Tag Archives: austin

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

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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Filed under anti-racist, austin, decolonial, environmentalism, gentrification, politics, racism, Social Justice

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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Decolonizing Environmentalism

On Sunday, along with local environmental groups including The Sierra Club, ACAN (Austin Climate Action Network), Sheild The People and Alma de Mujer, Equilibrio organized The People’s Climate March: ATX.  This demonstration in solidarity with the Climate March in NYC produced a list of demands for city council on local city of Austin policies that relate to climate justice and this communiqué, penned by Dr. Tane Ward. Participants used #climatemarchatx to share photos and video of the event.

Designed to highlight the intersection of struggles, the poster above visually represents the Texas/Mexico border and a teepee spirit camp in South Dakota.

 

This Thursday, Sepetember 25 at 1PM at Huston-Tillotson University, Dr. Ward will be presenting “Decolonizing Environmentalism” at the First Annual Building Green Justice Forum. The Forum is organized by Ecology Action of Texas’ Director, Joaquin Mariel, in association with The Dumpster Project and Green Is The New Black.  Dr. Ward’s presentation will be followed by a workshop: “Horizontal Organizing Methodologies” facilitated by Equilibrio Co-Founder and Field Organizer, Rockie Gonzalez. The workshop will focus on developing an anti-racist approach and organizing in East Austin.  This event is free and open to the public. RSVP here to attend.

 

 

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Filed under decolonial, Social Justice