Our Supply, Our Demands: Part One

hqdefaultIf San Francisco Bay Area’s relationship with Supply and Demand went public on Facebook, it would have to read “It’s complicated.” Much more complicated than polygamy, more difficult than monogamy, and far more annoying that the one-night stand that lingered a few weeks too long.

For those of you who had boring economics teachers, Supply and Demand is basically the fer shizzle of mainstream economic thought for the past three hundred years give-or-take. It’s simple at its core. If you produce too little of a product that everyone wants (and some are in a better position to take via income or wealth) the price goes up. If you produce enough or more than enough, then the market will produce lower-prices.  Supply and Demand is central to the libertarian belief that a truly free-market will correct itself and ultimately deliver the most good to the most amount of people.

Never far from the surface of the housing debate in San Francisco is Supply and Demand. Those who worship at its temple portray it as the only lasting solution to the housing crisis. Simply put, they want San Francisco to keep building as much market-rate housing as the market could possible produce and eventually rents for all will go down. On the other end of the ideological battlefield, many assert that somehow San Francisco’s housing economy somehow exists in a world where scarcity doesn’t inflate prices. Both suffer from truly magical thinking the type found in Middle Earth or Hogwartz.   (There are other perspectives that embrace parts of each argument, or reject them both. However, these poles are the ones that are setting the debate.)

Over the next few weeks I’m going to be presenting some arguments that will hopefully take the debate in another direction—grounded in the unique economic and political dynamics of the San Francisco Bay Area.

Ready to get started? Read these two articles:




Organize Your Own in Philadelphia

Hillbilly-Nationalists-235x300Last week, my Hillbilly Nationalists co-author Amy Sonnie and I travelled to Philadelphia to take part in the opening events of Organize Your Own: The Poetics and Politics of Self-Determination. Curated by the powerhouse Daniel Tucker, the series brings together performance, visual art, film and political discussion to critically examine the meaning of solidarity today. We took part in a panel discussion at the Slought Foundation, of the legacy of the Original Rainbow Coalition with Hy Thurman of the Young Patriots Organization, Jakobi Williams, author of From the Ballot to the Bullet: The Illinois Chapter of the Black Panther Party and Racial Coalition Politics in Chicago and moderator Edward Onaci.

12523914_1074516495921594_2864019730981259948_nI hope that Slought will eventually post the recording of Hy’s fantastic introduction to the documentary American Revolution 2. AR2 depicts the one of the first meetings between the Chicago Black Panther Party of Self-Defense and the Young Patriots Organization. Currently they have an excerpt from the film available on the website as well as a soundclip of the panel discussion.





Their Land Grabs, and Ours

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.

save homes

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.

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Interview with Carolyn Ho: Mother of Lt. Ehren Watada

buttonsOn February 28th, the Chinatown Tenants Association hosted a talk by Carolyn Ho, the mother of Lt. Ehren Watada, who is facing court-martial for his refusal to be deployed to Iraq. I was honored to be invited to this event by Reverend Norman Fong of Chinese Community Development Center, who is one of my personal heroes. I caught up with Ms. Ho following the powerful speech to talk about building a truly grassroots anti-war movement.

JT: You have chosen to speak out not only in support of your son; but against the war in Iraq. What do you see is the state of the anti-war movement in the United States?

CH: I think that the anti-war movement is obviously now part of the mainstream national agenda. It is not just the agenda of the Left anymore. Early on, it was the Left, and some intellectuals sounding out a warning about what this war is about. Now the overwhelming majority of Americans oppose the war; that is what the elections showed us. Of course, some Congress people are now trying to tell us the opposite; that the elections really weren’t a statement on the war!

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Divorcing Columbus:The Italian-American Dilemma

This op-ed originally appeared in the San Francisco Bay Guardian as part of the Italian-American Political Solidarity Club’s annual attempt to inspire our folks to divorce the lost explorer. Slight changes have been made to the published version. I highly recommend anyone interested in radical Italian-American history to check out “The Lost World of Italian-American Radicalism,” edited by Gerald Meyer. Book Cover

By Tommi Avicolli Mecca and James Tracy

OPINION This year may go down in history as the one new immigrants reignited a civil rights mobilization in the United States. Their efforts, like those of the black liberation movement of the ’60s, will certainly become a catalyst for progressive action from many communities. As southern Italian Americans, this Columbus Day we have to ask our community the age-old question — which side are we on?

Unfortunately, many of us have chosen exactly which side we are on: supporting racist immigrant bashers, whether they are legislators in the halls of Congress or vigilante Minutemen.

As progressive Italian Americans, we support new immigrants because of the simple fact that our folks were once in the same situation that newcomers find themselves in: overworked, exploited, and demonized for quick political gain. It’s time for the Italian American community to finally reclaim our social justice tradition, divorcing the dazed and confused explorer who discovered a country that was already inhabited.

Instead of Columbus, we honor the Italians, Cubans, and Spaniards of Ybor City, Fla., who worked in the cigar industry and were able to create a Latin culture based on values such as working-class solidarity and internationalism (see “Lost and Found: The Italian American Radical Experience,” Monthly Review, vol. 57, no. 8 and The Lost World of Italian-American Radicalism by Philip Cannistraro , Gerald Meyer ). We also remember the Italian American radicals who were a part of labor actions in the early 1900s, including the Lawrence textile, Paterson silk, Mesabi Iron Range, and New York City Harbor strikes.

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The Original Rainbow Coalition: An Interview With Bobby Lee

bpp8.jpgBobby Lee moved to Chicago in the late 1960s as a VISTA volunteer, and joined the Black Panther Party. He was instrumental in bringing together the first Rainbow Coalition—a teaming of the Puerto Rican Young Lords and the white Young Patriots Organization. This is a short excerpt of a longer interview with Lee, for an upcoming book I’m working on about white working class New Left groups. It was originally published in Area Magazine, one of my favorite new periodicals. http://www.areachicago.net

JT: In Chicago, you formed the first Rainbow Coalition with the Young Lords and the Young Patriots Organization. Was this controversial in the Black Panther Party? I don’t think it could have been easy for Black Radicals to accept working with whites who wore the Confederate Flag on their uniforms.

BL: First of all, the Patriots’ leader William “Preacherman” Fesperman was one of the best human beings I have ever met. He was originally from North Carolina before he moved to Chicago. However, many of the Panthers left the group when we built alliances. Some didn’t like the Patriots, some just didn’t like white people in general. They were heavy into nationalism. To tell the truth, it was a necessary purging, except for these niggers took themselves out of the organization. The Rainbow Coalition was just a code word for class struggle.

Preacherman would have stopped a bullet for me, and nearly tried. Once, I was in a meeting up in Uptown, and I decided to leave by myself. I immediately determined that the police were following me. I made the mistake of leaving alone. The cop called out “You know what to do,” and I put my hands up against the wall. Preacherman came outside and saw what was going on, and in the cold of winter brought the men, women and the children outside. The cops put me in the car and they totally surrounded it, demanding my release. The cop called someone and they must have told him to let me go. I’ll never forget looking at all those brave motherfuckers standing in the light of the police car, but staring in the face of death.

JT: Looking back, was there enough basis for unity?

BL: Hell, yeah! When I went to Uptown Chicago, I saw some of the worst slums imaginable. Horrible slums, and poor white people lived there. However, two organizations prepared the way for the Rainbow Coalition, without them there wouldn’t have been a chance of forming one. Rising Up Angry (rua) and JOIN Community Union. The uptown neighborhood was prime recruiting zone for white supremacists. Most of the cats who were in the Patriots also had at least one family member in the Klan. Cats like Mike James and Jewnbug, and Tappis worked hard to fight that mentality. Mike James and RUA drove a wedge in that bullshit, that white supremacist bullshit, their groundwork was just amazing, out of this world.

JT: When did you first meet the Young Patriots?

BL: It was at the Church of the Three Crosses. There was a meeting, and it was the one recorded in the movie American Revolution II. After the crowd left, the Patriots were still there. We asked the Minister if he could let us have his office. We asked the Patriots if they could work with the Panthers and they said yes. I didn’t even tell Fred for the first three weeks of meeting with these cats. It wasn’t easy to build an alliance. I advised them on how to set up “serve the people” programs—free breakfasts, people’s health clinics, all that. I had to run with those cats, break bread with them, hang out at the pool hall. I had to lay down on their couch, in their neighborhood. Then I had to invite them into mine. That was how the Rainbow Coalition was built, real slow. Then I contacted Cha Cha Jimenez from the Young Lords.

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