Reimagine: Table of Contents


Edited by B. Jesse Clarke


By B. Jesse Clarke

To have any hope of solving the twin crises of accelerating environmental degradation and growing economic inequality, we have to reimagine some fundamental assumptions in both the domestic and economic spheres: What is work? What is leisure? What is labor performed in our homes? How, as a society, do we organize our domestic and work lives so that we can meet our fundamental material and cultural needs?

Cooperative work places have long experience in organizing democratic governance for the means of production, but we need to move beyond industrial-era understandings of social relations. Democratizing the means of reproduction—the social sphere in which we meet the needs for education, health care, and domestic work—is an urgent task that can make another world possible.

In this issue of Race Poverty & the Environment, we feature the dreamers and the doers who are already reshaping our world and preparing for a more just transition. Here’s a sampling of the issues they are raising:

Transit-oriented development (TOD) puts homes within easy reach of workplaces but the gentrification that follows can also drive communities of color into deeper poverty by forc19-2 Cover IIing them out.. Can we imagine equity at the center of urban planning processes? (Rein, Saldaña and Wykowski, Castro)

Unionized public sector workers are under direct attack in the former industrial heartland of Michigan. Can the social movement unionism of the teachers in Chicago create new connections between community and labor strong enough to turn back corporatization? (Weiner, Fletcher)

Women’s legal right to contraception, health services, protection from job discrimination, and equal pay were established in the 20th century. Now the right wing is conducting a reactionary assault on those rights. Can we imagine how resisting exploitation of women in the domestic sphere can build new alliances that transform our lives at home and at work? (James, Kidd, Joaquin)

The typical corporate workplace is dominated by an unaccountable hierarchy that takes neither community concerns nor workers’ rights into account when making decisions that shape people’s lives. Can we imagine cooperative workplaces where goods are made, food is grown, building materials are constructed, and social justice organizing is conducted under the direction of the workers themselves for the benefit of the communities where they work and live? (Lavender, Casares and Mata)

In the wake of women’s entry into the workforce, an enormous industry of caring professions, including childcare, elder care, in-home health services, cleaning services, food preparation, and social services have become a substantial part of the gross domestic product. Can we imagine hospitals, home care service companies, and nonprofit organizations where the practices of the workers emerge from their direct connection to the population being served? And where unionized workers negotiate with boards elected from among the people being served? (Campbell)

In cities and states across the country, local governments are going bankrupt or deeper into debt paying exorbitant interest rates to banks to shore up core services because of a broken tax system. Can we imagine a government where the power to create the money supply is not used to capitalize for-profit banks that turn around and lend the money to local governments and homeowners at marked up interest rates? (Bond Graham, Clark)

In California, an untested cap-and-trade system has been adopted as a central strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and create a revenue stream directed by the state government. But the program as it is being implemented has loopholes and pitfalls that may exacerbate the broader problem of toxic emissions and increase the environmental impacts for low-income people. Can we imagine a taxation system based on harm to the environment that actually benefits poor communities and increases their resilience? (Truong, Conant)

Neoliberal economic approaches are starving investment in sustainable development, education, and social services at the same time that capital reserves and the stock market keep climbing. The absence of transit-accessible affordable housing, the failure to transition to renewable energy, and the incessant drive to corporatize public service stem from a perverse incentive for speculative economic investment over development directed at meeting the survival needs of people and the planet. More deeply, the division of labor which separates work in the home from work in the economy is part of a centuries-old system of social control that has subsumed the commons—the natural wealth of the world—and the natural processes of human reproduction to economic imperatives that only benefit a narrow elite.

Women’s rights to equal pay, health care, and contraception were under attack in the 2012 election campaigns. The political conversation about "legitimate" rape and God's intentions around a raped woman’s pregnancy are outstanding instances of a misogynist ideology that has a deep commitment to women as servants in the domestic sphere—doing the unwaged work of social reproduction—while leaving the highly paid and powerful positions in the economic sphere in the hands of a tiny fraction of white males (with a sprinkling of women and people of color willing to collaborate in a system of economic and social domination).

The neoliberal system is simultaneously shifting debt into the public sphere, privatizing public goods and services and commodifying work that was done in the community. Women in traditionally female-dominated jobs, such as teaching, nursing, and domestic work are leading some of the best organizing campaigns in the labor movement. (Weiner, Muniz, Joaquin) And movement thinkers, such as Grace Lee Boggs, Sylvia Federici, and Selma James are challenging all of us to look beyond the last election or the next one to the roots of our social and economic organization. As Boggs puts it in her speech excerpted on page 44: “We have to re-imagine work and go away from labor. We have to reimagine revolution and get beyond protest. We have to reimagine revolution and think not only about the change, not only in our institutions, but the changes in ourselves.”

B. Jesse Clarke is the editor of Race, Poverty & the Environment.

* For references to articles that appear in this issue, author or interviewees’ last names are enclosed in parentheses



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Eyes Opened: My Exit Review

About five years ago, more than anything, I wanted to be a journalist who truly represented the voice of the people. A job at a corporate, mainstream publication never appealed to me. Today, I’m honored to have worked as the web and design editor for Race, Poverty & the Environment, a journal that has mirrored my passion for a myriad of issues in the realm of social and environmental justice. And it’s also great being able to say, I worked for Urban Habitat, “an organization that builds power in low-income communities and communities of color.“

But for 2013, I want to do more. It was Grace Lee Boggs that said, ”How we change the world and how we think about changing the world has to change.”

Over the last several months, I’ve really come to understand the wisdom of her words. “The time has come for us to reimagine everything. We have to reimagine work and go away from labor. We have to reimagine revolution and get beyond protest. We have to think not only about the change in our institutions but the changes we need to make in ourselves.” (Boggs).

Another world is possible: a world that exceeds the confines of corporate institutions, the non-profit sector, and the current political system. A world that puts the needs, and the basic rights of ALL people at the forefront—no matter race, class, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation. From the rights of domestic workers, immigrants, women, people of color, and low-income people, to LGBT, teachers, students, workers… and the lists goes on. Selma James (p. 68) observes that our current model of work, “the activity women and men are forced to perform in order to survive… saps our time our energy and our life.“

As far-fetched as it sounds, we must create something new and do the impossible to make the world a better place. We must truly want it and then act on it, and be willing to sacrifice for what we believe in, even if it means quitting your job. I don’t believe a system structured for the sake of productivity, monetary gain, and capital can ever truly be transformed.

A few months ago, Urban Habitat held a communications/branding training workshop for its staff. We were asked to find words and phrases that define Urban Habitat’s vision, such as “change” and “transform.” But asking the powers that be to “change” or “transform” a system that’s doing exactly what it was established to do—a system built on the backs of slaves, corrupt institutions, imperialism and exploitation—negates our own power to imagine a new way of organizing our lives. Instead, we often find this power unattainable.

Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Dolores Huerta, Malcolm X, Gabriela Silang, Rosa Parks, were all just ordinary people who were passionate about what they believed in and made things happen against all odds.

Muhammad Ali said, “Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given, than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.”

Nonprofit corporations, funded by the 1-percent, did not lead the victories of the Women’s Suffrage movement, the Civil Rights movement and other social struggles. A common analysis, a collective will, and unity in action were the key ingredients in those movements, which inspired millions (Joaquin). And while the nonprofit form has a role in serving our communities, it clearly is not enough.

As I leave Urban Habitat—I have been laid off—I am saddened, and will miss all the great co-workers who have offered me encouragement and friendship. I want to especially thank my editor, B. Jesse Clarke, for being one of my great inspirations. Thank you Jesse, for everything you’ve taught me about life, production, design, publishing, politics, liberation, and so much more.

But even as I leave this job with its paid vacations and benefits to face an uncertain future, I am also grateful because I’m forced to do nothing but make my dreams a reality on my own terms and do good in the world. For those of you who want to be in touch or learn more about the next steps in my journey, visit me at

Christine Joy Ferrer is the web and design editor of Race, Poverty and the Environment and founder and editor of Eyes Opened Blog.

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Reimagine Jobs

Reimagine | Vol. 19, No. 2 – 2012 | Credits

To order the print edition of "Reimagine" use the back issues page.

As of January 2013, our online archives (1990-2011) are now available on
JSTOR, a comprehensive online academic journal archive.

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Please visit, Friends of RP&E to find out more about what's next for Race, Poverty & the Environment

Social Movement Unionism: Teachers Can Lead the Way

Teachers, students, and parents across the United States are experiencing wrenching changes in our system of education—from the way schools are run, to who gets to teach, and what may be taught. As students are robbed of meaningful learning and time for play or creativity—in short, anything that’s not tested—hostile politicians blame teachers for an astounding list of social and economic ills ranging from unemployment to moral decline.

In all but the wealthiest school systems in the United States, academic accomplishment has been reduced to scores on standardized tests developed and evaluated by for-profit companies. Parents, teachers, and students—education’s most important stakeholders—have little say in what is taught, while corporate chiefs, politicians in their thrall, and foundations that receive funding from billionaires who profit from pro-business education policies determine the substance of education.[1] While almost every country in the world has experienced this chilling form of social engineering, in the U.S. it is sold to the public as essential to raising educational standards—making individuals and the nation economically competitive.

The Chicago Teachers’ Strike and the Struggle for a New Unionism

One of the most striking features of the Chicago Teachers’ strike was the level of community support for the teachers. Contrary to public expectations, the strike turned into a social mobilization around education rather than a battle for the special interests of teachers. This feature did not come out of nowhere, but actually reflected an on-going effort to shift the direction of labor unionism in America, and in this case, labor unionism among teachers.

As successful as teacher organizing has been over the last 50 years, there has been an increasing gap between teachers and communities.  This achieved catastrophic proportions in the disastrous 1968 New York City Teachers’ Strike, which pitted African American and Puerto Rican community-based organizations against the largely white United Federation of Teachers (affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers) over the issue of community control of schools. While the teachers’ unions became increasingly successful in winning a better living standard for their members, they frequently became a source of resentment for many parents and community-based organizations which no longer saw the unions as being at the vanguard of the struggle for genuine education reform.

The battle in Chicago was representative of an effort not only to democratize the Chicago Teachers Union, but also to place it on the frontlines of the fight for an education system focusing on the needs of the children and their teachers, rather than the needs of corporations. Corporate America—in both its liberal and conservative clothing—has been actively seeking to alter public education so that it utilizes inappropriate private sector methodology to teach our children. That, combined with an effort to link the school systems with the needs of the so-called free market, has created a school culture where critical thinking is not promoted, but test-taking is.

It is in this context—after years of struggles within the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association—that the elements of a more social justice-oriented unionism have begun to emerge. New, progressive leaders have taken the helm of several teachers’ unions, leaders who recognize that teachers cannot fight their battles alone. Not only do teachers need allies, but the brand of unionism practiced by teachers must share a deeper connection to the larger struggle for progressive reform.

The architects of these policies—imposed first in developing countries—openly state that the changes will make education better fit the new global economy by producing workers who are (minimally) educated for jobs that require no more than a 7th or 8th grade education; while a small fraction of the population receive a high quality education to become the elite who oversee finance, industry, and technology. Since most workers do not need to be highly educated, it follows that teachers with considerable formal education and experience are neither needed nor desired because they demand higher wages, which is considered a waste of government money.[2] Most teachers need only be “good enough”—as one U.S. government official phrased it—to follow scripted materials that prepare students for standardized tests.

Resisting “Free Market” Education
Education happens to be the last sector of the economy still mainly “owned” by the public and also one of the last that still has powerful unions. So, it’s not surprising that for-profit companies wishing to access the education “market” want the teachers’ unions eliminated, or at least housebroken to accept their “educational” reforms.

Privatization, school closings, and standardized testing are all advanced with the rhetoric of improving educational opportunity for those who have been excluded from prosperity. Persistent inequality within society and in education is at the heart of this project’s appeal. What should count most in persuading poor and working people to reject “free market” reforms is the fact that these so-called “put children first” policies actually increase inequality for the vast majority of children who most need improved schools.

We cannot rely on schools to replace the massive economic and social investment needed to diminish poverty and unemployment.[3] At the same time, we need to improve what goes on in the schools that serve poor and minority youth by providing the support that can make a difference: smaller class sizes; high-quality professional development; a stable teaching force; and a school culture that respects what the children bring rather than blaming them or their families for what they lack.[4]

The Stakes in Reforming Teachers Unions
The project in education reform—based on ideas identified as “neoliberalism”—has generated opposition wherever teachers and parents have the political freedom to resist. The aim of the architects of this project is to eliminate the space for critique and social justice teaching within the schools, and the voices of parents and community who want their children to have access to the kind of education being reserved for the few. The powerful elites who share information and policies across international borders understand—better than most teachers, unfortunately—that despite their glaring problems, teachers’ unions are the main impediment to the neoliberal agenda in education.

Even when unions don’t live up to their ideals, unionism’s principles of collective action and solidarity contradict neoliberalism’s key premises—individual initiative and competition. Neoliberalism pushes a “survival of the fittest” mentality, while labor unions presume that people have to work together to protect their common interests. Moreover, unions have institutional roots and have legal rights. They are a stable force with a regular source of income in the form of membership dues and can exercise institutional power. These characteristics give teachers’ unions an organizational capacity seldom acquired by advocacy groups or parents, whose involvement generally ends with their children’s graduation.

It is an unfortunate paradox that the very factors that make teachers’ unions stable and potentially powerful also induce hierarchy and conservatism.[5] Neither unions as organizations nor union members as individuals are immune from societal prejudices that contradict the union’s premise of equality in the workplace. And despite the popular media image of teachers’ unions as “all powerful”, they are quite weak—with a disoriented and confused union leadership—where it most counts, viz. in the schools. It’s time for teachers and their unions to acknowledge that while they did not create educational inequality, they have been silent partners in maintaining it from the very start of mass public education. They must now focus on countering the well-orchestrated and extravagantly financed anti-teacher, anti-union neoliberal propaganda through their actions. After all, many of the policies of the 1960s and ‘70s that helped reduce inequality in school outcomes could not have been enacted without support from teachers, teachers’ unions, and organized labor. And the recent Chicago teachers’ strike showed that unions can provide the kind of muscle that parents and advocacy groups lack but very much need.

The stakes are very high. If we fail to make the unions what they should be, most students in the U.S. will end up trained for a life of menial labor, poverty, or imprisonment.

It’s Time for Social Movement Teachers’ Unions
It will take broad political and social resistance to reverse the tidal wave currently destroying public education. Teachers have to find an alternative to the service or business model of unionism which dominates most U.S. unions. Under the current model of unionism, members are mostly passive except when it comes to voting on a contract and electing officers every few years. The union’s goals are also restricted to members’ immediate economic concerns.

In a social movement union on the other hand, the union derives strength from its ability to mobilize members to struggle on their own behalf. Power comes from the bottom up, as it does in social movements, and the union’s organizational form is just as important as its purpose. Within a social movement union, the members’ self-interest would be broadly defined—going beyond immediate economic and contractual concerns. Such a union struggles for its members’ stake in creating a democratic and equitable society, and allies itself with other movements also working for social justice, peace, and equality.

History has shown that when teachers’ unions limit their responsibility to their members’ immediate economic concerns, they end up taking positions that come back to haunt them. The union often uses its resources to win a skirmish today at the expense of building consensus with potential allies whom it may need at a later date to win more important battles. A prime example of this short-sighted approach is the matter of health care, where teachers’ unions—along with the rest of the labor movement—used their political power to obtain health care coverage for their members but did not fight for universal health care, such as exists in Canada and Western Europe. Now politicians have easily convinced tax payers that teachers and other public employees should not have the benefits that most voters lack. As a result, teachers have been isolated in trying to save their benefits, which have been drastically reduced.

Social Movement Unionism is Practical
A social movement teachers’ union builds consensus with its potential allies on educational issues by examining how all stakeholders view the problem before taking action. Consider the difference in how a social movement union and a business union respond to school closings, ‘co-location’ of charter schools in existing school buildings, or the replacing of school districts with networks of schools run by nonprofit groups beholden to the agenda of billionaires. The damage in privatizing schools, creating charter schools, and charter school networks is well-documented[6], but teachers’ unions have been incapable of stopping this trend because the current business model union assumes that its power consists of union officers’ expertise to win concessions.

In contrast, a social movement teachers’ union reaches out to members, parents, students, and other school employees, as well as unions representing other workers in the schools, and takes leadership in organizing a coalition that looks to mobilize more support within the immediate neighborhood and the larger community.[7] What changes are needed to make the school more successful? How can the union help win these from the School Board? The campaign to avoid school closings begins with mobilizing parents and school employees and is based on the principle that no decision of such importance should be made without consulting those affected. Campaigns in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Rochester have included demonstrations, packing Board meetings for presentations, circulating petitions to the Board and local politicians, and civil disobedience, such as occupying the school building. The protests are organized and publicized through social media to counter the “news” in the corporate media, which seldom explains the harm done in school closings.

Social movement unionism requires stretching the union’s definition of “what counts” for its members. Ideally, it would include reaching out to parents, community, and labor, and casting issues in terms of social justice, not just teachers’ immediate self-interest. Goals would be configured in light of how the school and school system currently operate, without shirking from naming systemic racism as one of the problems. The union functions as a connective tissue, linking struggles for a just and equitable society with teachers’ concerns for schools and education.

The reform leadership of the Chicago Teachers Union developed a program that laid out what schools should look like, based on what the children deserve but don’t receive because of educational apartheid.[8] It used contract negotiations creatively to fight for improvements that affected children directly, such as giving teachers the right to distribute books on the first day of school and providing air conditioning on hot days. The union countered the Mayor’s insistence on a longer day for students—for more test preparation—and no extra pay for teachers, with a demand for a better day and the reinstallation of art, music, and physical education teachers.

Thinking Globally As We Fight Locally
The union is almost never strong enough to determine the contours of struggles—especially now when the unions and public education are under such sustained, brutal attack—so union activists and supporters in the community must often confront tough choices about how long and hard to fight, and for what. While unions must be pressed to win parent and community trust and continue to earn it, the advocacy groups must in turn keep in mind that though unions make strong allies, they are subject to limitations (legal and internal) that advocacy groups are not. This is a tension that we have to live with.

The attacks on public education and teachers’ unions are actually part of a global project, so our resistance must be international. It’s not enough for teachers in one community to organize, or for a union to have a strong national presence. Education policies are borrowed and adapted through collaborations of the wealthy and powerful at economic organizations and international summits.

Unions in the U.S. have an important stake in the success of teachers’ resistance elsewhere in the world because it helps weaken a common opponent. When Joel Klein, former head of the New York City school system, meets with Tony Blair, former Prime Minister of Britain, we can be sure that they don’t just exchange recommendations for good restaurants in their hometowns. We cannot duck this global aspect, any more than we can effectively address climate change by working within one community. Neoliberalism’s devastation of public education is a global epidemic that requires a global cure. International solidarity is not charity; it’s in our self-interest, as is democratizing and revitalizing teachers unions.

1.    The National Center for Fair and Open Testing (Fairtest) produces fact sheets that summarize relevant research on the effects of standardized testing. See <>.
2.    A perspective laid out in a World Bank report, “Making Services Work for Poor People,” explained in my article for New Politics ( (See RP&E Journal, Public Property Popular Power—New Majority Rising).
3.    David Berliner in “Effects of Inequality and Poverty vs. Teachers and Schooling on America’s Youth,” explains why powerful forces outside of schools make economic and social improvements essential for academic achievement across the board. Available at
4.    Much has been written about helping teachers to see beyond what students lack, to identify and draw on the “funds of knowledge” in students’ families and communities. See <> for research supported by the federal government in the 1990s but jettisoned in favor of standardized testing.
5.    See <>.
6.    In its latest report on education, “Making Schools Work: New Evidence on Accountability Reforms,” the World Bank advocates making teachers “contract workers” (<,,contentMDK:22840768~pagePK:148956~piPK:216618~theSitePK:282386,00.html>). See <> for Richard Ingersoll’s report on why teacher-turnover hurts student achievement.
7.    See <> for a New York City panel discussion on the nuts and bolts of this type of organizing.
8.    See <>.

Lois Weiner is a life-long teacher, union activist, educator, and author. She has been an officer of three union locals and is internationally known for her work on urban teacher education. This article is adapted from her new book, The Future of Our Schools: Teachers Unions and Social Justice, published by Haymarket Press (

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In all but the wealthiest school systems in the United States, academic accomplishment has been reduced to scores on standardized tests developed and evaluated by for-profit companies.

Employment Equity in Minneapolis

On August 8, 2012, Minneapolis became the first city in the nation to adopt a resolution promoting racial equity in employment. Coauthored by Councilmembers Cam Gordon and Don Samuels and passed unanimously, it declares institutional racism “a primary reason for unemployment disparities” and requires the city to take action to ensure that people of color have a fair shot at government jobs, promotions, and contracts.

“We heard from the community that the city better have its own house in order,” said Gordon. “If we can develop tools that make a difference within the city, that’s going to be more powerful than [trying] to tell others what they should be doing.”

The council has set itself a target of reducing racial disparities in employment and poverty rates for residents of color by 25 percent by 2016; and increasing the people of color hired on city-funded projects to 32 percent (from 11 percent ).[1]

Without Inclusion—Goodbye Growth
The Twin Cities region has the worst racial employment gap in the nation, according to Algernon Austin of the Economic Policy Institute. African Americans are more than three times as likely as whites to be out of work, and Native Americans are four times more likely to be jobless.[2]

Forty percent of Minneapolis residents are people of color but they only hold 17 percent of the jobs and make up 23 percent of the city’s workforce. Such inequities are potentially disastrous for the region’s future, officials and advocates agree.

“If you want a region to be viable and growing, you need to draw from all sectors of society, especially those that will be dominant in decades to come,” says Shawn Lewis, an urban planner who played a major role in promoting the ordinance. “This is not only a moral argument, it’s economic.”

The city took the first steps toward adopting the resolution in 2008, when it established an Equity in Employment Task Force and in 2012, hired a full-time Director of Employment Equity. But it resulted from years of advocacy and grassroots organizing from the people.

When Communities Lead, Cities Must Follow
HIRE Minnesota, a coalition of 70 diverse organizations and 2,000 residents, began a campaign to bring the state “from worst to first” in 2008. HIRE actively participated in the Minneapolis City Council process—sitting on the task force and filling council chambers with members who spoke in support of the resolution.

Metro Talking Circle, a volunteer group which works to advance economic equity for African American and Native American communities, developed recommendations for the task force and laid out these goals for the city: (1) lead by example; (2) strengthen workforce development; and (3) support efforts by business to hire, retain, and promote more people of color.
In response, the Minnesota Department of Transportation has increased its hiring of people of color on projects by 138 percent since 2009.

Towards Action and Accountability
As a first step toward implementation, the city is developing an equity and assessment toolkit to guide its budget, policy, and program decisions.

Also acknowledging the need for action at the regional level, the city has joined with the Ramsey County Blue Ribbon Commission’s “Everybody In” effort to reduce employment disparities throughout the Twin Cities metro area.[3]

“We will be in the room, reading the reports, raising questions,” says HIRE Organizer Avi Viswanathan. He is hopeful that the city’s commitment to leading by example will have a ripple effect that reaches private employers as well.

1.    Nick Sudheimer. “Minneapolis Revises Minority Workforce Goals.” The Minnesota Daily. April 09, 2012. <>
2.     Algernon Austin. “Black Metropolitan Unemployment in 2011.” Economic Policy Institute. July 2, 2012. <>
3.     “Everybody In: A Report to Reduce Racial Employment Disparities in the Ramsey County Metropolitan Area.” September 2011. Ramsey County Workforce Investment Board. <>

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Jeans with Justice Worker Coop in Texas Thrives Decades After Plant Shutdown

Fall 2012 marked 20 years since the signing ceremony of the North American Free Trade Agreemhent (NAFTA) in San Antonio, Texas. The city held a two-day conference in November to commemorate the signing. It’s also 22 years since San Antonio’s Levi’s factory closed—throwing 1,150 women out of work. A 2011 report by the Economic Policy Institute estimates that almost 700,000 U.S. workers were displaced by NAFTA.1 In San Antonio, the workers fought back. –Ed.

On November 17, one day after the big NAFTA conference in San Antonio’s Northside, we at Fuerza Unida (Strength Together) were in the Southside, celebrating our first line of denim clothing, including “Jeans with Justice.” These aren’t just important because they represent our newest cooperative enterprise, but because our organization started when we lost our jobs making blue jeans for Levi Strauss.

We are two of the 1,150 women workers who lost our jobs when the Levi’s factory closed on January 15, 1990. We were laid off without notice and without fair compensation. When we worked in the factory, our eyes were closed. We knew nothing of politics. We didn’t know we had rights as workers, nor did we know how to organize. But when the plant closed, we began to organize together with other workers and allies to demand fair compensation from Levi’s and better conditions for workers in other plants.

Our campaign served as an example for workers in the same situation across the country. Most of us were Mexican immigrants with little education and limited English. But our story helped other women understand that they can organize and fight. We worked with women in factories from San Antonio to San Francisco. Thanks to our efforts, Levi’s provided a much bigger severance package to the workers laid off from plants that closed after ours.

Part of our response was to form Fuerza Unida, a membership organization that empowers women workers and their families to achieve social, economic, and environmental justice. We aspire to a world where workers, especially immigrants and women of color and their families, can take back their voices and live full lives with dignity and respect for their traditions and cultural values.

In the late 1990s, we got together and decided to organize all workers, whether or not they were Levi’s workers. We also began to concentrate on problems outside the workplace, responding to a variety of needs in our community. We currently do voter registration work and citizenship counseling, and hold workshops on domestic violence and immigration. We also provide health services, have a food program, and work with San Antonio’s youth. These initiatives have come out of our monthly meetings with community members who come to tell us about the needs and problems they face.

In our struggle, solidarity with groups both inside and outside the U.S. has been very important. This work cannot be done alone; we need to connect in order to help one another. The talks we’ve had, not just here in San Antonio but also in Albuquerque, Washington, D.C., and other cities, as well as in other countries, such as South Africa, Brazil, and Canada, have served to tell our stories. This is another way we resist and struggle against injustice.

In 1996, we started our own sewing collective with ex-Levi’s workers and other women from the community. We made pajamas, recycled handbags, scarves, and sweaters, and did alterations. Now we’ve started making denim jeans. With the collective we have a lot more control over our work. But we’re not just producing things; as we work, we talk about politics and anything that affects our community.

Through the sewing collective, we provide work and raise money for Fuerza Unida. We’ve developed plans to grow from six to 10 workers in 2013, and to 15 in 2014. We’re in the process of buying our own building. Our board of directors, made up of our members, continues its development for our joint growth.

Fuerza Unida is maintained by its members; this is a key part of our process. Members pay an annual fee to receive educational workshops, access to the food program, plus a voice and a vote on the organization’s mission and programs. This organizational model, similar to a union, does not just build member involvement, it also helps members find ways to support themselves economically and guarantees them the right to guide the development of the organization. We’re all in the same boat and have the same vision of struggle.

Nelson Wolf, the mayor of San Antonio at the time NAFTA was signed, talks about all the jobs that NAFTA brought to the city. At the same time, across our nation, we hear about high rates of unemployment and how the middle class is suffering. People are talking about the struggle to retain Social Security, to provide health insurance to people who can’t afford to purchase it. They’re talking about the lack of plans and resources for retirement. We ask ourselves every day: “What will it be like for our kids?”
Some so-called leaders say that NAFTA created a lot of jobs, but that hasn’t been our experience. Since we announced that we’ll be making blue jeans many people have called looking for work . The workers who call us talk about the way they’re treated at their jobs, which means that there are no good jobs. The only jobs that NAFTA brought are the poorly paid jobs with no benefits.

In San Antonio, our community is getting together to create a statewide agenda opposing the lack of adequate polices for the Latino community. Hotel and restaurant workers are organizing to demand that they be paid their tips, and domestic workers are organizing to demand fairer treatment at the local and the national level.

It will take a lot of work to achieve our vision of justice and human rights for all. We need to continue the struggle if we want to live with dignity and solidarity. Having the right to vote is very important but voting is not the only way to get involved in social, political, economic, and environmental struggles. This is a constant struggle. It’s a way of achieving justice and hope—the hope that one day our people’s rights will no longer be violated.

1.    Robert Scott. “Heading South: U.S.-Mexico trade and job displacement after NAFTA.” Economic Policy Institute. The report estimates 682,900 U.S. jobs have been “lost or displaced” because of the agreement.

Executive Director Petra Mata and Program Director Viola Casares are cofounders of Fuerza Unida.

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Reimagine Everything

From a Speech by Grace Lee Boggs

I’m a very old woman. I was born in 1915 in what was later known as the First World War, two years before the Russian Revolution. And because I was born to Chinese immigrant parents and because I was born female—I learned very quickly that the world needed changing.

But what I also learned as I grew older was that how we change the world and how we think about changing the world has to change.

The time has come for us to reimagine everything. We have to reimagine work and go away from labor. We have to reimagine revolution and get beyond protest. We have to think not only about change in our institutions, but changes in ourselves. We are at the stage where the people in charge of the government and industry are running around like chickens with their heads cut off. It’s up to us to reimagine the alternatives and not just protest against them and expect them to do better.

We are at the point of a cultural revolution in ourselves and in our institutions that is as far-reaching as the transition from hunting and gathering to agriculture 11,000 years ago, and from agriculture to industry a few hundred years ago. How do we reimagine education? How do we reimagine community? How do we reimagine family? How do we reimagine sexual identity? How do we reimagine everything in the light of a change that is so far reaching and is our responsibility to make? We have to think beyond capitalist categories. We can’t expect them to make it. We have to do the reimagining ourselves.

How Do We Reimagine?
We reimagine by combining activism with philosophy. We have to do what I call visionary organizing. We have to see every crisis as both a danger and an opportunity. It’s a danger because it does so much damage to our lives, to our institutions, to all that we have expected. But it’s also an opportunity for us to become creative; to become the new kind of people that are needed at such a huge period of transition. That’s why it’s so wonderful to be here today—that we dare to talk about revolution in such fundamental terms.

Detroit: From Unimaginable to Reimagined
I came to Detroit nearly 60 years ago and since that time I’ve lived in the same house most of the time. When I came to Detroit there were two million people here. [Now there are about 700,000.] The Chrysler plant, where my husband worked, employed 17,000 workers. Outside my house, if you threw a stone up in the air, it would hit a Chrysler worker on the way down. Within a  year, the 17,000 workers dwindled to 2,000. High-tech automation was eliminating the jobs that had made Detroit the arsenal of democracy during World War II.

How do we grapple with a change as remarkable as that? How do we take advantage of high tech to create a new mode of production? How do we use it to make ourselves more self-reliant and more productive?

We have to reimagine work—we can’t talk about jobs any more. We can’t beg for jobs or hope for jobs. And we have to recognize that jobs in the industrial period were actually a way to fragment our humanity. We began to depend on higher wages and consumer goods to compensate for our dehumanization. We have to create forms of work that create community and expand our humanity. I mean that’s where we are!

That’s why we have to talk about revolution these days. We have to get rid of the old ideas of leadership and followership and use our imaginations to create the new.

I’d like to say something about the crisis we faced in Detroit in the 1980s. In the wake of the rebellions, a lot of violence had broken out in the city. The veterans who were coming back from the Vietnam War, were developing a crack society—a lot of crack, a lot of violence against one another. [Mayor] Coleman Young proposed that we should create a casino industry to create jobs because [he said] a lack of jobs was responsible for the violence. We said “no.” The alternative was to involve the young people in the rebuilding, the redefining, and the re-inspiriting of the city from the ground up. We created this program called Detroit Summer. Shea Howell was the co-coordinator of the first Detroit Summer and for many years after. I think that is visionary organizing.

How do we rebuild, how do we redefine, how do we re-spirit our communities and one another? We can’t expect Obama or Mitt Romney to abolish the war in Afghanistan. They have put us in those wars. They have created the crisis. They are not going to solve it. We’re the ones who have to solve it by creating another kind of society and by taking advantage of their helplessness and their powerlessness to do it.

We have been lucky in Detroit. Out of the devastation of deindustrialization, we have recognized the need to create a post-modern, post-industrial society. I urge you to come to Detroit and get the idea and share the experience of the American revolution we are creating and to begin your own visionary organizing back in your own community. We have the opportunity; we have the challenge in this period to create a new humanity, to create a new society, to create a whole new paradigm of education. We have to think of education and young people not as a problem but as a solution. We have to enlist them in the solutions to the problems of our communities. That’s a whole new way of reimagining youth and the relationships between generations. [It’s] an enormous challenge, an enormous task. Now, where do we go from here?

It seems to me that we don’t need to talk only about the hours of work but about the difference between the way women look at work and the way you have a job. You have jobs that demean you, that dehumanize you, that fragment you; that make you an appendage to the machine. We make up for it by demanding higher wages or shorter hours. What we need is the kind of work that women do—not counting the hours because they care—and that’s a real transformation from a patriarchal concept of work to a matriarchal concept of work. That’s where we are. I mean we are fundamentally [challenged] in terms of our human identity at this moment. Until we approach this moment with that challenge in mind, we’re going to get lost.

Growing Our Souls
I first used the concept of growing our souls about 10 years ago. Radicals don’t usually talk about souls—but I think we have to. What I mean by souls is the capacity to create the world anew, which each of us has. How do we talk about that with one another? It’s not only important to act, it’s important to talk because when you talk you begin to create new ideas and new languages. We’ve all been damaged by this system—it’s not only the capitalists who are the scoundrels, the villains; we are all part of it. And we all have to change what we say, what we do, what we think, what we imagine.
I like to encourage folks to not only think dialectically and philosophically but also to think more about our brains, about neuroscience—about the capacity we have to think anew. We can only do that if we understand that there’s a tendency in the structure of our brains to get fixed in old categories, to get locked into old concepts. That’s why philosophy is so important—thinking dialectically, thinking philosophically, thinking about growing our souls.

Grace Lee Boggs is a Detorit-based organizer. Excerpted from “On Revolution: A Conversation Between Grace Lee Boggs and Angela Davis” held on March 2, 2012 at the Pauley Ballroom, University of California, Berkeley. Transcript courtesy of Making Contact.

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"The time has come for us to reimagine everything. We have to reimagine work and go away from labor. We have to reimagine revolution and get beyond protest. — Grace Lee Boggs

Good Jobs in Bad Times: Evergreen Worker Coops in Ohio

Cleveland rocks!” is the theme song of the long-running Drew Carey TV show. But not all neighborhoods rock equally, at least when it comes to jobs and economic opportunity.

Cleveland—once put down as “the mistake on the lake”—has undergone a dramatic revival in its downtown business district over the past 15 years with popular attractions, such as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the East 4th Street food and entertainment section, and new stadiums and arena for professional sports teams. University Circle—the city’s cultural center—has a vibrant core of health, cultural, and educational institutions, as well as some major international businesses that employ tens of thousands of people in good-paying jobs.

In sharp contrast are the poor areas which have not shared in the revival. These neighborhoods, where vacant lots, deteriorated buildings, water shut-offs, and foreclosure signs are common, are home to about 43,000 people and an unemployment rate close to 40 percent. The median annual income is less than $18,500.

 “University Circle has been radically disconnected from the poor neighborhoods surrounding it,” Ted Howard, director of the Democracy Collaborative, told attendees at the 2010 ACE (Association of Cooperative Educators) Institute in Cleveland last summer. “So... how do we break down this barrier and create opportunity for the people of the surrounding neighborhoods?”

Worker-Owned Coops Offer Second Chance
A part of the answer lies with Evergreen Cooperatives of Cleveland—a network of worker-owned businesses—first launched in October 2009. The Evergreen Laundry Cooperative serves several large healthcare institutions in the University Circle area, and the Ohio Cooperative Solar installs solar panels for large institutions and businesses.

Many of the worker-owners of the coops have had to overcome incarceration records and substance abuse and have struggled to find decent jobs in the past. To them, merely finding a steady job in their depressed neighborhoods is an accomplishment, let alone one that helps them build equity. Next year, the Green City Growers Cooperative plans to break ground on one of the nation’s largest urban food production greenhouses. Another coop venture is The Neighborhood Voice, a free student-operated online and print monthly targeted towards those who live and work in the greater University Circle area.

Ultimately, the hope is that there will be dozens of worker-owned coops operating under the Evergreen umbrella, transforming and lifting Cleveland’s economy in much the same way as the worker-owned cooperatives of northern Spain’s Mondragon region, according to James Anderson of the Ohio Employee Ownership Center (OEOC), which helped spearhead the launch of the Evergreen project. Mondragon began with one coop and a handful of jobs 50 years ago but is a large and diverse network providing more than 100,000 good jobs today.

Novel Ways to Break Cycle of Poverty
In December 2006, the Democracy Collaborative at the University of Maryland—a research and policy center focused on community wealth-building strategies—held a roundtable in Cleveland to explore innovative ways to break the cycle of poverty in the greater University Circle area. Participants included faculty members, community development experts, leaders of Employee Stock Ownership Plans, chamber of commerce leaders, and a hospital CEO, among others.

Subsequently, the Cleveland Foundation—the region’s largest philanthropy—asked to help develop a new economic inclusion plan for the greater University Circle area.

“We were lucky to have the Ohio Employee Ownership Center just down the road and access to low-cost capital,” said Howard, of the Democracy Collaborative. “Lack of capital is the biggest restraint on the spread of the coop movement.” He recalled a conversation with the leader of an economic Empowerment Zone created earlier to direct more financial resources to the greater University Circle area. Despite the expenditure of some $34 million under that effort, “there was virtually nothing left behind afterward. It did not make a difference.”

The consensus was to try and attack the problem with a business development strategy and create for-profit businesses owned by workers from the community and the institutions that are their customers. These worker-owned businesses would pay living wages and offer an opportunity for wealth-building through equity accumulation in the businesses.

“We wanted to root capital in the community so that it would not get up and leave,” said Howard. “Worker-owners of a business are not going to offshore their own jobs.”

To help refine the strategy, 120 people—mostly leaders of large institutions and businesses of the University Circle area—identified as the primary customers of the new coops were interviewed over the ensuing six months. When it was determined that there was a huge economic opportunity to source business locally, Evergreen was formed.

Key Strategies: Locally Focused and Green
When looking to organize and launch the first Evergreen business, Howard recalled the late John Logue, founder of the OEOC, saying: “This project cannot be allowed to fail, so we must have Jim Anderson (who formerly led the Republic Storage system in Canton, OH) on board.” It was a tribute to the business acumen and organizational savvy Anderson displayed during his long professional career with employee-owned firms.

Anderson served as CEO of the Evergreen Cooperative Laundry during its first year before turning over leadership to a team of coop members in keeping with the coop’s goal of providing a career ladder to senior management for employees.

From the start, Evergreen focused on tapping the large “anchor institutions” at University Circle, which purchased goods and services worth about $3 billion annually—virtually none of them locally.

A parallel focus was to launch “green” businesses that operate in an environmentally benign manner. The Evergreen Cooperative Laundry, Anderson claims, “is the greenest laundry in northeast Ohio, probably in the entire state.” Heat and water used in the operation is recycled, harsh chemicals are kept to a minimum, and the operation is housed in a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) silver building—an internationally recognized “green building” certification system.

Nitty-Gritty of Funding a Coop
The Evergreen Cooperative Development Fund was created as the financing entity for the entire family of coops under the Evergreen name. The first $750,000 raised came in the form of a long-term, low-interest (1 percent) loan from the Cleveland Foundation. That money was used to leverage the rest of the $5.7 million—including a $1.5 million loan from the city of Cleveland’s Housing and Urban Development 108 funds—that it cost to launch the laundry coop. The initial funding also helped Evergreen raise funds from two commercial banks and qualify for a $250,000 loan from the Commonwealth Revolving Loan Fund, established by the OEOC at Kent State University.

The initial business plan calls for the coop to break even within 18 months and beyond that, to grow the fund to about $50 million. A corporate entity—Evergreen Business Services—supplies “back office” services to all the coops in addition to housing the CEOs and offices of human resources and finance.

A Desperate Need for Good Jobs
As opening day approached, the desperate need for good jobs in the area was underscored by the roughly 500 applications received for the first dozen openings at the laundry.

“We pay a significantly higher wage,” noted Medrick Addison, a worker-supervisor at the laundry and one of the first two hires. New employees have to go through a six-month trial, at the end of which existing coop members vote on whether to accept them.

“You have to prove yourself to your fellow workers because you are essentially choosing to go into business with them,” Addison pointed out. A worker who becomes a coop member qualifies for a $2-an-hour bonus and benefits, such as Evergreen’s no-cost health package.

Many people in the area have been through various job-training programs in the past, only to find there were no jobs for them when they complete the training. Although training is still part of the picture at the laundry, it is much more than simply how to do the work and most importantly, offers a good job from day one.

Worker training provided by the OEOC begins with personal financial literacy classes, followed by basic worker coop issues—such as, knowing when to wear a owner hat vs. a worker hat—and business financial literacy. In all, training lasts about a year, with classes held every other week.

The laundry currently employs about 25 but future plans call for 50 coop members by the time the laundry reaches a “mature” level of operation—cleaning 10 million pounds of laundry annually.

When the business becomes profitable, 10 percent of profits will go back to the Evergreen Development Fund to help start other coops. Of the balance, 80 percent is distributed among the members, of which 20 percent has to be paid in cash.

Members have to invest $3,000 for a share of co-op ownership, which they can pay off at a rate of 50 cents per hour deducted from their pay increase. As the company earns profits, earnings will be placed annually in worker capital accounts with the goal of generating up to $65,000 in coop equity for each worker who stays on the job for eight years. Workers receive the money when they leave the company or retire.

“We want to keep the money circulating locally… to stop it leaking out of northeast Ohio,” says Anderson. To this end, they are constantly developing new business ideas for worker coops, including refurbishing neighborhood houses, recycling, and turning hospital medical waste into energy.

Customer Satisfaction Key to Coop Success
The future of the coop rests as much with its customers—especially the large healthcare institutions that account for most of its business—as it does with the worker-owners. So, Addison personally addresses any complaint that touches on quality control.
Additionally, one seat on the coop laundry’s board of directors is reserved for a customer. The rest of the board is made up of two coop members and two appointees of the Evergreen Cooperative Corporation, the coop network’s “holding company.” No lenders sit on the board and the bylaws have been set up to ensure that the coop is never demutualized.

Ultimately, the success of worker coops depends upon building a culture of ownership, points out Howard and underscores the point with the following story: A member of a group touring the Evergreen laundry recently—one of two union representatives from a laundry in Pittsburgh—remarked how superior it was to the laundry that they worked for, to which, an Evergreen coop member responded: “That’s the difference; we don’t work ‘for’ this business, we own it and we work for ourselves.”

Dan Campbell is the editor of Rural Cooperatives, the United States Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development bimonthly magazine from which this article is adapted.

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Republic Windows Opens New Era for Coops in Chigago

In December 2008, the Republic Windows and Doors Company of Chicago announced that it would be closing its factory because Bank of America had refused to extend a loan. Faced with the loss of their jobs, 200 workers occupied the building and refused to leave.

As Lalos, one of the workers explained: “Bank of America has a lot to do with the problem we’re having now. [It] is one of the banks that received billions of dollars from the government.”

The workers—members of the United Electrical Workers Union (UE)—did not have to go it alone, however, because while they occupied the factory in shifts, outside in the snow, other trade unionists showed their support.

Six days into the sit-in, Bank of America agreed to extend the loan to the company and following a unanimous vote to end the occupation, the workers left the factory through the front doors—declaring victory.

At the union’s headquarters in Chicago recently, Ricky Maclin, vice president of UE Local 10, looking back on the successful occupation, pointed out that in 2008, there were many abrupt plant closures in Chicago and all over the country.
“What made us unique was our decision to fight back,” he said. “After we won they tried to make it a victory for union workers, but it was much more than that, it was a labor victory.”

Labor Wins, Workers Dream, A Coop is Born
Soon after the occupation, the owners of Republic Windows sold the business to California-based Serious Materials. In February this year, the new owners announced their intention to close the factory down and once again, the workers decided to occupy the factory. They demanded that it be kept open for 90 days, to allow time for another company to buy the business and within hours, the owners agreed.

When 90 days passed with no offers to buy the factory, the workers decided to try and run the business themselves.
“Republic walked away from our jobs and Serious walked away from our jobs but we [weren’t going to] walk away from our jobs,” explained Maclin.

Armando Robles, president of the UE, supported the idea from the start saying: “If no one buys the company we could create a cooperative.” The idea being that a cooperative would not only conserve jobs, it could create new jobs and help the local communities.

The idea was very exciting to Denis Kelleher, executive director of the Center for Workplace Democracy, because Chicago does not currently have a manufacturing cooperative of that size. The Center began classes for workers from the factory on how to run a cooperative business where one of the most important skills is knowing how to make decisions as a group.
In May this year, the factory was incorporated as a cooperative under a new name: New Era Windows LLC.

“Through the unions we learned we had more control over our jobs, safety, wages—things that matter to our family,” said Maclin, who sees the cooperative as the next step for the labor movement. “Now, as a coop, we will be owners as well as workers. We will have that perfect model we’re looking for that’s not there yet.”

Workers Buy the Means of Production
Setting up the new cooperative, not surprisingly, has not been easy. After the second occupation at the factory, Serious Materials had agreed to sell the equipment to the workers if they could come up with the cash. That was the first obstacle. The other, was overcoming the general perception that the workers could not run the business.

Contrary to that perception, Maclin points out that most jobs actually run just great without bosses and supervisors. “Most of your supervisors don’t know as much as your [less educated] workers on the line!” he says.

But can they make a successful business out of a factory that’s already closed down twice? Kelleher believes that worker-controlled businesses are uniquely suited to handle challenges that often bring down the traditional business model. Because the business is owned by the workers, it’s more likely to try and cut operating costs before laying people off.

“In a worker cooperative there’s a primacy of labor over capital. So, when things are slow, the concerns are: How do we preserve the solidarity and democracy in the workplace?” Kelleher says. “One of the last things that a worker cooperative would want to do is reduce the workforce. Historically worker cooperatives have been formed out of a need to preserve jobs.”

New Era Opening for Worker-Owned Businesses
New Era Windows would be the beginning of a new era—the first in a long time—for worker-owned businesses, Kelleher hopes.
“Chicago has a very rich history of worker cooperatives,” he explains. “Back in the late 1800s, much of the union organizing also involved worker cooperatives. When the Knights of Labor disappeared many of the coops disappeared with them. But the history is there. Right now, there are few coops in Chicago and that’s what we’re working to change at the Center for Workplace for Democracy. We want to help develop a more cooperative economy in Chicago.”

After the first factory occupation, Maclin took part in a victory tour of the country, giving talks in different towns and cities, encouraging other workers to take similar action. Now he wants to encourage others to follow the Chicago workers’ lead in taking control of their workplaces.

On his victory tour, Maclin frequently told the following story:
“Years ago, as a small child, I used to go to the circus [where] I saw this humungous elephant held in place by this small chain and peg [attached] to one leg. ‘How is that small chain holding that big elephant?’ I asked.

[And I learned] that they put that chain on the elephant when the elephant is small—so he really can’t move. So, you have this elephant who is able to move buildings but will not try to move this peg!

I look at that now as an adult and see that we the working force, the workers, are this huge elephant. And we’re being held down because we’ve been told that we can never win and that we are powerless. Well, the elephant in the room has awakened and is no longer going to be held down by these idiotic preconceived notions. We know in reality that the workers are the ones who make the world move.”

This story is based on a piece that aired on Making Contact, a radio program of the National Radio Project. George Lavender is an independent journalist based in Oakland, California. A producer for Making Contact, he also reports for Free Speech Radio News and Radio France International. Follow him on Twitter @georgelavender.

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Community Organizing Wins Transit Jobs

James Hill has worked at the same St. Louis, Missouri establishment for over 20 years. And for 20 years, he has been advocating for a bus system that better accommodates his wheelchair. He acknowledges the major improvements to public transit since the early 1980s when he faced incredible discrimination but believes the system still has a long way to go.
“Metro drivers didn’t want to pick up disabled persons,” he recalls. “They’d leave wheelchair [users] sitting at bus stops, or if they did stop, the wheelchair lifts didn’t work.”

Nowadays there are working wheelchair lifts on every running bus in St. Louis, but Hill knows that the fight is far from over. To get to work, he must travel in his wheelchair to the closest bus line, nearly a mile from his home. While the $30,000 electric wheelchair makes this possible, the journey along sidewalks and streets can feel quite hazardous in bad weather and insurance is not forthcoming when it comes to paying for repairs. Still, the wheelchair and the bus line, which drops Hill within a block of his place of work, constitute a lifeline to freedom. Hill has many wheelchair-bound friends who have to make at least one transfer, if not two, to get to their places of employment.

In 2008, Hill and other low-income individuals who rely on public transit were threatened with losing their ability to commute to work when St. Louis County voted down a one-half percent sales tax to fund public transit. The Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) immediately reduced and re-routed many of their established bus lines and terminated the Call-A-Ride service, forcing Hill to rely upon the goodwill of coworkers and friends to drive him to work for over three months. He recognized that something had to be done and that he, along with others, needed to act.

People Organizing Help Fund St. Louis Transit
Metropolitan Congregations United (MCU), a faith-based community organizing group in the St. Louis region, organized a campaign with allies, such as Citizens for Modern Transit, to reinstate the much-needed but under-funded public transit programs by raising the sales tax. They rallied with other transportation advocates to place their initiative—Proposition A—on the 2010 Spring ballot.

MCU leaders began by educating local communities about the ballot initiative and the effects of transit funding. They hosted a public meeting where transit users, such as Hill, could share their stories and educate community members, including key state legislators. They also helped organize other community leaders and spur extensive actions, such as canvassing, holding rallies, collecting pledge cards, and testifying before the county council.

Proposition A passed with a 62 percent majority in an off-year election with a 12 percent above average voter turnout, and promised to generate more than $75 million in transit funding annually, ensuring rides for isolated and impoverished communities through an expanded metro bus system. Area jobs and local economic development could also look forward to a boost. Hill’s bus route was reinstated and through his work with MCU, he was able to secure a commitment from MoDOT to install certain sidewalks and make bus shelters more wheelchair accessible. While not all of the work has been completed, Hill is now able to use Call-a-Ride to return home from work rather than wait for the bus on the side of the street because there is no wheelchair access to the bus shelter.

Across the nation, public transportation is under attack. Transit decisions are being made without input from the primary users of public transit, i.e. people with disabilities, racial minorities, and low income people. Fortunately there is a growing countervailing force.

The Gamaliel network, which extends across 17 states and represents over 1,200 diverse faith groups—including MCU—has successfully harnessed the energy of hundreds of thousands of community members to generate local and state policy changes and create jobs through expanded public services. The successes gained by MCU in St. Louis and groups elsewhere in the Gamaliel network proves once and for all that community organizing itself can provide economic benefit to the community.

SMART Strategy Keeps Detroit Working
Detroit has two major public transit systems: DDOT (Detroit Department of Transportation), which operates within the city, and SMART (Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation), which connects the suburbs to the city. SMART has the highest ridership of any transit system in Michigan, connecting people to job opportunities and services in Detroit.

SMART transit is funded by a property tax that sunsets every few years, raising the possibility of disruption in transit service if the tax is not renewed. To prevent such an occurrence, MOSES, the Gamaliel organizing group in Detroit, partnered with Citizens for a SMART Future to plan a campaign aimed at ensuring that all municipalities opt in to support the most important transit program in the area. Campaign members planned an action where they rode the busiest transit lines, speaking to as many people as possible about the importance of the tax.

The education and advocacy paid off, leading to the passage of the SMART transit tax with an overwhelming majority. But the campaign did much more than help to keep the buses rolling for commuters—it helped to sustain job security for transit workers.
The successful Detroit transit funding campaign is just one of many transit victories for the affiliates of Gamaliel Michigan over the last five years. The organizing has caused millions of dollars to flow into the Michigan economy by helping to keep hundreds of transit workers on the job and thousands of other workers commuting to their jobs, prompting Gamaliel to publish a new study on the economic benefits of their work: “Community Organizing As a Job Creator: An Investment That Works For All”.    

Community Organizing as Job Creator
Victories achieved through community organizing are not isolated events. The study by Gamaliel shows clearly that community organizing should be viewed and understood in terms of the number of jobs generated and the increase in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) that occurs as a consequence.

In the past five years, the work done by Gamaliel community organizers and leaders has created nearly 594,000 jobs in the area of transit and infrastructure alone. Victorious campaigns around transit and infrastructure can have especially significant returns on investment. For every dollar invested, the GDP increases by $1.44 for transit and $1.31 for infrastructure in the following year.

One notable campaign conducted by Gamaliel is known as the Missouri Model and has come to be regarded as Gamaliel’s signature campaign. When community leaders in St. Louis and East St. Louis noticed a lack of minorities in the construction workforce throughout the metro area, they became concerned. So, United Congregations of Metro East (UCM) and MCU banded together to create a campaign that led to the best workforce diversity on a highway project in the history of the U.S. When the $550 million dollar project was finally completed, organizers could boast that their efforts had resulted in 27 percent of the work being done by women and minorities.

To achieve this significant victory, UCM and MCU had to work on federal legislation. Section 1920 of the 2005 transportation bill, SAFETEA-LU (A Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users), contained an encouragement by Congress to expand workforce diversity. UCM and MCU used it to insist that diversity would not be possible without pre-apprenticeship training dollars and on-the-job training opportunities for low-income individuals, people of color, and women. They succeeded in pushing their agenda with surprising results for both the community and the project itself.
“The project met its goals, was $11 million dollars below budget, and provided jobs for those who most needed them, but more than that, it stimulated the local economy,” says Dr. Ron Trimmer, who is credited with creating the Missouri Model. “We figured out a solution that lifted all the boats and provided a way out of poverty.”

Making Organizing a Way of Living and Working
The evidence shows clearly that by investing in community organizing, we, the people can generate the political will for job growth and economic recovery, and create and sustain employment opportunities. So, we have come up with the following recommendations for each of the parties involved:

  • Grassroots Organizers and Leaders should quantify the success of their work in terms of the jobs created and the actual effect on the local GDP using broadly accepted formulas. This can help them understand the real impact of community organizing better and be more effective in communicating it to promote further investment in organizing.
  • Public Officials should provide government support for community organizing through grant programs—as they did in the past—at the local, state and federal levels to build capacity for meaningful engagement in the job creation process. Current programs, such as VISTA, discourage community organizing and create barriers against engaging in the organizing process. These barriers should be removed.
  • Funders should consider the proven viability of community organizing as the most effective and cost-efficient vehicle for creating sustainable employment and economic growth and make it a priority when it comes to making investment decisions. Specifically, they should provide support for transit organizing, which has been shown to create sustainable employment, economic growth, and jobs that are safe from outsourcing.
  • Private and Public Donors should prioritize organizing around jobs and economic development as a strategy for job creation and create grant opportunities for community organizing.

From significant changes to public policy, to the development of urban areas, to social movements resulting in long-term benefits to local communities—the impact of community organizing cannot be overstated. If we are to successfully address the economic crisis and create space for low income and middle class families to achieve economic dignity, community organizing must be at the center of our response, prioritized and supported by foundations, governments, and individuals.

Laura Barrett is the executive director of the Tranportation Equity Network (TEN). To learn more about the full report, Community Organizing As Job Creator: An Investment That Works For All, see Research and Resources on page 85.

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Who Plans Our Cities?

By Marcy Rein

Traditionally, residents of Richmond, California have had little voice in planning their city; the process being dominated by Chevron, real estate developers, and other corporations. But in the past six years, a community-based coalition—Richmond Equitable Development Initiative (REDI)—working with a constellation of community organizations and regional experts has successfully incorporated a solid set of community priorities into the new General Plan approved by the City Council in April 2012.

“The Plan is our vision for the next 30 years,” says Jeff Rutland of the Contra Costa Interfaith Supporting Community Organization (CCISCO). “It ties together all the things we want to see happen in our city.” Almost every section of Richmond’s new Plan includes policies and actions that promote health, addressing everything from quality food stores and urban gardens to air quality monitoring and living- wage jobs. (See box: What REDI Won in the Richmond General Plan.) The Plan also has a standalone “Health and Wellness” section, a first in California.

To shape the Plan, REDI members had to persist- ently push back against bureaucratic and interest group opposition. Certain key city staff have long- standing ties to Richmond’s corporate-friendly political elite, so the people’s priorities kept getting written out of the Draft Plan until REDI mobilized. When the General Plan finally came before the Planning Commission and City Council for approval, the Chamber of Commerce and Council of Industries launched a full-throttle attack.

However, the REDI Plan prevailed, thanks to a strategy that combined education and activism where REDI members thoroughly familiarized themselves with the Plan, then educated and lobbied decision- makers—turning out in force to advocate for their priorities at every public hearing over a six-year plan- ning and approval process.

How Inequity Developed in Richmond

With 32 miles of shoreline and sweeping views of the San Francisco Bay, Richmond is a beautiful place. It’s also a desirable place with several acres of unde- veloped land, a deep-water port, and bus, rail, and freeway links to the rest of the Bay Area and beyond. But thanks to its development policies, inequity is etched deep into the landscape of Richmond, host to Chevron’s main West Coast refinery.

RicOccupy Chevron demonstration in Richmond on October 3, 2012. ©2012 Joe Feria Galicia/Urban Habitathmond’s decline began as World War II ended, winding down work at the shipyards post-1945. But instead of investing in new industrial uses for the old shipyard site, in the mid ‘70s, Richmond sank redevelopment money into a high-end Marina Bay condo complex, and rather than revive the downtown corridor next to the new BART system, it opened the Hilltop Mall in the northwest corner of the city.

The oil-refining and chemi- cal-processing industries that remain continue to provide well-paying jobs but few of them go to Richmond residents.1 “The connection between residents as employees and industry was slowly but surely severed,” said Alex Schafran, a graduate student of planning who worked with REDI from 2007 to 2009. But it’s the residents, particularly those hard against the industrial corridor, who bear the brunt of the pollution from the Chevron refinery, the diesel truck traffic from the Port of Richmond, the Burling- ton Northern-Santa Fe railroad, and the 350 other industrial polluters that surround the city.2 It’s worth noting that two-thirds of Richmond res- idents are people of color3—and more than 16 percent fall below the official poverty line.

Educating to Build Power

REDI Forum, July 2007.   ©2007  Brooke AndersonREDI was formed in 2003 to reverse the trend toward inequitable development. Urban Habitat and its original core partners4 began with research, policy development, and advocacy.5 When Richmond began updating its General Plan in 2006, REDI saw an opportunity to put equitable development policies to work and reached out to base-building groups to engage in the planning process, forming a coalition whose members—Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN), CCISCO, Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), Communi- ties for a Better Environment (CBE), and Faith- Works—represent a cross-section of Richmond today.

The campaign began in February 2007 with a six- week long Leadership Institute for the grassroots groups where an array of interactive exercises present- ed in English, Spanish, Mien, and Lao helped equip the community to engage with the General Plan. Forty-four people aged 13 to 80 took part in the seven-week program where they plotted their daily activities on huge wall maps of Richmond to see how planning shaped their lives; drew their visions for the future over photographs of the city’s vacant lots and boarded-up buildings; learned a lesson in basic plan- ning lingo; and played “Richmond Jeopardy” to pull together the new concepts and language they had learned. “I learned so much about things like zones and how they are chosen,” said ACCE’s Ina Mason. “At first it was a bit overwhelming, but then I looked forward to the sessions.” She stayed with the cam- paign to the end. REDI also organized a three-part institute for elected and appointed officials later that year, attend- ed by many city leaders involved in the planning process, including Mayor Gayle McLaughlin and five members of the City Council, the city manager, the redevelopment director, the community and econom- ic development manager, the planning director, the principal planner, and the senior planner. Throughout the campaign, REDI continued to educate and dialogue with decision-makers in both informal and formal settings—from offline conversa- tions to public meetings.

Learning to Engage in the Process… and to Wait

A child coloring at the REDI Forum, July 2007.  ©2007 Urban HabitatThe City of Richmond announced the General Plan update in early 2006, intending to complete the process by late 2007 . It did not issue the first Draft Plan until July 2009. The document addressed some of REDI’s priorities, but left many untouched. It included language supporting affordable mass transit but did not speak specifically to the needs of youth, seniors, low- income people, and others who depend on transit. It provided for air-quality monitoring but did not address the need to reroute diesel trucks away from neighborhoods. REDI responded with a detailed public comment in writing at the Planning Commission meeting in October 2009, but those recommendations were gutted in a new Draft General Plan issued by the Planning Department in early December. REDI members then visited individual City Council members and testified at a January 2010 Council study session on the Plan, which resulted in the recommendations being temporarily reinstated. The group repeated the lobbying and mobilizing cycle several more times before the Planning Com- mission produced the Final Draft General Plan in October 2011. At that point, the Chamber of Com- merce and Council of Industries—anchored by Chevron, the city’s largest employer—came out in the open with their attack.

99% vs. 1% at the Planning Commission

At the October 2011 Planning Commission meeting, right after the city planning staff ’s presenta- tion, the head of the Richmond Chamber of Com- merce kicked off the public comment period with a slick 90-second video featuring three teens (black and Latino) sitting on a hill overlooking the Bay, dis- cussing their future. One hopes he can get a job after finishing school. Another says she’s working two jobs to help support her family because her dad was laid off when his workplace closed. “Stay strong!” the other two encourage her before a voiceover declares: “We can work together; by not regulating business, we can keep jobs in Richmond for these young people’s future.” To the 18 REDI speakers present, a healthy future for the young people meant business would do its part in cleaning up toxic sites and accepting cleanup as a condition of reuse, and monitoring air quality and tracking its cumulative impact over time.

REDI speakers also took issue with the Planning Department’s attempt to soften air quality monitoring language by adding “to the extent feasible.” “How feasible is it when our children have asthma?” asked Jeff Romm of Richmond Vision. Others who testified tied their recommendations to health in different ways, speaking in sChildren opposing Prop 23 in Richmond, CA. ©2010 Urban Habitatupport of: safer streets with better lighting, bus shelters, and benches; local hiring and job training with a focus on those with barriers to employment; urban gardens; which now needed to attract one swing vote. The Chamber of Commerce promptly ratcheted up its attacks on the REDI proposals and in an email to the City Council and Planning Director Richard Mitchell, blamed “Oakland-based CBE” for stirring up “the Plan- ning Commission’s attack on Richmond business.” Representatives from business and labor, along with REDI members and allies, flooded an adoption hearing on the Plan in April 2012. Everyone, it seemed, wanted the same things but disagreed vehemently about how to get them. Predictably, an economic consultant hired by the Chamber of Commerce painted a dire picture of businesses jumping ship if the Plan imposed new rules, while union members pleaded with the Council to avoid action that would imperil jobs, especially at Chevron. REDI speakers, meanwhile, kept bringing the focus back to health matters, rejecting the idea that the com- munity needs to choose between life and liveli- hood. “We are Richmond… insiders, not outsiders,” LOP leader Lipo Chanthanasack said through his translator. “We thoroughly support the Planning Commission. We need a good job, a healthy job, and we don’t need pollution.” Mayor McLaughlin closed the hearing around midnight and a week later, the Council reconvened and voted 5–2 to adopt the Plan as recommended by the Planning Commission. “The community involvement was very productive,” said Councilmember Tom Butt. “The Planning Commission was getting pressure from Chevron, the Council of Industries, and the Chamber of Commerce to do certain things. There needed to be some counterbalancing advocacy and REDI played a big part in providing that.” With the rest of the General Plan passed, the city returned to consideration of the Housing Element, which it had put on hold. REDI advocated for more detailed and directive language to commit the city to stronger renter protections, amendments to the inclusionary housing ordinance, and more comprehensive code enforcement. APEN members protest at Chevron on October 3, 2012.  ©2012 Joe Feria Galicia/Urban Habitat

The Planning Commission overwhelmingly supported these changes at its November 1, 2012 meeting.

Organizations in REDI are now working to translate Plan policies into laws and programs. CBE backed two City Council resolutions responding to the August 2012 Chevron fire. The Council passed both measures. (See sidebar)

“Air quality monitoring and local hire language in the Gen- eral Plan strengthened the community's leverage in getting the City Council to act,” says Urban Habitat Land Use and Housing Coordinator Christy Lefall. But the 2012 election has shifted the balance of power on the City Council. Nat Bates’ reelection and the victory of Gary Bell over the Richmond Progressive Alliance’s candidate Ed- uardo Martinez gives the pro-Chevron forces another shot at undoing important elements in the Plan. Going forward, the Initiative’s success will hinge on its ability to sustain its coalition and broaden the base for equitable de- velopment policies in Richmond.


(1.) Poverty and Pollution: The Numbers Speak Loudly

The results of Richmond’s inequitable development show up in the most basic statistics. In the Iron Triangle neighborhood1 surrounding the city’s decimated downtown, 31.52 percent of the residents live in poverty. When measured against the higher cost of living in the Bay Area, the poverty rate in Richmond is closer to 27 percent rather than the 20 percent overall for the East Bay. That’s according to the East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy (EBASE), an Oakland-based research institute that provided technical assistance to the REDI campaign.3 Roughly one-third of Richmond’s African American and Latino residents are poor. Even before the current economic meltdown, more than one-third of the city’s young African American men were unemployed.4 As of January 2012, 15.4 percent of the people in Richmond were officially unemployed, compared with 9.3 percent in Contra Costa County as a whole. Children in Richmond are almost twice as likely to go to the hospital with asthma as children in other parts of the United States.5 City residents have higher rates of death from heart disease, diabetes, and stroke than people in Contra Costa County as a whole; they are also more likely to contract AIDS, give birth to underweight babies, and die from homicide.6 At present, Richmond doesn’t even have a major supermarket or grocery store, pointed out Ina Mason, an ACCE activist and local resident, because they closed down the Lucky’s and Safeway.

(2.) The Elephant in the City: Chevron

Chevron’s refinery sprawls over 2,900 acres, occupying 13.4 percent of Richmond’s land.1 The oil giant, far and away RichView from a Richmond resident’s front yard. August 2012: Chevron fire spews a toxic plume over Richmond, CA.  ©2012 Kelli Rosemond’s largest private employer and political contributor, anchors the Chamber of Commerce and Council of Industries. The business PAC it funds, Moving Forward, pumped $1.2 million into the 2012 City Council elections alone.2 “I call Richmond a ‘corporatocracy,’ meaning that it’s ruled by the corporations,” Planning Commissioner Soto said. “Whoever is in power, Chevron and the other corporations will buy them off.” Around 10 percent of the city’s revenue comes from Chevron’s payments of fees and taxes. The company hands out more than $1 million per year in charitable donations to community groups, though it has repeatedly disputed Contra Costa County’s property tax assessments. Chevron’s Richmond Refinery emits more greenhouse gas pollution than any other facility in the state, according to the California Air Resources Board. The EPA reported the production of nearly 100,000 pounds of toxic waste at the site in 2007.3 Many who grew up in Richmond carry memories of accidents and spills at the refinery and the illnesses they caused. “I remember being a kid and playing outdoors, then seeing smoke and smelling all these nasty smells from Chevron or General Chemical, and then getting an allergic reaction,” APEN lead organizer Sandy Saeteurn said. “Growing up, this was just a regular thing.” As recently as August 2012, a fire at Chevron’s Crude Unit #4 released toxic smoke that sent more than 15,000 people scrambling to emergency rooms.4 The federal Environmental Protection Agency launched a criminal investigation a month later to determine whether the company deliberately re-routed exhaust vents to bypass air quality monitoring. Chevron announced that it would repair the damaged unit using a chromium alloy, rather than more corrosion-resistant stainless steel. The United States Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board subpoenaed Chevron for more information about its choice of repair materials.5 The Richmond City Council has passed two resolutions requiring Chevron to prioritize the community’s health and safety when making plans to rebuild. Some of the General Plan provisions REDI fought for—including language on air quality monitoring and local hire—strengthened the community’s effectiveness. But the Council’s will to keep holding the company accountable may weaken in the coming year. Chevron saw a significant return on its election investment with Nat Bates’ reelection and the victory of Gary Bell over the Richmond Progressive Alliance’s Eduardo Martinez.


 (3.) What REDI Won in the Richmond General Plan

A General Plan sets a framework for a city’s long-term growth and development, which helps determine who will benefit from development. Strong language in the General Plan lays down a foundation that community groups can build on to win new laws and policies, such as city ordinances to protect residents from displacement by new development. The Plan also guides day-to-day decisions about land use, zoning, and housing development. The new Richmond General Plan puts community health front and center in order to address the root causes of health problems. It supports: n Living-wage jobs and job training with a focus on people with barriers to employment, including youth, those formerly incarcerated, and people with limited English. n Healthy food stores and urban gardens. n Stronger requirements for affordable housing in proposed development projects through amendments to the inclusionary housing ordinance. n Safer streets and more affordable and reliable transit. In addition, the Plan requires polluters to actively monitor, clean up, and reduce the toxics they put out. REDI members continue to pursue working to complete the General Plan campaign by ensuring the passage of an equitable Housing Element in Richmond. Richmond's Housing Element is three years past due. REDI has been involved throughout these years in advocating for inclusive and progressive policies for the Element, as well as advocating for an open and transparent process from the city staff. A Final Draft Housing Element was approved by the Planning Commission on November 1, 2012. REDI advocated for more detailed and directive language to commit the city to stronger renter protections, amendments to the inclusionary housing ordinance, and more comprehensive code enforcement. The Planning Commission overwhelmingly supported these changes at its November 1, 2012 meeting. The next step is City Council consideration of the Element with these changes. The Housing Element, which REDI members care about a great deal, was not included in any of the drafts of the General Plan. The City of Richmond did submit a Draft Housing Element to the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) in March 2010, but the state found it incomplete and rejected it.

Endnotes Main Story

1. Growing with Purpose: Residents, Jobs and Equity in Richmond, California. East Bay Alliance
for a Sustainable Economy, April 2007. <>
2. Interview with Sandy Saeteurn, lead Richmond organizer for the Asian Pacific Environmental Network,
February 8, 2012.
3. City of Richmond, 2010 U.S. Census figures <>
4. FaithWorks! and the Richmond Improvement Association (RIA) were the original core partners.
RIA did not take part in the General Plan Campaign. The Greater Richmond Interfaith Project
(GRIP) stepped back after two years.
5. They drew on expert technical assistance from the Center for Community Innovation at the
University of California Berkeley, the East Bay Alliance for Sustainable Development, and East
Bay Housing Organizations.

Endnotes Sidebar 1: Pollution and Poverty
1. The Iron Triangle neighborhood in Richmond’s core takes its name from the railroad tracks that
surround it on three sides: the Burlington Northern–Santa Fe tracks that parallel the Richmond
Parkway, the Union Pacific–BART tracks, and the Santa Fe tracks (now abandoned and turned
into the Richmond Greenway). Eighty-five percent of Triangle residents are African American and
Latino, and more than 60 percent have incomes below 185 percent of the federal poverty level.
Statistics from “Iron Triangle: Concentrated Poverty Neighborhood,” U.S. Census 2010, compiled
by United Way of the Bay Area HELPLINK Community Information Center, accessed at
< printreport.php?nid="42">. Definition of 185 percent below poverty
from U. S. Census: <>.
2. Ibid.
3. Growing with Purpose: Residents, Jobs and Equity in Richmond, California. East Bay Alliance for
a Sustainable Economy, April 2007, p. 14. <>
4. Ibid.
5. Contra Costa Health Services: “Contra Costa Health Indicators 2005–2007.”
6. Ibid.

Endnotes Sidebar 2: The Elephant in the City: Chevron
1. Chevron: “About the Refinery.” <>.
2. Urban Habitat Boards and Commissions Leadership Institute, “Richmond Political Landscape”
presentation, December 3, 2011. See also Robert Rogers, “Richmond’s progressive
leaders look to future in wake of setbacks against Chevron, soda tax.”Contra Costa Times,
Nov. 16, 2012. <>.
3. “Appeals Court Upholds Environmental Justice in Richmond.” Communities for a Better Environment.
April 26, 2010 (Press Release). <>
4. Robert Rogers, “Richmond: Resolution calls on Chevron to meet higher standards in aftermath
of Aug. 6 fire.” Contra Costa Times, Oct. 2, 2012. <>
5. Stephen Hobbs and Rachel de Leon, “City Council Presses Chevron to Use Recommended
Material for Pipes.” Richmond Confidential, Nov. 21, 2012.

Related Stories: 
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REDI Document Archive

The Richmond Equitable Development Initiative (REDI) ran a multi year campaign aimed at influencing Richmond decision-makersto adop equity principles in planning processes on  focus areas which include, equitable land use and planning, quality jobs and workforce training, affordable, safe and reliable public transit, greater community ownership and creating a healthy environment.

Research and policy the coalition produced to support its projects and campaigns are listed in reverse chronological order:

REDI Draft City of Richmond General Plan Public Comment

REDI Draft General Plan Public Comment
September 2009
The Richmond Equitable Development Initiative (REDI) views the General Plan as an opportunity to incorporate policies that can lead to: a healthier community through affordable housing, reliable and safe public transportation that connects to quality family-supporting jobs, a cleaner environment, accessible community amenities from open space, health care, access to healthy food, and greater community ownership.






REDI’s Housing Platform
March, 2009

As our nation’s economy continues to decline and housing foreclosures continue to rise, local communities and working families are struggling to save themselves from total despair. Richmond has been greatly impacted by this crisis but it is not alone as California and the Bay Area have been especially hard hit. This crisis brings to the forefront the importance of having policies and strategies for long-term safe, affordable, quality housing and access to quality jobs.

Read the Full Platform

MARCH 2009

The Richmond Equitable Development Initiative (REDI) prepared this report to show how the national crisis is impacting communities in Richmond, California and to emphasize the need for solutions that minimize this critical situation, especially for the city’s most vulnerable populations. Richmond has a long history of being a welcoming city where many working families can find an affordable home to buy or rent. Now, more than ever, is the opportunity to develop short and long term solutions that allow Richmond to continue to be a place for those who want to call it home.

Read the Full Report

REDI’s Policy Recommendations and Implementation Measures for Richmond’s General Plan Update
December, 2007

REDI developed a series of policy recommendations and implementation measures in the areas of land use, housing, transportation, economic development and health. The goal of these policies is to discourage displacement, segregation and gentrification practices that have occurred in cities that are undergoing similar change. When implemented, these policies can provide community benefits for all residents, specifically low-income communities and communities of color.

Read the Full Report (PDF, 638 KB) or Read the Executive Summary (PDF, 110 KB)

REDI Policy Memo: Equitable Land Use
November, 2007

Richmond, California is in the process of updating its General Plan which serves as the blueprint for city planning and development for California cities for the next 10- 15 years. This memo presents REDI’s ideas on how the City can rewrite its General Plan map to facilitate a reduction in poverty. Although it may be difficult, both technically and politically, we believe it can be done. One of the challenges in thinking about land use and equity is that there is no simple formula for creating a just city. However, over the past year, REDI has been participating in the General Plan update process and thinking about exactly what a fair land use plan for Richmond would look like.

Read It (PDF, 160 KB)

REDI Policy Memo: Richmond’s Ferry to an Equitable Future
July, 2007

The City of Richmond is in the process of evaluating and determining how a new ferry terminal can come to Richmond. This memo presents REDI’s ideas on how a ferry can help facilitate a truly equitable and public waterfront. The ferry is a wonderful opportunity for the City of Richmond to stimulate investment along the waterfront that could generate good jobs, affordable housing, and spectacular open and public spaces. Developing a plan that makes equity a priority by building in key land use, economic development, housing, transportation and environmental requirements not only helps make our case for funding for the ferry, but ensures the sustainable integrated waterfront that Richmond deserves.

Read it (PDF, 134 KB)

REDI Brochure
May, 2007

This brochure provides information on the projects and campaigns that REDI has actively worked on since it is inception. It briefly describes REDI, its vision and some of its projects, including the General Plan Campaign, Leadership Institutes, Local Employment and Tenant Rights campaign.

Read It (PDF, 466 KB)

Growing with Purpose – Residents, Jobs and Equity in Richmond, California
April 2007

This informative report produced by the East Bay Alliance for Sustainable Economy (EBASE) for REDI, documents the many economic challenges impacting Richmond residents. It provides economic and demographic information about population, workforce, jobs and industries that provide a basis for understanding the strategies that need to put in place as well as the opportunities to lift residents out of poverty.

Read the Full Report (PDF, 4 MB) or Read the Executive Summary (PDF, 1.7 MB)

REDI Equitable Development Framework and Principles
February, 2007

REDI developed framework and principles to guide its work in advocating for policy and projects in Richmond that will build a path to a vibrant, holistic, and just community. Richmond. The REDI Equitable Development Framework and Principles document pieces together the intersections among critical elements of the city, including land use, housing, economic development, transportation and health.

Read It (PDF, 466 KB)

Racial Equity: New Cornerstone of Transit Oriented Development

By Rebecca Saldaña and Margaret Wykowski

It’s just after dawn when Naravisaya “Al” Les flips on the lights at his restaurant. There’s a rhythm to his routine— the same one he watched his father play out 15 years ago. First, he kicks off his rain-soaked shoes on the front mat and walks across to the cash register. Next, he presses his palms down on the laminate counter and sighs deeply as he looks out at the cool grey Seattle morning before starting to count his cash.

Elder working in her garden next to Seattle’s light rail link.  ©2012 Carina A. del RosarioThe Les family has been in the restaurant business since 1987. In 1992, they became the first tenants in the newly developed Southeast Seattle King Plaza where they renamed their restaurant “Olympic Express” to highlight its multiethnic cuisine. Les is Cham Muslim from Vietnam and his restaurant is the only one in Washington State to serve halal Asian curries, teriyaki, noodles, and Mediterranean gyros. Olympic Express is located in the Rainier Valley neighborhood of southeast Seattle—the most racially diverse area in Puget Sound where 57 percent of households speak one of 40 different languages.1 Rainier Valley was the first community to receive a light rail line, which stretches 15.7 miles from SeaTac—the region’s largest airport—to Downtown Seattle and cost the region’s commuter transit agency, Sound Transit, $2.71 billion at the first phase of construction. When construction began in the late ‘90s on this highly anticipated transit system many small business owners like Al suffered financial hardship owing to reduced customer traffic. Unfortunately, even after construction was completed, some local businesses continued to struggle.

Light Rail: Heavy on Promises, Light on Delivery

Local government and transit advocates sold the light rail to Rainier Valley residents with the promise of investment in new transit-oriented development (TOD). In the minds of TOD advocates, people living in these areas should be able to get to a park, grocery store, and other activities on foot or by hopping on transit that’s no more than a quarter mile away. While the TOD model emphasizes walkability, density, and transit access, racial and social equity are not its cornerstones.©2012 Zach Davis Photography

Despite the downturn in the economy, the light rail spurred some new TOD in Rainier Valley and in 2010, private developers built the area’s first multifamily apartment building in almost 40 years.2 Since then, several similar projects have entered the planning and construction phases. The tangible benefits of light rail and TOD for communities of color, however, are still in flux. Strong evidence suggests that Rainier Valley is being gentrified, threatening a crisis of displacement.

A report published by Puget Sound Sage in May this year—“Transit Oriented Development That’s Healthy, Green & Just”3—found dramatic changes to Rainier Valley over the last decade. The strongest evidence of gentrification and displacement is in the Valley versus the region as a whole: n In King County, the population of color grew by 47 percent, while the population of whites shrank by 2 percent. n In Rainier Valley, the population of color grew by 5 percent (42 percent below the county as a whole), while the white population increased by 17 percent (19 percent above the county as a whole). The numbers illustrate that the growth in white population is outpacing that of people of color in Rainier Valley.

Rising property values in the light rail corridor provide stronger evidence of gentrification. Since 2005, land values surrounding Southeast Seattle’s light rail stations have risen by over 50 percent.4 Property values have increased even more at Rainier Valley stations that are hosts to new development. Assessed land value at the Othello Station, the site of a major luxury apartment building, appreciated by 513 percent between 2004 and 2011.5 In Rainier Valley, communities of color are disproportionately low-income, and gentrification will only force them to move out into the less expensive suburbs where they will experience decreased access to good jobs, schools, and other services, which will further push them into poverty. Conventional Focus of TOD Must be Replaced A major force in determining how the light rail will impact Rainier Valley is whether the development will be conventional or focus on economic and racial equity. Currently, TOD in the U.S. caters largely to higher income households as private developers and investors want to mitigate the associated costs.6 Mainstream TOD literature and planning guides often limit social equity provisions to affordable housing. Community-based needs of stabilization and culturally relevant amenities rarely make the list of priorities.

Additionally, conventional TOD planning ignores access to quality jobs for low-income residents. Transportation and land-use planners often make an assumption that as long as a wide variety of jobs are located along a rail line, workers of all incomes will be attracted to station areas. However, recent evidence indicates that in transit areas, low-wage service sector jobs are growing faster than any other sectors, causing a deficit of quality jobs that can actually pay the bills of a working family.7

It does not have to be this way. When Rainier Valley communities were at the helm of the neighborhood planning process, they developed a vision for TOD that surpassed typical limitations on development. The plans included elements that could maintain and nourish the community, such as familysized affordable units and expanded access to living wage jobs for area residents. The plan fit the community’s needs because its focus was on benefiting them, as opposed to the developers.

Including a racial equity framework in TOD plan ning and policy can help break the cycle of historical disenfranchisement and institutional barriers to prosperity; but ensuring that TOD leads to real equity outcomes requires a sharper focus on what equity means and determined leadership to achieve those outcomes.

Proactive Approach to Avoid Displacement

Rainier Valley TOD planning and policy must go beyond mere inclusion of community members in the process and take a more proactive approach to ensure racial equity because once displacement by gentrification occurs it cannot be undone. Puget Sound Sage has put forth the following principles to inform planning and public policy around TOD. While it is not comprehensive, it provides a good starting point to deepen public and private sector commitment to incorporating racial equity into TOD initiatives.

Existing area residents should benefit from TOD investment around the light rail and be able to thrive in place.

Creating quality jobs for neighborhood residents should be elevated as an equity strategy on par with creating low-income housing. This includes both construction jobs as TOD occurs and permanent jobs accessible throughout the light rail corridor.

Affordable housing that meets the needs of lowincome families and communities of color should be incorporated into the TOD. Furthermore, it should include units large enough to house children and multigenerational families.

Community-serving institutions and businesses are needed to stabilize existing low-income communities of color as gentrification occurs. Affordable commercial space should be prioritized within the TOD and surrounding areas for community and cultural centers, service providers, and culturally relevant businesses.

Racial equity outcomes, not racial diversity goals, should drive the TOD planning. Only by creating racial equity will racial diversity be able to thrive in Rainier Valley and to achieve this, people of color need to be instrumental in determining priorities and making decisions.

History has shown that when communities organize and speak out, they will have more influence on outcomes. As a result of the light rail development, Al has become a leader in Rainier Valley and Olympic Express has become a community hub, serving his religious community and the diverse residents of Rainier Valley. And Al’s work with the local community development fund has already benefited other small business owners in the neighborhood. The success of the Olympic Express is linked to growing a community where all families thrive and that is only possible when you replace the traditional forces of development with the brighter promise of racial and economic equity.

Rebecca Saldan?a is the community benefits and development program director at Puget Sound Sage. Margaret Wykowski is the trategic researcher. The full report can be found at

1. City of Seattle, “HUD Community Challenge Grant Application Abstract for the
Neighborhood Equitable Transit-Oriented Development Initiative,” (2011).
2. Ibid. The City refers here to the Station at Othello Park development by Othello
3. Download the full report at
4. Ibid 1.
5. Puget Sound Region Council, “Assessed Land Value Appreciation—Othello Station,
Housing,” (April 2012).
6. Stephanie Pollack, Barry Bluestone, and Chase Billingham. “Maintaining Diversity
in America’s Transit-Rich Neighborhoods: Tools for Equitable Neighborhood
Change,” Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy, (October 2010).
7. Dena Belzer, Sujata Srivastava, and Mason Austin. “Transit and Regional Economic
Development,” Center for Transit Oriented Development, (May 2011).
From 2002-08, the highest job growth (14 percent) of all sectors was in arts,
recreation, food service, and accommodations—traditionally low-wage service

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Advocates Compel Facebook to Like Affordable Housing

By Rene Ciria-Cruz

Facebook’s decision last year to relocate its corporate headquarters from Palo Alto to Menlo Park gave social justice activists a welcome opportunity to challenge the affluent city’s long-standing neglect of affordable housing.

City officials were eager to accommodate the social networking behemoth because it promised jobs, prestige, and millions of dollars in capital projects and taxes to the city of 32,000. But affordable housing advocates said, “Not so fast!” Menlo Park many not proceed with new development initiatives until it had rectified years of violations around state housing laws. And city officials stopped and listened. What compelled them was the 2010 Superior Court decision in Urban Habitat et al., v. the City of Pleasanton et al. “We essentially shut down Pleasanton’s planning powers until they met their legally required obligation to plan for affordable housing,” explained Richard Marcantonio, managing attorney for Public Advocates who represented the affordable housing coalition that took Pleasanton to court. Now Marcantonio was poised to take on Menlo Park on behalf of a Silicon Valley-based coalition. Refusal to Permit Affordable Housing Challenged Like Pleasanton, Menlo Park at the eastern edge of San Mateo County has long been noncompliant with state housing laws.

All local governments have to zone for their share of regional housing needs at each income level. The requirement, known as the Housing Element in the local General Plan for development, is called for by the state’s Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA).

Menlo Park had not updated its affordable housing plan since 1992 and not granted building permits for a single new unit of lower-income housing from 1999 to 2007. Consequently, only 17 percent of low-wage workers with household incomes below $88,000 can afford to live in the city, according to the Association of Bay Area Governments. About 21,000 others must commute long distances to their jobs, which further strains the budgets of low-income families and adds to traffic congestion and exhaust pollution in the Silicon Valley corridor. The city’s neglect came home to roost when Facebook sought approval to raise the cap on the number of employees at the facility it acquired from Sun Microsystems and to build a new campus to accommodate 9,400 additional workers, an estimated 28 percent of whom will be low-wage earners. Where would these thousands of new workers live? With the post-Facebook demand for local housing boosting prices, what was to become of current low-income residents in nearby communities? “We were worried that upper income Menlo Park would reap all the benefits from Facebook, while just across the way, low-income East Palo Alto would be disproportionately burdened by the housing crisis and increased traffic,” explained Jennifer Martinez, executive director of the Peninsula Interfaith Action, which has advocated for health care access and affordable housing since 1997.

East Palo Alto has a per capita income of only $18,000 according to the recent Census, compared with Menlo Park’s $67,000. Quick Settlement Avoids Long Legal Battle On January 30, a coalition of affordable housing advocates with a long working relationship—Penin-sula Interfaith Action, Urban Habitat, and Youth United for Community Action—initiated moves that called to mind the Urban Habitat v. Pleasanton battle.

“We knew for certain Menlo Park was in the wrong,” said Vu-Bang Nguyen, a land use coordinator with Urban Habitat. “But they also knew that the problem with their Housing Element was glaring.” The coalition sent the city a lengthy response to its Draft Environmental Impact Report on the Facebook project, criticizing the “shortcomings in the analysis of population and housing” and cited the city’s “long-time failure to meet its affordable housing obligations under the Housing Element Law.” According to city planners, Menlo Park needs to zone for 1,975 market price and affordable housing units to add to its current stock of 12,500 units to fix its Housing Element.

On May 16, Public Advocates filed a lawsuit on behalf of the coalition to stop any new commercial development until the city updated its Housing Element and plan for affordable housing. “We’re about 10 years behind,” Menlo Park City Manager Alex McEntyre admitted to The Almanac, a local periodical. “We should have taken care of the Housing Element before now.” With Facebook threatening to walk away if they didn’t get the approvals by June, city officials scram-filed, in fact—paving the way for Menlo Park to accommodate Facebook, meet its housing obligations, and avoid extended and costly litigation reminiscent of Pleasanton.

Menlo Park Settles

Prior to the city council’s unanimous vote to approve settlement on May 22, Mayor Kirsten Keith declared, “It’s not a defensible case; I do feel we need to approve this or else we’ll probably suffer some severe repercussions.” In exchange for not pressing the lawsuit so the city could proceed with the Facebook projects, Menlo Park agreed to: n Facilitate the future development of nearly 2,000 homes accessible to the very low-, low-, and moderate- income households. (In San Mateo County, $56,000 a year for a family of four is considered a very-low income.) n Adopt a Housing Element plan by March 2013 and rezone sites in or near the downtown for affordable housing close to job sites and transit facilities. n Provide funding for nonprofit housing developers, including a $1.85 million interest-free loan to the nonprofit HIP Housing to turn an apartment complex on Willow Road into affordable housing. Jurisdiction over the settlement’s implementation lies with the court. Facebook, eager to proceed with its expansion, also entered into some agreements with the coalition with promises to: n Launch a youth summer internship program in East Palo Alto and the Belle Haven section of Menlo Park. n Cooperate with job training programs. n Seed a local community fund, and n Help affordable housing efforts in Silicon Valley.“Afforable housing is one tier in our approach,” said Annie Loya, executive director of Youth United for Community Action in East Palo Alto, a group seasoned in campaigns against toxic plants and environmental health hazards. “The other is how to make new business developments help bring tech training to underfunded schools, develop contracts with local vendors, and so on.”

From left to right, Evelyn Stivers, Richard Marcantonio, Annie Loya, and Vu-Bang Nguyen at the BCLI Issues Advocates Speakers

In the past, some big businesses that came didn’t do much for East Palo Alto, she noted. “That has to change, especially with the many new tech companies that we expect to come in. We need to get them into a partnership to benefit our community. Facebook is a good start.”

Urban Habitat v. Pleasanton Precedent is Key For affordable housing advocates, the Menlo Park settlement proved that their victory in Urban Habitat v. Pleasanton could be a potent weapon in getting local governments to heed what Marcantonio calls “the power of state housing laws.”

In Pleasanton, a middle class city of 70,000 in Alameda County, various ordinances and zoning decisions had contributed to the shortage of affordable housing. Then in 1966, voters approved—and later reaffirmed—a cap on housing, which barred the city from allowing more than 29,000 units. The imbalance between commercial development and affordable housing forced nearly 90 percent of the 47,000 people who worked in Pleasanton to live elsewhere and commute to their jobs, thus exacerbating road traffic and greenhouse gas emissions. Ironically, Housing Cap proponents had touted it as a slow-growth environmental measure. Critics also characterized Pleasanton’s refusal to zone for highdensity housing as a tool to avoid racial diversification among a population that was 67 percent white in 2010.

In 1980, at the urging of housing activists, California passed the Regional Housing Needs Assessments (RHNA) law requiring cities to conduct periodic assessments (every eight years) of its housing needs to more evenly distribute housing availability among all income levels.

From “Moving Silicon Valley Forward.”Pleasanton’s 1999-2007 RHNA required it to have a Housing Element of 5,059 units—729 of them affordable for very low-income and 455 for low-income families. But the city had not even rezoned for such housing by 2006, despite persistent requests from housing advocates, particularly Citizens for a Caring Community. It eventually became clear that the city’s Housing Cap was obstructing its ability to meet its RHNA obligations, so the housing advocates went to court.

Public Advocates sent a demand letter to the City Manager, while a regional coalition formed to press for policy change. In October 2006, Public Advocates sued the City of Pleasanton for violating a law requiring localities to adequately share regional housing responsibilities. Urban Habitat et al., v. City of Pleasanton et al., also accused the city of discriminating against low-income families of color who were disproportionately burdened by the lack of affordable housing.

The Alameda County Superior Court dismissed the suit the following year, but it was reinstated on appeal. Significantly, the California Attorney General’s office joined the lawsuit in 2009, citing the lack of transit-oriented affordable housing as an impediment to meeting the region’s state law mandated greenhouse gas reduction goals. It sent a strong signal that the Attorney General intended to enforce the state’s affordable housing statute.

Finally, in March 2010, the Superior Court ruling for the plaintiffs overturned Pleasanton’s Housing Cap. The city settled, agreeing to add new housing to its general plan and rezone sites near the city’s BART station for affordable housing. Since then, the city has approved 500 units of new housing, with 70 units for very low-income households. It also passed an ordinance banning housing discrimination against families with children.

Palo Alto Takes Hint—Updates Housing Element

Pleasanton came to terms with its housing responsibility only after five years of litigation, which cost its taxpayers $2 million in legal fees. It’s a cautionary tale that Menlo Park took to heart. It’s also a timely tale. In the Bay Area, more than a dozen localities have yet to adopt a Housing Element that complies with state law, according to the California Department of Housing and Community Development. The cities of Benicia, Brentwood, Colma, Daly City, Hercules, Millbrae, Orinda, Pacifica, Richmond, San Anselmo, Sausalito, Sonoma, and all of Marin County can expect to be next in the cross hairs of the affordable housing movement. In all of California, some 138 localities still do not have legally compliant Housing Elements. “These laws are not optional, they are mandatory,” stresses Marcantonio. “Those that fail to follow Menlo Park’s lead and continue to drag their feet should be aware of the consequences they face for being out of compliance.”

Menlo Park’s neighbor Palo Alto has taken the hint and rushed to update its Housing Element. “While asking approval to submit their draft Housing Element to the State Department of Housing and Community Development for review, officials attached a copy of the Menlo Park settlement to their request,” reports Nguyen.

Rene Ciria-Cruz is a Bay Area freelance journalist and a regular contributor to New America Media. Moving Silicon Valley Forward, by Urban Habitat and the Non-Profit Housing Association of Northern California can be found at urbanhabitat. org/research/movingforward.

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Racialized Public Space

An Interview with Maya Wiley by Ron Shiffman

Maya Wiley is the founder and executive director of the Center for Social Inclusion. A civil rights attorney and policy advocate, Wiley was a senior advisor on race and poverty to the director of U.S. Programs of the Open Society Institute. She has worked for the American Civil Liberties Union National Legal Department, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Human Rights Watch, and the Council on Foreign Relations, among others. She currently serves on the Tides Network Board. Wiley was a contributing author to the National Urban League’s The State of Black America 2006. Ron Shiffman conducted this interview for publication in Beyond Zuccotti Park: Freedom of Assembly and the Occupation of Public Space, published by New Village Press. (See Research and Resources, page 87).Cover of Beyond Zuccotti Park, published by New Village Press. ©2012 New Village Press

Ron Shiffman: Can you describe the work you do at the Center for Social Inclusion (CSI)?

Maya Wiley: The Center for Social Inclusion is a national policy strategy organization whose mission is to dismantle structural racial exclusion. We think about the ways multiple institutions, policies, and actions serve to exclude communities of color from opportunity and from full participation in society—politically, economically, socially—and what the policy strategies are that could change or transform that into inclusion and opportunity.

Shiffman: In what way does CSI address space as a place for expression or debate of race?

Wiley: We think of space in three interactive, interconnected ways. There is psychological space, political space, and physical space. They are all interactive, and none of them are race-neutral—they are highly racialized, even when we’re not clear how they are racialized. For example, the structure of physical space is driven by politics and attitudes. Once you say, “Occupy the Hood,” everyone knows you’re talking about people of color. The reason that is true is how we’ve racialized physical space through housing policies, land use planning, and many other public and private actions. Our politics are also driven by how our communities are defined. We have districts, and elected representatives represent a geographic area. To build political power, communities try to build racially identifiable districts. And that then racializes politics, although sometimes in positive ways. Space then drives psychological space around our identity and who “we” are. It’s very difficult to disentangle the idea of space and how people see themselves in relationship to each other, what sorts of problems we create, and how we solve them. For CSI, none of those issues are race-neutral; they’re not only about race, but they drive how we see space and who gets to be seen as part of the idea of that space. Those three realms of the physical, the psychological, and the political are all wrapped up in each other.

Shiffman: How then does that translate into how we view spaces in our own city? How would you advise decisionmakers, urban planners, policy makers, or even urban designers in how they plan and design space, keeping these ideas in mind?

Wiley: In the interaction between physical space and social/political space, who we are and who we think we are is shaped by space: how we organize it, who we are in it, and how we include or exclude people from it. That is both in the process of creating it and what we do with it: what purposes does it serve, who should it be for, what solutions it should help create. At this point, people of color have to fight very hard to be included in real discussions and decisions about space: what it’s for, how it should be used, and how it can be used to help us solve problems. If people of color are not formally included in a process of thinking about what spaces we need and what kinds of relationships they drive, then we will ultimately have not only racially identifiable and segregated space, we will have a fragmented social and political community. So much of how we identify who we are— who we should be in relationship with, and what their value is to the larger community, city, region, nation—is so often expressed in space. Who is the space for, and whose needs does it meet? All of those questions need to be part of the decision-making process.

Shiffman: How can spaces be used to build up solidarity in neighborhoods—even spaces in the “hood”—and be used to create social cohesion and political awareness?

Wiley: Having physical space is important. Fundamentally, most space is exclusive: people have to find, and have ways of contesting that, and build on what we’ve got as assets in the community. There needs to be space for people to come together to contest that exclusion. I think about this as civic engagement… civic engagement is more than electoral politics. It’s how we come together to solve problems we need to solve. In communities of color in particular, there are very few such spaces for that sort of civic engagement. The schools are actually one of the few institutions in communities of color, but it can be very difficult to access that space as a community space, outside of the school day or school use. Very few community centers exist, and there are very few parks and recreational spaces for people to gather—let alone whether they are comfortable gathering there, which is another issue. There are so few spaces that it is often difficult to create the opportunities for people to come together and do that level of civic engagement. I’m reminded of one theorist who, in relation to the Black liberation struggle, said that space has to come together as critique of the dominant order, or else it is just idle talk. It’s not just about physical space. Spaces that bring about the opportunity to think more collectively, to critique, and to challenge are the spaces we have the least of in communities of color. But we also need leadership and institutions that help that become a critical and constructive space, as well as celebratory space. We also need space for joy and appreciation of one another and the richness that is community, even if its income is poor.

Shiffman: There are also spaces like sidewalks, where an exchange can take place, but a lot of that has to do with how it’s programmed, how it’s policed…

Wiley: This is part of the psychological aspect of space. You are deemed a criminal or dangerous too often, for people of color, just because of how you look or the street you live on, not whether or not you’ve actually done anything. The Center for Constitutional Rights documented that 90 percent of police stop-and-frisks in New York City don’t result in any arrest. And of the arrests, many people are released later without charges. Almost all—87 percent of New Yorkers stopped—are African American and Latino. I know one kid who wanted to be a lawyer, but dropped out of school because he was harassed regularly by the police when he had never even committed a crime, and police were in his school. To avoid the police, he dropped out. People of color have very small activity spaces. They don’t go very far. Some of that is affordability— but some of that is psychological, because of the criminalization of space and an imposed order. This harkens to gang criminalization, and how just wearing certain colors can exclude you. Two people wearing certain colors cannot stand together on a sidewalk because they are deemed to be in a certain gang. That history of criminalization is so endemic to so many people of color’s experience living in this country, without even addressing class. It does matter how the government mechanisms of control respond to the space.Stop-and-Frisk in New York City. Courtesy of Brooklyn Movement Center

One more point we should make about race, particularly how it relates to physical space, is the changing demographics of the city. Even this notion of the “hood” is starting to change… where people are increasingly being priced out of not just their neighborhoods but also the city itself. People that fled the cities in the 1970s are now coming back into the cities, and the city itself is becoming wealthier and whiter, while inner-ring suburbs have become a place of low-income people of color. Dominicans from Washington Heights are moving to eastern Pennsylvania, and people from Williamsburg are being pushed up to Nassau County—they are physically leaving the city and not necessarily by choice.

Shiffman: The pressures on low-income people are felt in many ways beyond housing affordability. The businesses have changed and they can no longer find the services and goods that they need. So it’s not only the civic spaces but also the space of one’s own community, the streets, and commercial businesses that need our attention.

Wiley: When those small businesses that provide “cultural commodities” get priced out, this affects the identity of the community. On the one hand, we’re happy to see the nice restaurant open up, but then you start to worry about the 99-cent store next door. We need to have different levels of affordability of commercial space, which is actually a pretty radical idea. We think about affordable housing that way—we have private housing, public housing, quasi-public housing, but we don’t address commercial space in the same way. Those businesses serving and owned by lowincome people need to be able to stay viable in the community.

AT CSI, we are trying to build this model of community economic development for social good. We are exploring how federal policy in broadband technologies can drive more opportunities for local employment in communities—everything from searching for and applying for employment using the Internet to the development of new job opportunities resulting from the technology itself. We believe that some of the money set aside for broadband activities should be going directly to communities to do this. We are also trying to help the elected officials, particularly ones representing communities of high need, to understand this, and we are also trying to help communities themselves understand the opportunities, so that community innovators can engage in this technological opportunity at the outset. We are working with lawmakers to find ways to support a federal-to-local incubation strategy, a ground-up strategy that can get to scale and reach large numbers of people.

Shiffman: Anything else?

Wiley: The demographics of many places [are] changing—becoming younger and with more people of color, where white people are predominantly sixtyfive and older. If we don’t think about these spaces, we really are going to create this new form of apartheid, where the vast majority of people will be excluded while they are carrying the remainder of the country. It is really quite scary, and quite real. We need to reevaluate the current trajectory.

Ron Shiffman, FAICP, AIA, is director emeritus of the Pratt Center for Community Development and a professor at Pratt Institute’s Graduate Center for Planning and the Environment. He coedited Beyond Zucotti Park from which this interview is excerpted.
Visit or see page 87 for more information on the book.


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Foreclosure Struggle Continues

Campaign Wins Foreclosure Program in Oakland, Concessions in LA, Sets Sites on National Change

By Robbie Clarke

"I am taking an arrest to call attention to my demand for community control of housing,” says Nell Myhand. “As Ella Baker said about the courageous young people who sat in at lunch counters in the segregated South during the Civil Rights Movement to challenge unjust law, ‘it’s bigger than a hamburger.’” who went to jail fighting for their homes and for the homes of millions of other victims of the foreclosure crisis.

The arrest came at the end of a month of actions against mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac organized by the Take Back the Peoples’ Bank Campaign, which is fighting for secure and affordable housing for homeowners, tenants, and homeless families while holding WFannie Mae and Freddie Mac demonstrations.   Courtesy of Causa Justa::Just Cause [2]all Street and the government accountable.

As the foreclosure disaster enters its fifth year, housing rights organizers scored some welcome victories in California and are setting their sites on national change.

In September 2012, bowing to multi-city protests, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac reversed their position on principal reduction and announced that they will begin to allow their borrowers to participate in the taxpayerfunded Keep Your Home California program. In Oakland, the city launched a new foreclosure prevention program in collaboration with community organizations. More than 1,500 impacted residents and supporters protested at the regional (Chicago, Atlanta, New York, and Los Angeles) and national (Washington, D.C.) headquarters of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Between them, the two agencies own over half of all mortgages in the U.S.—7 million of which are currently under water—and hundreds of thousands of vacant foreclosed homes. Among neighborhoods across the Bay Area where the foreclosure crisis continues to wreak havoc, half of all the residential properties in foreclosure in Oakland and San Francisco are controlled by them. Although 80 percent publicly owned, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are loyal to Wall Street rather than Main Street and rank first among lenders in kicking people out of their homes. There is now a national campaign led by groups, such as Right to the City, Occupy Our Homes, Home Defenders League, and Alliance for a Just Society, to build a movement to demand that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac serve the 99 percent rather than the corporate interests that continue to benefit from the evictions and displacement in our communities.

Local Impacts of a National Crisis

Homeowners pushed out of their homes by the banks and investors have been forced into the rental market. Currently, the average rent in Oakland is above $1,800—a 14 percent increase since 2010—and in San Francisco it’s more than $2,700—a nearly 13 percent increase in the same time period.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac demonstrations. Courtesy of Causa Justa::Just Cause Foreclosures among tenant-occupied properties have also been rising steadily. In their report, “Total Renters Directly Affected by Foreclosure,” Tenants Together, a nonprofit working to advance and defend the rights of renters, claims that more than one million tenants have been directly impacted by foreclosures in California— 175,000 of them in 2011 alone. San Francisco and Oakland—both majority renter cities—have been hit hard with residents at greater risk of homelessness, displacement, and other forms of housing insecurity.

Foreclosure-related evictions have also increased the number of homes that sit vacant, attracting vermin, illegal dumping, and blight, which in turn lead to a rapid deterioration in the health and safety of neighborhoods.

According to a report (“Who Owns Your Neighborhood: The Role of Investors in Post-Foreclosure Oakland”) by the Urban Strategies Council, an Oakland-based support and advocacy nonprofit organization, 42 percent of all foreclosed homes in Oakland have been purchased by private, out-of-town investors. Ninety-three percent of those properties are located in the flatland neighborhoods. The foreclosure crisis apparently has generated another wave of real estate speculation that has benefitted investors at the expense of local homeowners and tenants. In every case, homes are being sold at prices far below what is owed on the loans. But rather than help the people who already live in these homes refinance their loans, the banks are choosing to sell the properties to investors, often leaving the families with nowhere to go.

Local Support for Communities Fighting Back

Causa Justa::Just Cause (CJJC), a grassroots organization fighting for racial and housing justice for lowincome residents of Oakland and San Francisco, is pushing for the resurgence of a national housing movement to address the root causes of the current crisis, while simultaneously working to develop local strategies to help tenants and homeowners fighting to stay in their homes.

When the foreclosure crisis started in 2007, CJJC and several local organizations demanding accountability from banks for their role in creating and sustaining the problem decided to take on Wells Fargo Bank, one of the major culprits. The movement began as a regional coalition staging protests at the bank’s Annual Shareholder Meetings but quickly matured into a local force advocating for people to remain in their homes. Now Oakland is gearing up to implement the “Oakland Comprehensive Foreclosure Prevention Plan”1 encompassing local adaptations of policy wins from the Homeowner Bill of Rights—including a law authored by Democratic Assemblyman Tom Ammiano of San Francisco (and sponsored by Tenants Together) barring unfair evictions when new owners of rental property fail to communicate with the tenants—and the Attorney General’s Settlement. Also included are increased legal and counseling services for homeowners an extensive outreach program targeting over 3,000 Oakland families in foreclosure; and an innovative program (ROOT) for buying homes in danger of foreclosure to negotiate affordable mortgages for struggling borrowers.

On Every Block, In Every Barrio, Organize!

Although the results of the efforts so far have been inspiring, the foreclosure crisis is far from over and our communities are still struggling for true housing security, community health, and well being. The effective solutions that our communities need require a commitment to sustained collaboration and coordination between housing advocates and impacted residents. We have to organize neighborhoods and bring in as many allies as possible into our coalitions to sustain the fight to keep as many families in their homes as possible. n

1. This effort came together with the support and work of people and staff at the City of Oakland, ACCE, OCO, Alameda County Public Health Department, East Bay Housing Organizations, Enterprise Community Partners, Community Housing Development Corp., HERA, LISC, One Pacific Coast Bank, Wells Fargo Bank, Urban Strategies Council, California Reinvestment Coalition, OCCUR, Allen Temple Housing and Economic
Development Corp., Martin Luther King, Jr. Freedom Center, Family Bridges, Centro Legal de la Raza, SEIU 1021, East Bay Community Law Center, Housing Group of East Bay Move On, and California Housing Finance Agency.

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Oakland City Council Joins Fight Against Toxic Interest Rate Swaps

By Darwin Bond Graham

In 1997, the city of Oakland, California entered into an interest rate swap agreement with Goldman Sachs. The bank promised that the swap would provide savings and allow Oakland to better fund crucial services. But the swap became a toxic liability in 2008 when Wall Street’s greed crashed the economy and neither the bank nor the federal government helped the city unwind the deal.

“It’s a second bailout for the big banks,” said Yvonne Michelle of Decolonize Oakland. “They were first bailed out by the administration when the market crashed. Now we’re in limbo with one foot in recovery and one foot in recSEIU Oakland “Drop the Swap” banner. Courtesy of seiu1021.orgession mode, and Goldman Sachs continues to prosper from our monies a second time over.”

“We think that this is outrageous when our city is suffering from budget cuts to basic services,” says Luz Calvo, another Oakland resident and member of Decolonize Oakland. “We think it’s time to fight back.” Oakland is by no means alone—hundreds of local governments nationwide face onerous payment obligations under interest rate swap deals struck in the 1990s and 2000s—but Oakland has led the fight against this injustice. Organizers Calvo, Michelle and others have educated their friends and neighbors and pressured elected officials to address toxic financial contracts. They have shamed the bankers reaping profits off swaps and debt and succeeded in politicizing municipal finance. As the swap crisis continues to harm communities nationwide, grassroots organizers have managed to lift the veil on the structural racism of public debt, advancing efforts to build a movement for financial justice.

Oakland Takes On the ‘Vampire Squid’

In early 2012, propelled by the energy of the Occupy movement, a diverse group of organizers from ACCE, Bay Natives for Peace and Justice, Decolonize Oakland, ILWU Local 10, Occupy Oakland’s Interfaith Tent, Research Group, and Labor Solidarity Committee, Oakland CAN, SEIU Local 1021, and ROOTS, among others, formed the Coalition to Stop Goldman Sachs. Overcoming differences in organizing styles and political beliefs, they utilized a variety of tactics—from meeting with and educating city officials, to disrupting Goldman’s San Francisco office with street theater protests—to wage a simple but highly effective campaign, which culminated in a demand for Goldman to terminate the swap with Oakland at zero cost to the city and return the profits.

“We broke down the city’s finances [into] accessible and understandable information for everyone,” said Déborah Santana, a member of the Coalition. Last October, the City Council announced plans to implement a moratorium on swaps, and in November, after further lobbying from Coalition members, it began the process of barring the bank from future business with Oakland unless it agreed to terminate the swap at no cost to the city. Although the Coalition’s success has worried Wall Street titans, according to an article in the Financial Times—the world’s leading business newspaper—Oakland is not a massive debt issuer, so the impact is small. One professional financial analyst quoted in the story said, “It would be a bigger deal if it were San Francisco or Los Angeles; if you have more than a handful of issuers asking for concessions, it becomes more of an issue for banks.” Oakland’s organizers are in fact working to create a broader coalition to take on the banks. A City-Sized Problem of National Proportions Oakland is by no means the only or the most affected local government. The Bay Area’s Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) has lost over $100 million because of toxic rate swap deals with banks, such as Wells Fargo and Morgan Stanley. Since the MTC funds public transportation systems across the Bay Area, cuts and fare increases indirectly linked to toxic swap liabilities have disproportionately impacted communities of color. Activists with ACCE, SEIU 1021, and Urban Habitat have held multiple protests at banks in San Francisco demanding “bus stops, not swaps,” and called on the MTC’s directors to “refund transit.”

Elsewhere in the U.S., swaps have sucked billions from local governments caught in similar Oakland City Council Chambers. Courtesy of Oaklandlocal.compredicaments. In Philadelphia, the city and its school district have lost more than $331 million to the handful of Wall Street banks that sold 90 percent of these toxic deals to local governments. Goldman Sachs, Morgan made tens of millions off Philadelphia’s taxpayers while the school district and city were forced to lay off teachers and employees and slash essential services at the bottom of the economic collapse in 2010. City officials held investigative hearings on swaps last fall, with a goal of canceling the deals and possibly taking legal action against the banks and financial advisers who profited from them. In New York, unions and community groups have focused on how swaps are harming transit services. In Boston, activists brought attention to their metro transit agency’s $26 million a year loss on swaps, leading the Boston Globe to call on city officials to end the deals using Oakland as a model.

(See Sidebar: Why Did Cities Fall for the Swap)

How Did We Get Here?

In response to white flight, capital flight, and the nationwide “tax rebellion” that began with California’s Proposition 13, local governments throughout the U.S. have been forced over the last three decades to do a lot more with much less. Cities, counties, and other local agencies increasingly rely on heavy debt loads and complicated financial strategies just to pay for the most basic public goods and services. The worst affected have been jurisdictions populated by working class people of color where, because of racist disinvestment, unemployment rates are higher, property values are lower, and tax proceeds routinely fall short of actual needs. The result is that the poor, as always, pay more. Swaps were supposed to be a clever solution to local fiscal problems, making it easier for debt-strapped governments to pay their bills. The financial crisis that began in 2008 precipitated a series of events that caused esoteric financial products, such as interest swaps, to blow up, costing cumulatively tens of billions. But the federal government has not stepped up—as it did with the big banks—to bail out cities, school districts, and transit authorities.

How Do We Get Out?

Oakland’s financial justice activists say that resisting Wall Street requires building broad coalitions of community, labor, religious, and advocacy organBanner at a New York Strike Debt demonstration in September 2012. ©2012 Nicholas  Mirzoeffizations. Progress in campaigns around injustices hidden in local government finances and debt depend on whether activists can develop strong critiques of the means by which banks exploit the public and extract wealth from tax and revenue mechanisms. Such a movement will need to focus on much more than just swaps and other onerous examples of financial exploitation. For lasting impact, a movement for financial justice centered around city government will need to shift the thinking of local officials and residents, so that whole communities are more vigilant against the financial sector. Some positive signs in this direction include the recent adoption of responsible banking ordinances by numerous local governments, and the proliferation of stricter local rules pertaining to public finance contracting. Cities must also build coalitions with one another, to create broader fronts against the banks. Ultimately, however, the only thing that can really empower local communities against banks will be a rollback of the chronic austerity imposed on the public sector as a reactionary means of sabotaging the integrationist push of the Black freedom movement. Only when local governments are freed from the logic of privatization, regressive taxation, and the suburban exodus of the affluent middle class, will they be able to free themselves from the bondage of debt finance and its various instruments of wealth extraction.

Darwin Bond Graham is a freelance writer and frequent contributor to RP&E.


SIDEBAR: Why Did Cities Fall for the Swap?

An interest rate swap is a contract between two parties in which they agree to trade interest rate payments on a certain sum of money called the “notional amount.” The notional amount corresponds to the debt payments associated with a specific bond, but the swap itself is actually a free-standing contract (or “derivative,” because it derives its value from another asset) that works independently of the bond with which it is associated. Imagine that a government issues a $100 million bond with a variable interest rate to build a school. The city has to pay a rate of interest on the debt that varies depending on market conditions. In some years, interest payments could be as low as 3 percent but in others it might rise to 6 percent. To hedge against the danger that the variable rate might spike at some future date—to upwards of 10 percent, for example—cities agree to interest rate swaps. The swap obligates the bank counterparty to pay a variable rate that mirrors the variable rate on the city’s bond debt. So, the bank essentially ends up paying the city’s variable interest rate on the bonds, while the city only has to make fixed rate payments to the bank.

To understand why local governments ever agreed to such a strange arrangement it’s necessary to understand something of the history of municipal finance.

Local governments have always borrowed money to pay for infrastructure and services. This debt was paid back over a span of about 10 years with interest. Until recently, most public borrowing came with a fixed interest rate period after which the bonds in question were “callable,” and could be refinanced with new loans, or retired.

In the 1990s, Wall Street’s biggest banks convinced local governments that they could borrow money more cheaply if they issued bonds that had floating interest rates. (The shift paralleled the banks’ insistence on adjustable rate mortgages for many home buyers.) At the time that the banks sold the variable rate loans, interest rates on variable rate bonds were less than on fixed rate bonds. Public borrowers eagerly agreed to the cheaper variable rate loans, not anticipating either of the following scenarios that would derail the balance:

  • If the economy heated up too much, the Federal Reserve might hike up the Federal Funds rate which determines the cost of borrowing money for the financial system’s biggest banks, a possibility
  • that would cause variable rates to spike.
  • In the event of some kind of serious financial shock, interest rates could spike as banks withdrew liquidity from money markets.
In either case, cities would pay enormous sums on their variable rate bonds. If they carried too much debt, cities could be forced to make severe budget cuts or even go bankrupt. As insurance against either possibility the banks sold them interest rate swaps, which promised local governments both the cheaper price of variable rate loans and the security of a fixed rate payment that would be slightly below the interest rates attached to traditional fixed rate bonds. The arrangement seemed to work throughout the ‘90s and the first part of the 2000s. Cities under severe budgetary constraints— especially the ones harmed by decades of deindustrialization and suburban capital flight; or with large Black and immigrant communities— were ready to follow the advice of financial corporations and sell variable rate bonds with interest rate swaps attached because they promised access to levels of credit that had previously been denied them. When in 2008 the financial markets crashed, interest rates were artificially depressed by central banks to virtually zero. And while big financial companies benefitted from government assistance to offload their toxic assets, cities that had bought interest rate swaps were forced to pay out huge sums as the very tools that were supposed to give them access to cheaper loans and provide insurance against interest rate volatility became expensive liabilities. —DBG


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California to Direct Clean Energy Funds to Low-Income Communities

By Vien Truong

In September 30, California took a big step toward giving all residents access to clean energy and green jobs when Governor Jerry Brown signed SB 535 and AB 1532 into law. The new laws—which are the result of a four-year campaign by a broad-based coalition—will invest hundreds of millions of dollars towards greening underserved areas and in the process, support small businesses and bring clean energy jobs to disadvantaged communities each year.

The story begins in 2006, when lawmakers passed the landmark law AB 32 [1], which requires California to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2020. To achieve this goal, the California Air Resources Board [2 ]established a cap-and-trade program, which puts a cap on the amount of air pollution that a power or industrial plant can produce and requires the facilities to purchase credits when they exceed it. The program is projected to generate $1 billion in revenue for the state next year.[3]

To ensure that a meaningful piece of this new resource would go to the low-income and communities of color primarily affected by the pollution, a coalition consisting of the Greenlining Institute, the Coalition for Clean Air, California NAACP, Natural Resources Defense Council, Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, and Asian Pacific Environmental Network sponsored legislation that became Senate Bill 535, introduced by Senator Kevin De León (D-Los Angeles). Among the bill’s stakeholders were public agencies, business associations, public health organizations, labor, transportation, environmental and conservation groups, ethnic and immigrant organizations, and economic justice, housing, and faith-based organizations. While not every group backed the cap-and-trade program—it was held up in court for over a year due to its possible negative impacts on environmental justice communities—these groups shared the belief that if the program is to go forward, it must be done in a way that maximizes benefits to communities that need them most.

Maximizing Benefits of Cap-and-Trade 

To reinforce SB 535, Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez Speaker John Pérez at a Sacramento press conference. ©2012 California State Democratic Caucus(D-Los Angeles) sponsored AB 1532 for a twopronged approach to maximizing the benefits from revenues raised by cap-and-trade.

In essence, SB 535 [4] will determine where a portion of the funds will go, while AB 1532 [5] will guide how the funds will flow. Specifically, AB 1532 creates a public process that structures how funds from AB 32 should be allocated by providing parameters on the green sectors to invest in, and guidance on the fund distribution process.

SB 535 ensures that at least 25 percent of cap-andtrade funds benefit “disadvantaged communities,” with at least 10 percent of the funds being invested directly in those areas. Officials will identify disadvantaged communities based on geographic, socioeconomic, public health, and environmental hazard criteria. They may include, but are not limited to, areas disproportionately affected by pollution and other hazards that can lead to negative public health effects or environmental degradation and areas with a concentration of people who have low-incomes, high unemployment rates, low levels of homeownership or educational attainment, and a high rent burden. Since AB 32 was signed, venture capital for clean energy has been flowing into California in record amounts and the two new laws are expected to help maintain that momentum in addition to providing transparency, longevity, and certainty to California’s climate policy. Delivering Promises If there’s one thing communities of color know very well, it’s that passing a law is not the same as implementing it effectively and making sure it delivers on its promise. Fortunately, opportunities for public input are built into the implementation process for these bills. The California Environmental Protection Agency (CalEPA), which is charged with identifying the disadvantaged communities for investment opportunities, has already begun its work. Under its direction, the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) is conducting a series of regional public workshops to get input on a draft “cumulative impacts screening tool,” which is a means for identifying and mapping the communities hardest hit by pollution. [6 ]

The organizations that cosponsored SB 535 are committed to closely following the technical and complex process of implementing the laws. However, they need to hear from organizations that are working on environmental and clean energy issues in disadvantaged communities about what works and what is needed, including information about current funding from various state agAssembly budget hearing.  © 2012 California State Democratic Caucusencies, effective programs that should be continued, and the gaps in funding, if any, that need to be addressed.

Creating An Equitable Green Future

SB 535 is an important step towards ensuring that California creates an equitable green future for itself. Creating a green and equitable economy is not just a political or legislative challenge, it’s a moral obligation. There are communities in California (and around the U.S.) that suffer disproportionate levels of pollution, poverty, and unemployment. We have to make sure that those areas are prioritized because it’s where we will see the highest return on our investments. By investing in local businesses and creating good-paying jobs, we will see significant improvements in the economy while simultaneously seeing a reduction in energy use and reliance on dirty fossil fuels—foreign or domestic.

With AB 1532 and SB 535, California has the potential to set a nationwide trend on how to transform disadvantaged areas from pollution sites to solution sites. We just need to be vigilant to ensure that the process fulfills its promise.

1. <>
2. <>
3. <
4. <
5. <
6. To find out how to get educated and engage in the process, visit

Vien Truong is Green Assets Director at The Greenlining Institute ( To get involved, contact

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Planning for Climate Diaster: Resilient Communities Respond

After months of silence on the presidential campaign—preceded by years of denial by big industry—climate change was forced back into the national political conversation last October by Hurricane Sandy, which swept across the northeastern U.S. A New York Times opinion piece entitled, “Is This the End?” ran with a photo of the Statue of Liberty underwater;[1] and a front page story in the San Francisco Chronicle noted that “water levels in San Francisco Bay could rise 16 inches or more by 2050, inundating shoreline habitat and infrastructure.”[2]

Meanwhile, 14,000 public-housing tenants in New York were left for weeks without electricity or running water in the wake of Sandy.
After President Obama’s reelection, California Senator Barbara Boxer predicted that several of her colleagues would be quick to introduce climate legislation in the new Congress—a move that had been considered political suicide since the Waxman-Markey bill was killed by a Republican Senate in 2009.[3]

But will legislation considered politically realistic be enough to address the scale and urgency of the climate crisis? And will it address the equity crisis? Imara Jones wrote in Colorlines, “Sandy smashed into the world’s wealthiest city but hit its poorest neighborhoods the hardest.”[4]

Climate change has been called the “greatest market failure in history,”[5] but as with all market failures, those most affected have historically been excluded from the benefits of the market.

“The reality of ecological disruption is that instability and unpredictability, not just in the climate, but in the economy itself, are the new normal,” says Gopal Dayaneni, an organizer with the Bay Area-based Movement Generation Justice and Ecology Project. “We have to innovate on our organizing strategies if we are going to navigate these changes.”

To that end, as organizers in New York set up emergency relief efforts following Sandy, Movement Generation released a statement calling for a focus on community resilience in the age of climate disasters.

 “There will be many more shocks—acute moments of disruption, such as extreme weather events—and slides—incremental disruptions, such as sea level rise—that play out over longer timeframes in devastating ways, if we are not prepared,” they wrote. “The question is how can we prepare to harness these shocks and slides to win the shifts we need in favor of people and the planet?”[6]
The statement went on to cite the work of organizers from New Orleans to Haiti to New York and beyond, who offer both practical solutions and a larger vision of a “just transition” to “new economies defined by public transit, zero waste, community housing, food sovereignty, wetlands restoration, clean community-owned power, and local self-governance: all efforts that foster community resilience and to cut the carbon emissions and change the economic system that is driving global warming.”[7]

Frontline Communities Demand Real Solutions
“Communities on the frontlines of the climate crisis have never been silent about the solutions that will save our planet and our soul as a society,” says Cecil Corbin-Mark of WE ACT for Environmental Justice in West Harlem. “We have advocated for bus rapid transit, affordable safe housing and resilient communities, green jobs through public investment, and policies that cut and eliminate carbon.”
But resiliency-based responses to the climate crisis are nowhere on the mainstream policy agenda.

On November 14, as communities in New York and New Jersey were still shivering in the dark without electricity, food, or gasoline, one of the nation’s most closely watched efforts to regulate climate pollution—an auction of carbon emissions allowances—was launched in California as part of the state’s new cap-and-trade system.

More than 70 companies submitted bids for the price they were willing to pay to continue releasing greenhouse gases, with the price for a ton of emissions swinging as low as  $10.09, just above the $10.00 floor price set by the California Air Resources Board (ARB).[8] Of the total number of emissions allowances distributed, 10 percent were sold and 90 percent given away, in an effort to maintain a comparative advantage between California companies and out-of-state businesses, and to appease utilities.[9]

ARB Chair Mary Nichols declared the auction a success.[10] Groups, such as Environmental Defense Fund, agreed, noting that the demand for credits was a market signal that the cap-and-trade program was here to stay.[11]

Bill Gallegos, executive director of Communities for a Better Environment, rebuts those assertions. “The cheap price of credits in the recent auction came as no surprise—they follow the pattern that [occurred] repeatedly in Europe and offer an ‘out’ for big polluters like oil refineries to buy their way out of cleaning up local and global pollution without providing an environmental benefit. This system could even allow big polluters like Chevron’s Richmond refinery to refine dirtier grades of crude oil.”

Cap-and-trade means putting a declining “cap” on total emissions, while allowing trading of pollution permits. Regulators in California will set a ceiling on CO2 emissions from utilities, oil extractors, and fossil fuel-burning factories and require them to pay for their pollution by buying carbon allowances in quarterly auctions. In year one, the program is expected to generate between $660 million and $3 billion in auction proceeds. By 2020, cap-and-trade could send $8 billion into state coffers annually.

But will it reduce climate pollution?

Cap-and-Trade: More Loopholes than Benefits
Although environmental justice groups rallied to keep the fossil fuel industry from overturning AB 32 in a referendum in 2010, they have been deeply critical of cap-and-trade.

“Cap-and-trade has not been shown to actually work to reduce greenhouse gas emission,” says Sofia Parino, senior attorney with the Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment (CRPE).

Many cap-and-trade critics believe that the untested system is packed with loopholes and dangerous possibilities for financial gaming.
“CRPE and our communities are opposed to a trading scheme because of the inherent inequities for communities of color and low income communities, and the missed opportunities for real localized emission reductions,” Parino says.

These concerns led CRPE, along with Communities for a Better Environment, to take the Air Resources Board to court in 2011 to challenge AB 32’s cap-and-trade provision. The lawsuit eventually lost, leading some environmental justice groups to push for legislation directing a percentage of revenue from carbon allowances to vulnerable communities, enabling them to receive some benefit from the state’s new carbon market. (See story on SB 535 and AB 1532).

“The recent auction did not change our position on cap-and-trade,” Parino says. “A cap-and-trade system will not succeed in addressing the problem of superstorms. And, even if it were to reduce emissions, the reductions would not be enough to affect the changing climate.”

The most problematic aspect of the California system is that it allows greenhouse gas reductions to be made through carbon offsets rather than actual reductions in production.

Offsets are reductions in emissions made in one place or sector in order to compensate for emissions elsewhere: for example, a landowner is paid not to cut down his forest so that it can continue capturing CO2 from the atmosphere. Purchasing this offset allows owners of a coal-fired power plant to burn extra coal. While such offsets are considered indispensable to keeping cap-and-trade affordable, experience in Europe has shown no net reduction in greenhouse gases. By permitting burning above the cap for a given source, the likely result of a carbon offset is not a decrease in emissions, but an increase.

Overcoming the Fatal Flaw in Cap-and-Trade
Many of the climate policies promoted at state and national levels seek to tinker with the symptoms of the crisis without addressing root causes. Contrary to such approaches, Michelle Mascarenhas-Swan of Movement Generation says, “Our social movements need to be ambitious and bold—to articulate what is truly materially and culturally necessary to tackle the crisis at hand.”

A few bold organizing strategies that Movement Generation cites as key to building grassroots resilience include WE ACT’s fight for bus rapid transit and public sector jobs. There is also the work of groups—such as Right to the City, Grassroots Global Justice Alliance, Picture the Homeless, and Make the Road—to end displacement and economic inequity, which they see as integrally connected to climate change. The New York City Environmental Justice Alliance, for instance, works to protect communities from the compounded burden of toxic inundation when hit by storm surges like Hurricane Sandy.

There are widespread efforts to reclaim vacant lots for community gardens and build regional food systems by groups from Detroit to Haiti. “Zero waste” solutions are promoted by Ironbound Community Corporation, the New Jersey Environmental Justice Alliance, and the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, to create recycling and composting jobs while drastically reducing climate and toxic pollution from landfills and incinerators. And, as a direct alternative to the false promise of cap-and-trade, the Indigenous Environmental Network works to free indigenous lands and communities—and our collective atmospheric space—from fossil fuel development, such as tar sands and the Keystone XL, Kinder Morgan, and Enbridge Northern Gateway pipelines.

Such efforts do not fall in line with conventional legislative approaches, rather they mirror direct action strategies that are more common internationally—the land takeovers of Brazil’s Movimento sem Terra; or La Via Campesina’s international peasant farmers’ movement with its  slogan, “Peasant farmers cool the planet.”

“Social movements must be unafraid to put forth a holistic vision and real solutions, and build and model them in the world in a way that contests for power,” says Mascarenhas-Swan. “This means transitioning out of an economy that lets some populations and communities profit at the expense of others, toward an economy that works for people and the planet.”
That’s a far cry from cap-and-trading our way out of the crisis.

1.     James Atlas, “Is This the End?,” New York Times, Nov. 24, 2012. <>
2.     Peter Fimrite, “West Coast at risk for hybrid storms, too,” San Francisco Chronicle, Nov. 3, 2012. <>
3.     Jean Chemnick, “Emissions legislation poised to make a comeback in new Congress – Boxer,” E&E News, Nov. 27, 2012. <>
4.     Imara Jones, “What Hurricane Sandy Should Teach Us about Climate Justice,” Colorlines, Nov. 15, 2012. < what_hurricane_sandy_should_teach_us_about_climate_justice.html>
5.     Nicolas Stern, “Stern Review on Climate Change,” Oct. 30, 2006. <>
6.    <>
7.    Ibid.
8.    < q4nov.pdf>
9.     Rory Carroll and Dan Levine, “California Chamber of Commerce seeks to stop cap-and-trade,” Chicago Tribune, Nov. 13, 2012. <>
10.    Lynn Doan, “California Carbon Allowances Sold Out at $10.09 in Auction,” Bloomberg, Nov. 19, 2012. <>
11. Dana Hull, “California’s first cap-and-trade auction sells out, declared ‘a success,’” San Jose Mercury News, Nov. 20, 2012. < business/ci_22028077/californias-first-cap-and-trade-auction-sells-out>

Jeff Conant is a freelance writer based in Oakland,CA and a frequent contributor to RP&E.

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Right to Equity in a 21st Century City

Cardboard cutouts on the fenced MTA?lot at the Take Back LA! march and rally, September 13, 2012. ©2012 Sharis Delgadillo

Holding up a giant banner emblazoned with the slogan “Take Back LA!,” a crowd of several hundred bus riders and renters marched to songs and chants led by the Bus Riders Union’s Drum and Chant corps. Among late afternoon traffic, they marched for over a mile from the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit Authority’s (LAMTA) headquarters at Union Station to Mariachi Plaza in Boyle Heights, carrying signs demanding “Community Control of Public Land” and “Restore 1 million hours of bus service,” along with cardboard cutouts of brightly painted buses, houses, trees, flowers, and people.

Union, the East Los Angeles Community Corporation, Union de Vecinos, and the national Right to the City Alliance performed a theatre piece about two caped crusaders, Super Pasajera (Super Rider) and Super Inquilina (Super Renter) taking on Moneybags Metro (Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transit Authority). Following that piece of guerilla theatre, the crowd created an art installation on the fence of a vacant lot owned by LA Metro depicting bright buildings, community gardens, planter boxes, street vendors, and people in a community. When people were invited to write or draw the things that they wished to see in their community, the signs they tied with red and orange ribbons to the fence depicted a park, a butcher shop, and a youth and community center. The day’s activities closed with a community celebration on the plaza around the Metro Station complete with street vendors and dancing to local son jarocho and mariachi bands. By the end of the rally organizers had received an email, which was read out to the cheering crowd: a key demand had just been won and the local pharmacist would not have to worry about competing with a CVS in a planned development on Metro-owned land in the neighborhood. As one rally participant remarked, when combined with on-the-ground, long-term organizing and leadership development of impacted communities, “Direct action gets the goods.”

Cardboard cutouts on the fenced MTA?lot at the Take Back LA! march and rally, September 13, 2012. ©2012 Sharis Delgadillo [1]

The action took place as part of a fifth anniversary, two-day national gathering of the Right to the City Alliance of grassroots community organizations representing what Rachel LaForest, executive director of the Alliance, calls “The best hope for the 21st century city of the future.” She defines these cities as just, sustainable, and democratic. (See story on Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, “Forclosure Struggle Continues” on page 24). Community Control in Boyle Heights The march, theater performance, and art installation intended to highlight the role of LA Metro in making the lives of working families more difficult over the last decade, both as landowner and provider of essential bus services.

“In Boyle Heights alone, Metro has displaced 250 families, left empty lots to sit vacant for more than six years, and sanctioned private development plans that would bring in big box retailers at the peril of locallyowned small businesses,” explains Isela Gracian of the East LA Community Corporation (ELACC). In 2004, when the expansion of the Metro Gold Line into East Los Angeles got underway, Metro seized control of precious lands for the construction and demolished local businesses and housing. Metro’s growing real estate portfolio currently includes eight parcels of land in Boyle Heights that previously served the neighborhood, along with hundreds of other plots throughout the county.

The solution that Alma Salcido of Union de Vecinos offers is both, equitable and pragmatic. “Instead of giving publicly-owned land to corporations to serve their private interests, Metro should transfer the land back to the residents of Boyle Heights to determine how best to utilize it to address the community’s needs,” she says. “We deserve reparations for the fact that their actions displaced local businesses, reduced services, and created a loss of affordable housing in our community.” For former residents of Boyle Heights, reparations would include some version of a right of return to the neighborhood.

Public Transit for All is a Civil Rights Issue

The action was also designed to bring more community— and political—attention to the nearly 1 million hours of bus service cut from Metro’s operations over a span of three years.

Barbara Lott-Holland, a 27-year veteran rider of public transit and a member of the Los Angeles Bus Riders Union, argues that the loss in bus service is a civil rights issue that affects low-income riders and communities of color at a higher level than more affluent and white communities.

“After a year-long investigation, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) found evidence that LA Metro knowingly discriminated against bus riders of color when they cut those nearly million hours of service from 2007-11,” Lott-Holland alleges. “This is why we say bus service hours must be restored as a civil rights issue.”

Social Movements in the 21st Century City

Five years ago, when the Right to the City Alliance was founded, fights around housing, transportation, and land were seen as separate by many of the organizations that gathered in Los Angeles in early 2007. Not any more, according to several of the Alliance’s cofounders. Gihan Perera, executive director and cofounder of the Miami Workers Center, says the city today is seen as the factory that produces social relationships that uphold or challenge capitalist power. How people are put into social classes, how race relationships play out, and the way cities work in the global economy—that is the main game, not a side issue to how capitalism changes and adapts and renews itself.

Gilda Haas, founding executive director of Strategic Actions for A Just Economy (SAJE), says that the importance of spaces in building movements that can scale up while remaining faithful to working against the root causes of capitalism, colonialism, imperialism, and racism requires that we continue to build “trust, alignment and vision.”

According to leading social theorist David Harvey, a distinguished professor of Anthropology and Geography at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY): “Capitalist urbanization and the kinds of cities that got constructed over the last 250 years are a crucial part of the reproduction of a capitalist society. If there is a major challenge to how these cities are built and rebuilt, then that is a major challenge to the persistence and reproduction of capitalism and capitalist class power.”

If our vision for the 21st century city—our city, not the capitalist city—is just, sustainable, and democratic, then the Fannie Freddie 99 and MTA actions at the Los Angeles Urban Congress revealed some additional ingredients for success. Both actions were grounded in the community’s experiences and demands; and they were also prefigurative, confrontational, and creative.

Diana Pei Wu is a long-time organizer and technical assistance provider on issues at the intersection of racial, economic, and environmental justice and a frequent contributor to Race, Poverty & Environment.

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Women and Economic Justice

Women and Economic Justice

Reimagine | Vol. 19, No. 2 – 2013 | Credits

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The Means of Reproduction

Interview with Silvia Federici
By Lisa Rudman and Marcy Rein

As a feminist activist, writer, and teacher, Silvia Federici engages and inspires students of all ages to fight for the liberation of women and all beings. In 1972, Federici cofounded the International Feminist Collective, which launched the “Wages For Housework” campaign. While teaching and researching in Nigeria in the 1980s, she observed the specific impacts of globalization on women—and their similarities to the social disruption caused by the enclosure of the commons in the earliest days of capitalism. She became active in the anti-globalization movement and the U.S. anti-death-penalty movement, and cofounded the Committee for Academic Freedom in Africa. From 1987 to 2005 she taught international studies, women’s studies, and political philosophy at Hofstra University in Hempstead, NY. Her books and essays span philosophy, feminist theory, women’s history, education, and culture, and more recently, the worldwide struggle against capitalist globalization and for a feminist reconstruction of the commons. Caliban and the Witch: Women, The Body and Primitive Accumulation, perhaps her best-known work, argues that capitalism depends on a constant supply of women’s unwaged labor. Federici sat down for this interview while she was on a tour to promote her new book, Revolution at Point Zero: Housework, Reproduction, and Feminist Struggle (Common Notions), a collection of essays written over the last forty years. In conversation, Federici moves smoothly between history, theory, and present struggles, hardly stopping for breath, almost vibrating with concern and indignation.

Q: What is reproduction and why have you made it a central issue in your analysis?
Silvia Federici: It’s important politically to confront the question of reproduction because we are experiencing an unprecedented crisis of reproduction. When I speak of reproduction, I don’t speak only in the sense of procreation, although that is part of it, but of all the activities necessary for the reproduction of human life—from housework to subsistence agriculture, to the production of culture and care for the environment.
The policies brought in by the neoliberal agenda have, in fact, made reproduction a question for millions of people across the world. We’ve witnessed a tremendous attack on our means of reproduction—on every form of sustenance from wage employment to services to access to nature and the commonwealth—land, water, and forests.

The struggle of domestic workers, of the mothers of Fukushima, of subsistence farmers across the world; the struggle in the public schools because they have been defunded and privatized; all these struggles together [are] what I mean by struggles of reproduction.

I’m very disappointed that Governor [Jerry] Brown of California decided not to sign the bill of rights that domestic workers have fought for for a long time. It represents a very important moment in the struggle for the redefinition of reproduction and puts some value on this work and gives power to the people [engaged in] reproductive labor.

Today, for millions of people, the question of whether they’ll be able to reproduce is answered in the negative. There’s hardly one basic service that has not been slashed, [affecting] children, older people, healthcare. Really basic necessities have all been decimated. So, clearly what’s needed is a new broad mobilization on the question of reproduction that connects all the different struggles.

Women in the Waged Workforce
Q: Feminist struggles for equality under capitalism from the 1960s through the ‘80s did actually move what had been unwaged women’s work into the paid economy, even if it was often as waged domestic labor, such as home care. Did that improve the condition of women and the working class as a whole?
Federici: If we look at the world, and not only the situation in the United States, Europe, or Japan, we see that, in fact, what we call globalization and the massive entrance of women into wage work is much less uniform than usually imagined. At the same time that millions of women were entering the labor force in the U.S., many in Europe were losing their jobs—for example, in the former socialist countries—which in fact, triggered a tremendous migration from Russia, Moldavia, Ukraine.

The same is true for much of Africa, parts of Asia, and Latin America, where the programs of structural adjustment really cut a lot of women’s jobs. That’s why so many women have had to migrate, seeking an income doing domestic work or sex work, or working as nurses across the globe.
Secondly, women entered the waged workforce in the United States at the very time—the 1980s—when that workforce and the workplace were under tremendous attack; when this massive attack on workers’ entitlement and workers’ rights was launched under Reaganism. So, while women have gained more autonomy certainly from men, they’ve not gained autonomy from capital. Their life has become a life of permanent crisis. Women now have to juggle a paid job and work at home, in many cases also taking care of the family or sick family members.

Among working class women, life expectancy is beginning to decline, according to some recent reports. In the U.S., women can expect to live three to four years less than their mothers, which is a very telling sign of the crisis of reproduction. Also, because reproductive work is historically devalued in capitalist society, the wages and labor conditions that immigrant women in domestic work can look for are abysmally low in the great majority of cases.

The domestic workers’ struggle is very much conducted on all these fronts: reproductive work and the fact that society has yet to recognize the importance of it; the struggle around immigration; and [the struggle] against racial prejudices, [since] many are women of color, from an Asian or African background.

Q: Can you describe the evolution of your thinking, from the Wages for Housework campaigns of the 1970s to now?
Federici: The Wages for Housework campaign was extremely important. It was like a lever to undo and destabilize a certain sexual division of labor that was based precisely on the fact that this work was unpaid. It was never an ultimate goal but a strategy to change power relations and undermine the dependence of women on the male wage.

Often, women thought that we were asking the husband to pay a wage. No, we were asking the state for wages for housework, not wages for housewives, because this is work.

Think for a minute [of] the range of social services that the employer class would have to put into place if there hadn’t been a woman all this time at home, making sure that the next morning this person could go to the workplace restored, for another day’s work. [Imagine if] a woman had not done the washing, the cooking, [the taking] care of the kids, the consoling [of] the children and the husband; [or provided] emotional support and sexual services (which are very important part of the work expected of women). It took a long struggle for women to recognize rape in the family [and] the idea that the woman’s body is [hers].

Struggles that begin to reclaim the wealth [women produce in the home] are extremely important. But today I don’t see those struggles only as being at the monetary level. Lately I’ve been very interested in the question of the commons and [reclaiming] many forms of wealth that are not connected with the wage system.

We want to reclaim housing, land, the right to free education. These are all elements of what I would say is [part] of reproduction.

Power of Procreation
Q: Could you comment on the attacks on women’s right to control our bodies, and the drive to circumscribe the conditions under which we can relate, have children, and get services to support those children?
Federici: Well, I think it’s playing an enormous role because it really attempts to institute subordination of women to men. Within the family, the state expects women to pick up all the work—as they always did, but now more than ever—that is accumulating because of the cuts in services. For instance, in England, the Big Society program that Cameron has sponsored for some years is built on the mobilization of a lot of volunteer work—unpaid, mostly women’s labor—under the name of community building.

The state has always tried to control women’s bodies because they are the vehicle for the production of workers. From their point of view, we are machines for the production of labor power. There’s a direct connection between women’s reproduction of children and the dynamics of the labor market.

Now, they haven’t always wanted more children. In many cases, they have wanted women to be sterilized when the children they produced demanded more than the capitalist class was willing to concede. But the issue has always been the desire to control the female body, both in terms of the labor market and also of the discipline and the relationship between women and men.

As we learned in the feminist movement, [often] the first obstacle a woman encounters when she wants to make a fight is not directly the state but the man in the family. So, it has been very useful and productive for the state that men have this power over women and procreation. Sexuality has been part of their mechanism of surveillance and policing of women. We now have this situation where on one side, the right wing is sponsoring every military campaign so that children all over the world [are being] decimated, [while on the other], they are cutting the services that would allow children and families to thrive, leading to a continuous increase in the infant mortality rate.

Then, with a hypocrisy that has no limits, they want to tell us that if the children we carry in our womb are born badly, that is our responsibility. There’s a very complex set of disciplinary objectives that passes through control of our bodies.

Student Debt
Q: I know you’ve spoken about how education brings together this longstanding trajectory of austerity, privatization, and debt. Could you explain that more?
Federici: It’s a disgrace because education should not be something that is bought and sold. In fact, there’s now a movement against debt, which has taken off over the last year and is spreading across the country. It’s very important because it makes a key issue [of] the fact that the debt is illegitimate.

The debt should not be paid because it comes out of an unjustified policy [that] basically says you can buy and sell ideas; buy and sell education. If you are a student, you’re told you have no future if you don’t have an education. There’s something fraudulent happening here. Students have been asked to do something that is really impossible. Education should not be a commodity—something that you put on the counter as if it’s a tube of toothpaste.

Q: You were talking about educational debt; I was thinking also about the level of credit card debt burdening the working class because employers have been increasingly unwilling to negotiate terms and conditions that will let people survive.
Federici: In New York, the movement began as students against the debt. That is still on, but it’s become part of a broader movement that is now struggling against debt as an instrument of discipline. We see more and more, debt becoming the tool through which people are exploited and the tool through which the capitalist class accumulates wealth.

There’s a broad front, because when you are exploiting a person as a debtor rather than as a worker, you have a very different type of relation. The work involved becomes invisible. The exploitation relation becomes invisible.

Shape of Movement to Come
Q: What response do you see or would like to see to this?
Federici: I’d like to see a new broad-based, mass-based, women’s movement because [it] mobilized around the issue of reproduction. I’d like to see a movement that reopens a mass struggle on that ground and connects all these different fronts. So, those who work in the home are not isolated and there’s a breakdown of the walls between the home and the community, the home and the neighborhood. [Then] we can begin to think of a more collective way of reproducing ourselves because when you have a person who’s not self-sufficient, or with young children, you can’t expect [them] to take on [reproduction], except at a tremendous cost.

Q: What is “commoning” exactly? What are some of the models for people trying to create more “commoning?”
Federici: Some of the models for commoning have come from countries in Latin America [and] Africa that were subjected to very devastating processes of economic liberalization in the ‘80s, [when] many communities found themselves completely deprived of access to money and land. So, women started coming together and organizing collectively out of necessity, to make common kitchens, shop together, cook together—breaking down that division between the home and the neighborhood.

At the same time, other women began to farm together, also breaking down the separation between country and town. So, in response to a crisis there [was] a big thrust towards the collectivization of reproduction.

Now this is happening in the U.S. For example, the proliferation of solidarity economies is very interesting. There [are] hundreds of time banks [with] people sharing services: I do so many hours of work for you cutting hair and for those hours, you may teach me how to manage a radio, for example. These are very important signs of a new form of sociality and a new economy coming into existence.

I think that the Occupy movement has two elements: the political [and] also sociality—wanting to be together, wanting to exchange, the organization of cooking, cleaning, and space shared. It’s moving in that direction. 

PDF icon 19-2.federici-rudman-rein.pdf1.35 MB

Working Women and Birth Control

By Shanelle Matthews

Among the myriad reasons why women use birth control, one of the most obvious is—we work. A recent study[1] finds that women believe improved career outcomes are a direct result of access to contraceptives. Women make up almost half the workforce,[2] so our contributions are integral to the economy.

In 1960, when Enovid, the first birth control pill, received FDA approval, U.S. women began weighing their options. Without unintended pregnancies, they could pursue higher education and improve their value in the job market—and they did just that. The pill revolutionized women’s ability to have successful careers outside the home. 

Opponents of contraception—fundamentalist Christians, the Catholic Church hierarchy, and politicians like Rick Santorum—cite the sanctity of life as their justification. But it’s evident that they want to see women confined to antiquated gender roles and out of the workplace. The Christian fundamentalist “Quiverfull” movement is explicit on this point.[3] Mary Pride’s The Way Home: Beyond Feminism, Back to Reality quotes the Bible to maintain that women’s role is as “mothers, as bearers of children, and workers in the home under the authority of a husband.”[4]

Many studies show that limiting access to birth control increases the likelihood of unintended pregnancies, which according to the Brookings Institution, account for over 50 percent of pregnancies every year.[5] For women who can’t afford access to birth control and rely on federally funded programs like Planned Parenthood, a federal ban would be like telling them to not have sex at all.

Since no ban on birth control will curb our innate human need to have sex, we are likely to see a spike in pregnancies, which require working women to take leave, some of whom will never return. According to the Working Mother Research Institute, 35 percent of career-oriented moms stay home after giving birth because the cost of childcare is too high. Another 19 percent do not return because of the birth of additional children.[6] Having a child, whether intended or unintended, increases the strain on family resources. This does not change for women who become pregnant because of limited access to birth control.

While some argue that being a stay-at-home mom is a luxury, families at the bottom of the pay scale probably disagree. If the costs of childcare (which in 2010 exceeded median annual rent payments in every state, according to a report by Child Care Aware of America[7]), transportation, and other necessities exceed your monthly income, staying at home may be the only option. Although women have been the topic of conversation this electoral season, anti-choice advocates have been silent about the consequences of limiting access to birth control.

With the rhetoric we’re fed by corporate media, it’s easy to believe that the debate around contraception is recent. That it took women until the 21st century to argue for their right to birth control. But the truth is there has never been a time in history when women haven’t protected themselves from conception. We’ve always believed we deserve to enjoy life outside of being pregnant.

The concept of controlling fertility did not start with Margaret Sanger and the American birth control movement, but with indigenous women who, in the fight to preserve personal sovereignty, made the best, most practical decisions for themselves and their families. However, it benefits the patriarchal agenda of the religious right to question the morality and utility of contraception. And the more we debate, the further we are from normalizing it. 

1. < pdf>
2. <>
3.    The Christian Quiverfull movement derives its name from Psalm 127:3–5, where many children are metaphorically referred to as the arrows in a full quiver. <>
4.    Mary Pride, The Way Home: Beyond Feminism, Back to Reality.” Good News Publishing. 1985.
5.    <>
6.    <>
7.    <>

Shanelle Matthews ( is the communications manager for Forward Together (

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Women Lose Public Sector Jobs as Stimulus Funding Fades

By Joan Entmacher and Katherine Gallagher Robbins

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009 was central to preserving public sector jobs, most of which are held by women. Not only did it provide funds for state and local education and Medicaid—which kept teachers and health care workers on the job—it bolstered state budgets so other services could avoid deep cuts. ARRA also provided additional funding to states for child care, child support enforcement, and administration to handle the upsurge in Food Stamp and Unemployment Insurance claims. So, when ARRA funding started drying up in mid-2010, public sector jobs started to disappear, slowing down the recovery, especially for women.

Since July 2010, the public sector has lost 577,000 jobs—59 percent of which employed women. These public sector job losses for women have essentially wiped out 30 percent of the job gains women made in the private sector in the post-recession period (since June 2009). (See

During the recession period (December 2007 to June 2009) LFP increased slightly for adult women but decreased for adult men. In the recovery period so far, LFP for both women and men has declined.

The EPOP for adult women dropped during the recession and through most of the recovery period but appears to have stabilized in 2012. However, the EPOP for adult men, which dropped during the recession, has yet to make a recovery.

While a smaller share of men were in the labor force as of October 2012 compared to the end of the recession (June 2009), the same share of men were employed at these two points.

The combination of the decline in the LFP rate and the steady EPOP has led to a drop in the men’s unemployment rate since the beginning of the recovery. A smaller share of women were in the labor force in October 2012 compared to the end of the recession—despite their increased participation during the recession—and the share of employed women also dropped off during the recession and recovery periods. Since the decline in women’s LFP rate was steeper than in women’s EPOP, these trends have reduced women’s unemployment rate slightly since the beginning of the recovery.


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We Can Labor With Love

Immigrant Women Inspire New Forms for Organizing

The United States remains a prevalent destination for 52 percent of the world’s migrants.[1] A majority of these migrants are women[2] from Mexico, India, China, and the Philippines[3] and many bring with them valuable knowledge gained from popular movements in their home countries.  In the United States, they soon confront a dilemma that has challenged leftist organizers doing mass-based organizing who have built membership bases within tax-exempt nonprofit corporations whose political scope is limited by law.  Migrant women have been pointing toward new solutions to the challenge and laying the groundwork we need to seriously confront the global economic interests preventing us from building a society that meets all of our needs.

One such woman is domestic worker and organizer Bernadette Herrera, who is on a mission to build a grassroots, all volunteer, membership organization of Filipino domestic workers and caregivers in San Francisco.

Herrera draws inspiration from the popular movement for National Democracy that she experienced in the Philippines. Throughout high school and college, she had worked at multiple retail and administrative jobs but her involvement in the struggle against drastic tuition fee increases got her elected president of the student council in 1984. It was during this struggle that Herrera began to recognize the fee increases as symptomatic of a deeper overall problem devastating the people of the Philippines.

“I would visit various barangay [farm] and learn from peasants how they work the land all day, then [give] at least half of all they harvest to the landlord,” she recalls. “They still have to pay for animals and the tools they rent to till the land. I also met workers on picket lines and heard how they work nonstop but cannot afford food for their family.”

Herrera went on to join the League of Filipino Students (LFS) and became a member of BAYAN, an alliance of more than a million members from over 1,000 organizations representing workers, peasants, students, women, church leaders, indigenous peoples, and professionals united in the struggle for national liberation and democracy in the Philippines.[4]  She participated in the People Power Revolution of 1983-86 that ousted the dictator Ferdinand Marcos and when President Corazon Aquino took office, the 23-year-old Herrera was appointed to the provincial board of Pampanga where for the next nine years, she helped people in the community bring their issues to the attention of the various government agencies.

But overwhelming poverty coupled with a pressing need to provide for her sick parents, three children, and 11 siblings, compelled Herrera to embark on a road frequently travelled by Filipinos who leave their country in search of work. In 2000, she came to the United States on a visitor’s visa and never left, finding work cleaning homes and caring for the elderly in San Francisco. After a lifetime of organizing mass movements and being deeply involved in the lives of workers, students, and peasants in the Philippines, Herrera found herself thrust into a life of isolation and anonymity as a domestic worker in the U.S.—until she discovered the Filipino Community Center (FCC).

Grassroots Organizing
Herrera began to volunteer at the FCC in 2007, embracing its orientation towards supporting grassroots organizations as opposed to membership-based nonprofits—much like the all-volunteer popular movements in the Philippines that she had been involved with. When she was offered a job as organizer for FCC’s Workers Rights program, she gladly took it on but continued to work at cleaning houses.

The FCC’s main work is in providing services, Herrera points out. “There is a budget, but we never know for how long,” she says. “That’s why nonprofits need mass organizations where we can build lasting strength.”

Herrera points to the model employed by domestic workers in Hong Kong, where the service-oriented nonprofit Mission for Migrant Workers (MFMW) assists domestic workers with their housing, health care, and legal needs, and helps hook them up with grassroots mass organizations, such as United Filipinos in Hong Kong (UNIFIL-HK) and the Indonesian Asosiasi Tenaga Kerja Indonesia di Hong Kong (ATKI), which are committed to the long-term politicization of their members.

FCC also provides services to workers, women, and youth. And although it provides some staff support with the base-building work, most of it is led and housed in the grassroots organizations that work with FCC, such as ALAY (youth), babae (women), Samaka (mothers), and the newly forming Migrante (caregivers and other workers). Members of the groups take up campaigns, conscious of the fact that they are the leaders of their organizations, making decisions and running programs independent of the FCC. 

The idea that grassroots movement-building should happen autonomously but in harmony with the work of nonprofit corporations or NGOs (non-governmental organizations) is commonplace in many countries outside the U.S. These movements are orientated towards sustaining themselves, not the nonprofits that support them.[5]

Service is Good but Organizing is Better
Some services, such as legal representation to stop a deportation, are absolutely necessary. But even this essential service is ultimately just a Band-aid that does not alleviate the need for a complete overhaul of the U.S. immigration system, which brutalizes and dehumanizes people.
The most direct path to fundamental change in policy is through large-scale organizing driven by the collective power of the most impacted people. It’s the will of the people, not the work of paid nonprofit employees, that’s the engine that powers the collective action of the group in any effective grassroots or volunteer-based organization.

The victories of the Civil Rights and Women’s Suffrage movements were certainly not led by nonprofit corporations funded by the 1%. A common analysis, a collective will, and unity in action were the key ingredients in those movements, which inspired millions. Without a proper analysis and political consciousness of the root cause of our suffering, and collective strategies to challenge it, we are no better off than a church choir or key club in effecting change. Without a will to organize and act, we might as well confine ourselves to academia.

Maria Poblet, executive director of Causa Justa::Just Cause (CJJC), believes that her organization has found a way to deal with the contradiction of functioning as a nonprofit corporation while actively applying certain political principles.

CJJC engages members in regular political education on a multiplicity of interconnected issues and advances strategy development rooted in the organization’s political vision—not the fundable priorities of the 1%—ensuring that capitalists, banks, and corporations are the main targets of their organizing campaigns. CJJC played a leading role within the Occupy movement to ensure that the issues of working and poor communities of color were at the center. Staff and members participated in Occupy general assemblies and helped organize key Occupy actions in the Bay Area with calls to ‘Foreclose on Wall Street West’. CJJC also helped with tactics, such as taking over foreclosed properties and using them to provide housing, libraries, workshops, and children’s activities to the community.

In Poblet’s opinion: “Given the current state of the movement and the work that needs to get done in this country, having a nonprofit is not so limiting that it should be abandoned as a tactic.”

“Eventually, when the revolutionary spirit and movement in the country get much further along, nonprofits will reach the limits of their usefulness and many people will move to other forms of organization to do the work of creating change,” she adds.

In building this “revolutionary spirit and movement” we can hone the organizational tactics, such as those outlined by Herrera, to help communities strengthen their sense of analysis, will and action, unconstrained by the nonprofit corporation form.

The Rise of the Nonprofit Corporation
The rise of charitable giving as a way for multimillionaire robber barons like John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie to defend their income from taxes began in the early 20th century.[6] Hyped by financial magazines as “tax shelter tools,” foundations for charitable giving became all the rage, forming at the rate of 1,200 per year by the early 1960s.[7] The foundations triggered a rise in the number of nonprofit corporations being set up, eager to accept their tax-deductible donations. Soon, funds that might have been paid to the government as taxes, were it not for the exemptions, began trickling back but with strings attached. Membership-based organizing around root causes was not funded and there were severe restrictions on political lobbying and support for candidates. (The Revolution Will Not Be Funded: Beyond the Non-Profit Industrial Complex, edited by the INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence collective is an excellent resource for a more in-depth look at the issue.)

Some nonprofits, such as CJJC, have successfully exploited the nonprofit corporation format to build a dues-paying membership, develop base leadership, and win life changing improvements in their communities. But even as we dream about a movement that truly challenges the root causes of the problems challenging our communities, we can’t help wondering if the political will to organize around that purpose will continue in the absence of funding.

Building a Movement Outside the Nonprofit
The vision of a movement that moves us all is both irresistible and palpable but we know that it cannot be done to scale within the confines of the nonprofit structure alone. It is time to set aside the mutual distrust between nonprofits and grassroots membership organizations and work instead towards a goal of harmonizing and maximizing the strengths of both to create new organizational forms to help us achieve our vision.
We can begin by rising above our egos—which makes each of us view our particular organization as the sole authority on an issue or the comprehensive voice of a community or movement—and focusing instead on exchanging lessons learnt, sharing assessments and strategy, and moving closer towards a unity of analysis. When we do, we will become an irresistible power with the capacity to grow and nurture the type of mass movement we need. Or as W.E.B. Dubois put it, we will be the “great song… the loveliest thing born this side the seas.” DuBois, of course, was talking about the coming of freedom for the Black slaves, when he said: “It was a new song and its deep and plaintive beauty, its great cadences and wild appeal wailed, throbbed and thundered on the world’s ear with a message seldom voiced by man.”[8] But the words still resonate apropos the mass movement we hope to build.

1.    Migration Policy Institute. “Top Ten Countries with the Largest Number of International Migrants.” 2010. < (accessed 11/23/2012)>
2.    Ibid. “Foreign-Born Males per 100 Foreign-Born Females, for the United States: 1870 to 2010.” 2010. < DataHub/charts/final.malesfemales.shtml>
3.    Ibid. “Ten Source Countries with the Largest Populations in the United States as Percentages of the Total Foreign-Born Population.” 2011. <>
4.    <>
5.    Andrea Smith, The Revolution Will Not Be Funded: Beyond the Non-Profit Industrial Complex. 2007. pp.15.
6.    Ibid. “Introduction: The Revolution Will Not Be Funded,” pp.4.
7.    Ibid., pp.5.
8.     W.E.B. DuBois excerpt, as quoted by Baraka, Amiri. Digging: The Afro-American Soul of American Classical Music. University of California Press. 2009. pp.1.

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Organizing for the Rights of Filipino Women

Tina Shauf is a community organizer and youth worker. She was born in the Philippines and raised in Los Angeles county. She is currently the Chair of Babae (meaning “woman” in Tagalog), a grassroots volunteer-based organization of Filipina women in San Francisco dedicated to supporting and empowering Pinays through critical education, leadership development, and community building. Shauf is also an active member and representative of the General Assembly Binding Women for Reforms, Integrity, Education, Leadership and Action (GABRIELA-USA), a grassroots-based alliance of more than 200 organizations, institutions, and programs of women all over the Philippines seeking to wage a struggle for the liberation of all oppressed Filipino women and Filipino people in general. GABRIELA-USA is the first overseas chapter of the Philippine-based organization, extending the Filipino women’s mass movement to the United States.

Christine Joy Ferrer: What issues are Babae and GABRIELA-USA currently prioritizing? And how do they impact low-income and communities of color where you live—especially Filipina women?
Tina Shauf: We’re taking on issues in the Filipino community, for women particularly, through the Voices of Women versus Violence Against Women (iVOW) campaign. Under the GABRIELA framework, Violence Against Women is defined as seven different things, including economic exploitation, political repression, sexual abuse, and domestic violence. So it’s multifaceted.

Also, Babae is co-sponsoring the Care Project at the Filipino Community Center in San Francisco where a group of caregivers comes together to understand better the conditions under which caregivers work. All of them are immigrants; they’ve left the Philippines because they had to support their families.

Four thousand people a day leave the Philippines— 70 percent are women. A lot of the jobs they take on are domestic work, caregiving. In a room full of Filipinos, if you ask, “How many of you know a caregiver or are related to a caregiver?” most would probably raise their hand. So we see a need to take this on.

Another thing is queer rights as human rights, understanding the multiple levels of oppression of queer immigrant folks.

Ferrer: What are some of the intersections between queer and immigrant rights?
Shauf: Right now we’re in a stage of understanding where our community’s like, “How do we view LGBTQ folks in general?” and “What are the issues faced by LGBTQ folks?”

Jay Mercado and Shirley Tan, a queer couple in our community, deal with not being recognized as a family even though they have twin boys and they’ve been together over 25 years.

A lesbian woman who leaves her country because she was in danger and has to go somewhere else to look for work—that clearly is a typical immigrant, but as a queer immigrant, she’s not even recognized as a mom to her kids.

Ferrer: How has Babae used iVOW and the Care Project to confront the challenges that all these different groups face and help them secure their rights?
Shauf: It’s been about three years since we took on iVOW as our national campaign. Initially we made it more of an educational campaign: around violence against women, domestic violence, the different forms of oppression, and the root causes. We hope to continue raising consciousness to political action based on our findings in each of the GABRIELA-USA—areas.

The hope is that our membership is inspired to continue organizing and will bring more people. And that they understand the reason we face these issues (whether we were born here or in the Philippines) is because our ancestors lived in a colonized country. On paper, it’s not colonized (now), but it’s run by imperialist powers, multinational corporations, and a corrupt government that exploits the land and people. That’s the reason why people leave.

The work is not just, “let’s push for these issues to be corrected.” It’s, “let’s understand the deeper causes.” Where’s the empowerment? Where do we have agency?

Ferrer: How has your Filipino identity and the fact that you’re a queer woman transformed and influenced your work?
Shauf: I think my work as an organizer has helped me unfold as a person. I’ve been able to come out. I’ve been able to understand the layers of oppression—not just as a Filipino, but as a woman—the need to fight for rights, to encourage other women to do the same.
I’ve learned I can’t just wait for things to change. If I understand it affects me and other women, whether we’re Filipino or another race, we have to come up with solutions by understanding causes. No one else is going to do it for us.

Ferrer: Going back to women’s issues, at the Global Women’s Rights Forum in March 2012, you spoke on a panel about transnational feminism and women in movements, uprisings, and revolutions. You raise a challenging question: Why is there a need for transnational movements? If things are moving in the Philippines, why even bother here in the U.S.?
Shauf: There’s a need for organizing outside the Philippines because 4,000 Filipinos leave every day. Why do people leave? Exploitative conditions. The people are not being prioritized. There are not enough jobs. The rising cost of basic needs like oil and rice. Services are going down. Services were pretty shitty to being with, but now it’s being slashed even more. There’s a need for movement building outside the Philippines because people can’t live in those conditions.

They had requested me to talk about a reproductive health bill in the Philippines, which we don’t do a lot of work on here. GABRIELA Women’s Party cowrote the bill. Basically, it’s pushing for comprehensive reproductive health care. The Philippines doesn’t have comprehensive health care. Less than two percent of the budget goes to health for 90 million people.

What’s important with this bill—it’s a way to highlight how women are viewed in Filipino society; to heighten the contradictions. Women’s reproductive health is not valued. So it affects the way we view ourselves.

When GABRIELA Women’s Party puts out legislation, whether it’s passed or not, what matters is it’s reaching the masses. People are starting to understand [what] we don’t have. We don’t have regular checkups when we are pregnant even though there’s a high need.

The largest income in the Philippines is remittances. When people leave, they have to send money home to support their families. Migrants are in over 196 countries, including the U.S. When they come to these receiving countries, the Philippine government does not protect them, so they’re victims of trafficking, exploitation, and wage theft. The Care Project is one way to understand that in a deeper and more personal way because it’s happening here, in our city.

Ferrer: What are the connections between local struggles and global struggles that can empower our communities for both the immediate and long term?

Shauf: There’s a reason why there are so many Filipinos all over the world. There should have been more of a choice. People should be able to [stay] if they choose, but that’s not the case. I think that is really key in understanding why we need to do movement-building here in the Unites States and other places.

Christine Joy Ferrer is the web and design editor for RP&E and founder of


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Women's Work

By Selma James

The Wages for Housework Campaign has always spelled out the connection between the unwaged and invisible work of women, and the work, waged and unwaged, of immigrants, women and men. We also insisted that those of us who are immigrants, wherever we come from and wherever we go, are attacking the racism and provincialism carefully nurtured among every working class, by bringing another world—usually the Third World—with us into metropolitan centers.

 One side of immigration, we said, is that it is an element of State planning—using immigrants to undercut wages, working conditions, and living standards won by the native working class and to disorganize resistance. The other side is how immigrants—as much those from Malaga in southern Spain as those from Port of Spain in Trinidad—use immigration as a method of re-appropriating their own wealth, stolen from them at home and accumulated in the industrial metropolis. Immigrants are in Britain not for the weather but for the wealth, much of which has been produced by their own and their ancestors’ labor. That wealth is as much theirs by right as it is of those whose history of exploitation has never left Britain.

The work of women is basic, first, to organizing for themselves and others to become immigrants, and then to transforming their communities from victims of the State plan into a network of reappropriators. But like most unwaged women’s work, that work is hidden.

The First Quantification of Women’s Work  
The International Labour Organization’s (ILO) report that women do two-thirds of the world’s work, earn 5 percent of the income, and own 1 percent of the assets should end the great debate within the women’s movement about why we are (or could be) together as women despite a thousand differences.[1]  The work and the poverty of women and our struggle against both constitute the material basis of the women’s movement and what we had always claimed is the basis of women’s relation to capital—women’s exploitation. It’s the first quantification of sexism; a tangible measure of just how ripped off women are internationally.[2] Such a quantification is a weapon against the work. One way to refuse it is to refuse to let it go on unnoticed. We began to publicize the ILO figures.

From the perspective of women’s work, all issues are transformed. Take immigration. How much work do women do to make immigration possible, to make possible the rebuilding of the community in a new town, city, country: among other races; speaking other languages; with different foods, dress, customs, education, religions, hierarchies? What is the hidden cost—hidden because women pay it and are not paid for doing it—when the family and community have to confront and survive the economic and social consequences of racism; especially when the woman on whom survival depends may be under attack herself within her own community?

Sex, Race and Class
From a Speech by Selma James

Selma James, a woman’s rights and anti-racist campaigner and author, coined the term “unwaged” to describe the caring work women do. That word has since entered the English lexicon to describe all who work without wages on the land, in the home, and in the community. During 1958-62 James worked with C. L. R. James in the movement for Caribbean Federation and Independence and in 1972, founded the International Wages for Housework campaign, which demands money from the State for unwaged work in the home and community. She is the coauthor (with Mariarosa Dalla Costa) of “The Power of Women and the Subversion of the Community”—an argument for women’s unwaged work to be seen as the true backbone of a market economy. In 1975, James became the first spokeswoman for the English Collective of Prostitutes, which pushes for decriminalisation of prostitution, sex workers’ right to recognition and safety, and financial alternatives for those forced into prostitution by poverty. James also helped launch Global Women’s Strike, an international grassroots network with the motto: “Invest in caring, not killing.” —CC

Many years ago, some of us put forward the view that women were absolutely central to capitalist production because the work we did created the whole working class, which Marx calls labor power.

The work of reproduction of the human race is not a small matter although neglected by the market because it doesn’t have to pay very much. This unwaged condition is not merely the weakness of women in relation to men in a society where wages dominate, but also one where unwaged women in Africa can grow 80 percent of the food and still not be considered “working” within the economy.

The international market has benefited greatly from this work, especially the work of immigrants, which expresses precisely the power relations between a waged and an unwaged economy. These workers are produced at an even lower cost than the locals because the education and healthcare are not paid for.

Women have had to struggle really very hard for survival, so they became the poorer sex. When the UN said that women do 2/3 of the world’s work—and work twice as hard as men—it not only contradicted every single economic statistic quantifying labor and economic contribution, it also quantified sexism. It is the foundation of a power relation which results in all kinds of indignities and exploitation, the most obvious of which is pay inequity.

Pay Equity and Feminist Politics
One of the things that has always bothered me about the women’s movement is that when women who work in industry or a job outside the home are asked what they want, their first priority overwhelmingly is pay equity. But if you cast your mind to the feminist campaigns since the late 1960s, the ones that hit the headlines, attract the crowds, and are well-financed are for abortion rights!

I am not a lunatic. I do believe that women should have control of their own bodies and have the right not to have children, or to have the children they want. The fact that women get abortions sometimes when they don’t have the money to have the full-term pregnancy, or that sometimes they have children they don’t want and are impoverished by it—all of that is based on how much money is available to women. Without question, women need the right to have abortions when they so choose. But if women say that they want pay equity, it seems to me that anybody who calls themselves a feminist should be fighting for that, and not primarily for abortion rights. In fact, if you have pay equity, you can get your own abortion. You have the money to do it.

Why Movements Lose Their Edge
Every single movement for change, including feminism, has thrown up people who inspire or become heads of NGOs, or members of large corporations, or proud members of government (think Condoleezza Rice and Hilary Clinton). They’ve risen to the top not by overthrowing the state so much as by joining it, and when we make demands against the powers that be, we are often facing people from our own movements.

A second thing that’s happened is that a lot of the movements have turned into NGOs and are no longer directed against the powers that be. Rather, they are directed at ameliorating the situation and making jobs for the people involved. Hence, it seems to me that the reason why abortion and not pay equity has been the focus of feminists has to do with funding priorities.

A third thing is competition. I wrote Sex, Race and Class to deal with what I saw as a real problem in the ‘70s and continues to be a problem today—the competition between movements about who is the most exploited and therefore should get the job. In each of the movements—feminist, black, disability, lesbian—there is room at the top that we all have to compete for. Sex, Race and Class tried to make it clear that there was a hierarchy of labor powers that had to do with gender, race, nationality, language, and other inequalities. We are pinned to these categories and have to destroy the whole hierarchy, not just one part of it. It is in our collective interest to look closely at the position of other sectors of the working class to see if we can work together to form a unified movement on the basis of each of us organizing autonomously.

This speech was adapted from a panel moderated by Chris Carlsson, who introduced the speakers.
It was recorded at Counterpulse by Shaping San Francisco in March 2012.

Such questions begin to drag out of the shadows the mountain of work, which has defined women’s condition, as well as the mountain of work that is assigned to immigrants, particularly if we are Black, always if we are women. For though as women we share overwork and poverty, yet race, immigration and other divides determine what kind of work we do—how much, under what circumstances, and for what returns.

While the UN figures only quantify sexual division of labor, there is also a racial division of labor, an immigrant/native division of labor, and so on, which are rarely quantified. In fact, every division among us expresses the division of labor—the quantity of work and the wages (or lack thereof) mapped out for each sector. Depending upon who we are—the combination of sex, race, age, nationality, physical dis/ability, and so on—we are pushed into one or other niches that seem to be our natural destiny rather than our job. To allow even one aspect of our identity to be denied by anyone—which they do to hide the power relation between us and them—is to allow them to falsify or obscure our social position and our workload.

Work Shapes Women’s Relationships
Within the self-proclaimed women’s movement, our unwaged work on the land and in the kitchen is hardly a concern for many feminists. The same is true for most political men of every hue and complexion. Neither group includes the tortuous two-thirds of the world’s work in their definitions of either sexual or racial violence, though it is both.

Work is not just another issue, one of many ingredients of “oppression,” one item on a list of grievances that add up to women’s inferior position. It’s not just one branch of a blighted tree where each branch has equal claim to treatment in the cause of liberation. Work—the activity women and men are forced to perform to survive—is the essence of capitalism, which must be destroyed root and branch. This work is what saps our time and our energy, which happen to be our life. Work confines us, defines us, and shapes our relationships. For women, to the degree that the work we do is to care for, nurture, train, and nourish others, physically and socially, work is also our relationships. Because work is how we spend our lives and how we relate, work shapes our consciousness of ourselves and of each other.

Rosie the Riveter, 1942. Courtesy of the blackhistoryalbum.comWomen are seen as naturally low-waged or unwaged servants by men, by society, starting with our own children. The work we do is the essence of our slavery and neglecting women’s work has wide implications for every aspect of struggle. For example, without a quantification of women’s work, the case against imperialism, multinationals, and the military-industrial complex, has a basic weakness, a tragic flaw. Why they conquer, what they steal, who they exploit and how much—in the factory, farm, and family, are an incomplete reckoning at best. At worst, such a false reckoning conceals the most bitter truths about one of the two sexes, about the relations between men and women, and about every aspect of politics and economics.

Immigrant Women are Vital to the Labor Force
The neglect of immigrants’ work, but immigrant women’s work in particular, is a basic weakness of every anti-deportation campaign. The movement has often made the case that because most immigrants are of “working age,” those of us who are immigrants contribute more to the economy per capita than natives, who tend to be older; and that they are doing jobs the natives have refused to do. This is true, but it postdates our contribution.
In 1978, three immigrant women’s organizations together led the Child Benefit For All campaign to try to prevent the loss of child benefit to immigrant parents whose children were not with them in Britain. The £70 million a year was to be denied to parents who had already been denied their children by immigration procedures and racism. A basic premise of the campaign was that immigrants have always been working for Britain—first in the colonies and ex-colonies, and then in Britain itself—and that work roots the claim for the right to stay and for rights to the Welfare State, not in abstract justice only but in very concrete debts outstanding. Once this work and pain are highlighted, we . . . see that we are owed far more than we owe.[3]
Women’s unwaged work all over the world has produced this army of immigrants. While housework everywhere is consuming and endless, in the Third World it is generally accomplished without running water, State health care, education, or welfare. Immigrant women came to metropolitan countries precisely to refuse this housework.

Many generations of Third World women have paid heavily so that Britain and other metropolitan countries could have a reserve labor force ready and waiting in the wings, so to speak, for when it is needed. That poorer nations subsidize richer ones by exporting immigrant labor power has been noted before. But that it is women’s unwaged work in Third World conditions of economic and technological poverty that has produced this labor power, which is a subsidy extracted specifically from women by international capital, is rarely if ever noted. The State never mentions the work on which it has been so dependent. And neither, in general, does the movement. That women are seen as appendages of men in immigration legislation and threatened with deportation if they lose that connection is directly attributable to the invisibility of their work. It is vital, therefore, that the economic and social foundations laid by our unwaged housework, field work, community work, office work, and much more, in every society, finally be acknowledged.

Make Women’s Unwaged Work Part of GDP
Women’s unwaged work appears nowhere in any country’s gross national product (now called the gross domestic product), which is supposed to quantify the total amount of a country’s goods and services. Those who claim to lead us in the struggle against exploitation, including trade unions, seem just as reticent to mention the two-thirds we do, the 5 percent we are given for it, and the mere 1 percent of assets we own. Women’s unwaged work? Hard. Maybe even tragic. But marginal. Unproductive. They should get a job. And so, women (and children) who bear the burden of this work and this poverty are omitted from every consideration of entitlement. Dismissed as much by militant antisexists as by militant anticapitalists and antiracists, and even by those who pride themselves that they are all three.

In dismissing or ignoring the ILO figures, two-thirds of the case against capitalism, sexism, and the racist, imperialist patriarchy is lost; as is two-thirds of the proof that there is a material basis for sisterhood, a basis for common struggle as women and as workers internationally. In particular, the day-to-day struggle of Black women to cut down on this work, and where it is unavoidable, to get it done and still survive remains largely invisible and unrecognized.

1.    Women at Work, International Labor Office Newsbulletin, Geneva, no. 1 (1980). The two-thirds figure originated in this journal.
2.    Capitalist society turns everything, including human skills and abilities, into commodities whose value is quantified on a price tag or in a wage. The degree to which we are exploited is meticulously planned and constantly measured and evaluated in stock exchanges, banks, boardrooms, cabinet meetings—even at foxhunts, over dinner, and for all we know, in bed. In general, men do not work as hard as women. The differences in amount of work, income, and degree of exploitation are quantifiable—so  we can measure not only how much we lose but what we can win and frame our demands accordingly. (As a strategy, quantification began with Marx, whose early work described the effects of exploitation and later work quantified this exploitation.)
3.    Francis Solveig. “Until Women Have Spoken.” Introduction to Black Women: Bringing It All Back Home,  Falling Wall Press, 1980.

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Women's Movement Legacy — Antidote to Despair

Interview with Dorothy Kidd
By B. Jesse Clarke

Dorothy Kidd's work appears regularly in the academic, popular left, and social movement press. A professor at the department of Media Studies at the University of San Francisco, she has been organizing at the interface of the community and university for 13 years. A media and feminist activist since the early 1970s, she has been producing media, studying the role of the dominant corporate media, and circulating accounts about radical alternative media since that time. She was interviewed in the studios of Radio RP&E.

B. Jesse Clarke: Women’s rights to equal pay, health care, and even contraception were under attack in the 2012 election campaigns. What isn’t much discussed is where and when these rights were won.  What were feminist activists struggling for in the ‘60s and ‘70s? What were the issues, and how were they pushing to bring equal rights to women?
Dorothy Kidd: The first thing to say is that there wasn’t a uniform feminist movement. The feminist movement that my students read about is the movement of professional and business women to get seats at the table with the ruling class and large corporations. To some degree they’ve succeeded, so we see more women in boardrooms, more women in politics. (Not as much here as in Europe, Canada, or Australia, but progress has been made.) That was not the aim of the women’s groups I was involved in in the ‘60s and ‘70s.

It was to get recognition for the work that women were already doing—in their homes [raising the next generation], in the community [making the community sustainable, livable], and in the political sphere.

We wanted people to recognize that not only was economic value created by people in waged jobs, but also by unwaged jobs, in what we called the larger “social factory.”

Clarke: Could you give us a summary of some of the major social institutions that were created in that period?
Kidd: Overall, we were making an argument for equal rights for all people, regardless of race and class. Some of the key points we were working toward: explaining that welfare was not something just for needy people but a recognition of the work that women did in the home raising the future generation; extending post secondary education to working class people and having bridging programs for mothers specifically so that they could go to university; expanding afterschool care programs—which women could no longer do at home when they were becoming a bulwark of the waged economy.

In fact, my mother and her generation had fought for daycare. At that time, women did this work for free and it was considered that they were doing it for individual families. My mother’s generation argued, “That’s not true. We’re contributing to the whole society by providing childcare and we should get proper wages and support, so that it is quality daycare, not just institutional warehousing of children.”
One of the other things we were organizing for was domestic workers to be considered as workers.

Clarke: To this day, domestic labor is still excluded from many labor law protections. Can you talk about the relationships between immigrant women doing domestic work and women’s subordination in the domestic and economic sphere?
Kidd: Women were expected to do all of the nurturing and educational work in the family for free, no matter what their class level. In the ’60s and ’70s, another campaign was for nurses to be recognized as professional workers. Before that, they were just considered high society volunteers who did it on the side.

That affects immigrant women because a lot of them came from the Caribbean or the Philippines with nursing training, and they were not given proper wages. They were not considered trained people, just immigrants with domestic skills. So there’s been a whole campaign for nurses and health care workers that continues today. There are strikes every year in San Francisco of nurses and health care workers. In fact, for the last 30 to 40 years, nurses and health care workers have probably been some of the best organized workers in the United States. Nonetheless, they are still arguing with the false premise that women should do this work for free; or [that] immigrant women should do it for less money.

Clarke: In 2012, California Governor Jerry Brown refused to sign the Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights. When it came time to lay out the cuts to the California state budget, homecare services were at the top of the list.

Kidd: And to the degree that unions and other social movements are not supporting the campaigns of domestic workers and nurses as frontline campaigns, all of us are going to be affected.

Clarke: Do you see a way to make that clear so that women can advance their economic interests in that context?
Kidd: Yes. I would like to turn the debate right on its head and talk more about who’s creating value, and how society’s run, and how we are going to survive. If we started talking about the contribution not only of women but women and men in creating social relationships that are sustainable—an earth that is sustainable—then we can talk specifically about the historic struggles that women, whether they’re organized in women’s movements or within community organizations, have been waging to do just that.
That’s partly what we were trying to do in the ‘70s and it’s still going on.

Clarke: Talk about the way in which domestic violence and social violence against women—for instance, calling some kinds of rape “legitimate”—have been submerged and made invisible. Can you take us back to the origins of women’s organizing against violence in the ‘60s and ‘70s?
Kidd: One way was talking about our experiences of harassment, our experiences of things that were not even recognized as violence against women.

Let me just remind people: “date rape” did not exist as a concept. Nor did rape in marriage. Or the fact that women are systematically violated as an act of war.

It took women talking with one another and recognizing that we share these experiences—they were not just individual violations and we needed to speak about them. We needed to pressure institutions to support women who have been violated, with battered women’s services and rape relief services. We needed to push lawyers, particularly feminist lawyers, because [they were] the only ones who would take on the cases.

We needed to work with teachers to be able to talk to children about this, so that students grew up knowing that they didn’t need to deal with that kind of harassment. We needed to go to the international court, as some women did in the early 1990s, and argue that violence against women at war was a crime.

So we were shifting not only the laws and regulations, we were shifting very fundamental concepts about what it meant to be safe and without violence against you, and we were creating institutions that supported that.

Clarke: To bring it back to economic justice and women, can you talk about where you see hope for that?
Kidd: To me, one of the most important struggles at this point is around domestic workers, for several reasons.

One, they make clear the relationship that is still superimposed, not just on women, but on immigrants, which is that your work supporting society and your community is part of your love, or part of your culture, and therefore, you do it for free. We don’t have to recognize it. And domestic workers, who are overwhelmingly from immigrant backgrounds, say, “That’s a lie! We make society function. If it wasn’t for us, you with the bigger incomes wouldn’t be able to go to work and make the big bucks. We make it possible for you to do that.” That’s one of the most important campaigns going on.

Secondly, to the degree that domestic workers do not have proper wages and are not recognized, it becomes even more possible for ideologues, whether they’re liberal or rightwing, to say, “Oh well, the rest of you can just share austerity. We’re going through fiscal cutbacks and all of us are going to have to tighten our belts,” which is the argument that’s been made for the last 30 or 40 years to make our society work.

So, to the degree that there’s a class of people systemically being told that, the rest of us are subject to that kind of blackmail.

Thirdly, the organizing networks the domestic workers have established are exemplary. [They are working collaboratively] with unionized workers, who don’t necessarily work very well with people fighting around almost unwaged situations. That kind of alliance is important, especially in a period when trade unions represent only 10 percent of the workforce.

Also, they are drawing on the diaspora and getting support from organizations throughout Central America. For me, who’s done communications all my life, it’s also exemplary because they’re using every form of communication: testimonials, storytelling, video analyses, all of those kinds of things. They’re appealing to people not just through their head, but their heart.

Yes, they’ve been turned back at the Sacramento legislature by the governor’s veto but that’s not stopping the campaign because it’s going on from individual homes, where domestics work, to different state legislatures, to Washington, D.C., to considerations with domestic workers in other countries.

It’s a political and an economic campaign; also a social one. I’m sure we’ll find that the connections individual domestic workers make with other domestic workers is probably one of the most profound lessons. As Silvia Federici has said, it is domestic workers who are modeling how to occupy the streets. If you go out during the day to a public park or a cafe, you will see women, mostly brown women with white babies, hanging out together. They’ve provided the visual image of how we can take back the street, the park. So there’s a lot to be learned.

Clarke: Memory and imagination. Amnesia and despair. It seems to me that the antidote to despair about the future is not to forget the past because then you really are isolated in a present where you seem to be powerless. It’s important to remember the powerful moments of the past as a guide towards imagining a positive future.  In closing, any lessons you can share?
Kidd: I learned how important it was to get into experiences that were uncomfortable—to deal with power differences between me as a white, middle class person and other people I was working with. I learned that some differences could be bridged, at least temporarily, through working together and that was a profound hopefulness.

The second thing I learned was, I was lucky to have parents with another generation of experience before me who could say, “Why do you think you are unique? We were doing that in the ‘30s.” And I remind myself not to say it in the same tone when I’m speaking with my students, but this voice is there saying, “Speak to them about the antecedents, about the experiences that you know were successful, and the important lessons. And that progress is not linear. We go through waves.” Failure experiences are probably as important as successes but we continually need to rehearse our past.

The thing that I think is much more profound now—that we didn’t have in the ‘70s, ‘80s, or ‘90s, is this idea that all of us have stories we need to share with one another. One of the advantages of the Occupy movement is that they got that. They weren’t trying to spin the best story to the media. They were saying, “We’re not going to have an NGO spokesperson or a movement spokesperson tell you about it. You have to talk to each of us.”

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Nurses Organize to Defend Patient and Worker Rights

By Karina Muniz

When it comes to organizing for health care as a human right, nurses far more often than doctors, are taking the lead in advocating for their patients. Nurses organizing gave us legislation to protect women who were able to stay longer in the hospital after giving birth; mandated registered nurse-to-patient ratios; improved protections for women survivors of domestic violence; and are at the forefront of many battles for better access to health care.

Every day, at the medical facilities where they work, nurses are first hand witnesses to health care practices that put profit above quality of care. Increasingly, hospital stays are cut short and essential medical procedures denied for cost reasons. Patients are removed for nonpayment of bills and services considered necessary are cut, even as the patient-to-staff ratios rise to dangerous levels.

So, it’s not surprising that nurses are at the frontlines of the battle for a more equitable and fair health care system, speaking out for the people’s right to access quality care and the rights of healthcare workers to do their jobs effectively.

While the reelection of President Obama and the 2012 Supreme Court ruling on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act both carry the promise of imminent healthcare reform, it’s not at all clear that it’s moving in the right direction.

Patient Rights Linked to Worker Rights
As a workforce, nurses have found it necessary to link the protection of patients’ rights to their own rights as workers because their struggles within a capital driven system often parallel the struggle of workers in other industries, but the scope of who is affected by their advocacy is very broad. We all need access to good quality health care and a unionized workforce has stronger political power to make those policy changes happen.

The California Nurses Association (CNA) represents over 80,000 RNs in more than 200 hospitals. They have a powerful voice in Sacramento and have been active in campaigns, such as the RN Safe Staffing Ratio law implemented in 2004, which research shows has helped reduce patient deaths and assured nurses of more time to spend with patients. The CNA is currently fighting to expand Medicare and implement single payer healthcare, and is also pushing for a Robinhood tax on Wall Street Trades—estimated to generate $350 million per year in revenue for the state.[1]

“When we say we’re advocates, we take it beyond the walls of the hospital and our patients’ bedside out to the streets,” says Liz Jacobs, communications director of the CNA. “We have to put on our sneakers, pick up the picket signs, and get our voices heard. Shutting down medical facilities and cutting service affects the community at large.”

Corporatization Spurs Organizing
Nurses have not always had this kind of political presence. As a predominantly female workforce—although there is a growing number of male nurses in the field—nurses were among the lowest paid professionals just over a generation ago. But the CNA has been able to turn that perception around and nurses today are recognized as public service workers. Licensed nurses—both Licensed Vocational Nurses (LVN) and Registered Nurses (RN)—constitute the single largest occupational group in the health care industry.[2]

“It used to be that unions were all about Teamsters and blue collar workers, but nurses are out there protesting as well,” says Jacobs. “We are an activist organization, even though patient care never stops.”

In the mid 1990s, large corporate hospital chains began buying out local community facilities, eliminating the local hospital boards that were accountable to the community. The corporatization of health care meant that hospitals were now accountable to stockholders[3] and suddenly, the length of a hospital stay became contingent upon an insurance company’s willingness to pay instead of on the patient’s need. Looking to boost their bottom line, hospitals began to view workers as a cost in need of cutting, and massive layoffs ensued, followed by restructuring. And more and more, health care facilities—hospitals, labs, outpatient facilities, and elder care institutions—were staffed by foreign-trained nurses with temporary work visas.

“The nurses that were left were responsible for sicker patients who were in the hospital for less time,” explained Jacobs of CNA. “RNs started leaving hospitals because they couldn’t provide safe care. They were going against their profession and what they were trained to do. So you had a perfect storm for nurses to organize.”

Medical Redlining
St. Luke’s Hospital in San Francisco’s Mission District is a classic example of a nonprofit being run on a for-profit model. It was purchased by California Pacific Medical Center (CPMC), a Sutter Health affiliate, which subsequently announced plans to shut it down at its current location and open a new 555-bed, 1 million square foot facility at Van Ness Avenue and Geary Boulevard on Cathedral Hill for an estimated $2.5 billion. Advocates for St. Luke’s want to know why the hospital is moving to north of Market Street where there are already seven other facilities.

The answer is fairly straightforward: the majority of St. Luke’s patients are the working poor on Medi-Cal and don’t have a voice. (Studies show that hospitals catering to Medi-Cal recipients have reduced inpatient care and increased outpatient surgery to cut down costs.[4]) Like San Francisco General Hospital, the only other South of Market facility, St. Luke’s caters to an underserved population, specifically the Spanish-speaking population of San Francisco, which it has been serving since its inception.
Sutter Health has a reputation for buying up hospitals, closing them down, and reopening them as ‘boutique facilities’[5] in the more affluent neighborhoods.

It’s a form of medical redlining, according to Jane Sandoval, an RN at St. Luke’s for 27 years.[6] A Filipina American raised in the Mission, she was catapulted into advocacy over the fight to keep St. Luke’s open. Sandoval sees the hospital as a vital part of the neighborhood and considers the patients an extension of the community at large. Cuts in services and ultimately, the shutting down of the hospital for more affluent aspirations would mean that the patients—who are also Mission residents—have once again been discarded in favor of an affluent clientele.

“There is an assumption that as Asian women, we are not going to speak up, but we need to speak for the unspoken,” Sandoval says.

Also, in the current economic climate where many in the trades are out of work, Sutter Health has been pairing up with some of the more male-dominated trades and pitting them against the female-dominated nursing profession, she claims.
“[The trades] have argued for the project to be built,” Sandoval says. “They say they need their jobs. Well, we need our jobs too!”

St. Luke’s Failure Means Success for Sutter Health
CPMC had an agreement with the San Francisco Mayor’s Office that it would spend $300 million to rebuild a reduced but updated version of St. Luke’s on condition that its operating margin for the hospital not drop below 1 percent for two consecutive years. But documents leaked just before a San Francisco Board of Supervisors vote on the matter revealed that Sutter was considering an option to purposely drive down the hospital’s bottom line to trigger the escape clause and close St. Luke’s earlier than expected.[7]

“It’s a common tactic when they are running numbers,” notes Sandoval about the clause that incentivizes failure. “People’s lives are affected by the commoditization of health care.”

Sutter Health calls itself a not-for-profit organization and claims that unlike investor-owned health care systems, it reinvests money left over after employees and bills have been paid into health care.[8] What it does not reveal on its website is how much it pays its top level employees. Both CNA and the National Nurses Union (NNU) have noted that Sutter profits have reached $3.7 billion since 2005. Based on its 990 filings for 2009, Sutter paid CEO Pat Fry $39,992,642 and Vice President David Drucker, $2,535,081.[9]

As of last summer, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee has put CPMC on notice that if Sutter Health does not keep St. Luke’s open in the Mission for another 20 years as originally promised, there would be no deal for the new development.

Nurses Keep Hospital Open, Sutter Retaliates
When the nurses secured their first major political victory in forcing Sutter Health to keep St. Luke’s open, the hospital chain tried to retaliate. Chris Hanks, a former director of Critical Care Services at CPMC, said in a declaration that he was told on a number of occasions, “not to hire any Filipinos.”

In 2010, a class action grievance was filed against Sutter/CPMC on behalf of the nurses, and CNA held a press conference where nurses and former nursing supervisors spoke about their first hand experience with the issue.[10]

A U.S. model of nursing in the Philippines has a long history. Western medicine’s so-called “power to heal” was used in part to justify colonialism. In the terms of the day, it was the “white man’s burden” to address the “suffering” among Filipinos (labeled as unsanitary and diseased), warranting U.S. colonial medical intervention, and giving the U.S. “righteous purpose” in the surveillance of their island.[11]

The fact that, among nurse-sending countries, the largest outflow of nurses is from the Philippines cannot be disconnected from this history. Today, as U.S. corporate wealth accumulates, push/pull migration factors remain steady. Nurses trained in the Philippines and here on temporary work visas face an even greater risk of exploitation.

Nurses have fought hard to have their voices heard. They, along with the LVNs, nurse’s aides, and other health care workers have been doing the heavy lifting in terms of keeping health care in the community.

On November 1 this year, over 3,000 RNs, along with several hundred respiratory, X-ray, and other technicians, held a one-day strike against seven Sutter hospitals in Alameda, Contra Costa, and Solano counties in response to reductions in patient care protections and nurses’ contract standards.[12]

Nursing, even though better paid than it was in previous generations, still remains women’s work. In many ways, the profession and its unions give a foretaste of what a caring social order could look like.  But sadly, under U.S. law, the bottom line remains the “terms and conditions” of employment, and the nurses’ power to set the agenda for a larger debate about health care and worker rights is an uphill struggle.

The fight goes on.

1.    <>
2.    Joanne Spetz, Jordan Rickles, Wendy Dyer, Laurie Hailer, and Paul Ong. “California’s Nursing Labor Force: Demand, Supply and Shortages.” The Center for the Health Professions, University of California, San Francisco. 2008.
3.    Interview with Liz Jacobs. 10/29/12.
4.     Ibid.
5.    Hospitals that cater primarily to insured populations with a focus on profitable and elective procedures over emergency or other essential medical services are refered to as “boutique facilities.”
6    Interview with Jane Sandoval. 10/30/12.
7.    <>
8.     </>
9.    <>
10.    <>
11.    Catherine Ceniza Choy. “Empire of Care: Nursing and Migration in Filipino American History.” North Carolina. Duke University Press, 2003.
12.    Spetz, et al. “California’s Nursing Labor Force: Demand, Supply and Shortages.”

Karina is a freelance writer and political director of Mujeres Unidas y Activas.


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Youth Score Win for Free MUNI Passes

San Francisco Coalition Mobilizes for Transit Justice

Low-income youth of San Francisco will be able to ride Muni for free during a 16-month trial period starting early in 2013, thanks to the efforts of a broad community coalition. After a two-year campaign, the city’s Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) gave final approval for the funding on December 4, 2012. Campaign organizers want the program to begin in February, with a massive drive to sign up youth for free passes fully underway by March.

In November 2011, the coalition won crucial support when the San Francisco Board of Supervisors lent its support to the campaign. Spirited actions by youth, parents, and community advocates through 2011 had been aimed at winning relief for students and their families from the rising cost of bus and light rail fares following school district cuts to funding for yellow school buses.

The coalition successfully overcame the regional transit authority’s debatable funding priorities as well as opposition from some supervisors who wanted all available funds spent on improving Muni facilities and maintenance. Funds for the $13 million pilot project will come from SFMTA, the Metropolitan Transportation Commision (MTC), and the County Transportation Authority.

The grassroots drive for a free Muni youth pass began last year in response to the narrowing access to public transportation for the city’s 40,000 low-income youth. The San Francisco Unified School District is cutting its yellow school bus service by nearly half, while the price of a Muni Youth Pass for youth five to 17 years old has risen from $10 to $22 since 2009.  A monthly Muni-only Fast Pass for Adults now costs $64.
Supporters of the project said the rising cost of Muni passes have led to a decline in ridership. Muni sold 18,410 youth passes in October 2010 but only 11,502 in the same period this year. With Muni becoming the school bus service for many students, the burden of paying for their commute falls heaviest on working class families with more than one child going to school.

“With the rising costs of bus passes it would cost my family $200 for all of us to get monthly passes for two adults and two kids,” said Joanne Abernathy. “A lot of people in my neighborhood are deciding between $2 for Muni fare or $2 for milk.”

Skewed Funding Punishes Low-Income Riders
Cities that want to maintain healthy bus service must contend with funding priorities at all levels of government that favor automobile use over public transportation. More than 80 percent of federal transit funds go to highways—only 20 percent goes to public transit— and the law bans use of such federal funds for day-to-day operations. The Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), which distributes federal and state transportation moneys in the nine-county Bay Area allots just 6 percent of its expansion funds to bus service.

A POWER survey of 727 public transportation users in San Francisco showed that 48 percent said they didn’t have enough money for transportation in the last month. Riders use public transportation for a whole range of activities, including going to school (57 percent), appointments (41 percent), work (40 percent), grocery shopping (35 percent), after-school appointments (15 percent) and childcare (8 percent). More than half reported waiting an average of 10 to 20 minutes for a bus and 16 percent reported waiting more than 20 minutes.

Rising costs of fares put the heaviest burden on the city’s low-income families of color in the following communities: Chinatown, the Mission, Bayview-Hunters Point, Excelsior, and Visitacion Valley, which have some of the city’s lowest per capita incomes. Families in these neighborhoods spent 20-24 percent of their household income on transportation in 2005, before the doubling of bus fares.

The expansion of proof-of-payment fare enforcement has fostered widespread fear and decreased access to public transit for people in these same neighborhoods. San Francisco began implementing proof-of-payment fare enforcement (POP) in the mid-1990s on Muni’s light rail lines, expanding it to bus lines by 2005. Uniformed and armed San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) officers began boarding the buses and handing out tickets that carried substantial fines. Last year, the city paid $12 million to the police department for its POP enforcement services. However, from 2006 to 2010, the city recovered only $1 million in lost fares after spending $9.5 in enforcement.

An excerpt from Next Stop: Justice—Race and Environment at the Center of Transit Planning, a report published by POWER, DataCenter, and Urban Habitat.

Grassroots Initiative
San Francisco’s Youth Commission in 2009 began questioning the decreasing access to public transportation, drawing the attention of community organizations to the growing problem of rising fares. “Muni has become too expensive and the services that we count on are becoming out of reach for us financially,” says Leah LaCroix, who chairs the San Francisco Youth commission.

Meanwhile, People Organized to win Employment Rights (POWER) had launched a successful effort to make Muni scale back its proof-of-payment enforcement crackdown, which had triggered complaints of intimidation and racial profiling.

“In March, April, and May 2010, there was an initial youth fare program for 12,000 kids, and the passes were used up really quick,” said Jaron Browne, POWER’s director of communication. “The need greatly exceeded availability. That’s when we saw the problem was huge.”
POWER convened a broad coalition of community organizations that propelled the free Muni for youths campaign, including the Chinatown Community Development Center, Jamestown Community Center, SRO Families Collaborative, MORE Public Transit Coalition, SF Organizing Project, Senior Action Network, Coleman Advocates for Children, San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, Filipino Community Center, Causa Justa, and Senior Action Networks, among other groups.

“Perhaps the most exciting part of the campaign is the leadership role San Francisco’s youth has played,” said Bob Allen, director of the transportation justice program at Urban Habitat, pointing to POWER, a community-based advocacy group founded in 1997, as the leading force of the movement. POWER had helped raise the minimum wage in the city and has been organizing women domestic workers as well as residents of low-income communities.

The Free Muni for Youth drive is part of POWER’s larger campaign for “transit justice,” to correct the rising cost of commutes, the poor quality of public transportation service to low-income neighborhoods, and heavy handed “criminalization” of fare evasion. Urban Habitat has provided campaign support for the project and is a coauthor with POWER and the DataCenter of Next Stop Justice: Race And Environment at the Center of Transit Planning. (See sidebars to this story and Research and Resources on page 87 for more on the report.)

Research and Strategy
The community coalition held a straw poll, setting up voting booths near the Mission and Geneva intersection to ask commuters if they thought youth should be able to ride Muni for free—“to get a sense of the depth of the need,” said Browne.

Then, with assistance from allies, such as Supervisor David Campos—who wants to follow New York’s example and provide public transportation that is “accessible to students in our public school system”—Urban Habitat, and DataCenter, the coalition undertook extensive research to identify the key funding sources likely to be responsible for transit programs.

“Urban Habitat was particularly helpful in mapping us out an understanding of the regional funding stream,” said Browne. The campaign learned that competitive funding was available from a broad range of sources—city, county, and regional bodies responsible for improving public transportation access for low-income communities and for addressing the region’s air quality.

The coalition also “carefully analyzed areas of potential cost savings—the MTA’s capital budget, work order charges from other city agencies for providing services to Muni, overtime costs—that would allow Muni to put more service on the street,” said Allen.

Armed with data-based arguments, including a model program and price structure, the campaigners organized delegations to convince elected officials and decision-makers at various government levels. The campaign “was smart about it and had a strategy that made sense,” said Campos, It was well informed about “the different pitfalls” ahead, he added.

“We really put a lot of pressure on various government levels,” said Browne. The SF Board of Supervisors would call on SF Municipal Transportation Agency, SFUSD, SF County Transportation Authority, and Metropolitan Transportation Commission to collaborate with community groups in designing and securing funding for a free Muni for youth program.  Support also came from Mayor Ed Lee, the SF Board of Education and its Student Advisory Council, the SF Youth Commission and the Parent Teacher Association board.

Better Public Transit for Better Air
In the San Francisco Bay Area, personal vehicle exhaust is a leading source of greenhouse gas emissions and toxic air pollutants. Cars and light trucks accounted for 78 percent of transportation sector emissions in 2007. In the city, transportation sources produce 50 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions. Passenger vehicles contribute nearly four times more to global warming than heavy duty trucks, ships, and aircraft combined.

San Francisco’s poor and working-class communities of color are affected more by poor air quality because they tend to live next to high-volume roadways. Residents of Chinatown, the Mission, Bayview-Hunters Point, the Excelsior, and Visitacion Valley suffer severe health burdens from pollutant exposure. One study of 12,000 residents in the Bayview showed rates of cervical and breast cancer double those in other parts of the region, and hospitalization rates for heart failure, hypertension, diabetes, and emphysema more than three times the statewide average. San Francisco Department of Public Health figures show startlingly higher rates of asthma hospitalizations in these neighborhoods than in wealthier ones.

Approximately 60 percent of all trips in San Francisco used a private vehicle. Muni wants to reduce this to 30 percent by 2030, a step in the right direction. Yet, some recent Muni policy decisions, such as increasing transit fare and decreasing bus service, severely undermine this aim. Every 10 percent increase in fares decreases ridership by 4 percent, according to the American Public Transportation Association.

Community-Based Lobbying
“Hundreds of young people came and testified before the Board of Supervisors, before the MTA, the Muni board of directors,” said Campos. “Kids talked about how they sometimes had to choose between paying their bus fare or buying lunch, or how they just walked to school and ended up late.” 

It was also “very powerful,” Campos added, to have “parents and families talk about the impact of the lack of access to public transportation on them—how painful it was for them to not be able to give bus fare to their kids because they just didn’t have money.”

Coalition activists also disseminated information through social media and the mainstream press, with students from various schools throughout the city videotaping messages of support for the plan.

They explained that up to 70 percent of San Francisco high school students surveyed use public transit to commute and that the pilot program would cost less than one percent of Muni’s $800 million annual budget.

More Public Transit Means More Jobs
From 2008 through 2010, nearly 90 percent of all the transit systems in the U.S. had to raise fares or cut service. As a direct result of these service cuts, 97,000 U.S. transit workers lost their jobs in 2009. By September 2010, an additional 78,000 jobs were lost. The economic impact of transit austerity politics goes beyond job cuts for bus drivers and mechanics. Every $1 in service cuts caused by operating deficits bleeds $10 from the local economy in lost wages and increased transportation costs. These cuts hit transit-dependent people the hardest.
Investment in transit operations and service—and in bus drivers, mechanics, and support staff—is one of the most efficient and effective economic development strategies available. Ten million dollars invested in transit operations produces $30 million in increased business sales. This strong multiplier effect yields both additional jobs in the local economy and increased sales tax revenues for state and local governments. An analysis of federal stimulus spending showed that transit operations created 72 percent more jobs than similar investments in transit capital.

With the steadily increasing prices of fares and passes many people, including students, are tempted to resort to fare evasion, risking fines of $100 to $150—a big bite off a working family’s budget—if inspectors catch them without proof of payment.  And yet, campaigners reported, the enforcement program costs $9.5 million a year but recovers only $1 million in lost fares.

Campaigners also argued that a free Muni for youth program was one of the best ways to secure a generation of new users of public transportation.  In the long run it would help improve air quality, said POWER leader Manuela Esteva. “We started realizing that not only would free Muni benefit youth, but we could also have a positive impact on the environment.”

At the MTA-level negotiations, the campaign agreed to a compromise. Instead of an initial goal of free passes for all youth, it agreed to make the program specific to “low-income” youth. “We will eventually push for between 100 percent to 120 percent of median income, so we could include even unionized workers and more working class people,” reported Browne.

After hearing youth and parent testimonies in a public hearing, the SFMTA board in April approved $9 million for a free youth fare program, but only if $4 to $5 million could be obtained from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC).

The MTC is the transportation planning and financing body for the Bay Area’s nine counties. It disburses up to $3 billion annually to local transit operators, highway and road construction, and planning activities.

In July, however, the MTC voted 8-7 against giving San Francisco the $4 million, arguing that only the city’s youth would benefit from the program while there were other low-income families in other cities that need help just as much.  That left Muni’s $9.4 million free youth pass plan $5 million short.

Yet, in the same meeting attended by an audience of nearly 150 plan supporters, the MTC approved at least $18.6 million for the new ferry service between Alameda and South San Francisco. An example, critics say, of class bias and lopsided funding priorities.

The ferry outlay amounts to a public subsidy of $47 per ferry ride. Workers from biotech firms, such as Genentech, are currently the main users of the ferry. Meanwhile, coalition activists contended, the subsidy for free Muni for 40,000 kids would amount to only $2.86 per ride.

“It’s been a very eye-opening experience for me,” said Zeke Osmond, a restaurant worker and sales clerk who is also a member of POWER. “It’s been very tough and somewhat embarrassing to see these commissioners, and how they approach these situations.”

However, on October 10 came a pleasant surprise—the MTC awarded the city $6.7 million in federal funds meant to increase transit ridership and improve system performance. The money could be used for a variety of purposes, including free fares.

But Supervisors Scott Wiener, Mark Farrell, Sean Elsbernd, and Carmen Chu wanted the new funds to be spent on capital improvements and maintenance first, instead of free youth fares.

Campaign supporters criticized them for setting up a “false choice” between increasing transit access for low-income youth and improving Muni. SFMTA transportation director Ed Reiskin stated, “I don’t see this as an either or. We have ridership goals and we have productivity goals. We’re trying to use these dollars to address both.”

Reiskin proposed to use $1.6 million of the $6.7 million for setting up the free Muni rides for low-income youth between February and June, and the remaining $5.1 million for rehabilitating Muni light-rail vehicles. The agency would set aside another $1.8 million in the following fiscal year to keep the pilot project going.

Recommendations from Next Stop: Justice
1. Increase San Francisco’s investments in public transportation by taxing large developers and corporations. Large developers and corporations already benefit from public transit’s contribution to increasing property values and bringing in workers and customers. Corporations have a responsibility to pay their fair share and invest in the system as a whole.

2. Expand and improve transit in the city’s eastern neighborhoods. The SFMTA must commit to improving transit service in working class communities of color in order to meet the needs of its residents who rely on transit the most. Seriously investing in the eastern neighborhoods is essential to making San Francisco family friendly and to increasing connectivity in the city.

3. Scale back aggressive fare enforcement and use resources to improve service. Saturating bus stops and buses with police officers to catch fare evaders generates far more fear than fares, criminalizing people for trying to ride while poor and black, Latino, or Asian Pacific Islander. The money saved by cutting out the POP program should go towards improving service.

4. Reduce transit fares as a central strategy for reaching San Francisco’s climate objectives. Free Muni rides enticed more than 200,000 San Franciscans to leave their cars at home during the first two “Spare the Air” days in 2007. Make public transit the first choice for workers, youth, and families by making it truly affordable and accessible. An important first step is establishing permanent funding for free Muni passes for all youth in San Francisco.

5. Expand transit as a green job growth sector. Public transit not only supports the environment, it also sustains a racially diverse unionized workforce that earns living wages—making it a model of a green jobs sector. To expand transit jobs, San Francisco should prioritize use of transit resources for operations, rather than large capital investments.

6. Shift transportation policy to prioritize public transit over car travel. San Francisco must designate auto-free zones and expand the bus priority zones in areas where transit and alternative mobility options exist to encourage people to use transit. It should also close tax loopholes that favor wealthy drivers, including increasing the tax on corporate downtown parking garages, and closing the valet loophole in the city’s parking tax. Both the city and the region must prioritize operations and maintenance needs for public transit over freeways and capital projects.

7. Collect and publish demographic data about transit riders in the city. Low income communities and communities of color have the highest rates of transit dependency, but the SFMTA doesn’t consistently track information about the ethnicity, gender, or income levels of riders. San Francisco should look to the data tracking and transparency practices of Los Angeles and other cities to find ways to ensure that public transit serves the communities who depend on transit the most.

8. Create a mechanism for greater democracy and community accountability in the SFMTA. All members of the SFMTA Board of Directors are appointed by the mayor and have little direct accountability to transit riders. The agency manages a multimillion dollar budget and decisions made by its board have huge public impacts. Its board should be publicly elected, like the Board of Education and the Community College Board. Even splitting appointments to the SFMTA board between the mayor and the Board of Supervisors would allow for greater public accountability and more motivation to refocus transportation priorities on the needs of the environment and the community.

Challenges Ahead
On December 4, the SFMTA Board approved the final funding allocation of regional transportation funds from MTC  and gave the green light to launch a 16-month pilot program estimated at $6.9 million.

“Our challenge now is to push hard for permanent funding,” Browne said. “The Free Muni for Youth program isn’t the only thing we’re fighting for. There are other transit justice issues on our agenda.”

Rene Ciria-Cruz is a freelance writer based in San Francisco and a frequent contributor to Race, Poverty & the Environment.




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“With the rising costs of bus passes it would cost my family $200 for all of us to get monthly passes for two adults and two kids, . . [we are] deciding between $2 for Muni fare or $2 for milk.”

Transportation Sales Tax Defeated in Los Angeles

The bid by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) to extend an existing transportation sales tax until 2069 failed to meet the necessary 2/3 threshold, delivering a setback to the Mayor's gentrifying and polluting vision for transportation expansion.

Sunyoung Yang, an organizer with the LA Bus Riders Union, which opposed the measure says, “Despite a multimillion dollar corporate-funded ad blitz and misleading ballot language, substantial numbers of voters heard our message about Measure J.”

The Coalition to Defeat Measure J hailed the result not as a defeat for mass transit progress, but as a rejection of MTA's pattern of running roughshod over civil rights, environmental justice, and community concerns in favor of corporate special interests.

Yang explains: “This is not a denial of funds for the MTA. This result forces a shift in the debate on how to redistribute the ample funds from Measure R that MTA already has, with racial equality, social justice, and good transit policy for all at the core.“

The coalition that united the Bus Riders Union with the Crenshaw Subway Coalition, Union de Vecinos in Boyle Heights, Northeast LA Residents Against Measure J, and community leaders from Beverly Hills, overcame a corporate-funded multimillion dollar campaign for Measure J by relying on grassroots tactics.

According to Damien Goodmon,  a member of the Crenshaw Subway Coalition, “Black community, clergy, and civil rights leaders from South LA were palpably offended by Measure J and joined forces with other working class communities of color out of common experience and common purpose. MTA was asking us for more of our money while promising to spend not a penny in our community.”

The coalition forces have an alternative plan that they’d like to see put in place.  Specific policy changes mentioned by Yang include: Reverse the elimination of one million hours of punitive and racially discriminatory bus service cuts; return the monthly bus pass to $52; commit to a Leimert Park Station on the Crenshaw rail line; and cancel plans for the 710 tunnel.”

She calls on the MTA “to stop its alliance with the highway industry, stop its war with bus riders and let's sit down and work together to discuss a transit future for LA that includes everyone."

Eric Roman is an organizer with the Bus Riders Union in Los Angeles.

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New Era for Transit Finance

In spite of rising gas prices, worsening traffic, and growing public concern about climate change, voters in two of the largest and most diverse counties in the state rejected transportation tax measures (Measures J and B1) that promised to meet these important transportation needs. Yet, these same voters, only four years earlier, in the case of Los Angeles County, and 12 years before, in the case of Alameda County, approved similar measures (Measures R and B) with strong support. What has changed in that time and what does this mean for transit-dependent communities and their transportation justice allies?

Alameda County’s Measure B1, promoted by Urban Habitat and many of its allies, included many important benefits for low-income bus riders. These were critical funds to improve bus service and restore cuts in service, provide seed money for a county-wide free student bus pass program, make major investments in bicycle lane and sidewalk safety, as well as provide more money for paratransit for seniors and people with disabilities.  For this reason, B1 didn’t face the same grassroots opposition that Measure J did.

Like Measure J, B1 was a sales tax measure that would have continued to shift the transportation tax burden onto working families and away from corporations and wealthy individuals.  (This is one of the main reasons why, after much debate, Urban Habitat ultimately decided not to endorse the final B1 measure. We were also concerned that the tax would become permanent and that it lacked protections against gentrification and the displacement of low-income renters from neighborhoods well-served by transit.)

The rejection of J and B1 by the same voters who supported Prop 30 (the progressive income tax on the wealthiest 2 percent of Californians) is a signal that the public is recognizing that our current taxation system is unfair and that they are tired of footing the bill, while corporations and the elite pay less and less. This awareness provides bus riders and their allies with an opening to begin needed reform of our transit finance system—how we fund transportation as well as how we spend those funds. The change in how we fund transportation must begin at the national level by flipping the current distribution of federal funds which gives 80 percent to highways and only 20 percent to transit.  And it must continue down through every level of government, with serious consideration of new carbon fees, progressive income taxes, corporate taxes, and real estate transportation impact fees. 

While B1’s defeat will mean more hardship for AC Transit riders, we are hopeful that it provides an opportunity for a more progressive county tax in the near future.

Lindsay Imai is the associate director of the transportation justice program at Urban Habitat.

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Climate Transit Connection

Manuel Esteva is a San Franciso resident and mother of three; a child care worker, and a member of the community organization POWER. She joined POWER three years ago after hearing a presentation at her church. She was interviewed in the studio of Radio RP&E.

Clarke: Tell us why you are interested in climate change. Why does POWER connect transit and climate?
Esteva: (Tr.) The connection really started [with] the campaign for young people to be able to travel around the city without having to pay.
We started realizing that not only would this benefit youth, but we could also [help] the environment.

A lot more natural disasters are affecting people in cities, like the one that just hit New York. And this is caused by global warming. What cities like ours can do is take these small steps that, over time, can have a large impact on the climate.

San Francisco is a small city that can have a national and global impact. It’s a city that sees itself as a green city, always trying to make strides in terms of community health. We can serve as an example to other cities when we create policies that eliminate dependence on cars.  
We know that cars create 20-percent of the pollution in the city. When public transit is made accessible, people use it more. So we can achieve big things when we create [these] policies.

Clarke: So what would POWER do if you had power at City Hall?
Esteva: (Tr.) We know that federal funding prioritizes the creation of highways at the cost of public transit. Only 20 percent of federal funding goes toward public transit. So at the local level, we can encourage people to use public transit [by lowering] the cost, [and making] it more accessible. Other city priorities, like creating car-free zones, can also help.

Clarke: Are the people in your community seeing this connection between climate, transit, and the rights of low-income people?
Esteva: (Tr.) When I’ve done outreach in the community, I’ve talked about this connection between public transit and climate. A lot of people don't really believe it at first but in followup conversations when we ask, “How would the world be different if people relied on public transit more than vehicles?” there’s more of a response. A lot of people became involved in the campaign through [this] outreach.

They’re really moved by this idea of creating a new generation who can live in a healthy city. A lot of young people become involved because of their desire to live on a healthy planet, to have a positive impact on the environment.

One of our members is Adelia, and she has felt the effects of pollution. You know, she’s part of a family of seven, and five of her family members have asthma from living near a freeway, a highly contaminated area. She has fought really hard [for] this policy. Not only will her children benefit, she’ll benefit from not having to make as many hospital trips and trying to get help for a child who’s having an asthma attack.
This is true for many families in the city. So we want to invite people to join the fight and support this cause.

B. Jesse Clarke is the editor of Race, Poverty & the Environment




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Credits, Vol. 19 No. 2

Editor Emeritus
Carl Anthony

Editor & Art Director
B. Jesse Clarke

Assistant Editors
Merula Furtado
Marcy Rein

Layout & Design Editor
Christine Joy Ferrer

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)
Public Health Institute

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

Arnold Perkins
Former Director, Alameda Public Health Department

Organizations are listed for identification purposes only.

ISSN# 1532-2874

©2012 by the individual creators and Urban Habitat.

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

RP&E is a member of 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. In addition to our online archive at, back issues of the journal are available via the comprehensive online academic journal archive JSTOR.