These are the notes I prepared for a talk at Counterpulse on 2/14/07. The talk was part of a series on urban life and resistance co-sponsored by City Lights Foundation and Shaping San Francisco. Thanks to Chris Carlsson for inviting me to speak and Erick Lyle for rounding out the evening with an inspiring talk about housing takeovers in the Mid-Market redevelopment area.
Patterns of displacement as resistance remain pretty constant throughout the centuries. They are revised, re-ramped and remixed; given a different face. The political economy in which each story occurs in is often very different from the last. But the blueprint of domination, the strategies of the elites, the response of everyday people tends to remain quite constant.
Take for instance, settlers on this continent clearing the prairie of Native Americans. For the most part they were those of limited resources who bought the lie that the land was theirs to take, and that no-one of any consequence was there before, just savages a notch or two above animals. Then the settlers too were largely displaced, often urbanized as robber barons cleared their claims to make way for railroads.
Jump to today where the presence of young artists and bohemians is manipulated in order to soften up a neighborhood, make it appealing for the truly rich to walk in and finish the process of destroying a working-class neighborhood. The process is of course, economic but is far more complex than political economy of a ‘hood.
In order for their land-grabs to be successful, the Real Estate Industry breaks bonds of solidarity neighbors might develop with one another by amplifying anxieties of community safety, immigration, and sexuality to warp the discussion about how a city can develop. This masks a discussion that is about class hatred and white supremacy in the codes of revitalization.
Then debates around housing to boil down to “supply and demand” without ever asking “what kind of supply, and what kind of demand?” The discussion hardly ever arrives at what it takes to make an open, egalitarian city that honors its workers, preserves communities of color, and develops a strong artistic life that cannot be manipulated to help destroy all desirable areas of life.