Cities as if Women Mattered a special series of La Voz de Esperanza by Marisol Cortez
Lawsuit Update: Hays Street Bridge Restoration Group vs City of San Antonio | p.2 In the Shadow of the Pearl: Updates and Intros | p.3-5 Mobilities, Crises and Removals | p.6-8 Thinking Hays Street and HemisFair in an Era of Neoliberal Urbanism | p.9-12 Right to the City, Rights of Nature | p.13-18 Beyond Development: Alternatives, Models, and Tactics | p.19-28
Hays Street Bridge Restoration Group vs. City of San Antonio
e haven’t updated gente for awhile on what’s been going on around the Hays Street Bridge struggle, so we wanted to pass on the latest developments!
On the legal front, the Restoration Group and supporters recently prevailed against the City of San Antonio in a significant hearing held June 12th at the Bexar County courthouse. At that hearing, Judge David A. Canales ruled in favor of the Restoration Group on both motions under consideration. First, Canales blocked the City of San Antonio’s motion to claim governmental immunity from the suit and thereby throw out the aspect of the lawsuit alleging the city’s breach of contract with the Restoration Group. Debbie Klein, attorney for the City, attempted to argue that there was no contract for services involved in its dealings with the Restoration Group, because the group only gave money and not services and because it was not paid in cash for these fundraising services. Attorney for the Restoration Group, Amy Kastely, was successful in arguing that although the Restoration Group did not get cash for fundraising, in exchange for its efforts–the City promised to apply all resources (funds and land) to the restoration project. She also argued, successfully, that based on precedent from other cases and state law, the City’s interpretation of “services” was not accurate. One implication of these findings is that the agreement between the Restoration Group and the City is
Most significantly, the courtroom was filled with Hays Street Bridge Restoration Group supporters, who filled up one entire side of the courtroom. As Kastely said after the hearing, “It’s just amazing that when community’s here, the judge is so much more attentive. He knows that it matters...your presence makes a difference.” The jury trial over the Hays Street Bridge Restoration Group’s claim that the City’s sale of the land at 803 N. Cherry violated the terms of its contract with the city and violated state law on the sale of park lands will take place October 7th of this year at the Bexar County Courthouse.
We wish to remind everyone that legal strategies are not ends in themselves, but tools for getting organized as community. As we approach the date of the jury trial, we’ll be calling on the support of everyone who cares about issues of public space, cultural and historic preservation, democratic process, fair and accountable “development,” and ecological survival to help build a movement for our right to the city and the rights of la madre tierra! n
For info on community meetings + how to get involved call 210.228.0201 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
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On the organizing front, we have been supporting the work of the Hays Street Bridge Restoration Group through our Puentes de Poder public education program, which has been focusing on the concept of “right to the city” in a 6-month series called “Cities of Hope.” We’ve done free film screenings and pláticas on the Hays Street Bridge and are looking forward to sessions in July and August. Check the back page of this edition of La Voz for details.
a contract and that the group can proceed in October with its breach of contract claim against the city. Additionally, the City conceded the Restoration Group’s motion to compel it to comply with the discovery process. Attorney Kastely maintains that the City has been withholding documents, including info about backroom negotiations that took place between the developer and the City before the Hays Street Bridge Restoration Group had any knowledge of the City’s plans; the City now has two weeks to comply.
he Rise of the immigration industrial com Part One
Cities as if Women Mattered: A Four Part Series
In the Shadow of the Pearl: Updates and Intros by Marisol Cortez
In August of 2012, I attended the city council meeting in which the council voted unanimously in favor of the Alamo Brewery project,
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pending its approval by the federal and state agencies that granted the funds used to restore the Hays Street Bridge. I went to that meeting to speak in support of the Hays Street Bridge Restoration Group in their fight to protect the bridge as both historic landmark and public right of way, and to preserve the open space around Bridge neighbors and community members gathered at the Hays St. Bridge in December, 2012 before boarding the bridge for development buses to City Hall to announce a lawsuit against the City of San Antonio. as a community park, as the Group had intended in its years of collaboration with the city. At that meeting, however, the house on East Mulberry, then exit Josephine, then right on Euclid. city voted to essentially give the land, originally donated to the Back then, in the 1980s, when the Pearl was still open as a major Restoration Group for the park idea, to brewery developer Eu- employer, the area was a mix of residential and commercial uses. gene Simor –offering him a grant in the amount of the land sale. Crossing the San Antonio River on Josephine, you would pass the In addition, Council voted to give Simor an incentives package leaning Liberty Bar, then Hawthorne Elementary, where my mom worth $794,000, and approved licensing agreements that would worked as a special ed teacher, then the Royal Crown bottling allow him to use the land beneath the bridge for events, to place plant, just a few blocks from my grandparents’ house. Driving tables and chairs on the bridge deck, and to attach a skywalk to past the plant, I would fantasize about finding soda sitting outside the bridge approaches. in unopened glass bottles –cola or 7Up or Orange Crush –free for These details aside, what struck me at that meeting was a the taking. Other distribution centers dotted the modest working comment by one of the project’s proponents, who drew parallels class, largely mexicano neighborhood of my grandparents: there between redevelopment at the Pearl and Simor’s proposed mi- was the Borden bottler with its smiling cow logo, smelling sourly crobrewery project. Like the upscale breweries and restaurants at of milk as we would drive by; there was the fenced-in concrete the Pearl and Blue Star, she said, the Hays Street Bridge project pad that served as storage site for a local sign company, across the would stimulate the development of new residential living spaces street from where we would park on Myrtle Street. downtown, beautifying an area long neglected and blighted. The By the time of my own childhood, many of these businesses, logic feels impeccable when couched in these terms. Who doesn’t like the Pearl, were soon to close. Back in the 50s and 60s, when want to beautify what is ugly, to revivify what has been neglected my dad and his siblings were growing up, the area was something and underutilized? Yet I found myself feeling anger at her words. of a commercial corridor, some of it industrial scale and some of My father grew up in the neighborhood east of N. St. Mary’s it local. In addition to RC, PepsiCo also operated a bottler in the and south of Josephine, just north of downtown, in the shadow of neighborhood; in addition to Borden, there was Foremost. Besides the Pearl Brewery. As a child, when we would visit my grandpar- the milk companies, there was an ice cream factory. Across from ents, that’s where we would go: a short dash down 37 from our the RC bottler on Josephine St. was a large cleaners that spanned
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Cities as if Women Mattered: A Four Part Series
the river. Across from my grandmother’s house stood a printing and electronics shop. One of their neighbors, a friend of my grandmother’s, ran the Tacoland before it became the music venue made infamous by Ram Ayala’s shooting death. Across the street from the Tacoland was a local BBQ place where workers from the area would go for lunch; everyday at 12 noon, the whistle would blow at the Pearl to announce the lunch break, a sonic stamp in the landscape of my father’s memory. He and his brothers would fish in the river and raid the dumpsters behind the ice cream factory for discarded five gallon tubs, amazed to discover so many free frozen treats. My father also remembers the sight of green discharge flowing into the river from one of the milk factories. Back then, the city had not yet constructed the diversion channels that steered the river clear of the central business district downstream in times of flooding. “It was just a plain river,” my dad remembers. “It went right through town.” At the end of the street was a little grocer on the corner of E. Myrtle and N. St. Mary’s, the Red and White where my grandmother would send my father and his siblings on errands, armed with a list. There is nothing necessarily scientific about these sights, these smells. They are just memories, just words relayed to me, the thread that tethers me to a sense of place: but this is what I think about when I hear the words of the woman at the council meeting. The coded ugliness creeping around the edge of her praise for the Pearl’s redevelopment –blighted, vacant, beautified– prising apart a gulf between her knowledge of the neighborhood and mine, what she thinks she knows and my memories. Just an ordinary neighborhood. Just people working, living, even after the factories began to board up and leave. How dare you suggest that what remains is blighted. How dare you say that what has replaced it now is an improvement on what was there. Who dares to say which lives and modes of living have more value and which have less. Who dares suggest that what and who came before were the wrong sorts. I want to tap her on the shoulder and tell her this. I want to look up her name and send her an email. But I don’t.
ince the land sale and bridge licensing
at that August city council meeting, much has happened in the fight over the Hays Street Bridge in a relatively short period of time. After the vote, we learned of a state law that protects public lands like parks –whether designated, used, or understood as such –from their sale to private developers without a prior public election. This is the same law the city is now trying to skirt in the case of HemisFair’s redevelopment, and it gives registered voters a way to petition local government for an election in the event that a city does sell park land. On the basis of this statute, the Restoration Group and supporters began a petition process calling for a public election on the land sale. In about six weeks, we collected over 2800 signatures, which we submitted to the city clerk’s office on October 1st. Around the same time, we learned that the Federal Highway Administration had weighed in against
Above: A press conference on the steps of City Hall announced the lawsuit against the City of San Antonio. Below: Gustavo Sánchez holds a sign at a press conference convened to submit petitions against the city’s land sale.
the project, stating that the city’s plans fell outside the scope of the funding’s original intent to restore the bridge as a public right of way, and that “the Federal government is not in the practice of funding projects for the benefit [of] a private developer.” Predictably, the city responded that the petition was invalid and that the statute did not apply, given that the land had not been officially designated as a park, despite its donation for that purpose and despite the long process of collaboration between the Restoration Group and the city toward developing the land to that
After several community discussions, we therefore decided in November to file a lawsuit against the
city –not only for its use of the letter of the law to betray the spirit of the law protecting public lands and public space, but for its breach of contract with
the Restoration Group, which raised funds and solicited the land donation in order to obtain the $2.89 million in federal matching funds used to restore the bridge.
Editor’s note: In the Shadow of the Pearl is the first installation in a 4-part series that will include: Thinking Hays St and Hemisfair in an Era of Neoliberal Urbanism (Mar 2013), Right to the City, Rights of Nature (Apr 2013) and Beyond Development: Alternatives & Tactics (May 2013). Bio: Marisol Cortez, Ph.D, attempts to inhabit the impossible interstices between academic and activist worlds. She works primarily on issues of environmental justice as a creative writer, community organizer and liberation sociologist. Email her at: email@example.com
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end. After several community discussions, we therefore decided in November to file a lawsuit against the city –not only for its use of the letter of the law to betray the spirit of the law protecting public lands and public space, but for its breach of contract with the Restoration Group, which raised funds and solicited the land donation in order to obtain the $2.89 million in federal matching funds used to restore the bridge. We filed this suit at the county courthouse in early December, accompanied by a lively press conference that began at the bridge –under a banner reading Private Hands Off Public Lands –and then traveled by bus to the courthouse downtown, where about 50 bridge neighbors and community supporters gathered to demand: Whose Bridge? Our Bridge! And, Whose Land? Our Land! Since then, we have been waiting for the city’s response and preparing to file an injunction to halt progress on the brewery project until the lawsuit is resolved. Once this injunction is filed, we will need to call on community to attend hearings with us and support what is sure to be a long-term effort. To do that, though, it is imperative that we understand the wider issues at stake. Press conferences and lawsuits are not ends in themselves, and they are useless if they do not serve the wider purposes of organizing and educating ourselves as community –so that we can more effectively educate those with the power to make decisions that impact our lives. As District 2 councilwoman Ivy Taylor herself said at the August 2nd city council meeting, the spectre of gentrification lurks behind the struggle over the bridge, and it is time for a more substantive, community-based discussion of this issue. For instance, the words of the woman at the council meeting suggest a number of ideas I have heard repeated throughout this campaign, and which suggest the need for a deep-
er historical and sociological analysis of these contests over urban space. Chief among these ideas are three: 1) Gentrification is a synonym for revitalization –taking a blighted area and making it beautiful and desirable again; 2) Gentrification is simply a neutral process of neighborhood change over time; as such, it is natural or inevitable; and 3) This struggle is simply about buildings; those who fight to preserve features of the built environment in historically neglected parts of town care more about buildings (or bridges) than people. It is my hope that this series can begin to explore these issues over the next few months, in tandem with what we hope can be a vibrant movement to preserve not just public spaces that belong to us, but the commons to which we belong. The argument I want to develop is that in the transformation of my father’s childhood neighborhood at the edge of downtown, and in the current transformation of neighborhoods like it –like Dignowity Hill where the Hays Street Bridge sits –we can see the outline of broad historical and global economic shifts rendered local. The shift from industrial bottling to boutique microbrewing and from stable working class neighborhoods to pricey downtown lofts speaks a global shift from monopoly to neoliberal forms of capital and governance, manifested before our eyes in the urban landscape. Through this series, I want to explore the deeper histories that have shaped these present-day contests over land, and their implications for our ability to construct more democratic and ecologically just relations to urban space as nature, a nature that has disappeared in plain sight. The ultimate horizon of this exploration is to question the concept of development itself as a taken for granted good, challenging the overly simple idea that the public subsidy of private investment brings benefits to working class communities –the very trickle down strategies critiqued by Mayor Castro on the national stage, even as they are implemented locally. We need to talk about the global and national histories that inform local decision making over land use, simply because these broader dynamics mean that the struggles we see in San Anto over water, land, and sky are not isolated or unique. That they are not means, too, that collective solutions are already underway that we might connect with –what many have called the movement to demand a “right to the city,” a right not only to “participate democratically in the production of urban space,” but also the right to produce space that prioritizes the needs of inhabitants. In the words of Gihan Perera and Connie Cagampang Heller, this means affordable housing, living wages, quality education, and universal health care; in other words, this means a “re-designing and running [of] cities as if women matter.” n
Cities as if Women Mattered: A Special Voz Series by Marisol Cortez
Mobilities, Crises and Removals
mobilities, and whose, have been given priority in the city’s historic development North at the expense of the urban core? Whose mobilities, and what kind, are given preference now in the plans to reinvest in downtown, whether we’re talking about bridges or parks or streetcars? Whose uses and rights of passage through urban space count, and who gets cut off or shut out or displaced? Who has a right to the city, and why? As I cross the bridge, as
Xochitl plays in front of our casita by the highway. Photo by Marisol Cortez
I pass under the highway--past sidewalk encampments, backed by chainlink fencing serving as impromptu clothes racks--I think about whose bike riding counts: the recreational riders able to afford bike rental from the B-cycle program? Or the day laborers who ride without helmet, against traffic, on their beat up mountain bikes? I think about the homeless man who helped us collect petition signatures opposing the city’s brewery deal and land sale last July 4th, before the fireworks display. A participant in a clinical trial, he was intimately familiar with the bridge, using it daily to walk back and forth from where he stayed on the Eastside to the trial downtown. When we explained the purpose of the petition to him, he immediately understood its implications for him as a foot traveler and as a poor person. Build the brewery, and the bridge would no longer function as a connector between Eastside and downtown. Not for people like him, or for the man who patrols the bridge in his wheelchair each evening, who lives at the base of the bridge. Build the brewery, and the bridge would instead become a destination for those with other kinds of mobility, traveling by car from other places, with cash to spend upon arrival. Not a bridge for inhabitants walking from point A to point B, but a bridge for visitors. Not a structure that facilitates historical memory, or deeper still, an ecological memory of the respiratory timescale that persists beneath the industrial landscape. Rather,
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live on the eastern periphery of downtown, literally on the access road of I-37 as it roars its way South of the Alamodome. Open my front door and there is the highway, the Tower to your right; to your left is the federal green sign that points you coastward, where I was born. Behind my house run the Union Pacific tracks. You can sit on my front stoop and twice yearly watch the fireworks bloom from the base of the Tower. You can sit at the writing desk that I pushed up to the window and gaze out across the highway to the Lavaca neighborhood on the other side, imagining that by unfocusing your eyes just so, you can suture the two neighborhoods back together, making whole what the highway split. Imagining that the respiratory timescale of trees and season persist, just perceptible, pulsing just below the skin of the highway with its line of cars blurring past, so constant as to be negligible. Almost. I moved into this little house of my uncle’s, east of downtown, when I came back home from Whose uses Kansas. Other neighborhoods have begun to change to the North and rights of and East of the Dome, but here on this street passage through and the streets behind, it’s still the barrio. urban space count, Just a matter of time, though. They’ve startand who gets cut ed to shut down my street for UTSA games at the Dome--my uncle off or shut out or and aunt and neighbors scrambling to scoop up displaced? Who the cash dropped for parking by impatient has a right to the fans, $20 or $30 per backyard spot--and I city, and why? wonder how long it will be before developers start buying up houses or pushing for eminent domain if they have to, like they did to build the interstate highway that serves as my front yard. When I can, I like to ride my bike to work. Lately, I’ve been using the Hays Street Bridge to get from the Eastside to downtown and beyond, and it’s gotten me thinking about mobilities, a term sociologists use to talk about the importance of flows-of goods, information, bodies, images, wastes--to the workings of power within post-industrial societies like ours. What kind of
a structure for harnessing the flow of capital, positioning the city within a global economic order. What are the longer historical forces behind the present trend toward privatizing public spaces like bridges and parks? This second segment of the series begins to provide an explanation, for my own desire to understand where I live and what I live amidst as much as for the community of readers. To that end, these next couple of segments run the risk of being a little didactic and dense, but with good reason: as I mentioned in my first article (February 2013 issue of La Voz), understanding why we fight over the fate of a house or a bridge requires an understanding of the deeper historical and sociological forces that shape urban space for some interests and not for others. When we understand this wider context, we are in a better position to understand why city efforts to redirect capital to the deindustrialized urban core, the “decade of downtown” called for by SA2020, often means displacement rather than revitalization, profit for developers rather than redistribution of wealth. In short, we see not a reversal of neglect and disenfranchisement, but the newest phase of its manifestation. Same wolf, different costume.
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Boom and Bust Understanding the fight over the Hays Street Bridge as a land struggle first requires a basic understanding of the logic of capitalism as an economic system, as this logic makes up the most bigpicture set of limits within which cities make decisions about land use. While some of this information may feel a little like Marxism 101, it’s important to recognize (as I tell my students) that Marxist theory is one of the foundations of sociology, which emerged as a discipline in order to understand the new forms of social organization and inequality historically specific to industrialized societies. Far from being an ideological position, these early insights into the nature of capitalism continue to inform basic sociological understandings of structural inequality (racism, sexism, classism, colonialism, environmental injustice) in the 21st century. Here is how I’ve explained it to my students. Capitalism is not simply an economy based on money, but an economy based on commodification--what we might think of as “thingification.” Within capitalism, everything (nature, goods, human labor) is reduced to the status of a thing, an object capable of exchange between buyer and seller. Exchanged for what? Not for other useful things, but for a surplus--profit--which can then be reinvested to produce more profit the next go round. Carrots are produced not to eat directly or to trade for potatoes to eat, but to maximize the production of a surplus that can be used to produce more carrots, ad infinitum. It’s not that carrots can’t still be eaten, but that this is no longer the point of the system. The value of carrots as something that satisfies a human need is secondary to their value as things useful in maximizing profit for those who control the process of producing them. Two other familiar fea-
tures of capitalism as an economic system are important here. The first is class society, or the inherently unequal balance of power between those who control the process of production (the land, machines, and factories involved in making stuff) and those who do not, and who consequently are forced to work for wages in the employ of those who own. Although Marx was clearly writing in a very different historical context, in which divisions between owners and workers was much more simple and stark, recent attention to the 99% versus the 1% continues to capture the reality that while capitalism as a system produces vast wealth, this wealth is concentrated in the hands of a very few, both within the U.S. and globally. According to Marx, this is because profit comes from an appropriation of the wealth that workers produce above and beyond their wages--but also, significantly, from an appropriation of the commons (land, air, water as resources and waste sinks) as “free” gifts of nature. The second feature of the system important to this discussion is the set of contradictions inherent to the capitalist logic of “grow or die,” manifesting as a boom-and-bust pattern of repeated crises. Some of these contradictions are socioeconomic, as we have seen with the housing market collapse and, arguably, the fracking boom south of SA. Here, boom conditions (like the discovery of natural gas deposits trapped in shale) lead to speculative reinvestment of profit, which produces a ‘bubble,’ or an artificially inflated set of market conditions. Eventually the bubble bursts; eventually, the continual reinvestment of surplus to produce more surplus leads to a crisis of overaccumulation: too much surplus with no way to reinvest it, no further potential for profit. This is the point at which companies pull out of once-impoverished communities, leaving them impoverished once more; at which the stock market crashes and unemployment spikes, at which the housing market collapses and an epidemic of foreclosures ensues. And some of the contradictions of capitalism are ecological, in that an economy geared toward infinite growth bumps up against the finite nature of its resource base--as we see with the current climate destabilization produced by a carbon-intensive industrial economy that needs to blow off the tops of mountains, or transport tarsands crude from Native lands in Canada to the cancer-stricken neighborhoods of the Houston Ship Channel, all to keep the whole thing going just a little while longer. What do these inherent tendencies toward social inequality, ecological destruction, and boom and bust have to do with land use decisions within cities? As urban geographer David Harvey explains, urbanization has historically functioned to regulate crises of accumulation by absorbing and disposing of surplus. What this means is that when bubbles have burst, building and tearing down and rebuilding urban infrastructure has been one way that governments have attempted to regulate crises of overaccumulation and unemployment (war is another). Or, as stated more simply by historian Dolores Hayden, “home building [becomes] as a business strategy for economic recovery” (2002, 39). This is not a new pro-
and West sides, while intentional investment in new growth on the Northside has starved these sides of town of funds, basic services and infrastructure. At the same time, investment to the North has encouraged sprawl that threatens the aquifer that provides water to the entire city. As Hayden argues, the two-tier housing policy also significantly impacted how cities were designed and what they were designed for. In the mid-20th century, “the suburbanization of the United States was not merely a matter of new infrastructures. … [I]t also entailed a radical transformation in lifestyles, bringing new products from housing to refrigerators and air conditioners, as well as two cars in the driveway and an enormous consumption of oil” (Harvey 2008, 27). As highways were built and cities rescaled, urban planners increasingly designed urban space for cars, and hence for the auto- and petroindustries. But the advent of “automobility” has had vast implications not only for public health and the wellbeing of the global environment, but for possibilities of creating and sustaining public life within urban spaces. In part, this is because highway construction and urban renewal programs have often meant the decimation of intact neighborhoods and Cartoon by Stephanie McMillan, whose radical comix can be found @ stephaniemcmillan.org community serving businesses; according to Gihan Perera of the Miami Workers’ Center, since the 1960s urban renewal programs Urban Renewal = Black and Mexican Removal have undertaken the removal of 1600 black neighborhoods around In the United States, the economic changes brought about by the country (Tides Foundation 2007, 8). In downtown San Antonio, mid-20th century urbanization and suburbanization have been in- urban renewal meant the displacement of an estimated 1200 resiseparable from histories of racial segregation. As Hayden writes, dences by HemisFair Park and the economic segregation of both “postwar suburbs represented the deliberate intervention of the Eastside and Westside by the construction of I-37 and I-35. But the federal government into the financing of single-family housing threat to democratic public life arises also in the attempted soluacross the nation. For the first time, the federal government pro- tion to these histories of inner city neglect, which too frequently vided massive aid directed to developers. [B]ankers, real estate means the privatization of central city plazas, parks, and spaces, brokers, builders, and manufacturers … lobbied for government rather than true public investment in the most vulnerable neighsupport for private development of small homes to boost con- borhoods and residents. In the context of historical disinvestment, “wholesale gentrification is then seen as revitalization. Frequently, sumption” (39). However, people of color were largely excluded from this push however, this means existing residents are priced out and poverty toward subsidized homeownership, through segregationist prac- migrates elsewhere” (19). Understanding these more recent dynamics as the backdrop to tices in mortgage guarantees (ensured by the Veterans’ Adminiscurrent struggles over public lands at Hays Street and Hemisfair tration for white male veterans only), redlining (refusal by banks (aka The Park Formerly Known as HemisFair) requires an underand insurance companies to extend home loans to residents of parstanding of the global transition to neoliberal forms of capitalticular areas of the city), and racial restrictions within suburbs. As ism, as this transition has informed how city governments make white flight populated the suburbs, the flight of jobs and capital decisions about local land uses. It also requires understanding the away from the urban core prompted by urban renewal meant, efparticular character of privatization occurring--more often via the fectively, a policy of urban disinvestment, which created poverty civil, reasonable-sounding public-private partnership than via the that was not only spatially concentrated but also racialized. brutality of eminent domain. Next month, then, we tackle Hays Hayden calls this a “two-tier” housing policy, where “cramped Street and Hemisfair in the context of what scholars call “neolibmulti-family housing for the poor would be constructed by public eral urbanism.” Stay tuned! o authorities, while more generous single-family housing for white, male-headed families would be constructed by private developers Bio: Marisol Cortez attempts to inhabit the impossible interstices bewith government support. This policy disadvantaged women and tween academic and activist worlds. She works primarily on issues of people of color, as well as the elderly and people of low incomes” environmental justice as a creative writer, community organizer and (41). In San Antonio, racially restricted housing covenants pushed liberation sociologist. Email her with thoughts at cortez.marisol@ the city’s majority brown and black residents to the South, East, gmail.com. cess historically. Harvey points out that in mid-19th c. Paris, the urban planner George-Eugene Haussmann headed a massive public works project that absorbed “huge quantities of labour and capital by the standards of the time and, coupled with suppressing the aspirations of the Parisian workforce, was a primary vehicle of social stabilization” (2008, 26). Closer to home, urbanization (and war) helped pull the U.S. out of the Great Depression in the mid-20th century, with the construction of the interstate highway system and the flight of capital from the downtown core to the suburbs fostering the geographic expansion of cities. This was an era of what Harvey and others have called monopoly capitalism: think the stable, unionized factory jobs of Detroit that have become a thing of the past in a more recent era of deindustrialization and outsourcing.
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PART THREE Cities as if Women Mattered: a special series of La Voz
by Marisol Cortez
Thinking Hays Street and HemisFair in an Era of Neoliberal Urbanism
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ne of the common misunderstandings about the struggle over the fate of the Hays Street Bridge is that the struggle is merely about the integrity of the bridge as a physical structure. It’s not: at bottom, it is about relations between people, about the relations of inequality that motivate conflicting desires for urban space. The struggle over the Hays Street Bridge exposes the bigger forces driving downtown redevelopment generally, forcing the question of whether those forces serve those most vulnerable or whether they work in the interest of the most connected and secure. What happens to the bridge and the land surrounding tells us much about how we relate to one another, and how we relate to the land itself, as nature: that’s why it matters.
In previous segments of this series, we’ve been discussing the nature of these social and environmental relations, widening our lens so as to sketch out the basic characteristics of capitalism that inform land use decisions within cities. Overall, following urban geographer David Harvey, we’ve argued that the logic of capitalism is the logic of “accumulation through dispossession,” the logic of the land grab: the creation of wealth for a few through the enclosure and privatization of the commons that the many depend on—the land, air, and water which belong to everyone and to which we all belong. We’ve also argued that urbanization is one way that the state attempts to regulate “crises of accumulation,” or the patterns of boom and bust inherent to a capitalist economy. Building up cities to tear them down to build them up again is one way of absorbing surplus capital and labor during inevitable times of recession. In the third segment of this series, we continue exploring the struggles around the Hays Street Bridge and downtown redevelopment in relation to these two arguments, asking: How do the city’s plans for downtown and its peripheral neighborhoods represent a new phase of “accumulation through dispossession”—profit through land grabbery? The case I want to make is that we cannot understand the city’s plans, nor resistance to them, without understanding what Julie Sze and other
omy in the global North; and—perhaps most significantly—the withdrawal of state regulation to permit and encourage capital’s new border-hopping, globalized character. Where monopoly capitalism was stable and centralized, neoliberal capitalism is flighty and unstable, with even less of a commitment to location. Neoliberal capitalism is also notorious for restricting posThe importance of understanding a technical mouthful like sibilities for a democratic political process, as it has meant the “neoliberal urbanism” is the importance of placing local efforts greater power of transnational corporations to shape the lives to protect public spaces into the wider context of long term shifts and wellbeing of local populations, with less input from those at the level of both national and global economies. Within the most impacted and with far less accountability to national govpast 40 years, the development of a neoliberal style of capitalernments. ism has produced new strategies of profit-making, new forms of Within cities, neoliberal restructuring has also meant “exurban governance, and new kinds of urban spaces and identities tensive changes in the institutions of urban governance,” acas well. As Gihan Perera from Miami Worker’s Center puts it: cording to geographer Mark Purcell. Whereas the function of “Take New York, for instance. To really understand the econolocal government in an earlier era of monopoly capitalism was my and structure of New York, you need to understand its role to administer federal distributions, Purcell states that the “local in finance and real estate not only in New York but throughout economy [is now] increasingly less a function of the national the globe. … [Similarly,] Miami holds almost every bank headeconomy[.] Local governments have become more concerned quarters in Latin America, and most decisions about investment with ensuring that the local area competes effectively in the are happening in cafeterias across the street from those banks global economy”—as evident in the emphasis of SA2020 on beon Brickell Avenue in Miami. And it’s from that context that coming a “world class” city. In this shift, local governments have investment and economic and policy decisions are being made begun to contract out previthroughout the world.” To understand ously public functions and local fights around Hays Street and services to “volunteer orgaHemisFair, we have to think global, nizations and private forms, . . . what we see in case of the in other words—which means underand [they] have developed standing the shift to neoliberal forms Alamo brewery project is that, quasi-public bodies—such of capitalism insofar as these shape as … urban development in the most cynical manner, the urban governance, and by extension, corporations and public prithe production of urban space. vate partnerships—to carry city is using programs intended As urban geographer David Harout many of the functions of vey put it in 1990, neoliberalism is a to reverse decades of inner city local government.” In this “different regime of accumulation,” way, corporations become disinvestment and resulting a new stage of capitalism that has the model for public entities emerged since the crash of the global (education, health care, parks racialized poverty as tools of property market in the 1970s, promptand recreation, arts), which ing a shift in how capitalism works on gentrification, displacement, more and more are forced to the economic, political, and cultural function like for-profit indusand resettlement. levels. While the essential logic—actry (witness the renaming of cumulation through dispossession— the city’s Office of Cultural has remained the same, this logic has Affairs as the Department of a different style and flavor. On the Creative Development, rideconomic level, no longer do we see the post-WWII triumvirate ing the wave of neoliberal rhetoric around “creative economies” of big business held in check by big labor and big government. driven by the “creative class”). As on the global level, the chief This earlier era of what Harvey and others have called moside effect of these developments has been the disenfranchisenopoly or Fordist capitalism was marked by large, centralized ment of urban residents, as real decision-making is transferred manufacturing sites able to offer workers a standard of living from local governments to the developers and industry boosters approximating something called “middle class” (or, the ability whose investments cities frequently court just to stay afloat. to consume what one produces without actually controlling the Under neoliberalism, even the mechanisms cities have creprocess of production) via stable, lifelong positions with benated to redress histories of uneven development become tools efits. for the transfer of wealth from poor communities to wealthy Instead, we find ourselves amidst a new relationship beinvestors, without much say so from anyone at all. For instance, tween state and capital that goes by different names: postinduswhat we see in case of the Alamo brewery project is that, in trial, flexible, postmodern, global, transnational, post-Fordist. the most cynical manner, the city is using programs intended Its biggest characteristics are casualization (the conversion of to reverse decades of inner city disinvestment and resulting rastable jobs for life into the uncertainty of “permatemp” posicialized poverty as tools of gentrification, displacement, and tions based on short term contracts); the deindustrialization of resettlement. As sociologist Robert Bullard and other transportraditional industrial centers as manufacturing relocates to third tation scholars have pointed out, the TEA-21 funds used by the world spaces where production is cheaper and more profitable; Hays Street Bridge Restoration Group to restore the bridge have the rise of a post-industrial service- and knowledge-based econbeen used by many communities around the U.S. to mitigate the urban scholars mean by neoliberal urbanism. Because if there is a single term that names what is happening, that is it.
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racist impacts of urban renewal, connecting inner city neighborhoods gutted by highway projects back to the downtown core. Additionally, inner city reinvestment money, infill policy fee waivers, and other public incentives offered to Alamo Beer have been given not to those historically excluded from this access, but to those already privileged by their political connections. Redistributive mechanisms that should be used to disrupt and correct histories of disinvestment are instead being used to extend a long history of transferring public wealth to outside investors rather than to local residents— except where residents can be redefined in accordance with neoliberal preferences as “paying customers.”
The Park Formerly Known as HemisFair
. . . much of the corruption that attaches to urban politics relates to how public investments are allocated to produce something that looks like a common but which promotes gains in private asset values for privileged property owners.
But the controversy over the Hays Street Bridge is not an isolated or anomalous case—another common misunderstanding—but rather the visible outer edge of the exclusions and displacements inherent to downtown redevelopment generally, as evidenced in the case of the Hemisfair redevelopment project. Briefly, for those not yet acquainted with the details of the 10-15 year project, the city’s intent is to revitalize downtown in part by recreating HemisFair Park as a “world class urban park,” in the description of the Hemisfair Park Area Redevelopment Corporation (HPARC), the public-private entity tasked with the project. Features of HPARC’s plans include restoring the original street grid; widening the streets to accommodate pedestrians, bikes, and car traffic; demolishing the existing Convention Center to free up acreage for park land; and restoring the approximately 1200 residential units displaced in the creation of HemisFair ’68 by constructing downtown living space. As always, however, we have to look beyond the promise of
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downtown living and increased green space to ask: what kind of residential space will be created? What kind of green space? For whom? If rents will be anything like those in the restored Southtown lofts cited by Mayor Castro in his recent State of the City address as an example of the success of the “Decade of Downtown” ($1330 for a 1 bedroom apartment and $1845 for 2 bedrooms, with no affordable units set aside or section 8 allowed), then these are not questions we can afford to stop asking. Moreover, while the city is not technically selling the public lands of HemisFair Park outright to housing developers, those developers will have long term leases with the city, proceeds from which the city will use as income for park upkeep. While this sounds like a tidy solution to austerity-era budgets, what it means in effect is that the promised increase in green space acreage will be subject to increased private surveillance. This green space will no longer be for everyone—public space as commons—but for those who can afford to live there. In fact, journalist Alex Ulam goes so far as to argue that this way of funding parks represents the “contemporary park privatization model,” in which public dollars fund park construction, while maintenance and operations budgets derive from revenue generated by private development constructed on park grounds, leading to a conflict of interest between public function and commercial interests. As Harvey says in his recent book Rebel Cities, “much of the corruption that attaches to urban politics relates to how public investments are allocated to produce something that looks like a common but which promotes gains in private asset values for privileged property owners.” Tellingly, the rebranding of HemisFair Park to drop the “park” suggests this dual move to restrict physical access to urban space and political access to the decision making process over land use, displacing from both those who actually use city space to make way for a preferred class of urban identities. As an HPARC official reported in La Prensa in January of 2013, “another reason the word ‘park’ was removed is because research shows that in an urban setting people associate the word with vagrants and the homeless.” To redevelop The Park Formerly Known as HemisFair in these ways, the city moved to amend a state law protecting public lands from sale so that plans might proceed apace without the public votes otherwise required. While this move was blocked by state legislators, this same attempt to restrict public input on the question of public land sales has become the basis for the Hays Street Restoration Group’s lawsuit against the city. The statute is designed precisely for situations such as these,
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so as to protect the right of those who use land held in common to say what should happen to that land. This is especially critical when the city’s plans would effectively restrict access to public lands or displace a diversity of uses/users - homeless and residents and tourists in the same space - for a monoculture befitting a “world class” downtown. If plans are good, what can be the threat of a vote? Understanding neoliberal capital on the economic and political levels ultimately helps us understand it as a set of cultural transformations seeking to “colonize space for the affluent,” as Harvey puts it, especially in parts of the inner city previously treated as economic sacrifice zones. As with the Dignowity Hill neighborhood, as with the former neighborhoods of HemisFair Park, as with my dad’s old neighborhood now bordering the new Pearl, as with the Broadway corridor and the near-Westside near UTSA downtown, city space is unmade and remade to attract desirable new cosmopolitan mobilities and identities. Thus BudCo land becomes microbrewery turf, while high end retail spaces where local elites can lunch over business decisions are constructed on the ruined factories and foundries and quarries and railway corridors of the deindustrialized city. High rises and loft living then change the fabric and character of the working class neighborhoods that remain. For instance, real estate speculation on the eastern edge of downtown transformed the local neighborhood association from an advocate of longtime residents—a
largely elderly, historically black and mexicano population—to a promoter of the city’s preferred development model. With the influx of residents from the Vidorra high rises, the neighborhood association became mouthpiece and justification for city’s privatization of the bridge and its surrounding land in an attempt to draw tourist dollars to the area, no matter that this project would betray the work of community groups that worked closely with the city to realize a more accessible vision for bridge and land. As with the role played by Avenida Guadalupe Association in the struggle to preserve Casa Maldonado from demolition, Dignowity Hill Neighborhood Association has functioned in the case of the Hays Street Bridge as a de facto public-private partnership, undercutting the work of community to protect the commons, and promoting instead the enclosures and removals required to make over a formerly working class neighborhood as a choice destination for preferred consumers.
To Gentrify Does Not Mean to Make Something More Beautiful Understood within the historical and political context of neoliberalism, the neighborhood changes on the edge of downtown are less revitalization than gentrification, or the process by which “capital and affluent populations flow to low-income and working class city quarters often resulting in displacement for the original inhabitants” (in the words of urban studies scholar Jonathan Jackson). As community trying to resist displacement, this is also why it is important that we get our terms right. Gentrification cannot and should not be understood (as in the city’s preferred definition) as a neutral process of neighborhood change, or worse, as making something implicitly ugly into something better or more beautiful. Within the historical and sociological context of neoliberalism, we can see how the rhetoric of redevelopment—terms like blight, underutilized, surplus, renewal, revitalization—is deeply racially and class-coded. Here, “underutilized,” a term often used to describe land around the Hays Street Bridge and HemisFair Park, means not un-used, but more nefariously, used by the wrong people for the wrong reasons. The point is not that places like HemisFair Park or the lot at the corner of Cherry and Lamar are better off the way they are (or were). The point is that scholars like Harvey accurately point out the dynamics shaping cities around the world, including here in San Antonio. The point is that powerful forces repeatedly build up the city to tear it down to build it anew, not to directly remedy histories of racialized and gendered poverty, but to continue ensuring capital accumulation for those who already own. The discourse of “economic development” is in fact a smokescreen for the dispossessions and displacements— the land grabs—on which redevelopment efforts necessarily rest. My task in this analysis is not to indict powerful individuals, but ultimately to understand the structural nature of power, the systemic forces involved in producing urban space in particular ways for particular interests. It is these structural forces, not individuals, which produce the historical repetitions we want to disrupt. It is not about the personal integrity of HPARC’s well-intentioned CEO, or even of headline-grabbing former deputy city managers with conflicts of interests (well, maybe it is). While individuals change positions, what we want is an understanding of the structural logic that persists to produce the same outcomes. Because what we want is nothing less than a different logic altogether. Next in this series, that new logic: Right to the City, Rights of Mother Earth. Bio: Marisol Cortez attempts to inhabit the impossible interstices between academic and activist worlds. She works primarily on issues of environmental justice as a creative writer, community organizer and liberation sociologist. Email her with thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org
Right to the City, Rights of Nature by Marisol Cortez
PART FOUR Cities as if Women Mattered: a La Voz special series
Steadily, and far down in my heart, burn images of homeland. - Reyes Garcia, “Notes on (Home)Land Ethics”
So that we might better understand our own local resistance in relation to this global movement, it behooves us to ask: What is this different image? Where does it come from, and what does it call for? As a contemporary movement, RTTC asks (as has this series): Whose desires count? Who gets to say what the shape of the city should be? As a framework for community organizing, the right to the city framework is a relatively recent one, emerging as movement moniker with the formation of the RTTC Alliance at the 2007 World Social Forum—a national coalition of mostly poor and people of color organizations focused on a wide variety of issues, from tenants’ rights to transportation equity to anti-gentrification work and environmental justice. However, the term itself goes back to the 1960s work of French social theorist Henri Lefebvre, who wrote just before the Parisian student revolts of ’68. According to geographer Mark Purcell, Lefebrve’s original concept of the right to the city entailed “two principal rights for urban inhabitants: the right to participation, and the right to appropriation.” The right to participation is straightforward and familiar: it involves the greater access of city dwellers to the decision-making processes that shape urban space, “fundamentally shifting control
away from capital and the state and toward urban inhabitants,” as Purcell writes. The right to appropriation, on the other hand, suggests the right not only to weigh in on preselected plans, but more fundamentally to organize cities to meet the needs of inhabitants. Rather than simply expanding opportunities to choose between Coke and Pepsi, the right to appropriation recognizes a desire for an alternative to growth-at-any-cost imperatives, a desire to create and use the city outside of a logic of commodification. Here, it is the value of urban space as commons, as resource that meets needs basic to human and planetary wellbeing, which becomes primary over its market value as real estate or property. The right to appropriation is what’s captured in the “cities as if women mattered” of the series title: the right to cities that provide for the needs of the most vulnerable residents for safe and affordable housing, quality public education, well-funded public parks and libraries and arts programs, clean water and air, access to healthy food. Cities as if women mattered are cities as if children and elders mattered, as if poor people, homeless people, the queer and the trans, those with mental illness, those without papers, those with HIV, mattered. However, the right to appropriation also means the recognition and remembrance of urban space as land, primarily. City space, especially public spaces like parks, streets, and plazas, is arguably where we not only honor the complex polyvocality of those who gather there; but also where, even amidst the enclosures of property relations, we remember a deeper, primary, foundational connection to land as nature to which we belong. Wherever we might live in the city, we live here; and the sidewalks we travel, the vacant lots where our children explore, the river banks where we walk with a lover or brokenhearted, the untended parks where we fear to hang out after dark are not simply abstract spaces that belong to us, but land that reminds us of a prior belonging that persists even still. This reinhabitation, a seeing of some original connection that has disappeared in plain sight, spurs a recognition that there is something indomitable about this connection. It cannot be bulldozed or razed; it cannot be taken from us. To that end, I want to push the notion of a “right to the city” even further. It is not just about democratic participation or economic redistribution, though of course it is also about that. It is
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f neoliberal urbanism is the name of the system that sets the biggest picture limits on city decision making over land, right to the city is the name of the global movement that has challenged these limits and attempted to “reshape the city in a different image from that put forward by the developers, who are backed by finance, corporate capital and an increasingly entrepreneurially minded local state apparatus”
also about reinhabitation as a strategy of decolonization: remembering that we are part of a commons from which we have been dispossessed in order to create the space of the city. In a city that is majority minority - brown and black - this is also a remembering of relations to indigeneity, however distant. It is about remembering that la madre tierra herself has an inherent right simply to exist and endure—self-organizing, intact, healthy.
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WPO Will Never Retreat
It was in Kansas, far from home, where I had moved to take a teaching position at the state university, that I first became familiar in a deep way with the idea of the “rights of nature” or “rights of mother earth.” But this was not my first encounter with those terms. I remembered them from the months following the failure of the 2009 international climate talks in Copenhagen to establish sane global standards for carbon emissions. Because this failure largely resulted from the de facto exclusion of the most impacted communities from the negotiations—indigenous communities, small island nations, third world countries, and EJ communities in the global North—indigenous Bolivian president Evo Morales in 2010 convened a Global South counter-conference called the World’s People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth. In contrast to the insufficient and toothless Copenhagen accord, this conference produced a draft of the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth, a paradigm-shifting statement defining earth as “a self-regulating community of interrelated beings that sustains, contains and reproduces all beings,” and which as such possesses inalienable rights “to continue its vital cycles and processes free from human disruptions”--or, more simply stated, to keep living (for the full statement, see page 11 of this issue). Adopted by the Bolivian government (an earlier version was adopted in 2008 by Ecuador), the statement was submitted to the UN for consideration of adoption, and has since become the basis for a global movement to pass rights of nature ordinances in municipalities whose commons are threatened by industrial depredations. In 2010, for instance, Pittsburgh became the largest U.S. city to pass such an ordinance, using it to ban fracking within city limits. In April of 2012, during my last semester in Kansas, I happened to be living in the town where the first North American response to the World People’s Conference gathered. Organized by Indigenous Environmental Network at Haskell Indian Nations University, the Rights of Mother Earth conference explored the philosophical and strategic value of the “rights of nature” concept for the defense of indigenous lifeways and land relations, and more broadly, for defense of the planet in an era of catastrophic climate change. At stake for many of the conference participants was whether the western legal framework of “rights” discourse could be used effectively against the very same legal framework that preserved property rights above all else, no matter the impact on people or planet. As a non-indigenous concept, many participants questioned whether the concept of the rights of nature could be an effective tool in preserving treaty rights and ensuring environmental protection. Other participants pointed to the important success of many communities in using rights of nature laws to halt extractive industries. At the very least, attendees agreed that the idea that nature or mother earth is a living being to which human communities have responsibilities resonated compellingly with many indigenous knowledge traditions and spiritual practices.
I had found my way to Haskell because of the wetlands that surrounded the campus, and I had found my way to the wetlands because I was hurting. I had arrived in Kansas amidst crisis, following a traumatic move out of state that followed fast on the heels of a split with my daughter’s father. After a time spent organizing around environmental justice issues in San Antonio near family and friends, I returned to academia in shock-now a single parent, now with a deeper commitment to social movement goals, now no longer sure whether it made sense for me to continue as an academic. Everything was suddenly up for question, and I arrived on the doorstep of hardwon job security inexplicably wracked with longing for home. I longed for home, but I had been flung centripetally to the center of the continent. I longed for people who could pronounce my name without needing explanation of what it meant or where I came from, the various histories braided into my body. I longed for landforms I recognized. Weather patterns I remembered: the feel of the air in early March, white and empty, when the season turns from winter to spring, a slack absence signaling the imminent return of deadly heat. I longed for not needing to explain what that feels like, for a mute and mutual recognition. Familiar foods, familiar faces. I longed for place, for an intellectual praxis that was not placeless, head severed from heart and gut: the fiction that we could go just anywhere and teach and write. As though knowledge was portable, rootless, an abstract quantity one could gain and take wherever. As though we ourselves were abstract quantities, without concrete attachments: families, lovers, neighborhoods. What good was knowledge, I found myself wondering, if it was not embedded in the local or embodied in the particular, if it did not come back to what mattered--struggles to create a different world, struggles to protect the land, the air, the water, the sky? In arguing for the importance of devising place-based ways of teaching and learning, Native geographer Jay Johnson has pointed out how Western ways of knowing in fact idealize placelessness. “Placelessness,” he writes, “is a primary component of our modern Western condition[,] … a byproduct of the Enlightenment metanarrative [or, thinking] which serves to divide culture from nature, leading to a loss of connection to our places, to our environment, our landscape and to the knowledge stored within the landscapes.” One profound dimension of colonialism, then, has been not just the physical removal of black and brown bodies from the land, but the disruption and destruction of lifeways and cultural knowledge embedded in particular landscapes. Among other things, it is a violent upturning of knowledge systems so as to empty them out
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ganization and to the wetlands. For more than thirty years, Native students at Haskell and local allies had held off plans by the city and the state highway department to expand a highway project that would cut through the last bit of existing river bottoms that surrounded Haskell’s campus. For almost twenty years, they had tied up the project in court; when one lawsuit failed, they’d file another. The wetlands were not only beautiful, their biodiversity not only endangered; they also had deep historic and sacred meaning for the students who attended Haskell from 150 different indigenous nations. The wetlands were where Indian children, wrested from their families during the boarding school years, would meet family members barred from staying in town by anti-Indian racism. The wetlands were where children ran away to escape the militaristic environment of a school whose Americanizing mission cut off hair, prohibited native languages, and forced children to learn Western agricultural methods, so as to “kill the Indian and save the man,” in the infamous words of Captain Richat the University of Kansas ard Pratt. The Wetlands Preservation Organization wetlands proof their previ- vided the cover for forbidden ceremonial practices to continue. ous meanings They were where children sought refuge, and where they were buried when they died from cold or malnutrition or disease. In and histories. This elevation of abstracted, Western ways of knowing over the years after Haskell transferred to tribal administration and beplace-based, indigenous knowledge was given physical expres- came a center of indigenous cultural survival rather than its exsion in the geographical placement of the two universities that termination, the wetlands served as the living lab where students shaped my time in Lawrence, Kansas. A large land grant univer- recovered traditional medicine and native languages. This history remained embedded within the landscape, even as sity, the University of Kansas sat on a hill so steep one could not ride one’s bike more than halfway up before having to hop off. the local, state, and federal governments of the U.S. encroached A university on a hill that froze hard and cold the first winter- upon Haskell’s campus little by little, parceling off pieces of the -although the second winter it hardly snowed at all, alarmingly- wetlands to the fish and wildlife bureau; the university on the hill; -while down below was the town. And below that in the river bot- the university down the road; and eventually to the highway extoms of the Wakarusa lay the remnants of wetlands surrounding pansion project aiming to ease commuter traffic by connecting the another school, this one wrested from the bloody history of the bedroom community of Lawrence to the wealthy suburbs of Kanfederal Indian boarding schools. Haskell Indian Nations Univer- sas City. There in the fragments of wetlands that remained, I felt sity was built in the swamps in the late 1800s –next to the waste- the presence of the children who had died so far from home. That water lift station, next to the hazardous materials drop-off site for space of atrocity and survival was the only space that reached within me the grief of exile and metamorphosis both, that underthe small Midwestern town in which I found myself. I found my way to the wetlands during that first, strange se- stood my terrible longing to return home. There were almost no mester in Kansas, searching for some place or community that Chican@s in Kansas, almost no one who looked like--well, not could hold the pain of what felt like the death of a previous self. necessarily like me, given my mixed blood. But almost no one At a dinner where the new postdocs were introduced to the donors who looked like familia, like gente I grew up with, like home. who had made our positions possible, a woman from Haskell ap- I had to stop myself from waving to the rooferos I saw on my proached, introducing herself and giving me her card. She was the trudge up the hill, knowing they would not see me as kin. Almost librarian there. You said you do environmental justice work. You no Chican@s...but there were Indians. And for the first time in my life, in my non-indigenous alliance with indigenous communities, should come visit us, she said. That’s how I found my way to the Wetlands Preservation Or- I was struck by what it really means to have mestiza conscious-
io t a iz n o l o c e gy of d
a f o t r a p e r a ng that we been e v a h e w h c i rom wh te a e r c o t r e d r ed in o of the city.
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ness, to think of ourselves not as “Hispanics” or even “Latin@s,” but as mestizas and mestizos, descendents of place-based cultures engaged in struggle to preserve an original relationship to sacred lands, still reeling from the trauma of historical displacement. The irony, then, is that I arrived in Kansas feeling uprooted and displaced, but it was in Kansas, fighting alongside Native students and professors to defend the wetlands, that I came to understand the profound importance of a kind of intellectual work that is embedded in specific homeplaces, and as a result engaged in an embodied way in struggles to protect them. It was my time in Kansas that finally gave me permission to stop running away from my longing to come home.
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From Occupation to Reinhabitation: Back to the Bridge
As Mexican- and African-origin peoples, we once were connected to land--this land or land elsewhere. Environmental historian Carolyn Merchant makes the point that there is an indigeneity for European-descended peoples as well; part of what the expansion of capitalism as a global system has meant is that European elites enclosed the land that the peasantry managed in common as a kind of practice run for the more infamous enclosures and displacements (land theft, genocide, slavery) involved in colonizing other lands. Wherever our ancestors come from on the planet, then, most of us once lived in intimate relation to specific homeplaces—and some of us still do. For communities of color in the US, a large part of what histories of colonialism have meant is the trauma of being physically uprooted from those homeplaces via forced relocation and culturally displaced via the erasure of local, place-based ties, languages, histories, and identities. The land grab has always been, and continues to be, central to the displacements of colonial processes. This is mine now, says the colonial land grab, even if you have some prior claim. Your prior claim means nothing in the face of our ability to redefine the terms of the agreement when it works to our interest. If we say this land was never intended as a park, says the legal apparatus of the postcolonial state, that history never existed. If we say there has been a fourteen-month process of consulting with supportive local elites, there never was a prior fourteen year process of city meetings with a diverse cross-section of community interests. Thinking about what would be necessary now to resist the “colonization of space for the affluent” within contemporary cities--Harvey’s words once more--I think of the Idle No More uprisings of the past winter, or Haskell’s 30-year struggle to keep the Kansas Department of Transportation out of the wetlands. I think of the victorious, decades-long legal battle against Chevron by Kichwa groups in Ecuador, for the transnational oil company’s dumping of billions of gallons of toxic wastewater into the Amazon. I think of the words of Diane Wilson, 4th generation Gulf Coast shrimper, who remembers as a child seeing a grey woman, protector of gulf waters, rising from their spume. We must have immediacy in our actions and fight ceaselessly for the earth, its creatures and all of our fellow human beings. We will never surrender. I think of Haskell professor Daniel Wildcat’s argument that what the crisis of climate change requires is the “cultural climate change” represented by “indigenuity.” Hopefulness resides
with the peoples who continue to find their identities emerge out of what I call nature-culture nexus … and it resides with those who are willing to reimagine lifeways that emerge from that nexus. Native or not. I think of Devon Pena’s concept of “Chicana/o bioregionalism,” a call for the mestiza/o peoples of the Southwest to reinhabit homelands we have lost in plain sight: [O]ur origin communities created ecologically sustainable livelihoods well before the term ‘conservation’ entered the vernacular[.] ... Our effort to reorient Chicano Studies through an epistemology of place intends to open new avenues for the expression of the social and cultural practices of local, or situated knowledge. … Lacking an epistemology of local knowledge, students of Chicano Studies will be left with few options for critically approaching and perhaps reversing the political-economic processes that destroy places. ... [W]e argue that decolonizing ourselves (our communities and bodies) is inherently connected to the decolonization of nature. I think of these struggles, these words, these concepts, because I think there is something that happens to a people’s resolve when their identities are grounded in a profound connection to land. The right to the city must in the end lead us to recognize the city--both public spaces and private property--as nature, and to recognize the rights of nature for itself, and to remember in our lived connections to homeplaces that we are guardians of those rights. The rights of nature are not above our right to survive and thrive and sustain ourselves as a species, but they do--or, should--supercede the rights of property as encoded within the entire western legal system, defended by a few at the cost of everyone else. As we’ll pick up on in the next and final installment, our vision of community “development” does not simply involve expanding the entitlements of property and capital accumulation among those historically excluded from doing so. Rather, we envision an alternative social and economic organization grounded in a careful restoration of local—place-based—knowledge. This is a recovery of mestiza/o neighborhood lifeways of building, trading, doing, and relating that have been paved over by the enclosures of property, the dispossessions of race, the violences of gender. This is what Chicana environmental scholar Laura Pulido calls the “environmentalism of everyday life,” poised against both the depredations of neoliberal urbanism and the insufficient environmentalisms of city initiatives, inattentive to deep considerations of power and justice. This is the survival of working class engagements with place via the sharing of memorias, fotos, dichos, comida, stories: Westside stories, Eastside stories, Southside stories. I remember when I was a kid and there was no bridge there, to cross the tracks on Guadalupe. A memory shared at a meeting, of riding in the car with his mother. Man, those trains would hold you up forever, sometimes. What it felt like to be cut off physically, pushed out. Or: Once, when my family was having a rough time. Spoken to me forty years later on the Hays Street Bridge, the words of an Eastside neighborhood son, beer in hand. I remember running out into the neighborhood, to hang out on the bridge. Hopelessly inebriated, but making sense still. What it felt like to inhabit those same marginal spaces of neglect as nature, seeking refuge in what lives yet. Some original, surviving connection to home, preserved in memory, that now is worth fighting for. Bio: Marisol Cortez attempts to inhabit the impossible interstices between academic and activist worlds. She works primarily on issues of environmental justice as a creative writer, community organizer and liberation sociologist. Email her at email@example.com
Proposal Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth from World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth, Cochabamba, Bolivia, 22 April – Earth Day 2010.
Preamble | We, the peoples and nations of Earth: considering that we are all part of Mother Earth, an indivisible, living community of interrelated and interdependent beings with a common destiny; gratefully acknowledging that Mother Earth is the source of life, nourishment and learning and provides everything we need to live well; recognizing that the capitalist system and all forms of depredation, exploitation, abuse and contamination have caused great destruction, degradation and disruption of Mother Earth, putting life as we know it today at risk through phenomena such as climate change; convinced that in an interdependent living community it is not possible to recognize the rights of only human beings without causing an imbalance within Mother Earth; affirming that to guarantee human rights it is necessary to recognize and defend the rights of Mother Earth and all beings in her and that there are existing cultures, practices and laws that do so; conscious of the urgency of taking decisive, collective action to transform structures and systems that cause climate change and other threats to Mother Earth; proclaim this Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth, and call on the General Assembly of the United Nation to adopt it, as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations of the world, and to the end that every individual and institution takes responsibility for promoting through teaching, education, and consciousness raising, respect for the rights recognized in this Declaration and ensure through prompt and progressive measures and mechanisms, national and international, their universal and effective recognition and observance among all peoples and States in the world.
article 1. Mother earth
its vital cycles and processes free from human disruptions; (d) the right to maintain its identity and integrity as a distinct, self-regulating and interrelated being; (e) the right to water as a source of life; (f) the right to clean air; (g) the right to integral health; (h) the right to be free from contamination, pollution and toxic or radioactive waste; (i) the right to not have its genetic structure modified or disrupted in a manner that threatens it integrity or vital and healthy functioning; (j) the right to full and prompt restoration the violation of the rights recognized in this Declaration caused by human activities; (2) Each being has the right to a place and to play its role in Mother Earth for her harmonious functioning. (3) Every being has the right to wellbeing and to live free from torture or cruel treatment by human beings.
(1) Mother Earth and all beings of which she is composed have the following inherent rights: (a) the right to life and to exist; (b) the right to be respected; (c) the right to regenerate its bio-capacity and to continue
(2) Human beings, all States, and all public and private institutions must: (a) act in accordance with the rights and obligations recognized in this Declaration; (b) recognize and promote the full implementation and en-
article 3. obligations of human beings article 2. Inherent rights of Mother to Mother earth (1) Every human being is responsible for respecting and living earth in harmony with Mother Earth.
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(1) Mother Earth is a living being. (2) Mother Earth is a unique, indivisible, self-regulating community of interrelated beings that sustains, contains and reproduces all beings. (3) Each being is defined by its relationships as an integral part of Mother Earth. (4) The inherent rights of Mother Earth are inalienable in that they arise from the same source as existence. (5) Mother Earth and all beings are entitled to all the inherent rights recognized in this Declaration without distinction of any kind, such as may be made between organic and inorganic beings, species, origin, use to human beings, or any other status. (6) Just as human beings have human rights, all other beings also have rights which are specific to their species or kind and appropriate for their role and function within the communities within which they exist. (7) The rights of each being are limited by the rights of other beings and any conflict between their rights must be resolved in a way that maintains the integrity, balance and health of Mother Earth.
...in an interdependent living community it is not possible to recognize the rights of only human beings without causing an imbalance within Mother Earth...
forcement of the rights and obligations recognized in this Declaration; (c) promote and participate in learning, analysis, interpretation and communication about how to live in harmony with Mother Earth in accordance with this Declaration; (d) ensure that the pursuit of human wellbeing contributes to the wellbeing of Mother Earth, now and in the future; (e) establish and apply effective norms and laws for the defence, protection and conservation of the rights of Mother Earth; (f) respect, protect, conserve and where necessary, restore the integrity, of the vital ecological cycles, processes and balances of Mother Earth; (g) guarantee that the damages caused by human violations of the inherent rights recognized in this Declaration are rectified and that those responsible are held accountable for restoring the integrity and health of Mother Earth; (h) empower human beings and institutions to defend the rights of Mother Earth and of all beings;
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For Mario Rodríguez’s wonderful catering contact him at 210-863-0132
Mental Health Care in America
Thank you to these businesses for their continued support of Esperanza. . .
(i) establish precautionary and restrictive measures to prevent human activities from causing species extinction, the destruction of ecosystems or the disruption of ecological cycles; (j) guarantee peace and eliminate nuclear, chemical and biological weapons; (k) promote and support practices of respect for Mother Earth and all beings, in accordance with their own cultures, traditions and customs; (l) promote economic systems that are in harmony with Mother Earth and in accordance with the rights recognized in this Declaration.
article 4. Definitions (1) The term “being” includes ecosystems, natural communities, species and all other natural entities which exist as part of Mother Earth. (2) Nothing in this Declaration restricts the recognition of other inherent rights of all beings or specified beings. a
(210) 735-0669 922 W. Hildebrand San Antonio, T X 78201
- continued from pg 6
health issues. Three-quarters of mental illnesses appear by the age of 24, yet less than half of children with diagnosable mental health problems receive treatment. (D): Reach 750,000 young people through programs to identify mental illness early and refer them to treatment. (E): Provide “Mental Health First Aid” training for teachers. (F): Make sure students with signs of mental illness get referred to treatment. This would have helped Loughner and perhaps could have stopped the shooting of Congresswoman Gifford. (G): Support individuals ages 16-25 at high risk for mental illness. (H): Train more than 5,000 additional mental health professionals to serve students and young adults. To help fill this gap, the administration is proposing $50 million to train social workers, counselors, psychologists, and other mental health professionals. (I): Finalize requirements for private health insurance plans to cover mental health service and, finally
(J): Make sure millions of Americans covered by Medicaid get quality mental health coverage. Medicaid is already the biggest funder of mental health services and the Affordable Care Act will extend Medicaid coverage to as many as 17 million hardworking Americans. Summing up Dr. Ablow writes “Just as promising is a reliable mental health system that could offer care to the many millions of Americans currently untreated, under-treated or incompetently treated –saving millions more from suicide and billions each year in lost productivity.” Don’t just sit there and shake your head in silence – occupy the Capital, until we have good mental health treatment. Let’s never get a D again. n Bio: Bill Stichnot has been a supporter of Esperanza since the early 90s. He was in a Masters Program in Psychological Counseling at St Mary’s University in San Antonio. He is now retired in Hawaii.
PART FIVE Cities as if Women Mattered: a La Voz special series
Beyond Development: Alternatives, Models, and Tactics by Marisol Cortez
This is a model of development based on cooperative social principles and bioregional inhabitation, which in recognizing the embeddedness of human economic activity within a complex network of relationships, takes care to nurture cultural as well as bio diversity. It is a kind of change that produces urban spaces protective of the various commons we depend on at the same time that it ensures these spaces are accessible to diverse publics. In the final section of this series, I want to end by outlining concrete examples I’ve observed in the places I’ve lived which suggest the shape of what we ultimately want to see. What might it actually look like to exercise our right to the city and to respect the rights of nature? What tools and tactics, attempted here and elsewhere, are at our disposal? As I detail below before turning to concrete alternatives, the urban industrial model of growth and development cannot produce the kinds of social and ecological welfare we need, by its very nature.
The Fantasy of Growth Unchecked by Decomposition In my last year of high school, I remember having to take a state-required course in government and economics. One of my strongest memories from that class was the visual model featured
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the zero-sum game created by prevailing discussions of “economic development”, our critique of projects like Alamo Brewery and Hemisfair are positioned as entirely negative: antichange, anti-growth. If you’re not for ‘economic development,’ you must be against change entirely. Yet our critique reaches beyond simple rejection in searching for a positive alternative to economic development as growth at any cost. What we want is to move from the kind of cancerous growth that characterizes “economic development” as historically practiced to the kind of growth that characterizes intact and healthy ecological systems.
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in our economics textbook for gross domestic product, the metric used to measure a nation’s economic welfare. Between an x and y axis that plotted production over time, GDP climbed ever upward–shakily, perhaps, perhaps with some regrettably major crashes along the way, but clawing its way forward and up, triumphant in ascendance. Or so it had been, and should be, in the best of all possible worlds. The purpose of an economy was to grow, we learned, to expand both production and consumption ad infinitum. That was health; that was social wellbeing. And why? I wanted to know. Grow into what? To what ultimate purpose? No answer. Does not compute. Next question? Although I did not at the time have the background knowledge to pinpoint what exactly seemed crazy about measuring social welfare in this way, I knew there was something wrong with a model premised on the assumption of limitless growth and expansion. Many years later, I find myself asking the same questions, albeit with the privilege of having had formal access to a community of ideas that has taught me to trust my earliest suspicions of a root illogic to the economy of grow-or-die. In an innovative book I’ve used in classes on the sociology of technology called Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things, architect William McDonough and chemist Michael Braungart write that from the early industrial revolution to the present-day context of global capitalism, “more, more, more–jobs, people, products, factories, businesses, markets–[has] seemed to be the rule of the day. … Industrialists [have] wanted to make products as efficiently as possible and to get the greatest volume of goods to the largest number of people” (20-21). McDonough and Braungart explain that there are two problems with this model of growth and development. First, it is a linear model, “focused on making a product and getting it to a customer quickly and cheaply without considering much else” (26). Second, this way of doing things as a result disconnects economic activity from the social and ecological systems on which it depends–a kind of unacknowledged reliance that feminist philosopher, Val Plumwood, calls the “backgrounding” of both nature and the labor of marginalized others (women, immigrants and other racialized laborers, workers broadly). Economic growth can only expand linearly and indefinitely if one writes off from the books the social and ecological costs of that growth. Profit only counts as such if it is unshadowed by and decoupled from catastrophe, on the one hand; and on the other, from the cyclic, ecological processes of growth and decay to which it is still subject, even as the scale of global economies obscures from easy perception these lines of connection. What we call “capital accumulation” is thus a kind of fantasy, of a growth that escapes the limits and laws of biological time. It is the fantasy of a surplus that does not rot, wealth freed from the worm and the moth, a permanent enclosure in perpetuity, a “life against death.” The reality
The tree is not an isolated entity cut off from the systems around it: it is inextricably and productively engaged with them. This is a key difference between the growth of industrial systems as they now stand and the growth of nature of our being eaten even as we eat, our inescapable immersion within a complex network of relationships with many more-than-human others. Whether we recognize it or not: that this is the ruling fantasy does not make it so. And while our awareness of ecological embeddedness is finally catching up to the reality of our interdependence with earth others, “modern industries still operate according to paradigms that developed when humans had a very different sense of the world. Neither the health of natural systems, nor an awareness of their delicacy, complexity, and interconnectedness, have been part of the industrial design agenda” (26). At the same time, McDonough and Braungart push us beyond a simple critique of cost externalization, and toward more foundational questions: what is growth? What is economic development, anyway? While cancer has been the metaphor of choice for many critics of industrial models of growth, growth and development in other contexts is not necessarily a bad thing. Consider the growth of children, they suggest, or that of trees. Consider the cherry tree: “As it grows, it seeks it own regenerative abundance. But this process is not single-purpose. In fact, the tree’s growth sets in motion a number of positive effects. It provides food for animals, insects, and microorganisms. It enriches the ecosystem, sequestering carbon, producing oxygen, cleaning air and water, and creating and stabilizing soil. Among its roots and branches and on its leaves, it harbors a diverse array of flora and fauna, all of which depend on it and on one another for the functions and flows that support life. And when the tree dies, it returns to the soil, releasing, as it decomposes, minerals that will fuel healthy new growth in the same place. The tree is not an isolated entity cut off from the systems around it: it is inextricably and productively engaged with them.
This is a key difference between the growth of industrial systems as they now stand and the growth of nature” (emphasis mine). What has been called “development,” then, might be more accurately recast as “maldevelopment,” as Devon Peña refers to it. However, the term “development” is so ideologically freighted that the prospect of reclaiming it along the lines advocated by McDonough and Braungart–even as “community development”-seems difficult. Within the wider public conversation on the benefits and externalities of “development,” there seems to exist no word as yet for what we want: a kind of development embedded reciprocally within surrounding biophysical and cultural diversity, a change that nurtures rather than destroys complex interdependencies (“solidarity economy,” “degrowth,” and “postgrowth” come close, though.) In the absence of such a term, what are concrete examples of practices that seem to fit the bill, examples we might seed and cultivate locally? For if we can’t say what it is we want, we fall victim to being forever positioned as “against progress” or “against everything.”
There Are Ways Below, then, are projects I’ve seen in San Anto and other places that I’ve lived in that intrigue and inspire me–as much as possible in the words of those who have put them into practice. In general, returning housing, land, and labor to community hands and a cooperative decision-making process lies at the core of all three of these tactics.
According to a good friend who sits on the board of a local housing cooperative in Kansas, a co-op is a method of human organization based on cooperative principles. There are different kinds of co-ops, my friend explains, all of which have structures and decision-making processes that vary widely. In the U.S., some of the most popular and well-known cooperatives include credit unions and housing coops; organizing workplaces, food distribution systems, healthcare and utility provision along cooperative lines is not uncommon either. When I lived in the Canyon Lake area north of San Antonio, for instance, we got our telephone service and electricity from the largest telecommunications co-op in Texas, originally organized to electrify rural parts of the state. In Davis, California and Lawrence, Kansas, I frequently bought groceries from the local food cooperative, where as a member I was able to weigh in on the running of the store and received a share of any profits made. In San Antonio, I currently enact cooperative principles on the tiniest and most informal scale, sharing the costs and benefits of one vehicle with another household. We make up how the arrangement works as we go, but we decide together. The idea, then, is hardly fringe or novel. As with the carshare set up, what co-ops primarily try to do is minimize the total resources needed in a society based on accumulation for a few (and thus on scarcity for many) by sharing the costs involved in ob-
Marisol: The first question is, would you describe Fuerza Unida as a cooperative? Or something different? Petra: Well, when we first started, we didn’t start with that visión; that came later, after four or five years, six years, I want to say. When Fuerza Unida was formed, it was for the rights of workers. We never thought that we would do a cooperative or sewing project; raising funds has always been an important factor of our organization. When we started, it was about organizing workers, educating workers, those workers at the plants that closed later in 1994. There were 3 plants in San Antonio. Fuerza Unida worked to affect the closing of the 2 plants that closed after ours. Then we started to struggle a lot with funds. We started to look at other options like limiting our efforts as Fuerza Unida because of the economic hardships we faced. So we started to look at sewing. When we started sewing we just made bed covers, cushions and curtains, pillows because Miller Curtain company had donated many fabric reams and fabric pieces to us. It was exciting at first; it felt really good. We were proud to be able to sew. This went on for a few years, 3, 4, 5 years, until we moved. We were on Zarzamora Street before. We’ve been in this building 17 years. Then we saw that it wasn’t going anywhere. People didn’t buy a bed cover until theirs was super worn and we didn’t make any money. We had just one seamstress, and she was the one always there, plus me and Juanita and Viola like always. Then we met Lety; she needed a job and we hired her. She would get very frustrated, though, just doing that. She would say, Petra, why don’t we start making clothes? And she started to make little dresses, a blouse, a little dress, a little vest. And we all just loved them! And so we started to make them. We hired more seamstresses and it was going well, we were making money and for a time, we had up to 4 or 5 seamstresses. Our garments sold well at Pulquerios
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taining and maintaining those resources. At the same time, a cooperative organization tries to organize decision making over resources in as equitable a fashion possible, leveling the hierarchies that structure most institutions within a society based on private property rights (bosses/workers, landlords/renters, corporations/ consumers). As such, they are tools for making the resources required for survival–otherwise, less accessible because commodified–easier for the most vulnerable to obtain. Here in San Antonio, one of longest running examples of cooperative principles in action is Fuerza Unida, a women’s sewing coop formed in the wake of the Levi’s plant closure in 1990. As Petra Mata explained to me, Fuerza did not begin as a co-op, but rather evolved along cooperative lines as their struggle for justice deepened over decades:
on Alamo. So, after 10 years, we did a small fashion show with a line of linen garments: a dress, a skirt and a blouse and that was it, very limited. Then we added the guayabera and that has sold very well. So we’re still in that process of deciding do we go with a cooperative, or is it a sewing project or will it be separate from Fuerza Unida in the future? We’re trying to figure out what will be better for Fuerza Unida and for our community. Because our purpose is to cre-
separate business. That’s the difference. A business that would create income but separate. But for me, when we started as a grassroots organization, we felt that a cooperative would have more impact because it would be community. Fuerza Unida is community; we wanted to start a cooperative where community would participate, where women feel important. That it wouldn’t be just like any job like at Levi’s or some other business, but something where they would feel, “this is mine.
other countries like China, Japan, Honduras where they pay so little and workers are abused. So, we’re very conscious of all of the injustices that occur in the market when companies make their product in other countries. Marisol: What have the larger challenges been? Petra: Well, sometimes we stop and think, the competition is too great. For example, sometimes people come and say, “Oh,
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. . . as we make our garments, we try to educate our customers. We let them know that our products are made by women earning a fair wage . . .
ate jobs; create more jobs for our people. For example, people older than maybe 50, who can’t find another job elsewhere, can come and work with us, as long as they sew. Because the sewing project is becoming very important and very popular. Marisol: So what is the role that cooperative principles have played in your history? Petra: I think the cooperative is the best way for Fuerza Unida. For me a woman’s cooperative where they themselves can be the owners of their work, is super important. And that is what, for years, we’ve dreamed of accomplishing and like I told you before, I don’t know if that’s the best goal for Fuerza Unida, the most beneficial, but in our history, a cooperative has been the model we want to present to our communities. Marisol: What are the differences between a coop of workers and a union? For those that don’t know…. Petra: For Fuerza Unida, it would be a
This is what I created. This is what I with my efforts am developing in order to better things and grow here in San Antonio.” Marisol: What have been the biggest benefits of a cooperative structure? Petra: The only thing we used to know how to sew was pants, parts of pants. The benefits for us and our pride more than anything, has been learning how to create something else, and that women can make their own clothes. Unlike when you go to the store and you buy something, you take it home and it’s too short or too long, or too tight. We’re able to create custom fit work; we make our own patterns and you can see the happiness in our customers’ faces when they feel good about how the garment fits them. And they’re made by women, by women working for just wages, for better treatment as workers; and we also want to be acknowledged by people, by the city, so that clothes made in the U.S. is encouraged and we can keep our jobs here and not continue going to
I could get a guayabera for $8, $10 at Walmart”; “Oh, I could buy this purse at the dollar store.” How can we begin to compete with that model?! Additionally, as we make our garments, we try to educate our customers. We let them know that our products are made by women earning a fair wage and that are treated well like they’re at home where they’re free to get up and go to the restroom or have something to eat, to leave if they have personal things to take care of. So that’s been one of the bigger challenges, most difficult to address, is having to compete. … And at the same time when they come for us to make their garments, we explain who we are and what our goals are, that way they’re conscious that they’re not going to buy our things just for nothing. We’re not in Mexico, we’re not in China. And some people leave and I say, too bad. Marisol: And this building here, do you own it in common or do you pay rent to a landlord?
Petra: Here, we pay rent, but we would like the city to give us one for less monthly, or loan one to us so that Fuerza Unida can grow. What we pay for rent, we could use it for something else, like machinery, for the people. So that’s all we ask, for the city to help us, because we are doing important work for the community and especially here in this part of the city. It’s difficult because people want good and cheap things in this area of the city. Marisol: Are there programs in the city to encourage cooperatives? Most incentives for “economic development” seem to be for large outside investors, not small scale community-run businesses. Petra: Cooperatives in San Antonio are barely emerging. We call ourselves a cooperative, but in reality [it’s difficult because], people need to earn money to buy things, pay bills, and earn a salary to do this. But because of our present economy, it is difficult, because people want to know how much they will earn. And we can’t guarantee every week, because we don’t know how much we will sell, so if the new pants line sells well, we can decide if we will be a cooperative or a business.
Petra: First of all, there are many small details in a cooperative. It’s a process that is difficult; you have to first organize the group, and talk to others who have formed coops. Of course, first of all is to get the people, but it is difficult because everyone needs to earn a little, and a coop is not a sure thing; we would need to have a market to sell for real. For example, every week we will sell 100 pairs of pants, so that if we know we need to make like 200 pairs, we would need like 10 people to buy. And if we make $1000, then first we pay electricity, machinery, and what is left, $500, that’s what you’re going to get. So [those involved] have to work themselves as a secretary too; that’s the view that we have. Just get together and talk
People have called us from Houston, Dallas, I remember when one teacher from California called us because she wanted to talk with us about how we began. Our project has developed so that many people are inspired. Because many have started but their projects have not worked; sometimes you have to put everything together--how to treat people, how you do things. We try not to play roles, like boss/employee, instead we try to get involved in everything.
You have to have a good way of interacting with people. Marisol: So are decisions within the organization made cooperatively, too? Petra: Yes, like Lety has so much experience, 30 years of sewing; she is creative that way. She puts out images, and we learn through her decisions about sewing. So we have to make her feel important. Communication is very important–not like, I’m the director and I have more power than you; you have your own power, too.
Permaculture Indian physicist and feminist ecophilosopher Vandana Shiva has argued powerfully that the hallmark of capitalism as an economic system has been its twin destruction of both cultural and bio diversity--the creation of a culture of “monocultures and monopolies.” “The politics of diversity that combine the cultural and ecological aspects,” she writes, “is the really subversive alternative of our time.” Permaculture is the collective name for a variety of practices of “permanent agriculture” or “permanent culture” that attempt to realize these values, seeking a form of human socioeconomic organization that works with rather than against nature. Distinguishing permaculture principles from the values and assumptions that underlie extractive economies, Bill Mollison writes, “A basic question that can be asked in two ways is: ‘What can I get from this land, or person?’ or “What does this person, or land, have to give if I cooperate with them?” In a conversation I had with Sister Elise García, one of the founders of the Sisterfarm Santuario outside Boerne, we discussed how Sisterfarm was conceived as a space that modeled permaculture ethics and practices:
Elise: So the history of Santuario Sisterfarm is, we–Carol Coston, who’s another [Adrian] Dominican sister–actually, she’s the founding director of Network, the Nuns on the Bus organization in 1971–she and I moved to Texas in 1992 and got this place out in the Hill Country just north of Boerne, and lived there[.] … This was quite a ways back. … [In] 2001-2002, we established, with Maria [Berriozábal] as the third founding partner, Santuario Sisterfarm, which would be an organization that was dedicated to cultivating diversity–biodiversity and cultural diversity–as a way to promote peace in our world. Peace between or among diverse peoples and peace between peoples and earth, because we’ve been in this sort of divisive role in terms of a sense of separation from earth, instead of saying, we are of earth and from earth. But humans have been acting as if we were somehow plopped down here from outer space, and are just sort of using the planet as a backdrop. So to really link those two, we were drawing inspiration from the Indian physicist and ecologist Vandana Shiva … [who] wrote that the greatest threat to peace in our time is an intolerance of diversity. … So, drawing on that, we set out to create at Santuario Sisterfarm a sanctuary for people to come where we could experience together a different form of living in relationship with earth and with one another. And so we started by employing … practices of permaculture to those seven acres of land that we were living on. And living
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Marisol: For others who are interested in beginning a cooperative of their own, where do you start? What do we need to know?
about it; we already have 10 years doing it.
sf tran b
or ma tion of co eg nscious ins ness with each indiv idual, and then it sp reads out from that . . .
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with. … And then, in terms of cultivating cultural diversity, we established a women’s press called Sor Juana Press, dedicated to publishing the works of women of color and women religious on topics related to earth and spirituality. And then we also had programs of different sorts, where women could come, especially Latina women from the city, to–just to have a breathing space, really, and a place of connecting with ancestral roots to the land.
Marisol: Can you tell me a little bit more about what you said about permaculture? What does that mean? What kind of practices did you actually do at Sisterfarm that were examples of permaculture? Elise: Well, the ethics and the values of permaculture are earth care, people care, and fair share. And Carol Coston was the primary person to head up that effort. But among the things that we did was we always looked to–trying to imitate and carefully observe nature as a model for how to proceed in terms of plantings and what to plant and how to plant, so that–you know, the modern agriculture practices are ones of monoculture, where you have the same crop covering acres and acres of land. And in permaculture you would have companion planting; you would really look at the way nature–nature abhors a vacuum, so you would be ensuring that you’re following the practices of nature in terms of how to plant. Having different layers of plantings, different types of plants together, having edible landscapes rather than simply beautiful landscapes. Of course, they would be beautiful with what it was that you’re planting, but also edible. So we would look to see whatever fruit trees or other kinds of plants that we could grow that had qualities that would provide for food and for nourishment or healing. So those are some of the practices where you’re really looking at–as with nature, there are abundant purposes to every being, particularly in the plant world. So, really, becoming more familiar with that and trying to implement that. So we used keyhole gardens, we used geothermal heating and cooling, we used water catchment practices, using a rain catchment system, and drip irrigation. … We also tried to apply another out of nature’s teachings, which is there is no waste in nature.
And so we composted everything that we could and had composting toilets as well, and really tried to apply those practices of living as much in harmony as we could with our surroundings, and learning from what was from the bioregion in which we were living. Marisol: How can we apply these principles in our everyday lives? How can we make them more widespread, as opposed to simply in the context of a community that’s more intentional? Because I guess what I struggle with is, is the solution one of trying to transform the institutions that enact the values that are destroying life? Or is the solution to try to operate from this different value set and create these very small-scale alternatives? Or both? I mean, it’s not as if they’re mutually exclusive. But how can we use these principles to also challenge the big structural institutions and powers that be that are keeping us from not being a permaculture, being a culture of disposability and destruction and monoculture? Elise: I think that you’re right in saying that it doesn’t have to be either/or. In fact, I think both are necessary. And I think that different people have different skills that can be brought to bear in terms of trying to change structures. But ultimately we all know that what we’re talking about is a huge transformation of consciousness, and that was the work that we were about. And that transformation of consciousness begins with each individual, and then it spreads out from that. So that’s why I was saying that I think creating models of other ways of being is really important, because that has its own integrity. And so to the extent that - whether it’s an organization that’s able to model a different way of being, or an individual that’s able to model a different way of being, I think that there’s something very profound about that. And it’s creating –again, I keep saying this, it’s
g n i t th n a e r re e b f i e d k i a l r s o ’ f t i th r a ... e n o e c a sp ... g n i e b way of like a breathing space on earth for a different way of being. And I think that until that is created, it’s very difficult to then bring about transformation of major institutions that have been–you know, as they’ve been for decades if not centuries or millenia. So we need constantly to be creating and living and modeling these alternatives at the same time that we stand as an alternative in the presence of the status quo that is so deadly to planet and peoples.
Elise: Well, Carol was in her mid 70s, and I was in my early 60s, and the two of us–I had joined the Dominican sisters here late in life, but felt–I am among the younger ones in this community and just felt a real obligation to come and provide [care]. … That was the main reason behind it. And we were always struggling for resources, but our hope was that somebody might have been able to continue the ministry there, but we weren’t able to get that to work out. So that’s one of the reasons why we’ve kept the website going [www.sisterfarm.org], ’cause that still offers a model of the different practices. Marisol: What I hear you say is that, just because the space closed, that just means that we need to create those models, and multiply them, and keep them going. I never got to visit Sisterfarm; I think I was leaving town for Kansas right as it was closing, but just knowing that that work was done has always been
Elise: I think that’s the key piece, is that it’s not about any one particular place. And many people were doing this. We were just one. But I think that we were trying to bring in some spiritual values in terms of a real sense of connectedness to mother earth. And different people live that differently. But I think it is that sense of how we influence one another as each one of us enters into a transformed consciousness, a transformed sense of awareness that I am of this earth, I arose, I am part of this 14 billion year process of unfolding. And we are the latest edge of that cosmic unfolding. And we are giving expression to a new way of being, of awareness of that. It’s the first time humans have been aware of that. At least in terms of the scientific story; we also have all of our myths and our stories that come from different cultural traditions that we honor as well. But it’s–this is a huge piece for us to be coming into awareness about. So we’re living in a very privileged time in that sense, but also in a very perilous time, where what we do as individuals and groups and communities is absolutely pivotal. And so in that sense, each one of us counts. And as one organization closes, another one will open. And as the spirit of somebody who dies lives on in others who capture some sense of that spirit and express it in their own unique ways. And all of that’s part of the wonderful diversity of life that we want to keep cultivating.
Community Land Trusts One concrete way to make principles of cooperation and permaculture more accessible is through a tool called community land trusts (CLTs), a cooperative structure that changes relationships to land from one of private ownership to management in common. As such, a CLT can be a way to scale up (or multiply) projects like Sisterfarm Santuario, as well as their more frequent use in urban areas to resist forces of gentrification and displacement by creating a reserve of permanently affordable housing. As Kalima Rose from Policylink describes them, CLTs “take real estate off the speculative market and ensure long-term affordability for renters, low-income homeowners, community arts and nonprofit institutions, and community-centered businesses.” According to the Northern Communities Land Trust of Duluth, Minnesota, CLTs own the land in common and lease to those owning buildings on the land; in that way, they “help low and moderate income families benefit from the equity built through homeownership, and at the same time preserve the affordability of these homes so that future residents will have the same affordable homeownership opportunities. How do we do this? First, by owning the land, CLTs are able to greatly reduce the initial housing cost to the potential buyer. Second, the land lease contains a resale provision which ensures that if the house is sold, it goes to another low or
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Marisol: What was it that, in terms of the history of Sisterfarm, made it unable to continue? Why did it close?
deeply inspiring to me.
moderate income person.” It would be an understatement to describe CLTs as an underutilized tool locally. Upon investigation, I discovered that not only are there are no existing CLTs in San Antonio, but that there are no active CLTs in the entire state of Texas (the National Community Land Trust lists three in Austin and one in Houston; however, only one of those listed includes contact information. Upon contacting this listing, I discovered the program to be apparently defunct.) To gather more first-hand information from
ties for the city to be involved, and for her position to have influence in being able to grow more food and have healthier food security. And so she started talking to city officials and city staff to see what would be possible. And this is what came out of it. And it started last year that they went through kind of a selection process, and each year they’re going through and selecting more properties, based off of if they’re vacant or underutilized, if they have access to water, if they have a known history to them so they don’t have soil
. . .not only are there are no existing CLTs in San Antonio, but
...there are no active CLTs in
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the entire state of Texas”
those with direct experience with CLTs, then, I spoke with Jason Hering, another friend in Kansas who has helped use CLTs to pilot a community orchard, among other projects:
contaminants. They go through these different categories and for the ones they find that they think are good enough, they offer them to the public for groups or citizens to apply to use them.
Marisol: Tell me your experience with using community land trusts.
Marisol: So it sounds like it’s a process that originated with somebody who was already familiar with CLTs as a tool within the city government? Like, it didn’t come from the community being like, “Oh, hey, City of Lawrence, we want to organize a community land trust”?
Jason: My experience--there’s been two parts. [First is] living on the land that [our mutual friend] Kelly lives on, Kelly Kindscher. I think that’s considered a CLT within that group on a really small scale. They set it up like a township when they bought it back in the 70s, I think. And I kinda view that as a similar thing, where everybody owns an individual house on it, but they own the land together and pay different prices and make some decisions together. Like if they want to get on rural water or there’s some development happening, then they decide what they want to say to the commission. So I lived there, and then the Common Ground Community Garden program that started last year. Marisol: Tell me about that program, and the story of how it got started and how they set it up? Jason: So, Eileen Horn is [the city of] Lawrence’s sustainability coordinator. She’s on the Food Policy Council with me, and once she jumped into the job she was starting to look for further opportuni-
Jason: Well, I think several people approached her and it kinda came up on Food Policy Council, which has farmers and other people that were interested in that kind of idea, finding more accessible land for growing food in town. And she kinda took that question and went around and tried to find other examples of it. And I think the one she found was a municipal land leasing program similar to that in Cleveland. I don’t know the name of that one. And so I think once she had someone ask her or enough pressure to find out what she was able to do, with that she kind of researched and found what was possible, and helped create it. Marisol: But the community basically had an ally within local government who was willing to take their idea forward and figure out how it would work within the struc-
ture of the local government, right? Jason: Yeah. Definitely. Marisol: So the CLT in Lawrence can be a number of different kinds of projects. And the community orchard is just one of those ideas. Is that right? Jason: Right. Exactly. Some of the other ones - there’s a list of them on http://www. lawrenceks.org/common_ground. There’s a garden incubator that’s in North Lawrence that’s more like a community garden for that area, but it also invites other people who want to start scaling up, going into more production. And there’s a few of the community gardens which is the standard one. There’s one that’s linked up to the Johnson County Community College student farm; they have a plot here, and then they operate it and try to teach students the entire process of planting it and then making sales. And then there’s the newest one which is an incubator farm that they kind of split into individual sections for farmers who wanna start scaling up who don’t have land themselves. Marisol: And is it the case that because it came out of the Food Policy Council that most of these projects are garden or farming projects? Because I know that in a lot of other cities, CLTs are used for affordable housing. Jason: Yeah, this one in particular was started with healthy food production in mind. And so it hasn’t branched out to that [housing], or like if it was a different program it would be more along those lines, but– yeah. Marisol: So what do you see as the advantages of CLTs? Jason: Well, [it avoids] a lot of the kind of control where one person or one small group has a hard time either purchasing, or even if they own a small piece of land, they might get bullied or bought
level of social isolation or alienation. In some ways, private ownership is–it’s just yours, so you don’t have to interact. As a model, it doesn’t presume any kind of social ties to community. But my next question is, how can communities use CLTs as a tool to resist developer-driven decisionmaking around land use? So not just to use CLTs as an alternative to the existing system, but to actually push back or challenge that system and transform it?
out by a development firm or an individual developer or the city. And so just having a group where they’re trying to cooperate to save the land seems to make sense in terms of having more power and control over their ability to protect it and decide together what the community wants to use it for. Marisol: And what do you see as the biggest challenge with that kind of model of common decision-making, common ownership over land specifically? Jason: Sometimes it’s the policies or just the group dynamics that form, especially at the beginning. A lot of them would be longer term arrangements, and with any longer term arrangement, the main thing that comes to mind are conflicts relating
to personality clashes or not enough things decided upon early on, like set up times, creating the bylaws, creating how things work, and what the expectations are for people. Marisol: Yeah, I’ve actually been thinking a lot about that, ’cause I do this carshare arrangement with my friend. And just how sharing resources–the same thing that is the advantage of it is also the difficult thing about it, which is that you’re sharing something. So you have to talk to people a lot, you know? Like if any problems arise, you have to figure it out together. It’s a kind of model that has potential for a lot of conflict, but also for developing skills in how to figure out conflicts. Jason: Yeah. It forces you to deal with and work through problems, because you’re in this together with another group. Marisol: And it’s made me think about the flip side of that, which is that the dominant way of doing things, of owning things privately - that the corollary to that is a high
And so coming up with alternatives to challenge those systems seems like an important one, because this one [neighborhood association] is kind of loose and relaxed and it’s harder to get everyone on board in that kind of system. But with a community land trust, that group of people has a lot of say and just is another power bloc that can exist within a neighborhood association. Or, they can be their own power bloc, they can kinda pull resources, and then if something’s going in, they can try to buy the properties around that area or expand their area to make sure their neighbors can’t be bought out that way. There’s less risk in one family saying yes, and then that being the ability for the landowner, the developer, to try to make the project happen. [Because] once they start there then it’s easier for land value to go down and living quality to go down in the area, so just to have everybody on board in a large chunk like that seems very possible. Especially in a larger city. Like, Lawrence is harder to do, but like in Cleveland and maybe in San Antonio, where there’s chunks of the area that–you kinda hear about it before it happens. You hear that there’s interest
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Jason: Let’s see. I know, in my mind, similar to a neighborhood association, which is a much more relaxed and less influential kind of system that a lot of cities already have–[nonetheless,] they are capable of, when there’s a large development project going through, they can rally and talk to the city and be the voice of the residents of this place. When there’s a project that almost the entire neighborhood association votes against, usually that’s heard and there are changes that are made. And the first time there was a development project that was going in downtown for a sevenstory hotel, when everything around it is two or three stories, and it butts up right against a residential neighborhood–the neighborhood association completely voted it down. And the city decided to ignore that, and that was a big first time.
in developing in that area. So before anything surfaces where land prices are cheaper–if you give the people that are living there in a larger city–like, take an entire city block or something. And if people living there had the option of selling to a developer or selling to their neighbors, or just buying into this larger thing, it might be a much easier thing to say, you’re still going to get money from it if you’re interested in selling, but you don’t have to sell to this developer. than And here’s the reasons why we can offer that it would be better than selling to the developer.
and found it, and it’s called Evergreen Cooperative. It’s also up in Cleveland, Ohio. They’re creating like large-scale businesses. They had a number of ’em. Like Evergreen Cooperative Laundry, and Energy Solutions, which is an alternative energy [coop], are and the newest one I think is Green City Growers coop, which is a largescale downtown hydroponic food production facility. And they’re owned and started by people of the community, in neighborhoods that are running down or that businesses have already left and there’s almost no jobs. And they concentrate on that, and they concentrate on what they call anchor institutions. Like, the institutions that, as long as there’s some people around, there will be those that exist. Either a university or more likely a hospital, I think is the one that they largely work with. And they go work with those anchor institutions that they know are gonna stay there; they’re not going to be fickle or might not be there in a year. They work out an arrangement with them; they say, we’re trying to find more jobs here, and we’re trying to meet price points for you. So let’s create an arrangement for, who do you do laundry with right now?
In the end,
Marisol: That’s awesome. Because yeah, we’ve talked about how, all around the periphery of downtown, there’s this move to gentrify and for developers to come in and create housing, condos, and high rises; and, you know, they might set aside some affordable housing units, but they’re just maybe like 10 out of 100 units or something like that, and it’s not even that affordable. And, that’s in addition to all of the neighborhood changes happening because those developments are moving into spaces that are historically residential and historically more working class areas. And so I think, one of the questions I wanted to end with is just, okay, let’s say people are interested in that kind of model as a way to push back against those forces. Where do we start? How do people with not a lot of resources to begin with come together to organize a CLT for their neighborhood?
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of what could be.
Jason: Gotcha. Yeah, I was just looking up a couple things. There is a National Community Land Trust Network [www.cltnetwork. org]; it’s an umbrella thing that helps other CLTs start up. And I just started looking into them, and they have training and technical assistance for trying different things, but there are also conferences and online free resources, a variety of ways where you can either tap into or find out how others fundraise for purchasing the first area or purchasing together or just being part of this national framework. And then, depending on what you find out from that, usually there’s a fundraising element, whether it’s a communitydriven one, or just the neighbors themselves who have houses, and you gain capital by putting down payments on things. Yeah– because I haven’t seen too many start up; there’s none around here that I know of. Except for the co-op houses, which are a somewhat similar model, where an organization owns the houses, and then they rent out the properties and then everybody decides things for those properties together, and decides how they spend maintenance money that’s pooled together on major projects and those kinds of thing. But then, we just had to find out, make contact with the university that we bought a house from for a dollar, and it’s really just networking and finding some properties that make it feasible for whatever amount of money you have. Marisol: Was there anything else you wanted to add or ask me? Jason: I remember you were talking about cooperative workplaces and other things in larger cities, and how that might be different [from smaller places like Lawrence]. And I remember going to conferences and hearing about this one in particular, and I went
What is beautiful about principles of permaculture and cooperation is that the goals of return-
ing land, water, and sky to common protection and stewardship are inherently coupled with the goals of both economic justice– distributing resources more equitably–and procedural justice, or fair and equal access to the political process that determines vital questions over the use of and relation to the commons. In the end, these solutions are less prescriptions than they are intimations of what could be. If we take seriously Daniel Wildcat’s argument that what we need is “indigenuity”–or, perhaps, intelli-gente– then the solution will be found in particular constellations of local nature-culture relations; they will emerge from particular community needs, desires, and engagements within particular places and locales. This is a politics ultimately without guarantees, then, open-ended beyond the imperative to act. As Maria Berriozabal frequently reminds me: we are called on not to be effective, but faithful. n Note: The Fuerza Unida interview, conducted in Spanish, was translated into English by Jessica O. Guerrero and Carlos Cortez. Bio: Marisol Cortez attempts to inhabit the impossible interstices between academic and activist worlds. She works primarily on issues of environmental justice as a creative writer, community organizer and liberation sociologist. Email her with thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Published on Jul 1, 2013
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