Wednesday, May 20, 2009

JNS EDITORIAL: Some Labels Being Thrown Around: Pro-City, Pro-Community, Poverty Pimps...

Stock Photo By John Hoff

You really don't know how somebody else views the world unless you ask 'em. Even then, you may not get a straight answer. But sometimes you do, and it makes your head spin to take on, for a moment, somebody else's view of the world and incorporate it into your own understanding, even if it doesn't become your own view of the world.

One of the most interesting things to come out of the "True JACC" hearing has been an explanation--best articulated by Steve Jackson of the "Old Majority"--how his faction/clique views the world. In the view of Steve Jackson, there are two opposing camps: Pro-City versus Pro-Community.

The Pro-City faction, in Jackson's view, wants... "gentrify" North Minneapolis, which would inevitably mean forcing out poor black people, to be replaced with more affluent non-black people. (So Jackson believes) There is, Steve will tell you, a conspiracy afoot, and powerful players in the city government are in on it. Those who oppose the gentrification conspiracy are the "Pro-Community" viewpoint. Steve includes himself in that worldview, and claims to speak for "the voiceless" who "maybe don't even HAVE internet."

It's very convenient to speak for the "voiceless." Being voiceless, they can't tell you you're representing them VERY BADLY. One can't help but be reminded of President Nixon's "silent majority."

It's notable that, in Jackson's view of the world, you can't be both "Pro-City" and "Pro-Community." Steve says some people "straddle the fence," but ultimately you can't be both. In such a worldview, the development plans of the city are either actively harmful or merely neutral. The police are a hostile occupation force sent to oppress "the community." Knowing "the community" is small compared to the rest of the city, it seems inevitable that a "siege mentality" would set in, in which every incursion must be vigorously fought "by any means necessary."

So there is Steve's world view: Pro-City versus Pro-Community.

From where I am standing, however, there are also two camps: those who are in favor of revitalization, and those who want to keep things the way (too often) things have been in the past. The past includes daily horrors such as open air drug dealing, a 15-year-old pregnant girl turning up murdered in at a vacant, neglected property, social disorder spilling out into the streets while decent people try to get some sleep and (most insidious of all) the mainstream media putting North Minneapolis into a convenient little niche, (the urban dystopia niche), without revealing the good, the struggle for the better, the COMPLEXITY of our situation and how rapidly things are changing. The media show up when somebody gets shot. Period. Minor caveats not worth noting.

The horrible past in North Minneapolis is, too often, our present moment as well...but by daily gritty idealistic struggle we move toward a revitalized, utopian future and now is the time to buy in while prices on GLORIOUS OLD MANSIONS are dirt cheap, join your neighborhood association, and reap the long-term rewards of your faith and vision.

Notably, I have never heard a label for this "pro-revitalization" camp to which I have become loyal.

We don't call ourselves "The Revitalizers." I've heard the phrases "neighborhood association people" and "active citizens" thrown around a few times, but not often enough that I consider it a label. We don't call ourselves "gentrifiers" because there is no intention to exclude or evict anybody, except CRIMINALS WHO ARE COMMITTED TO THE CRIMINAL LIFESTYLE, and excluding criminals isn't "gentrification," that is mere social order and safety. There are VERY AFFLUENT PEOPLE OF COLOR in North Minneapolis, including folks I consider my close friends, folks who oppose the "Old Majority" world view. In the view of the "Old Majority," the revitalization and development which some of us fight for every day is a racist, yuppie plot to level North Minneapolis and put in the world's largest TCBY yogurt.

(Well, OK, also a Gap store. And an Applebee's. Can't forget Applebee's)

Consider how tough and unenviable is the position of affluent black and bi-racial citizens in North Minneapolis.

If Jerry Moore wants to hurt my feelings (I am a white person) he will say there goes Johnny Northside, "the hater of black people," precisely as he did in court only yesterday. He will accuse me, subtly or overtly, of being a low-down, dirty racist.

But if Jerry Moore wants to go after my good friend Kip Browne, Chair of the "New Majority" JACC board, (a man of color) then Jerry Moore must say something worse. He must accuse Kip Browne of being a traitor, a backstabber, somebody who "kisses ass." To be a traitor or an ass kisser is arguably much worse than being a hater, because it requires more will, more calculation. And few play this self-benefitting race-baiting game so well as Jerry Moore...until recently, when his little universe began to crumble and now he can't even manage to draw unemployment, because he has been ousted by Kip Browne's highly-diverse "New Majority."

Yet for merely being in the revitalization camp, some people of color like Council Member Don Samuels and JACC Chair Kip Browne have been called horrible racist names by people who purport to be "Pro-Community." Testimony in the "true JACC" court hearing has aired allegations that Kip Browne--a brilliant attorney and a man of color--was told "You like to kiss white people's asses" by Jerry Moore, who is nothing if not a master of playing complex games of divisive racial politics to con out a fat paycheck.

But we've left aside the discussion of what is the "pro-revitalization" camp called, what is the official label? Apparently, we never thought to give ourselves a formal, commonly-used label. But a label has been assigned to us by the Old Majority:


It makes sense to me that I am "Pro-City." For an urban environment to succeed, there must be safety and order. Uncivilized behavior that might be winked at out in the unpopulated sticks (where I grew up) can't be tolerated in a densely-populated city. When I give myself to the good of my city through volunteer efforts, the reward comes in due time, manyfold. The very sight of the Minneapolis skyline fills me with civic pride. Yes, I am Pro-City. Is that the WORST label that can be thrown at me? I take that label and I WEAR IT.

In world history, there is a long tradition of taking the name your opposition has given you and proudly adopting it as your own. During the American Revolution, the British sang a mocking little tune called "Yankee Doodle" about the provincial American "dandy" who "stuck a feather in his cap and called it macaroni."

The American revolutionaries took the mocking "Yankee Doodle" label and made it their identity. In sexual politics, the label "queer" has seen a similar transformation of meaning. This kind of thing happens often, it happens all over the world. You take the label your opposition throws at you and you say, "Is that the WORST you can come up with? I take it as a compliment."

Despite the fact the Pro-City faction never took the time to come up with a self-identifying label, there is a label I hear thrown around quite often in (mostly verbal) discourse about North Minneapolis civic issues:


This label is in common usage all over the English-speaking world (even Haiti!) and is not unique to social discourse in North Minneapolis. (Don Allen of the IBNN blog uses this phrase A LOT)

(ADDENDUM: February 6, 2011. This blog post was written before I and many others in North Minneapolis discovered what a disreputable con man character Don Allen is. I would advise anybody: Do not trust Don Allen. Seek further information about Don Allen from various online sources before having any contact with him)

A poverty pimp might be somebody who purports to be helping "the youth" through various social programs, while drawing an overly-large salary, eating pizza and watching unlimited HBO at the JACC office. You look in the dictionary and, well, THAT would be a poverty pimp. From a certain point of view, therefore, the divisions in North Minneapolis might be seen this way: Pro-City versus Poverty Pimps.

It is dangerous, however, to assume any particular side has cornered the market on truth or righteousness. This is why I continue to think Old Majority members would be most effective by taking seats at the table and articulating their positions--though they might be outvoted time and time again--in hopes of creating the kind of "moderating tendency" that happens when people instinctively alter their views (just a bit) to make others happy, so everybody can get along and feel like they have "won."

And, really, nothing would be so "Pro-City" and at the same time "Pro-Community" than to say, really, CAN WE ALL TRY TO GET ALONG?

For the record, I was overly critical of Jill Clark's "key lime pie" jacket in one of my previous blog posts. Kelly Browne (who is something of a feminist, it seems, and certainly committed to truth and justice) forced me to see the error of my ways. My dislike of Jill Clark's world view manifested in my description of the jacket which, really, is not an unattractive garment at all.

Accordingly, I will add an addendum to one of my previous posts retracting my harsh critique of the jacket. (The spastic face twitching thing, however, still weirds me out)

At some level, I certainly hope the Honorable Judge Porter drop kicks the "Old Majority" lawsuit into the deep, dark hole which will soon appear where 1564 Hillside Ave. N. once stood, and yet at some level I must hope we can all somehow sit in a circle eating "the bread pudding pastry of peace" and asking the pressing question:



Jordan Resident said...

We all did a pretty good job of getting along and revitalizing at the same time in the Jordan neighborhood. When Jordan's NRP Phase I Plan was adopted, the African American population was 26% of the community. It eventually grew to 49% over the next ten years.

Jordan's NRP Phase I Plan was all about housing: home improvement loans, home purchase/rehab loans, some grants, etc. During Phase I, 454 loans were made to help people buy/improve their homes. Of those loans, 54% went to African-Americans.

Yet Jerry Moore talks about the "Pro-City" members of JACC being anti-black, racist, pro-gentrification. This community, these residents, have gone above and beyond to create a community of diversity and equality in Jordan. It is so frustrating when some members of the black community deny what has been done and loudly accuse the very residents who worked to make these loans possible of being racists.

Yet these same community members continue to work on behalf of all residents, despite the disrespect they get from the "Old Majority," in the hopes that one day everyone will indeed get along.

Anonymous said...

i believe that the "poverty pimp" label is just a particular instance of a long american tradition--demagoguery and machine politics. al macfarlane, jerry moore, randy staten and others are sort just wannabe trent lotts and rod blagojeviches.

being "pro-community" is the product sold by these particular demagogues. this product has exactly the same relationship to reality as a glossy nike commercial does to sweatshops in southeast asia.

the thing is that the time of these wannabe demagogues has already passed. this is the age of Obama and Don Samuels--the age of competence and pragmatism, but macfarlane et al. are still trying to realize their mothbally dreams of being the next boss tweedy.

Yoda's Avenger said...

RACISM like the dark side of the Force it is -- lures you in with temptations of power it will... control it think you can... comfortable and confident quickly you become, and at that point, control over you it has...see you not that control over it you NEVER can have. Recklessly claim a plan to rule the universe you will...and then mislabeling people as racist you will (MnM).

Live not "pro-city" people in that same neighborhood as "pro-community" people?