Walking Birmingham Neighborhoods

IMG_2600Birmingham, England     What would you do if you had the opportunity to visit Birmingham, the second largest city in the United Kingdom? Well, of course you get a four pound day pass on the bus system, ignore the mad Christmas shopping, and hop off and on the bus and walk through low-and-moderate income communities. And, if you are as lucky as I was and it is a gorgeous, blue sky day with what would almost seem to be unseasonably mild temperatures, what better day could there be to walk some five miles up and down and around the streets and housing blocks of the city?

Birmingham is a city of a couple of million, famed as 19th and 20th century industrial powerhouse, but largely deindustrialized like so many world powerhouses of the time, but still alive as a center of education, health care, and the newly emerging service sector. The neighborhoods and the city itself are caught in the crosshairs of changing times and strained municipal resources with reduced support from the national government in Westminster.IMG_2610

I walked through various “heath” communities, Small Heath and Balsall Heath, Moseley, and more communities than I can remember, filled with council housing, Victorian terraces, and various other housing schemes. I was within sight of the City Centre some of the time and virtually within spitting of the huge University of Birmingham at other times. In one street I passed, sandwiched in between halal shops and Muslim charity shops, the Yankee Clipper Barber shop, strangely tipping a brim of the cap to Joe DiMaggio, the New York slugger and record setter of the 1940s.

I took a long look at a Free Library dating to 1895 and connected to a swimming center dating more than 100 years with a separate women’s entrance and two entrances for men, first class and second class men, whatever all of that might mean. The center was a community issue now though, because the Council had announced plans to close the facility so various groups were campaigning to see if there is a way to save the place, not for its history, but for its future.IMG_2599

In many areas,  the issues seemed almost too common. Litter and rubbish untended. Traffic too hard to maneuver easily. Gentrification come slowly compared to London perhaps but steadily nonetheless.

Like any big city, more to do than any set of organizations might be able to muster alone, but clearly a great organizing challenge and opportunity.

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Immigration Wedging Politics in United Kingdom Too

BNP-ImageNew Orleans    In the contentious midterm elections in the USA there were huge issues that were simply not core issues for the candidates. After all of the sound and fury about the Affordable Care Act, blah, blah, blah, the actual candidates seem to have come to grips with the fact that 11 million enrollees just might be on to something, so let’s tone it down. Where immigration has been a wedge issue for years and presidential candidates are still beating the drums, the story line on the midterm elections was more about the disaffection of Latinos with both parties because of the limited progress on any permanent immigration reform, than any sense that any candidates for either party were moving forward on the issue. President Obama reacted a bit to the news of Latino alienation by leaking more plans to maybe do something to ease the legalization process, but it just wasn’t much of an election issue.

Meanwhile immigration seems to be pushing the economy as a wedge issue in Europe.  The story line is confusing there as well.  On one hand there are regularly tragic stories of African immigrants trying to virtually swim their way to France and Spain.

And, then there is the United Kingdom where immigration is driving parties and people crazy left and right. The explanation is easy to grasp, but the party policies are impossible to understand. The weak economy has left too many finger pointing at new immigrants as job jumpers. The United Kingdom as a member of the European Union is part of the open borders program allowing anyone within the EU the ability to work in any of the member countries, and that’s the hot button that is being pressed in Britain. Conservative Party Prime Minister David Cameron has been trying to play footsie with the issue in a dangerous game by vowing to put membership in the EU to a 2015 referendum, the same year his government is up again on the ballot. The United Kingdom Independence Party, known as UKIP, has played the Tea Party, hardcore anti-immigrant hater role and eaten away deeply at the Conservative’s right flank.

Cameron has some slow learning problems in understanding the position of the other EU countries, betting the long shot that they will grant Britain concessions for fear of losing them from the EU. Meanwhile Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose robust economy and deep pockets, pretty much puts her and Germany in the drivers’ seat in really calling the shots there, and has toughened her stand on the issue saying that the UK position is near a “point of no return” and holding that freedom of movement is one of the cardinal principles of the European Union.

Even Britain’s Labour Party seems to be buckling on the issue, as its leader Ed Milliband is taking fire from the right in his party worried about the defection of more of their white working class voting core to the UKIPpers as well. In recent weeks he has enraged the left by arguing that he would insist that new immigrants be subjected to tougher standards barring them social benefits and requiring more English language skills before allowing them to enter the job market.

What a mess!

With yet another National Football League game heading to London, as the NFL tries to branch out to England and all of this anti-immigrant blurting from politicians and Tea Party wannabes, it’s becoming clear where this is really going. What we can expect next it seems is that the UK will drop out of the EU, and start lobbying to become the 51st state in the United States of America, realizing that being anti-immigrant is the perfect approach to getting the nod to come in. If the EU is too liberal for them, the US is just far enough to the right to feel like home.

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