Category Archives: austin

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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Filed under anti-racist, austin, gentrification, 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.

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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

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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Happy New Year

Happy New Year ATX!

“Happy New Year, Dr. Tane Ward, Equilibrio Norte.”

     That was how I signed off a recent letter to the Austin Chronicle. My name stayed in print, but they took out the name of my organization, my title* and the “Happy New Year.”  The rest of my letter was published, and that’s nice, but I feel that my intention of good will was subdued by this omission.  So I want to put it out there – Happy New Year, Austin Texas!

     Austin has received a gift this New Year season – single member district representation, aka Democracy.  For the first time in history Austin will have official citywide politics.  It’s nice.  Not because every district earned a unique champion to represent them but, because for the first time we can look at our city and see the politics that really lie beneath the liberal image: no more gentleman’s agreements, no more West Austin dominating the rest, no more pretending that there are no Republicans in the city.  Instead, we have genuine opportunity to work through the city’s real issues. This is also known as Politics.
While I am very happy about the victory of my very own representative – Ora Houston, I am quite disappointed about the defamation of hometown heroine Susana Almanza. I am glad to see the money come out into the open, to see who was willing to back whom, to hear people talk about the working class.  I am eager to get to move forward from the point at which we now find ourselves.  It is time to map out where we are as a community, dig in, and work to build a more equitable Austin.
If you haven’t seen the outcomes of the recent city elections, I suggest looking up who your district councilperson is; I then suggest doing your best to form a good relationship with this person that combines support, accountability and good intentions in equal measure.

Democracy
Representative democracy is often an obstruction to movement-based politics.  Change to Austin’s city council signifies a rupture in the status quo that has stifled political agency in Austin for decades.  There is opportunity to reestablish community led, place based and justice oriented politics.  However, this will also be an opportunity for conventional powerful interests to maneuver, and we should expect this.  There is a clear opening for movement, and we should all be ready to engage on this political front.
In order to push our movements forward, we need a better system. The restrictive government system we have will only become something better by critical activists working with the new system and our newly elected officials.  Those who fight for justice may choose to use democracy, or not.  However, at all levels of political engagement, now marks a moment when it is important to understand our city, and our place therein.
What has the recent election taught us about our city?  I think we have learned a great deal about what has been previously concealed through the oversimplified cultural identity of Austin as “liberal” or progressive.”  Specifically issues of money, party politics, race, class and the culture of the city have risen to the surface to engage by our movements on the ground and in the new council stage.
I address the overarching themes of money, party politics, race, class and the culture of the city with the intention of overcoming the structural problems that our society faces at the local level.  The institutional racism that is rearing its ugly head in our mainstream political discourse, the recent legislative takeover by Republicans, and the widespread move to privatize public services all affect our city, but are most often digested as national issues. The facebookosphere is loaded with articles upon articles about things people should know or think about race and racism, but there is little information that aids in addressing racism in our cities and in Austin in particular.  The same is true with discussions on neoliberal policy and capitalist driven inequality.  I believe that we can and should address larger social issues by working through them in our city from the ground up.

Politics
In the mayoral race, Adler trounced Martinez – I think this surprised a lot of people.  While Adler seems nice enough, the two decisive factors that he brought to the political races were money and experience (having lots of one and not much of the other).  We would be wise to pay close attention to how money influences city politics – not only addressing rich candidates running, or how campaigns are funded, but also addressing the types of economic development that are being promoted and those that remain in the margins.  There is money behind the money, and behind that money is power.  Big players in the Austin economy fought to win in this election – they gave money, endorsements and reassured their bases.  The economic direction we take as a city has the chance to change now and while this scares those who financially gain from the previous system, the status quo, again, has cracked.
race mapAdler was not shy about hitching on to the national trend of rejecting incumbent politicians, which was a leading Right-Wing tactic this year.  Republicans have stepped up in Austin, as they have all over the country in taking power through reiteration of the dominant political ideology of the USA – capitalism, meritocracy, xenophobia, and the impotence of government.  Austin for years has voted solidly Democrat and is considered a blue island in a sea of red.  This smokescreen has done well to obscure city trends towards regressive economics, racism and exploitative development.  This is perhaps the greatest gift we have received from our single member districts; the area of the city that had the highest percentage of candidates and voters in the at-large system is solidly Republican in the 10-1.
An interesting exposition of party politics appeared in attacks calling Steve Adler a “Republican”.  Adler is a Democrat – a rich, white, male Democrat millionaire turned politician.  There are tons of them in the Democrat party.  Let’s not pretend this is otherwise by mislabeling Adler as GOP.  Instead, why don’t we eschew the mainstream two-party system and instead look to build coalition based in the values we share.  The difference between West Austin and the rest is not dissimilar from Adler and the rest of us – it’s about money.  I hope we can find ways to reach out to our new mayor, and push him to represent our whole city and not just the class he belongs to.  This may be the first step in doing something similar on the state and national levels.  An open challenge to the dominant political system is in order – this is not an attack on a politician or on a political party – it is an attack on an economic system of inequality.  We are unlikely to have such an opportunity again; I say we make the most of it.

Anti-Racism
Another key structure that we cannot ignore is that this city is divided along class and race lines (who knew?).  The initial electoral map of the three primary mayoral candidates grafting upon a veritable identical map our ridiculously segregated city was quite impressive.  This was not so neatly affirmed in the run-off; although the city is roughly 30% Latino, which is about the percentage of votes that Martinez received.  I don’t mean to suggest uniform political ideology fits neatly into racial categories, but because race and racism are such tense and visible matters in the public sphere, we are wise to consider how racism operates in Austin, and the opportunity we have to undo it.  
Historically Austin has been legally, politically and economically segregated in a colonial pattern of White privilege and Black and Indian genocide.  In more recent years, the longstanding Black and Latino communities in East Austin have been displaced through gentrification.  The displacement of working-class East Side residents has been subsidized by the city to the advantage of upper-class developers, and middle-class homeowners.  Efforts to revitalize the existing East Side communities have not received the same support from the city.  Racism does not drive gentrification, capitalism does; but racism is the outcome of gentrification, it is the effect.
Anti-racist practice, as opposed to anti-racist ideas, is when privilege is subverted and subjugated people rise.  Anti-racist practice has been stifled and silenced in the mainstream political mouthpieces of this city and in the actions of the previous council.  I sincerely hope that the incoming council does more than confront the abstract idea of racism, and instead move to confront the structures that keep racism in place  – namely gentrification and exploitative development.
I encourage the new city council to take the Undoing Racism Austin training, and mandate it for all city staff and public servants.  People of Color should be encouraged to defend their territory and right to exist.  White folks in Austin, especially the newly arrived, should be willing to forfeit their privilege, and understand that anti-racism begins with justice.  Anti-racist work is not just for People of Color, however; it speaks to the larger culture that drives these politics.
What values are produced through gentrification and new urbanism: white-privilege, hipster cynicism, free-market capitalism, apathy?  What can our justice-based movements offer to the lost people who are moving to this city in droves?  How can we present the cultures of this city, in ways that will allow them to survive, and allow us to survive materially, in this place?  People of Color on the East Side are willing to share their land with new comers who respect where they have landed.  Sadly, most newcomers resemble the colonial spirit of manifest destiny, where the pilgrims who arrive are interested in only promoting the economic system that privileges their existence; in the contemporary case this is mainstream capitalist consumerism.

Development should be structured towards justice, not exploitation.  Justice means that communities come before individuals, poor before rich, women before men, children before adults, elderly before the young, disabled before abled.      We have invested in the opposite expression of this value – the unending unsustainable growth of condos, trendy festivals and elite services instead promote individualism, capitalism, and the subsidization of young, rich yuppies from the Coasts who move to Austin, while poor people of color are forced to leave.  This trend is not the inevitable result of the invisible hand of the market – it is tied directly to city policies and a cultural silencing of those negatively affected.
The tendency to represent Austin, as an open, artistic, tourist destination is in desperate need of change.  An economy rooted in justice will lead to a city that is equitable and prosperous.  Key to how we produce our overall culture in Austin will be directly linked to the survival of the East Side as a cultural territory of historically rooted People of Color.

     When our movements on the ground meet with the structures of power that exist in this city, we will have the potential to move forward.  This goal is reason enough to celebrate.  The New Year renders constant change and growth – the forces that allow us to continue.

Onward to justice
Peace to the East Side
Peace to the people of Loston
Happy New Year

-Dr. Tane Ward
Equilibrio Norte

*The Austin Chronicle has repeated the omission of the title “Dr.” from my name three times.  In a recent article when my name was mentioned, the title was missing, even though the reporter contacted me earlier that same week for a quote and apologized for not addressing me properly – so, they know it should be there. Personally, the omission of my title is of little consequence, I prefer the informal. However,  the Chronicle has consistently disrespected people of color from East Austin that the elders here have encouraged professional Chicanos like myself, to speak up and be heard.  My initial letters to the Chronicle were intended to defend the legacies of some of these very same elders.  It feels offensive to them, and to the larger community for the omissions of my title and organization.

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Springdale Farms, Susana Almanza, Gentrification and Austin Chronicle’s Racism

Update – An alternate version of this letter has been published in the Austin Chronicle.

The Chronicle’s coverage of the Springdale farm zoning change is intentionally misleading readers. Businesses seeking zoning changes and community activists opposing changes are nothing new, however the laughably one-sided reporting from Ana Toon brings to light a troubling political undertone.

First, the issue is a neighborhood resisting the negative impact of an event center, not the farm itself. Anyone supporting the farm’s zoning change because they honestly feel that farms should have 30 non-farm related events a year with amplified outdoor entertainment, or because they think that a lame-duck city council should rush to override a Latino community’s neighborhood plan on the eve of their historic win for representation, is doing nothing for the future of farms or community relations in Austin. A great deal of zoning change support has been drummed up through this papers reporting, which has employed a subtle pro-gentrification message, which dangerously plays to people’s white privilege. (Number of People Of Color staff at chronicle? Anyone?)

Second, and very important, the defamation of council candidate Susana Almanza and PODER is not so subtle – no genuine reporting on the decades of community activism that have earned her and her organization national acclaim, or their myriad of significant successes, but instead a cartoonish portrait of someone whom refuses to negotiate with others. I wager that Almanza and campaign manager Daniel Llanes have negotiated successfully with developers and the city on more issues than all other candidates combined. The idea that “Pio” is somehow known throughout the city as a stalwart of measured countenance is merely political rhetoric insinuating that Susana is not.

The only clear example that the Chronicle has given of Almanza’s negativity is her comment that “I am not running against my brother, he’s running against me.” Her comment means that she has no ill will towards her brother despite his negativity on the campaign trail. Of all the city council candidates, which one had the most mud slung at them and slung the least back? Hands down team Almanza. So why is the Chronicle so insistent on making these claims?

Because if people knew that there were Chicano activists that have been promoting community gardening and environmental justice for over thirty years and that they have exceptional records of working across race, class and political lines, than readers may not only vote Susana and stop supporting Springdale Farms’ zoning change, but they might also build the relationships necessary to mitigate the effects of gentrification and the expanding development of condos, tourism and elite services in East Austin. The Chronicle has deep economic and political stakes in gentrification and has biasedly reported on such issues for years. Readers should understand that the East Side has a right to be defended, and easiest way to stop colonialism is by telling the truth.

Dr. Tane Ward

Equilibrio Norte

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Decolonizing Environmentalism: Step One

ClimateChangeMarch-09_0Last week the most diverse and cosmopolitan city in the world hosted the first step in decolonizing environmentalism. The People’s Climate March in New York City saw Four Hundred Thousand people and hundreds of thousands more marched around the world. Various frontline communities – indigenous peoples, the urban and rural poor and simply those most affected by climate change – led the march, demonstrating that people are beginning to understand Global Climate Disruption as an issue of environmental justice.

Climate justice is social justice. Those most affected by global climate disruption are those least likely to have caused it, and those most likely to have caused it are those most likely to avoid its negative effects. This is the same equation that describes environmental injustice as a whole. Pollution and displacement affect impoverished communities and people of color disproportionately throughout the world, while the industry causing pollution and displacement benefit people in the elite urban cores that are dependent on resources extracted elsewhere.

There is a historical connection between political inequality and environmental destruction, from the conquest of Native America by Europeans to the contemporary extraction of natural resources in the Third World. Human cultures have always built relationships with territory, but colonialism is an exploitative economic and cultural system that subverts peoples’ connections to territory through displacement, land and resource theft, and subversion of native culture. The modern worldview justifies colonial domination of lands and peoples through the classification of all things within a hierarchy. Colonial society perpetuates hierarchies of “modern” people over “savages”, humans over animals and “man” over “nature”. Present day resource extraction follows this same logic, as peoples in the Third World seldom have political power over their land and resources, which are exploited to serve the expansion of global capitalism. Resistance to colonialism is best expressed by indigenous peoples who maintain cultural territory through a productive and non-exploitative connection to their ancestral lands.

Historically, the groups that have been given the power to decide who lives where and what resources to use have done so for their own benefit. Settler colonial society is founded on the idea that white settlers enact power and control over land. On the other hand, people of color have been acculturated to receive precisely the opposite message – they have been historically denied the political power to decide what happens on their cultural territory. Whether through displacement, slavery, genocide, land theft or xenophobia, non-whites throughout the world have been denied political or legal power over their land and resources.

As beneficiaries of colonialism, western environmentalists have been acculturated to believe they have dominion over nature. Environmentalism is rooted in a colonial logic because it suggests that the natural world is separate from the social and political world and needs to be protected. Decolonizing environmentalism rejects the colonial concept of “nature” and instead focuses on peoples’ relationships with their cultural territories. The inability for mainstream environmental politics to reach beyond a certain demographic has, in the past, reflected the imbalance of power established through colonialism.

It is easy to see injustice within global capitalism; and the anger levied at Wall Street and imperialism is well warranted. However, it can be hard to grasp the implications of challenging “the system” as a whole. A prominent narrative on the rise insists that global capitalism is incapable of providing justice or sustainability and is causing irreversible harm to the world. If we immediately jump to “Stop Global Warming”, or “end industrial capitalism” we miss the intermittent steps of establishing what it looks like to “not cause global warming”. Energy consumption in the US continues to rise as it has done for fifty years. The economic system that we comply with in our daily lives is exploitative to peoples and lands all over the world, whether we wish to admit it or not. Gasoline, coal, cheap electronics – your car, your lights, your cell-phone, and your computer – is all produced through colonial exploitation of lands and peoples.

One key problem with the traditional environmental movement is that it seeks solutions from the very demographic that is most complicit with causing and benefiting from exploitation and environmental degradation. Whether expressed as ideologically anti-capitalist or anti-global warming, those who assume the power to decide what happens to the world and what is best for the global society remains with settler-colonial, capitalist society. However, if we look to sites of resistance to global capitalism, we are likely to find people defending their cultural territories from exploitation, who offer real alternatives to environmental destruction. It is precisely these communities who have emerged to steer the environmental movement in a new and exciting direction.

Privileging indigenous and other frontline communities is the first step in moving towards justice and against global climate disruption. Communities that maintain their existence without exploiting other peoples and lands should be the standard for our conception of environmentalism. Indigenous struggles for land and resources throughout the Third and Fourth worlds challenges how all peoples connect to land. Framing capitalism as “unjust” and global warming as “devastating” can render action to the abstract plane of the “global”, when attainable solutions to these problems thrive at the local level. Justice and cultural territory are precisely the answers that environmentalists have been seeking.

Decolonizing environmentalism does not mean diversifying the existing movement. Decolonization is a process whereby the movement eschews its colonial roots and is remade from the ground up by those with the most at stake. The history of the world is diverse. Peoples are diverse. Land is diverse. The problem, however, is universal. Separating people from land, in order to control land and people is colonial, unjust, destructive, and divisive. Colonial exploitation must go, but so must the treatment of land as an object, the treatment of others as inferior, and the arrogance implied through a settler-colonial led solution. Decolonization is a diverse process too. It means something different for those who maintain ancestral territory, those who have been removed from their homelands and those who do not even understand what territory means. For some, the immediate response will be an empowered resurgence of their cultural values. For others it will be a slow process of learning. For still others, it will mean a sacrifice of their exploitative lifestyle. The next step for all of us will be to establish whether or not we are ready to teach, learn and act. The first step has been taken.

Dr. Tane Ward

10/02/2014

To learn about other decolonial environmental movements, check out these links:

http://www.ourpowercampaign.org

http://uprose.org

http://www.shieldthepeople.org

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Finding Loston

Reposted from the End of Austin blog, January 2014

 

Is this the End of Austin? How presumptuous. Endings and Beginnings are always the same process. Austin has been around for a long time; only it wasn’t always called Austin. Steven F. Austin was the first colonial White man in the area. Using his name to identify our city oversimplifies the dense history and limits the rich future of this place. This cultural territory is old. In fact, it is the oldest continually inhabited place in the Americas. The oldest arrow-point ever found in North or South America was found at the Gault archeological site near Round Rock at over 14 thousand years old. The oldest continually inhabited sacred site in the Americas is the Coahuiltecan presence at Spring Lake in San Marcos at 12 thousand years. “Austin” sits in the middle.

 

Texas was founded in a clustercuss of violence between three colonial powers and numerous native tribes, bands and nations. Multiple genocides were committed on the native peoples of central Texas. Natives were hunted, detained, converted and colonized in successive waves of Anglo, Mexican and other Native occupations. Amongst the violence, Natives were racialized in a way that slated them for extermination and denied them the most basic notion of human agency. The Texas Republic President Mirabeau Lamar, in 1839 said, “The proper policy to be pursued towards the barbarian race is absolute expulsion from the country. The white man and the red man cannot dwell in harmony together. Nature forbids it.”[1]

 

Indigenous people are still here though, despite that they may not appreciate federally recognized status or land accommodations. Coahuiltecans still do ceremonies at the San Marcos springs too. These ceremonies have also been attempted at Barton Springs, another Coahuiltecan sacred water site. Sadly, too many people continually interrupted the ceremony, wanting to know what was happening, and asking to participate, making it nearly impossible to complete the ritual properly. Barton Springs is no longer a suitable candidate for this native ceremony. It’s interesting that so much genuine curiosity and intrigue about Native culture drives liberal, white Austinites to disrupt Native ceremony, even to the point of being offended when asked to leave. In a similar fashion, the entire urban complex of Austin creates a parallel disruption of the Native community at large. There are more than a few explicit violations of Native sovereignty embedded into the political culture of this city – contributing to “The End of…” other places, other cultures and other peoples’ lives.

 

The Austonian high-rise condo tower in downtown Austin is now the highest residential building in the state. It boasts an elevated standard of living, and no doubt is providing one for those who can afford to it. The Austonian’s parent company, 2nd Congress Ltd is a subsidiary of Houston based Benchmark Development, itself a subsidiary of Spanish Transnational energy and fertilizer conglomerate Grupo Villar Mir (GVM). GVM is partially responsible for the mass displacement of thousands of Colombian peasants for construction of the El Quimbo dam project.[2] Next door, the 360 Condominiums, a stratus project (of Circle C infamy), is a subsidiary of Austin based Freeport McMoran, also a transnational mining and energy company. These hands are dirty. The largest goldmine in the world, the Grasberg mine in Irian Jaya, Indonesia is a high profile international case because of the direct displacement of over 4,000 native peoples and the contamination of 90 sq. miles of land.

 

The displacement of the Indigenous peoples in Indonesia is similar to the displacement wrought upon the Coahuiltecan descendants of South Texas, as well as the Apache, Comanche and Mexican peoples native to this area. These stories are tied together through the economic fabric stratifying our world and our city. A decolonial understanding of one situation requires a decolonial understanding of the other. The capitalist developers on each end connect these places materially, but they are also connected by a worldview that does not value people’s cultural connection to land.

 

The displacement of people of color from the Austin’s East Side is an ongoing affliction on the contemporary political landscape. People are being displaced from the East Riverside corridor at a rate that is leaving thousands of people with nowhere to live. Since there is little low-income housing in Austin and virtually none being built, we are creating an economic catastrophe with every negotiated development. City mandated “low-income” housing is like the Austonian’s “green” footprint. It is intended to promote the culture of urban expansion and to subsidize gentrification, not support families with actual low-incomes.

 

The African American community, once legally relegated to the Central East Side is continually displaced from their cultural territory just as indigenous peoples and Mexicans before them. With no value of cultural territory, only a value for private property, Austin’s political and economic elite expands their Austin at the disadvantage of other culturally rooted communities.

 

What can we say about the culture that is replacing the longstanding Austin communities? We can be certain that the new Austinites are either oblivious to the ongoing displacement implied by their lives and lifestyles or are unfazed by it. How long did it take East Sixth to go from full of Mexican cantinas to White hipster row? – A couple of years. With an exclusive business alliance, raised property rates and an influx of disposable income, we can transform any sector of the city to serve the upper-class (or at least their up and coming offspring).

 

Who decided to expand the high-rises? Who decided to gentrify East Austin? What about the ongoing displacement of “weird” Austin? All the large-scale urban development I have seen lately looks like Mueller – a strip mall connected to a subdivision. What is the opposite of “weird” if not that? How “normal” can you get? How normal do we assume the development of this city and the world to be? The mass displacement and expansion of industrial capital is not consciously decided upon, it is complied with, as if expected, as if normal. We are lost.

 

Instead of thinking about Austin ending, perhaps we should think of something that has been lost, something we are searching for. Instead of Austin, why don’t we call it Loston or Lost-Town or Ciudad Peridida or just Perdita? Perdita has been here for thousands of years, and I think it will be for thousands more, but only when people can find themselves historically, politically and economically as connected with a larger world. How can we connect Perdita with the end of the colonial industrializing West, the End of capitalism, or the end of inequality? And what will this be the beginning of? It may take a hundred years to find ourselves. Let’s build the foundation of society rooted in cultural territory. Let’s construct a city rooted in connections to land, not ownership of it. We may not see the great change in our lifetime. But this place will be here, long after we are gone.

 

[1] Texas State Historical Association

 

[2] GVR appreciates 30% of the holdings of the project. Italian based Enel and Colombian based Emgesa own the rest.

 

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