I might not be writing much lately, but other people are. One such person is Valery J, who I work with at one of the organizations I do tech support for. Recently she sent the staff an email entitled “Val’s Reason #2018 for Being Committed to Racial & Economic Justice.” I really appreciated her reflections on gentrification, social justice, and why “the work” is so important. I asked her if I could post it here, and she agreed; she’s also got it posted on her MySpace blog. Enjoy!
On Friday, I attended the first SJL Art of Organizing Session for the year out in Harlem, NY. My partner and I had to bring our daughter to the Bronx to her “Ti-Ti Ta-Ta” (Aunt Liz) for the day.
The session was over and we went to go the baby from the BX and we decided to take a nostalgic walk in the area that evening. It was crazy to see how many buildings that went up that had nothing but gentrifiers going home (it was after rush hour), how bars and restaurants suddenly became “diverse” with ads to rock bands and not salsa or bomba y plena ensembles headlining a weekend event, how many trees were planted in areas that historically had no green space and high asthma rates…the list can go on forever. We took a long walk. The South Bronx looks like Bed-Stuy in its earliest gentrifications stages.
Dave and I are ALWAYS “politicking” and we wondered well, if everything is being “glamorized” for the new folks in town, what’s going on with others who are being pushed out in the name of community development? Where the hell are poor folks are relocating to? We know that shelters are overcrowded and waiting lists for low-income housing are ridiculously long. The economy can only get worse as the Bush and Cheney war continues indefinitely, and New York City Council Members spend millions on phantom organizations while cuts to low income housing, social services, drug treatment, etc. are slashed over and over and over.
Anyone who knows me, knows that I always talk about the psychological effect of racism, poverty, displacement and oppression. We forget that in the midst of organizing for change that the crucible of our arguments shouldn’t always rely on policies or practices but also on the human condition, how everyday people are affected by all of this stuff. It’s easy to point to empty apartments or lack or jobs but not so easy to point to what’s really going on with people who are left out to hang by all of this. It’s not so easy to speak on the effects of disempowerment, disenfranchisement and destabilization on people because they’re not quantifiable.
So, Dave, Aliyah and I got on the 2 train at 149th and 3rd. We took the baby out to play and for a feeding. We were rolling into 125th Street when the emergency brakes went on. We sighed and figured some prankster opened the damn panel. (I’m so old school.) We were in the first car and realized a homeless man being pinned down to the ground by an elder Latino man. The homeless man was about to jump on the tracks when the elder sprang into action. A life was saved because someone cared, did something about it and didn’t think twice to look within.
On the way home, we went on about how sad it is that the land of milk and honey (sarcastic reference to what the US “markets” to the world) has enough resources to waste among the “haves” but doesn’t give a damn about the “have nots.”
I remember feeling a deep sadness because my heart went out to the man that felt that in his imprisonment between a rock and a hard place, that his only option was to end his life. Because things were too much and this was what was left to end the hurt.
What I also remembered is why we all engage in the fight for social justice. Because, like the elder, we spring into action, we care and we do something. Even if that action is hard, causes us to sacrifice, causes inconvenience and causes pain, it’s this act of self-less-ness that offers at least some hope to those who are between a rock and a hard place.
This work isn’t easy. And yes, we have to respond to things as they show up. Our shoulders may feel heavy and our minds run a mile a minute. We argue and bicker and gripe to relieve stress, eat mounds of mac-n-cheese for comfort and lay our heads down to rest with left-over thoughts on what the hell to do next.
I guess I just wanted folks to realize that our work is greater than the burdens that we endure. That we do this not to be rich, not to be celebrated, not to be respected at times.
We do this because to do nothing leaves others with no options.
Thank you, all, for being committed to being a voice for the voiceless.
Fight the Power!