A couple of weeks ago, I was sitting at home with the Occupy Wall Street livestream playing in the background when I heard a young woman on the “people’s microphone” give a shout out to UFE.
...If you want a great source of accessible information about economic inequality...check out United for a Fair Economy...w-w-w-dot-faireconomy-dot-org.
She finished with that, and the people's mic erupted into cheers and applause. I was overcome with a feeling of great pride, and wanted to do my part to see that UFE was a part of this powerful movement.
The Occupy Movement has brilliantly sharpened the focus of the national debate on the top 1% and on Wall Street leaders as the chief culprits of the global economic collapse. This, in and of itself, is a major victory. The national dialogue for the better part of the last year has centered on distraction issues like the deficit. The policies that ensued have worsened conditions for already struggling people. Now, people are able to imagine an alternative reality where all people, not just the wealthy, have opportunity.
The process of creating a more inclusive economy requires that we as individuals carefully consider the ways in which we interact with our society and make the necessary changes. One member of Occupy Boston's anti-oppression working group explained the necessity of an anti-oppression analysis:
An analysis of race, gender and class politics is foundational to our ability to achieve our goals of change. Without such an analysis, and subsequent articulation and action based upon it, we severely limit the potential of our movements. I would go so far to argue that our goals are not attainable at all without it.
Recently, this working group held its first session on racism and white privilege, and UFE was invited to contribute to the discussion with over 250 occupiers and supporters. We opened with an activity from our “Closing the Racial Wealth Divide” workshop to demonstrate historical and contemporary rules and policies that have offered boosts for some and presented barriers for others.
We explained that while "the 99%" may have much in common, the folks on the bottom—disproportionally people of color and women—have borne the brunt of trickle-down economics. As our report, State of the Dream 2008: Foreclosed, states, “the subprime mortgage crisis resulted in the single greatest transfer of wealth out of communities of color in modern times!”
Since September 17, the first day of OWS, requests for workshop materials and speaking engagements have nearly tripled. From Seattle, WA to Fort Collins, CO, Prescott, AZ to Northampton MA, UFE volunteer trainers, college teachers, labor educators, community organizers, students and others, are using UFE’s human graph activities to engage people in dialogue about the greatest concentration of wealth, income, and political power since 1928.
This is an extraordinary moment in history, and I'm glad we're able to provide tools to help folks Occupy our economy.
As word spreads about Occupy Wall Street, it's getting harder and harder for the typically apolitical to ignore it. Because my Facebook wall has become something of a clearinghouse for Occupy-related news, I frequently field inquiries on what it's all about. Here's the most recent:
"Maz, can you clearly explain to me what the goal of OWS is? I've asked about 40 people and no one comes even close to an intelligible answer. Seriously though, I am very curious."
It's true, the amorphous nature of the Occupy Movement can make it difficult to put into words. There are no "leaders"—in the most typical sense of the word—to approach for all the answers. Instead, supporters have chosen to operate in the spirit of collectivism; the will of the group having priority over that of the individual. We're all welcome to our own interpretations, and the process encourages us to find common ground. I find that refreshing and necessary, even, because building a better world will require more imagination and cooperation than seems to exist in our state and national capitals. So, without further ado, here's how I responded:
"Occupy Wall Street (OWS) and, now, the global Occupy Movement, is about money, power and opportunity. Specifically, it's a rejection of a political and economic system that before anyone else serves the already wealthy and corporate interests.
In order to become a politically viable force, the first step was (and continues to be) to bring people together around that broad notion. Each occupation has nightly General Assemblies (GA), where participants (anyone who chooses to attend) practice direct democracy through consensus-building processes to determine their occupation's goals and strategies. This process stands in stark contrast to both our electoral and policy-making processes, which are mired in corruption and cronyism.
The reason no one is able to provide a crystal clear answer as to what the goal is, is because the ultimate goal has yet to be established. What we do have, for now, is the OWS first official declaration; a compilation of grievances that thousands and thousands of participants and supporters have agreed are issues of great concern to humanity.
The occupation itself is an awareness-raising tool that grows more effective as more people join (as occupiers or supporters in various capacities). A day in an occupation is more than just the GA, rallies, marches, sign-toting and yelling. The occupations are also meant to serve as a public display of the sort of humane, egalitarian, democratic and cooperative society that supporters believe in; one where everyone, rich or poor, has a voice.
It's also about education—workshops on an array of subjects are being held on the regular. It's about collaboration—working together to literally keep a community going. Working groups are established on food, logistics, tactics, media, education, arts and culture and more. Under this model, everyone has a job; everyone can make a meaningful contribution to society; our destinies are not under the control of CEOs and corporate boards who can put thousands out of work with the wave of their hands.
How this will affect our status quo, our existing political apparatus, is unclear—which is fine. The idea is that we don't have to wait for someone up high to tell us what we're supposed to do; that we have the power to be a part of that decision. And, who knows how long that might take? [Re]building a society with our collective well being in mind, rather than that of the richest among us, won't be a quick or easy process.
Even if the Occupations disperse, if nothing else, we want them to have shaped the national and global discourse about how people should be governed. We want them to have altered our mass psyche in a way that will foster greater solidarity and respect for humanity and the natural environment in the future.
There is no simple answer. In many ways, it requires a leap of faith for those of us who have been hard-wired to believe that we just have to live with what we have, for better or worse. But, with Occupations and meet-ups having gathered in over 1,500 cities worldwide, this movement seems to be capturing a lot of people's imaginations."
For more on the origins and emergence of Occupy Wall Street, read Nathan Schneider's "From Occupy Wall Street to Occupy Everywhere" on TheNation.com.
Each week, UFE's online news hawk, Tim Sullivan, will share a list of stories that he finds interesting. Tim's first round-up includes the latest on Occupy Wall Street, the action in our own backyard at Occupy Boston, the delusions of Wall Street insiders and [more] reasons to be very upset with Citigroup. Enjoy!
- The poor, poor 1 percent.
- Occupy the Hood Boston is looking to bring communities of color into the movement.
- Kickstart the Occupy Boston Globe newspaper. Let's make it happen
- The Guardian's dedicated page on Occupy (url changes daily)
- Think Progress' dedicated page on the Occupy Movement
- Occupy the Boardroom seems awesome. You should join it.
- The Occupy backlash: Thousands arrested for protesting banks that ruined the economy; still zero bankers arrested for ruining the economy.
- Boston Mayor Thomas Menino's lame excuses for the Occupy crackdown in Boston
- Quinnipiac poll of NYC residents shows overwhelming support for Occupy Wall Street and the New York State Millionaires Tax — including from Republicans (55%) and households with income over $100K (65%).
- Citigroup earnings are up 74 percent!
- Maybe Citi's doing so well because of new rules that apparently make it a crime for people to close their accounts.
Occupy Wall St. has been granted a reprieve after Mayor Bloomberg and Brookfield Properties threatened to evict them today for a “park clean-up.” Protesters were reportedly elated as the announcement boomed over the “people’s mic” at 6:40 AM, spilling out into the streets. Of course, the eviction has only been delayed, not eradicated, and eventually the occupants will be forced to make their next move. Many are wondering: what will be their next move? And more importantly: does it matter?
In Boston, LA, DC, Austin, Philadelphia, Portland and many cities across the nation, Occupants are taking a stand against corporate greed and the growing wealth gap. Fellow Americans watch them on television screens, newspapers, and twitter feeds, or even out their windows and wonder: what is this? Does it pertain to me?
With young people at the helm of the occupy movement, universities also seem to be at the epicenter of this media frenzy. Almost as soon as Occupy Boston set up their tents, people on my campus had developed “Occupy fatigue.” Some students whined for the pre-Occupy days when everyone could be apathetic in peace. Now, it seems students have to justify not caring.
What lies at the root of this Occupy skepticism? Why are some young people so charged up that they are camping in the streets, while others are rolling their eyes? Here are some critiques of the Occupy movement floating around bars, tables and in dorm hallways:
- This protest is just the latest fad cause, we say; it will soon pass.
- The Occupy movement hardly even has a cause, we say, they have no spokesperson, no slogan, no clear strategy or ideas for the future.
- A large, unorganized movement could be detrimental to the change we desire.
- We can’t just protest capitalism. Sure, the wealthiest one percent of the population holds 34 percent of all wealth, and their wealth has increased exponentially in recent years. Sure, the wealthiest tenth owns 70 percent of wealth while 80 percent of the population owns 7 percent of wealth, but there’s nothing we can do about it.
Regardless of the merit of these critiques, I'm glad these conversations are happening. And if I’ve learned anything in 3.5 years of a Peace and Justice Studies major, it's that movements tend to get a facelift in hindsight. Generations after a major period of action, people turn time-tinted lenses back and see wise, courageous revolutionaries guiding altruistic and equally wise individuals to march against the obviously evil powers-that-be.
Consider the civil rights movement without the corrective lens of hindsight. You will see a Martin Luther King who struggled with himself. You will see an array of affiliated organizations whose opinions were seldom unified; their policy positions never clear. You see determined yet frightened activists who often needed years convincing to speak out against a bigoted government.
Already, it seems spectators are looking at the momentum of the Occupy movement through the corrective lens. They look for an inspirational face of a leader or individual that represents the movement. The Obama campaign had that, but Occupy Wall Street does not. Summarizing a movement with a face may be good for media coverage and may make writing history books a bit easier, but that does not mean it’s a weakness of the Occupy movement.
Indeed, the Occupy movement may not have a clean, infallible facade, but it does have an expanding membership of motivated individuals, frustrated with traditional politics’ inability to address the growing wealth divide and willing to work for an alternative solution. What it does have is a wide net that is cast over organizations with similar goals. What it does have is political opportunity in the widespread dissatisfaction among Americans. These are the ingredients for change.
But why should we care? Because we are the 99 percent. We all have a story. We are the unemployed, unemployable, and the tenuously employed, looking to our government to support us as we have supported it. We are the hardworking citizens who believe that economic injustice for some means economic injustice for all.
I am a college senior looking out into an abyss of unemployment and slim job prospects. It pains me to hear Republicans repeatedly shoot down jobs bills and progressive measures to bolster economically stimulating public funding. As a voter, I am sorry that the ‘liberal’ candidate for 2012 has sacrificed progressive policies for wishy-washy centrism too weak to pay off crippling debt. I am scared, but I’m ready to do something about it.
I say, even if you can’t define ‘em, join ‘em. Even if you’ve never been formally educated on economic issues, let the movement occupy your mind for a moment. Get informed about our gargantuan wealth gap, corporate influence over the government, or racial and gender economic disparities. There may not be a leader handing out a one-shot solution, but there’s a group of people asking for new ideas—and why shouldn’t you have a say?
We can allow ourselves to believe in change. The media has hyped this up so much it seems like a fad, but even if Occupy Wall St. is evicted the protesters’ flame will not be extinguished. Because the Occupy movement is more than a bunch of tents in a park. It is a coalition of the willing, a call to action, and a harbinger of change.
Occupy Wall Street is a budding movement that can be the tipping point for what we at UFE have been working toward. For a decade and a half, we have fought to push inequality to the center of the tax and economic policy debates in order to build an economy that works for all people.
In recent years, even as our analysis gained traction, policy makers at all levels of government have chosen to ignore the facts, ignore the people and govern chiefly on behalf of the already wealthy and corporate interests. Public awareness of the devastating inequality in our economy has grown but policy is still geared toward entrenching the rules that lead to growing economic inequity throughout the country.
The political climate has shifted in the weeks following September 17, day one of the occupation on lower Manhattan. With occupations and meet-ups taking place in over 600 cities, "Occupy Wall Street" has given rise to "Occupy Together." And, rather than wait for the polls to open next November, the U.S. occupations are engaging in direct action now and for as long as it takes to purge our political system of corporate dominance, restore democracy and give struggling people an actual opportunity for a better life.
It started in New York with Occupy Wall Street and in a matter of weeks has spread to hundreds of cities across the country. With the message of devastating inequality at their core, the occupations can be the movement for greater equality that this country needs. Please get involved. Here are some ways that you can take part:
- Find an occupation near you at OccupyTogether.org. If there is an occupation near you, go there. Ask them how you can help at your nearest occupation. Even if you are unable to join as a round-the-clock occupier, there are many ways you can support and strengthen the movement.
- Donate. Make financial and/or supply donations to Occupy Wall Street and your local occupations (find yours through Occupy Together). Different occupations are beginning to publish 'needs' lists that you can look to for ideas. Typical high-priority items include non-perishable food items, socks, blankets, warm clothing, tarps, camping gear, etc.
- Follow. Subscribe to your occupation's email list. Follow your occupation on Facebook and Twitter. Stay up-to-speed with developments and announcements about ways to help.
- Publicize. Share Facebook and Twitter updates from your occupation. Blog about and share your own links to information about your occupation. Write op-eds, letters to the editor, and demand that your local media (newspaper, TV, radio) cover your occupation. Engage in dialogue with your local media on Twitter about whether they're satisfactorily covering your local occupation.
- Attend and participate in your occupation's General Assemblies, where big picture goals and strategies are being decided through consensus-based decision-making. Some occupations hold workshops throughout the day on anything from facilitation skills to non-violence to political economics and even occupation safety and emergency care.
- Volunteer. Join an occupation working group. Committees are being formed to handle outreach, media, food, logistics, tactics, education, arts and culture, and much more. It's easy to just show up and lend a hand. And, if you have skills or expertise that could be helpful, organize a workshop.
Each of us—rich, poor or in-between—has a huge stake in the Occupy movement. Our futures and the futures of millions' of young people and millions more to come could very well depend on this movement. We hope you can help to raise its visibility, strength and endurance.
Some helpful readings:
- We Are the 99 Percent is a remarkable user-generated website that answers the questions about what this movement stands for. Read stories from ordinary people and add your own.
- Glenn Greenwald addresses some of the scornful reactions to Occupy Wall Street — even from progressives.
- Matt Stoller explains the anti-politics of Occupy Wall Street.
- David Weidner explains the irony of Occupy Wall Street.
- Ezra Klein shares what convinced him that Occupy Wall Street was worth covering seriously.
Update (10/14/11, 2:45 p.m.): At the suggestion of Occupy Together, we have created a page to help you find your local occupation. Find yours now.
The following is a repost of a Facebook note by Responsible Endowments Coalition organizer, Martin Bourqui.
After visiting the Occupy Wall Street protests on their seventh day yesterday I feel like I need to put in writing — and in longer than 140 character status updates! — what I see and hear about what's going on here and the way in which these protests are being perceived, both by me and by those on the right and the left.
So what are these protests all about? Wikipedia may not be the most reliable source, but it's probably the most neutral right now. It defines them this way, as would I:
Occupy Wall Street, or #occupywallstreet, is an ongoing nonviolent demonstration opposing what participants view as negative corporate influence over U.S. politics and a lack of legal repercussions over the global financial crisis.
Hmmmm. This isn't something that should be so hard to get behind, right? 75% of us think that corporations have too much influence on politics today . 67% think that corporations are paying too little in taxes . I can't find solid numbers on how Americans feel about how accountable the banks have been held post-bailout, but I imagine they aren't held in too high of regard. And that's just the American public in general - within my personal network I imagine these anti-bank, anti-corporate, pro-accountability sentiments would be much, much higher.
So why do I see a lack of support for these protests from my peers? How come when I talk about Occupy Wall Street on Facebook, or with my friends, the only overt signs of support I see and hear are from those whom I'll respectfully define as radicals?
Where is the broader left in this discourse - those who I know believe in corporate accountability for the financial crisis, those who support of higher taxes for rich corporations and individuals, who believe that money is destroying our political system? Those who don't necessarily define want to define themselves as 'radical', but who agree with the underlying motivations of these actions? That's right, peers. I'm talking to you! I'd like you to read the thoughts that I've put down here, and to think about what you agree with, and what you're going to do about it.
These protests have the potential to unite a broad cross-section of society towards urgently needed political and cultural change in our society, but they're not meeting it. I'd like to acknowledge and explore why that is.
These events have what politicos (and some organizers, like me) refer to as an "optics problem." In understanding how the majority of society views what's going on, we constantly must be re-evaluating how we all interpret the visuals - images, pictures, videos - that we receive from the front lines of our discourse, that represent the debate.
Take, for example, this photo, one of the precious few images on the Occupy Wall Street wikipedia page right now, one of the only visuals that a huge audience will take in to represent what is going on right now. What do you see? Protestors wearing the masks associated with the organization known as Anonymous, one of whom is wearing a keffiyeh (3) (4).
What is your gut reaction upon seeing this picture? Are you willing to stand next to this person, in solidarity with their self-presentation? Or do you feel ambivalence, hesitation, perhaps even fear? Do you want to be associated with them? Would your parents want to be associated with them? Would your friends? Why or why not?
The Anonymous mask and the keffiyeh are loaded symbols, and they mean very different things to different people. They tap into a much broader set of issues beyond fair taxation, post-financial crisis accountability, and the role of money in our political system. More worryingly, I worry that these symbols are misinterpreted, both by the viewer and potentially even by the wearer.
A lot of the protestors that I have seen both in-person and through the internet reflect a broadly radical self-presentation. In my heart of hearts, I don't want to condemn this. But these protestors speak of "revolution," and they seek to create not just an anti-corporate, pro-fair taxation, pro-bank accountability space. They are trying to envision something much bigger, but I think that many of us are squinting to see it.
Let's contrast the depiction of these protests from a sympathetic, radical documentarian with the depictions of the mainstream media. Let's establish the narratives, and unpack them.
I encourage you all to watch this eight-minute documentary, titled "Nobody Can Predict the Moment of Revolution," capturing interviews with protestors on days five and six. It's a thing of beauty, and a strongly sympathetic depiction of the protests, but the narrative it weaves is much broader than just about corporations, banks, and taxes. Protestors interviewed describe their beliefs this way:
"I don't know how to achieve collective liberation, which we're all striving for, but I think it all needs to happen at the same time. And, you know, we're here, making a stand, we're holding space."
"It's a model for a new society. It's not a protest, in a sense of being against something. It's a way to formulate something new."
Contrast that with the coverage from the New York Times, published on the same day.
Most of those entrenched in Zuccotti Park had indeed traveled from somewhere else; they had come from Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Missouri, Texas and so on with drums, horns, tambourines and, in the instance of one young man, a knee-length burlap vest, fur hat, ski goggles and tiny plastic baby dolls applied to the tips of his fingers.
One of the few New Yorkers I met, a senior at Bronx High School of Science, was stopping by in fits and spurts, against the wishes of his psychiatrist mother, who feared the possibility of tear gas and had chastised her son for giving his allowance to the cause.
That cause, though, in specific terms, was virtually impossible to decipher. The group was clamoring for nothing in particular to happen right away — not the implementation of the Buffett rule or the increased regulation of the financial industry. Some didn’t think government action was the answer because the rich, they believed, would just find new ways to subvert the system.
Some said they were fighting the legal doctrine of corporate personhood; others, not fully understanding what that meant, believed it meant corporations paid no taxes whatsoever. Others came to voice concerns about the death penalty, the drug war, the environment.
“I want to get rid of the combustion engine,” John McKibben, an activist from Vermont, declared as his primary ambition.
Where the documentary "Nobody Can Predict The Revolution" sees visionaries of a new society, the Times sees spoiled children, ignorant, foolhardy loudmouths, and People Who Are Not Like Us.
To be honest, I find both of these depictions highly problematic. "Nobody Can Predict the Moment of Revolution" takes the energy of Occupy Wall Street out of what I interpret to be its current iteration, and into the realm of radical, revolutionary societal visioning. The Times piece, on the other hand, takes a hammer to any emerging narrative, and raises up only the conflicting, fragmented, ignorant sentiments of isolated individuals. And going back to the idea of visual narrative, the Times piece pulls out a topless woman, "blonde with a marked likeness to Joni Mitchell and a seemingly even stronger wish to burrow through the space-time continuum and hunker down in 1968," who they declared to be the "default ambassador" of this movement in their intro paragraph. Thanks, Gray Lady. Big favor you did everyone there, by literally picking the craziest person there to be the face of the movement.
What I saw with my own eyes yesterday, this protest, at its core, contains a narrative that is emerging but that is being hijacked on both the right and the left. So now that we can hopefully see this, I want to put these clashing narratives to one side and attempt to draw out what I see taking place. Check it out.
The discourse coming from the left about the role of the banks in our political and economic system, and the way in which corporate interests have defended their own while gravely damaging the economic prospects of all who are not in the top 5%, has been exhausted through our existing political system's channels. When such channels are exhausted, we have a right to take direct action.
The American people must have the right to nonviolently protest, to occupy public space, and to encourage a dialog on what so many of us see as the root causes of the political and economic crises facing the U.S. today. We have a right to assemble in peace, to document what transpires through video, audio, photography, and both the mainstream and underground media.
We have a right to do so without police brutality, which has reared its ugly head. I was deeply disturbed by the footage of peaceful protestors being penned in the street and maced in Union Square. The police presence that I witnessed in lower Manhattan last night, with orange tarp pen fences, vans full of police officers in riot gear, and jail wagons ready to take away scores of protestors, reflects a fear-based approach to get any and all protestors, peaceful or otherwise, to disperse. Hell, it worked on us! The response to this protest is morally bankrupt. I saw it with my own eyes. I attest to it.
However, I am not only disturbed by the response from the powers that be, whether it by the New York Times' coverage of these events, which debilitates and fragments its message, or by the NYPD's fear-based tactics to silence entirely legal and legitimate public discourse.
I am more worried, however, about the inability of the protestors and organizers of the Occupy Wall Street action to coalesce around a cohesive narrative, a moral legitimacy, and a unifying, invitational visual narrative. I am not an anarchist. I do not seek to get rid of the combustion engine. I choose not to wear a keffiyeh. And yet I live a stone's throw across the East River from Wall Street, and literally organize full-time, for my job, around the role of the banks in our economic system.
If anyone should be standing in solidarity with these protests, it would be me - and I am. But If even I feel alienated by the fragmented visual, cultural, political narratives coming out of this action, how on earth are we supposed to unite the entire Left around it?
Change requires unity. I don't have the answers on how to get there, or on how to address these questions. But I'm choosing to shine a light on these problems, in the hopes that we can begin to intentionally tackle them.
So what can you do — whether you agree or disagree with the arguments I'm putting forward?
- If you share in my opposition to the reaction of the powers that be to this protest - whether it be the mainstream media's slanted coverage, or the actions of the NYPD to intimidate, fragment, and dismantle this discourse - please help me in raising awareness. That video of the cops macing the women tied my stomach in knots. Different perspectives are painting completely different pictures of what's going on. Help shine a light.
- If you agree that these protests lack a cohesive narrative, help to promote and define one by joining the discourse, as I am trying to do. Despite the counter-narrative being spun by its opponents, as well as the competing narratives being introduced by some on the Left, I believe that Occupy Wall Street is at its core about the American people standing up to the corporate greed that has permeated our political and economic systems. Please use your privilege as writers, artists, documentarians, activists, college degree holders, and/or owning-class people in our society, to speak up and ask the hard questions that need asking.
- Maybe you literally disagree with everything I'm saying. that's fine. That's great! But don't stay silent. Join the discourse. Write a blog post about it. Email me. Email your network. Write a letter to the editor. Make your voice heard.
- If you want to see the protests continue but choose not to participate, they could still use food, money, and awareness. Speak up. Pay up. Use your resources, even if it's just a Facebook note or a $10 donation.
- However you feel about the protests, if you're in the NYC area, go down there and see it for yourself. Engage with people. If you disagree with people's tactics, language, or presentation, engage with them about it. If you support others, let them know you support them and want to elevate their visual or political narrative. Use all of the tools you have to do so.
- If you would like to share what I wrote here, please feel free to do so. I don't really get how sharing notes on Facebook works (sigh), but feel free to reproduce this. I hope it helps get people's wheels turning.
- Stay informed. The three places I look for information are Occupy Wall Street's unofficial site which contains links, information, and even a live stream; the Occupy Wall Street Wikipedia page, which for better or worse will document the narrative that the majority of people see, and the #occupywallstreet Twitter hash tag, which many people are using to share information and stay updated, whether they're in Lower Manhattan or halfway across the world.
The mainstream media won't show it, but I see, online, thousands upon thousands worldwide watching this unfold and crossing their fingers that these protests will, sooner or later, create a shift in the American political discourse, in the give-and-take of our economic system, and in the power dynamics of our society. People who are college-educated, highly informed, highly resourced individuals, especially those in the NYC area - people whom I'm writing for- hold a huge amount of privilege to make this succeed, fail, or at least make this look more like what we want it to look like.
Whether you agree, disagree, or feel ambivalent about what's taking place this week, it's our right, and our obligation, to speak up, to join this discourse. I don't see it taking place in a meaningful way in our political system or in the media, so let's use the tools we have to help it take place in the spaces we create, whether it be on the internet or in our living rooms. Speak up. Get involved. Get those who aren't involved to be involved. We can't keep our heads buried in the sand forever.
Foreclosures continue to decimate communities around the nation, with black neighborhoods being the hardest hit. Some pundits and politicians point to federal policies that encouraged homeownership in low- and moderate-income communities, coupled with reckless behavior on the part of greedy homeowners, as the crux of the problem. One example is the statement by Fox News reporter Neil Cavuto that "loaning to minorities and risky borrowers is a disaster." To the contrary, our recent research demonstrates that it is outside investors living in other, predominantly white neighborhoods, not local homeowners, who account for the adverse impact on our nation's black communities.
Observers ranging from Credit Suisse to the Center for Responsible Lending estimate that about 6 million families have lost their homes to foreclosure and project that 12-15 million families altogether will lose their homes before the crisis is over. According to the U.S. Department of the Treasury $17 trillion in household wealth was eliminated between 2007 and 2009 and more losses are sure to come. Such losses reduce property taxes, cut consumer buying power for local businesses, and weaken the ability of municipalities to provide vital services. In the end, all households, businesses, and non-profits suffer if they or their neighbors are foreclosed and lose their homes.
Recent foreclosure activity and the subsequent costs are not race neutral. According to the Center for Responsible Lending approximately 8 percent of African-American and Latino families have lost their homes to foreclosure compared to 4.5 percent of white families. United for a Fair Economy has estimated that a third of black households and 40 percent of Latinos are at risk of falling out of the middle class and into poverty as a result of the foreclosure and related economic crises.
So what accounts for the concentration of subprime lending and foreclosures in minority neighborhoods? The culprit, at least in Louisville, is investors, primarily white investors who do not reside in the affected communities. In our research we found that in 2007 and 2008 there were approximately 2,000 foreclosure sales each year in Louisville. There were 39 per census tract (a rough approximation of a neighborhood) in black communities compared to 20 in white tracts. More telling is the fact that there were 15 foreclosures on properties owned by investors rather than owner-occupants in black communities compared to two foreclosures in white areas. A close examination of foreclosed properties in black neighborhoods found most owners were white and often living miles away in suburbs.
It is investors seeking a quick profit, not homeowners, who are the real problem in black neighborhoods. We suspect Louisville's story is not unique. Louisville is right in the middle of this pack, ranking 103 out of 203 metropolitan regions in the rate of foreclosures in recent years.
Several factors account for why a property goes into foreclosure and why foreclosure rates are higher in some neighborhoods than others. Race is certainly not the only factor, and may not even be a consideration when other variables are taken into consideration.
We controlled on a range of variables that contribute to foreclosures -- crime rates, housing values, household income, employment levels, vacancies, number of high-cost loans -- and found that the rate of foreclosures for owner-occupants was no different in black and white Louisville neighborhoods. That is, race was not a factor in accounting for differences in the rate of owner-occupied foreclosures among Louisville neighborhoods.
But when we examined investor foreclosures, neighborhood racial composition was the primary predictor. Not only was race a significant factor in accounting for different levels of investor foreclosures among Louisville neighborhoods, race was the single most important factor, even more important than the rate of high-priced or subprime lending
So black communities have been hardest hit, but not because of the federal policies pointed to by Cavuto and other conservative observers like Lou Dobbs, Charles Krauthammer and editorial writers from the Wall Street Journal and a range of other newspapers. Their prime target is the federal Community Reinvestment Act that prohibits redlining. Yet as researchers with the Federal Reserve, National Community Reinvestment Coalition, and several other government, non-profit and academic institutions have demonstrated, this is simply nonsense. [...]
How would you feel if...
- Job cuts by your employer forced you to assume twice the work load, which lead to upwards of 9 out of 10 workers experiencing work-related pain;
- Your employer refused to provide tools that would allow you to do your job with fewer risks for injury;
- Your employer consistently failed to address workplace safety violations, and even fought legislation to protect you and your co-workers;
- You and many of your colleagues were fired without just cause;
- You were all replaced with temp workers — that you were actually expected to train — who your employer paid only minimum wage with zero benefits; and
- When you decided, enough is enough, your employer resorted to harmful retaliatory tactics?
You'd probably feel cheated, burned, disregarded as a human being, right? Well, many are facing this unfortunate reality, and they need your support.
UNITE HERE, has reached out to UFE and other allies in the economic justice movement because Hyatt Hotels Corporation is bullying workers across the country for the sake of profit, and they can't take them on alone.
Here's one Hyatt worker's story:
My name is Cathy Youngblood, and I am a housekeeper at the Hyatt Andaz in West Hollywood. Today I am joining thousands of other Hyatt workers on strike across the United States.
I believe in hard work, but living in pain is a different story. I have to take medication regularly because my wrists and shoulders hurt from having to lift 100-pound mattresses over and over again every day as I change the bedding. Other Hyatt housekeepers have been permanently injured by the grueling work we do.
Not far from my hotel in West Hollywood, at the Hyatt in Long Beach, California, workers have no union. Conditions there are even worse. My sisters are required to clean twice as many rooms in one eight-hour shift, leaving them just 15 minutes for each room. That's 15 minutes to change bedding, scrub the bathroom, dust, vacuum, empty the trash, and change linens, among other things. It's no surprise that women are getting hurt.
Today, I strike—not just for myself or for a fair contract at my hotel—but for our right to stand up to Hyatt wherever they are abusing housekeepers.
We know we can't take on a global giant like Hyatt alone.
We hope you'll join Hyatt workers and UNITE HERE on the frontline of what is truly a fight for all workers' rights.
Even if you can't join a picket line, there are three things you can do:
- Join the online picket line and let a Hyatt housekeeper know that you stand with her in this struggle.
- Tell a friend about the struggle to end the abuse at Hyatt.
The relentless focus on federal budget-cutting has burned up so much of the country's political oxygen that it nearly choked off dialogue on a more immediate, urgent concern: poverty.
Two well-known Americans tried to move this point to the front of the bus last month with their "Poverty Tour: A Call to Conscience." [...]
The instigators of the bus tour, PBS talk show host Tavis Smiley and Princeton professor Cornel West, did the nation a favor by turning the spotlight onto the very real needs of poor Americans. They feel "invisible" and "disposable," Smiley said during the tour, which ran from Minnesota to Memphis, Tenn.
The sentiment is not surprising. The poor have been left behind by what little economic recovery there has been since the 2008 crash. And in Washington's deficit-obsessed political climate, the talk is all about slashing government — not poverty rates.
Millions of people are without jobs, homes or hopeful futures. Minorities are disproportionately afflicted: Blacks and Hispanics experience unemployment and poverty at far higher rates than the rest of the population does. [...]
[T]he "Call to Conscience" tour was constructive because it pushed the problem of poverty back into the center of a national conversation that had been hijacked by fiscal hawks who see only the cost, not the value, of government.
Unlike the abstractions of long-term deficit projections, poverty is a tangible, here-and-now reality. The country waged a "war on poverty" in the 1960s, but the problem — fed by structural changes in the U.S. economy, policy choices, social shifts and other factors — grew in ensuing decades. Unfair mortgage practices and the epic recession triggered in 2008 exacerbated the trend, wiping out years of progress.
Today, disparities in income, educational attainment, home ownership and family wealth are growing. The rich are getting richer, while the ranks of the poor are poised to expand as government shrinks and job creation remains stagnant.
The employment cuts are likely to have an outsized effect on minority communities, according to the group United for a Fair Economy's "State of the Dream 2011" report. The federal government is an important source of employment for blacks, data indicate.
Rich vs. poor inequities, and the hopelessness that can accompany them, are poisonous to democracy. In the final analysis they are likely to be every bit as destructive, if not more so, than large budget deficits.
Nearly 15 percent of the population — including an estimated 15 million children — live below the federal poverty line, which is about $22,500 a year for a household of four. "Research shows that, on average, families need an income of about twice that level to cover basic expenses," according to the National Center for Children in Poverty, of the Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University.
"Using this standard, 42 percent of children live in low-income families," the organization reported. Rates are highest among black, Latino, and American Indian children, data show. [...]
A nation that looks to tax cuts and budget slashing as the answer to 44 million living in deep poverty — many with little hope of overcoming it — is either deluded or uncaring.
Neither of those terms represents the America we know and love.
We are a nation based on the principles of equality and opportunity. Let's live up to them by confronting the factors that lead to entrenched poverty.
Promoting "personal responsibility" is an important key to this challenge. But so is government, which can help communities get through the worst of times and build better foundations for the future.
Economic growth that provides jobs for unemployed and underemployed Americans is vital. But we must not pretend that poverty can be reduced by putting government on a starvation diet.
The issue of poverty belongs at the center of the nation's political priorities, not at the fringe. Smiley and West raised its profile. Their bus tour has ended, but we hope that a new era of understanding has begun.