De Jure versus De Facto Racism

Torino As we move forward on the Home Savers Campaign we are finding victims of predatory practices among all communities black, white, and brown, but more often than not since these are lower income communities, there seems to be a significant tilt towards residential segregation. Lawsuits in some cities and research reports are starting to argue that this is blatant discrimination.

Reading an excellent, recently published, book, The Color of Law: The Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein, marshals the evidence that the impact on our communities was not accidental. He makes the case overwhelmingly that, contrary to recent Supreme Court decisions, this is not de facto racism, meaning just the fact that that people are prejudiced and don’t care to live near each other, but is de jure racism, a matter of longstanding public policy. Rothstein sums up the argument of his book early, writing,

The Color of Law demonstrates that racially explicit government policies to segregate our metropolitan areas are not vestiges, were neither subtle nor intangible, and were sufficiently controlling to construct the de jure segregation that is now with us in neighborhoods and hence in schools. The core argument of this book is that African Americans were unconstitutionally denied the means and the right to integration in middle-class neighborhoods, and because this denial was state-sponsored, the nation is obligated to remedy it.

Rothstein demonstrates how de jure segregation worked most effectively in general housing and housing finance policy, but also in the areas of school location by local communities and tax assessment policies that over assessed lower income areas and under-assessed largely while middle income areas. The situation around redlining and the failure of the Federal Housing Authority to guarantee mortgages in non-white areas until the mid-1970s is well known, but Rothstein moves the clock back as well, citing a 1910 Baltimore “ordinance prohibiting African-Americans from buying homes on blocks where whites were a majority and vice versa.” He notes that similar zoning restrictions were passed in Atlanta, Birmingham, Miami, Charleston, Dallas, Louisville, New Orleans, Oklahoma City, St. Louis, and Richmond among other cities.

De jure segregation was not just a Southern and border state phenomena. Taking the segregation and siting of public housing projects as an example, he notes that a dozen states passed laws in the 1950s requiring a popular vote before approval of a location. That dirty dozen included California, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, hardly Southern strongholds. He tells the story of the committed segregationist city fathers of Boston, Massachusetts who built the Mission Hill housing project, where I hit the doors as a young organizer, and then built a Mission Hill Extension, so that the first was black, and the second was white. The fight to keep Detroit a haven for white homeowners propelled neighborhood segregationist into the mayor’s office there. Rothstein also effectively argues that suburbanization was a governmental supported and enabled segregation project.

And, of course he revives the argument that rent-to-own and installment land purchases in urban areas, forced by the inability to acquire home ownership by minorities in any other way, created ghettos and exploited African-Americans. As we know from hitting the doors in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Youngstown, Detroit, Akron, and so many other cities with ACORN’s Home Savers Campaign, that’s still the case.

Finishing the book or walking the streets of urban America, there’s never a doubt that governmental fiat blocked natural integration and mandated segregation. When will justice be served and a remedy be offered?


Trump Team Thumping Protesters Part of a Troubling Trend

03firstdraft-trump-tmagArticleNew Orleans   When I used to call up Charlie Andersen, my home-garage, auto mechanic, about whether one or another of my beat up trucks was ready to be picked up, he’d always warn me by saying, “Don’t bring twenty; bring plenty!” There was rarely a better expression that could stand for one of the central commandments for organizers.

These are hard days to be protesters trying to speak truth to power. Those in positions of power and authority have a bitter core of violence bursting out almost everywhere. A woman communications professor, now fired, in the middle of a protest called out for reinforcements, saying, “Can I get a little muscle here?” A US Senator on the Judiciary Committee claimed they were going to handle any Obama Supreme Court nominee like a “piñata,” beating the pulp of them essentially.

And, then you have Donald Trump. He’s claimed he wished he wasn’t on the podium and could take a punch at a protester in one incident. He’s offered to pay the legal fees for his thumpers if they do take some swings. He’s hard-handled news commentators from his press conferences from Univision. He’s placed private security goons throughout his crowds now to muscle up on protesters.

I don’t want to even deal with the issue of how sad and pathetic it is to hear a 70-something year old man with a comb-over claim he could somehow land an effective punch on a 20-something protester, but I can’t help myself. Mr. Bully-Mouth can only be implying that he might still be able to take a swing at a woman effectively, and I’m not sure he wouldn’t have a butt whipping every way from Sunday by any young man or woman with 50 years on him.

But, let’s talk about the protesters because they might have more sense. I wonder if social media isn’t like a bad drug giving some folks the idea that they are one-person warriors. I guess there’s something to be said for the wild men and women who single-handedly have snuck into Trump rallies, raised their voices, posters or flags and then run the gauntlet of abuse and punches to get out of these rallies alive, but I can’t help wondering why that seemed like such a good idea for a night’s workout? In some places, New Orleans for one, there were a handful, but in others, it seems there were lone rangers. Why not travel in a pack? Why not bring twenty? Or, even better, bring plenty?

We need mass actions around racism and misogyny, not ones and twos speaking up before being chanted down.

This is an organizing opportunity and that, dare I say, trumps, the lone wolf tactics.

We don’t really need truth to power, as much as we need to show our “troops to power.”


What Goes Around, Comes Around, Even for Presidents like Wilson

John Abraham Davis, center, and his family at their farm in the early 1900s.

John Abraham Davis, center, and his family at their farm in the early 1900s.

New Orleans     A saying with common currency in recent years has been, “haters gonna hate.”  An old one that seems almost timeless from the later part of the last century is, “what goes around, comes around.”  As a matter of long standing record, I’m rooting for campus protestors these days on the issues of race and sexual abuse, and campuses around the country continue to heat up, reminiscent of the good old days of some of our youth around both issues.  

            Coincidentally, I happened to be on a Skype call yesterday with a New York based publisher, who mentioned at the end of our call that he had graduated from Princeton and how proud he was of the protest and sit-in on his old campus around the issues of Woodrow Wilson’s blatant racism.  Though many know Wilson as the World War I president along with his failed leadership to create the League of Nations, which later laid the groundwork for the establishment of the United Nations, fewer are familiar with his hardcore racism, including expressed sympathies for the terrorism of the Ku Klux Klan. 

            Some hearing this unwelcome and tawdry news about a former US President from Virginia might say, “Well, he was a man of his times.”  Hmmm….yes, perhaps, if his times were the mid-1800’s rather than 100-years ago.  Furthermore, the protestors have it right.  They’re not just picking on him long distance from Princeton, New Jersey to Washington, DC, since he was also later the President of Princeton University and is honored widely on campus with buildings bearing his name and an Institute and scholarships as well. 

            What goes around, comes around when the arc of justice bends our way though, and this may be the moment.  In a moving op-ed in the Times, Gordon Davis, a lawyer, wrote of his grandfather, John Abraham Davis, who had passed the civil service exam, along with many other African-Americans in late 19th century when the federal service outlawed discrimination.  He had started on the bottom but had worked his way up to being a mid-level supervisor of many including whites at the Government Printing Office, making decent, middle class wages appropriate to his 30 years of seniority.  Within months of Woodrow Wilson becoming President his administration rolled all of that progress backward as the President and his appointees, including in the Post Office where there had been a deliberate campaign promise to re-segregate especially in the south.  Davis wrote that his grandfather lost the family farm after being demoted to menial jobs at hugely reduced pay, and died a broken man rather than the respected member of the community he had been.

            Princeton should feel the heat, and they must make the change.    The publisher immediately understood that.  My brother with a PhD from Princeton would have been clear about this as well.

            Presidents should worry about their legacy and the judgment of history.  Bill Clinton still has much to do to outrun the pain inflicted by his program to “end welfare as we know it” and kowtow to Wall Street by eliminating Glass-Steagall and helping usher in the Great Recession.  George W. Bush no doubt reads daily of the disasters in Iraq still and the ripple effects throughout the Middle East including in Syria.  Lyndon Johnson knew that despite many legislative accomplishments that there was no way to get Vietnam off of his shoes.  No amount of spinning can ever make Richard Nixon look good, and so it goes on and on.    Barack Obama is wildly trying to sprint faster to make change in the last two years of his term after disappointing so many in his early years.

            The rich and powerful should never sleep soundly without being very, very careful about the certainty that for many, what goes around will indeed come around. 


Public Racism is now a Hope for Voters’ Rights

clippers-donald-sterlingNew Orleans    Maybe in a weird, crazy way we are going to end up being able to find a silver lining in the dark cloud of the stark racism expressed recently by the Nevada rancher’s slavery bear hug and the Los Angeles Clippers’ owner’s snarling slurs to his mistress.  How could progressives have picked more outstanding representatives of the dug-in nature of racism than a 20-year law breaking squatter refusing to pay the government for grazing his cattle on Bureau of Land Management property or an 80-year old billionaire with a record of racial discrimination settlements for discrimination in his apartment empire giving racist advice to his multi-racial Mexican and African-American girlfriend?  You couldn’t order a present this good from Amazon even if you agreed to pay the shipping or find this on any aisle at Walmart’s among the 50,000 choices. 

            Almost as if it were planned rather than a coincidence, a federal judge in Wisconsin has now struck down the voter identification law there because it violates the 14th Amendment and also because it violates the Voting Rights Act as racially discriminatory.  In a 90-page opinion, he based his decision that voter ID’s are not only illegal because they were a solution looking for a non-existent problem, but also because he argued that 300,000 citizens in the state or 9% of the population, disproportionately made of racial minorities, were the people who lacked IDs and would therefore have voting obstacles.  Wisconsin will no doubt appeal, and the Supreme Court will have trouble not taking such a case.

            Supreme Court Justice Roberts is making his living claiming that racism and discrimination are so yesterday, over and done, that we no longer need affirmative action, voter protections or much of anything else in his lilywhite imaginary world.  But, now on the front pages day after day we have proof positive, way past all of the pretending, that there are deep veins of racism both among the high and mighty and the far flung and isolated, continuing to poison American life.

Too many of the big whoops have been lured into believing that they can buy a safe pass to conceal their hate.  One of the most tragic side stories in the Clippers’ saga is the role of the Los Angeles NAACP in giving multiple awards, whitewashing the owner in what one columnist called a “cash for karma” exchange. 

The fantasy of current racial harmony may be over thanks to these bums.  They make the reality of racism harder to ignore.  Justice cannot be based on a Beltway myopia, but an understanding of what exists everywhere across the country.  It also cannot be based on the way people pretend to operate, but what they really think, which is what determines what they really do.


Chris Paul Pushing the Union down the Court

140427175245-01-clippers-protest-story-topNew Orleans  In the category called “racist comments of the week,” Donald Sterling’s reported comments telling his former mistress not to bring African-Americans to the Los Angeles Clippers ball games or be seen with them, ended up topping the charts.  The Clippers team in protest wore their warm-up jerseys backwards, essentially hiding the team’s name, and saying they were playing for each other rather than the owner, and then proceeded to lose, pretty badly to the Golden State Warriors.  Sterling was barred from the game and debate has raged about how he will be punished by the league and the other owners, but controversy has also raged in some quarters about whether the Clippers should have boycotted and forfeited the game.   One New York Times’ columnist went so far as to say that years from now, the players are going to regret that they weren’t the men they should have been when they had the chance.

            The acknowledged leader of the Clippers is their point guard, the incomparable Chris Paul.  In my family we’re Chris Paul fans from his multi-year stint with the New Orleans team, now the Pelicans.  In every way he’s a class act and I’ve continued to follow him closely, and I’m especially proud of not just his court play, but also his leadership of NBA Players’ Association as their union president. 

            Sterling’s remarks have been condemned by every major voice for the players including LeBron James and Michael Jordan who have said there is no place for him in the NBA.  Magic Johnson has said he’ll never go to another game while Sterling owns the Clippers and feels sorry for his friends, Chris Paul and Doc Rivers, the coach. 

Maybe I’m biased too much in Paul’s favor, but I read his statements about an “aggressive” response by the union and pushing the role of Kevin Johnson, former NBA all-star and Mayor of Sacramento, in leading the search for a new executive director and an expanded voice for the players, as seizing the opportunity to make the most out of the crisis to build the union and the players’ voice.  Paul, a perpetual assist leader and court manager, undoubtedly had a strong role in the Clippers courtside decision.   I think this is a big opportunity for the union, and that Paul is going for another assist, seeing an opening, and pushing the union down the court to the goal. 

He could have gone for a one-off play, but seems to be looking at his leverage here.  The vast majority of the players are African-American, and the NBA may be caught in a legal bind here where property rights, trumps racism and public approbation, which means that Paul could catapult the union into being the higher, moral authority here, increasing the power of the union and the share for the players in saving the league and its revenues for the future.

Paul has proven over and over again that he’s more interested in the team winning than the line by his name in the box score or the headlines in the sports’ page, and I’ll bet money, that this time his team is both the Clippers and the union, and he’s got his sights on 4-point play here.


Community Development, Afro-Bolivians, Unions of Campesino Workers, Federations of Highlands Indigenous, and the Union of Young Workers

Afro-Bolivian Organizers

La Paz  Organizers’ Forum international dialogues are always full of surprises.  We could tell Bolivia was going to be no different especially when miner’s strikes and mobilizations of various social movements were everywhere in the streets and in the news of La Paz.  Many of these were the same groups we had sought to meet with on our visit, so it made the schedule and contacts difficult to say the least, but once on the ground we have moved the kind of roll-with-the-punches dexterity that is the calling card of organizers around the world.

We were fortunate on Sunday night to get off to a great start with a frank and insightful briefing by Jean Friedman-Rudovsky, a fascinating young woman from Philadelphia who has made La Paz home and carved out a important niche as a journalist to the outside.  Thanks to Jean, we were unlikely to embarrass ourselves.

Alberto Mollinedo Zeballos, the director of the Desarrollo Economico Comunitario of Bolivia, an economic development training and support operation partnered with Simon Fraser University in Vancouver and a local university here, told us about initiatives they were supporting largely in the rural areas.  This was an embryonic effort, but at the least confirmed what we had been hearing everywhere that the most significant impact of Evo Morales presidency has been increasing support and the presence of the state in the rural areas.  Alberto told a story of being shouted down for not speaking the local language after inviting him there hours from home on a Sunday:  a humbling and telling experience he chalked up to strong social capital.

Alberto Mollinedo Zeballos

We learned about the Afro-Bolivian invisibility in Bolivia.  Starting as slaves 500 years ago, they didn’t work out in the mines because too many died, but ended up being moved to the coca plantations because the miners chewed so much of the stuff.  Now with a population of only 20 to 40,000, they were finding their way largely because of a provision in the newly enacted constitution that gave the more than 37 different indigenous groups rights that they had never had, including the ability to devise a special curriculum in their local schools which honored their traditions, culture, and history.  Racism was obviously deeply grained from hearing our new friends talk, but since they were not ignored or ostracized more than most other indigenous groups, they were cautious in pointing fingers.

We cooled our heels for quite a time as we waited to meet with the #2 person at the National Union of Campesino Workers, but once we met we felt lucky for the time we got.  This is the largest organization in Bolivia with 5 million members in all districts of the country.  Evo Morales’s cocoleros had been an affiliate and he had been a member.  His pictures were on all of the walls.  They saw their job as defending his policies in many areas, though were adamant that they received no government money in their organization.  They were being called to meetings about a mobilization of social movements around the complicated miners’ strike, so had little time for us, but as we departed we also left a line of people outside and in waiting rooms who had come from all over the country to sit for even less time for an audience and some help from the organization.  Worth us understanding more!

Campesino Union Leader

Similarly, we met with the organization of indigenous peoples from the highlands another long cab ride away.  There was disappointment in some of Evo’s recent actions in these offices particularly the way he had handled plans for a highway through national parkland that affected one group.  There were 2 million in this organization, which was also primarily rural.  They were hardly conservatives.  We had much to learn.

CONAMAQ (highlands) Leader

Our agenda of meetings ended back up the mountain in El Alto once again meeting at a chicken place with the organizer and one of the leaders of an interesting union of workers 17 years of age and younger.  The organization was new and small, but had cleverly taken advantage of the movement around a new constitution to insert its issue not banning child labor but making sure it was not exploited, which was a fine policy and political line.  Their small membership worked in market fares, shoe shining, domestic work, bus hawking, and other informal occupations.  Very interesting!  Reminded me of ACORN’s work in India organizing waste pickers about the same age.

Exhausted?  Yeah, me, too, but exhilarated at processing so much new information in this thin air.  I wondered if my legs were tingling from the altitude or all of exciting work we were hearing about in this unique country?

Youth Workers Leaders