Blog #53 – Density, Inclusionary Zoning, Housing Planning: Cautions on de Blasio’s Plan


Density, Inclusionary Zoning, Housing Planning: Some Cautions on  the           de Blasio Plan.

Mayor de Blasio’s Housing Plan is a far better plan than anything we’ve had since LaGuardia, and worthy of full support. But there are four large issues that need to be addressed, some in its principles, some in implementation: Density, Growth, Equity, and Comprehensiveness.

Density leads to gentrification and displacement, if not controlled [1]. There is a natural tendency look to the market to determine where increased density will work, to support increased density by zoning decisions, infrastructure investment location, tax policies, eased building height and FAR requirements, support for mega-projects, where the market indicates there is effective demand. That means, specifically, where there is the proverbial rent gap: where increased real estate values, particularly land values, suggest higher profits are to be gained by improvements, whether modernization and upscaling or higher and more dense new construction. Permitting such “improvements” thus is synonymous with increasing the prices of housing, not only in the locations made more dense, but in their surroundings. That in turn means one of the principal causes of gentrification and displacement is is advanced by public policy.

But there are good ways and bad ways of increasing density, if the purpose is to address housing needs in an equitable fashion.

Bad:

  • Permitting demolition of low-rise low-rent housing in favor of denser more expensive housing.
  • Permitting new housing in public housing sites for occupancy at market rates, where low-rent, i.e. subsidized housing could be built. Increasing density in already gentrifying neighborhoods.
  • Permitting densification without neighborhood rent regulations, fair and strictly enforced.
  • Permitting open and undeveloped space to be built on without regard to existing neighborhood use and needs.
  • Disregarding unbiased neighborhood opposition and community-based planning goals.
  • Increasing congestion and pollution without adequate transportation provision.
  • Providing bonuses permitting development beyond existing planning limitations

Good:

  • Increasing density by requiring that partially-occupied and vacant properties being held off market for speculative purposes be made available for occupancy, at affordable rents.
  • Improving public housing.
  • Increasing the supply of subsidized housing.
  • Controlling against the displacement effects of gentrification by rent regulation strictly enforced.
  • Make every program increasing density subject to open Community Board review, with over-riding of its vote only by a super-majority of Planning commission and City Council.
  • Investing in remediation of brownfield sites while preserving compatible industrial or commercial uses providing benefits equitably distributed.
  • Complying with community and city-wide planning standards regarding contextual development, light and air standards, accessibility provision and congestion avoidance.

Inclusionary housing can lead to neighborhoods further functionally segregated by race and income, if not controlled, and can be an inefficient use of governmental subsidies if provided. Inclusionary housing only works where the market is strong enough so that a developer or landlord can make a profit from market prices high enough to cover the provision of below-market rate units. Thus, it will only work in higher income neighborhoods, predictably more non-Hispanic white than the in the city as a whole. That effect will be particularly strong the lower the income of the target population to be benefited, in the development, because it will require a greater cross-subsidy, hence higher market rate units, hence even more likely non-Hispanic white. . And if it is limited to already higher income neighborhoods, it is likely to increase the concentration of significantly segregated residences in the city if it provides bonuses for buildings which result in a net increase of the proportion of high-income uses in the larger community. A very delicate balancing is required, with opposing dangers.

Further, the higher the effective subsidy needed, the higher the rents/prices of the market rate units needed to make inclusion profitable. If owners are permitted to select the tenants providing meting inclusionary requirements, they will discriminate in favor of the highest permitted income and the most “responsible” (“acceptable” ) tenants, creaming among applicants by considerations other than the need for housing. With the large majority of residents of an inclusionary development paying market plus rents, their demands on neighborhood facilities and services will be very different from those of the residents of the below-market rate units, to the latters’ disadvantage. Identifying the below-market rate units as such permits a likely stigmatization and pressure to separate out their residents. The worst case scenario might be the equivalent of servant’s quarters in a private residence.

But there are good ways and bad ways of designing and implementing inclusionary zoning, if the purpose is to address housing needs in an equitable fashion.

Bad:

  • Permit the market to determine where inclusionary housing will be provided.
  • Implement it particularly in transitional neighborhoods where the probability and disadvantages of gentrification are greatest.[2]
  • Let owners determine selection of residents for below-market-rate units.
  • Permit external identification of affordable units, or their isolation.
  • Ignore neighborhood impacts of construction, and neighborhood needs for facilities and services.
  • Make inclusionary development financially profitable by allocating public subsidies , including tax and other benefits, to support their rentals, effectively reducing the pressure on market-rate rentals and reducing cross-subsidy effect.
  • Provide as bonuses deviation from neighborhood planning and construction standards and limitations, e.g. height limits, zoning restrictions.
  • Permit obligation to provide below-market rate units to expire.

Good:

  • Make inclusionary housing mandatory, and target city programs of support in such a way that they draw on the developer’s profits over subsidies to support them.
  • Require a high enough number of below-market-rate units in any building to permit the provision of neighborhood facilities and services for the needs of all residents.
  • Permit city control of tenant selection for below-market units, perhaps using Housing Authority waiting lists and criteria.
  • Hold to planning-established limits on height, set-backs, etc. avoiding the granting of zoning and building exceptions’ or bonuses for inclusionary developments.
  • Provide for major participation in design and implementation of proposed beneficiaries in need of affordable housing.
  • Make every program subject to open Community Board review, with over-riding of its vote only by a super-majority of Planning commission and City Council.

Conclusion: Inclusionary housing can be an excellent program, but requires caution in its application. The devil is in the details. On-going effective participation of intended beneficiaries in need of housing is key in design and implementation.

A good Housing Plan requires long-term considerations beyond its immediate measures.Desirable provisions of a housing plan for New York City might include a city-wide housing plan developed as part of the city’s comprehensive planning process, that would deal with goals and standards for decisions on the location of housing and population distribution and density. Such a plan should deal explicitly with issues of segregation and equity among income groups and by race, color, ethnicity, age and gender. Zoning should be an important part of the implementation of such a plan, and specifically should include consideration of income-targeting land use allocation, as in providing income targets in the definitions of residential zones.

It should be comprehensive, and consider issues such as: zoning regulations facilitating for low income housing; Rent regulations. Tax action policies, taxing profits fairly, holding down depreciation deductions to match reality, surtaxes on flipping housing units, taxing quick turnover sales as ordinary income, making real estate taxes progressive, conforming to binding 197-a comunity plans, calling for equity impact statements on planning decisions, adopting clear city equity standards.Make a housing plan part of the city’s planning process, including goals for an agreed-upon equitable distributing of locations for housing development.[3] Adopt anti speculative warehousing legislation to deal with the full use of vacant units. Give due weight to the need for open space and active public political uses as well as recreational and passive. Integrate with regional considerations.

A general concern with the plan may arise from the process envisaged to put it into effect. The de Blasio Plan states:

“the City will conduct the analyses required for development of a mandatory inclusionary zoning program that satisfies sound land-use planning and legal principles, then will engage a broad group of housing stakeholders to solicit their input into the modifications and expansions of the Inclusionary Housing Program, and will work with stakeholders moving forward to ensure that the program functions smoothly to support development while also meeting the needs of communities” p. 31.

But if all “stakeholders,” regardless of their position, resources, and needs are treated as equals, equity is ill served, and inequalities are as likely to reinforced as reduced. A more robust arrangement for public participation is required, in which community and grass-roots active participation is supported.

A comprehensive look at the extent of the long-term over-all need for better affordable housing will show that the de Blasio plan is only one step, although an important one, in meeting the full need.[4] The private profit-driven market should be brought in to contribute. But to rely on public-private partnerships to solve the problem is ultimately a refusal to recognize that it will not do so, and cannot be expected to do so. Ultimately public provision is an inescapable necessity. The private housing sector should contribute to the necessary resources, by tools like mandatory inclusionary zoning, and certainly by progressive taxation, but the responsibility to pursue equity in housing is a public, not a private, responsibility.

Growth is not per se desirable. There is an underlying assumption running through the plan that considers growth to be a value for itself, development to be per se a good thing, even though it is often qualified as having “serving community needs” or “serve low and moderate income households.” It is an assumption that deserves examination. New York City today is a city where “growth” is largely led by its financial sector, whose prosperity becomes a threshold factor in the establishment of priorities.

Growth, generally, is desirable that reduces inequality.[5] Is growth desired if it increases inequality? Or increases segregation? Both short and long term factors come into play, and perhaps complex economic analyses, but should equity not be of fundamentally importance, rather than growth for its own sake?

Framing an equitable plan for housing is a complex process. De Blasio’s plan is a major step forward. But there is more to be done.

[1] For a look a the historical treatment of density in New York City’s development, see Marcuse, Peter. 1993. “Density and Social Justice: Is There a Relationship? A Historical Examination” Columbia Documents of Architecture and Theory (D), vol. Three, pp. 50‑87.

[2] De Blasio’s plan speaks of focus on transitional neighborhoods, p.8 but it also calls for it “in all medium and high density districts where rezonings provide an opportunity for significantly more housing.” P.30

[3] The plan speaks encouragingly of following policies “that [satisfy] sound land-use planning and legal “Principles; p. 31. They need to explicitly deal with issues of equity and segregation. ”

[4] The data in the Plan itself support this conclusion, as well as the detailed figures from the Housing and Vacancy Survey and studies of the Furman Center and a number of other sources.

[5] Reducing inequality is well known as a key de Blasio concern, and that is reflected frequently in the plan, e.g. p. 26, but requires concretization in application.

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# 34 — Un-Natural Disasters, Recursive Resilience, Unjust Compensation, Visionless Planning


Un-Natural Disasters, Recursive Resilience, Unjust Compensation, Visionless Planning

Summary: The “disasters” we care about are not “natural,” but social, and they are different from the disasters of previous eras. “Resilience planning” recursively accepts their recurrence, and often uses them to further already desired urban restructuring rather than preventing them. Vulnerability to the damages and compensation for the suffering suh “disasters”  cause are both unjustly distributed. No vision informs disaster planning policy, and participatory planning to deal with them is badly under-developed.  Good, democratic, equity-oriented planning is badly needed. [1]

Un-natural disasters. There is no such thing as a “natural” disaster.[2] A natural event, and earthquake, is only a disaster if it affects people, socially arranged. Vesuvius was only a disaster because Pompeii lay in its path; a tornado in an uninhabited desert is not a disaster.[3] (Bishop Berkeley, are you listening?).   Today, most disasters resulting from the forces of nature are avoidable; even building in earthquake-prone zones can be regulated, within the limits of advancing scientific knowledge. Today, disasters are caused by social-and economic arrangements, the forces of market capitalism – climate warming, filling in of wet lands for development, inadequate provisions for durable building ,  polit6ical terrorism, the unequal distribution of incomes leaving  poor people, particularly in the global South, to settle on undesirable, therefore cheap or empty erosion-prone sites and only the better off to build on desirable but hurricane-susceptible land or sites in desirable but flood-prone zones.[4]

Calling socially avoidable harm caused by natural events “natural disasters” is a politically-loaded evasion of responsibility.

Recursive resilience. Not only the causes, but even more the responses, to disasters are dictated by the existing economic and political structures of the society. . Obviously planning for resilience is accepting the inevitability of that to which resilience is the response, in this case including un-natural disasters. In the real world, the choice between dealing with the causes of a disaster, on the one hand, or on the other hand, accepting them but mitigating their consequences, is a matter  of cost-benefit analysis, weighing the costs and benefits of the alternatives against each other. But costs and benefits are not distributed randomly. Some consequences may even be desirable, and fit in with the on-going restructuring of urban space that is a feature of mainstream economic development policy in most cities today.

Two examples: In New Orleans after Katrina, resilience planning served to accentuate processes already under way, desired by the power structure, and facilitated by the hurricane damage. 4,5000 units of public housing, long neglected both by the City and HUD, although badly damaged by Katrina, have been totally demolished by the city with HUD approval, although many participants considered them quite  salvageable. But, as Louisiana’s Republican Congressman Richard Baker said a week after Katrina: [5]

‘We finally cleaned up public housing. We couldn’t do it, but God did.’[6]

In the waterfront areas of New York and New Jersey hit by Sandy:

Homeowners and landlords are eligible [for loans and grants] if their primary residence was damaged, using a contractor chosen by the city or picking their own contractor within government-set cost limits.

Homeowners also have the option of selling flood-prone properties to the city and relocating elsewhere.

“It is true in some cases, based on the level of damage and other factors, owners may want to voluntarily sell their homes and relocate,” Bloomberg said. “The city will work with the communities and developers to strategically redevelop those properties in a smarter and more resilient way.”[7]

The new result may well be that in desirable beachfront locations, lower-income households, many of whom moved there and built there when the area was remote and undeveloped, will take the money and move, wealthier ones, arriving later and benefiting from extensive development and public infrastructure provision,  will take the loans and grants and rebuild. Net result: The public amenity that is the beach will become what the market would have it, a semi-exclusive preserve of the well-to-do, with even more beach available for their own use. And the future of damaged public housing is still very much in abeyance.

Unjust Compensation. The bias in the distribution of the costs and the benefits of the public governmental response to disasters might be most egregiously seen in the handling of compensation to the victims of disasters. Again, an example: After 9/11, the families of those who lost their lives in the attack on the World Trade Center were provided compensation by special congressional legislation, administered through a Special Victims’ compensation Fund administered by clear standards rigorously applied. The measure was the loss of income from the victim that the victims’ families would have received had he (less often she) survived.

The formulas were spelled out and based on the loss of earnings that would have been received had the victim lived, so that the higher the income, the higher the award,  with a cap on that calculation if the earnings were above the 98th percentile of earners, or $231,000 [8]  In addition, “each claim received a uniform non-economic award [that is, independent of earnings or need] of $250,000 for the death of the victim and an additional non-economic award of $100,000 for the spouse and each dependent of the victim.”

By comparison, no such fund was established for the victims of Katrina, and the maximum required payment to the families of the victims was the coverage of funeral expenses! [9]

Think of how FEMA funds would have been distributed between New Orleans’ District 9  and New York’s financial district if the criteria were human need, rather than financial loss.

Visionless Planning. Good planning is supposed to start with a clear statement of the goals of the plan. Here, the challenge would be beginning with what measures might be taken to address the destructive forces creating the problem, and then develop an idea of how areas likely to be subject to those natural forces should be handled,. For the former, dealing with climate change would be an obvious priority. It is remarkable how little the big question of the causes of climate change have been linked to disaster planning. Obviously climate change is a long-range issue, and its causes will not be in hand in time to affect more immediately feared disasters; yet one would think it would produce a major upsurge in attention to what could be done, legislation would be debated in Congress, regulations proposed at all levels of government, funding for research hugely provided, to prevent the connected un-natural disasters from occurring and to deal with the complex legal problems requiring legislative solution involved in any serious planning efforts. This is not happening.

Relatively little long-range land use planning is going on at the local level.. The issues are indeed complicated, with all kinds of difficult trade-offs needing to be evaluated, long, medium, and short range. But some principles of a vision might be useful to structure a vision:

The amenity value of many fragile locations is high, e.g. beaches, river banks, marshes, etc. Such natural amenities should be available to everyone, and direct public ownership might be the default arrangement.

  • Permitted uses should be only those not requiring permanent structures, so that evacuation in a predicted danger could be simple and fast.
  • Relocation would undoubtedly be necessary, and the distribution of its costs is tricky. But the principles of social justice should be prominent criteria where government assistance is involved. Need should be a dominant factor, and loss of community and social networks, and possibilities of maintaining them with relocation, would be desirable.
  • Complex legal problems attend any comprehensive implementation. As it stands,planning needs to take into account, and intervene in legal and legislative discussions affecting:
    • definition of the zone, now up to “normal” high tide”, that are publicly owned;[10]
    • Definition of the next inland zone above high tide that is in public trust and  “subject to public trust uses”
    • Definition of the property rights of the holders of private title to land in flood-prone or environmentally sensitive areas where regulation now becomes a “taking” requiring compensation if no economically viable use of the affected property remains.
    • Flood plain regulation by and large will not be a taking if an economical use for the affected property remains.[11] Thus, disaster-vulnerable zoning should permit temporary uses, e.g. camp grounds, recreation, farming, in carefully defined zones.
    • In any event, for any plan, a social equity statement should be required, spelling out in detail who is affected, both on the cost and on the benefit side, and be a major consideration in any decisions; and
    • Procedures need to be worked out to make decisions on the many trade-offs involved democratically, not simply at the neighborhood and community levels –if only there, segregation by income and likely ethnicity will be perpetuated – or at the city-wide level – and not simply there, or active participation and local preferences will be ignored.[12]

 

Participatory Planning: Solutions will be complex, and much work needs to be done to arrive at the best combinations, which will vary widely from place to place and time to time. Structuring real participation is also complex, because there are multiple levels at which it is needed. First and foremost, of course, is participation by the immediate community affected. But that’s not enough; decisions and resources from higher levels are inevitably involved, and planning at those levels, and importantly even at the Federal level, is necessary. At the initial level, planning needs to respect the needs of those most directly affected, let them be involved in the rebuilding or removal decisions, and if removal, how and where, with community networks respected. At the city level, major resource allocation decisions are involved; likewise at the national. Regional plans are almost inevitably important. No technocratic report can take the place of participation a these levels, although the technical information needs to be readily accessible at each.

To say, as Mayor Bloomberg has:

“As New Yorkers, we cannot and will not abandon our waterfront. It’s one of our greatest assets. We must protect it, not retreat from it,”

doesn’t cut it. “our waterfront???”  No. “Whose waterfront? “  must be a central part of any analysis, and “whose costs” and “whose benefits” a central part of any solutions. In the New York City case, there is a well-developed Uniform Land Use Procedure in place, and the city has an experienced city planning department and competent staff. But the Bloomberg Special Initiative for Rebuilding and Resiliency was kept in the Mayor’s own office, and its report [13]does not even list the City Planning Commission or the Planning Department among the agencies they involved—not to speak of ignoring the ULURP process entirely.

Conclusion: Treating all disasters as alike, and un-natural ones as natural; limiting planning to increasing resilience; allocating resources, whether compensatory or developmental, without regard to participatory procedures or social justice; and doing all this without a constructive vision for the ultimate results desired – these are the wrong ways to go.

Good, equity-oriented, participatory planning is badly needed.

—————————————————-

[1] This piece grew out of a productive discussion at the Planners Network national conference: “Beyond Resilience,” at a panel chaired by Norma Ratisi, participated in by Thom Angotti, Erminia Mericato, Nabil Kamel and, and Dick Flacks, as well as myself, New York City, June 9, 2013.

[2] Chester Hartman and Gregory Squires, eds.  There’s No Such Thing as a Natural Disaster: Race, Class, and Hurricane Katrina, Routledge, New York,.

[3] I owe the example to Nabil Kamel..

[4] Ermenia Mericato has explicated some of these cases.

[5] Jordan Flaherty, “Post-Katrina Reforms in New Orleans Continue to Disenfranchise African-Americans,” Wednesday, 29 August 2012 00:00, Truthout | http://truth-out.org/news/item/11192-reform-and-its-discontents

[6] “Some GOP Legislators Hit Jarring Notes in Addressing Katrina,” Washington Post, 10 September 2005, A4, available at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/09/09/AR2005090901930.html  (Thanks to Jay Arena and Bill Quigley)

[8]. Special Master’s Final Report, p. 8

[9] Marcuse, Peter. 2011. “Ignoring Justice In Disaster Planning: 9/11, Katrina, And Social Policy,” in Merlin Chowkwanyun and Randa Serhan, eds., American Democracy and the Pursuit of Equality: (Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers, 2011), pp. 132-161. Slightly differenct version in: “Ignoring injustice in disaster planning: an agenda for research on 9/11 and Katrina” at http://www.urbanreinventors.net/paper.php?issue=3&author=marcuse.

[10] See, for a good historical discussion, http://masscases.com/cases/sjc/378/378mass629.html.

[12] Indeed, some proposals, such as the sea wall with gates, would require multi-state review of their lop-sided expenditures running up to $20 billion dollars. See http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=russian-flood-barrier&page=2

[13] Hurricane Sandy After Action, May 2013, available at http://www.nyc.gov/html/recovery/downloads/pdf/sandy_aar_5.2.13.pdf

Blog #25 – Re-imagining the City critically


Blog #25 – Re-imagining the City critically

Re-imagining the city can be a provocation to reconsider and expand the range of possibilities for a city in the future. It can simply be an opportunity for an unfettered imagination physically to design something completely new and different, not tethered to the existing city. Or it can open the door to a fundamentally critical view of the existing city, questioning the social and economic and organizational principles that underlie its present constitution and are normally taken for granted. The best of classic utopias do both. What follows focuses only on the latter, on the imagining not of the physical but of the human principles and practices on which an imagined city could be based. It raises some critical questions about some of principles and practices as they implicitly exist today and imagines some alternatives.

If we were not concerned with the existing built environment of cities, but could mold a city from scratch, after our heart’s desire, Robert Park’s formulation that David Harvey is properly fond of quoting, how would such a city look? Or rather: according to what principles would it be organized? For its detailed look, its physical design, should only then be evolved after the principles it is to serve have been agreed upon.

So what, in our heart of hearts, should determine what a city is and does?

I. The World of Work and the World of Freedom

Why not start, first, by taking the question literally. Suppose we had neither physical nor economic constraints, what would we want, in our hearts? Never mind that the supposition posits a utopia; it is a thought experiment that may awaken some questions whose answers might in fact influence what we do today, in the real world, on the way to an imagined other world that we might want to strive to make possible.

It may be hard to imagine such a counter-factual, but there are three approaches, based on what in fact we already know and want today. The first two rest on a single distinction, that between the world of work and the world outside of work, a key implicit division that underlies how we plan and build our cities today, a division that largely parallels that between, as various philosophers have phrased it, the system world and the life world , the realm of necessity and the realm of freedom, the world of the economy and the world of private life, roughly the commercial zones and the residential zones. One approach is then to imagine reducing the realm of necessity; the other is to imagine expanding the realm of freedom.
Most of us probably spend close to a majority of our time in the world of work, in the realm of necessity; our free time is the time we have after work is over. Logically, if the city could help reduce what we do in the realm of necessity, our free time would be expanded, our happiness increased.

II. Shrinking the Realm of Necessity

Suppose we re-examined the composition of the world of necessity that we now take for granted.. How much of what is there now is really necessary? Do we need all the advertising billboards, the flashing neon lights, the studios for the advertising agencies, the offices for the merger specialists, for the real estate speculators, for the high-speed traders, the trading floors for the speculators, the commercial spaces devoted solely to the accumulation of wealth, the consultants helping to make unproductive activities produce only more wealth, not goods or services that people actually use? If not do not need all of them, do we need all the offices for the government employees regulating them? Do we need all the gas stations, all the automotive repair and servicing facilities, all the through streets to serve all the cars we would not need if we had comprehensive public transit? Do we need all the jails and prisons and criminal courts? Are these parts of the realm of necessity today that are really necessary?

How about the ultra-luxury aspects of the city today? How do we see the multi-story penthouses in Donald Trump’s buildings? The virtually fortified enclaves of the rich in high-rise enclaves in our center cities, the gated communities with their private security in our inner and outer suburbs? The exclusive private clubs, expensive private health facilities, ostentatious lobbies and gateways and grounds where only the very rich can live? Are McMansions and true mansions necessary parts of the realm of necessity? If conspicuous consumption, a la Veblen, or positional goods, are in fact necessary for the well-being of their users, than something is wrong here: such marks of status, such conspicuous consumption, surely is not ultimately as satisfying for its beneficiary as other more socially rich and personally productive and creative objects and activities might. Or are these expensive attributes of wealth part of the real freedom of their possessors? But the realm of freedom is not a realm in which anything goes: it does not encompass the freedom to harm others, to steal, to destroy, to pollute, to waste resources. Imagine a city where there are limits on such things, in the public interest, freely and democratically determined, but in which what is provided for (but all of it) is what is really necessary for a meaningful freedom to be enjoyed.

Conclusion: the realm of necessary work could be shrunk significantly without any significant negative impact on a desirable realm of freedom.

III. Freely Doing the Necessary

A second way the necessary world of work could be reduced would be if some of what is in it that is truly necessary could be freely done, moved into the world of freedom. If in our imagined city what we do in the world of work could be converted into something that would contribute to our happiness, we’d be way ahead of the game. Is that possible – that we would do some of our presently unpleasant work freely, enjoy our work as much as we enjoy what we do outside of work? That we would in fact at the same time reduce the amount of work that is really necessary, and also convert much of the remainder into work that is done freely, in fact part of the realm of freedom? And if so, could a city contribute to making that possible?

But why “unhappy?” Couldn’t some work that is now being done only because it’s paid for, unhappily at least in the sense of not voluntarily done but only done because of the necessity of making a living, also be done by volunteers, under the right conditions And even provide happiness to those doing it?

The Occupy Sandy movement these past few weeks provides some hints.

In Occupy Sandy, volunteers have been going to areas devastated by the hurricane Sandy, distributing food, clothing, helping folk made homeless find shelter, water, child care, whatever is needed. Under the name of Occupy Sandy, many veterans of Occupy Wall Street and other occupations, but they are not doing it to build support for Occupy movement, but out of the simple desire to help fellow human beings in need. It’s part of what being human is all about. It’s been discussed, as part of what sociologists call the “Gift Relationship, ” but not the relationship of giving where you expect something in return, like exchanging gifts with others at Christmas, and it’s not just with people you know, but with strangers. It’s an expression of solidarity: it says, essentially, in this place, this city, at this time, there are no strangers. We are a community, we help one another without being asked, we want to help each other, we stand in solidarity with each other, we are all parts of one whole; that’s why we bring food and blankets and moral support. The feeling of happiness, of satisfaction, that such acts of solidarity and humanity provide are what a re-imagined city should provide. A city where no one is a stranger is a profoundly happy city.

Imagine a City in which such relationships are not only fostered, but ultimately become the whole basis for the society, replacing the profit motive for personal actions with the motivation of solidarity and friendship, and the sheer pleasure of the work.. Think of all we already do voluntarily today that is really, in the conventional sense, work. Imagine something very concrete, something maybe very unlikely but not so difficult to imagine. Imagine what you would do if you didn’t have to work, but were guaranteed a decent standard of living: all the voluntary organizations we belong do (de Tocqueville noticed that long ago), the collectively way houses were built and roofs raised in the early days of the United States, the clubs, the street parties, the volunteers staffing hospitals and shelters, the Occupiers of all sorts doing what is really social work as part of their freely given support for the movement, the houses built by volunteers with Habitat for Humanity. Think of volunteers directing traffic in a blackout, sharing generators when the power goes off, giving food to the hungry. In many religions, carrying for the stranger is among the highest of virtues. And think of artists doing chalk pictures in the sidewalk, actors putting on street performances, musicians playing publicly for pleasure as much as for donations. Think of all the political activity that we engage in without any expectation of return other than a better city or country. Think of all that retired folk do voluntarily that they used to be paid for: teachers tutoring students, literacy volunteers helping immigrants, women who had worked at home and still do also helping in the kitchens of shelters and community clubs, volunteers cleaning trash on trails and roadsides. Think of all the young people helping their elders to master new technologies. Isn’t the city we want to imagine one where these relationships are dominant, and the profit relationship, the mercenary relationships, the quest for profits and ever more goods and money and power, were not what drove the society? Where the happiness of each was the condition for the happiness of all, and the happiness of all was the condition for the happiness of each?

Some things in the realm of necessity are really necessary, but are unpleasant, uncreative, repetitive, dirty – yet get done today because someone gets paid to do them and is dependent on doing them for a living, not because they get any pleasure out of doing them. Part of the work done in the realm of necessity is not really necessary, as argued above. But some is: dirty work, hard work, dangerous work, stultifying work: cleaning streets, digging trenches, hauling cargo, aspects of personal care or treatment of diseases, garbage collection, mail delivery – even parts of otherwise rewarding activities, like grading papers for teachers, cleaning up in hospitals, copying drawings for architects or fussing with computers for writers today. Could any of this be freely done if the conditions were right? Some of this work can undoubtedly be further mechanized or automated, and the level of unskilled work is already steadily being reduced, but it is probably a fantasy that all unpleasant work could be mechanized. Some hard core will remain for some unhappy soul to do.

But as to such pure grudge work, would not the attitude towards doing it be much less resentful, much less unhappy, if it were fairly shared, recognized as needed, efficiently organized? In some social housing estates in Europe, tenants were accustomed to sharing the responsibility for keeping their common areas clean, the landing in their staircases, their entries, their landscaping. They were satisfied that it was properly organized and both the assignment of tasks and the delineation of physical spaces was something worked out collectively (in theory, at least!) and generally accepted as appropriate. Most took pride in this unpaid, unskilled work; it was an act of neighborliness. Once we watched a fast-order cook flip pancakes, tossing them in the air to turn them over, grinning as he served them to an appreciative diner. Craftspeople traditionally took pride in their work; today there are probably as many hobby potters as there are workers in pottery factories. If such facilities were widely available in a city, might not many people even make their own dishes out of clay, while automated factories mass-produced ones out of plastic?

So one route to re-imagine the city from scratch is to imagine a city where as many as possible of the things that are now done for profit, motivated by exchange, competed for for personal gain in money or power or status, or driven by necessity alone, are done out of solidarity, out of love, out of happiness at the happiness of others. And then imagine what are all the things we would change?

To put the challenge of reo-imagining a city most simply, if a city could be fashioned for the purposes of the enjoyment of life, rather than for the purposes of the unwelcome but necessary activities involved in earning a living, what would that city be like? At a minimum, wouldn’t it shift the priorities in the uses of the city from those geared to “business” activities, those pursued purely for profit, in “business” districts, to those activities done for pleasure and their innate satisfaction, in districts designed around the enhancement of residential and community activities?

IV. Expanding the Realm of Freedom

As an alternative way of re-imagining, a city could also be re-imagined based on the day to day experience with what already exists in the realm of freedom in the city as we have it now. And if so, could a city contribute to making that possible? Making available other facilities necessary to sustain the realm of freedom in the re-imagined city? Community meeting places, smaller schools, community dining facilities, hobby workshops, nature retreats, public playgrounds and sport facilities, venues for professional and amateur theaters and concerts, health clinics – the things really necessary in a realm of freedom?

We might give the possibilities shape by examining how we actually use the city today, when we in fact are not concerned with making a living but rather with enjoying being alive, doing those things that really satisfy us and give us a feeling of accomplishment? What would we do? How would we spend our time? Where would we go? In what kind of place would we want to be?

One could divide what we do into two parts: what we do privately, when we are alone or just with our intimately loved ones, and what we do socially, with others, beyond our core and intimate inner circle. The city we would imagine would make sure each has the first, the space and the means for the private, and that the second, the space and the means for the social, are collectively provided. For the first, the private, what the city must provide is protection for space and activities that are personal. The second, the social, this is what cities are really for, and should be their main function. Cities, after all, are essentially defined as places of wide and dense social interaction.

So if we look at what we already do, when we are really free to choose, what is that we would do? Probably very much some of the same things we do now, when we are free – and, possibly, if one is lucky,, they might be some things one is also getting paid to do now. Some of us love to teach; if we didn’t have to earn a living, I think we’d like to teach anyway. We might not want to have a 9:00 a.m. class, or to do it all day or every day; but some we’d do for the love of doing it. Many of us cook at least a meal a day, without getting paid for it; would we maybe cook for a whole bunch of guests in a restaurant if we could do it on our own terms, didn’t need the money, and weren’t getting paid? Would we travel? We would take others along if we had room? Entertain guest, strangers, from time to time, out of friendliness and curiosity, without getting paid, if we didn’t need the money? Would we go to more meetings, or be more selective in the meetings we go to. Would we go for walks more often, enjoy the outdoors, see plays, act in plays, build things, design things, clothes or furniture or buildings, sing, dance, jump, run, if we didn’t have to work for a living? If none of the people we met were strangers, but some were very different from us, would we greet more people, make more friends, expand your understanding of others?

Imagine all that, and then imagine what we would need to change in the city we already know to make all that possible.

What would that imagined city look like? Would it have more parks, more trees, more sidewalks? More schools, no jails; more places where privacy is protected, and more where you could meet strangers? More community rooms, more art workshops, more rehearsal and concert halls? More buildings built for effective use and aesthetic pleasure rather than for profit or status? Fewer resources used on advertising, on luxury goods, on conspicuous consumption?

What would it take to get such a city? Of course, the first thing is unfortunately very simple; we’d need the guaranteed standard of living, we’d need to be free of the need to do anything we didn’t like to do just to earn a living. But that’s not so impossible; there’s a whole literature on what automation could do, on what waste there is in our economies (23% of the Federal budget goes to the military; suppose that money didn’t get paid for killing people but for helping them)? And wouldn’t we be willing to share the unpleasant work that remains if it were the means to live in a city that was there to make us happy?

All that takes many changes, and not only changes in cities. But the thought experiment of imagining the possibilities might provide an incentive for actually putting the needed changes in effect

V. From the Real City to the Re-Imagined City: Transformative Moves

Beyond thought experiments, provocative as they may be , what steps can be imagined that might pragmatically move us towards the re-imagined city of heart’s desire? One approach might be to start by seeking out existing aspects of the city activities that either already offend our hearts and moving to reduce them or that already give us joy and moving to expand them.

If then we were to reimagine the city pragmatically but critically, starting with what’s already there, the trick would be to focus on those programs and proposals that are transformative, that would deal with the root causes of problems and satisfactions, that would be most likely to lead from the present towards what the city re-imagined from scratch might be. In other words, to formulate transformative demands, one that go to the roots of problems, what Andre Gorz called non-reformist reforms.

it is fairly easy to agree on much that is wrong in our cities, and to go from there to agreement on what might be done in response. Then putting those pieces together, a re-imagined image of the city, perhaps not as shining as one re-imagined from scratch but more immediately realistic and well worth pursuing, could emerges.

Look individually at what those pieces might be (there are of course more, but the following are examples of key ones).

Inequality. We know high and rising levels of inequality are at the root of multiple tensions and insecurities in the city, and that a decent standard of living in the city depends on its residents having a decent income. Strong living wage laws, and progressive tax systems, are moves in that direction. The transformative demands here would be for a guaranteed minimum annual income for all, based on need rather than performance.

Housing. Decent housing for all, eliminating homelessness, over-crowding, unaffordable rents, would be key ingredients in any properly re-imagined city. Housing vouchers, various forms of subsidies, even tax incentives, zoning bonuses for mixed-rental construction, are all moves towards ameliorating the problem. For homes threatened with foreclosure, reducing principal or interest and extending payments is helpful short-term, but likewise does not deal with the underlying problem. Transformative, however, would be the expansion of public housing, run with full participation of tenants and at a level of quality removing any stigma from it residents. Community land trusts and limited-equity housing likewise points the way to replacing the speculative and profit-motivated component of housing occupancy from it use value, stressing the community ingredient in housing arrangements. That does address the roots of the problem of unaffordable quality housing.

Pollution and congestion. Automobile fumes congestion, inaccessibility except by care for needed services can all be serious problems, and regulating emission levels on cars and congestion pricing are useful means to ameliorate the problem. Transformative are measures such as closing streets (the Times Square experiment vastly expanded), and lining it with much improved pubic mass transit, encouraging adaptation of heavy usage areas to bicycle access, mixing uses, all go further to attacking the roots of the problem, to suggesting transformation towards re-imagined cities.

Planning. The lack of control over one’s environment, the difficulties of participating actively in the decisions about the future of the city in which one lives, is a major issue if the quest is for happiness and satisfaction in the re-imagined city. Public hearings, the ready availability of information, transparency in the decision-making process, empowered Community Boards. But until Community Boards are given some real power, rather than being merely advisory, alienated planning will continue. Real decentralization would be transformative. The experiment in Participatory Budgeting now under way in New York City and elsewhere is a real contribution to potentially transformative policies.

Public Space. After the experience of the evictions from Zuccotti Park, the need for public space available for democratic actions has become manifest. Adjusting the rules and regulations governing municipal parks, permitting more space, public and public/private, to be available for such activities, are steps in the right direction. Protecting the right of the homeless to sleep on park benches is a minimalist, although basic, demand, obviously not a demand aimed at ending homelessness. Expanding the provision of public space and giving priority for its uses for democratic activities can be transformative, and would be a component of any re-imagined city. (See my Blog #8).

Education. Adequately funded public education, with the flexibility of charter schools but without their diminution of the role of public control, would be a major step forward; for students presently in higher education forgiveness of student loans is a pressing demand. But the transformative demand would be for totally free higher education, available to all, with the supportive conditions that would permitall students to benefit from it.

Civil Rights. Organization is a key factor in moving towards an imagined transformed city, and the city of the present should facilitate democratic organization. Other issues mentioned above: public space, education, housing and incomes making real participation feasible, are all supportive of an expanded conception of civil rights. So, clearly, is the end of many practices restricting organization, from police limitations on assemblies and speech to so-called “homeland security” measures to simple use of the streets for public assemblies, leafleting, etc. Transformative here would be oversight measures seriously limiting the unfortunately inevitable tendency of government officials and leaders to try to control critical activities within their jurisdictions, critical activities sure to be found short of the achievement of the re-imagined city, and perhaps even there.

Put the goals of all such transformative demands together, and you have transformed a purely imagined city into a developing and changing mosaic based on the existing, having its roots in the present reality, but slowly flesh on the bones of what imagination will generate.

NOTE

A warning: Re-imagining the city can be fun, it can be inspirational, it can show doubters that another world is possible. But there is a danger:

Re-imagining the City should not be seen as a current design project, laying out what the physical city could look like if we had our way, what utopia would look like. What the city needs is not redesign, but reorganization, a change in who it serves, not how it serves those who now are served by it. It needs a different role for its built environment, with changes adapted to the new role, not vice versa. A re-designed city is a means to an end. The end is the welfare, the happiness,, the deep satisfaction, of those whom the city should serve: all of us. We should not spend much time physically designing what those reimagined cities would look like except as a provocation to thought, for which however they are useful – and which is the intent of this piece. The actual designs should be done only when there is actually the power to implement them, by the people who would then use it. Designs should be developed through democratic and transparent and informed processes.

****

For an immediately practical proposal to make the re-imagination of the city a politically useful next step, see Blog #26.

  1. But a caution here, for what the heart desires can in reality be manipulated. Herbert Marcuse deals with this issue in making the distinction between authentic and manipulated desires, authentic and manufactured needs. See Collected Writings, ed. Douglas Kellner, vol. VI.
2. Similar to Jurgen Habermas’ formulation.
3, Hegel, Marx, Herbert Marcuse
4. How to define what is “really necessary” is of course a tricky proposition. For one fruitful approach, see Herbert Marcuse, Essay on Liberation, Boston: Beacon Press, 1969.
5. Richard Titmus, The Gift Relation, 1970.
6. Maimonides, St. Francis.
7. Are parts of the struggle for competitive or simple existence, not done for the satisfaction of productive work well done that they provide., Herbert Marcuse has it in Essay on Liberation.
8. Marx’s fantasy, in the Grundrisse, commented on in Herbert Marcuse vol. VI, Collected Papeers, Douglas Kellner, ed., Routledge.forthcoming,
9. For the present situation, focusing on white collar work, see Brynjolfsson, Erik and McAfee, Adam (October 2011) Race Against The Machine: How the Digital Revolution is Accelerating Innovation, Driving Productivity, and Irreversibly Transforming Employment and the Economy. Digital Frontier Press. ISBN 0-984-72511-3.

Frivolous Appendix

Isaiah 40:4 is used in the text of Handel’s Messiah, in a passage in which the prophet tells the people to prepare for the coming of the Lord by making a highway for him through the desert, and then:

“Ev’ry valley shall be exalted, and ev’ry mountain and hill made low; the crooked straight and the rough places plain.”

Reading this as a political metaphor for the social and economic constitution of an imagined city, it is eloquent. It might be read as a metaphor in the debate on income tax rates under way as I write this, as well as for the appropriate goals of the criminal system and the need for transparency in public actions.

But read as a design for an imagined physical city, it would be the opposite of good planning. Environmentalists would shrink from it in horror, architects would rend their garments, criminal justice reformers might see it as a call for more jails, historic preservationists see it as threatening the legacy of the traditional quarters of old cities. Isaiah is not around to defend himself, but surely his meanings were closer to the political/social than the physical.

Beware of presenting social issues in physical metaphors, lest they be taken literally!

Blog #16 – The Future: Strategic Implications


Blog #16 – The Future: Strategic Implications

 

A.     Transformation

 

So: since 1968, at least, the situation seems to have been ripe for transformation., objectively the material and technical prerequisites for a more socially supportive and equitable society are all there, the contradictions within the existing system blatant. But the relative strength of the forces supporting the status quo, compared to those resisting its consequences, are such as to take transformative change off the immediate agenda. The contradictions in the system are manifold, but the subjective forces for change are inadequately mobilized, the conservative forces still too strong.[1] Within the existing relations of power, those who are objectively potential agents of change are not subjectively adequately organized to marshal their power to achieve that change, and those among them who are nevertheless thus dedicated face the subjective unreadiness of others as a present objective roadblock to progress.[2] As one formulation puts it, “…contradictions do not explode by themselves,”[3] contradictions only produce change when there are agents of change with the desire and the ability to catalyze that change.

 

Some believe that, despite these dangers, “we are on the threshold of a new era.”[4] Potentially, yes. But there is much to do before we get there.

 

The resulting strategy of both Occupy and the Right to the City movements leads towards formulating immediate demands that are transformatively anti-capitalist in direction but not in immediate goals. Demands are formulated seeking immediate gains and are at most transformation sector by sector.  They reflect the limitations imposed on them by the absence of more radical possibilities.

 

How far the Occupy movement and the Right to the City movements (and kindred) will go depends, I believe, on four questions of basic strategy:

 

  1. Understanding who the 99% are, and bringing enough of them into the fold, whether by joining, forming alliances, or common actions, to have the power successfully to confront the 1% (see Blog #13);
  2. Achieving clarity of long-term and transformative goals while pursuing immediate, concrete, and achievable gains for the exploited, the discontented, and the excluded.
  3. Dealing with how the existing organizations of those resisting, such as militant workers’ organizations and groups such as Occupy Wall Street and Right to the City Alliances handle the continuing changes in their character and deal with the internal and external dangers they face;
  4. What strategy for transformation step by step, perhaps seeking transformation sector by sector or institution by institution, will progressively lead to comprehensive and radical social changes, capturing the positive aspects of capitalism, putting them in a new framework, and rejecting its inherent undesired characteristics (see examples below).

In terms of actions: there is visible a convergence of the power of the exploited in progressive labor  actions, the concrete but more limited demands of the Right to the city movements, and the broad inchoate but deeply felt demands of the discontented in the Occupy Wall Street movement.. Not crossing a threshold; at best in the direction of transformative actions and transformative demands:

 

Transformative actions, pushing the limits of participatory democracy, espousing direct action as an everyday tool, and combining the power of the exploited, the discontent and the excluded, linking the concrete but more limited demands of the right to the city movements with the broad, sometimes inchoate but deeply felt demands of the occupy movement together.

 

Transformative demands, pointing in the direction of radical change, perhaps sector by sector, pushing the possibilities of direct democracy,[5] extending the range of governmental decisions over the market, constantly showing the extent of real change necessary to achieve their full goals. In a way, to join the pressures of the included to get in with the pressures of the already included to get out, to get everyone into a new and better society.

 

The convergence of actions by organized workers, the exploited, with the groups in the right to the city movement, the excluded and oppressed, and with occupiers, the discontented, is in fact taking shape.[6]  There is much evidence that such convergence in the shaping of individual demands, but aiming them towards a transformation of the whole, is happening.  The national Right to the City Alliance’s program to define transformative and develop transformative demands explicitly recognizes the necessary direction, the planning for the future of the General Assembly and Working Groups of Occupy Wall Street does so also. The mobilization of students and their allies in Quebec heads in the same direction. So do efforts such as those of the Brecht Forum in New York City, radical caucuses in mainstream organizations, small but well-organized small radical and Marxist groups. Thoughtful examinations such as Jeremy Brecher’s pieces and others in The Nation,[7] journals such as “transform: the european journal for alternative thinking and political dialogue,” and many others, mostly small, many fiercely independent, but all seeking for radical alternatives, moving generally in the same direction.

 

So what specifically is that direction? What are the implications for strategy for those that desire transformative change?

 

B.      Concrete Individual Demands, but Aimed at the Whole.

 

Almost any demand for immediate and feasible change can at the same time raise the real long-term structural change that fully dealing with the issue would require – can contain a critique of the whole. . Making clear what ultimate solutions to a problem would look like, while pursuing immediate reforms, makes that pursuit also part of an educational process that can endure beyond the immediate effort. Andre Gorz spoke of the difference between reformist reforms and non-reformist reforms; the former can be converted into the latter with inclusion of the ideological issues, long-term implications of the reform.

 

Community Voices Heard,  a member organization of low-income people, predominantly women with experience on welfare, building power in New York City and State,” puts it this way:

 

We aim for policies that will truly improve our members’ lives and change the balance of social, economic and political power, while negotiating for concrete wins along the way.[8]

 

The Right to the City Alliance, at the national level, has defined transformative demands as those which follow five principles:: 1) People over profit; 2) Social Ownership; 3) Democratic control; 4) Scale; and 5) Consciousness.[9]

 

Many examples could be given:

 

In housing, working to prevent foreclosures and evictions can be exposed as coupled to the inevitable and logical working of a private market in housing, in which housing is treated as a commodity, for its exchange value, not its use value.

 

In housing, pushing for affordable housing can suggest the possibility of distribution of housing based on need, not wealth or ability to pay, or nationalization of land.

 

In education, working to reduce student loans and interest rates on them can be linked to the call for completely free public higher education for all.[10]

 

In educational reform, not seeing education as the solution to inequality, but as a matter of right, and thus not joining the job-oriented rejection of the liberal arts and social sciences in educational reform efforts.

 

In transportation, fighting congestion and pollution can raise the issue of free public transportation and public investment in mass transit.

 

In taxation, demands for progressivity in tax rates could suggest the substitution of income and wealth taxes with a reasonable absolute ceiling in lieu of all other revenue-targeted taxes, to be collected by national governments and redistributed to states and localities, or include an anti-speculation tax.[11]

 

Demanding full insurance coverage for necessary health care can be liked to calling for health care based on need, not fee for service.

 

Protecting the natural environment in the name of sustainability can be linked to valuing and affirmatively enhancing it for its own sake; rejecting the value of growth for ITS own sake

 

Contesting abuses of the criminal justice system, stop and frisk laws, excessive and negative incarceration, can expose the need to the causes of criminal conduct and shutting down the system of incarceration as the solution.

 

Cultural demands for support of artistic and related activities can be linked to their service as a vehicle for cultural and social criticism, valuing culture as itself a transformative activity.  Bread and Roses in the Lawrence strikes of 1912 was already a convergence foreshadowing the exploited and discontented united demands of 1968, and the approach of Occupy today.[12]

 

Reform of business practices can point towards the elimination of profit motives from a whole range of activities, and steadily enlarging the public sector or communal control of actions necessary for social welfare. The tactic of using stockholder activism to change corporate policies is not likely to go far[13]., but can point     to the withdrawal of corporate involvement in socially undesirable activities altogether, from warfare to pollution damaging health.  stockholder control, but most stockholders are notlikely to be  sympathetic to criticism of capitalism;.[14]

 

C.      Unity: The Right to Occupy the City.

 

The exploited, the discontented, the oppressed, have different grievances against the capitalist order, but the different parts of the 99%  have in common (see Blog #13 D)  the desire and the need to transform the system. It will take their combined power to do so, and coalitions, alliances, joint campaigns, will be of the essence of such efforts to unify their actions and join their separate powers together. That does not mean losing their separate interests, but merging them with others in analysis and action: working in unity.  Maybe no single slogan can capture the claim, but perhaps:

 

“THE RIGHT TO OCCUPY THE CITY”

 

More fully, it might be:

 

“THE RIGHT TO OCCUPY THE WORLD, ITS SPACES, ITS ECONOMY, ITS GOVERNMENT”

 

would be more comprehensive, but less but less declaim-able.

D.     Transformative education, ideology: culture.

E.      Ideology and Values

 

Van Jones, from a liberal-to-radical point of view, writes:

 

Without question, within a broad, progressive alliance “the socially responsible and eco-friendly” businesses must be a part of it. But I question if that alliance itself should declare itself pro-capitalist. It seems to me that what is needed is an alliance built around a

program on the issues. Debate should take place about what are the best ways to address the range of system-produced crises – climate, health, unemployment, housing, education, cultural violence, inequality, etc. – without the alliance having an explicitly pro-capitalist, pro-socialist, pro-libertarian, pro-anarchist or any other historically-based ideology.[15]

 

In “Channel the Anger and the Hope,” Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor and publisher of The Nation magazine, lavishes praise on the Occupy movement and then goes on to write:

 

“For me the central question now is how to channel the anger and hope of Occupy into strategies that will forge a new politics and economy. … This requires a politics of conviction…”

 

“A politics of conviction.” That is, a politics funded on an ideology[16], a belief system, logic and emotion, cultural[17] factors rather than material needs.

 

Joseph Stiglitz makes the same point, in a piece titled “The 99 Percent Wakes Up”

:

Around the world, the financial crisis unleashed a new sense of unfairness, or more accurately, a new realization that our economic system was unfair.[18]

 

Material needs and cultural needs are different, and lead to different forms of resistance in a society that fails to meet needs when it has the capacity to do so.  The relationship between material factors and ideological ones was formulated in classical Marxism as between base and superstructure, but further development of the approach in the neo-Marxist literature, and certainly in more mainstream approaches, gives greater weight to the independent influence of cultural factors.  Even such obviously material an issue as poverty is today acknowledged to have a significant cultural, or relative, content. As society has developed an ever greater ability to produce and distribute material goods, the importance of the cultural factor grows. More and more political and social actions are determined by cultural values, values which are heavily influenced by material circumstances but also in critical ways separated, almost independent, of them.

 

Dissecting the basis of the values, the cultural issues, which provoke resistance among the 99%, is well beyond the scope of what is here undertaken.[19]  Yet naming these values can be important politically, for it may suggest important points in common between the resistance part of the 99% and many of those well to the conservative side of them.  The integrity of the individual and the desirable scope for the individual’s development, the desirability of various levels and sources of inequality, the importance o democratic participation, the varying motivations for work, the nature of creativity, are all subjects of interest to many viewpoints, and open discussions of them may open a door for the resistant part of the 99% to expand its influence within the whole.

 

To summarize this argument: there are a number of values in common among the 99% that are likely to resonate well among others whose support the active 99% would like to have. . They include an aversion to injustice, solidarity with kindred, valuation of human life, appreciation for beauty, the importance of love in human relationships, a rejection of force in the making of social decisions. Their elucidation may actually be an organizing tool for the 99%.

 

Further, speaking explicitly about values can be important practically both to avoid the accusation of  selfishness, of  merely wanting more of what others have, as well as opening the door to discussions of those ideologically supporting the established order, the 1%, who in fact will share many of exactly these values.

 

In those discussions, many of the points in contention turn out to be really issues of fact and careful analysis. What sociology has to say about motivations to work and about creativity, what political science and political economy have to say about effective participation, what economic analysis has to say about the respective role of government and markets in the production and distribution of goods and services, what history teaches about the role of civil liberties and civil rights, , what psychology and philosophy have to say about nature and nurture in the formation of ideas, are all topics to which all people  can come from very different starting points, even with very different initial material interests, and lead to some common understanding and perhaps some common approaches to policy issues. Power will ultimately determine actual outcomes, but rational discussion, and social formats that would promote it, can influence relations of power along the way. In an age of super-pacs, Citizen’s United decisions, media monopolies, with critical material consequences at stake, the importance of ideological work and debate is greater today than ever.

 

All this suggests the strategic importance of ideology,[20] analysis, understanding, and specifically understanding the relationship between the 99% and the 1%, the cause and effects of poverty, discontent, and oppression, etc. While values will shape the responses to the findings, there are essentially question of fact involved in describing them accurately and laying out causes, determining who benefits and who suffers and in what ways, what regularities determine individual behaviors and social actors conduct, and what effects each is likely to have. Education and theoretical work are of major and growing importance a

 

Thus clarifying values and understanding the dynamics of behavior becomes an increasingly important part of the construction of resistance within the 99% — and to some extent even among the 1%. Ideology, liked to culture broadly viewed, today demarcates the fault lines relevant so social change perhaps as much as or even more as the traditional purely materialist definitions of class.  As Joe Biden’s Middle Class Task Force put it: “middle-class families are defined more by their aspirations than their income,” although some, from the more traditional end, making a different point, complain: “Stop Using ‘Middle Class’ to Depict the Labor Movement.”[21]

 

A transformed understanding is needed for clarity on the issues.

F.      Patience for the Long Haul

 

The whole thrust of the argument here is that, while conditions call for radical structural social change, the present constellation of power does not permit it to be accomplished today. Yet its necessity remains, and its potential to be achieved in the future remains. The implication is clear: patience, thought, including theory, and planning are necessary.

 

In 1968, at the height of the protest demonstrations in Berlin, Rudi Dutschke, one of their most prominent leaders, spoke of a “long march through the institutions.” That made and makes sense. Change will be a long process; patience is necessary, and targeted, planned, actions, campaigns. The call for progress towards change sector by sector is another way of saying the same thing.

 

As Guy Debord already wrote in 1967 for the French Situationists:

 

[Revolutionary critique must] work among the irreconcilable enemies of the spectacle, and admit that without them it is nothing; [in between times,] it must know how to wait.

 

G.     Transformative Strategies

 

Transformative demands, a key part of any transformative strategy, are outlined in B. above, are specific and concrete, and seem reasonably clear to me. But PLEASE NOTE: The Transformative Strategies presented below are only intended as a preliminary check-list of possibilities worth discussing; obviously each one deserves far more than the short paragraphs here, but looking at each in the context of the others may be a useful way to inform thinking through the best ways to go forward.

 

The earlier argument leads to a number of different strategies, mutually consistent, that can be considered. They are simply outlined below; a number of current initiatives, such as the Right to the City Alliance’s work on transformative demands, and a variety of manifestos and declarations circulating on the web, provide much more detail and many other possibilities.

 

 

1.     Recognizing Practical Minority status

 

During this likely long waiting period, those desiring radical change must perforce recognize that, while  they may speak for the overwhelming majority of humanity, the 99%, they are not themselves anywhere near that number. Neither the exploited, nor thediscontented, nor the oppressed, by themselves constitute the 99%, and the active among them indeed are a relatively small number. Their hopes to achieve change rest on their cooperation with others who are similarly moved but not yet in action in the same direction.

 

That means, among other things, that electoral strategies under present rules will not work. The forces for change, absent a crisis, are unlikely to beat the 1% by reaching to the point of 51% or more. . That limits possibilities of a simple electoral strategy. The recent Wisconsin results in the recall election suggest the reality of the situation. The intensity of support does not directly translate into quantitative majorities.

 

3.     Direct Action.

 

Direct action, by itself an ambiguous term, here means the dramatic, visible, usually audible, demonstration, with their physical presence and actions, of the strength of a particular conviction, program support, criticism, opposition, as by marches, demonstrations, occupations, as of homes threatened with foreclosure or businesses or public or private spaces, strikes and picket lines, Jeremy Brecher’s article, noted above, gives many examples. They are important not only for those whose attention is caught by them among non-participants, but also for the participants themselves, as  way of solidifying solidarity and expanding united action.

4.     Illegal disruption: e.g. occupying Wall Street offices

 

The power of the police, ultimately the control of organized force by the 1%, is today in most situations adequate to prevent serious disruption and immobilize its practitioners. Physically defending illegal occupations has been tried in a few instances, e.g. Oakland, ineffectively. In a few cases, house occupations, mass picketing, there have been temporary successes, and, more important, increasing awareness of injustice. The symbolism of such actions can be potent; the actual results achieved by the use of “illegal” physical measures are likely under today’s circumstances to be negligible. Preventing furniture from being put out on the street in evictions, sitting in in factories, booing a speaker, can have some, but probably limited, effect. As the civil rights movement has shown, however, and Frances Piven and Richard Cloward have convincingly recounted in history,[22] under other circumstances the results may be dramatic, and unachievable by any other means.

 

It does seem clear that the situation in 1967 is not the same as that of today. Then, according to Nathan Glazer, quoted approvingly by Daid Patrick Moynihan:

 

…disaffected groups, whether blacks or the poor, or students, can act as if the state were a dictatorship, can gain wide sympathy for their position, and can maintain the kind of disruption that makes it impossible for many institutions important for the society to operate. Thus universities can be brought to a standstill. High schools and now even elementary schools can be disrupted…[23]

 

Similar examples today would be few and far between.

 

5.     Spaces of hope: Model-Building.

 

The idea that specific spaces could become examples of what a utopia might be like, or become the incubators of resistance that would produce basic social change, has been a fervent hope.  From Fourier to St. Simon to Robert Owen to Joseph Smith to the stalwarts of the California communes,[24] to some of the occupiers of Liberty Plaza, the effort to build model utopias has been seen as a promising route to broader social, but historically none have ever lived up to such expectations. They may in fact distract from a direct involvement in the on-going process of political confrontation and social action in the society as a whole, outside the model. Henri Lefebvre and David Harvey have stressed the role of cities a incubators and supportive battlegrounds for broader change,[25] but that is not the same thing as saying that efforts to produce particular places as “spaces of hope” is a practical priority in the struggle for social transformation,[26] although they may light the way to the desired shape of transformations that others produce.

 

If such spaces are not outward-looking, expansionist, actively proselytizing for, rather than just model building, they are likely to become simply an island isolated off the shore of the real economy and political life.

6.     The solidarity economy

 

Solidarity economic activities: worker ownership, bartering, cooperatives, autogestion, can be seen as sorts of “economic space of hope,” and have both the positive aspect of their spatial analogy and the same limitations. Embedded in a capitalist economy, they can rarely survive in areas subject to market competition in which the exploitation of labor plays a role, because by definition the solidarists won’t exploit, and so will have higher prices than those willing to pay less for the labor they use. Different incentives, stronger motivation, better skills, greater flexibility, may compensate to some extent, but the potential depends ultimately on the way such solidarity activities can be linked to broad systemic, transformative changes in the economy as a whole.

 

7.     Building coalitions, then alliances, around consistent demand

 

That single-issue coalitions, leading to multiple-issue alliances, are critical for strategic action is already well known and widely practiced. As an arbirary example, look at the protests at Bohemian Grove, in Monte Rio, California where annually “2,000-3,000 rich and wealthy men have gathered every summer for 133 years in a private 2,800 acre ancient redwood retreat to celebrate themselves with parties, entertainment, and speakers.”

 

The protest [against the gathering] will feature Occupy groups as well as other organizations including Code Pink, Peace and Justice Center, ANSWER Coalition, Project Censored, Bohemian Grove Action Network, Veterans for Peace, National Lawyers Guild, Round Valley Indians for Justice, and various others groups focused on key issues, such as climate change, human rights, Palestine, Cuban Five, and a living wage.[27]

 

Affirmatively calling together such coalitions, trying to cement them into lasting alliances, is an obvious route to g. Occupy can be a non-turf-threatening instrument to move in that direct. Doing some careful analysis of what groups are likely participants, perhaps using an analysis such as that here discussed, can make recruitment and solidarity more effective.

 

 

8.     Winning over those with inconsistent demands, including the tea party.

 

Activists, those with their roots among the exploited, the discontented, and the oppressed, and already seeking transformative change, are still a small minority in the population. But they in fact share the values and much of the life experiences of every-day life with many, many more, ultimately perhaps reaching close to 99%.  Every opportunity can be taken to find common ground with those not already engaged on the side of resistance. Highlighting shared values, pushing the links among them, exposing inconsistencies, carrying on continuing constructive dialogue with others whose have every reason to be sympathetic, is usually a better option than negative polemics or overt hostility. The self-identified “middle class,” who are insecure in their status, see their children with limited opportunities and increasing debt, , all those who the current crisis is already affecting are clinging to what they have with real fear for the future, those who, for instance, are a major constituency of the tea parties, should be a fertile (if often difficult!) target for persuasion.

 

9.     Taking advantage of weaknesses and contradictions within the 1%.

 

One can even imagine cooperation with some of the 1%, who are after all human beings also and have, despite their position within the 1%, the full range of human desires, emotions, and aspirations.

 

Who are the 1% , after all? Can they be part of the 99%? Ask Prospero, in Shakespeare’s The Tempest. He has controlled everything, made everything bloom, but at the expense of enslaving Caliban and the unfreedom of Ariel and all the other spirits of the island. He is touched by remorse, and voluntarily gives up his magical powers, and contents himself with his human ones. Realizing at last that he has accomplished all he can and should, he abjures power, and realizes he is mortal, a human, with death as the ultimate ending. His power, his magic, is real, but it is also an illusion. Like the magic of capitalism, converting relations among men and women into relationships among things, the fetish of commodities?

 

More realisstically, the 1% is hardly internally homogeneous.[28] Reactions of its members to the Euro crisis now in sway are sharp; it is hilariously described by John Mauldin.[29] In general, as Joseph Stieglitz has written, “There are good reasons why plutocrats should care about inequality anyway—even if they’re thinking only about themselves.´[30]  And there are sharply conflicting interests among members of the 1%. Real estate interests, for instance, have very material incentive to push housing costs up and up. Employers, on the other hand, have a direct interest in having housing available at rents and prices affordable to their employees, thus reducing the pressure on wages employers need to pay to get and keep workers.  Pressures for maximum develop of buildable open space is a goal of developers; it may stand in the way of tourist development or amenities for the rich. Donald Trump’s antics and developments are not universally favored by the 1%. Some billionaires support Obama, even if most support Romney. So he 1% is not homogenous, although structural pressures will always influence them to act in concert, and there is no reason those resisting some should not make temporary marriages of convenience with one or another of them opportunistically around specific issues.

10.           “Occupy” does not mean Fetishizing Space.

 

“Occupy” had, originally, a literal and spatial meaning. But clinging to that narrow focus for the movement is no longer useful.[31] See my Blog #5. In addition to the problems discussed there, three other weaknesses arise if the term “occupy” is assumed to have one and only one meaning. But when a campaign goes under the name of Occupy Our Homes, or joins campaigns to prevent foreclosures and evictions with the Home Defenders Leagues, occupying is meant literally, but as a positive for keeping the occupants of that which is occupied where they are, a defensive move rather than a demand for a change in occupancy. Further, occupations can be by forces and for purposes that most in the occupy movement would clearly oppose, as in the occupation of the West Bank by Israeli settlers taking over Palestinian-owned lands.[32] Finally, as pointed out above, “occupy” can have a no-spatial meaning, as in Occupy the Economy or Occupy the Euro. As suggested above, “occupy” in such cases simply means: “take militant action to transform.”

 

 

11.           Electoral Strategies..

 

The change desired by the occupiers will not be achieved through victories in any immediate electoral campaign, but neither are immediate elections a matter of indifference. This is a matter of tactics as well as strategy; the devil is in the details of how that role should be played. The discussions here are on-going; I doubt if there is a perfect answer. By and large, I would support the position of Robert L. Borosavage and Katrina vanden Heuvel of critical engagement;[33]  Jeremy Brecher speaks of it as a “non-electoral 99% opposition”

 

An opposition not to the Democratic Party or the Republican Party but to the corporate party of the 1 percent, which dominates the entire political system?[34]

 

It is a strategy that harks back to the identical strategy put forward by Rudi Dutschke in 19968, largely if only briefly and partially followed at least in Germany and France: that of an “APO”  an “AuserParliamentarische Opposition,” an opposition outside of Parliament. The devil will again lie in the details.

 

*    *   *    *

The argument for a transformative strategy, a strategy of concrete individual demands aiming them towards a transformation of the whole, is compelling, and I believe shaping such a strategy is already well under way.

 


[1] It is still unclear whether the current crisis is deep enough to to either cause splits and eakening on the conservative side or broad enough outrage on the radical side to produce braod structural changes; even basic sectoral changes do not seem imminent. The crisis does seem deep (David Harvey, Rick Wolff), but But time will tell.

[2] See the earlier blogs on the necessity of bringing large elements of the right, such as the tea party supporters, over to the side of transformative change., and the emphasis, in the writings of H. Marcuse and David Harvey, among others, on the need and the possibility of individuals remaking themselves as part of the social processes of change.

[3] Herbert Marcuse,  One-Dimensional Man, 1974, p. 197.

[4] See, for example, Joseph Stiglitz: “The 99 Percent Wakes Up,”

From Cairo to Wall Street’ edited by Anya Schiffrin and Eamon Kircher-Allen. 272 pp. The New

Press. $17, extract available at http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/05/02/joseph-stiglitz-the-99-percent-wakes-up.html

 

 

 

[5] See, for instance, Mark Purcell, 2008,  Recapturing democracy: neoliberalization and the struggle for alternative urban futures. Routledge: New York.

 

[6] Occupy Wall Street got glowing endorsements in both speeches and informal discussions [at the recent Labor Notes conference.]. You could see the influence everywhere from the transit workers€™ orange “Occupy Transit” t-shirts to the many references to the 1% and the 99%. In fact the official theme of the conference   was “Solidarity for the 99%.” Occupy Chicago was represented by Jan Rudolfo of National Nurses United and Andy Manos. At a labor education workshop, Steve Ashby of Occupy Chicago’s Labor Outreach spoke of the cordial relationship between Occupy Chicago and labor that helped create a number of solidarity actions including a march of thousands against the Mortgage Bankers Association who met at the Art Institute last fall. They Call Themselves the Troublemakers Union. By obboSphere.Daily Kos May 07, 2012 Available at http://www.dailykos.com/story/2012/05/07/1089585/-They-Call-Themselves-the-Troublemakers-Union

 

[7] My own piece on the mortgage foreclosure crisis might be another example.

[9] Housing & Land: A Need for Transformative Demands

Right to the City’s Transformative Demands Working Paper Series– Edition #1

 

[10] Free public education pre-school through graduate school is already one of  Quebec stludent demands: The Threat of Quebec's Good Example. Peter Hallward. The   B u l l e t: Socialist Project • E-Bulletin No. 647, available at June 6, 2012 http://www.socialistproject.ca/bullet/647.php#continue

 

[11] See for instance the tax proposals in The People’s Budget of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. For a brief summary, see David Moberg, “What Americans Want,” In These Times, June 2011, p. 20.

[12] It would thus recognize the political part of the argument Herbert Marcuse makes in The Aesthetic Dimension as to the inherently critical role of art. –the aesthetic dimension of discontent.

 

 

[13] only 4% voted to restrict salaries at a Wells Fargo meeting, despite an aggressive camaign. By E. Scott Reckard, Los Angeles Times , Protesters disrupt Wells Fargo shareholder meeting, April 25, 2012, available at

  1.                      I.            Protesters disrupt Wells Fargo shareholder meeting. And see Huffington Post, “99% Spring Has Sprung: Shareholder Actions Underway Across the County,” Mary Bottari of the Center for Media and Democracy catalogs some of the actions that Occupy groups, unions, and community organizing groups have planned for May Day as part of ongoing campaigns to challenge corporate America.

 

[14]

 

 

[15] From Rebuild the Dream

[16] I use the term “ideology” in the sense of a set of explanatory theories relating to observed social developments, rather than the more specialized meanings of Karl Mannheim and the Frankfurt School, which should also be brought into play here, but transgress the bounds of this article.

[17] Again, I use the term “culture” in its anthropological sense, including, for instance, sense of ethnicity, or sexual orientation, rather than in its cultural studies sense. For definitions and sources see Marcuse, Peter. 2007.”The Production of Regime Culture and Instrumentalized Art in a Globalizing State.” In Globalizations, vol 4, no. 1, March, pp. 15-28. Reprinted in Globalization Of The World Economy,  ed. Manfred Steger, Series Editor: Mark Casson. Edwin ‘Elgar: Cheltenham, 2012.

[19] Blog #17 –poverty, inequality power,– the moral and/ideological basis of the resistance is an attempt under development to be more detailed than the discussion here.

[20] For the importance of ideology in Vietnam, see http://links.org.au/node/2891. “Growth, but not at any cost,” seems a wishy-washy position of the VCP.

[21] Nelson Lichtenstein, in  http://newlaborforum.cuny.edu/

[22] See Poor People’s Movements.

[23] Nathan Glazer, “For White and Black Community Control is the Issue,” The New York Times Sunday Mgazine, April 27, 1968; quoted approvingly by Daniel Patrick Moynihan in Maximum Feasible Misunderstanding, p. 2ne. 1970, p. xi-xii. Interestingly, “acting as if the state is a dictatorship” is a plague on many analyses. See Peter Marcuse,“The Myth of the Benevolent State and “The Myth of the Malevolent State.”

 

[24] Perhaps even from St. Augustine. See my  Blog, :On reading David Harvey on the Tarmac with the Help of Jesus.”

[25] See his Spaces of Hope and Rebel Cities. Both effectively argue the potential of the recognition of space, , particularly both in and of cities,as a factor in supporting efforts for radical change.

[26] See Blog #  , On Fetishizing Space.

[28] See the discussion in Blog # .

[30] Joseph Stiglitz, The 1 Percent’s Problem, VaityFair, May 31, 2012, available at http://www.vanityfair.com/politics/2012/05/joseph-stiglitz-the-price-on-inequality

[31] See Roger Keil, “’Occupy the strip malls’: Centrality, Place and the Occupy Movement,” http://suburbs.apps01.yorku.ca/2011/11/17/%E2%80%9Coccupy-the-strip-malls%E2%80%9D-centrality-place-and-the-occupy-movement. November 17th, 2011

 

[32] See also the reaction of movements in Vancouver, New York, and Boston in the context of the rights of indigenous peoples to land taken over by their present occupants, http://www.democracynow.org/seo/2011/10/11/indigenous_groups_at_occupy_wall_street.

[33] “A Politics for the 99 Percent,” The Nation, June 25, 2012, pp. 18-21.

#10 – The Changes in Occupy and the Right to the City


Blog #10 – The Changing Character of Occupy and the Right to the City

I. The Historical Roots of Occupy and the Right to the City

Both the Occupy movements and the Right to the City movements, two of the most active and most influential nation-wide groupings in the progressive urban arena today, spring out of deep dissatisfaction with things as they are.. That system is broadly known as capitalism. Capitalism is an economic system, with social, cultural, and political aspects, that has produced rapid technological progress, major material benefits, and been accompanied by new social and cultural patterns. But capitalism has also been accompanied by with many severe drawbacks, initially inevitable as the system developed, but no longer necessary. Alternatives are feasible today; another world is today possible, in which the full development of each and all individual’s capacities is set as the goal of social organization, replacing the profit motive and the accumulation of wealth as the driving force of the society.

The contradiction between the existing and the possible has surfaced periodically over time, in the anti-colonial struggles, in working class organization, in artistic expression, in human behavior in everyday life. It came together a one articulate burst in the explosions of 1968. Three sources of frustration with the existing can be distinguished: the materially exploited, the socially and politically oppressed, and the intellectually and culturally discontented. Fundamental structural change seemed possible, even revolutionary change. There is today no objective reason why poverty needs to exist, why inequality stunts the development of some and enriches others beyond use, lets some groups oppress others, sanctions wars and violence to resolve disputes; the system is today capable of creating would have been a utopian a hundred years ago. That fact is an objective one; and its recognition might have objectively led to an explosion such as that of 1968, but reaching much deeper and more broadly. Yet the subjective conditions that were also necessary for it to find expression were not adequate; the power of those who might be the agents of change towards a different society were not powerful enough to overcome the strength of the forces sustaining the status quo. The system still delivered the goods, at least widely enough to prevent broad resistance. The situation did not develop as those prominent in the movements for change had hoped. In short, revolution did not occur, the power of the movement abated, protest and resistance remained, but revolution did not take place and is not today on the agenda. Thus the underlying impetus for revolutionary change that had flowered in 1968 remained underneath, but its concretization in revolutionary change was off the agenda.

That the spirit of 1968 has continued and is part of the DNA of the Occupy movement and the Right to the City movements in following years can be seen from some of their slogans:

CAPITALISM ISN’T WORKING
WE WANT FUNDAMENTAL CHANGE, NOT ELECTORAL POLITICS
IF VOTING CHANGED ANYTHING, THEY’D MAKE IT ILLEGAL
OCCUPY WALL STREET, SHUT DOWN CAPITALISM

What both Occupy and Right to the City wanted was—even if the word was not often used—revolution [note to pm: resist the temptation to capitalize!). What to call it, retaining both its historical meaning but avoiding the shock of its initial reception in the public sphere, could be called other things, blending the process with its desired outcome (a distinction deserving further comment):

“Major change” or “structural change” or change“ affecting the totality of a social complex ”or “outside of the established framework
“Another World” but that might mean many different things;
“Progressive change,” or “social democracy” – But the terms seem to induce an eyes=glazed-over indifference among the larger public;”
“Socialism” – a plausible formulation if taken in its essential rather than really-existing meaning, but withmuch to much baggage needing unpacking to be useful in most discussions; or, from a socialist, to avoid the bagage:
A system with “such dramatic change that it can no longer be regarded as capitalism.”
“Transformation” – a rather bland term, but useful term precisely because of its generality. It can be given concrete meaning as the totality of those changes in individual components of the system but not fully effective without changes in the system as a whole, that are transformative, contributing to transformation.

In what follows the terms “revolution” and “transformation” are used interchangeably.

I. The Objective and Subjective Conditions for Transformative Change

S0: since 1968, at least, objectively, the situation is ripe for transformation. The contradictions in the system are manifold, but the subjective forces are inadequately mobilized. Within the existing relations of power, those who are objectively potential agents of change are not subjectively dedicated to marshaling their power to achieve that change, and those among them who are nevertheless thus dedicated face the subjective unreadiness of others as a present objective roadblock to progress. In one formulation, “…contradictions do not explode by themselves,” contradictions only produce change when there are agents of change with the desire and the ability to catalyze that change.

But there is a problem here: agents desiring change may well have that desire, but not the ability to bring it to fruition. Objectively, the class forces supporting the essential status quo may be too strong, have advanced technology of repression at their disposal and be willing to use it brutally in many countries (Libya, Syria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, etc.). In technologically further developed societies they can still produce the goods well enough so that, while the forces of resistance may be allowed to manifest their unrest, they are prevented from getting the support necessary to overcome the ideological and social and economic weapons, as well as the brute force, at the disposal of those in power.

What do social forces do when they want revolution, but the time isn’t ripe for it?

Henri Lefebvre and Herbert Marcuse, in over-lapping but not identical ways, gave expression to the dilemma in the context of 1968:

H. Marcuse, in 1969.:

One can rightfully speak of a cultural revolution, since the protest is directed toward the whole cultural establishment, including the morality of existing society? There is one thing we can say with complete assurance: the traditional idea of revolution and the traditional strategy of revolution has ended. These ideas are old fashioned. What we must undertake is a type of diffuse and dispersed disintegration of the system.

H. Lefebvre in 1970:

The massive involvement of those affected would alter this state of afairs [the blockage of the exploration of the possible.] Would it enable those thoughts and projects to cross the threshold before which they seem to hesitate [pm-the threshold of revolution?] Possibly. But that involvement has never taken place. .. there has been no trace of any political movement—that is, the politicization of the problems and objectives of “construction.”

Guy Debord already in 1967 for the Situationists:

[Revolutionary critique must] work among the irreconcilable enemies of the spectacle, and admit that without them it is nothing; [in between times,] it must know how to wait.

II. Transformation

The concept of transformation can indeed be seen as an updating of the concept of revolution, in a post-socialist, post-Fordist, urban and one-dimensional world.

“It may be ruled out that immediate economic crises of themselves produce fundamental historic events; they can simply create a terrain more favourable to the dissemination of certain modes of thought, and certain ways of posing and resolving questions involving the entire subsequent development of national life”.

“transformation”, … in everyday political language mostly involves a process of restructuring of society over long periods of time and in the midst of tedious disputes, [with] an additional aspect: subjectivity.

In concrete terms relevant to the future work of Occupy or Right to the City groups, this means several realizations:

1. Immediate goals must be seen in long-term perspective, linking “tedious disputes” to fundamental broad objectives;
2. A wide variety of tactics must be considered must be considered in conjunction with each other, ranging from dramatic and militant protest to influencing legislative and electoral decisions and attention to public relations on a continuing,
3. “Internal “education and organization must have a prominent place in all campaigns for change, linking the immediate and the transformative goals of action;
4. “External” education, of those who objectively have in common the experience of exploitation, domination, and exclusion, but do not subjectively link their experience to the nature of the dominant social structures, is vital, if the objective relations of power which are to be changed to permit transformation;
5. Clarity must be achieved in the understanding and analysis of the causes of those common negative experiences, perhaps using the recognition of the meaning and functioning of capitalism as its centerpiece, the framework for most detailed analysis.

III. The Multiple Lives of Occupy and the Right to the City

What the various Occupy and Right to the City movements have done while waiting have taken quite diffused and dispersed forms, have politicized the problems they saw in quite varying ways over time and space. So varying, indeed, that one might speak of quite different manifestations of each, , leading quite different lives, different targets, different organizational forms, different spatial forms, much so that one might almost speak of the three different lives of the Occupy movement and the three different lives of the Right to the City movement, roughly appearing in chronological order but very much overlapping and simultaneously active.

While the two organized movements with roots in 1968 discussed here , the right to the city and the Occupy Wall Street movements .both reflect the underlying impetus for change, the congealed demands of the exploited, the oppressed, and the discontented, they have not replaced earlier similarly based movements: those of the working class, the anti-colonial, the anarchist, the communist, the urban social movements, the pro-democratic. But these two are the most active and interesting today; in any event, they are the ones discussed below. .
A. The Right to the City movements.

The web site of the Right to the City Alliance provides the following history:

Right to the City was born out of desire and need by organizers and allies around the country to have a stronger movement for urban justice. But it was also born out of the power of an idea of a new kind of urban politics that asserts that everyone, particularly the disenfranchised, not only has a right to the city, but as inhabitants, have a right to shape it, design it, and operationalize an urban human rights agenda.

In the realm of ideas, a key resource and touchstone is “Le droite à la ville” (Right to the City) a book published in 1968 by French intellectual and philosopher Henri Lefebvre. In the sphere of human rights, this powerful idea was adopted by the World Urban Forum and elaborated into the World Charter of the Right to the City in 2004.

Building from this powerful idea, international principles, and forward looking grassroots organizing, the Right to the City Alliance was established in January 2007.

We can already trace the three elements of the Right to the City in the formulation.

1. Right to the City One: The ideological concept.

Historically, going back to in its current meaning, developed in 1968 by Lefebvre and popularized in the demonstrations in Paris and other cities. In Lefebvre, the city, the urban, is seen not as the existing, but as the alternative content in a new society, perhaps implicitly assumed to be socialist in Lefebvre’s somewhat undisciplined writings. There is by now an enormous literature on this, with many open questions as to precise meaning. Common to most understandings is that the term “city” is used, not to mean the existing city, but as a synecdoche, a metaphor, for a society implementing an idealized vision of what urban life could and should be, that “right” is taken as a moral claim, not a legal proposition.

In this usage the right to the city is a “cry and a demand,” a slogan that legitimates and ties together many concrete demands but is not limited to them, but envisages a revolutionary change in what current cities are. Lefebvre does not pay explicit attention to the means by which the city he speaks of would be brought about. When he speaks of an urban revolution, he is speaking of the transformation of society from an industrialized to an urbanized contour, not a set of actions that would produce a further change. The right to the city is a slogan that has caught on, and is used as a framework for much of the activity covered by Right to the City Three.

2. Right to the City Two: the liberal version.

Here the slogan becomes an abstract statement of theoretical human rights, as in Declarations of the Rights to the City in the World Charter and other international conferences. It includes an assembly of separate programmatic immediate realistic goals, seen as achievable and enforceable with the prevailing systems of law and governance. It has a potential to assist in bringing together at an international level, many complimentary campaigns and organizations, but it is only thinly linked to Right to the City One.

3. Right to the city Three: Alliance of Individual Issues.

The use that reflects the existing practice, urban social movements/organizations banding together in a Right to the City Alliance, an assemblage of specific diverse groups, ranging from the homeless to GLBT, to welfare recipients, to public housing tenants, etc., addressed by more or less militant action but within the system. The transformative nature of the demands made may or may not lie in the background, but the view that the problems are caused by common characteristics of the system is nevertheless shared.
B. Occupy

“Occupy,” as the term is used by the various groups using it as part of their names, has very different meanings: the word “occupy” in “Occupy Wall Street” means one thing, in “Occupy Los Angeles” another in “Occupy Brooklyn;” it means something else again “Occupy Everything;” in “Occupy Wikipedia” something other than in “Occupy police., or in “Occupy Peace, or in “Occupy the System.”.” The only definition that would permit its substitution for the term in each usage would be: “Actively Engage in Changing _______” But it can have an ambiguous meaning: Liberate a foreclosed home, or occupy a factory in a sit-in, as well as Occupy the West Bank to displace its occupants. It is used here in the sense of the original Occupy Wall Street movement in New York City, as liberatory in a progressive direction. (see Occupy One below.) Of course the Occupy movement is not a formal body and has many and divergent positions within it, but I believe the discussion below reflects the predominant voices and views.

Schematically, then:

1. Occupy One: Class Targeted Discourse.

Wall Street as symbolic of the ruling elite, l% if not just income. Wall Street as representative of the ruling elite, seen as in conflict with the 99%, rejecting compromise/consensus seeking solutions. . Aimed at raising consciousness, affecting the discourse, getting picked up by others e.g. in election campaigns, and eschewing specific concrete “demands” and programmatic goals in favor of principled positions. Seeking transformation in the social structure as a whole. Thus far, avoiding direct dealing with issues of power and real-politik.

2. Occupy Two: Physically Take Over Spaces.

Literally, occupy spaces, originally those directly sympbolic of and/or locted in the heart of the beast, as in Zuccotti Park, or Oakland. The expansion of this approach to site occupation to explore the uses of public space in particular, and to focus on the democratic aspect of arrangements for the provision and use of public space, is consistent with Occupy One, but something of a dilution of its confrontational and class-related aspect., dealing with much less than the systemic whole of the former. But It can lead to what I have called a fetishized conception of space.

3. Occupy Three: An Umbrella Function.

All Occupy groups have been very open and supportive of other campaigns that they see as moving in the same direction as their own broad vision. This includes both campaigns with immediate and limited goals, e.g. picket lines at anti-union employers, as well as less immediate goals, as in in Occupy Los Angeles, , or Occupy the Economy, or Occupy Columbia, or Occupy Production. Here Occupy has by and large subordinated its transformative approaches to the immediate needs of the action it is supporting.

4. Occupy Four: Occupy as Process.

From the start, Occupy groups have been very conscious of their internal procedures of discussion and decision-making. Occupy spatial encampments are seen by their participants as models of what democratic processes would be. The General Assemblies, at which all members can speak and vote, with instant voting by show of hands and hand gestures, with 90% majority requirements and attention being given to the varying strength of individual objections, are all seen as prototypes of how a society as a whole might operate. Attention is not, however, to my knowledge, focused on how such techniques might be carried over into actual governmental or organizational procedures outside of the encampments.

IV. Conclusion: Evolution to Revolution?

While each of the forms of the Right to the City and the Occupy movements co-exist with each of the other forms, there is a pattern of development that becomes apparent. It runs from a full-blown commitment to social transformation to more narrowly focused attention to specific sectors of the existing structure in need of change to a practice in which immediate campaigns for reform are supported theoretically as parts of a comprehensive attack on the whole but in practice become increasingly ends in themselves. In the process, the historical current of deep dissatisfaction remains underneath all developments, but the sharp focus on the critique of the existing system, of capitalism, moves to the background, is subject to co-optation, is split up into multiple separate issues, the common source of each reflected more in individual practical actions than in ideological analysis and consciousness.

In general, the movement can be seen as being objectively in the direction of transformation, but its subjective focus becomes dimmed in the face of the apparent impracticality of successful attack on the system as a whole. The fact of this subjective weakness becomes a part of the objective reality confronting the movements, and of necessity influences their shorter-term practices and goals. While achieving certain important rights in the city, ensuring the democratic occupancy of effective public spaces in cities, moving the public discourse to greater concern with issues of inequality and participatory democracy, are important goals in themselves, they are not the ultimate goals that inspired these movements in their early days.

That development is then a logical, if not inevitable consequence of the real historical situation in which the participants find themselves, in which the objective conditions for transformation, for revolution, initially seem to be present, but in which immediate transformation, the likelihood of revolution in its classical sense, undercuts that real potential and seems to become a utopian chimera. Piecemeal evolution, abandoning the possibility of a wholesale transformation, seems the only sensible answer to the problem to the constraints of historical reality. A complete transformation from one explosive manifestation, the traditional view of revolution, certainly does not seem to be in the cards. Is evolution to revolution, transition to transformation, possible?

There is, I believe, increasing recognition of the need to confront this situation within the movements themselves, and to consider alternative paths ahead. In the next blog, #11, some possibilities are explored.

Cathleen Black and the Management of Education


Mayor Bloomberg has named Cathleen Black, a “superstar manager” with a background in magazine publishing, to be Chancellor of New York City’s public school system. The dispute about her qualifications has unfortunately gone astray, and the New York Times, the four “prominent management experts” it consulted, and the state’s education commissioner, have not helped to clarify the real issue involved.  The experts, according to the Times, cited the examples of “corporate chieftains who hopscotched successfully from industry to industry” as relevant examples for what Ms. Black was being asked to do, citing as examples executives who went from making food and cigarettes to making computer equipment. The acknowledge some differences in management issues between the public and private sector – different stakeholders, differences in “culture,” but generally holding her “skill set” might be up to the job. But they ignore the central issue.

Private industry and public education have different purposes. The goal of private industry is to produce profit.  Whether the means to it is making cigarettes or computers, the bottom line is the same. The product sought is not the quality of the cigarette or the computers, but the size of the profit. Thus there is a common experience involved, a common task: the production of profit, and that is largely transferable from one industry to another. But profit is not the goal of public education. As Thomas Freedman points out in the same issue of the Times, there are major disputes in education as to whether the goal is the transfer of knowledge as measured by testing or the nurturing of a critical intelligence, to oversimplify a complex heavily debated issue. Ms. Black’s abilities in producing a bottom line profit in no matter how many different industries does not help here.

It is unfortunate that the Times saw fit only to ask management experts to comment on Ms. Black’s qualifications, implicitly seeing the issue as one of management competence, rather than educational competence. The management experts might at least have raised an important issue in most discussions of good management: clarity on what the goals of the enterprise being managed basically are. They did not; too bad. But should not educational experts of equivalent prominence have been asked to comment as well?

David Steiner, the state Commissioner of Education, did not help either in apparently interpreting the state statute requiring education experience and credentials to be satisfied if a second-ranking employee of the education department that does have such qualifications is appointed to serve under her.  That is exactly backwards. Ms. Black’s management expertise is indeed important in education as well as in industry, to make sure the goals of the enterprise are efficiently pursued. But that addresses the means, not the ends. The top position must provide leadership that is clear on the ends, the goals of the enterprise; having someone else in charge of managing the efficiency of the way those goals are pursued is fine, but that is secondary to the main task. Steiner might have suggested to the Mayor that Ms. Black might make an excellent second in command, under a leader with the kind of education background the state statute envisages at the top.

Peter Marcuse

[Responding to “Experts See a Tough Road for Schools Chief Nomineee” by Alison Leigh Cowan, New York Times, New York Times Nov 28, 2010, p. Metropolitan Section, p. 9.]