Monthly Archives: June 2013

Is Demographics Destiny in a Democracy?

demographicsNew Orleans   On a radio interview I conducted on Friday discussing the impact of the DOMA and Prop 8 decisions, the young man poignantly spoke about the isolation of young homosexuals in rural areas, compared to the relative freedom in the cities, even conservative cities. I then noticed a map in the Wall Street Journal looking at the estimated demographics underlying the impact of the Supreme Court’s decision on the rights of homosexuals in America. States with very small populations were, as expected, in Western and some Southern states.  What was most interesting to me was being reminded how small the numbers were in all circumstances.   The range was essentially less than 3% of the population to more than 4%, which underscores the mammoth accomplishment of the political and civil rights task for gay and lesbians in America over the last 40 or 50 years in creating social change.

The viciousness of the oppression of African-Americans and even women lay partially in the interest of white men trying to hold onto self-certified, political and cultural entitlements that required terrible tactics because the impact of voting rights for either group, only won over the last 100 years for women and more than 50 for African-Americans, made their victories destiny throughout the country because women were a significant minority everywhere and in some areas African-Americans were a decided majority.   Once the right to vote was guaranteed to women, the clock has inevitably ticked towards freedom in a democracy no matter how many hours must pass. Few could doubt that there will be a woman president, the only questions are “who” and “when.”   The somersaults the Court played with the voting rights act proves that vigilance must be eternal, but practicality also will isolate the right in more and more extreme gymnastics from voter IDs to god knows what else to postpone the inevitable.   Similarly the huge and growing Hispanic population, regardless of the relatively small number of undocumented among them, dictates the inevitability of reform as this population acquires more and more political strength in areas where it is already in the majority and in other areas, even as Karl Rove points out, in conservative Republican bunkers in places like Georgia.

In a democracy, the haters always are their own undoing when it comes to the unstoppable movement to full political participation.   Looking at the significant, even if relatively small numbers of homosexuals in the country, as hate drove people underground and then to the cities as a Mecca for a fuller life, the smaller numerical strength would eventually amalgamate into some political influence on the urban map.   If you were going to be an elected official over the last 50 years and represent the Castro District, Montrose, the French Quarter, or Greenwich Village, you had to be ready to represent your ENTIRE constituency.   Or, of course you could not do that and wait until you were kicked to the curb, because politics, as we know, is very local.

So victory is inevitable, the organizing problem is the damnably long timelines to achieve it and the daily damage that discrimination does to people and the country itself that comes from the deep, deep impact of justice delayed.   The cultural problem that infects American politics in this time of polarity is the fact that we have too many trying to wage a last stand for something that is dying  and stand in the schoolhouse door.  As organizers and progressives though, we have to do a better job of getting out our message of the inevitability of victory in order to support and spark more mass-based work to shorten the timetables. Only movements are able to accelerate these types of changes, not the slow, grinding work of politics, regardless of how important politics is in determining the inevitability of final victory.


The New Medici’s: Private Support of Public Spaces

IMG_5573Little Rock  The new Children’s Library in Little Rock, where the fundraiser was held, was something of a startling edifice planted in the lower income neighborhood that we used to call Woodrow  to Pine and Oak Forest, only blocks from the old Highland Court housing project.  There were amazing parts to the building.  It had a grandly sweeping design backed by a small pond and grounds.  A greenhouse for some reason was on the property.  A big sign greeted folks saying READ.

Across the street from this grand building I watched a man fixing his car in his front yard.  Several speakers commented on how the library was such an asset to the neighborhood, which is usually what people say when they have never been to the neighborhood before and hope that it is way different the next time they come by, if ever.  For the life of me it felt like the building did not belong in the neighborhood.   At least not yet.  I wondered if the neighborhood around the library could survive the library.  One or the other would have to change and adapt, and I was hoping it would be the library.   As much as this library was well intentioned and could be a key part of the legacy of the Central Arkansas Library System and its politically astute and visionary leader, Bobbie Roberts, unless the library makes a commitment to the whole neighborhood much differently than it has so far, for blocks around residents are going to find themselves in coming years waking up to find themselves part of a parking lot.  This is a library that screams to the need for a collaborative partnership with an ACORN-style community organization!

In the new world of pervasive neo-liberalism, Roberts has shrewdly announced plans to name the library after Hilary Clinton so that he can graft the building to a new Medici strategy and find a rainmaker who could help support the library and its needs in the future.  So sure, if I had a say, I would honor the neighborhood, its people and its past in the name, but in these days Roberts and other executives like him know that money in the bank now for public institutions could be crumbs in the cupboard tomorrow, so being able to reach out to Hilary, if that day came, guarantees the library a future over the next several decades anyway.

Recently the Little Rock airport long known as Adams Field was renamed after Bill and Hilary Clinton.  Stadiums everywhere get corporations to pay millions over many years to name publicly built and operated buildings after themselves, so it could have been worse and named the Walmart Children’s Library or some such and the neighborhood’s parking lot future would have abutted another superstore someday.

In Louisiana, there is a law barring using the name of a live person for a building owing to a little problem some years ago where a building named for a former governor suffered some embarrassment when he went to jail for misuse of public funds.  In the new world, the tax payers pay the bills, corporations and private individuals collect the glory, and the possible bankruptcy and need for a bailout is all part of smart contingency planning.

Meanwhile this spaceship library is planted in the alien soil of a lower income African-American community in just other American city overjoyed at any creation of public space.  It will be interesting to see whether naming these bricks and sticks after Hilary Clinton will bring the community some benefits as well as keeping a new Medici in waiting.

Library's Roberts getting ACO Award from Jim Lynch

Library’s Roberts getting ACO Award from Jim Lynch