Inequality is so often misunderstood as an outgrowth of cultural deficiency. But contrary to popular belief (which pervades the right, left and centre of the political spectrum), we do not live under a meritocracy. Inequality is not the result of the superior or inferior work ethics of a society’s inhabitants.
To address Los Angeles’ housing crisis, Mayor Eric Garcetti has proposed a “linkage fee” on new development. The city would charge new residential developments of more than five units $12 a square foot, and new commercial developments $5 a square foot, to finance subsidized affordable housing.
By Riley O’Brien, UCLA Luskin graduate student
After Donald Trump’s election, the shock of his victory quickly gave way to uncertainty about the best way for progressives to respond. Some thinkers claimed that Hillary Clinton lost the election by emphasizing the needs of women, people of color, and LGBT people, and that the best way forward is to abandon so-called “identity politics”. Others, however, argued that the Democratic Party failed by ignoring the needs of the working class for decades, and that progressives should push the Democratic Party further to the left, or abandon it entirely. How, then, should progressives respond to Trumpism?
The answer is not to reject “identity politics.” The history of the United States is a history of racism and colonialism, from its origins as a European takeover of indigenous land through its growth on the backs of kidnapped and enslaved Africans. It is a history that continues today, from the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline on Sioux land to the privatization of the mass incarceration of African Americans and other people of color. Focusing on our identities makes us more aware of this history, and more understanding of how it affects the lived experience of people of color today. Expanding this understanding is the bare minimum requirement for a transition to a more just society.
We must emphasize that the same profiteering that underlies the Dakota Access Pipeline and the privatization of prisons also underlies the decline of the Rust Belt and the poverty of rural America. If we emphasize class identity when discussing these issues, we have a better chance of building solidarity between working class whites and people of color while broadening support for redistributive policies. We must acknowledge that criticism of the Democratic Party as elitist is largely justified, and that their failure to improve the material well-being of the working class helped lead to Trump’s election. In our increasingly divided time, criticisms of the racism and classism of the Democratic Party may be our only way of engaging Trump voters on these issues.
To challenge Trumpism, some people will focus on building a coalition that can actually defeat him in 2020, while others will focus on strengthening the Democratic Party in counties and states where it has been virtually sidelined as a major force. Yet progressives in cities and states that overwhelmingly vote Democratic have a responsibility to challenge the Trumpism of Democrats. Consider Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti, who is rumored to run for governor as a Democrat in 2018. Garcetti has refused to identify LA as a sanctuary city, instead calling for “greater transparency” in immigration enforcement. Furthermore, he has overseen a ban on sleeping in cars throughout the city, while supporting a $646 million per year policing contract for LA’s transit agency amid community protests.
As concerned as conservatives may be about “law and order,” there are Republicans, independents, and non-voters who will recognize these policies as unjust, and we can use criticism of Democrats to help them recognize broader patterns of oppression. It may be true that a generic Democrat is more likely to defeat Trump in 2020 than a left-leaning one, but we still have the time and energy to build a movement for systemic change. We can start by confronting Trumpism in our elected officials, our community leaders, and ourselves.
By Andrés Carrasquillo, UCLA Luskin graduate student
IID: Your pinned tweet is “DON’T MOURN, ORGANIZE. DON’T DESPAIR, CREATE.” What do you mean by ‘create’?
JC: Well, “Don’t mourn, organize” comes from the labor movement and the idea that we don’t have time to mourn. We have to get ourselves together. We have to get ourselves organized. I pinned this on the night of the election. A lot of the feedback I got that night was, like, “Fuck, give us time to mourn, please!” I hear that, you know?
The other part was about creating, the notion of not despairing. Not losing your energies to the forces that would want to hold you down, but to muster your forces in order to create. That was specifically around the notion of artistry, that artists have to create. We have to imagine the world that hasn’t been yet. The process of mobilizing, organizing, and then fighting for social justice is a process of creation.
IID: What prompted your book, We Gon’ Be Alright?
JC: I was charged with coming up with an introduction for the paperback edition of Who We Be. I went to Ferguson a year after the murder of Michael Brown for the anniversary demonstrations that organizers were putting together, and I came away deeply, deeply inspired. Inspired by the creative forces that were at work, the fact these were everyday folks. These were kids right out of high school or still in high school. These were workers, these were churchgoers, these were mothers, these were grandparents. These were folks who do not fall within the category of what respectability politics would determine to be a leader, you know what I mean? And across the board there was this very spiritual underpinning to the movement.
I was just really crazy inspired by that. I wanted to write about that, and it just poured out of me. I got to writing like 50 pages, turned that in, and then my editors were like, “This is great, but it’s not a new introduction for a book. It’s a new book. If you’re up for it, you got three months. Go. Do it.” [Laughs]. I’m like, “Okay, let’s do this.” The previous book took me eight years to write. This book kind of poured out of me in three months, four months.
IID: The cover image of your book is of two hands. It recalls the “Hands up, don’t shoot” rallying cry or hands raised in a sermon.
JC: Exactly, yes. Like in praise. Or in hip-hop, “Throw your hands in the air”. Or it could be joy.
This particular image came from a series of posters that Damon Davis produced. Between the moment that Governor Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency and the grand jury announcement—it was like a week or something—these posters went up. Damon, this amazing artist from East St. Louis, had wanted to create a work of art that would give hope to and reenergize all of the organizers that he was working with on a daily basis. People were feeling very broken down, feeling very stressed.
So, the way that Damon tells the story is that he came upon this image thinking about “Hands up”. He went to a lot of the leaders in the movement and took pictures of their hands. And there’s even a kid of one of the leaders who he took pictures of. The hands were white, they were black. He superimposed them on a white background and he made these full-sized posters. His idea was to put them up on the boarded up windows on West Florissant Avenue, which had been the site of all of these clashes between the young activists and the super-intensely militarized police ever since August 9, 2014. Once he did that, it completely transformed the block. Instead of having all of these businesses boarded up as if a hurricane was going to be coming through, you suddenly have these images that reflected back to the community their own kind of power.
IID: We’re talking on #J18 just before the “From the Frontlines of Justice” event, where you’ll be speaking. All day today, people at UCLA and at universities and organizations across the globe have organized to critically engage with the oncoming Trump presidency. How have you been participating?
JC: Over at the Asian American Studies Center we had a roundtable hangout discussion about ‘what now?’ with a number of young folks who work there. What now after Trump’s being elected? What now, given all of the appointees who are going in? What now, thinking about the kinds of work we need to do moving forward? Since the election I found myself wanting and needing to be with people who are thinking and who want to act with purpose.
You know, I’m somebody who has a lot of questions. I don’t have the answers, but I deeply trust the process. These conversations happening throughout the country will inevitably create the ideas and the actions to help us to move forward.
This interview was edited and condensed for clarity.
By Rachel Wells, UCLA Luskin doctoral student
Before attending the Institute on Inequality and Democracy’s J18 events, a day focused on the ideas of Teach.Organize.Resist. two days before the presidential inauguration, I read a post on the role of social work in a Trump administration (Hayes, Karpman, & Miller, 2016). Drawing from the NASW code of ethics, this article helped me reflect on our roles as social workers and of the social work profession in this (extended) moment. I identify with the social work profession, but as a doctoral student, I am entering a newer role as a social work researcher. As events unfold, both the actions that harm communities and the language that targets and demonizes populations, how is this resistance part of my work as a social work researcher? While I currently have more questions than answers, I am reflecting on how the themes of Teach.Organize.Resist. and the inspiration from J18 events should be part of social work research.
I have chosen to locate my doctoral studies in the field of social welfare, a field that is rooted in practice and work with communities and I do this research with a goal of informing practice. I am studying nonprofits and service delivery, but these nonprofits and the communities they work with are facing (and will be facing) new challenges. As my research agenda develops, I am constantly challenged by how I should work with nonprofits during this moment. I am concerned about not only whether research questions are thoughtful and relevant for communities, but I also question how the process of research can be applicable for practice. Differences such as how changes that affect communities can happen faster than research timelines existed before this administration, but this difference in timing seems like a greater challenge for making research relevant in this current administration.
I recognize that I write from a position of privilege as many actions have not affected me directly. I also talk about this time of crisis fully aware that many communities were already facing crises. The narratives that target populations, such as recent comments about how people cannot afford health care because of choices to purchase iPhones and blaming people in poverty for their lack of health care, are not new narratives and have contributed to this current situation. So as I reflect on my role with social work research, this is not a new responsibility. But as social welfare systems could face (and already are facing) significant changes and attacks on populations become even more intense, this is a reminder of the work we need to do and the conversations that should happen both among practitioners and researchers.
While challenges are not new, there are some tough conversations ahead for social welfare systems. What happens as the social contract changes? If researchers want to inform practice, how should research change in this moment? As researchers, can we can challenge a field (and very much ourselves at the same time) to not replicate power differences in this time of crises? A call for advocacy within social work is important but may not be enough, how do we work with the social welfare field to imagine different possibilities? I recognize that I have only addressed these issues at a surface level and I am still learning my role as a researcher. But as I follow-up on the ideas from Teach.Organize.Resist. and think about how a university can be part of the front lines, I hope to continue these conversations around the role of research and not only challenge ourselves in our activism but in our research.
My pinned tweet says that I will neither participate in nor condone the normalization of Trumpism. I might have to keep it posted for the full four years of the (first) Trump presidency. After all, the normalization of the Trump regime is fully underway, from calls for a peaceful transition of power to those for unity and healing across electoral allegiances. President Obama described the election as an “intramural scrimmage” insisting that “we’re Americans.”
Donald J. Trump’s election was a national trauma, an epic catastrophe that has left millions in the United States and around the world in a state of utter shock, uncertainty, deep depression, and genuine fear. The fear is palpable and justified, especially for those Trump and his acolytes targeted—the undocumented, Muslims, anyone who “looks” undocumented or Muslim, people of color, Jews, the LGBTQ community, the disabled, women, activists of all kinds (especially Black Lives Matter and allied movements resisting state-sanctioned violence), trade unions. . . the list is long. And the attacks have begun; as I write these words, reports of hate crimes and racist violence are flooding my in box.
Institute on Inequality & Democracy at UCLA Luskin
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