A Quick Note on Equity and Austin’s New Equity Officer

The City of Austin just announced that it has hired a new Equity Officer. There has been a great push for equity in our city by community organizations such as Undoing Racism Austin and Communities of Color United in recent years; however, the city has not responded with any substantive recognition of equitable policy nor shown a clear understanding of what equity really means. Austin has suffered greatly over the years with a major loss of communities of color due to gentrification-induced displacement along racial lines. This leaves many in the community skeptical of the new position, so it is important for us all to ensure we will hold the new equity officer, Brion Oaks, and the whole city government, accountable for equitable policy and governance.

You may have heard a lot about equity lately – in particular reminded about the difference between equity and equality. At the very least, you may have seen this meme:

 

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So instead of giving everyone the same thing (Equality), we ensure everyone has the same outcome (Equity). Sounds easy enough, but who is going to take the box away from the big White guy on the left? If this isn’t happening, equity isn’t happening.

It is easy in liberal society to say, “The poor should be less poor.” That is the message that keeps appearing after the release of the disparity studies that happen every two years. However, to say “The rich should be less rich,” is still left out of the conversation. When we complete the equity equation, we are left with a trickier set of politics than if we only go half way. So far, Mayor Adler and City Hall have completed exactly half of the equation. The equity officer position appears to be responding to a lack of city service to the less fortunate, and not focused on the Austin’s prioritization of elite interests.

There have been countless studies about poverty in Eat Austin and an embarrassing amount of LBJ policy school projects aimed at analyzing the disadvantaged in this city.  But how many studies have been aimed at the culture of greed emanating out of West Austin? How many studies have focused on the exploitation of East Austin perpetuated by those in West Austin? How many studies have looked at the gentry displacing POC throughout East Austin or the culture that excuses their naiveté? What about the narrative consistently pushed by the mayor and others that sells Austin as a great place to make money if you are already rich? As long as these issues are not dealt with, we are not doing equity work – we remain, at best, focusing on equality.

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Power and Oppression

Racism describes a structure of oppression – it is also a very popular framework because it fits in well with the Liberal ideology. White Supremacy describes a structure of power – it is an unpopular framework because it confronts the powers that be. The difference between the two is that one focuses on the oppressed group, and the other focuses on the oppressor; one focuses on equality, the other equity. This country needs a severe shift in talking about race in terms of being oppressed. We need to talk about how race is a structure of power that benefits white people and allows them to systematically dominate other people, and that capitalism is the vehicle for this domination.

As long as Austin is promoted as a tourist destination for spoiled kids on vacation, investment opportunity for venture capitalists, a tech-city, or just a nice place to build your mansion – we will not be working towards equity. “Privilege” is not a happenstance; it is an actively desired status achieved through the policies driving development in Austin and the culture that justifies such privileges.

An equity officer should take a hard look at capitalism before suggesting policy recommendations. Austin is unequal and inequitable economically, politically and culturally. The people of this city deserve justice.  To merely focus on “access” to city programs without challenging the culture of the city and it’s history of systemic racism, this position unlikely to do any good.  Mr. Oaks – we are here if you need any advice on how to proceed.

 

 

 

 

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Native Texans Unite: March on the Mine

It was a great honor to organize and participate in the Native led Action Against Dos Republicas Coal mine on April 16th.  We thank everyone who participated and organized this alongside us, and honor all of the work that has been done in defense of this land in years past.  We, at Equilibrio, see this event as the beginning of what is to come.  Native peoples in Texas are coming together to protect their land and culture.  This is more than a political moment – this is a prayer.

Our ancestors need us; our forbearers even more.  We carry a responsibility in this lifetime to overrule the colonial society.  Our territory, and our relationship to it, is our own.  If not for genocide, the people of this land would never have submitted to the state process of colonization, which remains the dominant system today.  Nearly all land in Texas is held by settler-colonial elites and exploited through extraction of oil, gas and coal.  Meanwhile, our people are economically exploited through capitalism, and culturally dominated through state structures of education, military and law.  However, this system is on the verge of being superseded by our rising consciousness.  “We have nothing to lose but our chains.”

Through decolonial action we erode the structures of oppression.  We see another future is possible through reclaiming our land and our traditions.  We must change the way we live and relate to the Earth. This message hangs on lips throughout the world.  We are not alone in our decolonial work.  The Earth is directing her children to reclaim her.  Our moment to come together is directed by a higher consciousness – the Earth beneath our feet.  

The April 16th action was an expression of respect, compassion and unity among all of our people – this will continue.  We look to those who have maintained connection with their ancestral lifeways to guide us in our rediscovery.  We treat the wounded to heal in this movement.  We welcome the weak to gain strength in this movement.  We invite the ignorant to learn in this movement.  We come together now in a new way.  Like vultures we circle the decaying civilization of exploitation.  Like eagles we set our sights on the future; it rises before us.

Photos by Vanessa Ramos

Native nations people identify with from the march: Borrado, Carrizo-Comecrudo, Cherokee (Aniyunwiya), Chichimeca Jonaz, Chippewa, Chumash, Comanche (by proxy), Creek (Muscogee), Dine’, Hopi, Huasteca/Zapotec, Kickapoo,  Lipan Apache, Mescalero Apache, Mexia/Nahua, Mi-Wuk, Otumban, Pacuache Coahuiltecan, Pawnee, Pomo, Purepecha, Raramuri, Shi’sh N’de, Southern Cheyenne, Tap Pilam Coahuiltecan, Tarahumara, Tewa,  Tongva, Xicana/o, Yaqui, Yoeme

Partner Organizations: AIM (Central Texas/California/Colorado/New Mexico),  Alma de Mujer, ATX-Enviornmantal Justice, Carrizo-Commecrudo Tribe of Texas, Maverick CountyEnvironmental and Public Health Association, Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services, Sierra Club, Equilibrio

Solidarity organizations: Native Women’s Network, Shield the People, Black Mesa Indigenous Support, PODER

 

Timeline of organizing Native Led Action 

August 2015: USACE Meeting in Eagle Pass

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November 2015: Strategy Meeting

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February 2016: Natives of Texas Planning meeting

Texas Natives Against Coal Mining

April 2016: March on the mine

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Stay tuned for next steps.

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A Naked Child Murdered in the Street

Last week a naked child was murdered in the street by a police officer in Austin, Texas. His name was David Joseph. There was public outcry – as there always is. The mayor promised justice and accountability. The police union defended the officer. One news outlet aired a report about how dangerous naked people can be. Now we are expected to wait, either for justice, or until this happens again.

Hyperlinks aside, conjecture; what does justice mean in this instance, and how does this incident affect this all-too-common drama? Conjecture aside; a naked child was murdered in the street. Let that sink in for a moment.

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Injustice is embedded in Austin’s Past, Present and… 

David Joseph was murdered in the street – a Black child of 17, in a city with the fastest shrinking Black population of any major city in the country. In Austin, the powers that be: the city council, planning department, police department and economic elite, have created a city where, by the numbers, Black people are not welcome. Furthermore, the city shows Black people they are not welcome when police murder their children, and the inflicting officers are never brought to justice.

NCMS1There is no shortage of interlocking elements to this story. However, it is unlikely that the policy makers or media will focus on issues that may bring justice or healing. This is deeper than an officer making a mistake – it illustrates the contemporary political movement Black Lives Matter. While BLM has brought police brutality towards People of Color to new heights of national media attention – we are still too often left without empowering solutions at the local level. It is important to be clear on exactly how and why this happened, so that we can determine a remedy. Perhaps the unique political and cultural history of our city can shed some light on this national epidemic .

Austinites have organized for justice and police accountability for decades – recently groups have unified in addressing Joseph’s murder: the NAACP, Austin Justice Coalition, Black Lives Matter, Peaceful Streets Project, People’s Task Force and Undoing Racism Austin. There is room for this organizing to grow in numbers, visibility, policy and strategy; however, there is also a strong cultural current working against it – Institutional Racism.

Cultural Legacies Die Hard

Similar to how White American culture was created on the falsehood that Black people are dependent upon and subservient to White people, in order to justify slavery; in the contemporary era, mass incarceration and police killings are justified through a cultural production of Black men as dangerous and criminal. Like all forms of racism, this is perpetuated at institutional, cultural and personal levels.

The Police Union President, Ken Casaday, has been vocal in justifying the shooting of David Joseph, asserting, “Just because someone is naked and in the street does not mean that they are not a danger to someone. I would tell you they are an extreme danger,” and “A person’s naked, running around the street, can kill you. They can take your gun, take your taser because they have an unhuman strength.” [Grammar errors in the original.]  Casaday alleges that naked people are even more dangerous than clothed people, assuming that they must be on drugs, which also cause violent behavior and give them superhuman abilities. This logic will be used in the officer’s defense, in order to establish their good judgment in using lethal force. That is all that will be asked of them.

NCMS2Our racist criminal justice system has upheld this rule each time the police murder someone in this city, and the narrative of the superhuman, violent naked black man is already being pumped out on the local news as a steady source of propaganda to cover the injustice of this murder. Casaday, through KVUE (the local ABC news affiliate) and KXAN (the local NBC affiliate), has now released a video of a naked Black man assaulting a police officer. Notice that this is not a video of David Joseph, but a completely different person in a completely different circumstance.

APD used this tactic in 2009, when the community sought justice for the police murder of Nathanial Sanders, another Black youth. The police released a video of the altercation, showing a Black man lunging at a police officer and being shot. However, the man lunging forward was Sir Smith, a different man who was also shot at the scene, but not fatally. Sanders, who never exited the vehicle, was shot in the back of the head through the window. This video was used as public evidence to defend an officer with a violent record  – justice was never served.

The image of the naked Black man alongside structural violence is a deep structuring element of American Society. The auction block and the lynching – violent practices of White Americans subjugating African Americans, was dependent on the dehumanization of the naked Black male body. Considering policy for police to video record all interactions through dash or body cameras has implications here. The police will have no shortage of justification for any of their actions if they simply substitute one Black body for the next. The media is already happily serving up this historic legacy of collective punishment and dehumanization of Black men.

As long as we allow the spread of dehumanizing propaganda, no amount of trainings, policies or cameras will mend this racist legacy. Overcoming the inherited violence enacted by both the police union and the news affiliate will be a cultural movement that refuses to yield the message that Black Lives Matter. Perhaps a good place for accountability to begin will be to ask KVUE and KXAN to not air such propaganda in the future (their contacts are here KVUE KXAN).

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Right Wing Status Quo

As anyone savvy enough to navigate the comments section of online discussions will notice, Right Wing racists have had no shame in blaming David Joseph for his own death; thereby meeting the public exactly where they’re at. The police union has never committed to hold their officers accountable, even though to do so would, in fact, preserve the integrity of APD, and make the job of officers less dangerous. The police should strive for trust, not fear, from the public. A partial explanation to this utter lack of humility may be found in the Police Lives Matter marches, which in Texas have vastly outnumbered Black Lives Matter rallies.

A recent example from Austin demonstrates how police are currently valued in our society. Brandon Daniel shot and killed police officer Jamie Padron in 2012. A struggle turned deadly when Daniel was caught shoplifting $57 worth of goods from Wal-Mart. Despite the clear lack of premeditation or likelihood to recommit, last week Daniel was sentenced to death. The precedent is simple – cop killers will be executed by the state. That is to say, police lives matter more than regular peoples lives. Furthermore, the fallen officer has since had an elementary school named after him. The system in multiple ways is upholding the reality that police lives matter a great deal – that is already the norm.

NCMS3The Police Lives Matter movement did not simply spring up as a reaction to Black Lives Matter, but is part of a long history of Right Wing nationalism in America. For many, the police represent the status quo and order, and their infallibility is a retrenchment of Right Wing nationalism, that refuses critique.

Police Lives Matter serves as a public demonstration of allegiance to the historic dominance and political power of White America. The wealth and power of the ruling class of Austin, and the USA, was built and maintained through the exploitative subjugation of People of Color. Atrocities that should fill history books, perpetrated by the ancestors of those in power, are replaced by an imaginary history that passes for the truth. The ancestors of White America are National heroes who cannot be criticized; the Constitution is presented as a sacred document that cannot be criticized; the long history of violent displacement and human dispossession cannot be criticized – and so, unsure of history and the current predicament, people do not understand our issues and cannot resolve our problems. While Police Lives Matter seems like a misguided farce, it is actually entrenched in a larger institutional fiction.

Conversely, a vocal fringe within the movement for police accountability called All Cops Are Bastards (ACAB) intersects seamlessly with police brutality defenders. ACAB calls for the abolition of the police, and squeezes insult to every police officer in the world into a 4-letter acronym. Unlike their Right Wing counterparts, their message is sorely distant from popular opinion and subverts meaningful movement towards justice.

The assertion that anyone against police brutality is anti-cop is utterly juvenile, but ACAB plays into this narrative with disturbing ease. Most ACAB members are White and consider themselves anti-racist. However, they essentially follow the dominant narrative of a societal division with the police and order on one side, and People of Color and disorder on the other. This is likely why there is overlap with some of these activists and the extreme Right.

NCMS4The reality is that not all cops are bastards; the criminal justice system is racist – and these are two vastly different statements. Furthermore, the racist structures of society are much deeper than the police; they are the courts, media, schools, tax system and many other facets of government and civil society. The idea that the crux of justice and injustice is bound within the violent encounter, only perpetuates the hostile cultural climate where police are at odds with Black communities. Instead, we must realize that all communities, including African Americans, Police, and even Black cops, are damaged when we do not have simple mechanisms for justice and accountability.

The truth is that this country was built by Black people for White people, who dehumanized them in order to justify their violence while maintaining their value system. Our current system continues with the value system and the dehumanization in tact. Police discriminatory extermination of Black youth serves to maintain the stratification of society. It is through this lens in which all cops are seen as bastards by the dispossessed – they are agents of death and inequity. However, the police are mere pieces of a much larger system, which remains hidden when people focus on only the police.

Towards Justice and Healing

Last Thursday, Mayor Adler addressed the community and spoke of justice and accountability. Many may be skeptical because we have heard these words before many times, and we have never seen justice in this city. How much accountability will we see if people do not admit their own history or address the whole system?

 In order to move forward, this community must establish a common set of values and adhere to them. To expect respect, we must show it. To expect justice, we must administer it. To achieve accountability, we must build it, one stone at a time.

In this instance accountability and justice should mean an independent investigation, an indictment of criminal charges against the officer, an altering of policies that shield officers from justice, compensation for the child’s family, a renegotiation of the police union contract with community stakeholders at the table and accountability in mind, increased support for mental health facilities and first responders without guns, and resources for building community networks of neighbors who do not call the police on troubled youngsters.

Austin has yet to commit to preserving the historic communities of the East Side, neither Black or Chicano. Justice is in development policy, too. It is in refusing to see Joseph’s murder as an isolated incident.

Activists are now committed to hold both City Hall and APD accountable. The community deserves justice.  We put people first. The collective we form will be one of unity for all peoples, and will reject White Supremacy enforced by the dominant society. The police are only a problem because the system they protect is a problem. A society based in equity and justice is the answer to police violence. Let’s build it!

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A Tale of Two Republics: Native Resistance to Coal Mining in Texas

A Tale of Two Republics

Outside the city of Eagle Pass on the Texas/Mexico border a coal-mining project is getting under way.  The project was initially proposed in 1994; since that time seemingly everyone in the region has worked to ensure it never happen.  Resistance has taken an unfortunate step backwards recently when Texas Center for Environmental Quality (TCEQ) granted various permits and the US Corps of Army Engineers streamlined a state process for coal mining. Last month, to the dismay of locals, mining commenced.2republics.jpg

The proposed Dos Republicas coal mine is a lose/lose scenario for Texas.  This mine is different from the usual energy resource for pollution tradeoff.   All of the coal is slated for shipment to Mexico to be burned in the Carbon energy plant in Coahuila – the dirtiest power plant in the hemisphere. The mining process will pollute the water, destroy the land, threaten wildlife and cause air pollution, light pollution and sound pollution to the city of Eagle Pass, with no benefits of any kind.

On top of the regular down-side to coal mining is the unique territory where it is located.  The Rio Grande river basin is one of the oldest historical human settlement areas in all of the Americas and ancestral territory to many Native Texans including Carrizo, Coahuiltecan and Apache.  Comanche from as far away as Oklahoma have returned to Eagle Pass recently to publicly oppose the mine.  More than 100 archaeological sites would be threatened with destruction by dynamite blasting, surface mining and chemicals (nitrification), which are highly corrosive underground.  The proposed mine will completely destroy ancient burials, numerous artifacts, and sacred sites – many of which have not been identified.  In violation of federal law, there has been no consultation with any tribes . (see letter here)

Thousands have signed a statement in opposition to the mine, including the City of Eagle Pass, Maverick County and the local hospital district.  People do not support destroying their homeland to ship coal to Mexico, where the low environmental standards will send air pollution back to Texas.  However, the threat to 25,000 Texas acres is still a possibility because of the corruption embedded in the Texas land code.  Since 1971 TCEQ has approved 87,000 permits and denied only 15.  This appears as a cruel joke, and many surely attribute this type of governance to conservative politicians and the ‘good ol’ boy’ system in Texas.  Such roots run deeper than mere corruption, however – the antecedent to this destruction is the foundation of our state.  This is the epitome of colonialism; it is the ugliest face of capitalism, the least sensible notion of private property and an utterly facile application of law.

Colonialism: the long game

The case of Dos Republicas exemplifies the status quo of colonial society.  All the residents of the area, including the city and county, oppose a 22republicsdestructive and unnecessary project, but it moves forward in order to line the pockets of outside elites.  This is what happens when the people are denied sovereignty, and mirrors extraction based imperialism that has defined the European invasion of the Americas.

Because the genocidal project in Texas has been so thorough, there are currently no Indian tribes in Texas that are both federally recognized and claim Texas as ancestral territory (all of the federally recognized Indians: Kickapoo, Tigua and Alabama-Coshatta were relocated).  The lack of political rights has led to the misunderstanding that there are no Natives in Texas.  However, there are millions of Natives in Texas – millions of people disenfranchised by coloniality.

Colonialism affects different peoples in different ways.  The classification of Native groups into identity categories like “Indian” has been an important facet of colonialism, because it marked people as outside of society and devoid of rights.  Texas established rule of law in a flurry of genocidal advancement.  Mirabeau Lamar decreed it illegal for any Indians to remain within Texas in 1838.  The response was for many Natives to go into hiding, essentially assuming a Xicano (chi-cah-no) identity.

Xicanos, often referred to as Mexicans or Mexican Americans, are Native.  Since the term “Mexican” implies the nation to the south and immigration, this label is used by colonial society to disenfranchise Native claims by Spanish speaking mestizos. People identify as Xicano for political reasons – it is a claim to Native ancestry. Xicanos have been living in Texas since before the founding of the USA, before colonialism.  Even if people’s ancestors did migrate from Latin America, Texas is, in fact, ancestral land to peoples living throughout the Americas.  While Xicanos are not Indians, they are not settler-colonials either; they are Native, and therefore have a connection and responsibility to their territory.

Conversely, federally recognized Indians, who gained their status through warfare and treaty with the colonial society, were displaced from Texas to Oklahoma, such as the Comanche and the Tonkawa from the area around Austin.  Groups like the Carrizo and Coahuiltecans have ancestral roots in Texas – however their political organization was such that they were never granted recognition by the federal government.  Some of these groups have subsequently been recognized by the State of Texas, however state recognition is not a sovereign status.

So where does this leave the Settler Colonial society that has existed in Texas since the 1800’s? The imposed rule of law was established in order to extract power from the land and existing inhabitants and transfer it to White settlers.    People were displaced, animals killed off, land partitioned into private property and natural resources were funneled into the control of a small group of elites.  This is a common narrative of colonialism.  However, Texas is unique in having managed to maintain the unequal consequences of this history. We are now seeing the end game of colonialism.  Perhaps then, this marks a turning point.

The Emergence of the Twisted

How has the settler society fared in their conquest?  The invasion continues day by day with 18 active lignite strip mines across the state, countless frack wells for oil and gas and over 2000 refineries and chemical plants.   The colonization continues as over 95 percent of land in Texas is privately owned and 76 percent of that land held by only 4 percent of landholders.  It is amazing that after 150 years the majority of land remains with the direct descendants of displacers and is used to funnel the resources into the hands of elites.  All who remain, except for a few families, has inherited dispossession.   Dos Republicas is a perfect example of this.

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Carrizo people, native to the area around Eagle Pass, have a story about what lies under ground there.  What the West defines as coal, the mineral, the Carrizo understand in a relational manner that goes much deeper.  According to Carrizo Tribal Chairman Juan Macias, during the beginning times there were lost souls that did not follow the harmony of the world.  The creator led these beings called Teme’t Somi’s, “twisted beings”, to caverns, where they were burned and turned into coal to keep them from wreaking havoc on the climate. The beings remain as coal underground, but mining releases them, bringing a twisted mayhem to the world.  Mining goes  against the harmony of creation. (READ CARRIZO STORY HERE)

What are we to make of the “twisted” spirit acting against harmony and creation?  This is relevant, because it explains the current inequity of our state and the change in our climate.  How else can we understand the violence committed against the Earth? How else can we explain a situation where everyone affected by the mine opposes it, but outside actors push it forward for their own gain?  Some call this evil, but we should take direction from the ancestors – this behavior is twisted, it is not the way it should be.  It is “against creation.”

There are yet more reasons to oppose the Dos Republicas mine, too many for this short article.  There is also an emerging opportunity to do so through addressing the colonial roots of the problem.  The process of colonization is a process whereby people are separated from the land and each other.  Decolonization is doing the opposite.  Our move is a transition away from the legal rights of corporations, away from private property, away from extractive industry and dehumanizing policies towards our fellow beings, human and non-human.

There are abundant clean energy resources and technologies.  Coal mining is an outdated relic of the past.  As more people realize this, so too will they begin to realize that our entire colonial system is outdated.  We must stop coal mining, fracking and other destructive practices.  We must undo the exploitative land practices established through colonialism in Texas.  We must respect the claims for sovereignty of the various Native peoples of this land.  We must transition to a society that is just and equitable for people and respectful to the Earth.  A beginning to this transition will be a unified front in opposition to the Dos Republicas coal mine and support offered to the Native peoples unified in protecting this land for future generations.

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Temet-Somis: The people under the coal

Juan Macias,  Carrizo/Comecrudo Nation Tribal Chairman

In those beginning days, Creator Yauna’k Akio would come occasionally to check on how things were developing and find order for the creation.  The order creator put together was harmonious and followed a pattern of growing and reproducing, creation would continue as Creator planned it.  Creator gave the two legged the responsibility to live in this harmonious rhythmic accordance of a life cycle.  Some of the two legged enjoyed this so well that they insisted in staying after Creator had provided the opportunity to travel to the River of the Stars (Milky Way which place of the ancestors.).  Those spirits that refused to go were accumulating in the Creation and cause disorder and havoc by playing tricks on the climate and on other creatures of land.  Some say that they caused the extinctions of Horse, Mammoths, some of the bears that kept the creation in order at the time.  The two legged would congregate In place that gave the wind sound and the lightning the surge to explode.  So creator led these lost souls , called Teme’t Somi’ s  meaning twisted beings to the caverns that were no longer used by the two legged .   Using these places gave the Teme’t Somi’s a sense of being at home.  Creator called the wind that now had sound to sing the song calling the Teme’t Somi’s to come to a banquet and when the fire was built by the bird people who provided Xai or wood called the Woyekue’l people or rock people to cover these Teme’t  Somi’s to keep in the place as the fire burned the rocks got hotter and meld in to one large hot topping. The creator continued bring wood for the fire and as it got hotter the birds like the vulture got to close and burned the beautiful feathers it once had from their heads.  Creator called birds that flew through the blacken smoke that brought the water to cool down the heated rocks Xam yatau or Crows and black birds.  As the water was poured upon the fires where these Teme’t Somi’s had been led to the rock now burnt became coal and subjugated those that would bring twisted mayhem to the creation at bay.   Yauna’k Akio become Patop’e, the Caretaker when the creator has business on the Earth to solve; and every time Creator leaves of part of Creator to remind us that the Creation is something beautiful and necessary for our people here.  Releasing those things Creator has created is to be against the creation as the Teme’t Somi’s were.

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10 Anti-Racist Actions for the U.S.A.

whitemilitaAs long as we are doing away with the Confederate flag, here are some other anti-racist actions that we can take in the USA

People are talking about Racism and white supremacy in ways they were not talking about last year, or the year before. Dylan Roof killed Black people in a church and made clear that his intentions were explicitly aligned with a politics of White Supremacy.  The usual “but why?” that we come to expect from the media gave way to a swift call to action to remove symbols of historic American White Supremacy

With the stream of white noise as filtered through the unfettered facebook feed and 24/7-news coverage, the immediate moment once again drowns out the vested understanding.  Its time for anti-racist action, based on ideas that have been kicking around longer than last week.10antiracistblog

People are seeking to understand how the culture of white supremacy is related to the violence that we keep seeing over and again. What is missing from the analysis of white culture and the confederate flag is something missing from the American discourse on race as a whole.  Culture is material.  Culture is in a constant state of being produced. It is structured by what we inherit; it is also fluid insofar as it embodies the qualities of our world – it changes.    When I say produced, I am not talking about memes. I am talking about physical, corporeal, environmental and economic effects.  America is racist and this needs to change.

We cannot use the word “change” in a nebulous Obamafied manner.  Others want change too, but not the kind we want.  White-supremacist nationalism has emerged as a menace to American ideals.  The change sought by many in this country is to revert to brute exploitation and away from governance, oversight, justice, peace or any idea that we could place our hope in.  The vast armed movement of White Supremacist, anti-government, Right-Wing militias in the Southwest have called for open war against immigrants and People of Color.  They intend a genocidal campaign, and have not been scared to say so.  However, these are not the actions of a fringe, but a reflection of a historic political legacy this country owns.10antiracist2

Symbols of Racism and Antiracism

In our era we focus too much on symbols.  We forget, or are led to believe, that these are representations of lived experiences. I have heard calls to remove statues, change names, stop using words and take down certain flags to a much higher degree than I have heard calls for redress to the lived conditions that these symbols represent.  I have seen slogans to either increase or limit insignificant bureaucratic oversight of everything from banks to prisons to elections – but I have seldom heard proposed solutions to these problems taken seriously. I have seen college kids protest frat parties for making fun of the treatment of undocumented immigrants, but not protesting the actual government policy incarcerating the immigrants.  We are accustomed to focusing on the phantoms – we miss the much more nefarious beasts.

I would rather see Obama disarm White Supremacist militias than ban symbols of racism.  The confederate flag looks and feels racist, and makes many People of Color feel trauma.  It is nice to know who the white supremacists are though.  Walmart will not sell any more White Supremacist emblems, but they will continue to sell White Supremacist killing machines.  Not exactly comforting.

As long as we are doing away with the Confederate flag, here are some other anti-racist actions that we can take in the USA:

  1. Disarm the KKK, the Minutemen and all other white supremacist militias.  It is a good time to implement the 2nd amendment right to a “well-regulated militia” and regulate all militias to the same standard as we hold for flags.
  2. Stop detaining and deporting immigrants.  People who clean up after you, take care of your kids and elderly, and build everything should not be kept in cages or treated like animals!
  3. Tear down the border wall.  A violation of our territory that is used to make money for the worst of all our people.
  4. End all foreign military operations.  Imperialism is another form of racism.  We should focus on caring for our own people – not controlling others.
  5. Stop supporting Israel.  Few countries enforce segregation based on race and ethnicity.  Why does the US support the most egregious contemporary example?
  6. Kick the White Supremacists out of the military and police forces.
  7. Give back all contested Indigenous lands. From The Black Hills to the recent government acquisition of Oak Flats there is ample room to begin land reparations to Natives.
  8. End mass-incarceration and the Drug War.  America has more imprisoned people than any society in history.  This is largely due to non-violent offenses.
  9. Redistribute wealth.  The 1% richest have way too much money.  Make them give it up!
  10. Free all political Prisoners.  We know the institutionalized racism has been wrongfully imprisoning people.  Let’s keep our hands off Assata and Free Russell Maroon Shoats

I’m sure I’m missing many more.  Feel free to add to the list

Links

http://weeklysift.com/2014/08/11/not-a-tea-party-a-confederate-party/

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Filed under politics, racism, Social Justice

SEXism & The City

 Binders Full of Women Take Issue with Isolated Incident

Austin City Manager Marc Ott apologized recently for something “sexist” happening at City Hall.  It was the softer side of patriarchy expressing regret for an uncontrolled outburst.  Like a hung-over frat boy, the chief city bureaucrat is real sorry about his behavior last night; and he is making a case for forgiveness so things can go back to normal.

Honey, we need to leave this dirt bag – not Ott – but patriarchy behind us.

The incident in question has blown up the over the last few days.  The office of the city manager, under direction of Assistant City Manager Anthony Snipes, offered a training called “The Changing Dynamics in Governance: Women Leading a Local Government”.  Two speakers came from Florida, former city manager Jonathan K. Allen and professor and consultant Dr. Miya Burt-Stewart. They addressed a room of mostly women on what differences occur when women, instead of men, are in charge in the workplace.  Burt-Stewart took the lead presentation about gender differences in the workplace.  Allen described the growing trend of women as majorities in the public sector.  One of his main arguments as to why this is important was that women care more about communities than numbers, and that men need to change to accommodate this.  However his style and vocabulary was not in sync with white Liberal professional culture.

The media produced a public uproar about the training, framing it as sexist.  Articles came out in local and national papers (see links below) that shamed the city manager, his staff, and the speakers.  There has been repetition of the same narrative by every news source available.  Virtually none seem to reference the training, but only the initial news article’s interpretation of the training, which ignores Burt-Stewart completely and takes Allen out of context.  Two days later the women of City Council, the Mayor and the City Manager responded with a press conference expressing their disappointment of the “sexist” presentation.  Ott apologized in the midst of calls for his ouster. A day later Assistant Manager Snipes was suspended over the incident.  This is how the public narrative currently stands: sexist men were shown the door, girl-power, go back to work.

“There is some cultural thing going on that we’re not aware of,” said Garza in her response.  Adler added, “we need to understand how we got here.”  Apparently, they’ve never heard of patriarchy – a word that we have not seen mentioned in any news article about the situation (including snarky “feminist” blog) or by any official responses.  Instead everyone has been using the Liberal safe words “diversity” and “difference”.

Before everyone goes quietly back to work, we might address the opportunity we have to advance gender equity in our city right now and what this will look like.  We might also notice how when members of historically disenfranchised groups achieve status, they spend most of their political careers playing defense, moving to the “center” and molding their politics and behavior to align with the dominant social group. The “controversial” trainings appear to be a perfect opportunity to move against patriarchy – but council’s response was to NOT talk about gender.  I respect the women on council enough to take this more seriously and rise to this potentially feminist occasion.

Somebody has some serious Mansplaining to do

Ott mansplained his way out of charges of sexism by claiming that the speaker is in no way representative of the “culture, philosophy or approach” to how he manages the city.

So, the city of Austin operates as a passively matriarchal  organization via culture, philosophy and approach and NOT as a patriarchal organization rooted firmly in treating women as if they do not have power?  I don’t think so.

The problem with the training was not that it had an “outdated message” as the council claimed.  The problem is that despite women taking representative power in city government, management in our society remains rooted in patriarchy.

Instead of talking about patriarchy, everyone followed Ott’s framing that “the city respects diversity”.  Sound familiar?  It should.  We are in as much of a post-patriarchal society as we are in a post-racial society.  Adler’s public comment that “this kind of misguided ‘training’ does not represent Austin and its inclusive values” is the opposite of our sentiment:

“Oh, the most segregated city in America is in Liberal denial about structures of oppression and thinks “diversity” challenges power? Yeah, I guess that would apply to gender as well as race.”

Despite having a non-white president as our image of an anti-racist America, racist violence against people of color has increased under Obama.  This actually makes sense when we understand how power works:  When White-Supremacy is challenged at the institutional level, people who rely on white-privilege to claim power in society look to re-establish their dominance through violence.  We have seen this unfold in regards to sex and gender over the last generation – something often overlooked among feminists.

Patriarchy is a hierarchical social system where masculinity is associated with agency and represented by “male bodies” (mostly penises) and femininity is associated with submissiveness and represented by “female bodies” (mostly wombs).  Key to the function of patriarchy is that power is reserved for men within families and government through the control of the women’s sexuality and labor. Women are property in some patriarchal societies, in others they have no agency, and in others they simply are treated as inferior to men. Patriarchy does more than give power to penises, it associates dickish qualities with agency and strength.  Therefore domination is considered power because men dominate, not because it results in good governance.

Sadly, the feminist movement has not made way for enlightened men to share power.  The erosion of patriarchy also coincided with the rise of neoliberalism (basically capitalism as a culture; hyper-individualism with no clear values). While under patriarchy, women are treated as objects of value; under neoliberalism they are treated as objects with considerably less value.  Now that women work, men have not stepped up to do more domestic work, they just play more video games.  Men now struggle for dominance with hyper-masculine woman hating. The misogyny that we have seen on the rise in recent decades should not be seen as just more patriarchy – it is distinct. It is a direct result of an unstructured confrontation over domination with men rejecting the patriarchal values of family and leadership.

While some Conservatives respond to misogyny by calling for more patriarchy (“we need to protect women”), Liberals have responded with calls for more individualism (sisterhood, diversity, Beyoncé, feminism is whatever you want it to be).  Neither of these paths will bring us liberation from the hierarchy of gender norms. Culturally we view power and order as masculine and so accept patriarchal behavior as the best way to govern.  It is not.

Under second-wave feminism, women responded to patriarchy in the workplace by acting more domineering and patriarchal.  While this is a product of an important push for liberation, it has not eroded male-dominance, only admitted women to the dominators club.  The problem isn’t that not enough women are assholes, it’s that too many men are.  In a similar fashion, Oprah and LeBron don’t empower communities that suffer under racial inequity – they only benefit from exploitation like white people have traditionally done.  We don’t need a more multicultural elite – we need less of an elite altogether.

infographic

Gender isn’t about diversity – it’s about power.  Women politicians have been viewed in the West as an obstruction to the perceived natural order of power and generated fear..  Responses have ranged from patriarchy (women should stay in the home), to misogyny (they deserve to be raped).  Second wave feminist responses to this sexism have been that women can be like men, too.  This has been transcended in practice. Today’s feminism neither reinforces a gender binary or rejects gender.  Much like race, gender is complex, and socially constructed around power.  The goal is to undo the hierarchy – so why can’t we talk about it?

You know who talks about gender? – Sexists!

The city council women’s public response to the training was entrenchment of second-wave feminism. I have to wonder if we watched the same video.  Garza, Kitchen, Houston, Tovo, Poole, Troxclair and Gallo all said how outdated the messaging was, and were backed up by Ott and Mayor Adler.  They were disgusted and appalled by the assertion that women and men are different. After all, they wear power suits and get shit done as well as any man.  One of them is even a firefighter for Pete’s sake!

Let’s not pretend that “women are just as good as men.”  In reality, women are BETTER than men are.  We do not say this towards feminist male-deprecation – we  mean that most men exercise male-privilege and are therefore: less sensitive to others, more distant from genuine experiences of injustice, and more likely to be attracted to hypocrisy and corruption.

The differences between men and women was the core of the presentations.  For example, “men use a ‘dominating’ management style/women use a “compromising” style” illuminates a positive quality for a public servant and associates it with femininity.  The point that was not explicit and sorely ignored by all is that men have traditionally not made the ideal candidates for democratic leadership.

Kitchen came close to making this point: “asking questions is strength” (that was actually the point that the presenters were making by the way),  but then she linked this back to Liberal diversity saying that “both men and women do it.” Then she went on to talk about how good women are at numbers.  What is missing here is that management = patriarchy.  The very culture of managing other people is based in domination.  This culture can still be addressed by our woman dominated council, but it is unlikely to happen when we ignore power.

 The most explicitly criticized element of the presentations was the idea that women take longer to act.  Instead of simply shutting this down, we might engage this critical question: why with added elements of oppression would any group take longer to do things than another group?  Furthermore, how is the value of doing things quickly (effectively) related to oppression?

Intersectionality gives us the answer to these questions.  Understanding the roots of patriarchy and colonialism can make this a simple equation: power rooted in exploitation is intrinsically dehumanizing; this hierarchy (white-supremacy/patriarchy) is based on a falsehood that some people are superior; those who benefit and operate according to this falsehood have less reason to ever know the truth;  knowledge of reality is therefore more readily accessible to those at the bottom of the hierarchy, and most distant to those on the top.  This is likely why so many of the greatest theorists are queer women of color – they are socialized to see truth more readily than others. This is also why the stupidest and most powerful people are white, hetero, cisgendered men. [This line of reasoning is paraphrased from, and influenced by, Patricia Hill Collins’ Black Feminist Thought (1990) – a fantastic read!]

“Women are from Omicron Persei 7, Men are from Omicron Persei 9”

Dr. Burt-Stewart’s presentation was more feminist than many of the responses from the women on city council.  We suggest they watch the video.  We would even argue that, as a Black woman, Dr. Burt-Stewart possesses intersectional knowledge that most members of council do not.  In the end, her presentation and this knowledge, has been erased in the public narrative.

Burt-Stewart asked her majority female audience to “openly acknowledge gender differences.”  She was careful to avoid talking about patriarchy directly, but she was alluding to it throughout her presentation. Ideas like “men act on facts, women act on emotions”, “men have egos”, “men recluse to solve problems while women seek support”, “men want individual acknowledgement, women want to be more of a team” and “women are not heard by men” were spoken as positive qualities about women.  She was seeking acknowledgement for management becoming more feminine. Most of her presentation was about Emotional Intelligence, and how women score higher than men.  The presentation was not about gender binary, it was about moving towards a more matriarchal culture.

The ‘good ol boy system is coming to end; Burt-Stewart and Allen both lauded this sentiment. Their treatment of gender difference was a blatant stereotype.  Burt-Stewart repeated the words “typically” over and over again to refer to gendered behaviors.  Only when she was careful to not upset any men did she add, “not one is better than the other”, appealing to the safety of Liberal Humanism.  If only she were more brazen to directly confront patriarchy, there would have been little to critique.  Her speech, much like Allen’s, should have used words like patriarchy and power – that would have made them radical.  Instead they used words like “diversity” and “difference”, and no one took them seriously.  Unfortunately, giving people the benefit of the doubt remains uncommon to everyone reporting on this story.

Women in power means taking more time to hear constituents, more care in concerning other viewpoints and making compromises instead of hiding in cooked-up numbers.  This is not happening in all aspects of our society.  Allen noted in his presentation that Women make up 3 percent of businesses executives and less than 1 percent of CEOs, a reverse dynamic than in public sector.  Racism and capitalism provide enough structural imbalances in our society.   In seeing how far we have to go, it is frustrating to see backwards steps. Let’s move beyond patriarchy.  I look forward to having more conversations like the ones began by Burt-Stewart and Allen, but conversations that take patriarchy and dominance seriously.  Perhaps then, we can all take steps towards a decolonial matriarchy.

by: Dr. Tane Ward & Rockie Gonzalez

Thanks to my mother, daughter, sisters and all of my woman relatives for encouraging my feminist voice and allowing me to speak. Thanks especially to my wife and duality, Rockie Gonzalez for collaboration and guidance.

-Dr. Tane Ward

“Women rule the world.  We do.” -Dr. Miya Burt-Stewart,  controversial speaker

“The first thing that I did was recognize that I need to change.” -Jonathan K. Allen, controversial  speaker

Links

statement from trainers in response to controversy

Dr. Burt-Stewart Presentation

Statesman “warned to expect more questions”

Wonkette (snarkyfeminist blog post)

Ott statement

Austin Monitor

Snipes

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Filed under austin, feminism, matriarchy

Stickers and their Discontents

10410953_10203604925216333_5073732925099061044_nSome excellent social commentary was made during SXSW this year, something that I would have loved to see years ago. Someone put stickers on East Austin business replete with the COA logo that said, “Exclusively for white people. Maximum of 5 colored customers, colored BOH (Back of House) staff accepted.”

The satire clearly linked the historic institutional racism of Austin with the ongoing consumer-led gentrification and displacement on the East Side. This has stirred discourse in the city, but to a level, which falls short of what we are capable of. All the reaction from the media has been laughable. There is a disturbing collective feign of ignorance floating around about the intention and meaning of the art. Let’s not kid ourselves – it is a pretty straightforward message about race and gentrification.

Main points aside – here are some considerations of Stickergate before it fades into the unfashionable fortune of having happened last week:

  1. The flash issue obscures gentrification.

 There is a lot of gentrification happening in the city and it is partially fueled by SXSW. It would be great to see people take more responsibility in mitigating the negative effects that tourism and consumer-based economies have on historic neighborhoods. I would love the same engagement on revitalizing the East Side and holding exploitative City and capitalist practices accountable as I do from people reacting to relatively innocuous art.

The same week, for example, a beautiful and historic mural on East Cesar Chavez was nonchalantly painted over by a foreign artist. The Lotteria mural is culturally significant to Cesar Chavez as a Mexican neighborhood, but as the makeup of businesses is changing, our culture is being erased. This was not covered on the news, and that layer of paint doesn’t peel off quite so easily. Neither does the displacement of thousands of people from their neighborhoods across the country. Another example is the demolition of Piñatas Jumpolín (see Dale Dale Dale postmarked 2/23/15) – a far worse act in terms of destruction and insensitivity, but one that was defended and as specifically “not racist” by many.

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  1. People missed the satire.

 Sadly, many people thought the stickers were made by White supremacists and to be taken literally. Geesh! I don’t know what to say. That would be like reacting the Right Wing ravings of Stephen Colbert. Austin Mayor Steve Adler called the act “appalling” and “offensive”. This comes from a mayor who made no public comment of the demolition of Jumpolín or the destruction of the Loteria mural. It seems like making White people uncomfortable is a greater sin than destroying the culture and heritage of historic Communities of Color (which is exactly the point of the stickers, so maybe Adler is really in cahoots with the artist and is just laying the satire on extra thick).

Others mistook the stickers to be aimed at garnering ire toward the businesses and the city by framing them as overtly white supremacist. This was not an attack on the businesses or the city or the people associated with them. That some civil rights leaders took it there was an unfortunate diversion. The point was to imply that the City of Austin is racist as an institution, and businesses cater to specific class groups that follow racially segregated norms.   There, that’s not so bad, is it?

  1. People misused the concepts of racism and hate-speech.

 People were really offended by the stickers and called them racist. One business owner called it “ hate-speech”. This messaging was also consistently and conveniently accompanied by a message of confusion – “why would they do it?” If you do not experience gentrification as a painful reality resulting in the displacement of your community or understand the racist history and current structure of our city, than you might not understand the point here. However, your ignorance does give you the authority to claim the status of a victim. Regardless of who owns or runs the targeted businesses – they are profiting from a system that is rooted in exploitation. That does not mean we hate you. Please stop pretending that pointing out social reality is hatred because it makes you feel guilty. Racism is real and the stickers probably reflect a painfully accurate depiction of who patronizes these businesses.

I was so flabbergasted by the conviction of the business owner’s whine that I thought about staging a boycott of their business – just because they so distastefully inserted their own self-serving grievance. Instead I decided to write this. You can thank me later (with free cupcakes  – kidding!)

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  1. The weak response from POC community leaders is inconsistent with the political history (and I’m not sure why).

Instead of Black leaders seizing the opportunity to bring attention to the plight of their communities and the legacies that have been mostly forgotten, Councilwoman Ora Houston, NAACP chairman Nelson Linder and Representative Dawna Dukes all responded with White protectionism. Completely out of touch, missing the satire and feigning ignorance of meaning and intention, the cadre of Austin’s old guard Black activist seemed to parrot the naiveté of the city’s rookie mayor. How disappointing that even when the door is blown open, these leaders failed to simply walk through it.

Each of these three community leaders has been vocal on segregation, racism, gentrification and fair business practices. How could they have possibly missed the satire and the political opportunity to respond? Why when the clueless enactors of gentrification ask “but why?” do our POC officials not have such a simple answer? This makes the need for disruptive art/activism so important.

  1. Back of House comment should not be overlooked

 How many Austin businesses have POC working in the kitchen and all White, or white-passing, servers up front?

If you answered “probably most of them”, you are absolutely probably right.

Racism is inequitable outcomes where there shouldn’t be. Mexicans are not naturally just better at washing dishes and Whites better at serving because they have fine breeding – no one really thinks that. No one really thinks they are racist either – but take a look in any restaurant in town and it is plain as day – real, live racism! I’m sure there are no business policies or city mandates for BOH/FOH racial segregation. The point is that there doesn’t need to be. Let that soak in before reacting.

 

  1. It is pretty funny

 

“Uh, Earth to Brint, I was making a joke, okay?”

With all the horribly racist violence against People of Color, the cultural and historic racism in East Austin, the racist outcomes of profit-driven exploitation and gentrification and everything else POC deal with, can we have a simple joke? The stickers peeled right off.

The fact a few little stickers are such a problem for people is harsh. Lighten up. This is a long haul and there is a lot of real work to be done to heal, undo racism and stop gentrification. Don’t fall too hard.

It’s just a sticker – It’s not like somebody destroyed the neighborhood where you grew up.

Thanks to Native East Austinites Andrea Melendez & Estrella de Leon for your strength and inspiration for this response.

Some links:

Video of alleged artist

kxan news story

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Filed under austin, gentrification, politics, racism, Social Justice

Joint Community Statement

Joint Community Statement                                                                                                  02/27/2015

PODER, Raza Roundtable, Resistencia, NAACP and Equilibrio

In response to the illegal demolition of Piñatas Jumpolín located at 4101 E. Cesar Chavez by the F&F Real Estate Ventures, owned by Darius Fisher and Jordan French.

On behalf of the owners of Pinatas Jumpolin, we call on the City of Austin to respond with condemnation and to treat this demolition as a criminal act, and to support the community affected by this racist and illegal act.

We call upon the City and APD to treat this as a criminal act and bring charges against F&F and any others who participated or facilitated this illegal demolition.

We further call upon the City Manager to instruct City staff to deny any outdoor music permit application at this location.

We recognize racism as a driving social force in Austin.   People of Color have been forcibly removed throughout Austin’s history and continue to be displaced from their longstanding cultural territory in East Austin. We recognize that the Black community in East Austin has suffered at even a greater rate of displacement than the Latino community, and ask that this recent history be remembered in future planning and development of our city. We ask People of Color to come together to better resist gentrification.

We ask the COA to support low-income, working class communities that are negatively affected through the process of gentrification. Build workforce housing with close proximity to services, including transportation. Invest in the public schools in East Austin. Support locally owned business, People of Color, immigrants and ESL communities. Respect our culture, our economy and our right to live well. Austin is ours too.

And we ask ALL residents of Austin to recognize this act, and these tactics, as connected to the larger pattern of gentrification that people of color have been experiencing for decades. This is not an isolated incident, but part of a familiar pattern, which has been used frequently to displace people-of-color owned businesses by new unscrupulous gentrifying interests.

We urge the people of Austin to come together to support those who have been victims of the violent and/or illegal displacement of their business, and all peoples who have lost their homes and neighborhoods to similar practices of development.

We call for a BOYCOTT of all F&F Real Estate Ventures, Darius Fisher, Jordan French and all related businesses for their blatantly racist violent actions and speech.

We welcome all those who come with respect to recreate and join our community on the East Side. To those who disrespect and trample the long-standing People of Color communities on the East Side – We will resist!

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Dale, dale, dale, no pierdas el tino!

Dale, Dale, Dale, No pierdas el tino!

Violence begets violence. The reaction is not always a defensive response, but often is a continuation of the original act. The victim becomes targeted anew when others see weakness and smell blood. So is the case with the latest round of displacement in East Austin. The demolition of the piñata store, Jumpolín, without a proper eviction having taken place, was a more visceral and visible act of violence than we are used to in Loston. The cantinas flipped on East 6th went quietly, and with hearty support from a new class of young bar-hoppers who were naïve to the history and politics of where they came to party. The violence was covered easily in a public relations veneer that utilized all the tricks in a colonizers toolkit: privilege, money, racism and a brutal lack of justice.   But the demolition of Jumpolín came like a storm. No one is denying the injustice of the act or the missteps taken. However, people seem to be having trouble responding to this injustice. Since the demolition there have been flare-ups in the activist community that infect our open wound. The proper response will come from understanding why and how this violence happened, understanding that it happens all the time, and admitting that we have a lot of work to do to keep it from happening in the future.

The Act

The Lejarazu family operated a piñata store on East Cesar Chavez Street since 2007. The location and function of the business tied it to the cultural territory of Latinos in Austin, who had been forcibly moved to this area of town in the early 20th Century, where they fought for recognition and built a robust community.

Since the 1990’s there has been massive turnover of Latino owned businesses by property and land developers, resulting in the ongoing displacement of this community. This capitalist development is not only legal; it is foundational to our society. This does not mean that it is just or good, but in most cases it is certainly legal.

IMG_4260Last Fall, a young adventure capitalist duo, French and Fisher of F&F Real Estate Ventures, bought the property where Jumpolín is located and immediately began harassing the Lejarazu family. Then on February 12th they illegally demolished the building, full of piñatas, personal items including medical records and other merchandise. The demolition had multiple legal violations: there had been no final notice for eviction, the lease was still valid until 2017, and a lack of an asbestos permit endangered the community. The Lejarazu family business was displaced, but opened a week later further east on Cesar Chávez, with community support. The vacant lot was announced to be used to host an event during SXSW, a permit that been applied for in December. The Latino community was left violated through their symbol of festivity trampled by that of their colonizers.

 

The Reaction

The media is given a hook into the already trendy social topic of gentrification with a clearly identifiable cultural aspect and a particularly violent display of capitalism. The story is reported and paid attention to because of this framing (most displacements do not make the news.) People get pissed. People see injustice. Some see it linked to the injustice they experience as recipients and feel pain. Others recognize the injustice that they usually experience as perpetrators, and seek an immediate distancing from the act.

The perpetrators, French in particular, go on the offense and seek to tarnish the reputation of the Lejarazu family,Jumpoline3  and the community at large. Using explicitly racist language, he refers to the displaced tenants as cockroaches. As a piece of offensive slang, a roach is emblematic of a community that is both filthy and rapidly procreating, both stereotypes of Latinos in the US. Even more problematic is the way that the term has been used in association with extermination in racially motivated genocides, including Nazi Germany. People get more pissed. The institutional racism embedded within the ongoing politics of gentrification is obscured by the hate-speech.

Facebook goes crazy. People have lots of ideas about things. People talk past each other. People have no real format to discuss their emotions or the situation and therefore use the Internet, which cannot translate emotion and intention. There are various events assembled around the issue by different people with different and complex connections to gentrification. People get even more pissed.

  The Lejarazu family contacts People in Defense of the Earth and her Resources PODER, a long time environmental justice organization, to help them organize for justice. They hold a press conference with the intention of building a response from the community and justice for the family.

The Context

The context for the demolition of Jumpolín is gentrification. It is important to differentiate gentrification from revitalization, where development is built to serve an existing community. Gentrification specifically refers to development that intends to displace current residents to make way for new wealthier ones.   The driver is capitalism, but the effect is often racism. Class is raced in America; that is to say that our society has historically privileged some groups and oppressed others based on an imagined difference. Pointing out racial inequity is not racist. It is not being against White people; it is being against racism.

Gentrification is an example of how capitalism and race work in tandem. When a developer flips a house, the new occupant needs no intention of displacing people to add to a larger pattern of displacement. Even before they move in, a change in architecture can signify a change in resident. In East Austin, there has been a preponderance of modernist architecture, which, apart from being big and expensive, explicitly symbolizes change. To the existing residents, the change symbolizes Whiteness even before the new tenants arrive. When we look at the pattern of displacement in East Austin, we find these feelings to precisely resemble the pattern. People of Color are displaced, while White people move in, and as more and more White people move in, the public services increase.   No one has to hate anyone, or have any bad feelings. However, the outcome is racist because it recreates structural inequality along racial lines.

Many gentrifiers move to an area because it is diverse or hip. Many feel the cultural significance of the area is a positive addition to their lives. Many, too, feel sad when their neighbors get displaced. Some gentrifiers seek to distance themselves from the history and culture of the place, the longstanding community or their own privilege. This detachment tends to exacerbate gentrification and the racial and cultural aspects of it. To those who have ignored their complicity with gentrification, the Jumpolín demolition will be an opportunity to oppose displacement while still shirking responsibility.

Those who benefit at the top are the investors, the banks and the developers who gain money while removed from the political fray. Those who lose are the people displaced. But there is something deeper that is lost too. The cultural territory that exists in communities rooted in family connections, cultural traditions, and a genuine connection to land, is the opposite of the capitalist ideology. The value of the collective community is shunned in favor of the highest bidder.

The Response

 The proper response to violence is healing. This process is a long-term rebuilding of cultural ties to each other and our land. More immediately, there are people who need help, and there are people who need to be held accountable. These processes will likely be driven from within the connections among the victims and their existing network, and the violators and theirs. I doubt that all the land speculators will get together to hold French and Fisher accountable, but I am glad that the Latino community is already stepping up to help the Lejarazu family.

There is no reason to think that the Lejarazu family will become community activists or spokespeople because they have befallen injustice. That is up to them. I see no reason to focus on them as individuals for these ends. However, jumpoline2the people that are like them, Spanish speaking and working-class, have often been politically silenced in Austin. If we focus only on the violent nature of The Act, we will miss the context it took place in. No isolated protests or actions will make much of a difference for the larger context of gentrification. If we recognize the pattern of injustice that the act is embedded within, we may begin to shift our city. This is what I see as the proper response.

The positive response will be to invest in the livelihoods of the working people of this city who are being displaced. Where is the workforce housing and transportation? How are we gearing the development of our city for those who wash dishes, cook food, care for the elderly and teach children? Centering our economy on only upper-class residents, is not only unjust, it is foolish.

 On the other side, we must eliminate the structures of injustice that create these openings for displacement. These will not go away in a day. This will be a long-term process of altering our society towards justice. First thing first – places where people have cultural territories should be privileged over people who have the money to buy them.

we are not roaches

 The self-proclaimed venture capitalists are criminals, and should be treated as such. But it is not just in their mistakes that they are problematic. F&F has had a troubling history of using dishonesty to make money without providing any real services or goods to anyone. They are parasitic on society (to borrow from their gross bug category of name-calling, they are leeches). For those who simply make money by having money, gentrification is a great business. House-flippers are bike thieves times a million. However, this accepted practice in Austin is treated as absolutely necessary to the economic survival of us all.

 The dominant narrative is that unless there is a yuppie condo going up every day, the Austin economy will collapse.   In reality, the poor and working people’s economy has been collapsing precisely because of this development trend. If it stops, the elite venture capitalists economy would collapse, and that would be awesome. Resist the influx of capitalist development from the outside and invest in community revitalization from the ground up.

 This brings us to SXSW, which has a long history of displacing people and also of rejecting the Latino community. Explicitly not a Latino music event, SXSW has encroached on the East Side for years, disrupting neighborhoods through a month long burst of music, street noise, garbage and letting hipsters pee all over the place. This too has been defended in all of our names. Besides a handful of taco truck owners, how many working-class Spanish speakers are benefitting from SXSW? Let us recognize this history and hold the system accountable, beginning with a refusal to allow a party in the empty lot left by this tragedy.

 

The Distraction

The issue of race and racism has been stressed in the case of Jumpolín. I have already given example for the underlying racism within gentrification. Some people have accused activists of racism for pointing it out, and I’m sure this piece will receive similar scrutiny. Whether you can see it or not, society is divided. Susana Almanza is called a “racist” with the same spirit in which Cesar Chavez and MLK were called racists – it is not only with misunderstanding, but also with fear. I have seen more anger from gentrifiers than from the displaced; could this be the lashing out of an internal displacement that runs yet deeper?

 To suggest that White people behave with an unearned sense of entitlement may sound racist to people who have learned not to associate behavior with race. However, White Privilege is real and well documented. Privilege is an jumpoline1affliction that is associated with groups in power – Men and rich people tend to display this regardless of race. For White identified people to recognize this, and work through it, is a long and personal process. I hope that anti-racists within the White community can hold each other accountable with compassion.

 I urge people to not simply conflate Whiteness with privilege. While it is useful to use Critical Race Theory to understand race and power, it is useless to call out “White Privilege” as an act in and of itself. This can lead to missing the opportunity to respond to the behavior by focusing on the racial identity of the agent. Let’s focus on behaviors instead of people. Undesirable behavior can change. People only change when they alter behavior, and their race is unlikely to change regardless of anything.

 Racism is simply too important of a framework to be tossed around on Facebook without proper context. Healing within the community will fare much better. I think we can be more careful and nuanced with our words and actions.

 It is important to recognize that the Latino community is not as united as it should be, and this is due to racism as well. Just as White privilege affects people internally, so racial oppression affects People of Color from the inside. We can and should work together to support those who are most negatively affected in our own communities. We also need to make alliances with anti-racist people of all stripes. We need to understand how gentrification has affected our communities, Black and Brown, and stop it in its tracks. This will take accountability and leadership in our community as well. I know we are up for it.

 As we move to respond to the violence in our city, I plea for patience and for understanding. Please give people the benefit of the doubt. Please recognize the history of gentrification and its connection to racism. Please recognize the organizing that people have been doing against gentrification for decades. Please treat each other with respect. Please have a sense of compassion and humor. This is our humanity. This is our healing.

Dr. Tane Ward

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