californians voted to create the nation’s first independent Citizens Redistricting Commission charged with drawing Assembly, Senate, Board of Equalization, and Congressional districts, it was with the hope of ending the partisan gerrymandering of the past. Speaking as one of the 14 Commissioners, I believe we have delivered on that promise—against all odds.

We had less than eight months to bring 14 strangers from diverse backgrounds together, hire staff and consultants, develop and conduct an extensive public outreach process, draw 177 individual district maps that incorporated complex legal and technical analysis, compose an extensive narrative report, and certify the maps with a multipartisan vote. And it was done—on time and under budget. The maps were produced through a transparent process: deliberations were conducted and decisions about boundaries made in public, streamed live with transcripts, and archived online. And although the process was called redistricting, it really should have been called “districting” because the Commission consciously chose not to tweak existing districts with their flawed political baggage, but to start from scratch using its constitutionally approved criteria.

As the youngest Commissioner and one of only two with small children, the public service commitment was grueling beyond my wildest imagination. I can remember one Tuesday morning when I woke up, packed my one-year-old son in the car, and drove five hours to a public hearing that lasted until midnight. The next day, I woke up and drove three hours, and did it all over again. And then again. While most Commissioners spent their daily stipend on sightseeing, I spent it on childcare at the hands of strangers!

A Peek Into Hidden California
The Commission heard testimony from an incredibly diverse cross-section of the state that was important to how the maps were drawn. From Salinas to Culver City, from Hanford to San Bernardino, thousands of people attended 34 public hearings at which, over 2,700 individuals provided input. Tens of thousands of others put their thoughts in writing, maps, and even poetry.

As we traveled across the state, I was forced to confront the new socio-demographic reality of California. While Marysville claims significant Hmong and Latino populations in its Census, it was possible to spend 24 hours in the town’s prominent public places with minimal contact with either group. At a Latino community center in San Jose with deep roots in the Cesar Chavez legacy, aggressive Tea Party organizing chilled the air, cleared the room, and compelled us to call in extra security. In the Coachella Valley, speaker after speaker insisted the area was an exclusive resort community, but even a minor detour off the beaten path revealed migrant farm worker encampments. In the Antelope Valley, I remember the lone African American person at the Commission’s Input Hearing, who later explained to me that we had chosen a location on the side of the railroad tracks that many in his social circle knew to avoid.

Playing it Strictly by the Rules
When it came to drawing the districts, the Commission followed the criteria set forth in the Voters First Act—in ranked order: (1) We complied with the U.S. Constitution—one person, one vote; (2) The districts were designed to comply with the Voting Rights Act, ensuring an equal opportunity for minorities to elect a candidate of their choice; (3) We made the districts geographically contiguous; (4) Wherever possible, we kept cities, counties, neighborhoods, and communities of interest whole; (5) Our districts are compact and do not bypass nearby communities for more distant ones; (6) Where practical, without violating other criteria, we nested or blended so that Senate districts were comprised of two whole Assembly districts and Board of Equalization districts comprised of 10 Senate districts; (7) The Commission never considered incumbents, political candidates, or political parties when drawing districts.

In fact, current analysis shows scores of candidates drawn out of their districts or more than one incumbent within a district. The 2012 elections—with the combined impact of redistricting and the new top two primary system—may bring significant changes across the state and in the long run, create opportunities for new leadership.

The new political maps are superior to their predecessors from a standpoint of both process and outcome, which is “fair and effective” political representation. The public has never had a seat at the redistricting table before, or a chance to weigh in on the process at so many stages—before and after the draft visualizations. Naturally, public expectations have been high and there is some disappointment that individual requests were not realized—an impossibility in a geographically and demographically diverse state like California. As an Oaklander, I had to constantly challenge myself to make decisions as a “Californian” entrusted with balancing the interests of the entire state—not just my part of the universe. The process involved intense negotiations across party lines and the result, understandably, is a compromise. The new map is not aggressive on behalf of any one constituent group, nor is it one that any of us personally would have created, but it represents an equitable balance to voters across the state.

Court Finds Maps in Compliance
In keeping with past redistricting tradition, there has been litigation. Two groups filed suit against the Commission’s maps. But on October 26, the California Supreme Court unanimously dismissed the suits affirming that the Commission had followed the Constituition, the Voting Rights Act, and the Voters First Act. After failing in state court, one of the same groups filed litigation in U.S. Federal Court over the state Senate maps. Signatures for a ballot measure to overturn the state Senate maps were also submitted to the state and the verification process is currently underway. It is unclear whether it will qualify for the November 2012 ballot.

As I continue to travel around the state, one  thing is clear, the public has fully embraced this new redistricting process and now citizens are demanding the same level of transparency and public input at the county and city levels. I can only hope that California’s precedent-setting, citizen-led experiment in redistricting sets the standard for the nation in the decade ahead.

Connie Galambos Malloy is senior director of programs at Urban Habitat and publisher of RP&E. She also serves as a Commissioner with the California Citizens Redistricting Commission.

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California Redistricting Preserves Black Voice in State Politics

For years, political pundits and sectors of the media have reported with barely contained glee on the supposed decline of California’s black population. There has been much speculation about how the demographic changes will lead to a decline in black political leadership. Proponents of this viewpoint saw this year’s redistricting process as a golden opportunity to spin the narrative into permanent changes in political boundaries that would lead to the disenfranchisement of black voters. If these black districts were eliminated, it would be nearly impossible to get them back.

The blows came from all directions. The media led with sensational predictions about African Americans ending up losers in the process. The Los Angeles Times quoted a member of the Redistricting Commission saying, “It’s very hard for people to accept changing demographics.” The message between the lines being, “Their time is over.”

Early in the process, a group of African Americans from Democratic Representative Maxine Waters’ district testified before the Commission. They were promptly accused of being Waters’ “political operatives” by one Republican commission member who, without offering any evidence to support this claim, urged the other commissioners to disregard their testimony. District residents of all backgrounds, races, and ethnicities had testified that day, but this was the only group singled out for discrimination.

Hawthorne-by-the Beach
Other shenanigans included a declaration by the Mayor of Hawthorne that his landlocked city should be grouped with its more affluent coastal neighbors to the West. Such a grouping would have disturbed the delicate balance of the black population in Southeast Los Angeles County and dealt a drastic blow to black representation. The move was a direct attack on Rep. Waters’ district and not surprisingly, conservative members of the Commission ran with the bizarre “Hawthorne is a beach city” mantra.

Fortunately, a coalition of black leaders and community organizations came together early in the process to form the African American Redistricting Collaborative (AARC), which was able to anticipate the attacks, mobilize communities, and engage attorneys to provide a legal basis for our position.
Ultimately, all of the current black districts in California were preserved. Additionally, new State Senate and Assembly districts were formed where an African American candidate can run competitively. The Redistricting Commission listened to our collective voices and approved a final map that preserves black political representation.

Redistricting by Committee Risky For Blacks
As we celebrate these accomplishments, it is important to step back and reflect on what this victory was all about. Blacks typically side with issues of equality and have reliably provided the bedrock of progressive coalitions. Redistricting is an inherently progressive activity—if done honestly. The concept revolves around shifting power to reflect population concentrations.

We must not forget, however, that a majority of California voters supported Props 11 and 20, which authorized the creation of the Commission and tasked it—instead of the legislature—with redrawing congressional boundaries because of concerns over political corruption and influence. This has not been the experience, historically, from the perspective of African Americans, who have trusted their elected officials to do right by them. So, although we won this round, redistricting via a randomly appointed citizen’s commission—which, by default draws an intellectual crowd with technology access and resources—is a risky game at best for the increasingly dispersed black community. 

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Voting Rights are Local Rights

To social justice advocates, redistricting is a familiar lever for causing political change. While it sparks the imagination of a certain breed of political junky, in most people it generates something akin to math anxiety.

The rewards of engaging in the redistricting process can be plainly seen in what was achieved in California this year with the first truly open and public Commission drawing the state’s legislative and congressional lines. Social justice groups were able to shape the Commission, drive the discussion, and create outcomes that will have ramifications for the next decade. Their success can be measured in the number of majority minority districts created. 

According to analysis by Paul Mitchell of Redistricting Partners, the old map provided for 19 majority minority Latino districts, whereas the new map provides for 29, and one that is over 50 percent Asian. In addition, the Commission preserved several districts that, while not majority minority black, are likely to continue electing representatives from that community. “These lines provide a 20-year correction—finally reflecting the true electoral strength of minority communities,” says Mitchell.

The primary tool used in statewide redistricting is the Federal Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1964, which is concerned with matters, such as ballot languages, number and placement of polling locations, poll taxes, literacy tests, and discriminatory redistricting—to ensure that elections are conducted in a way that does not disenfranchise protected minorities. The courts have deemed illegal any electoral structures that deny minority groups their electoral choice, including the practice of creating districts by dividing up ethnic groups to preserve the status quo.

The VRA has resulted in greater numbers of minorities serving in the legislature and congress. Even where members of a protected class are not elected, it still provides for a stronger voice in their representation. Without access to congress and the state legislature we would not have achieved many of the civil rights gains of the past 50 years.

California Voting Rights Act Provides Strong Tools
The California Voting Rights Act (CVRA) was enacted in 2002 and focuses exclusively on the use of at-large election systems. As defined in the law, at-large systems include any election method other than the system where area voters select their representative in single member districts. If you find yourself voting in elections for more than one candidate, or voting for water board, school board, and council candidates in city-wide elections, you are in an at-large system, although most Californians probably are unaware of the system being used.

The at-large system is not an issue if there is no evidence that a sizeable ethnic group is losing their rights to representation. In the city of Santa Monica, for example, white voters are not voting significantly different from non-whites, so an at-large community college board election is unlikely to be subject to the CVRA. However, the system can pose a problem for the 131 Latino-majority, or the dozens of African American- or Asian-majority cities. A recent analysis of census data and elected boards by GrassrootsLab, a Sacramento consulting firm, shows that over a dozen of the state’s majority-Latino cities have all-white boards and 40 more have white-majority boards elected in at-large systems. Most, if not all of these cities will be forced to change to the single member district system to comply with the CVRA.

Moreover, a city, school board or other local elected board does not have to have a majority minority population to face scrutiny. Recent lawsuits show that local governments with ethnic population concentrations as low as 25 percent could face serious scrutiny under CVRA if they show little history of electing members of that population. There are approximately 1,000 such cities, school boards and other locally elected boards* in California.

To be successful, a CVRA claim has to meet three conditions: (i) an at-large election system, (ii) a history of racially polarized voting that can be shown using statistical methods, and (iii) the ability to remedy the situation by creating districts where the impacted group could influence the outcome of the elections.

The new “influence” standard is particularly important. Under federal law it requires the ability to create districts with a 50 percent concentration, but under state law, the population concentration can be as low as 25 percent, provided that it gives the ethnic group sufficient votes to “influence” the election of their representative.

Reason to Celebrate but Not Rest on Laurels
It took just one year for the social justice community to create 10 new majority minority legislative and congressional districts in 2011! But it would be a mistake for the leadership to rest on its laurels. In cities like San Jose and Stockton, counties like Los Angeles and San Diego, there are new opportunities to create advancements within the traditional redistricting; as also in hundreds of local governments that may have to convert under CVRA.

The social justice community has a major role to play in pushing their local governments to study the law and if applicable, to create new districts where disaffected minority populations can be in the majority, or influence voting outcomes. Many cities, school boards, water boards, and special districts are making changes voluntarily to avoid public criticism but others are requiring lawsuits. The county of San Mateo, the city of Compton, and the community colleges of Compton and Cerritos are among those being sued by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights. But that may prove to be just the tip of the iceberg as more groups work to enforce the law.

Ten years from now, the benefits of generating local electoral opportunities for Asians, Latinos, and African Americans under the CVRA should swamp the 10 new legislative and congressional seats created by the Citizen’s Commission. In fact, the 10 new seats will have limited meaning without a pipeline of qualified, experienced, and empowered locally elected officials that can rise to those offices.

Senator Gil Cedillo is author of the California Dream Act and is known for his commitment to passing legislation to allow undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses. He represents the 46th California State Assembly District.

*Earlier versions of this story omited the phrases in brackets.

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Over a dozen of the state’s majority-Latino cities have all-white boards and 40 more have white-majority boards elected in at-large systems. Most, if not all of these cities will be forced to change...

Power Shift in Chicago

Chicago, one of the most populous, politically important cities in the country, has watched its African American population steadily ebb over the last decade, to a point where low-income residents say they no longer recognize the city as a stronghold of working families.

First, there was the demolition of public housing and ongoing gentrification efforts—both of which pushed blacks to the suburbs. Now census figures show that the city’s black population has plummeted 17 percent since 2000. Community activists charge the Census Bureau with undercounting blacks by the thousands and say it is partly to blame for the fact that blacks in the Windy City now stand to lose political representation at the federal, state, and local levels.

The Latino population, on the other hand, is surging—up 3 percent in Chicago and 32 percent statewide. Wary of being played against one another in a political game where poor people of all colors may be the true losers, blacks, Latinos, Asians, and Arabs are working to strengthen their ties.
“This is really tough,” said Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, a Cook County commissioner and 45-year resident of Chicago. “The relationship between Latinos and African Americans will be quite challenging because Latinos will gain—as their numbers indicate—but you definitely can see patterns of development that don’t bode well for poor or working people in general.”

Census officials have acknowledged a possible undercount in Chicago, which echoes the experience of community activists who encountered deep distrust when they went door-to-door in black neighborhoods to encourage participation in the census. Sokoni Karanja, executive director of Centers for New Horizons, recalled feeling bewildered when people in his own neighborhood turned him away even after he had explained the political and financial importance of filling out census forms.

“There’s just a lot of mistrust,” he said. “People did not want to be involved. They would… not open the door. Some were cooperative, but in general there was a great deal of resistance.”

Self-defeating as that may seem, Karanja believes distrust of government is deeply embedded in the black community. “Census workers are gathering information that could go back to authorities, and in this community we have a long-taught fear of authority,” he explained. “The government is not a friend. Many of us come from the South where anything could be used against you, even if you were ‘in the right.’ It happens in Chicago, too.”
Organizers urged the the state legislature and the cirty council to keep communities of color together.

Public Housing Demolitions Spur Exodus

Other forces may have had an even greater impact on Chicago’s black population. Since 2000, the city has demolished 11,000 units of public housing in the Bronzeville area alone, promising to rebuild only a third of those units and giving many families vouchers for Section 8 housing outside city limits. Meanwhile, the price of real estate in the same neighborhood has more than doubled.

“Chicago is increasingly becoming a city that’s no longer affordable for working families,” said Jhatayn Travis, executive director of Kenwood Oakland Community Organization. “People talk about wanting mixed-income housing but they aren’t building it—not enough, at least—so it does give you an idea of how the mayor and the business community are viewing this city.”

What really galls Travis and others interviewed for this story is a federal law that allows state prisoners to be counted where they are incarcerated, instead of in their home communities. It gives sparsely populated rural areas—where most prisons are located—far greater political power than is warranted by their actual numbers. For Chicago, it means about 23,000 incarcerated residents were not included in the city’s count, which saw an overall decline of 180,000 blacks—a significant problem when you consider that census data determines how $440 billion is allocated to communities for education and other programs.

“For representation, this is a really big deal,” said Peter Wagner, executive director of the Prison Policy Initiative, a nationally focused think tank in Northampton, Massachusettes. “It’s not so much what Chicago loses, but what other districts downstate gain. There is a very clear upstate-downstate tension in Illinois and prison-based gerrymandering just exacerbates that.”

Of course, the 23,000 incarcerated Chicagoans would not create an entire voting district. (Illinois requires each district to hold 108,000 people). But they could have an impact on the three predominantly African American congressional districts facing elimination.

“I’m not hopeful that any candidate of color can win election now,” said Stephen Alexander, a senior research fellow at DePaul University’s Egan Urban Center, who has studied the city’s political power structure for decades. “I don’t see how a Latino can win without crossover votes, and obviously, the way the system is set up, an African American cannot win without crossover votes—at least not a candidate from within the community.”

Coalition Lobbies for Census Redress

Mike Rodriguez of Enlace and Josina Morita of United Congress of Community and Religious Organizations testified at a redistricting hearing in May, 2011. Their organizations are part of a multiracial coalition for lobbying legislators to redress the prisoner count rules and propose a new voting district map that preserves the political power of shrinking minority communities.

“I don’t want to say that white communities gained in this census report,” said Morita, “but communities of color lost.”

Last March, Governor Pat Quinn signed the Illinois Voting Rights Act (IVRA), which mandates that communities of color must be kept within a single district wherever possible. A trained demographer, Morita has created the maps and is now demanding for her coalition to have a say in the redistricting process. The IVRA—spearheaded by activists in Chinatown who saw their community of 50,000 splintered into four legislative districts—is a major weapon in Morita’s arsenal.

“Legislators say they don’t think that they can draw three black congressional districts but I’ve drawn them and I’m going to show them,” she said. “Under the Voting Rights Act, if you can prove that it can be done, it has to be. And considering the financial positions of states these days, the threat of suing them is very effective.”

As of November 2011, a Federal District Court was still reviewing the maps.

Claudia Rowe writes for Equal Voice Newspaper where this article was originally published.

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Redistricting 2011: Latinos Want Stronger Voice Based on Numbers

Latinos throughout the nation eagerly anticipated the 2011 redistricting cycle. Aware that their numbers had increased dramatically during the last decade, they hoped that redistricting would provide a crucial opportunity to ensure fairer representation for them and give them a stronger voice in the nation’s democracy.

The release of 2010 Census data not only confirmed the increase in Latino population since 2000, it also revealed that Latinos had fueled overall population growth in many states. Gains in Congressional seats owing to reapportionment could be directly linked to gains in the Latino population. Even among states that did not gain seats, the Latino explosion either helped retain existing seats or prevented greater losses. (See Table 1).

Voter Rights Act Invoked to Ensure Fairness
The Latino community approached the 2011 redistricting fully aware that they may need to enforce compliance with one of the nation’s most powerful protections against discriminatory electoral practices, i.e. the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA), enacted by Congress during the civil rights era. Initially, the Act primarily protected African Americans from discrimination in voting, forbidding such practices as literacy requirements and poll taxes. Section 2 of the VRA, however, protects underrepresented populations from discriminatory voting and election practices nationwide. And Section 5 mandates that states with a history of discrimination against underrepresented groups submit their redistricting plans to either the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) or a federal district court for “preclearance.” The DOJ or the courts can block the redistricting if it diminishes electoral opportunities for underrepresented voters
Busbee v. Smith, 549 F. Supp. 494 (1982), which is about the 1981 congressional redistricting plan adopted by Georgia’s state legislature and the DOJ’s refusal to grant it preclearance is a vivid example of how the VRA has protected African American voters during redistricting. The court upheld the DOJ’s action, finding that the legislature’s plan to split cohesive African American communities into separate districts diluted their voting power, while keeping white communities united throughout the state. The case served to highlight Georgia’s history of discrimination against African Americans in previous redistricting efforts and the rampant racism within the House Committee responsible for it. Committee Chair, Representative Joe Mack Wilson, decried the DOJ’s scrutiny with the remark: “[The] Justice Department is trying to make us draw nigger districts, and I don’t want to draw nigger districts.”

Using the VRA to Protect “Language” Minorities
In 1975, Congress amended the VRA to extend its protections to “language minorities”—essentially Latinos, Native Americans, Asians, and Pacific Islanders. In 2003, advocates had to invoke the VRA to protect Latino voters in Texas when Republicans, having gained control of the legislature, decided to conduct a mid-decade redistricting for partisan advantage. In LULAC v. Perry, 549 U.S. 399, 435 (2006), the U.S. Supreme Court found that the Texas legislature’s plan divided the heavily Latino areas of Webb County and Laredo city to protect an incumbent and required the district lines to be redrawn to comply with the VRA.

The dynamics of redistricting vary depending upon the formal requirements of each state’s redistricting processes, its political environment, and the composition of its population. As the 2011 redistricting proceeds, line drawers in each state are charting very different courses for the Latino community, which has made VRA compliance a top priority in its 2011 redistricting advocacy.
Following is a state-by-state look at the 2011 redistricting—through a Latino lens:

Latinos hoped that the state’s gain of four new congressional districts (the largest increase in the nation) would lead to greater opportunities for representation. But their optimism was tempered by their historic experience of redistricting in Texas, where persistent discrimination against Latinos has resulted in several successful VRA lawsuits.

Last July, rather than submit its redistricting plan to the DOJ for preclearance, the Texas legislature decided to file it in federal court. The DOJ countered with its own filing in the court, claiming that the legislature’s congressional and House redistricting plans fail to comply with the VRA. Now Latino civil rights advocates have brought a lawsuit, which argues that the legislature should have created additional Latino majority congressional districts in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, Harris County, and the southern and western parts of the state. The lawsuit also challenges redistricting plans for the Texas House of Representatives on the grounds that it dilutes Latino voting strength. The Texas redistricting preclearance lawsuit will continue in the U.S. District Court in Washington, DC, where a three-judge panel will make the final decision on VRA compliance.

In Nevada, where Latino growth helped the state gain an additional Congressional seat, fair representation for the Latino community is at the core of the redistricting impasse between Republican Governor Brian Sandoval and the Democratic legislature. Sandoval vetoed plans submitted by the legislature twice, on the grounds that they do not create a congressional district with a large enough Latino population to enable them to elect the candidate of their choice. But the Democratic legislature and some Latino advocates believe that the plans are more advantageous to Latinos because they will be able to choose representatives more effectively if they can influence the outcome of the election within a wider spread of Congressional districts. Other Latino advocates, however, believe that the Governor’s congressional plan does a better job of uniting Latino voters.
As yet, no final redistricting plans are in place in Nevada but several lawsuits have been filed and the new districts will likely be determined by the courts.

Latinos are at the center of a tug-of-war between Republicans and Democrats in Arizona, where Latino population growth helped the state gain an additional congressional district. The state’s redistricting plan will undergo special scrutiny because it is subject to the requirements of Section 5 of the VRA. Although redistricting has just begun, there is already an intense public debate about the value of VRA compliance. Under Arizona state law, redistricting plans must promote competitive elections where both Republicans and Democrats have an equal opportunity to be elected in a single district. However, there is significant tension between creating competitive districts and complying with the VRA, which requires districts to unify communities that share similar demographic characteristics and voting patterns. Since Arizona Latinos are more likely to register as Democrats (51 percent) than as Republicans (17 percent), districts that unite Latinos with shared voting patterns may not be competitive in general elections, although many districts have very competitive party primary races.

Some Arizona groups are critical of the VRA and are advocating for it to be a lower priority than partisan competitiveness in the state’s redistricting. Late last August, Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Section 5 of the VRA. In light of Arizona’s recent history of enacting anti-Latino and anti-immigrant legislation, Latinos in the state will need to actively fight back to protect Latino voting rights during the redistricting process.

Following a gain of two congressional districts in the state owing to Latino population growth, Latino civil rights groups are advocating for a Central Florida congressional district where much of the state’s population increase occurred. As it proceeds with redistricting, the Florida legislature must apply new redistricting criteria that voters added to the state Constitution through ballot measures in the November 2010 elections. The controversial new criteria prohibit the legislature from drawing districts with the intent to favor or disfavor a political party or incumbent. Although the purpose of this prohibition is to prevent unfair partisan gerrymandering and incumbent protection, some civil rights advocates are concerned that it might impair the legislature’s ability to draw VRA-compliant districts.

Latinos were responsible for 90 percent of the state’s population growth in the last decade, which prevented the state from losing a congressional seat. For the first time, a Citizens Redistricting Commission drew the lines for California’s congressional and state districts. Latinos were actively engaged in community mobilization and advocacy efforts to ensure that the divisions would provide greater Latino electoral opportunities. Though the Commission did draw two new strongly Latino congressional districts in the Northeast San Fernando Valley and the San Diego/Imperial County areas, advocates believe that the Commission’s State Senate map will severely diminish fair opportunities for Latino representation and that an additional strong Latino congressional district should have been drawn in the state’s Central Valley. Latino voting rights advocates are reviewing the map to determine whether a VRA suit is warranted.

New York
The state lost two congressional districts through reapportionment and must eliminate them during redistricting. However, Latino population growth helped prevent the state from incurring a greater loss. During the last decade, the Latino population grew by 19 percent, while the non-Latino population actually declined by 1 percent. Advocates are working to ensure that the Latino voice remains strong even with the elimination of two districts, particularly in New York City.

Latinos and the Future of American Democracy
Latinos throughout the nation have recognized the critical importance of the 2011 redistricting cycle and actively worked to shape the drawing process. Groups, such as the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO), the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), and LatinoJustice PRLDEF have conducted extensive efforts to mobilize the community to testify at redistricting hearings. Community members have gone before state legislatures and commissions to talk about their neighborhood concerns and the common issues that unite them. Latino voting rights organizations have submitted maps and initiated legal challenges.

Ultimately, decisions yet to be made by state legislatures, redistricting commissions, or courts will determine whether Latinos fully gain opportunities for increased representation in the 2011 redistricting cycle. Latinos are America’s second largest population group, and the nation’s prosperity and well-being depend on the strength of this community. It is therefore critical that Latinos choose elected representatives who can fashion policy solutions that address their community’s concerns.

Compliance with the VRA during redistricting will help the nation leave behind its legacy of discrimination against Latinos, ensure an accountable democracy, and provide all Americans with leadership that will help the nation surmount its social and economic challenges. If the lines drawn during the 2011 redistricting provide opportunities for fair Latino representation, they will also become a roadmap for a stronger and more vibrant American democracy.

Arturo Vargas serves as executive director of the NALEO Educational Fund, an affiliated national nonprofit organization that strengthens American democracy by promoting the full participation of Latinos in civic life.

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GOP’s Redistricting Plans Impede Latino Representation in Texas

The surge in Latino population has made it possible for Texas, the state with the second largest Congressional block, to add four new seats to its current total of 32. Florida, too, gets two additional seats for the same reason. But it will not be easy for Latinos to turn this into political clout.
According to Luis Figueroa, legislative staff attorney for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), bad case law requires ethnic communities to demonstrate a critical mass of voting age population—a high hurdle to cross in Texas where a large percentage of the Latino community is under the age of 18. “We also have a significant non-citizen population,” Figueroa points out.

“We don't talk about that enough in the media,” says Greg Wyeth, senior redistricting initiative consultant at Outreach Strategists. The public discourse on low Latino voter turnout usually turns into a blame game rather than a dispassionate analysis of the numbers.

In Nueces County, which has three Latino-dominant House districts, the legislature's plan eliminated the smallest one, packing those voters into other districts. Such voter dilution tactics can violate Sections II and V of the Voting Rights Act (VRA), says Figueroa. States must seek permission from the Department of Justice (DOJ) before changing voting procedures or district maps—especially if the changes make voting conditions worse for groups covered by the statute. The DOJ has ruled that Texas can move forward with its senate and state board of education maps, but has not granted permission to move on the congressional map. Texas is challenging the ruling, setting the stage for yet another acrimonious chapter in the state's redistricting history.

Caroll Robinson, a law professor at Texas Southern University, says that the goal of the Texas Anglo-Republican dominated political system is to hold the status quo, which is consistent with the state's Confederate-era history of obstructing minority rights. Even the DOJ-approved plans for the state senate and board of education, upon close examination, are weighted toward that objective. But, Robinson contends, minorities need to get out of their silos and find means to cooperate to achieve parity in political empowerment.

His vision is shared by Rogene G. Calvert, director of the Texas Asian American Redistricting Initiative. Although the Asian American community is still small, under the VRA, they are a “community of interest,” with shared languages and cultural affinities. And they have achieved electoral success at the city council level in Houston by working with other ethnic communities. “Coalition politics is going to be the wave of the future,” Calvert says, “where we minorities work together more, so that we can elect candidates of our choice.”

What makes coalition politics critical is that housing patterns are changing. As communities become more integrated and ethnic populations more diffuse, it will be difficult to achieve the 50 percent concentration required to create a district that reflects a group’s numerical dominance. But the goal, Robinson points out, is to provide communities with the opportunity to elect a candidate of their choice, not necessarily a candidate from their own ethnic group.

“Demographics [are] on our side,” says Robinson. “Somewhere between now and mid-decade, if we do the things we need to do in terms of voter participation, voter education, voter registration, we have the ability to win some of these districts outright—and redistricting will take care of itself.”

Khalil Abdullah is a staff writer/editor for New America Media where he also helps facilitate The Beat Within (

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New Laws Target Right to Vote in 12 States

According to a new report, millions of voters may be denied the right to vote under new laws adopted in a dozen states. The study, released last August by the Brennan Center for Justice in New York, says that new voting laws regarding (1) photo identification requirements, (2) elimination of same day voter registrations, (3) proof of citizenship requirements to register to vote, (4) rule changes for voter registration drives, (5) reduction in early voting days, and (6) restoration of voting rights to convicted felons will make voting harder for over five million people in the 2012 election.

The Center points to a partisan divide on the laws, noting that they were mostly generated from Republican-controlled state legislatures and signed by Republican governors. The only exceptions are the Democratic-controlled legislatures of Rhode Island (which has an Independent governor) and West Virginia (which has a Democratic acting governor).

The report also projects that the new laws will have the greatest impact on minority voters because African Americans and Hispanics are more likely to register to vote during voter registration drives in Florida, and the new photo identification requirements in Alabama, Kansas, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin would exclude up to 3.2 million citizens, mostly minorities, who do not have government-issued photo IDs. Alabama and Kansas require new voters to present proof of U.S. citizenship at the voting booth, while Tennessee requires new voters who have been identified in a database as potential non-citizens to submit proof of citizenship.

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R) had made the proof of citizenship and photo ID proposals the key elements of his platform during his 2010 campaign. Last May, he told the Wichita Eagle that while he was pleased that the two proposals had passed, he wanted to see the state’s election laws made stricter by giving his office power to prosecute voter fraud. Kobach’s opponents argue that the laws will suppress voter participation in Kansas.

New laws regarding voter registration drives in Florida and Kansas have made it increasingly difficult to register to vote, the report states. The Florida law, signed last May by Governor Rick Scott (R), requires third parties conducting voter registration drives to turn in all forms within 48 hours of completion with the date and time of completion noted on the forms, along with a tracking code for the organization. It also calls for monthly reports on voter registration drives to be submitted to the state election authorities.

Also according to the report, Ohio has eliminated voter registration during the state’s week-long early voting period, while Maine passed a law eliminating voter registration on election day. (This law was struck down on November 8, 2011, by a referendum put on the ballot by grassroots groups.) The states of Florida, Georgia, Ohio, Tennessee, and West Virginia have also adopted laws reducing local early voting periods as well. But the battle for the right to vote has just begun.

“The book isn’t closed for 2012,” says Wendy Weiser, co-author of the report. “We are seeing push back… and voter-led efforts in a variety of states. We do anticipate that even though there might be changes, this will have a significantly negative impact on voters in 2012.”  

John Celock is state politics reporter and Patch liaison for The Huffington Post.

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Ohio Unions Turn Back Attack on Public Workers

Ohio’s unions won big in the November 2011 election when they overturned Senate Bill 5 by a 61 to 39 margin, handing Republican Governor John Kasich a defeat and continuing labor’s recent ascending trajectory. The unions’ success in Ohio suggests that Kasich may be a one-term governor, that Republican control of the state legislature may be overturned next year, and that right-wing, anti-union governors like Kasich in Ohio and Scott Walker in Wisconsin are an endangered species—and one that voters plan to make extinct.

Senate Bill 5 was voted up soon after Kasich took office in January. Legislators passed it in March, despite demonstrations by thousands of public employees and private sector workers at the capitol in Columbus. SB5 affected about 400,000 public employees, limiting their ability to bargain collectively, collect dues, and strike. The law also established “pay for performance” and required workers to pay 15 percent of their health care. Workers were furious.

Ohio unions, working closely with the Democratic Party, acted quickly to take advantage of the state’s referendum law, eventually collecting a record 1.29 million signatures. The state then certified 915,456 signatures—another record—putting the measure on the ballot.

The We Are Ohio coalition spent $30 million, including big investments from national unions, on a campaign that involved thousands of members from AFSCME, teachers’ unions, firefighters, and many other public and private sector unions who canvassed neighborhoods and phoned voters. Teachers’ unions in Ohio levied additional dues to help pay for the campaign.

Interestingly, the same Ohio voters who saved collective bargaining for state workers also overwhelmingly approved Issue 3, aimed at limiting President Barack Obama’s health care program. Issue 3 states that no federal state or local law could compel any person or employer to participate in a health care system. This question is now before the courts.

Connect the Dots

The success in Ohio forms part of labor’s recent ascending trajectory—the Wisconsin labor protests in February and March; the Occupy phenomenon that allied with unions and spread from Wall Street nationwide; and the Occupy Oakland march that shut down the port on November 2, 2011. Even if each struggle has not resulted in victory, the temperature is rising.

The union movement, rallying after 30 years on its heels, is testing its strength in the streets and in the political arena. The Democratic Party is anxious to channel the new energy, both in the institutional union form and in the new, more amorphous movement form, into the 2012 elections.
The split vote in Ohio on Issues 2 and 3, and the difference between the unions on the one hand and the Occupy movement on the other, suggests that getting voters to the polls in 2012, and getting them to follow the lead of the AFL-CIO/Democratic Party alliance will not be simple. In some parts of Ohio the unions kept Occupy at a distance, afraid that allying with radicals would cost them middle-ground votes on Issue 2. In other parts, like Cleveland, the occupiers backed the union position.

As we connect the dots from Madison to Oakland to Ohio, we wonder where the next dot will be. The interesting question is: how will the next uprising affect politics?

Dan La Botz is a teacher in Cincinnati and active in the Occupy movement. He is the author of A Troublemaker’s Handbook.

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Economics of Equity


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Equity: The Superior Growth Model

The nation’s economic model is broken and the problem is not just the recent downturn, as pressing and important as that may seem. Over several decades now, economic growth has slowed, racial and income inequality has spiked, and the middle class has withered. The United States needs a new strategy to bring about robust growth that is widely shared by all who live here.

The nation is undergoing a major demographic transformation, in which racial and ethnic groups excluded in the past are becoming a larger portion of the population. The new growth model must embrace these new demographics and make the necessary investment for the next generation to reach its full potential.

By 2042, a majority of the population will be people of color, which is the reason for the growing racial gap between America’s oldest and youngest—whites make up 80 percent of seniors but only 54 percent of those under 18. Too many elders and decision-makers do not see themselves reflected in the next generation and they are not investing in the same educational systems and community infrastructures that enabled their own success. The racial generation gap not only puts youth of color at risk, it threatens the wellbeing of all children and the nation as a whole.

Racial and Economic Inclusion Give Competitive Edge
Reducing inequality, growing the middle class, and turning today’s youth into tomorrow’s skilled workers and innovators is critical to restoring America’s growth and competitiveness. In this time of demographic transition, our leaders must address the wide racial disparities in educational outcomes, income, health, wealth, and employment that are dragging down the economy and holding back its potential.

Reducing Inequality Promotes Growth
Increasingly, economists are finding that inequality is not only bad for those at the bottom of the income spectrum, but that it places everyone’s economic future at risk. Recent studies suggest that inequality hinders growth and that greater economic inclusion corresponds with more robust economic growth.

Diversity is an Overlooked Economic Asset
America’s transformation into a world nation within its borders can help it connect to—and succeed in—the global economy. Diverse perspectives help solve problems better and can foster the innovation needed to grow the economy. Diverse communities also create new markets: by developing new enterprises and providing a significant consumer base for existing businesses.

Skilled Workforce is Critical to Securing Future
The jobs of the future will require higher levels of skills and education, but our current educational and vocational systems are not adequately preparing people for those jobs. Forty-five percent of all jobs in 2018 are projected to require at least an associate’s degree, but among today’s workers only 27 percent of African Americans, 26 percent of U.S.-born Latinos, and 14 percent of Latino immigrants have achieved that level of education. Closing the wide and persistent racial gap in educational attainment is the key to building the strong workforce that will become the backbone of our economy.

Implementing an Equity-Driven Growth Model
A growth model based on equity would grow new jobs and bolster long-term competitiveness while ensuring that all—especially low-income people and people of color—have the opportunity to help create and benefit from that growth. Below are three promising strategies for linking vulnerable populations to good jobs and career pathways while at the same time, strengthening their local and regional economies in three key areas:

1. Rebuilding Public Infrastructure
High-quality public infrastructure—such as, roads, transit lines, schools, bridges, and sidewalks—is essential to fostering competitive regions. And public investment in infrastructure projects is one of the best ways to create jobs and get dollars flowing within the economy after a downturn. Infrastructure projects that maximize job opportunities for the people and communities most in need of them and create opportunities for local and minority-owned businesses, promote equity and boost growth at the same time. A case in point is St. Louis, Missouri, where the Department of Transportation (at the urging of Metropolitan Congregations United and the Transportation Equity Network) agreed to devote 30 percent of the work hours on a $500 million highway project to low-income apprentices and one half percent of the project budget to job training. Other cities and states have adopted similar workforce provisions and advocacy groups are now working to incorporate a construction careers policy in the next federal transportation bill.

2. Growing New Businesses and Jobs
Small businesses create two out of every three jobs in this country and are critical to providing economic opportunities for low-income and communities of color. Providing training support and linking entrepreneurs to larger-scale opportunities—in markets, sources of capital, and economic development and growth strategies—can encourage more start-ups and help existing small businesses grow, so that they generate more jobs for those who need them most. For example, since 1993, the Neighborhood Development Center in St. Paul has collaborated with community organizations to help residents start their own businesses. The center—through its seven business incubators—offers a 16-week entrepreneurship course and follows up with start-up and expansion loans, ongoing business support and technical assistance, and low-cost commercial space. Five hundred graduates are currently operating businesses, sustaining 2,200 jobs in the community.

3. Preparing Workers for Future Jobs
The nation needs an education and workforce training system that can equip current and future workers with the skills they need to thrive. Ensuring that all workers—including those who face high barriers to employment—can get the advanced training or education needed to access “middle-skill” jobs that pay family-supporting wages and offer career growth is critical. For low-income children who face the greatest risk of not succeeding at school or work, the preparation must begin before they enter kindergarten, and last throughout their careers. The Chambers of Commerce in Santa Ana and Los Angeles have partnered with their local school districts to bridge the growing gap between the education levels of their diverse youth populations and the needs of their employers. Santa Ana created a jointly administered high school that trains students for careers in six growth industries—automotive and transportation, engineering and construction, global business, health care, manufacturing, and new media. Los Angeles offers summer jobs and internships with thousands of employer partners.

The Backlash: Real and Perceived
Rapid demographic change inspires a mix of reactions—from fear and anxiety, to indifference and ambivalence, to hope and optimism. Harsh anti-immigrant laws of the past several years attest to the fear that arises when communities face a rapid influx of newcomers from distant places. The Migration Policy Institute found that the growth rate of the immigrant population was the biggest predictor of whether a locality considered restrictive immigration legislation.  But a recent survey conducted by the Applied Research Center suggests that it could be a small number of vocal pessimists who ignite fiery public debates about racial change. Most of the 2,700 survey respondents did not have strong feelings one way or the other about changing demographics, but the pessimists were the most likely to express their opinions.  These survey results point to the need for a much more vocal and active majority. There are many promising examples of multiracial organizing and coalition building. In Prince William County, Virginia, white mothers and police officers joined forces with Latino immigrants in 2007 to successfully overturn a regulation that would have required police officers to question people they had “probable cause” to believe were undocumented immigrants. Activists in Portland, Maine—a predominantly white town that has seen an influx of immigrants in the past decade, particularly African refugees—came just a few points away from passing a law to allow non-citizens to vote in local elections in 2010. 

Wanted: The Right Movement
It will take a real social movement to bring about the social, cultural, market, and political shifts needed to create an equitable and inclusive economy. Major shifts in policy and politics are needed at every level—from local job creation to national economic policy. Bringing about those shifts will require sustained advocacy and diverse leadership that spans generations, sectors, and issues. New champions for equity-driven growth—even from the unlikeliest quarters—must be allowed to emerge. What is clear is that the task of creating jobs and opportunities— for everyone—requires the nation’s full attention. We need to begin a new national conversation about equity driven growth that is broad and open. Honest debates about how to move ahead are critical because no one group has all the problems and no one leader has all the solutions.

In order for growth and equity to come together, everyone will need to stretch out of their comfort zones. Growth advocates will have to stop viewing equity as something that trickles down from their efforts to attract and grow businesses, and start recognizing that racial and economic inclusion will help them achieve their primary goals of growth and competitiveness. Equity advocates, who have traditionally focused on how the benefits of growth are divvied up, will have to concentrate more on generating job growth and choose strategies that work with market forces to reach their equity goals.
As the country grows ever closer to becoming a people-of-color majority nation, we must act quickly to prepare for the new future. Equity is the superior growth model which holds the promise of prosperity—for all.

Young Workers at Risk
Today’s young workers will form the backbone of the next economy but the newest entrants to the world of work have been particularly hard hit by the economic crisis and are at risk of never reaching their potential. Recent college graduates—particularly young blacks and Latinos—are struggling to find their footing in the workplace. Among college graduates under age 25, unemployment rates are 15 percent for African Americans, 14 percent for Latinos, and 9 percent for whites.  Many of today’s college graduates are starting further behind than they ought to because they take positions with lower education requirements and lower salaries.  This is not just a short-term setback. Entering the workforce during a recession can depress earnings for 10 to 15 years.
Faring much worse is the growing legion of disconnected youth. Nearly six million young people aged 16-24 are neither working nor in school. This is both the highest absolute number and the highest share of youth that are disconnected over the entire 24-year period for which, data are available. These disconnected youth are disproportionately youth of color (51 percent), compared to 40 percent of all youth in this age group. But the fact that 49 percent are white highlights the reality that all youth are at risk. Such high numbers of young people without jobs and options are a source of social instability—for the youth themselves, for their families, and for society. Lacking a successful work experience by the age of 25 increases the risk of lifelong poverty and disconnected youth are also more likely to end up in the criminal justice system, exacerbating an already downward-spiraling situation and imposing a host of societal costs.

Angela Glover Blackwell is the founder and CEO and Sarah Treuhaft is an associate director of PolicyLink. Manuel Pastor is a professor of American Studies and Ethinicity at the University of Southern California. This article is based on a report published by PolicyLink in collaboration with the University of Southern California’s Program for Environmental and Regional Equity. The full report is available at

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The African American Jobs Crisis and the New Jim Crow

Like the country it governs, Washington, DC is a city of extremes. The northwest section with its million-dollar homes, palatial embassies, and the lowest jobless rate in the nation is just moments away from Anacostia, a neglected neighborhood in the southeast with one of the highest unemployment rates in the U.S.

On a crisp morning last March, an angry band of protesters—most of them black—marched onto the nearby 11th Street Bridge with signs that read "D.C. JOBS FOR D.C. RESIDENTS" and "JOBS OR ELSE." They were not looking for trouble. They were looking for work. The targets of their outrage were the contractors hired to replace the very bridge under their feet. Estimated at $300 million, it is one of the largest projects in DC history. The problem? Very few citizens of DC—meaning, very few African Americans—have been hired for the job.

"It's deplorable!" said civil rights attorney Donald Temple. "You can find men from West Virginia to work in DC. You can find men from Maryland to work in DC. And you can find men from Virginia to work in DC. But you can't find men and women from DC to work in DC."

DC’s Economic Divide Reflects Nation’s Divide
The 11th Street Bridge arches over the slow-flowing Anacostia River, connecting the poverty-stricken, largely black Anacostia neighborhood with the rest of the District. On foot, the distance is small; in opportunity and wealth, it could not be greater. At one end of the bridge, the economy is booming even amidst a halting recovery and jobs crisis. At the other end, hard times are worse than ever.

The phrase, "east of the river" in DC parlance means "the other side of the tracks." It is the place that friends warn you against visiting late at night or on your own. Home to District Wards 7 and 8—neighborhoods with long, rich histories—Anacostia used to be known as Uniontown and was one of DC's first suburbs. Frederick Douglass, nicknamed the "Sage of Anacostia," once lived there, as did the poet Ezra Pound and the singer Marvin Gaye. Today, the area's official unemployment rate is nearly 20 percent, while overall unemployment for DC is 9.8 percent, with a mere 3.6 percent for the largely white, affluent northwestern suburbs.

DC's economic divide is America's divide writ large. Nationwide, unemployment among black workers is at 16.2 percent, almost double the 9.1 percent for the rest of the population and twice the 8 percent rate for whites. According to Duke University’s public policy expert William Darity, blacks are "the last to be hired in a good economy, and when there's a downturn, the first to be released." That accounts for the current soaring numbers of unemployed blacks, but it does not explain the permanent chasm between black and white employment rates—a problem that spans generations and condemns millions of blacks to a life of “scraping by.”

A 60+ Year Gap That Keeps Growing
The unchanging gap between white and black employment figures goes back at least 60 years but gets remarkably little attention on Capitol Hill or in the media. Since the 1940s, the jobless rate for blacks in America has held steady at twice that for whites but there is little agreement among economists, historians, and sociologists as to why that is so.

In his 1996 book, When Work Disappears, sociologist William Julius Wilson depicted the forces of globalization, a slumping manufacturing sector, and suburban flight as the drivers of growing joblessness and poverty in America's inner cities and among its black residents. He explained the process this way: as corporations outsourced jobs to China and India, American manufacturing began to fade, shedding jobs often held by black workers. The jobs that remained were moved to sprawling offices and factories in outlying suburbs reachable only by freeway, which made them inaccessible to most black workers who lived in the inner cities and relied on public transportation to get to work.

Time and subsequent research have eaten away the significance of Wilson's work. The hollowing-out of America's cities and the decline of domestic manufacturing no doubt played a part in black unemployment, but chronic black joblessness existed long before the upheaval Wilson describes. Even when employment in the manufacturing sector was at its peak, black workers were twice as likely to be out of work as their white counterparts.
Education is another commonly cited reason for the tenacity of black unemployment. Whites are generally better educated than blacks, the argument goes, therefore more likely to land a job at a time when a college degree matters in hiring. In 2009, President Obama told reporters that education was the key to narrowing the racial gap in the US. "If we close the achievement gap, then a big chunk of economic inequality in this society is diminished," he said.

Education Improves Wages, Not Employment
Education levels for blacks have been steadily rising in the last 60 years. In 1940, less than 1 percent of black men and 2 percent of black women earned college degrees. In 2000, those figures were 10 percent for black men and 15 percent for black women. Education has certainly helped to narrow wage inequality between employed whites and blacks. But it has not closed the unemployment gap.

Using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Algernon Austin, an economist with the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, DC, found that blacks with the same level of education as whites have consistently lower employment levels. Whether you compare high-school dropouts or workers with graduate degrees, whites are more likely to have a job than blacks.

Academics have thrown plenty of other explanations at the problem—declining wages, embracing crime as a way of life, increased competition with immigrants—but none have stuck because in reality, the wage gap has narrowed, crime rates have plummeted, and there is scant evidence to suggest that immigrants are stealing jobs from blacks.

"I don't know if there's anybody out there who can tell you why that ratio stays at two to one," says an exasperated Darity. "It's a statistical regularity that we don't have an explanation for."

Prisons: Home of the Invisible Unemployed
One theory about the employment gap that deserves special attention points to the high incarceration rate among blacks—especially black men.
In 2009, 7.2 million Americans—or 3.1 percent of all adults—were under the jurisdiction of the U.S. corrections system, including 1.6 million in state or federal prison. Of that population, nearly 40 percent were black, even though blacks make up only 13 percent of the general population. In other words, blacks are six times as likely to be in prison as whites, and three times as likely as Hispanics. In the words of Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow, "There are more African Americans under correctional control today—in prison or jail, on probation or parole—than were enslaved in 1850, a decade before the Civil War began."

When it comes to measuring unemployment, incarceration presents a double whammy for blacks because the Labor Department does not include prison populations in its official statistics, which automatically shrinks the pool of blacks capable of working and lowers the black jobless rate. Although this phenomenon occurs among all races, the figures are particularly striking for blacks, given their overrepresentation among prison populations. In the mid-1990s, academics Bruce Western and Becky Pettit discovered that incarceration lowered the jobless rate for black men overall by 5 percent, and for young black men by 8 percent.

Even the vast incarcerated population pales in comparison to the number of ex-offenders in the U.S. old enough to work. In 2008, there were over 12 million of them, according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), which concludes that so many ex-cons present a serious drag on our economy—between  $57 and $65 billion in output. But such research does not tell us why ex-cons are more likely to be out of work. For that answer, as also an explanation for black unemployment rates overall in the last 60 years, we have to turn to an eye-opening, (and in some circles, controversial) study that began 10 years ago.

Trying Twice as Hard, Going Half as Far
In 2001, a pair of black men and a pair of white men went looking for work in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Each was 23 years old, a local college student, bright and articulate. They looked alike and dressed alike, had identical educational backgrounds and remarkably similar past work experience, with one crucial difference: one of each pair had a criminal record. Between June and December, all four men applied for the same entry-level jobs as waiters, delivery truck drivers, cooks, and cashiers found in the Sunday classified pages of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and a state-run website called "Jobnet."

It sounds like an experiment because it was. Seeing the explosive growth of the criminal justice system—fueled largely by ill-conceived "tough on crime" policies—sociologist Devah Pager decided to look at how prison affected the growing numbers of American ex-cons; an issue largely ignored by politicians and the judicial system.

As Pager recorded the number of responses each job applicant received it soon became apparent that a criminal history was a major deterrent to employer response—not entirely surprising. But the real telling discovery about racism and employment in America came when Pager began comparing response rates by race of applicant.

The white applicant without a criminal record had a 34 percent callback rate, which fell to 17 percent for the white applicant with a criminal record; whereas the callback rates for the black applicants were 14 percent (no record) and 5 percent (with criminal record), respectively. You read that right: in Pager's experiment, white job applicants with a criminal record got more callbacks than black applicants without a record.
"I expected to find an effect with a criminal record and some with race," Pager says. "I certainly was not expecting that result, and it was quite a surprise."

Ex-Con Blacks Lose in All Job Markets
Pager ran a larger version of her experiment in New York City in 2004, with teams of young, educated, and identically credentialed men seeking entry-level jobs. As was the case in Milwaukee, team members alternated between playing the ex-con and the applicant without a record. Once again, Pager found that black applicants received fewer callbacks and job offers than whites. The disparity was particularly striking for ex-criminals: a 15 percent drop off rate for blacks compared to 9 percent for whites. "Employers already reluctant to hire blacks appear particularly wary of blacks with known criminal histories," wrote Pager.

Other research has supported Pager’s findings. A field experiment done at the University of Chicago and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology between 2001-04, for example, uncovered a sizeable gap between employer callbacks for job applicants with white-sounding names (Emily and Greg) versus black-sounding names (Lakisha and Jamal). It also found that the benefits of a better resume were 30 percent greater for whites than blacks.
In The Content of Our Character (1991), Shelby Steele argued that racial discrimination no longer held back black men and women from the jobs they wanted; the problem was in their heads. Dinesh D'Souza, an Indian immigrant, similarly claimed that racial discrimination had little to do with the plight of black America in his 1995 book, The End of Racism.

But the findings of Pager, Harvard's Bruce Western, and other academics working with real data prove that the harmful impacts of racism’s deeply embedded patterns of discrimination have barely changed in 60 years and offer a powerful antidote to the growing notion in conservative circles that discrimination is an illusion.

Periods of Black Joblessness
A look at the history of black unemployment in America since World War II reveals two brief periods—in the 1940s and again in the late 1960s to early 1970s—when the gap between blacks and whites narrowed ever so slightly. (In 1970, for example, unemployment was at 5.8 percent for blacks and 3.3 percent for whites). It is worth examining those periods, if only to understand what was going right for blacks.

According to University of Chicago Professors William Sites and Virginia Parks, those periods were marked by a flurry of civil rights and anti-discrimination activity at the federal level. A series of actions ranging from the creation of the Fair Employment Practice Committee in 1941 to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (which mandated the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission), the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Act of 1972, had "drastic impacts on employment discrimination," write Sites and Parks. But those gains were soon wiped out, helped along by the thinning of union membership and the dwindling power of organized labor during the Reagan era.

Today, with any social legislation off the table in Washington, the prospect of closing the jobless gap between blacks and whites seems remote. It is a form of discrimination that is especially difficult to deal with, says Pager, as many employers who discriminate don’t realize that they are doing so; they are simply going with their "gut feelings." Using watchdogs to crack down on discrimination is also not feasible as federal law requires the person discriminated against to raise the alarm. As William Darity of Duke University points out, it is practically impossible for a job applicant to read the mind of a person he or she does not know. Worse still, the complainant has to prove that the discrimination was intentional, which as Pager’s experiments make clear, is no small feat. Under the circumstances, it is no surprise that blacks "grossly underreport their exposure to discrimination and whites grossly overreport it," according to Darity.

To fix a problem, we first have to acknowledge it—something the nation has yet to do, according to  Austin. The most effective way to put blacks back to work would be to invest federal money directly into job creation, especially for black workers. "We've spent billions in trying to build jobs overseas [in war zones],” says Austin. "If we invested that money here in our cities, we wouldn't have this racial gap."

But in a Washington gripped by paralysis, where all budget discussions revolve around how much to cut, the employment crisis for blacks threatens to be a permanent one. That’s how it seems to blacks in DC, especially those who live east of the river. In April, another group of protesters took to the 11th Street Bridge to demand more DC hires, and the following month, the group DC Jobs or Else ( took their complaints to City Hall. But progress is slow. "We're being pushed out economically," said William Alston El, a 63-year-old unemployed resident. "They say it’s not racism, but the name of the game is they have the money. You can’t live [in] a place if you can’t pay the rent.”

Andy Kroll is a reporter at the Washington, DC bureau of Mother Jones magazine and an associate editor at TomDispatch. This article is based on one that was first published in Adapted with permission of the author.

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‘Jobless Discrimination’ Against African Americans

Mainstream Media Fail to Cover the Facts

With 14 million Americans out of work, the news media are reporting that discrimination against the unemployed is increasing across the country. But their stories often fail to mention the specific hurdles faced by African Americans, whose unemployment rate is more than double that of whites. While Time magazine, The New York Times, and The Huffington Post have all reported on this growing trend, they have not provided critical information on what recourse is available to victims of unemployment discrimination, nor cited the factors that put African Americans at greater risk than whites.

Labor and race relations experts mention the following specific challenges facing African American job seekers: (a) they encounter racial bias while job-hunting; (b) their communities have weaker job networks in place; and (c) credit checks by potential employers often work against them. The media often failed to report on these aspects of the story, which could have been included if reporters had reached out to a more diverse group of sources. The National Employment Law Project (NELP), an advocacy group that has led awareness-raising efforts about discrimination against the jobless, has the data and research to help reporters write more comprehensive stories about discrimination against the unemployed.

Discrimination, Underreporting, Stereotyping
According to Christine Owens, NELP’s executive director, unemployed African Americans are more likely to be victims of jobless discrimination because their unemployment rate is 16.7 percent—more than twice that of whites. In a story about discrimination against the unemployed, “The Help-Wanted Sign Comes With a Frustrating Asterisk,” the New York Times omitted this statistic and made just one reference to unemployed African Americans.

Although the federal government does not specifically prohibit discrimination against the jobless as it does women, racial minority groups, and people with disabilities, such bias may violate civil rights laws if it has a disparate impact on people of color.

“If an employer advertised an entry level job [that barred unemployed applicants] and in that community the Black unemployment rate was 20 percent and white unemployment rate was 10 percent, 20 percent of Blacks would be excluded from the get-go, and that could violate the civil rights law,” explained Owens.

An article in Time magazine entitled “Jobless Discrimination?” noted that companies accused of weeding out unemployed minority job applicants could be found guilty of racial discrimination, but it did not elaborate on the actions unemployed jobseekers of color could pursue if they experienced discrimination. Owens suggests contacting the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

Something else that goes largely unreported—the number of unemployed African Americans is likely to be much higher than indicated by the official unemployment rate.

“If you look at [all the] people in the last year who have given up looking for work and the people who are working part time but would rather be working full time, the [national] unemployment rate is actually 16 percent,” says Lauren Appelbaum, research director for the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment at University of California, Los Angeles. “But the official rate reported is 9.1 percent.”

It would indicate that the unemployment rate for African Americans is actually much higher than the official 16.7 percent, as also their risk of facing jobless discrimination.

Furthermore, the reporting on joblessness does not make it clear that to be counted among the unemployed, one has to be constantly looking for work. So, the figures should indicate that many African Americans are out aggressively looking for jobs. But because the public does not understand how the government arrives at its unemployment figures, they tend to believe the negative stereotypes about African Americans who don’t want to work, says Algernon Austin, director of the program on Race, Ethnicity and the Economy at the Economic Policy Institute.

“It’s important to [remember] that only people actively looking for work are counted as unemployed,” Austin says. “You have to have done particular things in the past four weeks that demonstrate that you’re actively looking for work.”

The Unemployment Gap
Austin’s research indicates that there is a gap between African American and white employment levels even after taking into account educational achievement. Moreover, foreign-born Blacks face higher rates of unemployment than foreign-born whites, and Black teens face greater unemployment than their white peers.

“High unemployment across the board for Blacks indicates that there’s an element of racism to it,” says Steven Pitts, a labor policy specialist at the University of California, Berkeley. He says that racism in other sectors—housing, education, and the criminal justice system—compound the difficulties African Americans face in the labor market.

Austin points out, however, that bias is not the only factor undermining African Americans looking for work. Many companies don’t even advertise their openings.

“Finding a job to apply for does depend on who you know,” he explains. “Do you know someone who knows someone who knows of a job opening? Blacks are less likely to, and this certainly disadvantages Black workers.”

The growing number of companies that check the credit histories of applicants during the hiring process also makes African Americans more vulnerable. The jobless tend not to have stellar credit ratings because being unemployed makes it difficult to pay bills in a timely fashion. Accordingly, credit checks mostly disadvantage African American applicants as this group of job hunters is most likely to be unemployed.

“People need a good job to reestablish their credit or to put them in a place where they can maintain good credit,” Austin says. “If their credit history is used to prevent them from getting a good job, it’s a Catch-22.”

Although the New York Times did mention that credit checks exacerbate discrimination against the unemployed, it failed to mention how it affected African American job-seekers disproportionately.

The media also have not touched on the role of criminal background checks. A Huffington Post piece, “Obama: Discrimination Against Jobless ‘Makes Absolutely No Sense,’” never mentions unemployment among African Americans. According to Pitts, incarceration keeps a large number of African Americans among the ranks of the jobless.

“The media need to tell the stories behind the numbers, so you can actually get a sense of Black work life, what are people’s histories in the labor markets,” Pitts says. “Featuring real life experiences begins to humanize the problem.”



Nadra Kareem Nittle writes for America’s Wire, published by the Maynard Insititute, which published an earlier version of this story.

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San Francisco’s Community Jobs Law Swings Into Effect

Approximately one year ago, Supervisor John Avalos  introduced a new local hiring law, supported by the most diverse coalition of community advocates, workers, labor leaders, contractors, and policy makers that San Francisco has ever seen. (See “Wanted: Community Jobs Policy For San Francisco,” RP&E, Fall 2010).

The San Francisco Local Hiring Policy for Construction became law on Christmas Day, a timeline remarkably short for legislation of that scale but reflective of the historic levels of unemployment in San Francisco’s low-income communities and communities of color. The law requires specified levels of employment of local residents and targeted communities on at least $10 billion worth of public works construction over the next 10 years. It is unique in its wholesale abandonment of the concept of “good faith efforts” in favor of mandatory local hiring, and its approach in measuring outcomes within all trades, not just overall projects.

The San Francisco law is also unique in that it contains a “reciprocity agreement” provision with neighboring counties, which reflects the regional nature of the construction workforce. The law balances the need to guarantee a share of the local tax-funded public construction jobs for local residents with the goal of supporting the Bay Area economy as a whole, thus ensuring regional employment when no local jobs are available. San Francisco has already signed a reciprocity agreement with San Mateo County, assuring San Mateo residents of participation in work being done at the San Francisco Airport and on other projects.

The Single Flaw: No PLA or CWA
We believe that local hiring works as a community development tool only when construction jobs are union jobs, based on the wages, benefits, and working condition protections that union employment brings. The one shortcoming of the San Francisco policy is that it does not include a mandatory provision for implementation through a Project Labor Agreement (PLA) or Community Workforce Agreement (CWA). Advocates spent many months last year building support among community contractors who might have reservations about their capacity to function under such an approach, but while several trades collectively bargained to craft changes to the legislation, the Building Trades Council rejected an amendment proposed by Mayor Gavin Newsom to require PLAs to implement the new policy.

Within Six Months, Some Obvious Benefits
Six months into implementation of the law we already see signs of success:

  • Our partners in labor are recruiting local apprentices to deliver targeted workers on covered public projects.
  • Costs associated with the first wave of projects are coming in at or below budget on average.
  • There are more opportunities, such as preparation for the America’s Cup, for advancing a common community-labor agenda based on the new partnerships.

As we seek to revitalize the economy, San Francisco’s local hire approach is part of an evolving nationwide dialog about how to advance the triple bottom line of environment, economy, and social equity, by building communities and a stronger labor movement.

Joshua Arce is executive director of Brightline Defense Project. Utuma Belfrey is CEO of Sustainable Futures and a journey-level member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 6.

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Public Transit and Urban Density Create More Good Jobs

There are many reasons why public transportation and transit-oriented development should be made priorities for all metropolitan areas. For one, public transportation is the most effective way to reduce tailpipe emissions in this country. For another, the cost of owning an automobile rivals the cost of housing for low-income families. But most importantly, building transit systems creates more jobs than building roads, not to mention the fact that denser development along transit routes seems to create more jobs than the alternative, which is sprawl.

Two long-running community-labor campaigns—in Denver, Colorado and the Twin Cities area of Minnesota—provide excellent organizing models for new public transit, transit oriented development (TOD), and the creation of good jobs.

Denver Organizes for Transit Funding and Equity
In 2003, Colorado labor leaders met privately with environmentalists to seek common ground. Relations were frayed because three years before, the Building Trades unions had recruited the Colorado AFL-CIO to help defeat a ballot initiative for smart growth. Developers had claimed that smart growth was actually “no growth in sheep’s clothing,” and there was no evidence to the contrary. But Good Jobs First, which facilitated much of the 2003 private meeting, presented fresh research showing that sprawl is actually harmful to all unions and that smart growth, done right, can greatly benefit unionized employers and union members.

The following year, the groups united and won a ballot initiative to raise the sales tax to pay for FasTracks, a large new light rail system for the eight-county Denver metro area. With 122 miles of commuter and light rail and 18 miles of bus rapid transit, it is the largest new system to be built since the Metro in Washington, DC. Its construction, which is still underway, has created thousands of work-years for Building Trades members and its operation is creating hundreds of permanent jobs for Amalgamated Transit Union members.

Soon after FasTracks got underway, FRESC for Good Jobs and Strong Communities, a nonprofit group created by the Denver Area Labor Federation, launched the Campaign for Responsible Development with a coalition made up of affordable housing, low-income women’s advocacy, small business, and environmental groups. They pushed for and won a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) for a large mixed-use redevelopment project undertaken by a division of Cherokee Investment Partners at the former Gates Rubber Factory site, a 70-acre brownfield situated at the intersection of three rail lines. The CBA keeps out big-box grocery stores, has the best affordable housing set-asides in Denver, extends prevailing construction wages to private structures, and has a targeted local hire program to give area residents a first crack at qualifying for the new jobs.

FRESC continues to work with community groups around newly built stations and routes yet to be constructed. Cost overruns and the need for additional public investment could mean a 20-year delay for one of the lines through an area with many transit-dependent families. Safety aboard transit and around the stations is also a key issue, as is access for disabled riders.

“With the possibility of a tax increase initiative of .04 percent going on the ballot in 2012, it is more important than ever to make sure that the people who need and will use transit the most are organized and working to ensure equitable outcomes around the train stops,” stresses FRESC organizer Aurita Apodaca. “Access to good paying jobs during construction as well as in and around the transit oriented development are also key.”

Twin Cities Win New Transit Funding, More Stations
Transit for Livable Communities (TLC) was founded in 1996 by bus riders and rail advocates in the Twin Cities, Minnesota metro area. Targeting suburban stations with the heaviest park-and-ride usage, they built a base of more than 9,000 members and became the region’s activist voice. After winning one rail line, TLC moved to broaden its base and seek dedicated funding for a larger system by forming the Transit Partners coalition, which included a large faith-based group (ISAIAH), environmental groups like the Sierra Club, seniors, policy groups, organized labor, and the Alliance for Metropolitan Stability.

In 2006, Minnesota voters dedicated motor vehicle sales tax revenue to roads and transit; the following summer, public attention was riveted on the state’s crumbling transportation infrastructure when a section of Interstate 35 over the Mississippi River collapsed, killing 13 people.
In early 2008, the Minnesota legislature enacted a $5.5 billion transportation bill (with some suburban Republicans joining Democrats to override Governor Tim Pawlenty’s veto) projected to significantly increase transit ridership. About one-fifth of the revenues dedicated to expanding the light rail, commuter rail, and bus rapid transit system will be funded by a quarter-cent metro sales tax increase. Since then, organizing has focused on making the build-out equitable.

In mid-2008, shortly after funding was approved for the long-planned Central Corridor light rail line linking downtown St. Paul and Minneapolis, the Stops for Us coalition demanded three additional stations in primarily Hmong and African-American neighborhoods. Residents there faced long walks and reduced bus service if the rail line were to operate as planned. After almost two years of organizing—and with gap construction funding from local foundations—Stops for Us won an official commitment to build three additional stations on the project begun in late 2010.

Urban Density, Public Transit Create More Good Jobs
Contrary to the claims of some developers, there is now solid evidence that urban density and public transit actually create more work for construction crafts than does sprawl.

A study by Good Jobs First—The Jobs Are Back in Town—contains several credible comparisons: single-family homes versus townhomes and condominiums; single-story versus multistory retail; new road rights-of-way versus maintenance/rehabilitation of existing roads (“fix it first”); and metros with growth management policies versus those without. By every measure, smart growth buildings and road contracts proved more labor-intensive, and metro areas with growth management showed higher job growth for construction workers.

Thanks to the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, it also became possible to analyze job creation spurred by transit and highway spending. A pair of studies by Smart Growth America and two other groups examining jobs data at found that transit spending created 84 percent (2010) and 31 percent (2011) more jobs per billion dollars than highway projects. (Admittedly, the mix of jobs differs: transit contracts create some manufacturing jobs when they are used to purchase buses or railcars.)

Neither study could address a point that many union leaders understand intuitively: public infrastructure spending, especially for transportation, stimulates private construction, and when that happens, geography matters. If building a new Interstate interchange stimulates the construction of a Walmart and office park on a former cornfield, the construction work is most likely to be non-union. But if the money is spent on cleaning up an urban brownfield and building a mixed-use project on a transit line, chances are greater that the contractor will be union and some of the permanent jobs created will also be unionized.

Portland Benefits from Urban Density
The Portland metro area is one of America’s smart growth meccas. Ringed by a state mandated Urban Growth Boundary since the 1970s, it has the nation’s largest multicounty regional government (spanning Clackamas, Multnomah, and Washington counties), and transit, bicycle, and pedestrian commuting rates that far exceed national averages. The area also enjoys a high rate of unionization in the construction industry—creating good jobs with health care and retirement benefits—and faster long-term growth in construction jobs than the rest of the nation.

That Portland has both smart land use and strong construction unions is no coincidence, according to Bob Shiprack, recently retired president of the Oregon Building and Construction Trades Council and longtime state senator. Portland’s downtown was depressed and the trades were weak when the Urban Growth Boundary legislation was passed. Once it had survived legal challenges, the Boundary began to spur reinvestment in downtown and later in the Pearl District with its former canneries and warehouses. The Trades successfully organized most of the work, which tended to be labor-intensive because existing structures had to be demolished and replaced or gutted and rebuilt as housing or mixed-use structures. Touring Portland with Shiprack in his pickup truck is a warm experience, as he points out building after building that was built or rebuilt by union members.
As the Portland region’s leadership actively promoted density and mixed use, transit ridership grew and Portland Metro moved to augment its bus system with a downtown streetcar system. To meet the demand for streetcars, which had not been manufactured in America for several decades, Oregon Iron Works (a structural steel firm) created a new subsidiary, United Streetcar. The company’s workforce is represented by the Ironworkers and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. Headed by CEO Chandra Brown, who already boasts of 90 percent domestic content and aspires for 100 percent, United Streetcar was lauded by American Rights at Work and the Apollo Alliance and was featured at the Blue-Green Alliance’s 2011 green jobs conference. United Streetcar has also won a contract in Tucson, Arizona and is bidding elsewhere as streetcar circulators make a comeback.

Transit Union Moves Campaigns for Jobs
Community groups seeking to defend and improve transit gained an aggressive new ally in September 2010, when the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) elected Larry Hanley as its international president. The former president of the ATU local on Staten Island, Hanley is a legend in New York City transit circles for getting union members to directly fund community organizing that won service improvements—and fare cuts—in the mid 1990s. As president of ATU, he inherited a crisis with transit systems across America suffering their worst service cuts, fare hikes, and layoffs in post-war history.
Hanley immediately moved—along with Good Jobs First—to convene two transit rider-organizing “boot camps” in December 2010 and March 2011, bringing together about 100 local ATU presidents and community organizers.

“We have 200,000 members in ATU. There are 15 million people who take transit,” he points out. “Guess who has more power but is least organized?”

Hanley has also created a new Field Mobilization Department and won a big change in the union’s political action fund to strongly encourage locals to build new coalitions with riders. Good Jobs First is writing a transit rider organizing manual based on best practices featured at the boot camps.
In addition to all the good jobs already created by transit construction, new job openings are expected soon in many communities as transit workers retire in droves. (Transit operators and mechanics are among the “greyest” employees in the U.S.). In anticipation, labor-management training groups, such as the Transportation Learning Center, are busy creating new hire training programs for transit agencies.

“With massive impending retirements, this green industry urgently needs interested, capable applicants, especially from the urban communities of color that depend on public transportation,” observes Center Director Brian Turner. “New national and local labor-management training partnerships are creating quality training opportunities to build the skills for thousand of new hires in the years ahead.”

Greg LeRoy directs Good Jobs First (

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Transportation Equity a Key to Winning Full Civil Rights

Equity in transportation means a system that works for everyone and at many different levels. Especially in these times of high unemployment and unprecedented income inequality, transportation policy is one of the most pressing civil and human rights issues facing our nation.

The choices we make with respect to federal transportation policy have an enormous impact on our economy, our health, and our climate. But these decisions about policy and funding are rarely made in consultation with, or with consideration for the low-income people who rely so heavily on public transportation. Spending programs do not benefit all populations equally and the negative impacts of some transportation decisions—historic neighborhoods dissected by freeways, stable communities disrupted, and the transit-dependent isolated from essential services through cutbacks—are broadly felt and have long-lasting effects. The unequal allocation of resources and access to affordable transportation—often along class and racial lines—has been termed by some as “transportation apartheid.”

The struggle to end “transportation apartheid” is rooted in the civil rights movement and resistance to the infamous “separate but equal” doctrine encouraged by Plessy v. Ferguson. In 1953, roughly half a century after Plessy relegated “coloreds” to the back of the bus, blacks in Baton Rouge, Louisiana staged what historians believe to be the first bus boycott of the civil rights movement. Two years later, Rosa Parks’ arrest for refusing to give up her seat on a Montgomery city bus sparked the bus boycott that ignited the civil rights movement. Now, 50 years later, in spite of other significant social and economic gains, transportation still remains a crucial civil rights priority.

Reauthorization Bill Presents Key Opportunity
The renewal of the nation’s federal transportation law, now under consideration in Congress, is one of the best opportunities the country has to align the investment of hundreds of billions of transportation dollars with the goals of improving social equity and public health, protecting the environment, and strengthening local communities through economic advancement.

The transportation sector generates millions of jobs and fuels economic growth by supporting manufacturing, construction, and public transportation activities. For every $1 billion invested in public transportation, an estimated 36,000 jobs are created; and every $1 invested generates almost $4 in economic benefits, according to the American Public Transportation Association’s report, “Public Transportation: Moving America Forward.”

The reauthorization bill has the potential to create hundreds of thousands of jobs in the transportation sector and related projects. It is critically important, therefore, to maximize the job-creation power of every transportation dollar spent by: (a) selecting modes of transportation that generate the most jobs; (b) incentivizing projects that locate jobs in underserved communities; and (c) vigorously enforcing equal opportunity programs and grants that target disadvantaged businesses.

Ironic as the statement may seem, more federal funds must be made available to serve the transportation needs of public transit workers. We must invest in transit options that will enable low-income people to reach a greater variety of job opportunities—including transportation projects in outlying areas.

While transportation construction can provide good-paying jobs, many job sites in growing metropolitan and suburban areas are inaccessible to urban and rural workers without cars. As a matter of fact, jobs in car-dependent areas are disproportionately inaccessible to people of color: 19 percent of blacks and 13.7 percent of Latinos lack access to cars, compared with only 4.6 percent of whites. Transportation investment decisions of recent years—a combination of severe service cuts and fare hikes—have only made many more jobs inaccessible to low income communities and people communities of color.

Effects on Individual and Community Health
Transportation policy that fails to consider the needs of low-income and minority communities can have extreme and cascading health consequences on those communities. Whether it is lack of physical access to health services and nutritious fresh food or levels of air pollution caused by traffic, our current transportation policy generates public health problems that disproportionately affect low-income communities and communities of color.

A car-dependent infrastructure is a barrier to health care access and poses several health hazards—ranging from asthma to obesity. Transportation policy needs to shift a portion of the investment away from new highway construction towards expanding public transportation and building bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly roads to promote greater parity in health care access, as well as to decrease health hazards, such as pollution and pedestrian fatalities. Curbing the expansion of metropolitan areas over vast distances will also result in more compact communities where non-automobile transportation options are even more efficient and attractive.

As Congress considers a reauthorization of our nation’s surface transportation programs, which will allocate significant federal funds to infrastructure, civil and human rights advocates have an opportunity to advance a public health agenda by participating in the policy-making process.

The Intersection of Housing and Transportation
When the cost of transportation is factored in, affordable housing choices usually come up less favorable than they appear to be. It is vital that civil rights advocates urge policymakers to prioritize projects that include strategies to preserve and create affordable housing for all income levels close to public transportation and other community amenities.

In addition to focusing on the creation of livable communities with resources to support local, multimodal transportation projects, federal transportation investments should provide station area planning grants to help communities maximize the economic potential of existing and future transportation investments; expand and/or preserve affordable housing near public transportation, quality schools, and job centers; and revitalize economically distressed areas.

To produce and preserve truly affordable housing, transportation investments must address the following: affordable alternatives to cars; reduction in transportation costs for communities with lower housing and rental costs; development of affordable housing near jobs and vice versa; desegregation on a regional or metropolitan scale, not just a local scale; and prevention of displacement of low-income people from transit-rich areas.

Let’s Invest Transportation Dollars Wisely
Today, most housing stock is not accessible by public transit nor is it located in pedestrian- or bike-friendly areas close to jobs. When families seek housing with lower rents and mortgages, they have to move to the suburbs, which raises their transportation costs. Currently, working families in the 28 largest metropolitan areas spend about 57 percent of their income on housing and transportation, with roughly 29 percent going to transportation.

Our transportation dollars have limitless potential to help our communities, as long as we make targeted and equitable investments to provide access to opportunity for all. Indeed, transportation is a key component in addressing poverty, unemployment, health, and community development needs.

Lexer Quamie is a Counsel for the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. This article has been updated since its original print publication. 


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Racial Wealth Gaps Rise to Record Highs

The median wealth of white households is 20 times that of African American households and 18 times that of Hispanic households, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of newly available government data from 2009.

These lopsided wealth ratios are the largest since the government began publishing such data a quarter century ago and roughly double what they used to be for the two decades preceding the Great Recession that ended in 2009.

The Pew analysis finds that, in percentage terms, the bursting of the housing market bubble in 2006 and the recession that followed took a far greater toll on the wealth of minorities than of whites. From 2005 to 2009, inflation-adjusted median wealth fell by 66 percent among Hispanic households and 53 percent among African American households, compared with just 16 percent among white households.

As a result of these declines, the real wealth (assets minus debts) of a typical African American household was just $5,677, of a Hispanic household was $6,325, and of a white household was $113,149 in 2009. Moreover, about a third of African American (35 percent) and Hispanic (31 percent) households had zero or negative net worth, compared with just 15 percent of white households. In 2005, the comparable figures were 29 percent for African Americans, 23 percent for Hispanics, and 11 percent for whites.

Plummeting housing values were the principal cause of erosion in household wealth among all groups, with Hispanics being the hardest hit. Between 2005 and 2009, the median level of home equity held by Hispanics declined by half—from $99,983 to $49,145—and the rate of home ownership fell from 51 to 47 percent. A geographic analysis reveals the reason for this: Most Hispanics live in California, Florida, Nevada, and Arizona—areas at the vanguard of the housing market bubble of the 1990s and early 2000s, which have since seen the steepest decline in values.

White and African American homeowners also saw the median value of their homes decline during this period, but not as much as Hispanics. Among whites, the decline was from $115,364 in 2005 to $95,000 in 2009. Among African Americans, it went from $76,910 in 2005 to $59,000 in 2009. There was no change during this period in the homeownership rate for whites (74 percent) and a 1 percent decline for African Americans.

The 2005 to 2009 time frame allows for a before-and-after look at the impact of the Great Recession. However, those dates do not align perfectly with the downturn, which ran from December 2007 to June 2009, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Since the official end of the recession in mid-2009, the housing market has remained in a slump while the stock market has recaptured much of the value it lost from 2007 to 2009. Given that a greater number of whites than African Americans or Hispanics own stocks, mutual funds, 401(k)s, and individual retirement accounts (IRAs), the  stock market rebound is likely to have benefited white households far more than minority households.

Rakesh Kochhar, Richard Fry, and Paul Taylor are staff members at the Pew Research Center's Social and Demographic Trends. Read the full report, including methodology at

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Asian Pacific Islanders Made Statistically Invisible

“These are the people that came to this foreign land to seek a life of hope. Armed with the will to persevere, they created wealth and laid the foundation for this city, but still live in the shadows of this society. They are continually exploited, often forgotten because they are immigrants or have difficulty with English, with their cries of frustration often falling on deaf ears, never getting media coverage.” —The Workers Committee of the Chinese Progressive Association[3]

When I started to work on this story, I went looking for an article, TV show, or radio program about the effects of the economic downturn on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders to put into context the voices from grassroots and youth organizations I had collected. I found many resources on working families, children, low-wage workers, and great infographics on gendered and racialized differences in experiences—about African Americans and Latinos!

There was one story on NPR from 2010, which mentions that APIs are out of work the longest among U.S. minorities. It weaves in the story of an unemployed API college graduate who went on vacation and chose not to work, with a quote from Kent Wong of the UCLA Labor Research and Education Center, talking about the difficulties of the economic crisis for working-class immigrants in ethnic enclaves.[1] It is a strange juxtaposition—almost a flippant comment on the distress felt by working families—and the subtext seems to be that even unemployed Asian Americans are college-educated and can go on vacation.

There is one report based on 2009 national data that shows the median household income of Asian American families with children to be nearly $18,000 more than that of white families and more than twice that of African American and Latino families. It seems to say that Asian American household income levels have not changed significantly since 2007, while white, African American, and Latino family incomes have dropped at least 5 percent.[2] Other than that, there is mostly silence on the plight of the Asian American.

Doing It Ourselves:[6] Youth and Excluded Workers Surviving the Economic Downturn
“The silence of having others name you” —Tu-Uyen Nguyen

On a recent Sunday in sunny southern California, I was at a cement warehouse building adjacent to the Los Angeles River, with about a dozen youth from the nearby neighborhoods of Lincoln Heights and Chinatown. They are members of the Southeast Asian Community Alliance (SEACA) and we are at Metabolic Studios, getting ready to take off on a CicLAvia ride on bikes lent to us by the studio.
Watching the youth take off and weave around each other playfully, you would not know that they recently won a huge public victory in getting their local City Councilmember to agree to push for affordable housing in a luxury project slated for the Cornfields Arroyo Seco Plan (CASP) area. You also would not know that many of their families make less than $1000 a month—even with two parents sometimes working 16-hour days—or that fewer than a third of the students at their schools graduate from high school. For these students, as for most of the youth in the organizations I interviewed, their small weekly or bi-weekly stipends are an important contribution to the family’s monthly income. It is one of the reasons they can continue to participate in a youth program: their families see it as a job.
In August and September 2011, I spoke with staff from six community-based organizations that work with low-income East and Southeast Asian communities, especially youth.[7] Youth organizations in particular have seen their funding drop precipitously in the last two years.
Over and over again, across the country, the people I talked to expressed the sentiment that assumptions about Asian communities have led to language-specific support being cut, on top of the massive social services cuts. For communities that were struggling long before the economic meltdown, the cuts have shredded away the systems that families had pieced together to barely make ends meet, a careful and fragile balance of resources. For some, the cuts have also meant that the hard-won ability to dream of a college education for at least one family member is now lost.
At the same time, some community organizations have been conducting participatory research of their own with the following goals in mind: (1) raise the collective consciousness of the community or at least of organizational members, (2) provide baseline information on communities that are otherwise statistically invisible to policymakers and decision-makers, and (3) generate data to use in advocating for reforms and funding. The stories elicited through these processes are deeply compelling and testify to the resilience of these communities and the organizations working within them. 

No Record of Our Downward Mobility
Where is the data that reflects the downward mobility of my parents who almost made it to the middle class about a decade ago? Or about my siblings—who have a college education or advanced degree but work service sector low-wage jobs? And what about the people they have displaced? The high school students, recent immigrants, seniors on fixed incomes, and others who used to work those low-wage service sector jobs? What is their plight? What has happened to the people like my uncle and aunt who used to work in the garment industry or the fortune cookie factories of New York when they first immigrated in the late 1980s?

Although mainstream and progressive media are largely silent or miss the mark when it comes to Asian Americans, the academic literature presents much historical data and analysis, and makes a clear case for group-specific data collection. There are attempts to historicize and contextualize the wealth gap and examine the effects of this depression on different Asian groups. One study explains the apparent wealth gap between Asian Americans and blacks and Latinos as being a result—at least partially—of “bifurcated immigration policies that favor the entry of highly skilled economic immigrants and their families and relatively less-educated refugees and their relatives.”[4] It has created two very different populations that are clumped together within the statistically problematic census category of “Asian American.”

Since 2006, AAPI NEXUS, an academic journal published by the UCLA Asian American Studies Center, has repeatedly raised the issue of heterogeneity within the AAPI or AANHPI categories, and the importance of developing the ability to collect group-specific data.[5]

Two articles by Eric Tang on Southeast Asian communities in Social Text (2000) and American Quarterly (2010), offer theoretically and sociologically rich and nuanced cultural and historical analyses that critique the “culture of poverty” thesis and the idea within dominant culture and academic thought that Southeast Asians are exempt from this “culture of poverty.” Tang asserts that this “exemption” theory is yet another consequence of what Asian American movement activists, organizers, and scholars call the model minority myth.

But there is little to nothing that offers information or analysis about the API communities for the last two years—in their own voices, from the point of view of community members.

Whatever the reasons for the silence in the mainstream and progressive media on the issues of Asian Americans and the economic downturn, the lack of thoughtful data and discussion makes it possible for places like Providence, RI to fire all three of their Southeast Asian language-specific social service providers while retaining 20 staff for the Spanish-speaking population. Although this has caused untold hardship for one of the largest enclaves of Khmer-speaking people in the United States, it is not uncommon for agencies to simply not provide in-language services for East and Southeast Asian communities.

On October 10, 2011, Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill (AB 1088), which requires any California state agency, board, or commission that currently collects demographic data to include an Asian American and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander subgroup. It also directs the Department of Industrial Relations and the Department of Fair Employment and Housing to collect data by these subgroups and post it on the web by July 1, 2012.[8] This is a major step forward in our ability to provide our sisters and brothers in the poorest communities the support they need to “flip the script” on the opportunity gap. 

Los Angeles Chinatown: Gateway to Gentrification

Chinatown is northeast of downtown LA and like so many Chinatowns across the country, it is the immigrant gateway community for new Chinese and Southeast Asian immigrants. But in the 1950s, along with parts of the predominantly Latino Eastside area, Chinatown became a victim of highway construction—gutted and divided—not unlike African American communities in the rest of the United States.
Now, most of its inhabitants are low-income recent immigrants and refugees with limited education. They may not speak English well enough and so, are ghettoized into the restaurant and garment industries. The restaurant industry is dangerous and unscrupulous and wage theft is widespread. Garment work is seasonal—with 16-hour workdays or no work at all. Income in both industries is highly sporadic.
Many Southeast Asian immigrants have experienced severe wartime traumas but with little or no culturally appropriate social services available, most community workers are unable to gauge the depth of their traumas. In the past three years, most government and philanthropic support has gone towards banks for dealing with foreclosures but there has been no increased funding for affordable housing, which leaves out the majority of the people that make up SEACA. For these families, things have gotten much worse.
Students are under pressure to bring in money because they speak English and are expected to get “better” jobs. But with a 12 percent unemployment rate in Los Angeles, college grads are competing with high school students for “traditional” student jobs. Students who relied on summer school to supplement their education are unable to graduate in a timely manner because of budget cuts; nor are they able to get into community college because the competition is greater.
Forty years ago, Chinatown areas were the ghettos and slums. Now, they have become prime real estate as suburbanites tired of commuting try to move back into the city center. The neighborhoods are still affordable, have a great public transportation infrastructure put in place for the low-income residents, and are usually located within a 10-minute drive from downtown. Not surprisingly, the city has started rezoning and is spending money to attract new tenants and owners. It is building parks and revitalizing the river for these folks, trying to bring in high-end restaurants and shops. It paid a developer $52 million to build a parking lot!
There is now increased policing of the neighborhood and harassment of the people by private security forces hired by the Business Improvement Districts (BIDs). It used to be the chamber of commerce that harassed our youth, but the chamber is mostly made up of mom and pop shops owned by Chinese immigrants, and they are being pushed out by the BID, which is controlled by outside landowners and developers. So, now we are allies with the chamber in this redevelopment fight. Sissy Trinh is executive director of the Southeast Asian Community Alliance

1.    Noguchi, 2010. “Asians Out of Work Longest Among U.S. Minorities.” Oct 8, 2010.
2.     “America’s Children, America’s Challenge: Promoting Opportunity for the Next Generation.” A report from the KIDS COUNT project of The Annie E. Casey Foundation, Baltimore, MD (2011).
3.    Hu Li Nong, Gan Lin, Li Li Shuang, Rong Wen Lan, Michelle Xiong, Zhu Bing Shu.
4.    Patraporn et al., “Building Bridges to the Middle Class: The Role of Community-Based Organizations in Asian American Wealth Accumulation.” Economic Development Quarterly 24(3) (2010). Pp. 288-303.
5.    Summer/Fall 2006, Summer/Fall 2007, Spring 2008, Fall 2010, on issues of youth and risk prevention, the impacts of welfare reform, the flip side of the model minority coin, and mental health.
6.    This is a reference to Steve Louie’s “Introduction: When We Wanted It Done, We Did It Ourselves,” in Asian Americans: the Movement and the Moment. Edited by Louie, S. and Omatsu, G., 2001. Los Angeles: UCLA Asian American Studies Center Press.
7.    Southeast Asian Community Alliance (Los Angeles, CA); Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice, Asian & Pacific Islander Youth Promoting Advocacy and Leadership (Oakland, CA); Chinese Progressive Association (San Francisco, CA); Vietnamese American Young Leaders Association of New Orleans (New Orleans, LA); Providence Youth Student Movement (Providence, RI).

Diana Pei Wu is a professor in the Liberal Studies program at Antioch University, Los Angeles, where she coordinates the undergraduate concentration in Urban Communities and Environment. 


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Challenging the Wealth Gap with New Majority Organizing

San Francisco is a global city, famous for its progressive values. Some consider it a “bubble,” a wonderland beyond the reach of corporate and right wing forces. But the dirty secret behind the city’s progressive image is an economy that creates and exacerbates racial disparity, propels gentrification, and displaces whole communities.

While gentrification has pushed rents higher, wages and job opportunities for the working class have not kept up. A huge proportion of families in our community are unemployed, under-employed, or so poorly paid that they can barely make the rent each month. Their survival is replete with stories of bravery (waging a two-year letter-writing war with a relentless landlord), ingenuity (creating a bunk-bed out of wood scraps to fit a second child or ill parent into a studio apartment), and desperation (following an energy-drink-fueled routine of night shift on top of day shift on top of an on-call job). They are stories of struggling African American and Latino families heard at Causa Justa :: Just Cause in the Mission District.

At the other end of Mission Street, the towering financial district is home to the headquarters of multinational corporations, and not far from there are the pristine neighborhoods where the owners and managers of these corporations live. According to Forbes magazine, San Francisco has the highest number of billionaires per capita. Our state also boasts the largest number of billionaires in the country. Almost half of them are in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Higher Taxes for Rich, Not Tighter Belts for Poor
The gap between the billionaires and the people working three jobs to survive has everything to do with race. It’s a gap that has reached new proportions nationally.

Last July, the Pew Research Center reported that the median wealth of white households is 20 times that of black households and 18 times that of Latino households. From 2005 to 2009, wealth fell by 66 percent among Latino households and 53 percent among black households, compared with just 16 percent among white households. Most of the wealth was lost in the housing market as people who defaulted on predatory loans or lost their entry-level jobs ended up losing their homes. Meanwhile, the real estate speculators who caused the housing market crisis and profited from it have managed to avoid taxation and regulation. 

All too often, elected officials in our city and our state echo the baseless Regan-era idea that wealth will “trickle down” and that tax breaks for the rich will benefit working class people. But come budget time, there is simply not enough money for essential services for low-income communities of color. Politicians offer patronizing advice to the poorest in our communities about “tightening our belts!” But what we really need is to tax the wealthy and change local and state laws that are getting in the way of solving the revenue problem. In California, that means taking on Proposition 13 and reshaping our tax and fiscal policy so that it benefits the people of California and not just the corporations.

Statewide Initiative for Tighter Tax Laws
California Calls is a statewide coalition with a bold strategy to take on the issue of just taxation.
“Our long term goal is to permanently close the budget gap by raising revenue and restoring California’s faith in the importance of government,” explains Esperanza Tervalon-Daumont, a member of the executive committee. “We believe a fundamental step is to address the unintended consequences of Prop 13, which has allowed big corporations to escape paying their fair share in taxes. Long term, we want to reform commercial property tax and establish a majority vote on taxes. We see 2012 as a stepping stone [in] this long term battle… through our organizing we’ll build relationships and inspire new voters and through our campaigns we’ll fight defensive battles and back revenue generating policies.”
The same may be said in regards to San Francisco. If the city does not generate revenue by taxing wealth and the wealthy, we will never have enough money to fund the crucial programs that serve our communities. “If we don’t tax the rich, we pit our communities and community-based organizations against each other in a fight for what little trickles down,” points out Myriam Zamora, longtime San Francisco resident and tenant rights counselor at Causa Justa :: Just Cause.

Why choose between meal delivery for seniors and tenant rights education? Why not think bigger and advocate for bold progressive taxation that can help us meet all of the needs in our communities? Financiers, tech developers, and green capitalists compete with each other to control land and resources in the city, knowing that San Francisco serves as their gateway to the rest of the world. Why not hold them to the progressive standards that our city is known for? Why not require them to reinvest in our communities and be responsible neighbors?
These are precisely the sort of questions being raised within the working class and low-income neighborhoods in our city and being carried all the way to city hall by a new alliance—San Francisco Rising.

Rising to the Occasion
San Francisco Rising brings together nine community-based organizations with deep roots in the Mission, Excelsior, Chinatown, Bayview/Hunter’s Point, and Visitation Valley districts. Alliance members include: Chinese Progressive Association, Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth, Filipino Community Center, Mujeres Unidas y Activas, People Organized to Win Employment Rights (POWER), People Organized to Demand Environmental and Economic Rights (PODER), South of Market Community Action Network (SOMCAN), and the SF Day Labor Program.
The alliance has been co-founded on a shared vision of building a coherent and politicized electorate that can shift the balance of power in our city as a whole. Tired of watching downtown call the shots, we have come together to make the voices of our communities heard and to step up to the challenge of helping to build a broader progressive majority in our city.

At Causa Justa :: Just Cause we witnessed the impact of this type of collaborative work in Oakland when we co-founded Oakland Rising with the East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy, the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, the Asian Pacific Environmental Network, and Mujeres Unidas y Activas.

San Francisco Rising’s Impressive First Steps
Barely a year in existence, San Francisco Rising has already had an impact. In 2010, we shared membership lists from our respective organizations and used them to knock on doors and make phone calls in Spanish, English, Tagalog, and Cantonese. As a result, we contributed to the passing of a new tax on the transfer of properties worth $5 million and above; dramatically improved voter turnout in communities of color; and built a solid foundation for more collaborative work in the future.

On an internal level, San Francisco Rising membership assemblies are known for building community among members of different organizations, linking the different neighborhoods and the campaigns that each organization is running, creating dialogue that is multilingual and multigenerational, and building a sense of power. And that is just the beginning.
We are currently building mutual support between Oakland Rising and San Francisco Rising and considering how best to contribute our collective strength towards crucial statewide fights. We are developing a platform that articulates our vision of a more just San Francisco and collaborating with larger progressive forces that also want to generate revenue by taxing wealth to build a more equitable city.
We know that the only way San Francisco will live up to its progressive image is if we come together to form the progressive majority that will make it so. And that’s exactly what we plan to do.  

María Poblet is the executive director of Causa Justa :: Just Cause.

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The Fight for Good Jobs and Clean Air at the Port of Oakland

During the current Great Recession, we have witnessed the U.S. government’s multibillion dollar bailouts of private industry, a flood of foreclosures, and the worst unemployment in our generation.

In Oakland, where the unemployment rate was high before the recession (8 percent in 2005), the national fiscal crisis has exacerbated the situation. Families continue to struggle with the lack of accessible good jobs (17 percent unemployed), flat-lined incomes, and disparities in earnings (African Americans earn 60 cents on the dollar and Latinos about 47 cents compared to their white counterparts). Two out of five East Bay residents living in poverty are actually working full- or part-time. Years of urban disinvestment, poverty, and unemployment have locked Oakland residents in a “perpetual recession.” Now is our opportunity to break this cycle.

It is no longer enough to simply contribute to an economic recovery; we must address the root causes of economic injustice, such as a lack of family-sustaining jobs and barriers to employment that leave marginalized communities behind, in good times and in bad.

EBASE Works to Rebuild Oakland’s Middle Class
The East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy (EBASE) was founded in 1999 when a groundbreaking collaboration between labor, community, and faith groups won the Oakland Living Wage Ordinance, which boosted wages for city service workers. Since then, EBASE has won seven living wage policies for 2,000 workers, created better workplace conditions for 17,000 others, and connected 1,000 local residents to family-sustaining jobs.
Now EBASE has an unprecedented opportunity to advance grassroots, local solutions for rebuilding Oakland’s once thriving middle class with the Revive Oakland and Coalition for Clean and Safe Ports campaigns. Both campaigns will impact one of the most significant economic drivers in Northern California—the Port of Oakland. The Port handles 99 percent of the containerized traffic (valued at over $55 billion) in and out of Northern California and supports 450,000 jobs.

The transportation and logistics industry cluster in Northern California employs 282,000 workers. As a sector, it accounts for 6 percent of the regional employment and is projected to grow. Oakland Port is the regional center of the goods movement industry—the part of the economy that transports goods from their place of origin (primarily overseas) to their final retail destination (U.S. stores). EBASE’s goal is to ensure that the Port and the growing goods movement industry are accountable to the community.

Investing in Local Jobs Through Revive Oakland
The Oakland Army Base is a 333-acre site in West Oakland jointly owned by the Port and the City of Oakland. After years of negotiations and failed proposals for the site, the City and the Port are finally moving forward to close the deal on a redevelopment project with Prologis (an international multibillion dollar corporation) and local developer CCG by early 2012.

The $800 million redevelopment plan—subsidized by tens of millions of public dollars—will transform the site into a state-of-the-art international trade and logistics center servicing the Port, making it one of the largest development and job creation projects in over 50 years. It presents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to bring an estimated 6,000 jobs to Oakland over the next two decades. To make the opportunity a reality, EBASE has convened Revive Oakland, a community-labor-faith coalition of 30 organizations working to secure a community jobs agreement for the project. The enforceable agreement would create family-supporting jobs, such as inventory clerks, package handlers, and forklift operators; provide access to these jobs for low-income communities of color through local hiring and jobs training; and remove discrimination barriers by “banning the box” that asks about criminal records during the application process.

As our government leaders balance budgets by cutting critical services and demand that public workers share the burden, we must ensure that projects, such as the Oakland Army Base redevelopment—where approximately 40 cents of every dollar spent will come from taxpayers—give a return on their investment by prioritizing community needs.

Port Trucking Companies Cheat Local Communities
The growing goods movement industry at the Port of Oakland should actually be a catalyst for good jobs and a sustainable environment. In reality, low-income communities of color and poverty-stricken truck drivers often end up paying the price for the movement of goods to and from the Port.
Communities near the Port frequently are plagued by asthma and cancer associated with exposure to diesel pollution. One out of five children in West Oakland (the neighborhood closest to the Port) suffers from asthma, and the life expectancy of West Oakland residents is 10 years less than that of residents of the Oakland Hills.  As the workhorses of the goods movement industry, truck drivers pay a tremendous price in terms of their health and welfare. Most are paid under $29,000 annually for a 60-hour plus workweek. Seventy-six percent make less than the city’s living wage requirement and 29 percent earn below the California minimum wage. Of the Port’s estimated 2,000 truck drivers, 93 percent are immigrants.

The crux of the problem lies in the widespread—82 percent, according to a recent study by the National Employment Law Project—illegal practice of classifying port truck drivers as “independent contractors” rather than as employees by port trucking companies. This places the burden of truck purchase, maintenance, insurance, tolls, and taxes on the truck driver.  Companies are able to evade taxes and their share of Social Security payments, while denying workers minimum wage, unemployment insurance, workers compensation, disability insurance,  health and safety law protections, and the right to organize for fair wages and benefits. Under the current system, the cost of truck replacement and upgrades has fallen primarily on taxpayers and truck drivers.

The Oakland Coalition for Clean and Safe Ports (CCSP), which EBASE co-convenes with 80 organizations, brings together port drivers with environmental, community, labor, faith, and public health allies to reduce air pollution and improve job quality at the Port of Oakland. Ultimately, CCSP aims to secure a comprehensive policy that would shift the financial burden of goods movement and clean trucks onto trucking companies, shippers, and cargo owners.

Public Funds Should Benefit the Community
At a State Assembly hearing on Labor and Employment, long-time port truck driver Manuel Rivas delivered powerful testimony on the price of clean trucking and who really pays for it. Rivas used to haul for Bridge Terminal Transport (BTT) before losing his job on account of his truck failing the new emission standards. BTT, which is owned by Maersk and made $5 billion in profits last year, refused to pay for a retrofit. Prior to working for BTT, Rivas worked for Shippers Transport Express whose parent company, SSA Marine, is co-owned by Goldman Sachs, which made $2.3 billion in 2008 and was a major recipient of government bailouts. These companies can bear the costs of greening the port trucking fleet and should be made to do it.

This perpetual recession must not continue in Oakland’s communities. Now is the time to hold companies as well as elected and appointed officials accountable. Shipping companies should not be allowed to profit on the backs of poor immigrant drivers. Public funds invested in projects, such as the redevelopment of the Oakland Army Base, should benefit our communities that have been locked out of the economy by creating good jobs for their residents. The current economic crisis has reignited the work EBASE does to organize and advocate for progressive policies that improve the lives of working people. We now intend to take it to a new level by impacting entire industries.

Andrew Dadko is the program director and Rui Bing Zheng is the grants coordinator at EBASE.

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Oakland Gang Injunctions: Gentrification or Public Safety?

When economic interests and the criminal justice system intersect, the impacts are often detrimental to people of color. The justification for structural racism is usually couched in buzzwords like “public safety” or “tough on crime,” because the true beneficiaries of such policies are developers, politicians, and special interest groups. Gang injunctions are a perfect example.

A growing trend in law enforcement since the 1980s, these civil court proceedings circumvent the due process afforded by criminal cases, in particular, the right to an attorney and therefore, are rarely defended. Sold to the public as a quick fix for crime in urban areas, the impacts of gang injunctions extend far beyond the incarceration of a few low-level street dealers.

In Oakland, California, where 64.5 percent of the roughly 400,000 residents are non-white, efforts to enact injunctions against street gangs have been underway since the mid 1990s. Initially dismissed as unconstitutional, their legality was upheld in 1997 by the California State Supreme Court. Then in February 2009, amidst a declining economy, the Oakland Police Department (OPD) and then-City Attorney John Russo announced a joint proposal to revisit injunctions, noting that “gangs are involved in criminal activity ranging from large scale graffiti, narcotics dealing, firearm possession, intimidation, and violent crimes, such as assault, robbery, and homicide.” The initial cost estimate was approximately $400,000.

Injunctions Target Most Desired Real Estate
When Russo filed for an injunction against 19 alleged members of the “North Side Oakland” (NSO) gang in a predominantly African American area bordering Berkeley and Emeryville, he did not mention that the injunction zone was conveniently situated next to the gentrified Temescal district, called a “yupster magnet… poised to become the next Rockridge,” by the Wall Street Journal.

The NSO injunction was granted by a Superior Court judge in June 2010 over the objections of the ACLU. Four months later, the City Attorney’s office proposed a second injunction, naming 40 alleged members of the Norteños gang in a 450-block area of the traditionally Latino district of Fruitvale. What was unclear, however, was how the injunctions would further the OPD’s strategy of “hotspot enforcement,” which targets areas with the highest and most frequent occurrences of violent crime. Because OPD data shows that the city’s worst hotspots are located outside the injunction zones. In 2008, 72 percent of Oakland’s homicides occurred in West Oakland’s District 3 and East Oakland’s Districts 6 and 7—all of them outside the area covered by the two injunctions.

While the NSO injunction met with little resistance—owing to a climate of fear and historical tensions between African Americans and Oakland police, neighborhood activists say—the Fruitvale injunction was firmly opposed by a broad coalition of civil rights, labor, and social justice activists, youth groups, teachers, and police accountability advocates. The gang injunction debate became one of Oakland’s hottest issues of 2011. Initially, public support for the injunctions seemed high; tough-on-crime proponents joined with neighborhood crime prevention councils and business leaders in favor of the OPD/City Attorney stance. But as court hearings dragged on and more information emerged, opposition grew and the media narrative shifted, which in turn affected the battle for the hearts and minds of Oakland residents.

Costly Injunctions to Fuel Political Ambitions
By February 2011, the cost of pursuing the two injunctions had grown to $760,000, raising questions about effective use of city resources at a time of drastic budget cuts. More doubts were cast when a top criminologist, Dr. Barry Krisberg, told KQED’s Forum that gang injunctions “have almost no chance of reducing crime in Oakland.”

Russo’s political ambitions—he has been mentioned as a possible candidate for State Senator or Attorney General—were rumored to be the driving force behind the injunction effort undertaken without initial authorization from the City Council. Although, the injunctions did have three prominent backers on the City Council: Larry Reid, Ignacio De La Fuente, and Pat Kernighan.

At Oakland’s frequently contentious Public Safety Committee hearings, OPD Assistant Chief Howard Jordan stated that gang injunctions were part of a police “vision” for Oakland. But youth organizer Sagnitche Salazar outlined a different vision: “Our communities need solutions that work. Our communities need accountability. If you want to avoid violence, give our people jobs."

“If you really want jobs, you’ve got to create a better impression,” scolded Duncan Essex, a new resident of Fruitvale, referencing Oakland’s image in the corporate world. The Oakland Chamber of Commerce’s Public Policy Director at the time, Scott Peterson, added: “Trying to keep businesses in Oakland is a major problem because of public safety.” Councilmember Kernighan linked Clorox Corporation’s decision to move 500 jobs to Pleasanton to concerns about crime in Oakland.

A Strategy Pursued Against All Odds
The businesses most closely affected by the Norteños injunction, the Fruitvale Merchants Association, refused to take sides—an indication, perhaps, that the criminal activities of street gangs were not a pressing concern. They did, however, complain about the OPD’s failure to follow-up on reports of petty theft. And the decision to set up sobriety checkpoints—which they considered a form of harassment—at a Cinco De Mayo celebration, rather than increase foot patrols, as requested by the merchants.

Harassment by the OPD was a frequently voiced concern of injunction opponents. Javier Quintero was subjected to a humiliating courtroom arrest for a technical parole violation—accepting a ride from another defendant to meet with his attorney—even though he was wearing a GPS monitor which made his whereabouts known to parole agents at all times. Michael Muscadine complained about not being able to visit his family, which lives (and has for generations) in Oakland. Critics of the injunctions say the strategy of targeting people like Muscadine and Quintero—who have juvenile records but few recent police contacts and are gainfully employed—is a smokescreen for criminalizing minority and immigrant communities at the expense of civil liberties.

As Krisberg remarked on KALW News, “Could you imagine if there was a gang injunction… in an all-white area in San Francisco or Oakland? It wouldn’t last a week. Part of it is targeting powerless people, people who don’t have resources, and that’s the only reason it has any currency, in my mind.”

Even so, in May 2011 the injunctions were authorized by the Oakland City Council and later upheld by a judge. But questions about their efficacy linger. Mayor Jean Quan told reporters that her preference would have been prevention and intervention programs. And according to the OPD’s own statistics, violent crime actually rose in the NSO area after the injunction was granted.

To Understand Injunctions, Go Behind the Veil
If the premise about gang injunctions reducing violent crime does not hold water, you have to wonder if there is another agenda at play. According to George Galvis of Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice (CURYJ), “Gang injunctions are very effective tools for areas ripe for gentrification.”

Galvis points to North Oakland’s emergence as a developing biotech corridor and the “spillover effect” of young urbanites priced out of the San Francisco housing market populating Fruitvale. Gang injunctions are “something that developers wanted” to change the demographics of those neighborhoods, he says. If so, it would not be the first such case.

In an expert declaration submitted to the Superior Court, Krisberg warns of “displacement of poor and working black and Latino families from their home communities,” and a development strategy identified as “privileged adjacency,” or “a pattern of using gang injunctions to benefit nearby affluent areas.” He refers to a study done in Oxnard, CA, but it has parallels to Oakland, where the chosen gang injunction zones are in close proximity to neighborhoods where property values are high.

According to Trulia (, a residential real estate listing service, the average listing price for homes in North Oakland’s Gaskill district was $225,881 last September (compared to $483,281 in Temescal). Similarly, the flatland areas within the Fruitvale injunction zone represent some of the best real estate values in the city with median price along International Boulevard at about $162,000.

Under state law, a “nuisance” condition must be disclosed to prospective buyers. “The unassailable logic is that if buyers are told that a property is in a GI [zone], some buyers will insist on a ‘damaged’ property discount or refuse the sale,” says former Oakland City Councilmember Wilson Riles, Jr. “This will lower the value of those properties in the GI area.”

Property values in the Bushrod neighborhood have already fallen 12 percent since the injunction was enacted, according to A new study by projects a $12.2 billion loss in Oakland home values by 2012 because of foreclosures; Fruitvale being among the neighborhoods most affected. Any further drop in property values resulting from gang injunctions could accelerate the major shift in population demographics Oakland is currently undergoing.

Blacks Being Pushed Out of Desirable Neighborhoods
Census data shows that in the last decade, Oakland’s black population has declined by 25 percent. A 2010 study by Urban Strategies identified North Oakland as an area that lost the most African Americans.

Even before gang injunctions and the foreclosure crisis, gentrification was already underway in Fruitvale. A recent East Bay Express article (“Fruitvale New Hangout for Hipsters?”) mentions its growing popularity as a day-trip destination for UC Berkeley students in search of cheap eats at the numerous taco trucks that cater to immigrant laborers. Longtime residents fear that the region will turn into an East Bay version of San Francisco’s hipsterish Mission district—which, incidentally, experiences frequent gang violence despite existing injunctions.

Still, Fruitvale’s transformation has not been entirely smooth. In 2006, the Express reported that Fruitvale Station, a proposed model for a mixed-use transit village (and a pet project of City Councilmember De La Fuente), was an epic failure. Development cost a whopping $100 million but poor planning resulted in a retail center that did not bring in the promised hoards of post-commute shoppers, did not provide enough affordable housing, and for the most part, duplicated existing stores that hawked the same goods for lower prices in the neighborhoods. “We were promised an affluent, upscale customer base. Instead, we have immigrants who are looking for bargains,” one business owner was quoted as saying.

Joe Haraburda, president of the Oakland Chamber of Commerce, says he supports “the concept” of injunctions, calling them “a reasonable approach to protecting the citizens of Oakland.” When informed that violent crime rates in North Oakland had risen since the injunction, he called it “an interesting situation” and added, “we really need to give it time to work.”

Interestingly, Haraburda contradicts both Councilwoman Kernighan and his own former staffer Peterson in stating that perception of crime in Oakland is not a major factor for businesses looking to locate or relocate. “I don’t think you can tie Clorox’s relocation… entirely to a crime situation,” he says, and adds, “I’ve never heard anyone say directly, ‘I’m not coming to Oakland because of crime.’” According to attorney Mike Siegel, however, a big Atlanta-based corporation recently decided not to open an Oakland office, allegedly because of the city’s liberal “hug-a-thug” policies.
For CURYJ members, it all comes down to prioritizing community development over corporate development. “Tough-on-crime saber-rattling reinforces structural racism,” says Critical Resistance’s Isaac Ontiveros.

On the other hand, “When you create viable employment and education opportunities, you see a drop in crime,” says Galvis and adds that several effective youth programs, including Youth Together, Leadership Excellence, and the East Side Cultural Center, all suffered cuts in funding, even as the amount spent on injunctions ballooned to an estimated 1 million dollars (as of May 2011). Instead of a “top-down” approach, which reinforces the popular perception of crime in Oakland but fails to address its root causes, let’s invest in our communities, says Siegel.

Eric K. Arnold is a freelance writer and photographer. He has been documenting hip-hop and youth movements since 1994.

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On Occupy

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Special Section on Occupy. Featuring: Angela Davis,  Steve Williams, María Poblet, Rinku Sen, Rev. James Lawson, Silvia Federici and more.

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Special Section on Occupy. Featuring: Angela Davis, Steve Williams, María Poblet, Rinku Sen, Rev. James Lawson, Silvia Federici and more.

Angela Davis

“It is important to act as if it were possible to radically transform the world." - Angela Davis

I have had the opportunity to visit four Occupy sites: one in Philadelphia, two in New York,  and one in Oakland. There’s an enormous amount of energy. There’s an enormous amount of excitement. It’s quite different from the way we are accustomed to building separate movements and then finding ways to create what we generally call coalitions and alliances. And while the [slogan “We are the] 99%” is a fiction, it’s a fiction that is useful, and it is one that we should take up and re-craft. My message to all of the Occupy sites is that it is important that this 99% slogan is inclusive from the outset—that we have to be aware of the extent to which it is shot through by  racial difference and economic difference.

The November 2 march to the Port of Oakland was multi-racial, it was multi-generational, it was multi-gender, multi-sexual, multi-everything. It’s an experiment in being together, [but we need to] be attentive  to differences. As Audre Lorde said, “It’s not our differences that divide us. It’s our inability to respect and celebrate those differences.” She pointed out that differences should not be merely tolerated, but they should be a fund of polarities between which our creativity can spark like a dialectic.

If we assume that the top tiers of the 99% can provide the strategy during this time, then we are mistaken. It would make far more sense to start with the bottom tiers, and that would help us address racism. That would mean that the struggle to abolish the prison industrial complex would have to be central in this movement of the 99%.

[Another thing] I’ve been doing at the Occupy sites is to recall the slogans from the uprising in Paris in 1968.  One of them was “L’imagination prend le pouvoir,” all power to the imagination. And another one was “Soyez realiste demandez l’impossible,” be realistic, demand the impossible. 

Art drives movements for radical social change. Art helps us to find our way into new dimensions. Art helps to give expression to what might be considered impossible in the world that is. It shows us the possibility of a new world.  Art helps us to negotiate our way through dimensions that we cannot yet articulate in the kind of expository language that we use... There are no clear demands. But I don’t think there should be any demands right now.

[Conisider] the connection with Egypt—Cairo and Tahrir Square. I was reading  a message that came from participants in that movement, and there was something very moving included in that message. It said,  [People ask] what are our demands? But there’s no one left to [ask demands of]. There’s no one left to ask for reforms. And so, therefore, we have to create that which we would like to see in the future. We have to create what we want, as opposed to asking somebody else to give it to us.

This is what happened during the era of what is called the civil rights movement. It was much, much more than civil rights—it was a freedom movement. The most important accomplishment of that movement wasn’t necessarily the change in the laws, although that was very important, it was  the transformation of the consciousness of so many people who learned how to imagine a very different future.

We never give the black women domestic workers who refused to get on the bus the credit for creating this collective community of resistance.  If they had not refused to get on the bus, if they had not boycotted the bus, where would we be today?

So let us also take seriously what it means to transform consciousness.  I think that that is something that may be happening now given that so many people seem to be identifying with the 99%.  The experience we had walking to the Port on Wednesday [November 2] was absolutely amazing. Cars were blowing their horns and nobody was upset that the march was blocking traffic. There were kids on bicycles who were stopping the traffic so that the march could go through. There weren’t any police anywhere. Well, we knew they were around. But we didn’t see them.

And everywhere, people were beeping their horns. It was just this amazing, joyful experience and so many people seemed to experience that joy of being together, of being a part of a new community that has the potential of dismantling the economic structures and the racist hierarchies and the gender hierarchies in the future.

 I ran into many people of my generation who experienced the movement 40 years ago.  Without exception, people were so happy. They were saying, it’s happening. Finally, it’s happening!

[But] there are never any guarantees. In the late ’60s we struggled passionately, and we thought we were going to make a revolution. We were persuaded that we were going to bring radical transformations to this society. We didn’t win the revolution we thought we were fighting, but we did manage to revolutionize society.

So, I would say there are never any guarantees, but it is important to act as if it were possible to radically transform the world.

Listen to the roundtable interview with Angela Davis and Rev. James Lawson at:

Angela Davis is an activist, educator, writer, and a founding member of Critical Resistance. This article is an edited excerpt from an interview conducted by Erin Aubry Kaplan, a Los Angeles journalist, at an event sponsored by the Center for the Study of Political Graphics in Los Angeles (

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Steve Williams

“Different people who have been disaffected and disenfranchised by this economic system have had a space to come together.” —Steve Williams

In a country with a history of white supremacy, colonialism, genocide, slavery, we know that we’re going to encounter some particular challenges around racial consciousness, around the leadership of women, around the role of young people. But what the “We are the 99%” movement has created is an opportunity for us to actually engage in those struggles from a progressive standpoint.  The movement is still very new, so the language is all coming together, but in my mind this movement is a movement of the 99%. The occupations are a particular tactic of that movement. So, there are a lot of people participating in the movement to confront financial institutions and capitalism that aren’t sleeping out at the various parks across the country. It’s critical for us to figure out ways for people to engage constructively because our organizations that are rooted in working class, communities of color have been doing the organizing around a particular strata of the 99%. It is important to acknowledge that the petty bourgeois and technocratic professionals who are now disaffected by the way that capitalism is operating— those people should be mad. But we also have to then figure out the programs and solutions and demands that we are all going to fight for that don’t throw sections of the 99% under the bus.

The “We are the 99%” movement has to develop a vision of what our alternative is. The exciting innovation with the camps is that different groupings of people who have been disaffected and disenfranchised by this economic system have had a space to come together. Folks who have had their homes foreclosed upon, folks who are in debt and can’t find a job after graduating from elite universities—are coming together with homeless people and with other folks who have just seen public services cut and attacked over the last few years. And I think what’s happening with that is that people are beginning to develop more and more of a systematic analysis of what is wrong. But ultimately that means that we have to do more, way more, than elect a sympathetic person into office.

We’re really building on a level of organizing, a level of mobilization that puts us in a position to begin transforming what it is that we’ve previously thought of as a liberation movement in this country.

Listen to the roundtable discussion with Steve Williams and Maria Poblet at:

Steve Williams is a co-founder and co-executive director of People Organized to Win Employment Rights (POWER), a San Francisco-based group building power for low-wage workers, tenants, and families. This article is an edited excerpt from a roundtable interview conducted by Meaghan LaSala on the Making Contact program of the National Radio Project (

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María Poblet

“Convergence on joint actions between existing organizations and Occupy is the first step...” —María Poblet

University of California Davis police officer assaults students with pepper spray. ©2011 Francisco DominguezPeople of color who’ve interacted with the occupy camps [say they don’t show] enough clarity about racism, gender inequality, poverty, and issues of class.  And I think that critique is right on. I think the challenge before us is: can we lead from a place of unity?

On the national scale now white, working class communities who’ve been impacted by these measures of austerity and by this corporate takeover, they have a choice between the Tea Party and Occupy. And I want all of them to choose Occupy. It’s very needed in this country for people to have a choice that takes them to the left in the face of corporate domination, instead of basically  joining the Tea Party and moving to the right and blaming immigrants, blaming people of color. [As] the racial dynamics get handled in the camps, that’s where and how we’ll see if the movement will be able to proceed in a way that actually builds the capacity to build more unity and move towards a progressive outcome that benefits all communities.

In the more institutional progressive sector, there’s the idea that you elect somebody who’s a Democrat and then you look the other way and cross your fingers. That has never worked for people of color. In fact, where people of color have won great demands in this country is by challenging the Democratic party with all kinds of tactics, including threatening to start another party and starting another party. It has to go back to this platform, this list of what we want, this vision of where we’re headed. Then we can say to any elected official, “Get in or get out,” “Come with us, or don’t.”

Convergence on joint actions between existing organizations and Occupy is the first step to what we need. Then we can actually move towards something that would be much bigger—like, what if the 99% in the U.S. called for no war, no warming—build the economy for the people and the planet. What if we did that? What would that look like? It would then say—there is one alternative—and we’re building it right here, right now, because another world is possible... but also, it’s absolutely necessary. And in order for another world to be possible, another U.S. has to come into being. This Occupy movement and the convergence between this and previous generations, and community organizing and other sectors of progressives, this convergence is actually going to make that other world possible.

Listen to the roundtable discussion with Steve Williams and Maria Poblet at:

María Poblet is the executive director of Just Cause::Causa Justa, a housing rights group in the San Francisco Bay Area. This article is an edited excerpt from a roundtable interview conducted by Meaghan LaSala on the Making Contact program of the National Radio Project (

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Rinku Sen

"If racial exclusion and inequity are at the root of the problem, then inclusion and equity must be built into the solution." - Rinku Sen

We must now move from questions of representation to ask: How can a racial analysis, and its consequent agenda, be woven into the fabric of the movement? We need to interrogate not just the symptoms of inequality—the disproportionate loss of jobs, housing, healthcare, and more—but, more fundamentally, the systems of inequality, considering how and why corporations create and exploit hierarchies of race, gender, and national status to enrich themselves and consolidate their power. As the New Bottom Line campaign has pointed out through a series of actions across the nation launched the same week as OWS, the subprime lending practices of Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, and Wells Fargo have devastated communities of color. A 2009 study found that 85 percent of those hardest hit by foreclosures have been African American and Latino homeowners.

If racial exclusion and inequity are at the root of the problem, then inclusion and equity must be built into the solution. OWS has resisted making specific demands, but local groups are taking up campaigns and actions. The challenge and opportunity of this moment is to put these values at the center of their agenda.

The signs are promising. In Boston, Occupiers joined a march that protested gentrification and financial abuse from a racial justice standpoint. In Oakland, the organization Just Cause::Causa Justa has inserted an anti-discrimination agenda, illustrated by a beautiful poster by artist and activist Melanie Cervantes reading, “Somos El 99%,” which is a prominent feature of the encampment there. (The poster exists in other languages, too.) New Bottom Line has asked Occupiers to make pointed, tangible demands of regulators and banks. Occupy Los Angeles has taken up actions supporting homeowners in the midst of foreclosure. A hearty response from other cities would go a long way toward legitimizing OWS as a movement that recognizes the fundamental role of racial discrimination in shaping our economy.

As some Occupy cities are demonstrating, addressing race is far easier when there is already a history of white activists and those of color advancing common goals. In Flagstaff, Arizona, a city where activists have worked alongside Native communities for years, the local Occupy website features calls to resist a fake-snow-making scheme on a mountain sacred to Native tribes, as well as a plan by Senator John McCain and Representative Paul Gosar to reinstate uranium mining around the Grand Canyon. At, which has covered the role of race in the Occupy movement, one commentator offered the example of Occupy Los Angeles—a city with a long history of collaborative economic justice campaigns with a clear race angle—as a model to emulate. “The LA folks seem to be able to reconcile how to fold [racial], monetary, and social issues all into their messages,” she wrote.

The Occupy movement is clearly unifying. Centralizing racial equity will help to sustain that unity. This won’t happen accidentally or automatically. It will require deliberate, smart, structured organizing that challenges segregation, not only that of the 1 percent from everyone else, but also that which divides the 99 percent from within.

Rinku Sen is president and executive director of the Applied Research Center, and the publisher of Colorlines, from which this article is excerpted.

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Rev. James Lawson

"You can't create revolutionary change without a strategy." - Rev. James Lawson

There are three things that are necessary to create a movement which causes the collapse of an authoritarian government. Poland, Yugoslavia, Egypt, and [Chile] fulfilled this. There are three forces. First force we see in such efforts is an escalation of unity of purpose. I told the Boston Occupy group last week that their audience is not capitalism or the corporations. Their audience is the people of America. We need direct civil resistance in America as never before. It must happen. If we speak to the full audience, that unity will develop.

[The] next thing is, there has to be a plan. You can’t create revolutionary change without a strategy. It has to be both short-term and long-term. Cairo had that. The solidarity movement of Poland had it. The Chilean anti-Pinochet movement had it.

The third thing is, there has to be the emergence of a nonviolent discipline. That’s going on in the Occupy groups. They’re trying to care for themselves. They’re trying to build a community of care and concern. They’re trying to take care of each other. They’re trying to keep the camp, the Occupy villages, cooperative, clean. Many of them recognize that the issue’s not fighting the police or throwing stones. This is critical because the myth in the United States is that violence is the way you get change.

The violence in our society and of our society—military violence, domestic violence, the continued lynching of people in the prison systems by the police—this system of violence is causing our society to sink into greater and greater chaos, turmoil, confusion, animosity and division.

The nonviolent discipline is necessary because you cannot beat the enemy with the enemy’s theories and practices. You cannot do it. We do not have the power to beat the CIA or the National Guard or the American Military. Therefore, the movement has to be one that will challenge that power with surprise and with our bodies. We have to find ways to create a new power, and the new power is the power of people who get engaged... In a sense that we can have a different world and a different nation and a different Los Angeles, and are willing to work on developing a plan and a strategy to make that happen.

How is it that the American people want housing, education, jobs, transportation, and better communities but we have this atrocious system that is cheating us over and over and over again and pretending that we have the best possible society? 

[With] so many great movements in the United States, [why is it] that we, the American people, don’t see through this and learn that it’s going to take hard work to make the changes, and we need to be about that hard work?

Listen to the roundtable interview with Angela Davis and Rev. James Lawson at:

Reverend James Lawson is a United Methodist pastor and civil rights leader. He played a major role in the Memphis sanitation workers’ strike of 1968 and was a founding member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). This article is an edited excerpt from an interview conducted by Erin Aubry Kaplan, a Los Angeles journalist, at an event sponsored by the Center for the Study of Political Graphics in Los Angeles (

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Silvia Federici

"Women have the longest work-week and do most of the world's unpaid labor; they are the bulk of the poor both in the U.S. and around the world..." - Sylvia Ferderici

This movement appears spontaneous but its spontaneity is quite organized, as can be seen from the languages and practices it has adopted and the maturity it has shown in response to the brutal attacks by the authorities and the police. It reflects a new way of doing politics that has grown out of the crisis of the anti-globalization and antiwar movements of the last decade; one that emerges from the confluence between the feminist movement and the movement for the commons. By “movement for the commons,” I refer to the struggles to create and defend anti-capitalist spaces and communities of solidarity and autonomy. For years now people have expressed the need for a politics that is not just antagonistic and does not separate the personal from the political, but places the creation of more cooperative and egalitarian forms of reproducing human, social, and economic relationships at the center of political work.

Why is Feminism Necessary for Occupy?
Feminism is still critical for this movement on several grounds and I am encouraged by the fact that many young women today identify themselves as feminists, despite a tendency in past years to dismiss feminism as merely “identity politics.”

First, many of the issues that were at the origins of the women’s movement have not been resolved. In some respects, the position of women has worsened. Despite the fact that more women have access to paid employment, the root causes of sexism are still in place. We still have an unequal sexual division of labor as reproductive work remains primarily a woman’s responsibility, even when she works outside the home. Reproductive work is still devalued in this society. Though we are less dependent on individual men, we are still subject to a patriarchal organization of work and social relations that degrade women.  In fact, we have seen a re-masculinization of society with the glorification of war and the increasing militarization of everyday life. Statistics speak clearly: women have the longest work-week and do most of the world’s unpaid labor; they are the bulk of the poor both in the U.S. and around the world; and many are practically sterilized because they cannot afford to have children. Meanwhile, male violence against women has intensified, not only at the individual level but also at the level of institutions. In the U.S., for instance, the number of women in jail has increased fivefold since the ‘80s.

I am also convinced that the Occupy movement has much to learn from the egalitarian vision of society that the feminist movement developed in its radical phase, which was also an inspiration for the queer and the ecological movements. Consensus-based decision-making, the distrust of leaders (formal or charismatic), and the idea that you need to prefigure the world you want to create through your actions and organization—these were all developed by radical feminist movements.  Most importantly, like the Civil Rights and Black Power movements, the radical feminist movement began to address the question of unequal power relations in the movement and in society by, for instance, creating autonomous spaces in which, women could articulate the problems specific to their conditions. Feminism has also promoted an ethics of care and sisterhood and a respect for animals and nature that is crucial for the Occupy movement and, I believe, has already shaped its practice. I have been impressed by the tolerance and patience people demonstrate to one another in the general assemblies—a great achievement in comparison with the often truculent forms of behavior that were typical in the movemens of the ‘60s.

Gender Dynamics in the Occupy Movement
I do not want to be unduly optimistic, but it seems to me that feminists are well represented in this movement, though it would be naïve to imagine that this is sufficient to eliminate sexism from it. As a recent article published in The Nation on this subject pointed out, “women are everywhere.” They facilitate and speak in the general assemblies, organize educational forums, make videos, run the information center, speak to the press, and circulate information through scores of blogs on the net. At OWS, before the eviction, they created an all-women space, a tent “for women by women,” that functioned as a safe autonomous zone.

What is especially promising is the diversity of women who are active and present in the occupations: this is a movement that brings together white women and women of color, young women and women with white hair. I also see the influence of feminism in the fact that this movement places its own reproduction at the center of its organizing. The lesson of the feminist movement—which is that you cannot separate political militancy from the reproduction of your everyday life; that you must often revolutionize your reproductive relations in order to engage in the struggle—is now being applied on a broad scale, [in] the creation of free food distribution, the organization of cleaning and medical teams, and the activities of the working groups that are daily discussing not only general principles and campaigns but all the issues concerning daily coexistence.

That OWS is no longer a standing camp after its eviction from Liberty Square does not invalidate this point.  Hundreds of occupations are now taking place all over the country and around the world.  The loss of the camp at Liberty Plaza in New York is only the start of a new phase of the movement. Hopefully it will be a phase in which the building of reproductive commons will take on a new meaning and dimension. Soon, in fact, the movement must begin to pose the question of how to create a reproductive network outside of the market—for instance, connecting with the existing urban farming projects and other elements of the solidarity economy.

Silvia Federici is a veteran activist and writer who lives in Brooklyn, New York. She is the author of Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation. This interview was conducted by Max Haiven ( and published at Znet (

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Organizing for Community Control in Madison

In February 2011, the city of Madison captured national attention when organizers occupied the Wisconsin state capitol building for several weeks to protest Governor Scott Walker’s attacks on collective bargaining and key social services. Their rallying cry: “Whose house? Our house!” reflected back to a housing reclamation movement that had begun just a year earlier in the city.

In May 2010, a coalition of people-of-color-led groups had organized to help an African American single mother and her two young children move into a long-vacant foreclosed house. Their actions shifted the public discourse into the critical areas of property, control, and economic justice. It was part of a coordinated nationwide series of eviction defenses and housing takeovers meant to reawaken the nation to the Take Back the Land movement, which is dedicated to elevating housing to the level of a human right and securing community control over the land.  Politically, Madison may seem like an unlikely site for a radical people-of-color-led direct action and it took many national organizers by surprise. But the movement continues to grow as its actions challenge the contradiction of “houses without people and people without houses.”

As with most action campaigns, the Left would like to see a move upwards in the organizing—from immediate actions towards longer-term and larger-scale shifts in power. But we in Wisconsin assert that we need to shift the organizing downwards to focus on building grassroots literacy about the systems that exert control over people’s lives. Because it is only from these foundations of understanding that we can derive the necessary people power to build a sustainable infrastructure for democratic community control of land and economic resources.

Understand the Institutions that Manage Your Life
Among the organizations that form the infrastructure of Madison’s Take Back the Land movement is Freedom, Inc., whose work is “Helping our communities assess what they control,” says Co-Executive Director Kabzuag Vaj. “You can't take control if you don't understand what you are taking control of. By taking on issues of housing, land, and food justice that our communities are already grappling with in their day-to-day, we help people understand the institutions that manage their lives.”

Freedom, Inc. organizes youth and communities of color around the root causes of violence, drawing from the same vein of popular education work documented by Paolo Freire in Brasil and pioneered by Myles Horton in Appalachia at the Highlander Folk school.  Freire, as well as the Highlander Center, found that centering on literacy—whether it involves reading and writing or voter education through citizenship schools—creates key opportunities for engaging communities in critical questioning that leads to organizing.

Working with its partner organizations Operation Welcome Home and Take Back the Land-Madison, Freedom Inc.’s first priority is to build literacy about systems of power, starting with what communities see and experience. Engaging African American families in actions around housing gets down to the everyday concerns of people and helps to build a collective analysis of the root causes of institutionalized economic violence. Engaging Hmong elders from Madison’s low-income housing units around food access and gardening space becomes political education work that links to a radical analysis of land ownership and control. Take Back the Land-Madison understands that self-determination begins with decolonizing. If power concedes nothing without demand, then communities need to know what is within their right to control, in order to be able to assert their demands.

Creating Mechanisms for Sustainability
Take Back the Land’s efforts in Madison are grounded in literacy-building political education that is propelled by one defense, one takeover, and one action at a time. From this foundation, Take Back the Land-Madison and its partners scale up the organizing by building in local and regional mechanisms for authentic and sustained control.

For instance, Freedom, Inc. is helping youth and community members create ways to affect land use decisions made at the neighborhood scale. “Not only are we demanding that people who have decision-making control receive input from community members, but we are actually creating advisory councils in our communities to tell management what to do,” says Vaj. “Having a seat at the table builds people power. And people power counters system power.”

In addition to advisory councils, communities are also pushing for transparency and accountability at the local level. Operation Welcome Home’s ‘Housing is a Human Right’ resolution was introduced in the Madison City Council this September with a county-level resolution to follow. The city resolution, which has garnered significant support from Mayor Paul Soglin and a critical mass of city alders, institutes “comprehensive plans that call for the availability of safe, decent and sanitary and distinctive housing for all residents as well as the objectives and policies that accompany that goal.”

The resolution helps create the tools and build a platform to push for further specific policy changes towards community control of land. The ‘Housing is a Human Right’ resolution has helped Operation Welcome Home build relationships with families of color in neighborhoods beyond those it was initially working with, as well as build power by gaining the support of a local Poverty Coalition and the Wisconsin Association of Tenants Rights.

Finally, Freedom Inc., Operation Welcome Home, and Take Back the Land-Madison have been involved in developing more democratic regional structures for agenda-setting and decision-making. The Wisconsin Communities of Color Agenda (WCCA) is a collective of statewide people of color-led organizations that coalesced in response to asserting a racial justice agenda within mobilizations against Walker’s austerity measures. WCCA is a mechanism for creating a shared long-term political agenda for communities across the state.

From the Margins to the Center
Mainstream coverage of the Wisconsin Uprising mainly focused on white, middle-class Wisconsinites in heartfelt defense of collective bargaining for workers rights. The voices and the work of communities whose very survival depends on lifesaving services, such as Wisconsin’s public health care and food stamp systems, were missing. Also missing were mention of the challenges to the exclusion of people of color using Voter ID, the fight to save public schools from defunding, and the efforts to preserve in-state tuition for undocumented students. The fact is, people of color and poor white communities have been struggling against austerity and budget attacks for decades. 

As Kimiyana Johnson of Operation Welcome Home pointedly notes: “We haven't had folks gathering at the capital in droves to protect these issues before because it only affected folks who were mostly invisible to dominant society. Now that Walker has been cutting folks down at the knees with all of his ‘power’ moves, many working class, middle class, and ‘once-considered-middle class’ people are being forced into dealing with real poverty issues.”

While questions about where the Wisconsin mobilizations will lead us are still up in the air, there is no doubt that the legacy of organizing for self-determination is a critical one for moving from the margins to the center. Gaining democratic control will require further action and the grounded presence and voice of the people most affected by the issues at stake, not to mention the radical imagination of visionary solutions. Or, as the sign held by a Freedom, Inc. member read: “If the middle class is hurting, the poor will die!”

Cynthia Lin is an educator and scholar focusing on community-based and participatory action research. Sangita Nayak is an experienced organizer, communicator, and public school teacher grounded in effective movement practice.

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On Occupy: Roundtable Discussion with Angela Davis and Rev. James Lawson


"There are never any guarantees, but it is important to act as if it were possible to radically transform the world."

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Erin Aubry Kaplan: Great, so this is I guess the moment some of us have been waiting for. We’re going to have a conversation on stage with Angela Davis and Reverend James Lawson. And before we get into that, I just want to remind folks that 20 minutes after the program, you still – the auction will be open for another 20 minutes after the end of the program, so there’s a lot of fabulous stuff there still to bid on. So could we please have you all come up?

You all settled in? Okay. Well let’s just get right into it. We’ve talked a lot this evening about Occupy – the Occupy movements. It started in New York and it’s spread everywhere, and so I just want to ask both what is really going on in the world right now? Just a little question, you know?

James Lawson: What’s going on in the world?

The Struggle of the 99%
Kaplan: Yeah, as it relates to the Occupy movement. The Occupy movement is actually taking the world by storm. So in terms of the Occupy movement, what’s at stake here? What are the challenges, the opportunities, and critically how can we make it clear, or clearer, that the struggle for the 99% is also the struggle for racial and economic justice? Either one of you can start.

Angela Davis: Do you want to start?

Lawson: Go ahead.

Kaplan: We can flip a coin.

Davis: Well, I have had the opportunity of visiting four Occupy sites, yes. One in Philadelphia, two in New York, one in Oakland. And I’m not sure whether it is possible to answer that question so straightforwardly.

Kaplan: You don’t have to be straightforward, you can…

Davis: Well, what I would say is that there’s an enormous amount of energy. There’s an enormous amount of excitement, and (2:30) while the 99%, it is a fiction to respond to, but it’s a fiction that is useful, and it is one that we should take up and re-craft. My message at all of the Occupy sites is something like this: (3:00) It is important that this 99% slogan is an inclusive slogan. It’s quite different from the way we are accustomed to building separate movements and then finding ways to create what we generally call coalitions and alliances. So this 99% slogan is inclusive from the outset, but we have to be aware of the extent (3:30) of which it is shot through by difference and racial difference and economic difference.

I was saying at a critical resistance benefit last night in Oakland that if we assume that the top tiers of the 99% can provide the strategy during this time, then we are mistaken. (4:00) It would make far more sense to start with the bottom tiers, and that would help us address racism. That would mean that the struggle to abolish the prison industrial complex would have to be central in this movement of the 99%. Yes, you can applaud. But just one more thing. (4:30) I marched on Wednesday to the port and it was so exciting to see so many thousands and thousands of people, and it was multi-racial, it was multi-generational, it was multi-gender, multi-sexual, multi-everything.

And I ran into many people of my generation who experienced the movement 40 years ago. (5:00) And without exception, people were so happy. They were saying it’s happening. Finally, it’s happening.

An Emerging Movement
Then do you – I’m sorry – do you think it’s happening? Do you think we are going towards a movement that will become change? I know knowing is a crystal ball, but does this feel really, really different than movements you’ve experienced in the past? (5:30)

Davis: Well you know there are never any guarantees. In the late 60s we struggled passionately, and we thought we were going to make a revolution. We were persuaded that we were going to bring radical transformations to this society. We didn’t win the revolution we thought we were fighting, (6:00) but we did manage to revolutionize society.

So I would say there are never any guarantees, but it is important to act as if it were possible to radically transform the world. (6:30)

Kaplan: And so people are acting as if, right now. They are. Okay.

Davis: Well I want to hear from Reverend Lawson.

Lawson: Well, I agree with much of what you say Professor Davis, especially from the perspective that this is something that no one predicted was going to occur, and especially from the perspective that there’s extraordinary energy such as we (7:00) have not seen for quite some time. And also that there seems to be, within the organization – in all of the Occupies – there seems to be an effort to organize in a fashion that will judge the ways in which we are largely organized within our society.

However, I do not see it yet as having what it has to have. There’s time for that to happen. You have to remember that a lot of us – there are whole numbers of us who are following what we think to be civil resistance or non-violent resistance. There is a gathering literature on it, though that’s not yet within the academic world, especially the historians very much. (8:00)

But there are three things that are necessary to create a movement which causes the collapse of an authoritarian government in Poland or Yugoslavia or Egypt, and Egypt – the Cairo Spring in Egypt fulfilled this. There are three forces. First force we see in such efforts is that there is an escalation of unity of purpose. (8:30) I told the Boston Occupy group last week that your audience is not capitalism or the corporations. Your audience are the people of America who can have a different society, a different set of electoral prerogatives but cannot do it through the election system. (9:00) We need direct civil resistance in America as never before. Never before. It must happen.

But again, there is a sense of unity that develops, and if we speak to the full audience, that unity will develop and some of the issues you’ve said quite correctly are necessary. (9:30) Next thing is there has to be a plan. You can’t create a revolutional change, revolutionary change, without a strategy. It has to be both short-term and long-term. Cairo had that. The solidarity movement of Poland had it. The Chilean [Anti-Pinichade] movement had it.

And then the third thing is there has to be the emergence of a non-violent discipline. (10:00) That’s going on in the Occupy groups. They are trying to care for themselves. They are trying to build a community of care and concern. They’re trying to take care of each other. They’re trying to keep the camp of the Occupation group, the Occupy villages, cooperative, clean. Many of them recognize that the issue’s not fighting the police or throwing stones. This is critical because (10:30) the myth in the United States is that violence is the way you get change. Now the violence in our society and of our society, both the military violence, the domestic violence, the continued lynching of people in the prison systems by the police. That system of violence is causing our society to sink in greater and greater chaos and turmoil and confusion and animosity and division. (11:00)

The non-violent discipline is necessary because you cannot beat the enemy with the enemy’s theories and practices. You cannot do it. It pains me that the wisdom of the human race is that you cannot destroy evil, dismantle evil systems (11:30) by imitating them either in language or in theory or in practice. We must recognize and the movement must recognize, if it’s become a movement, a non-violent discipline, we do not have the power to beat the CIA or the National Guard (12:00) or the American Military, and therefore the movement has to be one that will challenge that power with surprise and with our bodies, as Angela has done so very, very well across the years. We have to find ways to create a new power, and the new power is the power of people who get engaged in a sense that we can have a different world (12:30) and a different nation and a different Los Angeles, and are willing to work on developing a plan and a strategy to make that happen, and then thirdly developing the kind of boot camp discipline that enables us to work as a people to make a change.

The other thing I would like to say is that in the United States, the progressive people of the United States have never produced in (13:00) the last 60 years a movement for social justice. And I mean by this primarily the white progressive people have not done it. Whether or not the Occupy campaign can become the campaign for that to happen, I don’t know. We produced the Tea parties, and we produced the conservatives who basically represent the resistance of the 60s (13:30) and 70s, but a movement of resistance has not effective change in the United States. It is the black movement that did that more than anything else in the 60’s in our country.

Davis: May I say something?

Kaplan: Yes, go ahead.

Davis: Reverend Lawson, I think that this is the movement, whether we call it a movement, (14:00) or this is the beginning of the potential for a movement that really should have happened in the immediate aftermath of the election of Obama. Because it seems to me the young people who flock to the Occupy sites are the same young people who refused to believe that it was impossible to elect a black man who identified (14:30) with the black radical tradition to the office of the president in this country. And I think that in our sense of disillusion, disappointment, we have forgotten what an incredible moment that was in 2008 when Obama was elected. (15:00)

And we’ve also forgotten that he was not a viable candidate until young people with all of the new modes of communication and social networks and so forth managed to create the foundation for a movement that said yes we can elect him. And it seems to me that what should have happened after the election was that that movement should (15:30) have crystallized, and we should have immediately gone out into the streets and called for free health care. We should’ve called for education. We should’ve called for not only an end to the war in Iraq, but we should’ve prevented the Obama administration from sending troops into Afghanistan. (16:00) So it seems to me that what we are witnessing today is what should have happened three years ago.

Kaplan: Then let me ask you both, why didn’t that happen? I agree with you. I think the election was an amazing movement, and it seems in retrospect, that’s leading to the revolution.

Davis: Because we projected our hopes and dreams onto this one individual. We thought Obama was going to bring us this radically (16:30) new feature, and many progressive and radical people felt exactly the same way. After he won, they all went home and relaxed.

Lawson: Yeah I think so, that’s right. And that’s the point I make. The Occupy movement represents the notion that an election is an inadequate way to create change. That only (17:00) the people can create change. No matter the stuff about the ballot box – and I was very lukewarm in the 60’s about voter registration, although I was registered to vote myself and I encouraged it, because I did not see it even then as the gateway to dismantle the systems of racism, segregation, of sexism, of economic exploitation and the violence. I did not think it could do it, (17:30) and it hasn’t done it.

Prison Abolition
Kaplan: Wow, okay. Let’s talk about prison abolition for a moment. We’ve touched on that a lot tonight. What does that really mean, prison abolition, and why is now the time to really care about shrinking the California prison system by building alternative ways to deal with harm and violence by bringing home political prisoners, etc. And I have to say I just heard, not in California but some other state, (18:00) they’re starting to release people who were convicted under the federal crack-cocaine laws. They’re not equal to the powder cocaine laws, but they’ve been reduced. So some time is coming off their sentences. They’re being lit out. I think it’s Virginia they’re starting to do that. But anyway, what about prison abolition? (18:30) How do you see it working or happening in the future, or now?

Davis: Well, it’s interesting, the demand for the abolition for prisons is almost as old as the institution of the prison itself. And certainly, I think it’s important to include the demand for the abolition of the death penalty. That is very much a part (19:00). And historically, prisons were supposed to be more humane than capital punishment or corporal punishment, but it quickly became clear that that was not necessarily the case. The civil death of prisons versus the corporal death of the capital punishment, or one can say the slow death (19:30) that is associated with prisons, people have been aware of these contradictions for decades and for a couple of centuries.

The solution has always been reform: prison reform. Those of us who consider ourselves abolitionists have worked hard to encourage (20:00) people to think critically about this notion of prison reform, and I can remember that I always used to be referred to as a prison reformer. And I had to say no, I am not a prison reformer, because prison reform, even though there are demands that one must make to guarantee that people who happen to be in prison are treated humanely (20:30) and can live lives that aren’t so thoroughly saturated with violence, at the same time prison reform in general is designed to create bigger and better and more persisting prisons.

And so here we are in the 21st century confronted with that major contradiction. We have  (21:00) prisons that are now absorbing all of the resources of our societies that really should be going to schools and housing and healthcare and recreation, and also it serves as a place where we deposit those problems we don’t want to think about. And so why not try to solve the problems that send people to prison? From illiteracy (21:30) and poverty and lack of healthcare to the problems of violence, what causes people to do such terrible things to each other?

So it seems to me that we have to get rid of this institution that is this haven for the worst kinds of ideologies, racism and sexism, (22:00) misogyny and transphobia because the prison is also a gendering apparatus. The more we think about the impact of the prison system on the lives of everyone, regardless of whether they happen to have had the experience of going to prison, the more we realize that if we want to get rid of gender violence we’re going to have to get rid of prisons. If we want to (22:30) think about why it is that people who do not fall into one category or another, people who are not clearly male or female are marginalized and are treated as if they were not human beings? The prison system has a lot to do with that because there are only male prisons and female prisons. (23:00)

It’s one of the most violent apparatuses that maintains the binary structure of gender in our society. And I could go on and on. I could talk about the relationship of education to the prison system, and why in order to begin to build an educational system that values knowledge and that teaches children how to enjoy learning, we are going to (23:30) get rid of this prison system which after all in poor communities and communities of color becomes the model for education with the emphasis on discipline rather than on learning. So I could go on obviously for the next couple of hours talking about this, but I think everything points to the absolute necessity of abolishing prisons as (24:00) the dominant mode of punishment.

Lawson: Another part of this is that prisons themselves are a creation of the largely violent, sexist, racist society of which we are part of. Over half of the prisoners of our 2.3 or nearly 3 million people (24:30) there in prisons, and people who are caught up in the mechanisms of parole and probation and all of that, are people who if they had a good legal defense, probably would not even be there in the first place. We have to recognize that this is the effort really of – I will say it this way – (25:00) of a male-dominated system that has enjoyed the decimation of the Indian slavery of 250 years, [25:11] cruel law and practice and economic patterns of injustice, this is their way of continuing their racism in the world and in the United States.

It makes great sense to me too, also, that they should be abolished. (25:30) Many of the reasons people are in prison are for offenses that white peers across the country are not going to jail for.

Davis: You’re right. And I just want to add, the US attorney who was releasing some of these people – mostly black people – who had been sentenced for crack-cocaine (26:00) possession, he was asked why is there a disparity in the first place? He kind of hemmed and hawed. He said you go out because you can see the poor people in mostly black neighborhoods, it’s easier to go through, look at them, arrest them, send them to jail, whereas the big dealers, the big operations are behind closed doors. They’re not out and about. It’s much harder. That’s what he said.

But that also made me think about something that you said, (26:30) Professor Davis, about the issues of prison – how when you lock all these people up, you kind of lock the issue away. You don’t see it. And so, that’s what we do. We put the issues away, and the people in prison can’t speak. They’re locked away. And so it’d make perfect sense.

Kaplan: And also I think it’s important to recognize that prisons have become an alternative to housing and education (27:00) and jobs, exactly. It’s not accidental. It’s not accidental that it was the period of the 1980’s which saw the rise of global capitalism and the dismantling of the welfare state and structural adjustment in countries of the southern region. This is precisely the period during which prisons began to proliferate in this country (27:30) and by the 90’s you begin to see a similar kind of proliferation in countries throughout the world including, unfortunately, in Apartheid, South Africa.

And so you see, it seems to me that if we really want to safeguard the possibility of radical change, of new societies, we cannot allow this institution (28:00) to continue to do its damage. In South Africa now, with all of the problems that have emerged in the aftermath of the dismantling of Apartheid, the economic problems, etc, it has been so easy to borrow the rhetoric of law and order from the US and to use the apparatus of the prison to contain (28:30) problems that South Africa is going to have to deal with if they want to retain any hope for a better society. And in this place, which has placed the issue of a non-racist society, a non-sexist, non-homophobic society – the first country in the entire world to include that in its constitution (29:00) – it will also have to address the looming problem of the prison.

Art, a Catalyst for Social Change
Kaplan: Wow. Okay, well let’s talk about art. That’s kind of what we’re here today for, but let’s talk about political images. (29:30) What do you think we need to see today, and how are artists making art as a hammer to shape society as we put it? And how can we support political art, besides – we can’t just buy it. How do we really support it, and what does art need to communicate to inspire in society now? And I want to include Doug in this question about art. So I’ll open it up. (30:00) Not everybody at once.

Davis: So you’re raising this question? I don’t know whether we can say what we need to see. I would never tell an artist what he or she needs to create because it seems to me that art drives (30:30) movements for radical social change. Art helps us to find our way into new dimensions. Art helps to give expression to what might e considered impossible in the world that is. It shows us the possibility of a new world, and one of the things I’ve been doing at the (31:00) Occupy sites is to recall the slogans from the uprising in Paris in 1968.

There was some really, really wonderful slogans. One of them was “[French 31:15]”, all power to the imagination. And another one was “[French 31:28]”. (31:30) Be realistic, demand the impossible. And I think art helps us to negotiate our way through dimensions that we cannot yet articulate in the kind of expository language that we use. (32:00)

It’s always been my feeling that art, whether it’s visual art or whether it’s music – during the civil rights movement, it was music that really drove the movement, that really helped to create community. Whether it’s hip-hop, whether it’s film, (32:30) I think that many of the young people are out there trying to figure out where to go. And you’re right, it’s not a movement. There are no clear demands. But I don’t think there should be any demands right now.

Lawson: Give it time.

Davis: Yes. I think that’s what’s so important about this Occupy movement is people are learning how to be together – learning how to dwell in one place. (33:00) Some amazing things have happened, like amplification was taken away from them. And so just very quickly that developed the human mic, which is actually a pedagogical tool as well. It’s not only about voices being heard, it’s about people sharing each others’ voices and repeating each others’ voices. And at the (33:30) Wall Street site they took away the generators because the people who were participating in these Occupy movements, they have their iPads and their iPhones and their Android, and so the electricity was taken away. The generators were taken away because the police and the fire department said it was a fire hazard, and the very next day they had generators (34:00) that were run by bicycles – stationary bicycles.

I mean, it’s amazing some of the things that have happened. Somebody developed a new app for Android phones that’s call the I Got Arrested App. So you preprogram it with your lawyer’s name and all of the people you want to know, so that when you’re getting arrested all you do is push the center of the target (34:30) and all of these texts go out to everybody telling them that you got arrested. And one other thing, because in New York when I was at the site last week, I saw all of these garbage bags full of laundry. So I was asking the person who was walking with me, I said what’s all of that? He said that’s our laundry. (35:00) A commercial laundry has volunteered to come and pick it up and do the laundry. So I said so how are you going to find your clothes? There were maybe 100 garbage bags full of clothes. And so he said well, we just wear what fits us.

And you know, talking about a challenge to the (35:30) possessive individualism of capitalism, I think that people are learning how to be with each other in a very different way which will also help us to rethink what democracy is supposed to be about and to move away from simply electoral democracy to a democracy that is truly (36:00) multi-racial and multi-generation and multi- what did I say before? Gender and sexual and all of that. It’s really about an experiment in being together, and one of the things I said when I was at one of the sites was be attentive (36:30) to differences and I used a quote from [Audrey Lord], which is one of my favorite quotes and I’ve said it over and over again, in which she says that first of all, it’s not our differences that divide us. It’s our inability to respect and celebrate those differences. She pointed out that (37:00) differences should not be merely tolerated, but they should be a fund of polarities between which our creativity can spark like a dialectic. And so that was the message I tried to offer the Wall Street Occupiers. And I think that’s about the imagination and it’s about art. (37:30)

Kaplan: Right. What did you say, we’ll just wear what fits us? That’s a good slogan, I like that. That pretty much says it all. Reverend Lawson, have anything to add?

Lawson: No.

Kaplan: No? Okay. Doug? Please, yeah. You can have my mic.

Doug Minkler: Well I would just like to reiterate what I said about clarity. We take complex issues, we try and make them clear. It used to be when I was a very young man I saw things black and white. Now I see they’re quite complicated. So that’s one role of the artist. The second role that I’ve seen the artist play that has moved me is when we show visions of hope. (38:30) And that hope doesn’t have to be social realism. It can be humor. It can be an interesting way you draw. It can be audacity. Anything that demonstrates peoples’ willingness to struggle, these are the images that I think drive us forward, in opposition to those (39:00) terrible images that are branded in our mind of who knows what, the terrible images. I don’t know that they activate people. They’re happening and I’m not saying we should run from them, but I don’t know that they push us forward, so I’m just saying the ones that have moved me like the issue of Vietnam which was my war, was images of the people struggling. They weren’t going to take the occupation.

(39:30) Now it was a military struggle, which ended up lots of people dying, but it was the images of struggle that drove me to move beyond just an individualistic position of I don’t want to go to I think I want to support these people for what they’re fighting for. So that’s my two bits. (40:00) But I think we must not forget that if we’re going to have social movements, there must be a passion in us human beings to dismantle the wrong, to attack and struggle against the suffering of other people in our society and our world, and there must be a sense that the present injustices (40:30) can be corrected.

One of the issues in the United States is that so many of us American buy into the myths that we live by, especially the myth of our exceptionality as a people and violence, and the myth of male dominations and necessity of male hierarchical ways of structures and the rest of it, and so in fact we do not really (41:00) know ourselves as a whole people, and we do not know the depths of the pain in our land or the depth of the wrongs that are continuing to be perpetrated. And therefore we don’t respond to an Occupy movement very well because many of us (41:30) think those young people must be quite foolish. The movement that is called the civil rights movement, at least in the deep south, we may not – I say this all the time as I teach and lecture on it. We may not have known that much of what we were doing, but we knew that the Jim Crow racist system was an incredible injustice that the American people accepted as normalcy. (42:00) We knew that, and very often we stepped out to do something about it because we had that passion to see the wrong and to make a change.

If our nation is going to be healed as a people, there’s probably no difference between what happens in a person’s life. If a person needs healing, they must have some friends and neighbors (42:30) and medical help that will help them face the strangeness and the pain and the difficulty of what ails them, and then they must have the courage to march through that and seek hope, seek change, seek the healing. And I think that we in America could be healed of our diseases, but it cannot be done unless there are a lot of brave people who will at least look at the problem, whether it’s the (43:00) prison system, the racist system, the abominable continuation of what I say plantation capitalism in the United States.

Part of slavery and part of taking the land from the Indian to impoverish the Indian is the notion that people don’t matter, that they are property, they are less important. 50% or more of the jobs that the political parties and the capitalists (43:30) talk about having provided are jobs that do not allow people from their wages to support themselves and their families. Over 50%. That is right out of the heart of American history. And somehow it seems to me that art, as important – music – wonderful and significant as these are, that for a movement to take place there has to be that passionate (44:00) sense that we can have a different kind of world and here are the things that are obstacles to having that better world. There are certain systems written into us that we must change.

Q&A Segment
Kaplan: Okay, I think now we’re going to take some recent questions from the audience. (44:30)

Sonali Kolhatka: Well, we have to be out of here by 7:30 and there were a lot of good questions submitted. I think [Arie] and I sort of looked at a couple of questions that could be combined into one that seemed to be a very important question that hasn’t yet been addressed, and that’s around the Occupy movement. I’ll read them both and then add my two cents. (45:00)

One question says the right is trying to use violence against property and/or the police to delegitimize the Occupy movement. Embracing non-violence will blunt this, but embracing non-violence and rejecting violence are part of a process that will take some time. What do you suggest we do to help these young activists understand how important it is that they proclaim themselves as a non-violent movement?

And then the other question that’s related says how would you compare the Occupy movement to the organizing of movements of the civil rights era? (45:30) And I want to throw in, if you don’t mind, what lessons can the two of you, from your years of experience as activism, share with Occupy protestors about protecting this movement from in-fighting and infiltration and the kind of things that movements are by their nature open and inclusive are susceptible to? It’s kind of a big set (46:00) of questions.

The Meaning of Resistance
Davis: Wow, okay, let’s see. I’ll just start by saying I think there are some historical precedents for these kinds of movements. One would be the Attica uprising, and I don’t think that we have seriously looked at the ways of which Attica prisoners attempted to create a multi-racial (46:30) community, making demands for educational rights and religious rights, economic rights, expressing solidarity with revolutions and other parts of the world. Of course that only lasted four days because it was put down so violently by Governor Rockefeller, but I think it would be important to go back and look very closely (47:00) at how the prisoners who took over Attica prison tried to craft a community of resistance.

Then there’s another precedent, and that would be – it’s a feminist precedent – and that would be the women’s’ peace movement and the Greenham Commons struggle that took place in the beginning and I think December of 1981, (47:30) ten years after Attica which was ’71. And within a year there were 30,000 women in the Greenham Commons encampment. It was also an encampment where people stayed and it circled this military base in the UK. And in three years, I think, (48:00) there were 50,000 women who surrounded the military camp calling for an end to the production of cruise missiles and an end to nuclear weapons.

So I think it might be important to take a look at some of those moments. And then of course there’s the connection with Egypt – Cairo and Tahrir Square. I was the other day reading (48:30) a message that came from participants in that movement, and there was something very moving included in that message, and that was they asked what are our demands? But there’s no one left to reform. There’s no one left to ask for reforms. And so therefore, we have to create that (49:00) which we would like to see in the future. We have to create what we want as opposed to asking somebody else to give it to us. And I would say that as with any movement, there are never any guarantees. You never know. There are never guarantees. (49:30) But as I said before, we have to act as if it were possible.

And this is what happened during the era of what is called the civil rights movement. Of course it was a freedom movement in those days. It was much, much more than civil rights. But what I think was the most important accomplishment of that movement, and it wasn’t necessarily the change in the laws, although that was very important, it was (50:00) the transformation of the consciousness of so many people who learned how to imagine a very different future. And I always like to point out that we never give the women – the black women domestic workers who refuse to get on the bus, we never give them the credit for creating (50:30) this collective community of resistance, because if they had not refused to get on the bus, if they had not boycotted the bus, where would we be today? We certainly would never have known a doctor Martin Luther King, and so many of the other advances that came about as a result of that movement.

(51:00) So let us also take seriously what it means to transform consciousness, and I think that that is something that may be happening now given that so many people seem to be identifying with the 99%, and apparently a survey indicated that the majority of New Yorkers believed that they should stay. (51:30) And I can tell you from the experience we had walking to the port on Wednesday, I mean it was absolutely amazing. Cars were blowing their horns and nobody was upset that the march was blocking traffic. There were kids on bicycles who were stopping the traffic so that the march could go through. There weren’t any police anywhere. Well, we knew they were around. (52:00) But we didn’t see them. We didn’t see them.

And everywhere people were beeping their horns, it was just this amazing, joyful experience and so many people seemed to experience that joy of being together, of being a part of a new community, a community that has the potential of dismantling the economic structures and the racist (52:30) hierarchies and the gender hierarchies in the future.

Lawson: Well I think we must not – Professor Davis romanticized the present moment.

Davis: Why not? I mean, I know I’m romanticizing it.

Lawson: I’ll tell you why not. (53:00) Well, let me say it two ways. One, the Montgomery Bus Boycott is an excellent illustration for the Occupy people to study because two, three years before the Montgomery Bus Boycott happened in December of ’55, black women organized the Women’s Political Committee.

Davis: Joanne Robinson.

The Revolution Must Not be Romanticized
Lawson: Exactly, Joanne Robinson. And they were very much upset with the (53:30) indignities heaped upon black women on those buses, and they began the agitation process. It is that agitation process that in my own judgment then led to the moment of Rosa Parks, and being already in place a group of people then said this is a chance, let’s have the bus boycott. They pushed it without going to the community for any kind of action approval, but it came out of their own organized [deforate].

The organized (54:00) agitation protest process that builds a structure that can explode in a movement is a critical part of getting a movement. The best example I know in the United States about romanticizing is the Peace Movement in the United States, of which I’ve been a part in so many different ways. My first jail experience was sending my draft cards back to the draft boarding in ’49 (54:30) and going to jail as a consequence. Now in the last 40 or 50 years, no matter all the people talking peace, all the organizations and articles about peace, our society has systematically moved through its structures – business, military, Pentagon – through its structures to create a national (55:00) security state, a militarized state, in which the first move is to build bases down the east coast of Africa now, the Africa COM Command.

Now we had millions of people in the street against the Vietnam War, and I maintain that because we did not target that specifically in terms of issues in the United States that allowed the military process to take place, we have systematically been unable to stop (55:30) the movement towards more than 800 military installations in 131 countries and so forth and so on. How do we reverse that? The movement has to somehow develop strategies for a different kind of agenda for ourselves, and you’ve named many of these, and the action has to develop ways (56:00) of a protracted campaign that may take a whole generation, but a campaign then that can reverse the process.

Davis: I totally agree with you. I’m not saying this Occupy movement is going to change the world. I’ve been trying to talk about a potential, and I think it’s really important to distinguish between movements and organizations and parties. (56:30) This is not really a movement. It’s an occupation that also has to be aware of the extent to which the term occupation has been used in genocidal context. The occupation – the colonial occupation of this country that led to that (57:00) horrendous violence inflicted on indigenous people, the military occupation, the occupation of Palestine for example. So I think that it’s up to those who are involved and those of us who may be supporters of what appears to be a possibility to try to work through some of these issues, and (57:30) hopefully a movement will emerge. Hopefully we’ll get to the point where we can talk about strategy and perhaps even focus demands.

Lawson: But why aren’t we at that point now? Because after all, in the 20th century, there have been phenomenal peoples’ movements that have caused their societies to get to a new level of consciousness and to make critical kinds of changes. (58:00) Why in America, where we have more activism than we ever had in the 1940s and 50s, are there not all kinds of people who recognize the need for heading inter-generational unity, inter-generational issues, developing warfare out of non-violent kind, and (58:30) developing short-term and long-term goals?

Davis: Well, it’s because I don’t think any of the victories we ever win are etched in stone. We cannot take for granted that because we achieved a particular victory at a particular time, that it is going to forever transform the landscape of the country and of the world. There aren’t a lot of people of your generation (59:00) who talk about gender hierarchies in the way that you do. I’m really so happy to hear you speak in those terms.

Lawson: It’s part of my long-term passion.

Davis: You see the conversation is just starting and now we have to end, it’s 7:30.

Lawson: How is it that the American people want housing, education, jobs, transportation, they want (59:30) better communities, but we have this atrocious system that is cheating us over and over and over again and pretending that we have the best possible society? What’s happened that we, the American people, don’t see through this with so many great movements in the United States itself so that we have learned (60:00) that it’s going to take hard work to make the changes, and we need to be about that hard work?

Davis: Well see, I think that people who historically may not have identified into radical movements, may not have identified with the labor movement, may not have identified with the black movement, are not recognizing as a result – as a direct result of this financial collapse, that maybe they should have been identifying with what we used (60:30) to call the other America all along. And so I think that is why this moment offers a new promise; a promise that we have really have not witnessed before. Perhaps during the 30’s, and I think we need to go back and look at the movements of the 30’s, because it was during that period when you had vast numbers of people identifying (61:00) with the unemployed strikes and participating in the efforts to prevent evictions and the sit-down strikes and all of that stuff. I know you’re looking at us. But I think that we can continue this conversation, and hopefully you will continue this conversation (61:30) as you go about your ways.

Kaplan: It’s like you said, really the conversation just got started, but I know you’ve got a plane to catch and I just want to thank all of the rewardees for their participation in this conversation. Angela Davis, Reverend James Lawson, Doug Minkler, thank you all so much. (62:00) And Dorothy Lawson.


Related Articles:
Angela Davis - On Occupy
Rev. James Lawson - On Occupy

Autumn Awakening | Vol. 18, No. 2– 2011 | Credits

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Research and Resources 18-2

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research and resources on racial, economic and environmental justice.


Melting Pot Cities and Suburbs: Racial and Ethnic Change in Metro America in the 2000s

Melting Pot Cities and Suburbs: Racial and Ethnic Change in Metro America in the 2000s

Old images of race and place in America are changing rapidly. Nowhere are these shifts more apparent than in major U.S. cities and their suburbs. An analysis of data from the 1990, 2000, and 2010 decennial censuses reveals that: Hispanics now outnumber blacks and represent the largest minority group in major American cities. The Hispanic share of population rose in primary cities of the largest 100 metropolitan areas from 2000 to 2010.  Across all cities in 2010, 41 percent of residents were white, 26 percent were Hispanic, and 22 percent were black. Well over half of America’s cities are now majority non-white. Primary cities in 58 metropolitan areas were “majority minority” in 2010, up from 43 in 2000. Cities lost only about half as many whites in the 2000s as in the 1990s, but “black flight” from cities such as Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, and Detroit accelerated in the 2000s. Minorities represent 35 percent of suburban residents, similar to their share of overall U.S. population. Among the 100 largest metro areas, 36 feature “melting pot” suburbs where at least 35 percent of residents are non-white. The suburbs of Houston, Las Vegas, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C. became majority minority in the 2000s. More than half of all minority groups in large metro areas, including blacks, now reside in the suburbs. The share of blacks in large metro areas living in suburbs rose from 37 percent in 1990, to 44 percent in 2000, to 51 percent in 2010. Higher shares of whites (78 percent), Asians (62 percent), and Hispanics (59 percent) in large metro areas live in suburbs.

The New Great Migration: Black Americans’ Return to the South, 1965–2000

The New Great Migration: Black Americans’ Return to the South, 1965–2000

An analysis of migration data from the past four decennial censuses at regional, state, and metropolitan-area levels indicates that: The South scored net gains of black migrants from all three of the other regions of the U.S. during the late 1990s, reversing a 35-year trend. Of the 10 states that suffered the greatest net loss of blacks between 1965 and 1970, five ranked among the top 10 states for attracting blacks between 1995 and 2000. Southern metropolitan areas, particularly Atlanta, led the way in attracting black migrants in the late 1990s. In contrast, the major metropolitan areas of New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco experienced the greatest out-migration of blacks during the same period. Among migrants from the Northeast, Midwest, and West regions, blacks were more likely than whites to select destinations in the South. Atlanta and Washington, D.C. were the top destinations for black migrants from all three regions; white migrants moved to a broader set of areas including Miami, Phoenix, and Los Angeles. College-educated individuals lead the new migration into the South. The "brain gain" states of Georgia, Texas, and Maryland attracted the most black college graduates from 1995 to 2000, while New York suffered the largest net loss. After several decades as a major black migrant "magnet," California lost more black migrants than it gained during the late 1990s. Southern states, along with western "spillover" states like Arizona and Nevada, received the largest numbers of black out-migrants from California.

Captive Constituents: Prison-Based Gerrymandering and the Distortion of Our Democracy

Captive Constituents

Most state and local governments count incarcerated persons as residents of the prison communities where they are incarcerated when drawing election district lines, despite the fact that prisoners are not integrated into those communities and are not residents there. This practice, known as “prison-based gerrymandering,” artificially inflates the population count—and thus, the political influence—of the districts where prisons and jails are located. At the same time, this practice reduces the political power of everyone else. The viability of our communities, integrity of our democracy and basic principles of equality suffer as a result. The United States Constitution requires that election districts must be roughly equal in size, so that everyone is represented equally in the political process. Elected officials (with the exception of United States Senators) must represent roughly the same number of people, and each constituent is entitled to the same level of access to an elected official. This is known as the "One person, one vote" principle. 


Voting Law Changes in 2012

Voting Law Changes in 2012
Legislators introduced and passed a record number of bills restricting access to voting this year. New laws ranged from those requiring government-issued photo identification or documentary proof of citizenship to vote, to those reducing access to early and absentee voting, to those making it more difficult to register to vote. In total, at least nineteen laws and two executive actions making it more difficult to vote passed across the country, at least forty-two bills are still pending, and at least sixty-eight more were introduced but failed. As detailed in this report, the extent to which states have made voting more difficult is unprecedented in the last several decades, and comes after a dramatic shift in political power following the 2010 election. The battles over these laws were—and, in states where they are not yet over, continue to be—extremely partisan and among the most contentious in this year’s legislative session. Proponents of the laws have offered several reasons for their passage: to prevent fraud, to ease administrative burden, to save money. Opponents have focused on the fact that the new laws will make it much more difficult for eligible citizens to vote and to ensure that their votes are counted. In particular, they have pointed out that many of these laws will disproportionately impact low-income and minority citizens, renters, and students—eligible voters who already face the biggest hurdles to voting.

This Changes Everything; Occupy Wall Street and the 99% Movement

This Changes Everything Cover

The Occupy Wall Street movement named the core issue of our time: the overwhelming power of Wall Street and large corporations— something the political establishment and most media have long ignored.

But the movement goes far beyond this critique. This Changes Everything shows how the movement is shifting the way people view themselves and the world, the kind of society they believe is possible, and their own involvement in creating a society that works for the 99% rather than just the 1%.

Attempts to pigeonhole this decentralized, fast-evolving movement have led to confusion and misperception. In this volume, the editors of YES! Magazine bring together voices from inside and outside the protests to convey the issues, possibilities, and personalities associated with the Occupy Wall Street movement.

This book features contributions from Naomi Klein, David Korten, Rebecca Solnit, Ralph Nader, and others, as well as Occupy activists who were there from the beginning, such as David Graeber, Marina Sitrin and Hena Ashraf. It offers insights for those actively protesting or expressing support for the movement—and for the millions more who sympathize with the goal of a more equitable and democratic future.



Autumn Awakening | Vol. 18, No. 2– 2011 | Credits

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