We have arrived at an historic juncture in
the racial-political-economic geography of the United States – and
a critical moment in the African American saga. A convergence
of circumstances has provided Blacks
and their progressive allies a window of opportunity to seize the
political initiative from the ruthless and profoundly racist dictatorship
of corporate boardrooms.
If we allow this window to close without taking
decisive action, the evolving corporate “model” will crush or swallow every practical
social mechanism of resistance. The fatal blow will come when the
Black and Latino populations of America’s cities – the only potential
mass base of opposition to corporate rule – are dispersed from
the urban centers. It is here, in the geography of the cities,
that the line of resistance to the rule of the rich must be drawn.
Therefore, we must take the offensive now, while Blacks and Latinos
still represent urban majorities, and while the corporate schemes
to co-opt and, ultimately, displace these populations are still
fragmented and uncoordinated.
Time is of the essence, since corporations
travel at the speed of money. But the key elements of resistance
to the corporate “model” are
already in place. There is much reason for optimism. Black America’s
resources and effective allies are infinitely more abundant than
they were two generations ago, when relatively small numbers of
talented and committed activists transformed the national political
landscape. They took on an apartheid nation and achieved
many of their primary goals, despite the relative absence of super-concentrated
Black population centers, in an environment in which African Americans
were frozen out of entire sectors of social and professional life,
and when half of Black America could not vote. These activists
won because they had a Plan, and because they took the battle to
the centers of Jim Crow power – with 10,000 anti-racist demonstrations
in 1963, alone.
Objectively speaking, our chances for victory
are much better, this time around. Our current enemy is made
up of small groups
of men in suits – men who are unpopular among most of the U.S.
population, but who have Plans for the cities and the capital to
back up their schemes. To defeat them, we must call forth and give
shape and practicality to the aspirations of the current urban
population: we must facilitate their dreams. In doing so,
we will challenge the logic of capital – a logic that leads inexorably
to the dispersal of existing non-white, urban populations – with
the logic of Democratic Development, which demands a Plan that
serves the needs of the inhabitants of the cities.
Our political strength will spring from people’s inherent desire
to shape their own surroundings, and from the general awareness
among city dwellers – particularly African Americans – that they
are targeted for removal. Our most tangible assets are the human
and material resources of the U.S. labor movement, now finally
aware that it is fighting for its very existence. To our great
advantage, the cutting edge elements of our Movement for Democratic
Development are already serving on the line, fighting rapacious “developers” – including
the role “model” for U.S. corporate behavior, Wal-Mart. These innovative,
community-based organizations work closely with the most progressive
sections of labor – an alliance that has matured and blossomed
in Living Wage campaigns and in common resistance to Wal-Mart’s
relentless outrages against the rights of workers and communities.
At the core of the movement that we will create,
is Black labor, the critical interface between the labor bureaucracy,
grassroots activists, and established African American institutions. At
least until recently, one of every five Blacks were part of union
households. African Americans are disproportionately represented
in the devastated manufacturing sector; in those service industries,
such as retail foods, most directly affected by urban “development” schemes;
and in the public sector – the whipping boy of corporate power.
They know who the enemy is, and are not dazzled, as are so many
Black institutions, by the trappings of corporate wealth.
Most importantly, the bulk of Black labor lives in
the cities, or are intimately connected to the urban center.
Movement for Democratic Development is conceived as much more than
just another attempt to put breaks on the excesses of corporate
power. It must be a movement that fights for real democracy in
urban America – the kind of democracy that gives the people of
the cities the right to determine who builds what, where, and for
whose benefit. Our mission is to provide the resources and specialized
expertise that will allow the people of the cities to create their
own roadmap to development, with the full understanding that corporations
are intent on shaping cities that serve only themselves. Black
labor – men and women who are consciously Black, militantly labor,
and overwhelmingly city dwellers – must play the central role in
the new movement.
Black labor has another special responsibility:
to transform union pension funds into resources of capital for
wise investment in
the cities, jurisdictions whose ever-increasing value must be preserved
for the people who live there. Black city dwellers are the people
on whom unions depend, politically, in their struggle to survive
the current corporate offensive in America. If this population
base is dispersed, organized labor will be crushed, as well. Black
labor understands this, and must take the lead in creating new
investment strategies based on rational, Democratic Development – investments
that serve both the pensioner and his/her political base.
It won’t cost much money to launch and sustain this new Movement
for Democratic Development. The most efficient elements of the
civil rights movement, such as the bare-bones Student Non-Violent
Coordinating Committee (SNCC), didn’t require tens of millions
of dollars to shake the nation. That’s because they struck at the
heart of the enemy, armed with a Plan that tapped directly into
the fountain of Black people’s dreams.
Take the initiative
We must disrupt and supersede corporate
development schemes, by becoming city planners in the service
of the people. We must
take the initiative away from the corporations, who are currently
in possession of all the data that make up the life of a city,
and who use it selectively to present their self-serving brand
of “development” as the only option available. We must redefine
the term “development,” to mean change that benefits the people
impacted by the project. Development that does not meet that
definition, is unacceptable.
We must halt the corporate-imposed triaging of
urban America, that accepts the incremental expulsion of populations
corporate promises of a “greater good” in the future – for those
who somehow manage to hang on to their addresses. We must act in
the confidence that a “sellers market” exists in urban America,
one in which the people of the cities can strike the best deal,
if they know the true facts. We must redraw the routes of urban
commerce and employment, and demand that investors seeking entrance
to a rational economic setting conform to the principles of Democratic
Relatively small teams of people, equipped
with specialized knowledge of how cities function, and having
gathered the widest possible
specific information on targeted cities, can provide the basic
outlines for comprehensive urban Plans that serve the inhabitants.
These Plans, created in a process that intimately involves the
people themselves – eliciting their dreams – will serve as the
basis for democratic discussion, negotiations, and struggle over
the development of the city.
In the process that we set in motion, we will inevitably illuminate
the political lines that separate the real democrats among Black
and Latino leadership, from the corporate collaborators and spoils-takers
whose only vision is of self-enrichment. Democracy solves these
kinds of problems. Our insistence on open and transparent Democratic
Development will expose the professional charlatans in full view
of the people, who will have themselves put forward their Plan
for the development of their own neighborhoods and the city as
New leadership will emerge, just as occurred in the Sixties. Indeed, authentic leadership
can only emerge in the context of struggle.
We will proceed in the knowledge that, in general,
the long period of capital disinvestment of U.S. cities has ended.
of inner cities – once a “creeping” phenomenon, now in full swing – is
just one manifestation of capital’s collective decision to return
to the cities, and reshape them to its own purposes. In a capitalist
market economy, this means cities have become more valuable.
In a perverse but very real sense, corporate designs on the cities
can serve to empower the existing Black and Latino populations – but
only if it can be demonstrated to city dwellers, in the greatest
detail, that they 1) occupy spaces of great value, 2) have the
right to determine how these spaces are used, and, 3) are competent
to devise alternative Plans for the development of the entire jurisdiction
for the betterment of their families and neighbors: to build the
city of their dreams.
No activist worth her salt can doubt that people
will fight for their own dreams, once they become aware that
these dreams are
possible. If we develop a process and practice that addresses the
three items listed above, we will have launched a new movement,
one that is replicable in cities across the nation – and will change
the political complexion of urban America.
We must assemble and field a Team that will tackle the three foundational
The Team’s first job is to perform an Audit of the targeted city’s
comprehensive assets. This task directly addresses item 1), by
clarifying in great detail the value of the city.
Most city dwellers already know that they face
displacement because other people have uses for the spaces in
which they live, or that
outside forces are creating conditions that undermine their ability
to remain in their homes. However, this general understanding – that
they are not secure in their space– most often leads to fatalism
and malaise, rather than action. Our mission is to show
in the greatest possible detail where each neighborhood fits – or
has been made not to fit – in the existing patterns of city
life. This requires an Audit of the entire city.
We must present the fullest picture of the
physical, and economic layout and activity: where different populations
live; how dollars move; where people work, and what types of work
they do; where they shop; how they move around the city; what public
or private institutions anchor which neighborhoods, and what activity
do they create; what is the state of the housing stock, and where;
how many businesses exist; who owns them, and who do they employ,
and where do the employees live; what is the state of infrastructure
(streets, water, sewage, phone and cable telecommunications, mass
transit lines, etc.), and who does the infrastructure serve; what
are the physically attractive (and, therefore, valuable) sites
and vistas, and who owns/controls them; how are police deployed;
where are the schools; what is the general pattern and history
of growth and decline, and why?
Corporations routinely demand much of this type of data from local
governments before investing in a city, and augment the public
record with their own research. They gather information useful
to their profit-making mission, to further their enterprise and
protect their investment. (They then proceed to distort the data,
to create the impression that the corporate project is not only
the best course for the city to follow, but the only reasonable
option available.) We must assemble an even wider range of data,
because our mission is larger: to empower the population to recognize,
seize control of, and deploy their collective municipal assets
to enhance their own lives. We must give them the data and tools
to both protect them from corporate power and allow them
to engage in fair and productive negotiations with investors of
We must make it possible for the people to see the city as it
actually exists, so that they can rationally dream, plan and build
the city as it should be. According to their Plan.
In order to strategically describe the real
city, the Movement for Democratic Development’s Team must conduct an Audit that takes
note of every significant public, quasi-public, and private asset
(property and enterprises of all kinds) within the city boundaries.
It must also do as thorough as possible an assessment of the revenue
sources of the city – often a very difficult job, in the murky
and corrupt world of tax abatements and other subsidies and giveaways.
Fortunately, progressive activists are already honing these specialized,
The Audit will allow local residents – old activists and brand
new ones – to see their own place in the scheme of the city. This
is transformative in itself, but is only part of the utility of
the Audit. The primary purpose of the Audit is to reveal to the
Team and local residents the actual nature, value, and potential
of the city – so that they know precisely the assets that are available
to those who exercise political control over the jurisdiction.
What we will create at the end of this stage
of the process, is a cadre of city planner-activists: local leaders
with a clear vision
of their surroundings, and a burning desire to put the people’s
dreams to work, by every means possible.
But first, after completion of the Audit, it
is the Team’s job
to create and present a general framework in which Democratic Development
can rationally occur in the city, based on the totality of the
data collected – and presupposing the use of municipal powers of
eminent domain, the tool used so routinely in the service of corporations.
The Team will be guided in its macro-planning work by the principles
that we outlined in the first edition of ’s
series, “A Plan for the Cities to Save Themselves,” August 14 of
The Team will examine the city’s existing patterns of life,
work and commerce, and dare to propose ways that the infrastructure
and assets might be rearranged to maximize their value to the
existing population of the city, and to businesspersons of good
will, as well. There is nothing novel in this approach. City’s
have remade themselves many times over – nearly always at the
behest of corporations. Moreover, it is absolutely necessary
that the infrastructural biases that exist in all cities be reexamined
and corrected, since they represent layers of deliberate discrimination,
piled one on the other over generations of rule by the rich and
privileged. To the extent that the sordid legacy can be made
more rational – that neighborhoods purposely isolated can be
connected to the mainstreams of city life, and that corridors
of commerce become arteries that sustain the city as whole – it
should and must be done.
What is certain is that the cities were not
made for the benefit of Blacks and Latinos, and have been made
even more inhospitable
and irrational since our arrival in large numbers – or, in the
case of the South and the Southwest, since Blacks and Latinos
stood up and acted like people with rights. Corrective action
is long overdue. Corporations and their political allies believe
that what’s wrong with the cities, is the people who live in
them. We, on the other hand, believe there’s nothing wrong with
the cities that the people can’t fix.
The Team will present to local residents
a number of broad Democratic Development scenarios that are
within the realm of the possible,
as revealed by the Audit’s comprehensive data. We must emphasize
that we are seeking rational ways to reorganize the city’s assets
for the benefit of the current population, including the creation
of enhanced, rational and socially healthy investment opportunities.
Therefore, the Team’s task is to devise general schemes for the
city as a whole, treating the municipality as an organism that
needs doctoring. This will provide a citywide framework for local
residents to “dream” their own neighborhoods’ in the context
of new configurations of assets and connections – to remake their
surroundings in solidarity with other neighborhoods that are
also seeking a new beginning, and to fully participate in the
The presentation of the Team’s Audit and resulting macro-planning
scenarios will answer the question inherent in item 3), i.e.,
whether local activists and their allies “are competent to devise
alternative Plans for development of the entire jurisdiction
for the betterment of their families and neighbors.” In the course
of the presentations, and in great detail, Team members will
also explain precisely why the residents of cities “have the
right to determine how these spaces are used” – the subject of
item 2) – a discussion of legalities that leads directly to the
necessity of action to seize political power.
A huge pool of talent
Which brings us to the composition of the
Team. Clearly, there must be members with experience in the
complexities of such arcane
legal areas as eminent domain, etc. But this is essentially
a political project of mass mobilization and social transformation.
The Team must be competent to perform the
technical aspects of the Audit, and to develop several macro-Plans
for each New
City, while guided by progressive principles and zeal. Its mission
is to dissect the innards of the targeted city, present rational
alternates to the existing, corporate-driven patterns of “development,” and
explain how various neighborhoods can achieve their own developmental
goals through coordinated political action. This will require
a host of disciplines and experiences.
In addition to the obvious legal component,
the Team must include progressives with expertise in city planning,
political economy, small business development, corporate planning,
civil engineering, police science – progressives experienced
in the broadest range of urban development fields. At the heart
of the Team, however, are the Organizers – who may also be expert
in specialized fields. The Organizer’s job is to make it clear
at every stage of the Team’s engagement with local residents
that their dreams can be realized, but only through political
We will also have great need of architects
and artists who can render the look and feel of the people’s voiced aspirations – who
can make their dreams “real,” tangible, and ultimately, a cause
for action. That’s what corporations do, when marketing their
greedy dreams of conquest. They design and render waterfronts
and skylines that have no connection with our communities, because
they will replace our communities. This is a form of propaganda
that we are fully equipped to not only counter, but to outclass – in
the service of the people’s vision that we will elicit in the
course of this project.
At the beginning of this article, we noted
that “Black America’s
resources and effective allies are infinitely more abundant than
they were two generations ago.” The pool of talent available
to us is far larger than that which the activists of the early
1960s could call upon. And the needs of our project – a
Movement for Democratic Development, an offensive against corporate
rule of the cities – are quite different.
The SNCC-led “Freedom Summer” of 1964 is a useful reference
point, as we compare the relative difficulties that we face in
creating a new movement – after three-plus decades of no movement
at all. A pretty good website describes the launching of Freedom
Summer, this way:
We need no more than 20 very good people
(the Team) to ignite an organized, mass rebellion of the soon-to-be
America’s urban centers. The majority of the Team will not be
white. All of them will have amassed a wealth of experience in
their respective fields of expertise. They will be backed up
by sections of organized labor and a host of activist organizations
intimately involved with the problems they will face in the field.
And, none of them will die.
We can do this.
We have assumed that sections of organized
labor will back this project, because this is where the corporate
offensive – exemplified
by the Wal-Mart “model” – has taken them, and all of us. There
is no choice but to confront the “model,” which means we must
challenge the legitimacy of corporate rule by agitating in the
ranks of those who are most immediately and aggressively impacted:
Blacks and Latinos in the coveted urban centers.
The terminal crisis looms. Either a new cadre
of leadership will emerge in the cities to ignite a mass movement,
or the “unwanted” classes
will be expelled – to become politically neutralized by dispersal. The
grand dreams of (most) Black folks and Big Labor will become…baseless.
Labor is already deeply engaged in the new battlefield that
corporations have created, an arena that Black labor, which is
inseparable from the Black masses, eagerly enters. Our mission
is to alter the configuration of the field, by taking the initiative,
through a Movement for Democratic Development. Among the most
active elements of labor, there is no question that such an initiative
However, there is more that must be asked
of the unions. It is the same question that is asked by the
unemployed, the prison-stigmatized
males, and the child-burdened female youth of the ghettos that
are targeted for the kind of “development” that even the least-schooled
of them knows means eventual “removal.” Their question is: if
not this kind of development, What?
Labor’s answer lies in the pension funds, which have historically
been pools of working people’s capital (deferred wages) served
up to the uses of capitalists. The capital that built Las Vegas
for mobsters, and that even now builds luxury apartments in mid-town
No one expects that labor pension funds will
finance ghetto revitalization – the needs are too vast. However, it is necessary
that labor plant dramatic flags in the areas that the Movement
for Democratic Development enters, by making significant investments
in projects that are called forth by the voices and Plans of
the people, elicited by the Teams of the Movement. Such investments
will be much more than symbolic. They will create “facts on the
ground,” fiduciary responsibilities of labor pension fund trustees
and executives, that must be defended against the encroachment
of rapacious corporations, such as Wal-Mart.
In the final analysis, “people’s development” can never be secure
unless it is protected by political power. There is no escaping
the necessity of labor finally casting its lot with its most
dependable political base, and financing the candidacies that
must result from the Movement for Democratic Development’s agitation
and “dream-making.” Labor must do more than just pay for the
calling forth of dreams. It must also help bring those dreams
to fruition. It must be prepared to field and finance a righteous
line of candidates to take power in the cities targeted by the
Movement for Democratic Development, in order to defend its political
and (hopefully) economic investment in the New, non-corporate
This is a project for political power in
the cities – the
power to control and protect valuable urban property, so that
we can make dreams come true for the occupants of that property.
The political project
We are keenly aware of the very good work
that is being done by activists who seek amelioration of the
problems of the central
cities through regional collaboration among jurisdictions – i.e.,
their efforts to demonstrate that both city and suburb suffer
from the irrationality of corporate development. We, however,
believe that the irrationality of racism – the historical
enabling force in the creation of suburbs – encourages the socially
irresponsible behavior of corporations. The two are intertwined.
Nevertheless, as the contradictions of both corporate “development” and
its offspring, suburban sprawl, multiply, there is great potential
for meaningful collaboration among nearby neighbors. Especially
as the inner “suburbs” become replicas of the inner city – heavily
Black and increasingly Latino.
We are, however, on another mission. We are
attempting to create a popular movement in a nation that has
had none for 30 years.
Our intention is to preserve and further empower the huge and
strategic Black and Brown presence in the central cities. Minorities
in a racist society must have concentrated numbers in strategic
places in order to exercise critical political influence. It
is an awesome truth, scrawled in shameful history, that there
is no dependable progressive base in the U.S. except for Black
America, which is called upon to hold high the principles of
civilization in the face of constant assault by white people
suffering from what is far too clinically described as “false
consciousness.” Black people must stay together in sufficient
critical mass to preserve ourselves, and as a by-product, we
just might preserve the nation.
Latinos can and must speak for themselves, but we at are
convinced that the proper way to communicate among peoples is
based on common interests. Black and Latino communities in the
center cities have identical problems with corporate “developers,” and
although it is always nice to visit each other’s churches, it
is more important that we put forward political programs that
address shared problems within the same jurisdiction. That is
how political power is built, and change is effected.
The Movement for Democratic Development asks Latinos to bring
their human acreage to a common Field of Dreams – and to count
on us in the field of battle, as well. This is how alliances
are really built. We are aware of Latino union militancy in the
very cities that must be targeted by the Movement. Struggling
people find a way to get along. We will surely work it out.
We will close with special attention to those concerned with
the fate of Black business under a Plan for Democratic Development.
It must first be said that there is no hope for anybody’s independent
business survival in a corporate-ruled marketplace. Black business,
small business, will find its only protection under the umbrella
of people’s political power, the only defense against the corporate
regime. Black people want Black business to exist. We will find
ways to protect it – in our Plan.
We must take the initiative against corporate power. Now.