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
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, progressive 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. The new 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 based on 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 Development.
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 a whole.
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. Gentrification 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
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 city’s demographic, 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, investigative skills.
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 last year:
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 municipal community.
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
guided by progressive principles and zeal. Its mission is to
dissect the innards of the targeted city, present rational alternates
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
In addition to the obvious legal component, the Team must include
progressives with expertise in city planning, social demography, 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
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 dispossessed in
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
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 is necessary.
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
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 Manhattan.
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.
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
consciousness.” Black people must stay together in sufficient critical
mass to preserve ourselves, and as a by-product, we just might preserve
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
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.