How New Orleans’ Largest Newspaper Played a Key Role in Public Housing Demolition

On Thursday, December 20 the New Orleans City Council voted to demolish their city’s four largest public housing developments. Bulldozers are set to roll over the next few months. The highly controversial vote was 7 to 0 in favor of demolition, despite the fact that the city is experiencing its worst housing crisis since the end of the Civil War. There are reportedly more than 12,000 homeless, hundreds of whom lived under the I-10 freeway just blocks from the tourist heavy French Quarter. Rents have skyrocketed while wages have stagnated making decent housing unattainable. Hundreds of thousands remain displaced, many of them still in Houston and beyond.

Leading up to the Council’s vote, New Orleans’ only daily newspaper, the Times Picayune, stepped up what can only be described as a propaganda campaign against public housing. The paper’s effort to stoke negative public opinion comes in response to multiple victories by residents and activists to delay demolition of the complexes and to force a vote by the City Council to determine the fate of the more than 5000 apartments.

Published on the 15th of December, the paper’s most blatant piece of anti-public housing material was entitled “Demolition Protests Ignore Some Realities.” Three staff writers penned the editorializing piece. It ran on the paper’s front page and was prominently featured on the newspaper’s nola.com website. Under the guise of “news” and reporting the facts, the Times Picayune claimed that the position taken by residents and their allies against demolition are “demonstrably false.”

“The public housing residents who support the demolitions struggle to be heard, while well-organized protesters - including many who are not displaced public housing residents - have achieved a degree of success in portraying the demolitions as oppressive. Bulldozers are coming to knock down public housing, they say, in a city in desperate need of housing for the poor.”

Adopting the tone of investigative journalism the reporters simply re-state talking points given to them by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Nothing in the article reflects any genuine research on the part of the Times-Picayune. The three reporters repeatedly copy misleading press statements made by HUD. It appears that the Picayune’s editors have not even attempted to fact check the figures, policies and on the ground realities handed to them by the government.

At a press conference on the steps of City Hall on Tuesday, December 18, law professor Bill Quigley went over HUD’s various claims point by point. The Times-Picayune chose not to report on this except for two sentences in another articles mentioning some sort of “protest” at City Hall. Only several news stations found time to cover the conference, and none reported on it in depth to correct HUD’s misleading “facts” and figures. Publishing a list of 10 “myths” HUD has fed to reporters, Quigley writes:

“MYTH #1:
"Federal officials, in partnership with developers, are pushing a plan that will demolish 4500 units of traditional public housing, replacing them with 3343 units of public housing and 900 market rate rental units." Statement in Times-Pic 12.16.2007

HUD is aggressively working to demolish 4500 units of traditional public housing. HUD and HANO's own numbers state that less than 800 units of traditional public housing will be built by the developers who demolish those 4500 apartments. In order to get to the 3343 number they trumpet, HUD is actually re-counting over 2000 old public housing apartments (in Iberville, Guste, etc) which they have not yet scheduled to demolish. Thus, they are not telling the truth – they are not replacing the 4500 with 3343 at all, they are replacing the 4500 with less than 800 – a 82% reduction in public housing apartments.”

One day after the Council’s vote the Times Picayune ran an editorial (at least this time on the editorial page) entitled, “Public housing, plot or paradise.” The piece by staff writer Jarvis Deberry, accuses opponents of public housing demolition of clinging to a “foolish inconsistency” and chalks this up to their “small brains” and penchant for conspiracy theories; “do you believe that the American government's hatred for black people is evident in its decision to tear down huge apartment complexes that were occupied exclusively by the poor?” What’s the foolish inconsistency he identifies you might ask? According to Deberry, the activists and residents opposing demolitions were the same people, before Katrina, denouncing the “projects” as segregated, over-policed, under-funded – in short, difficult places to live. Why, he asks, would these same people want to save the projects? Deberry concludes that, “The object ought to be what is best for the residents.” As an essay to rationalize the pro-demolition vote, Deberry’s piece works well. Unfortunately, he completely mischaracterizes the position of the Coalition to Stop Demolition. The Times Picayunes overall coverage has served this very function since June 2006 when HUD announced their intentions to tear down public housing. Never having bothered to ask the Coalition’s leadership – public housing residents such as Stefanie Mingo, Sam Jackson, Sharon Jasper, or their legal council – the Times Picayune instead chose to spend a lot of ink on portraying the Coalition as “foolish.”

The Times-Picayune’s bias against public housing goes much deeper than just their lax journalistic standards and willingness to uncritically report HUD’s claims. From present and past coverage it is clear that the paper’s reporters and editors assigned to the story believe strongly in several erroneous, pseudo-scientific theories concerning housing, architecture, poverty and crime. Their favorable treatment of HUD is partly due to their affinity with the agency’s ideological biases. For example, in the Dec. 15 Times Picayune article the reporters state authoritatively that, “[b]lending different income classes helps break the poverty cycle associated with public housing for decades, federal officials and many others argue.” Unfortunately, the T-P’s reporters have never sought out other expert opinions on the matter besides HUD’s. There is nothing close to consensus amongst sociologist that would support the theory that “blending” classes through real estate redevelopment alone “breaks the cycle of poverty.” In this instance the reporters are the ones who ignore realities in favor of abstract ideas.

Their desire to believe in real estate redevelopment’s power to “break the cycle of poverty” by “deconcentrating” the poor leads the Picayune’s editors and reporters to ignore some realities.

For instance, once the developments are torn down, it will take at least 1-3 years for the “mixed income” housing to be built on site. What are residents supposed to do in these intervening years? This is in addition to the fact that they’ve been locked out of their former homes for more than 2 years now. The highest priority for most residents has been simply to come home to New Orleans, not to pursue grandiose redevelopment plans in a time of crisis. Furthermore, New Orleans has several past examples of mixed income public housing redevelopment that serve as examples of what will likely happen this time around: the St. Thomas, Florida/Desire, and Fischer homes. Instead of seeking out authoritative numbers or independent studies on how many former residents were able to return to these demolished and rebuilt neighborhoods, the Picayune and its reporters have chosen instead to interview current residents of these developments (already a flawed sample that by its very method omits those who were permanently displaced), and report their anecdotal experiences. For example, in their Dec. 15 attack-article the Times Picayune chose to run a picture of a tenant sitting on her porch at the newly redeveloped Guste homes (formerly a low-rise series of buildings housing hundreds of families, now a series of town houses and single homes housing dozens) with the accompanying caption: “[Gwnell] Morgan did live in one of the old sections of the development and said she is much happier in the newly constructed home.” No need to track down displaced residents and explore their experiences, no need to read any of the social scientific literature on public housing redevelopment, no need to listen to what the Coalition to Stop Demolition is actually saying: one current resident privileged enough to move back likes her new apartment, case closed.

On Wednesday, December 19, 2007 the Times-Picayune reported in an article entitled, “Housing officials claim surplus,” that contended, “As housing activists continued to protest the proposed demolition of four public housing complexes, federal housing officials provided new details Tuesday about hundreds of public housing units available across New Orleans, with dozens of units ready for occupants in the B.W. Cooper, the former Desire and the Guste developments.” Again parroting statements from HUD alongside disputations of activists, the paper uncritically supports HUD’s “surplus” housing figures. The reporters make no attempt to tally available units on their own or judge the veracity of either HUD or the Coalition’s tallies. Nor do they dare link the overall housing situation with the crisis of homelessness that has overtaken the city.

An accompanying photograph to the piece shows former St. Bernard public housing development tenant Sharon Jasper sitting in the narrow living room of her new Section 8 rental home. The story’s online version collected a phenomenal 181+ comments in under 18 hours. The vast majority of comments are directed at Ms. Jasper, calling her a “welfare queen,” “typical moocher,” “waist [sic] of a person,” “crap,” and telling her to “get a job,” and stop “leeching” of the taxpayers. What is amazing is that virtually all of these commentators make these objections in response to her possession of a big screen TV which is visible in the photo, or else to the fact that her home has hardwood floors (hardly a luxury in New Orleans, most homes have wood floors). The Times-Picayune published the photo in full color in its print version.

Misquoting Jasper several times, the Times Picayune failed to contextualize her interview and ran the piece even after Jasper called the reporter to ask that the photo not be run. “I had a feeling,” explained Jasper afterwards, “that they would do something like this.” Talking about the general situation for renters in New Orleans and past experiences friends family members have had with section 8 housing and the rental market, Jasper attempted to explain that many properties are slummed by landlords who simply exploit their tenants and the government voucher programs. The Times Picayune ran the quotes in a manner implying that Jasper was talking directly about her own landlord and the rental home shown in the photo. Jasper’s main contention with the government’s section 8 voucher program went unreported, however. According the Jasper, the biggest problem for her with section 8 is that no matter how nice a place she can find, the market is volatile and often forces tenants to move if prices increase or if there is a conflict between landlords and tenants (conflicts that are almost always won by landlords in New Orleans). “I can’t move. I’m tired and old. I just can’t move every year, it’s too much,” explains Jasper.

What is unreported by the paper is just as important. Ms. Jasper is elderly, disabled, and worked the majority of her adult life. She is now a retired grandmother living on a fixed income. The photograph and erroneous quotes quickly drifted into the blogosphere and have been seized upon by all sorts of opponents of welfare and public housing including pundit Michelle Malkin.

The Times Picayune could not have done a better job to smear Ms. Jasper or fan the flames of hostility against working class blacks in New Orleans, especially public housing residents. Days after the photo was published I visited Jasper in her home. Her two daughters had come to visit, one driving all the way from Dallas along with her two children. Jasper’s modest little home, located in a black working class neighborhood in New Orleans’ 6th Ward is unassuming from the outside. It looks like any of the other little shotgun houses on this street. Several of the houses on each block are still empty from the heavy floods that devastated this neighborhood. Most of her neighbors are families crowded into several little rooms, struggling to pay rent. The inside of Jasper’s home belies the gritty neighborhood outside with leaking water pipes, pot-holes, and tattered homes. Jasper might be working class and black, but she likes nice things and has worked hard for what she owns. This is what much of the public housing debate in New Orleans boils down to: a hostility against public housing residents who have been demonized for decades as burdens to society. They have been locked out of their homes for more than 2 years and now stand to lose their communities to bulldozers and dubious mixed income schemes. The vast majority of residents oppose these plans and have never been asked by the federal government what they need and want.

But you wouldn’t know this from reading the Times Picayune.


Words cannot describe the level of injustice and brutality:


Reading Racism and More on Nola.com
What’s Really Driving the Demolition of Public Housing in New Orleans?

On Thursday, December 20th 2007 the New Orleans City Council voted unanimously to demolish more than 4500 units of public housing in the city. The vote was taken after the council locked out opposition from the meeting, even though the chambers were reportedly not filled to capacity. The Council and mayor had prepared for the day weeks in advance by assigning more than 120 police officers to 12-hour shifts, placing officers around the building and blocking all entrance points. According to spokespeople for the Coalition to Stop Demolition, the Council also made sure to pack the room with demolition supporters early in the morning to fill up more than half of the seats.

Outraged and desperate to defend their homes, the collective of public housing residents and their allies locked outside of City Hall’s gates broke through the fence twice, demanding entrance. Both times they were turned back with pepper spray and tazers by the NOPD. Inside the chamber pro-housing activists were tackled and dragged out after disrupting the meeting to demand the gates be opened and empty seats filled.

The Times-Picayune published video of the incident online at nola.com along with a congratulatory story about the vote entitled “Unanimous”:

Over the next 2 days more than 190 comments were made by readers of the Times-Picayune in response to the following question: “were police reckless?”

Most of these comments reveal the deep and vicious racism that lies beneath support for demolition of public housing. The majority of comments made about the protest at City Hall and public housing give several major justifications for housing demolition, along with unabashed support for a highly repressive police state to quell dissent (sorry Times-Pic, what was that about “unanimous”?). Much of the support for demolition rests on openly racist notions of public housing residents as “animals,” and “welfare queens” and visions of the “projects” as nothing more than environments that serve to “breed a particularly bad criminal element.” There is zero recognition that as tough as it was to live in a hypersegregated working class neighborhood, these were still communities, these were still affordable homes.

Many commentators call for using “attack dogs” and “water canons” on protesters without any apparent irony. They are, purposefully of not, evoking imagery of the mid-century Jim Crow police state attacking civil rights activists across the South, and later the use of highly militarized police force to crush the urban rebellions of the late 1960s.

“Posted by widewater on 12/20/07 at 3:07PM
A couple of police dogs behind the gate would of prevented all of that.

Posted by 70114 on 12/20/07 at 3:08PM
Bring out the fire hoses. Most of the protesters looked like they needed a bath anyway.

Posted by mineshaft on 12/20/07 at 3:09PM
well said Mocatova! funny! we all need a good laugh.... widewater is right too.....what about them dogs!?

Posted by RIVER500 on 12/20/07 at 3:44PM
Withabeard: I agree the police should be better prepared. Full riot gear, horses, and K-9s would have kept these losers 10 blocks away!

“12/20/07 at 2:54PM

Posted by outtahere64 on 12/21/07 at 12:08AM
I miss the water cannons (using tanks of cold water) and police dogs. I guess Tazers are ok but the rubber bullets and electrified fences were a real kick.”

It seems that many of the Picayune’s readers want to return to these good old days when the police could just beat down dissent in New Orleans and elsewhere, when attack dogs and water canons could be unleashed without a second thought, when the Bull Connors of the world reigned supreme. Pre-Katrina was too much a post-civil rights era for these New Orleanians who see the post-Katrina opportunities of re-establishing a pre-civil rights regime. One commentator even asks:

“Whatever happened to NOPD's tank? I haven't seen it since the earily 1980's. It was bought back during the Black Panther days in Desire Housing Project. Did it drown in Katrina?”
(Posted by kabel on 12/20/07 at 4:32PM)”

True enough, when the Black Panthers attempted to organize the Desire housing development in the 1970s the NOPD carried out a full-scale military siege of the Party’s headquarters (at one time an apartment in the development). Brutal police repression against public housing residents and their allies has a long history in this city. Radical political campaigns by the black working class have always been beat back with police and military forces.

Railing against “hippies,” two commentators indirectly recognize the scale of the police state’s grasp on public housing residents:

“Posted by govtwatchdog on 12/20/07 at 6:33PM
The ones trying to break the gate open should be put in central lockup for the weekend. They can then bond with their people from the projects.

Posted by diamondsea on 12/21/07 at 6:08PM
Ley them in - Let them In - Let them in ...to CENTRAL LOCKUP!!!
Hopefully the courts are adjouned until Wednesday Jan 3rd.
Then they'll have a cance to mee a lot of the former residents of the projects up close and personal.”

Of course neither “govtwatchdog” nor “diamondsea” seem to have any critical insights into why such a large proportion of New Orleans’ (and Louisiana’s) incarcerated are young black men. They and other commentators explain this in terms of criminal nature, personal irresponsibility, and law and order. They cannot understand how the very racism and hostile privatism they foster helps create the conditions of impoverishment and inequality that often leads a small percentage of ghetto residents to crime. Nor can they understand the most important factor, how a structurally racist police force and legal system work to lock up blacks at rates far disproportionate to whites in New Orleans and nationally. Louisiana has the highest rate of incarceration in the US, 835 per 100,000 residents. Blacks constitute 32% of Louisiana’s population, but 72% of its prison population.

Many commentators refer to public housing residents as ungrateful dependents instead of the hard working citizens that many of them are. These comments stem from a general anti-welfarist mentality that is highly racialized. Several commentators invoke a “culture of poverty argument” placing the blame for poverty squarely on the shoulders of the poor while also criminalizing and pathologizing poor people’s attempts to eek out a life of dignity under the given conditions.

“Posted by jas1 on 12/20/07 at 3:39PM
I guess when you live off of the system ALL your life and teach your children to live off of the system it's hard to change. They don't want to get a job and rely on themselves, that would be against what they learned ALL their lives. Why isn't the people that are for demolition there, BECAUSE WE WORK TO SUPPORT THE HANDOUTS!”

Posted by DrWiggles on 12/20/07 at 9:58PM

The Times-Picayune even fanned these reactionary flames several days before the council vote by running a photo of Sharon Jasper, a public housing resident in her new section 8 home. (http://blog.nola.com/updates/2007/12/housing_officials_claim_surplu.html). Jasper, a resident from St. Bernard development who has been leading the mobilization to reopen public housing was shown in a red gown and slippers in her living room with a big screen TV against the wall. Nearly 300 comments were made about the photo, most of them declaring fraud, ingratitude, calling Jasper “lazy,” a “welfare queen,” “leech,” and “animal.” Nowhere in the story was it mentioned that Jasper is elderly, disabled, and worked most of her adult life. She lives on a fixed income in a small subsidized unit after losing her apartment in St. Bernard. Her portrayal by the Times-Picayune, however, drew up condemnations and hate from a deep well of racism and hostility against government assistance, especially that which benefits black people.

Many of the comments following nola.com’s protest video referred to the activists as “outsiders” who have come to New Orleans and are only getting in the way of the real reconstruction efforts. In a literal throwback to white supremacist rhetoric during the Reconstruction era “nolahero” exclaims:

“12/20/07 at 8:07PM
That looked like a bunch of carpetbagger hippie losers.”

Although the word nigger remains unused by any commentators, one uses the word “wigger” to identify whites at the City Hall protest. It seems to serve as a sort of placeholder or indirect referent:

“Posted by oracle2005 on 12/20/07 at 5:56PM
It is the most appropriate use of the word WIGGER I have ever seen. They are useful fools.”

Another commentator asks, “who is behind this?,” implying that the struggle has no real roots in the work of public housing residents themselves. It is a question that just as easily could have been uttered by reactionaries during the McCarthy era, but it’s 2007. Others demand that the “hippies” go home, and again refer to black New Orleanians as “animals.”

“Posted by MrGunn on 12/20/07 at 3:51PM
Will we ever know who's behind all this?

Posted by TIGAZZFAN33 on 12/21/07 at 10:30AM
The majority of those protesters are professional protesters brought in from out of state. They are PAID protesters who will protest whatever you pat them to….

Posted by livingpo on 12/20/07 at 4:36PM
Go home hippies and take the animals with you!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Posted by delta13894 on 12/20/07 at 5:30PM
Ah I long for the good old days When these people could be driven to the parish line, dropped of, and told to go back to whatever rock the crawled out from under. I think it would be a great idea to round up the out of state protesters and lock them up for a few weeks, or at least until after the bowl games. Let's take out the trash.”

The most disturbing commentary appearing in response to the Times-Picayune’s coverage is that which is supportive of ethnic cleansing. It appears in both openly racist terms, but also in thinly veiled liberal terms. The black working class is alternately referred to as “apes,” “the criminal element,” or “vermin.” Lest we too quickly identify this kind of rabid racism with no-name commentators on nola.com, remember that even elected representatives in high office (Rep. Richard Baker for example) have praised the “cleaning up” of New Orleans’ public housing.

“Posted by mineshaft on 12/20/07 at 4:58PM
Hooray for the Rebirth of one of the greatest cities in the world!
The cleansing of the (New) New Orleans.....it has begun, let us all keep it going...doing whatever it takes to prevent it from slipping back into the control of the people who would destroy it for their own greed.

Posted by govtwatchdog on 12/20/07 at 6:44PM
I don't owe a damn thing to nobody. Tear them down and DON'T rebuild anything for them. Go out and work and earn and save and invest. New Orleans is turning white and some people don't like it. So MOVE.

Posted by deaconblue01 on 12/21/07 at 2:48PM
Were the animals pounding at the gate acting responsibly? I think not. NOPD is to be commended for handling the scum the way they did. Many of those poor excuses for humanity are the very vermin living in public housing. That's what people are protesting for? Get real. Thank you City Council for voting the way you did. If Katrina did one thing right, she washed out the biggest collection of slums and ghetto residents in existence. Keep the momentum going and maybe New Orleans has a chance of once again becoming the great city it used to be.”

One commentator even offers a decent political analysis to praise the ethnic cleansing he and others see occurring via the City Council vote:

“Posted by ward9son on 12/20/07 at 11:59PM
The election of Jackie Clarkson as the 4th vote for reforming public housing is the ONLY REASON this vote passed today.
For a set of minor conccesions, the three black members voted with the white majority to bring a chance for reform and quality to the failed, disgraceful status quo.
And this NEVER would have occurred had Willard Lewis been elected to Council at large, and her seat filled by yet another politically connected black racial coward from New Orleans East to take her place in District E. Instead, the plantation would have rolled along, and the black majority council would have stalled demolition until
Hillary Clinton won, and Mary Landrieyu helped move a new genration of unemplyed-forever dole takers into 9,000 rehabed HANO apartments to go along with the affordable units contained in every, and I mean every, apartment coming online in this city.
And then, the black politicos and the Dems would have their Choclate City as desired, bigger, and more hopeless, and more vote-producing than ever - the quality of the people the claim to help BE DAMNED !!!”

But for the final word, I will let one of the minority commentators on the Times-Picayunes coverage speak:

“Posted by SeaSalt2 on 12/20/07 at 8:56PM
Listen to you all, so near to the birth of Christ, ranting and raving against the poor, asserting that the only reason they can't afford better living conditions is because they're "financially irresponsible" or lazy. Shame on you all, it must be easy to sit back and tell people why they're poor and starving. Maybe if you worked all day for below minimum wage, maybe if you got suckered into drug dealing because you wanted to feed your family, maybe if your employer took all the jobs to Mexico or another country where he/she doesn't have to pay as much for labor. Maybe if the school system failed you, preventing you from getting a good education, or if you never even went because you had to work to help your parents eat. Maybe then you'd figure out that social mobility and the American Dream are about as real as Santa Claus, and maybe then you wouldn't be so smug or ravenous.
It's funny, you keep referring to the protesters as animals, but the way you talk about them, shrieking with glee when they're pepper-sprayed, right or wrong, makes you no better.
Sure, the protesters are privileged. If anyone from the projects could afford to stop working for a second I'm sure they would be there too. I'm sure if they all had computers they could come to this site and defend themselves to, and communicate their hardships. But they, unlike you, don't have that luxury. So keep kicking them while they're down, and keep mocking the people that are privileged who actually care about those who can't defend themselves, who don't have a voice in this society because it's parched by thirst and hunger. But remember, in your unsympathetic privilege:
The Lord giveth, the Lord taketh away.
Who would Jesus evict?
Whose home would Jesus destroy?
Blessings to you all, and to all the afflicted and evicted.”


Public Housing: Rooting the Struggle in Past Reconstructions

The political conflict surrounding the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s attempt to demolish public housing in New Orleans is part of a historically grounded struggle in the city over urban space and social consumption. Several other epochs of “reconstruction” serve to contextualize the meaning and consequences of the current struggle for the black working class and the confederacy of forces that oppose them.

The all black, working class communities that live in and around the major public housing developments such as BW Cooper and Lafitte are the immediate heirs of a movement that rebelled against Jim Crow segregation throughout the 20th Century. Indeed, many of these women and men are the children of this Movement’s leadership. Some of the elder residents and former residents of public housing even held leadership positions in organizations as diverse as the National Welfare Rights Organization and the Black Panthers. In the face of white intimidation, violence, and an all white political regime (until the 1970s) they managed to pry open formerly all white spaces and create at least the legal precedents for a more egalitarian New Orleans.

These same New Orleanians, agitated for the creation of what historian Kent Germany has called the “soft state” – a combination of federal/local community programs during the 1960s and 70s that attempted to reconstruct New Orleans, to provide educational, housing and job opportunities for working class blacks. Struggling to rebuild New Orleans during the tail end of the Civil Rights Movement, the goal of New Orleans black working class has tended to swing between an integrationist platform, and a black power platform – the former involving efforts to desegregate housing, schools, and city space, and to equalize public spending between blacks and whites, while the latter philosophy has sought to empower existing black institutions and create greater autonomy of black spaces in the city.

Stretching back even further, the struggle for power over community in New Orleans is rooted in pre-Civil War forms of resistance amongst blacks (many of them slaves), and later in the brief period of Reconstruction from 1865-1877. Post Civil War Reconstruction was a visionary attempt to create a more democratic society, abolishing not only racial-apartheid, but also the crushing class inequalities that crippled poor whites. This movement, led by the black working class, was violently overthrown in 1874 by the White League, and finally defeated with the re-establishment of rule by the racist plantocracy in1877. True democratic reconstruction was brutally destroyed by a phalanx of white supremacists who, with the tacit support of the federal government, would more or less rule New Orleans (and the South) until the second half of the 20th Century.

During this time, space in the city of New Orleans was legally segregated, and the laws governing this prevention of “mixture” were designed to keep blacks not only physically separate, but materially and politically subjugated. Blacks were not allowed in certain sections of the town except as laborers. Housing for blacks was established in the “bottom of the bowl,” or else in the pocketed patterns required by white Uptowners who employed black servants. Blacks were relegated to inferior classrooms, the back ends of street cars, separate train cars, and barred from government office. Racialized oppression was most powerfully enforced through these methods of spatial domination. The purpose of spatial control was to enforce a larger and more profound regime of white supremacy.

The 1930s produced a major break in this racial regime. However, it would further entrench racial inequalities and literally lay the brick and mortar foundations for today’s struggle to reopen public housing.

With the passage of the National Housing Acts of 1934 and 1937 the US embarked on a massive program of subsidies for homeownership. Backing up loans and reducing the costs of mortgages well below 10%, the federal government set the foundations for an enormous expansion of home ownership (and along with the post-WWII GI Bill virtually created the US middle class). Concurrently, the federal government built public housing across the US. All of this, plus the establishment of Social Security and the recognition of organized labor by the federal government constituted Roosevelt’s New Deal.

Several of New Orleans’ public housing developments, such as Lafitte and Iberville were built during this era. In tune with the times, these developments were racially segregated, splitting the working class into an all white Iberville and all black Lafitte, a white Florida and black Desire. All of the other developments in the city would follow suite. Race was further embedded in this era of housing redevelopment in the Federal Housing Administration’s protocols. The FHA, legally allowed for and facilitated the red-lining of non-white and immigrant neighborhoods and developed a ranking system for loan-fitness based on a block’s racial composition. The FHA provided sample restrictive covenants in loan manuals to enable homeowners to exclude non-whites and other “undesirables” from ever owning valuable property. The overall effect of this was to build trillions of dollars of wealth among those who could take advantage of these programs, and to actually dis-accumulate wealth from the zones of cities occupied by blacks. The racism of the New Deal went much further than just these housing programs. The whole package of legislation was riddled with exclusions, implicit and explicit, that cut non-whites out of these huge government subsidies and insurance programs.

From the 1960s through the early 1980s the Civil Rights Movement managed to force the legal desegregation of public institutions, including public housing. But what the Movement could not secure was the power necessary to truly reconstruct US society, to secure the power that working class black’s needed to rebuild their communities and stand on equal footing with whites. New Orleans was no different. The Movement could not secure the political power necessary to re-invigorate the promise of abolition democracy, nor to address the centuries of racist dis-accumulation from black communities. This failure resulted in a shift away from legal segregation to de facto segregation. Whites fled the newly “integrated” public institutions, including public housing, education, healthcare, and many of the public spaces they formerly dominated through law. In New Orleans this produced the massive suburban expansions of Jefferson, St. Tammany, and St. Bernard Parrish. Whites who exited public housing during the 50s, 60s, and 70s found easier housing through FHA programs, and never encountered the racial steering practiced by realtors, nor the hostility of neighbors in all white neighborhoods. Blacks found it much more difficult to get out of public housing. Meanwhile the condition of this housing stock began to deteriorate. “White flight” meant more than just moving to the suburbs, it meant the flight of federal, state, and local capital from the newly “integrated” public institutions.

The Civil Rights Movement also produced empowerment for the small but politically significant black middle class and elites, many of who also fled from “public spaces” “won” by the Movement, or else moved in to new roles whereby they would “represent” the black working class, they would serve as intermediaries between capital, the new white majority exurbs, and the black poor. Thus, the reconstruction promised by the Movement fell far short of what working class blacks needed and struggled for. The loss was immense. Legally, much had been attained. But in fact, without the achievement of real power, and faced with the hostile and privatizing response of whites and the tiny black middle class (the former group having been massively enriched over more than century of federal racist subsidization, from the Homestead Act to Social Security), the black working class found themselves trapped in decaying institutions. Without the financial power to sustain them, and under direct or indirect political control of majority white and increasing conservative federal and state governments, the black working class has come to a new crossroads in their struggle for freedom and dignity.

All of the rhetoric against public housing from the political Right contradicts this history, and is impossible to support beyond an irrational level (unfortunately politics often runs on irrational fears and desires). All of the rhetoric from the so-called “moderates” and liberals who support the demolition of public housing in New Orleans ignore this history, and refuse to contextualize the struggle of the black working class. Only by placing the conflict over public housing in its historical context can we begin to imagine just solutions. However, what is also clear from this history is that the leadership and vision for truly just reconstructions, after war or storm, has come from the grassroots. In New Orleans this has historically been the black working class and their allies, not the City Council, State, or Federal Government.


2-Cent is a project that brings together some of Nola's best rappers under the banner of the Right of Return Movement. Check this out:


City Upon A Shining “Science Hill”

Perhaps the clearest statement of UCSC’s horrible transformation is captured by a simple robotic voice, the voice of the Metro bus system’s androgynous speaker who automatically announces each stop as it approaches. When the system was first installed it announced only the major stops around town, “Mission and Bay,” “Metro Center,” “Soquel and Branciforte.” I recall riding it one day a few years back up to campus. The voice announced each stop on the way up Laurel Street. When the bus entered campus it went silent. But then the one announcement came, the one stop worth mentioning, (according to UCSC and the city’s bus operator that is), “Science Hill, U-C-S-C.” I wondered why at the time Science Hill got to be the main stop on campus given its distance from the Quarry Plaza and administrative buildings.

UC Santa Cruz has always called itself the “City On A Hill.” Truly it is, at least for 9 months out of the year. But the phrase is worth unpacking, especially given the campus’s past, present and future. UCSC adopted the moniker early on, back when it was something of an experimental campus in the UC system, one that would focus on undergraduate education and the liberal arts. The phrase is a reference to the “City Upon A Hill,” mentioned in one of John Winthrop’s 1630 sermons. Winthrop summoned the title as an inspiration and challenge to the English colonist at Massachussets Bay:

“we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us. So that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken...we shall be made a story and a by-word throughout the world. We shall open the mouths of enemies to speak evil of the ways of God...We shall shame the faces of many of God's worthy servants, and cause their prayers to be turned into curses upon us til we be consumed out of the good land whither we are going.”

In other words, UCSC, the City On A Hill is nick-named after the self-aggrandizing ideal that puritan settler colonist bestowed upon their invasive force during the European conquest of North America through joint stock corporations and religious transplants. It’s interesting that within the City On A Hill that is UCSC, it is “Science” that has now come to occupy the tip top of the “Hill.” This is not mere coincidence or symbolism. UCSC’s administrators along with the UC Regents and powerful business interests and benefactors based out of Silicon Valley (like Jack Baskin) have sought now for several decades to recast UCSC into a major research university with hard science and engineering at its core. In doing so they have adopted the self-righteousness and mission-zeal of puritan colonists, even if their ideological drive is different. They have truly colonized UCSC and now they expand into the woods, the “natives” be damned. Profit, prestige and power rely on physical expansion and transformation into a knowledge factory.

This remobilization of the “city upon a hill” runs parallel to other invocations of the phrase. In his farewell address to the nation, Ronald Reagan waxed emotionally:

“The past few days when I've been at that window upstairs, I've thought a bit of the ‘shining city upon a hill’ [America]…. And how stands the city on this winter night? More prosperous, more secure, and happier than it was eight years ago…. And as I walk off into the city streets, a final word to the men and women of the Reagan revolution, the men and women across America who for eight years did the work that brought America back. My friends: We did it.”

Of course Reagan’s idea of bringing America back was to slash social spending on health, education, and housing, to scale back the gains made by the Civil Rights Movement, to stonewall the women’s movement, pour trillions of dollars into high tech weaponry including nuclear arms, and give trillions more in handouts to the wealthiest corporations. Reagan’s vision for the city upon a hill was, in these respects, remarkably like the more particular vision that UC administrators and Regents have had for UCSC all these years: after several decades we find the quality of undergraduate education falling, housing prices stretched, working class students priced out and indebted; students of color – especially blacks – have been virtually expelled from UC; departments such as Feminist Studies are marginalized and where is Ethnic Studies!?; and there has been a creeping militarization of the campus alongside the coming of corporate big science and corporate styles of management. My friends: they did it.

UC President Clark Kerr pronounced the UC Santa Cruz experiment dead not long after it had begun. It was clear after only a couple decades of operation that the campus could not sustain its small size and isolated character. In truth, the idea of the “Oxford on the Pacific,” (this was Kerr and Dean McHenry’s second favorite nick-name for UCSC) was always an elitist scheme that was ill-suited to serve the people of California. For most of its existence UCSC has been an institution benefiting California’s most privileged, mostly white communities by polishing their sons and daughters. However, Kerr’s vision of the multiversity that UCSC’s administrators are now pursuing full speed with their LRDP and various big science institutes and contracts is no more socially just or environmentally sustainable than the original plan for the City On A Hill. In fact, it’s much worse.

In the several decades after UCSC’s founding the school was swept up in a remarkable upsurge of democratic activism led by women and people of color. This movement helped to open up universities nationwide to previously excluded populations while critiquing the goals of education and knowledge production as we had known them until that point. The university was recast into a more inclusive space that produced knowledge and diplomas with higher purposes than profit or vulgar patriotism.

But the pendulum is swinging back. Corporate America and the political Right have other plans for higher education and scientific research, and they increasingly have the power to enact these plans. What’s going down on Science Hill today along with the plans for campus expansion up into the hills is part of a larger picture. The political-economic shakedown is simple. Social resources are being funneled into programs and plans that will benefit private interests, businesses, and certain ideological agendas. Pure and simple.

If UCSC is a proverbial City Upon A Hill, a “shining example” to be followed by all others as this name has demanded since Winthrop’s sermons, then just what does the LRDP mean for the future of higher education and science in America?


I've been attending the International Tribunal on Katrina and Rita in New Orleans over the past few days and found myself compelled to cover the proceedings. You can read more here: http://neworleans.indymedia.org/news/2007/08/10930.php

And here: http://neworleans.indymedia.org/news/2007/09/10945.php

The Tribunal has been a powerful experience. Many alternative media, documentarians, and indy-journalists like myself have been present. Conspicuously absent have been the corporate media. The Tribunal's official web site is http://internationaltribunal.org


I could understand their anger in terms of the past and present, but for some reason I found it difficult to accept. I knew there would be anger and distrust, as there should be, but I thought that it might be possible to know one another in some different way that made more than anger possible. I probably should have bowed my head early and left without saying a word, but for whatever reason I protested that I was not who they thought I was. I wanted their recognition. I wanted them to say, “Ah-hah!” and acknowledge that I'm different from the image of white men they have. But instead I was rebuffed. It hurt, but perhaps they were right in some way? Am I who I say I am, at least to them? What have I ever done to prove otherwise? In the experience of these three Dine men, I and each man with my pale face are crooks. I am, as a long-standing joke goes, a white man, and each time my people have come to Indian country they have arrived looking for something to take, by force if necessary, but always unfairly. In the Dine's experience it was first land (of which they like every other tribe was robbed of in enormous proportions). After displacement and dispossession the white men came seeking things in, around and under what little land was left: “In the 1920s the answer was oil; in the late 1930s and early 1940s it was vanadium; in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s it was uranium.” The dark joke finishes that, “in the 1990s it is spirituality” (Eichstaedt, 1994: 41). One might add tourist trinkets and cultural tourism to this list of post-uranium exploitation. Having stolen and dispoiled the earth on which tribal survival was based some whites have come finally for the spirit of nativity, looking for ways to capitalize on the romantic mysticism that whites have for all things indigenous.

My ordeal began with a Dine man asking me for change. He called out to me through a chain link fence separating us, I on one side walking an ally row of apartments, he on the other side behind an office building and restaurants. He and I were both wandering Flagstaff, the small city on the edge of the Navajo Nation in Northern Arizona. He said his name was “June.” He asked me for any money I had so that he could buy coffee. I tossed a dollar in quarters over the top of the fence. We exchanged a few words, he blessing me and I wishing him well while flashing a peace sign with my fingers before he turned away and began walking back toward the staircase where a woman waited sitting. As I walked down the fence line he turned back, “actually… hold on man… you know what…?”

I was more than willing to talk more. Ever since I first drifted through the four corners area a few years back I've met many a wandering Dine. Most of them are young men, but also many older men and some women. A lot of them have left the reservation and entered the white men's cities like Flagstaff or Gallup, unhappily looking for something they cannot find, but mostly traveling and surviving from day to day under. Most of them are alcoholics who travel about by thumb. They look for work or ask for change to buy food and beer. They sleep wherever they can. Some of them have told me their life stories and I share what experiences and knowledge I have in return. They're usually quiet but will talk your ear off if given a friendly chance. I'm almost always inclined to give a friendly ear to a stranger.

June asked me if I “prayed to the Lord.” I told him that I did not, that I am not a Christian. This confused him at first. He smelled of alcohol. He looked at the books and newspaper I held in my hand (I had been on my way to buy a cup of coffee and read for several hours). He asked me what they were and I replied that they were books about politics, one of which was a history of uranium mining on the Navajo Nation's lands. My not being a Christian seemed to upset him. My mention of uranium and the Navajo set him off. His anger was unintelligible though, his words slurred, but I wanted to listen and to clarify. I imagined he saw me as some godless white man come to look down on him. He came close to me and pointed to the San Francisco peaks and said, “see that? Doko'oo'sliid! That's my mother.” I nodded and said that I thought the peaks were magnificent.

He looked at the newspaper in my hands and said to me, “I know what you are. You're one of those Wall Street people with your companies and your papers….” I was confused and felt somewhat insulted given my mutual disdain for “those Wall Street people,” or at least the business man image his words conjured in my mind, but also happy to see that June was angry, not just a passive drinking rambler type. I tried to reply that I was not a banker, a company man, even a worker bee, that I was in fact a student with deep misgivings about those at the top of the pyramid we call America.

He looked beyond me and called out, “here, my two friends can tell….” Approaching were two more Dine men, one holding a heavy bag of beer cans, the other carrying himself in a more reserved manner. June pointed to the books I held and said something about “this white man.”

The bigger fellow carrying the beer hardly gave me a chance and launched into a tirade against me and white people. I let him belt it out without one attempt to interject because I could actually agree with most of what he was saying. When he finished I responded that I was not the sort of white person they were used to, that I am in fact “anti-whiteness.” Again, as with my identification as a non-Christian, June and the bigger fellow with the beer looked at me confused, but the big man shot back, “if you're not then let's see you tell them.” He looked off toward the busy street filled with cars and trucks, lined with fast food joints and strip malls.

“Tell who?” I asked.

“Let's see you go tell a cop to go fuck himself.”

Briefly I thought about how quickly and seamlessly these men equated cops with white people. I'm sure that in their days and nights surviving in on the streets of Flagstaff the police who torment and chase them, write them tickets, jail them and wake them up in the night to keep them moving are a majority white police force. The equation made sense.

“No, I wouldn't say that to a cop because I don't want to get arrested” was the best reply I could muster. I tried to say something about knowing the history of the US Government's treatment of the Dine, about land theft, economic exploitation, the poisoning of communities, and about the racism of the white settlers that now make up a majority of Flagstaff's population and the Southwestern United States. It was to no avail. The bigger man said I shouldn't be where I am and that I had no business talking like I do.

It struck me at this point how absurd it was that this encounter had turned so deep and consequential so quickly. I had thought that June and I - and his friends when they showed up - would chat about more mundane things, where we grew up, where we were headed, our favorite this or that…. Instead the four of us were having it out: hundreds of years of pain and lies, and could there be any four men more or less in need of shouting out these rarely spoken truths? Could there be any more or less appropriate a time or place than in this grimy backstreet drizzled in rain behind the buzz of the old Route 66?

“I respect you and agree with most of what you are saying, and I want you to listen to what I'm saying,” I implored. I felt that their anger at whiteness and the system of white supremacy was clouding their eyes such that they could not recognize me for who I wanted to prove myself to be - an antiracist white in solidarity with their people's communities, willing to listen to their experiences and try to learn from them. After all, that's a large reason why I've traveled through the four corners over the past several years.

The more reserved fellow who had not spoken at this point put his hand to his chest and smiled at me. He put his other hand on the bigger fellow and pulled down on his shoulder as his friend was explaining that if I “didn't quit it I was liable to someday get fucked up by someone.” The bigger fellow now, with no less anger in his voice and body language said to me, if you think you're Indian then prove it.”

“I don't think I'm an Indian” I said. “I'm a white man who wants to prove that there's a different way of being white. A way that isn't about hurting other people. I'm trying to be your friend…. But I surely don't think I'm an Indian. I don't want to be. But I surely don't want to be this same white man you keep speaking of.”

The big man more or less wasn't listening. He said again if I wanted to be Indian then I would have to drink beer with them. “Come over here and drink beer with us then,” he demanded. Through this encounter I had been trying to keep cool and to communicate my position while also hearing theirs. But anger and other forces, forces passed down to they and I were destroying any possibility in this time and space of either they or I understanding the other's identity and needs. I could feel myself slipping into and out of control over my emotions and ability to listen and talk. This time and place was hopeless.

I told the big man that I wouldn't drink with him but that I wished them well. They walked off. June demanded that I give him one of my books. I offered the newspaper but he simply slapped it, stumbled backward and away from me to the stairway.


About one month ago the Flagstaff Police Department began an effort to “sweep forests of homeless camps.” The rationale for the military-like operation (involving helicopters and several other government agencies) is that the houseless population that lives in the woods around the city create a fire hazard by burning fires to keep warm and cook with. Camping itself is not illegal in the vast expanse of pine woods that surround Flagstaff – part of the Coconino National Forest – but “any unimproved camp using a fire or in place for more than 14 days is illegal” (Arizona Daily Sun, http://www.azdailysun.com/, June 17, 2007).

I’ve long passed through Flagstaff and camped in the woods myself. Although I’m not part of the houseless community that inhabits the woodlands, I can appreciate the beauty, comfort and seclusion that the hills offer. Even though Flagstaff was recently ranked as one of the “meanest” cities toward the houseless and poor, it’s still a wonderful place to live free. Sure, the winters are cold and heavy in snow, but the town is a great western junction for travelers like myself. The assault on camping and the city’s draconian turn against tramps, hobos, travelers and the houseless worries me much.

Of course the problem all of this entails is most serious for the chronically houseless, a population that includes many veterans, sick and disabled persons, and impoverished Dine. I wonder what the future holds for these folks.

I’ve always had an affinity with those who live on the margins of society, in the cracks and crevices, under the bridges and behind buildings, in the woods just beyond the city’s limits. It’s not that idealize these communities. The men and women who live these rough and tumble lives are often no better, kinder, or more humble than the mainstream of America who live under roofs, hold steady jobs, and keep their various addictions in a “manageable” state. There is something, however, to the ethos that many vagabonds and squatters profess that resonates in my heart. It’s the carefree attitude. Live and let live. It’s the anti-materialism of so many of them; the fact that possessions never meant anything. Finally, something that draws me in tightly and reassures me are the various “sicknesses,” “compulsions,” and “deviances” of those who live on the margins.

I’ll keep this last affinity cryptic and only explain that by the philosophy I live by, people who are well adjusted in this fucked up world must have something seriously wrong with them.

May the police find nothing. Down with the castles, peace to the camps!


Student (anti)politics....

Mark Batalla, columnist for the Daily Nexus has written an important piece that gives some insights into the student culture and some of the reasons behind its anti-politics ("Campus, World Filled With Prospects"). His perspective is bleeding with privilege resisting its own recognition, amnesia and denial of responsibility. It's an excellent example of the political consciousness of many American students who attend top-ranked universities.

About political movements for social justice and peace on campus, he says, "I’ve personally stopped caring.... It’s gotten to a point where I can no longer get any more jaded and instead laugh at these futile attempts to change the world.

I think Mark is representative of many of the students here at UCSB and that we need to take stock of this fact. Part of me thinks that this resistance and spite he and many students hold for activists (anyone who actually rocks the imperial boat) is based on the privilege and power that they, as members of the ruling class, are unwilling to questions and give up. Life is good in IV. The beach and beer-pong beckon. The future is bright. They are mostly guaranteed white collar jobs and suburban green-grass life from here on out. Insulation from the rapidly dying ecology of our planet is comforting. Distance from the pain and suffering of the majority of humanity is granted. Life as a hyper-consumer is possible, practical and appealing. Attempts to change the world are *"futile."* Mark is a borg. Remember the borg? *"Resistance is futile."* http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Borg_(Star_Trek)

While I'm all for education and movement building, and do agree that a majority mobilization can be built to oppose the occupation of Iraq (and I'm down to organize this), I think that the people who read and agree with columnists like Mark are unreachable and largely impossible to change when it comes to root causes (oppression, racism, patriarchy). They might verbalize dissent against this or that particular war, but are unlikely to ever do anything to stop the war, let alone address any of the injustices of imperialism. I think Mark represents a huge, majority chunk of the student population. This is what's hard about organizing here at UCSB. People like the power, affluence and pleasure of their social position. It's good to be on top. It's possible to rationalize and justify the poverty of others. Our society is awash in ideology that fulfills this goal. I think that at a deep level many of the students, even the self-described "progressives" amongst us recognize that the war (not just Iraq, but military violence, US imperialism), xenophobic racism (the Immigration "crisis"), and other issues taken up by the protesters they deride, are the bedrock of the material culture and power of America, and that they support this through their jaded and cynical acts of anti-politics.

Mark says, "it’s easy to become jaded about our surroundings..."

He makes a really strange comment about not being perturbed so much by, "the causes [protesters] represent or their effectiveness in raising awareness" but that he objects to the "confrontational" tactics of "spineless protesters." I think this really gets at the matter. It's one thing to talk about bad stuff that happens to other people, but once "spineless protesters" start implicating him in systems of power, as someone who gains from the oppression of others, then that's too much. And if the protesters dare get in the way, if they dare to disrupt privilege and the ability of someone to carry on business as usual, then they receive the wrath of the entitled. The message in a nutshell is; don't dare challenge the ease with which an American becomes jaded.

Mark ends his column with some vague reference to the "real world" beyond UCSB. So he defines life here in IV and at UCSB as a bubble as do many students. To have to actually give a fuck about the war, nuclear militarism, racism and patriarchy, all of this according to Mark is part of the real world, not UCSB, thus when some protester gets in his way and challenges the bubble concept, that's too much. Students like to think that their time here is apart from the world and that the only appropriate politics then is "awareness raising." A politics of responsability - the ability to respond - is vehemently resisted in favor of a politics of choice and convenience. People want to choose which "issues" they become "aware" about at their convenience. They don't ever want to hear about the violence and repression they are implicated in, whether they like it or not.

In this sense I'm inclined to explain student apathy differently than most people: it's not that students lack the necessary information and that all us activists need to do is educate them. Rather, it's that most UCSB students, like most consumer class Americans, like their power. All the "awareness raising" in the world won't do anything about this.

"He says, "This saturation of causes and annoying activists contributes to student apathy."

Probably the opposite. What he's really saying is that he's unwilling to give up privilege. "Annoying activists" who implicate their fellow students in systems of oppression and in militaristic aggression don't cause student apathy. They simply make people like Mark come public with an answer to the most important question: Which side are you on?

Empire or autonomy?

This is not coke or pepsi, but Mark wishes it was, as do a lot of the students here.


No Nukes in Our Name....

UC students and community members are hunger striking against their university's involvement in nuclear weapons research/design/manufacturing:


I've been supporting and camping out with them since Wednesday. Please read the blog. Also, go to http://www.sbantiwar.org/hungerstrike/ and fill out the letters and support forms!



Post-Mortem Earth Day

In Santa Barbara, California Earth Day is an extravaganza unlike most any other. This is in part because the city claims credit for having helped to establish the holiday after the devastating oil spill of 1969 (a disaster that produced a 900 square mile slick of petroleum along the region’s coastline), but also because the city’s self-identified eco-conscious, left-coast community of hybrid car owners, farmers’ market shoppers and Sierra Club members. Official Earth Day events in Santa Barbara include the mayor and many other politicians. The events are sponsored by mainstream businesses, and bring thousands of people out over several different days; students at the nearby UC campus celebrate the weekend before while the city celebrates on the 22nd, and there are dozens of related events in between.

Even though I live in Santa Barbara and am a member of this community, I skipped all of the events this year, as I did last year and the year before that. In fact, I’ve never attended an Earth Day celebration in my life. I’ve always felt – however trite the saying has become – that “everyday is earth day.” So I tend not to participate in big single day advocacy campaigns. This is especially true with the environmental movement, a social movement bifurcated by two radically opposite poles: at one end exist a tiny minority of communities and conscious adherents who really get it; the earth is dying, and we are going with it. At the other end of the movement are a broad alignment of liberals and even an increasing number of conservatives who fundamentally don’t get it; time is up, switching light bulbs and buying a hybrid car, or giving $50 to the Natural Resources Defense Council isn’t remotely an act of ecological consciousness capable of changing our culture and economy in the ways we must if we are to blunt and someday reverse the ecological crisis we are on the cusp of.

Before I return to this critique of the politics of environmentalism it’s necessary to lay out the basics of the ecological crisis and to present an alternative understanding of it, one that differs significantly from the way we normally think about nature.

The crisis is here: humanity has been consuming mineral, petroleum, timber, water, land, air, and marine resources at rates far outstripping the global ecological system’s capacity to reproduce these “resources” for many decades now. I put the word “resources” in quotation marks here to indicate the artificial and problematic definition of this concept. After all, it is in part because of our lexicon of “resources,” our way of understanding the world as a set of inert things there for us to be had, to be extracted and transformed for our sustenance and pleasure, that has helped get us so far into this mess. It is by seeing the world as a field of resources to be had, and by extracting and using them for needs created by a massively unequal and violent social hierarchy that we now find ourselves entering an irreversible phase of disaster and devastation.

The disasters are already upon us. Katrina, the South East Asian Tsunami, desertification in Sub-Saharan Africa, heat waves in the US and Europe, the Bhopal event, Chernobyl, these and other “environmental” and “technological” disasters experienced as volatile events are the opening acts in a world undergoing a rapid climatic and social shift. Combined with the savagely unequal and oppressive conditions that the world’s poor are being forced into – in the slums of the global south and racialized ghettos of the first world – human vulnerability to disaster is becoming an increasingly catastrophic reality. Elites and the privileged consumer classes of the first world are likely to experience the coming of these disasters as mediated spectacles, as images of mudslides, floods, flattened cities and suffering dark-skinned masses on their TV screens. Devastation is creeping about in a less conspicuous way (although it is not really analytically separable from the disasters it helps to structure). The reality of it is best communicated by experience and vision. Simply drive from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, or Houston to New Orleans. Drive from any major city to another – Lagos to Abidjan, Rio de Janero to Sao Paulo – and take in the scene. From city center to city center the landscape is invariably similar: high rise corporate office buildings, homeless encampments hidden in the cracks of infrastructure, ghettos and industrial districts, and slums giving way to suburban consumer-class housing stretching far into the countryside, then an airport, more slums and shanties… a prison, a factory farm, strip mine, an industrial scale dary or hog farm, military base, another prison, a slaughterhouse, another factory farm, and finally perhaps a “wilderness” scarred from clear cuts, highways and the inevitable press of human expansion. Before long the factory farms, prisons, mines and military bases fill the landscape again before giving way to the suburban tracts of consumer-class homes, until we pass the slums, airport, industrial zones and dive into the downtown canyons of skyscrapers housing the transnational corporations whose “business operations” appeared out our car window along the whole way.

The necessary tendency of capitalism is expansion. Expansion is fundamentally a matter of that ethereal stuff called capital, something you can’t ever really hold down because of its intangible mercurial nature as a human relationship between the master and slave, or entrepreneur and worker if you please. But this same expansion can be seen in the physical landscape and world of material goods. There is always more, covering more land, utilizing more “resources,” filling more landfills, expanding the power and pleasure of those for whom the system works. And through its expansion, capitalism, as the “enemy of nature” as Joel Kovel has called it, tends to homogenize and simplify everything in its path. It is by its very definition impossibly alienated from nature . Murray Bookchin explains that if nature has a nature, it is an unfolding of evolution toward ever more interdependent, complex, and beautiful forms of life. Accordingly, human nature is subject to our conscious reflections upon the world and our own species being, and can therefore be a consciously guided transformation of the ecosystem, other life forms, and ourselves toward this greater interdependence, diversity and cooperative existence. Our culture of capitalist consumerism and militarism has for the past several hundred years produced the opposite outcome. Our interventions into the world, our conscious transformation of the global ecology and variegated ecosystems has produced a brutal simplification of life (again Bookchin’s terminology). By simplification I refer to the extinction of species, the collapse of plant and animal populations and the overall mono-cropping of the landscape through urban development, agriculture, forestry and industrial pollution.

To illustrate the crisis proportions of this, take two examples, one a form of wildlife, the other a domesticated product of human ecology; frogs and food crops. Both frogs and the world’s stock of human bred food crops literally face extinction as a whole. In fact, frogs are so threatened by rapid shifts in global ecology that herpetologist from the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the IUCN/SSC Conservation Breeding Specialist Group, and the IUCN/SSC Amphibian Specialist Group have created a project called the “Amphibian Ark.” The Ark describes its work in the following terms:

“Addressing the amphibian extinction crisis represents the greatest species conservation challenge in the history of humanity. One third to one half of all amphibian species are threatened with extinction, with probably more than 120 already gone in recent years. This is significantly more than any other group of organisms: by comparison, 12% of bird species and 23% of mammal species are threatened.”

That we must now create a virtual Noah’s Ark for an entire Class of animals should be an indication of the crisis of ecology we have created. The second example is just as shocking, but alludes to the social roots of the ecological crisis in ways that frogs do not. Over the past several millennia humans around the planet have gathered, grown and developed thousands of varieties of crops including wheat, potatoes, corn, barley, various fruits and vegetables, roots and other edible plants. Until very recently the trend was toward the creation of newer and more diverse strains, hybrids, and other creative forms the plant life that sustain us. The reasons for diversification and complexity were clear; diverse strains were suited to different climates and conditions and complexity allowed for specialization into different niches, trade, interdependence but also autonomy of local communities in relation to one another. In effect, we had produced through our human nature the very thing that “mother nature” is about, and we had done it consciously. With the advent of the modern factory farm, the mono-cropping system of agriculture, and the green revolution that has forced the massive input of petrochemicals into fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides, heavy machinery and distribution systems, agriculture has become a dangerous simplifying force in the world. Biodiversity is no longer valued. Instead, single copyrighted breeds of grains and vegetables have come to dominate and literally wipe out the previously adapted varieties of local farmers. Biotech manipulation of crop genes is just the latest twist in this quickening march toward on big field of standardized vegetable matter. This is the result of of farming organized around an unsustainable will to power, not around sustenance and ecological development. No single aspect of agricultural policy better proves this point than the issue of subsidies which the US and Europe provide their farmers in order to maintain their nation’s super-dominance of crop export markets, markets that undermine local production in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Andrew Revkin of the New York Times writes that, “Scattered around the world in jars, fields, freezers and vaults are tens of thousands of endangered varieties of wheat, yams and 19 other crops that underpin the global food supply. With disturbing regularity, experts say, this agricultural bounty is eroding as war, storms, scant money or bad management, particularly in the world’s poorest places, cause unique seed varieties to deteriorate or disappear.” Just like amphibians, the biodiversity of life created and sustained by (and thus sustaining) human beings is being wiped out. We are to blame.

The extinction of crop diversity gets to the core of the problem. The ecological crisis we are on the front end of is rooted in the exploitation of human beings by other human beings. To again draw from Bookchin, increasingly powerful hierarchies that organize and maintain capitalism (now by far the hegemonic social system in all parts of the planet) are founded in the exploitation of a majority of the planet’s peoples by a minority. The collapse of crop diversity is the result of the imposition of capitalist methods of agriculture on indigenous people’s around the world and various “free trade” agreements that have undermined local production for use. The process has been shaped by many contextual peculiarities, but has generally resulted in the enclosure and privatization of previously communal lands, the importation of new monocrop varieties, the mechanization of farming, and orientation of production for export or distribution through commodity markets. These markets are dominated by speculators concerned with profit maximization and exchange values, not ecological development or use value. This has proceeded through the barrel of a gun when necessary. From the sixteenth century to the early twentieth an enormous program of colonization and settlement eradicated indigenous autonomy and imposed the new economic system. From the mid-twentieth Century to the present the conquest of nature’s diversity as a necessary concomitant of the conquest of humans by other humans continues through neo-colonial discourses including “free trade,” “democracy promotion,” “development,” “foreign aid,” and now the “global war on terror.”

The crisis facing the seed stocks of crops around the world is fundamentally the same crisis facing frogs. And this is by no means limited to these two examples. The ecological crisis is all encompassing. The very foundations of life are being destroyed by our global social system, especially its capitalist economics and militaristic imperialism.

Thirty-seven years ago with the advent of the first Earth Day and the publication of several influential statements such as the Club of Rome’s “Limits to Growth,” along with the war’s raging in Southeast Asia, militant movement from black, Latino and indigenous groups throughout the US and beyond, the links between the ecological crisis and the social crisis were clear to many observers. Since then a highly developed literature has emerged on capitalism and nature, and possible alternatives spanning anarchist, socialist, feminist and other prespectives. However, the environmental movement has failed to embrace the necessary lessons from any of this, in part because these lessons are unacceptable to the corporations and consumer-classes that have become the main funders of this movement’s non-profit industry. Instead the environmental movement’s critical goals have developed, as most other movement’s have, within small cadres of radical activists who get it. Opposing this real movement are the larger well funded advocacy organizations with full times staffs that as of yet either do not understand the crisis, or for whom like their patrons the allure of power is too seductive, the death instinct too sweet to abandon. Thus, the mainstream environmental movement in the US and other “developed” nations consists of little more than feel good reformist politics targeting high profile issues such as global warming with strategies that propose nothing more than the greening of fundamentally withering-dead system.

Back here in Santa Barbara, the home of Earth Day, this ridiculous disconnect presents itself as the city hosts a large “sustainable” celebration for the holiday – attendees are urged to take the bus and utilize only recyclable goods – all the while a hot-rod enthusiast club parks dozens of gas guzzlers on the city’s main street only blocks away. The contrast is so ironic that few visitors fail to remark about it. The two celebrations couldn’t be more dissimilar, but even within the official earth day celebration the contradictions of mainstream environmentalism are glaring. Santa Barbara is like a microcosm of the world, a city with two classes, the rich and the poor. The rich live in opulent homes poised on hillsides overlooking the ocean and mountains. They hire the city’s poor largely Latino working class population as their gardeners and housekeepers. The city’s rich are elite members of the first world’s consumer class – the minority of the world’s population that consumes the vast majority of its petroleum, timber, minerals, water and produce. Ironically it is the city’s rich who are some of the most adamant about Earth Day. In addition to the holiday the affluent of Santa Barbara support a whole complex of non-profit organizations directed toward environmental advocacy issues. Most of these organizations pursue narrow incremental strategies to effect change. Perhaps it is all they can do? All the while the city’s consumer-class devours a steady stream of luxury cars, imported foods, copious amounts of electricity and water, their lifestyles are some of the most insanely supremacist in the world: they are totally and irrefutable unsustainable in both material and social terms. Their way of life depends wholly upon the subjugation and exploitation of others to produce the artifacts of pleasure and also upon the despoliation of the earth, land and sea – each overpowered, violated, poisoned by the hierarchy.

That a city like Santa Barbara can host an “Earth Day,” and claim credit for the holiday’s founding and spirit, without much cognitive dissonance for self-proclaimed environmentalists is indicative of the state of environmental politics. The city’s position and role in the global social-ecology of economic and militaristic domination has gone totally unrecognized year after year. The absurdity of celebrating the earth in a city inhabited by the top 1% of the world’s population who own the majority of the wealth and use up the majority of its resources at a rate far outstripping the planet’s ability to reproduce does not even appear before the alter of greening. The same applies for the United States as a whole.

The “environment” is still thought of as an “issue,” related primarily to our long-term “quality of life.” It is also thought of as a problem to be tackled by the government, industry and the occasional act of good earthly citizenship such as a beach clean-up. Even with the advent of high profile spokespersons, like Al Gore, who have the minimal courage to point out the more catastrophic implications of ecological change wrought by human activity, there remains such a disconnect between the kind of politics we need, and what we actually have. Thus, while biodiversity collapses and the planet’s average temperature rises, as the climate rapidly transforms on a global scale and the very biological processes and foundations of life are under threat, we are told by our federal government that:

“The nation's air is much cleaner today than it was in 1970 and progress will continue. The trend of annual loss of wetlands has been reversed. Restoration and redevelopment of abandoned industrial sites is accelerating. President Bush is meeting his commitment to reduce the National Park Service maintenance backlog.”

And if this were to be dismissed as Bush administration propaganda (which it is), take the Earth Day statement of one of the largest and most powerful environmental advocacy organizations in the United States, “What are you doing to reduce your carbon emissions?” asks the Sierra Club. “Building an energy-efficient house? Letting the sun dry your clothes? Walking or cycling to work? Taking the bus? Changing a light bulb or two? When it comes to global warming, we're all in it together, and we've all got to be part of the solution.” Good enough, but what about the social roots of the crisis? What about the centrality of war and domination of human by human? This, after all, is the ecological crisis in its most social and therefore practicable form.

In order for radical ecological politics to advance and become a force capable of displacing and dismantling the obfuscating aspects of mainstream environmentalism, a more forceful critique of the causes of the ecological crisis need to be articulated. An active effort must be made to discredit the politics of greening. Ecological activists must stop taking stances devoid of social critiques, whereas social justice and anti-war activists must more fully embrace the ecological core of thier work.

Mainstream environmental celebrations and education has so far helped to serve the publicity needs of corporations more than to reduce the balance of carbon emissions or boost ocean stocks of fish. Although it might be viewed as pragmatic to approach the environment as an issue, and although many concerned individuals activated by an environmental consciousness might actually view the problem as approachable through top-down reforms or technological fixes, the reality is that the crisis is being precipitated by industrial capitalism and militarism which sustains the consumerist lifestyle this politics props up. These two brotherly forces (one of production, the other destruction) exist by the conscious acceptance and promotion by those who rule this world and benefit from the spoils. Without an acknowledgment that we must change our global society from a capitalist empire into a world no longer based on hierarchical exploitation of human life and “natural resources” the environmental politics of the wealthy nations is doomed to futility. Lest this conclusion be read as a call to consciousness for the consumer-classes who now thrive in their artificial and insulated habitats of McMansions, shopping malls, highways and parks, I must add that it’s highly unlikely for the most privileged to wake up and understand what must be done. Even the hybrid car owners who shop at Whole Foods and espouse verbal concern for global warming are mostly unwilling to do what needs to be done. Doing so means purposefully abandoning their position of supremacy and privilege, giving up the weapons or racial, class and citizen privilege. It would mean taking one’s boot off the neck of the world’s majority. Seldom if ever has radical social change come about this way.

It’s very likely that mainstream environmental politics will endure as the feel good rationalizations of those who call the raping of the earth “agriculture,” and “mining,” the murder of forests and oceans “harvest,” and the oppression of their human others “employment.” Progress, after all, would come to a halt! The praxis of radical environmental politics that is guided by an understanding of the crisis in social-ecological terms already exists in the work, livelihoods and social movements of many of the dispossessed and discarded people’s of the world and many indigenous or locally rooted communities. We shouldn’t glorify all of the oppressed as many adopt the values and behavior of the oppressors, but many more are undermining the system and creating alternative social worlds and economic systems that avoid the ecological simplifications and insanity of the empire. More attention to these people’s visions and practices is necessary. Fewer celebrations of Earth Day by those who live in the consumer capitals of the empire would be a nice addition of honesty to this politics.


Is the UC a University, or Just Another Nuclear Weapons Firm?

UC Regents and Top Administrators Have Numerous Connections to the Nuclear-Military-Industrial Complex, Some Profitable, Many Unknown

S. Robert Foley, Robert C. Dynes and Richard Blum, three of the most powerful men in the University of California, each of whom have extensive connections to military-industrial firms and the US nuclear weapons complex. All three came into the university’s highest circle of power quite recently, during a time flagging morale at the UC’s nuclear weapons labs, and all three have since helped to shore up the university as a major military-industrial corporation in its own right. Each has sought to keep their ties, financial and otherwise, with some of the firms and institutions they worked with prior to joining UC.

In May of 2005 a group of students calling themselves the Coalition to Demilitarize the University of California gathered at the UC Regents’ meeting in San Francisco. Urging the governing Board of their university to cut ties with the two nuclear weapons labs it operates for the federal government the students were met with a deaf ear. Some of the Regents read newspapers during the public comment period while others chatted or snoozed, and several even exited the room altogether. Few on the board paid the students any attention, that is, until one student charged a member of the board with a conflict of interest.

Reading from a prepared statement, the UC Santa Cruz student described Regent Richard Blum’s business dealings with the Los Alamos nuclear weapons lab: “In July of 2000 URS Corporation was awarded a contract for design and construction services at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. This five-year contract (with a five option-year extension) will enrich URS by $25 million per year. Given Regent Richard Blum’s position on the UC Board of Regents, the public body that manages the Laboratory, and his position as Vice Chairman of the URS Corporation, a business that stands to profit from its work at the Laboratory, is this not a conflict of interests?”

The press took note, as did the Regents. Even after deciding – through some sort of legal acrobatics – that this was not a conflict of interests, UC Regent Richard C. Blum divested himself of URS stock in November of 2005 and resigned from his position as Vice Chairman of the company. All seemed well in the house of UC.

As journalist Peter Byrne’s latest investigations into Blum and his wife Senator Diane Feinstein have shown, however, Blum’s war profiteering hasn’t been solely confined to URS. Perini Corporation, an engineering giant feeding from the Iraq “reconstruction” trough has been another company controlled through Blum Capital Partners, Blum’s main investment vehicle. Equally, Blum’s various conflicts stemming from his connections to URS and position as a Regent were not limited to UC’s Los Alamos lab. The company held a contract worth $150 million for construction management services at UCLA’s Santa Monica Medical Center. URS also profited smartly off a July 2005 contract to provide management services for a major construction and engineering project at UC Berkeley.

But Blum hasn’t been the only person within the UC’s upper-echelons linked to URS Corp’s extensive university and military-industrial business. S. Robert Foley, the university’s Vice President for Laboratory Management – the man charged with overseeing UC’s nuclear weapons labs – was also a stockholder and director of URS Corporation prior to joining the UC’s office of the President (UCOP).

Elected to URS Corporation’s board of directors in 1994, a company press release described Foley as having a “distinguished career in both government and private enterprise.” The press release continues that, “Most recently, he was vice president of Commercial Marketing and Planning for Raytheon Co. Previously, he was vice chairman of ICF Kaiser Engineers, and assistant secretary for Defense Programs with the United States Department of Energy.” In other words URS brought in a Defense Department insider with strong experience and considerable wealth already built up from work in the arms industry. Foley had a long career in the nuclear weapons complex working under the Navy and Energy Department. He even headed up a blue ribbon commission to oversee nuclear weapons pit manufacturing and certification at Los Alamos Lab – the program being run by the UC-Bechtel team to produce plutonium bomb pits for the United States’ new nuclear weapon design, the Reliable Replacement Warhead. Upon leaving these public sector roles (actually largely overlapping with them) he assumed multiple for-profit positions dealing still with nuclear weapons and the arms industry, culminating in his election to the URS board or directors where he was handed over 9000 shares of the company’s stock.

Foley and Blum served alongside one another on URS Corporation’s board for the better part of a decade. During this time URS grew at an enormous rate through securing an increasing number of lucrative defense contracts, no doubt through both men’s extensive connections (Blum’s political and business oriented links and Foley’s military and business ties). One of the biggest deals during Foley and Blum’s tenure at URS involved the company’s acquisition of EG&G Technical Services from the Carlyle Group, a massive private equity firm with deep investments in the defense industry. The purchase was a logical investment for a company gearing itself up for increasingly large proportions of military related work, including nuclear weapons design and testing: EG&G was literally founded upon several technical products used to develop the first atomic weapons through the Manhattan Project. Today the EG&G division of URS produces a dizzying array of products and services for the military, from base/installation management services to engineering and logistics support for the Navy's Virginia Class Fast Attack Nuclear Submarine Systems.

In 2000 URS won its contract from UC’s Los Alamos to provide design and engineering services at the nuclear weapons lab. Foley and Blum pocketed the profits. Two years later Blum took up a seat on the UC Board of Regents. Three years later Foley accepted his new position: Vice President of the University of California for Laboratory Management. Both came directly over from URS, in a sense. Foley last appeared as a director and signatory for URS Corporation’s SEC filings in September of 2003. In October he was appointed UC Vice President. He cashed out of his URS stock only weeks prior reaping a hefty profit. The press release put out by the Regents upon his appointment as VP failed to mention Foley’s time and role at URS. Instead, UC’s spin on Foley’s new job focused on his career as a commander in the Navy and his work as an architect of the US nuclear weapons complex under President’s Reagan and George W. Bush. Nor did the press release mention the numerous corporate boards Foley sits upon: KEI Pearson, an analytical and instructional services firm focused on military sectors; Frequency Electronics, a components producer for missiles, military satellites and un-manned aerial vehicles; RSI Inc., producer and distributor of military electronics systems, and; Sage Laboratories, part of Filtronic plc, a major British electronics firm that producing semiconductors for the defense industry.

In fact, the number of corporations that Foley has had a hand in directing or has invested in is rather staggering. Foley has signed off on Securities and Exchange Commission forms for more than 15 corporations, most of which concentrate on arms manufacturing or services for the DoD and its prime contractors. None of this was mentioned, at least not to the public, students or university faculty when the Regents appointed him as Vice President for Lab Management.

Foley and Blum’s relationship prior to their time on the URS board remains unknown. Did Blum recruit Foley to URS’s board? Did Blum recruit Foley from URS to his present job as UC VP for lab management? How was it that both men ended up joining the board of Regents directly from URS Corp? What role did both these men have in building up URS as one of the largest military-industrial contractors with a presence in the nuclear weapons complex? And specific questions about each man’s knowledge and role in securing the Los Alamos contract remain unanswered. In 2005 Regent Blum simply dismissed any knowledge of the deal claiming that it was far to small and marginal for him to take interest in.

What is clear, however, is that a larger state of affairs is operating in the UC, one that is empowering and promoting administrators with direct ties to military-industrial corporations, especially those with ties and allegiances to the nuclear weapons complex. When the weapons labs were rocked with repeated management scandals the Regents selected Robert Dynes as President of the UC. Among the reasons for appointing Dynes was the fact that his background as a physicist with strong ties to the nuclear weapons labs bolstered the UC’s claim to retain Los Alamos, which at the time was up for bid by the Department of Energy. The Board essentially selected a university president based primarily on their desire to retain their management contract for Los Alamos. A team headed by the University of Texas and Lockheed Martin was competing hard for the contract, hoping to take over lab which has always been run by UC.

In response to this challenge the Regents selected a UC president who according to one UC press release, “is intimately familiar with the three national laboratories UC manages for the federal government. He is vice chair of the University of California President's Council on the National Laboratories and a member of the Los Alamos National Laboratory Oversight Board. In addition, he has had a 25-year association with the national laboratories as an adviser and consultant to the physics research and weapons programs.” In other words he was a slam dunk choice for Blum and the rest of the Regents. The Regents selected a “weaponeer” to run the university. Four months later they recruited a retired Navy Admiral over from URS Corporation to oversee their most treasured subsidiaries, the nuclear weapons labs. How much more of this story are we missing?