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Dale, dale, dale, no pierdas el tino!

Dale, Dale, Dale, No pierdas el tino!

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

The Act

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

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

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

 

The Reaction

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

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

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

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

The Context

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

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

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

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

The Response

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

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

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

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

we are not roaches

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

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

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

 

The Distraction

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Tane Ward

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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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