Little Rock It was exciting to be back in Little Rock visiting with a combination of old ACORN leaders and organizers, city and neighborhood activists, Local 100 ULU organizers and leaders, and others. The excuse for the meeting in the old Arkansas ACORN building and board conference room, surrounded by posters and pictures of campaigns and elections over decades, was to talk about my two new books, Global Grassroots and Battle for the Ninth Ward, published by Social Policy Press (www.socialpolicy.org). It didn’t take long for us to down to real business, and that was great fun!
I threw a stink bomb out in the room by asking people to discuss the similar populist appeals of the Tea Party and the Occupy movements. I didn’t realize how close to home I had come. It seems in Little Rock Occupy there has been a steady presence and enthusiastic presence of the Ron Paul wing of the Tea-people complete with their own “Don’t Tread on Me” flags, tents and paraphernalia.
After much conversation, book signing and buying, and so forth, Kathy Wells of the Greater Little Rock Coalition of Neighborhoods wanted to discuss and get some advice on how to deal with a project being promoted by Deltic Timber around the Lake Maumelle watershed. This was interesting stuff because Lake Maumelle is the water source for much of the drinking water for Little Rock so anything out there has major impacts on everyone. After 35 years or so this is the first time since the reorganizing and downsizing of the Pulaski County Quorum Court (the county government including Little Rock and North Little Rock) in the mid-1970’s (yes, ACORN was all in the middle of that!) that the now 15-member body has been forced to use the land use powers – and responsibilities! – it has over the unincorporated areas of the County.
A lot is at stake. Deltic Timber has pushed a proposal to develop thousands of acres in the watershed that would allow subdivision and construction of about 9000 houses jolting the population up significantly in this west of the city. The now infamous, billionaire Koch Brothers and their cats’ paw operation Americans for Prosperity has been agitating the Tea-people on the argument that the “only good land use controls are no land use controls.” Some of the Quorum Court Justices of the Peace are scared to death of Tea Party organizing in their districts with elections on the horizon next year. The long time County Judge Buddy Villines has been dealt a bad hand where he can take it or leave it, and leaving it seems to mean anarchy prevails out there, which would be bad for everyone.
Wells has a multi-pronged program including grandfathering in the use of existing residents and other well reasoned points that are supported by a wide range of environmentalists and the Occupy folks, who are willing to agitate around these issues to provide a stronger strike force. Unfortunately, listening to the arguments back and forth, the votes just didn’t seemed to be there for any better than Deltic Timber has indicated they would agree to in the first place, which was better than nothing, though not a huge deal better. Neil Sealy, veteran community organizer and director of Arkansas Community Organizations, the successor organization to ACORN in Arkansas, indicated that his conversations with some of the JP’s who were old ACORN members, told him that they might put forward some amendments, but didn’t see good prospects for them and felt they had to put all of their bets on passing anything they good.
This may be one time when the Great Recession and its devastating impact on housing finance and construction is a friend, especially to people in central Arkansas, who don’t want to drink pig spit and horse wallow and whatever runs off with it. Taking the best bargain available could give them a chance to get the elections right and the issues aligned, and put some teeth along the gummy mouth of whatever passes for land use “controls” in Pulaski now, and still get it done before the Deltic boys can sell mess and get going on their dreams for more where best would be less.
These Deltic folks are hardly “good corporate citizens” and land stewards and has a long record of shameful behavior behind them on these issues, so they have to be brought in line. Nonetheless it is fascinating in a place like Arkansas to see a future battleground building between the Occupiers and the Tea-people where not only “hearts and minds” are at stake, but so results in coming election. Let the games begin!