Issue 91 - May 20, 2004


Wal-Mart Threat Fuels New Urban Politics

Part IV of a series

Wanted: A Plan for the Cities to Save Themselves

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“We need the vision to see in this generation’s ordeals the opportunity to transfigure both ourselves and American society. Our present suffering and our nonviolent struggle to be free may well offer to Western civilization the kind of spiritual dynamic so desperately needed for our survival.”

  – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Strength to Love,” 1963.

“Imagine…if the movement’s vision of freedom were completely to envelope the nation’s political culture. If this were the case, then the pervasive consumerism and materialism and the stark inequalities that have come to characterize modern life under global capitalism could not possibly represent freedom. And yet, freedom today is practically a synonym for free enterprise.”

  – Robin D. G. Kelley, “Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination,” 2002.

Great social movements may be sparked by outrage, but they are sustained by dreams. For generations, Black folks dreamed of the death of Jim Crow, finally marshalling extraordinary energies to end legal segregation and, in the process, transform the nation. Now the tyranny of concentrated wealth threatens to moot the democratic rights won so dearly, forty years ago.

In the previous era, the sum of many oppressions came to be symbolized by the image of one man: Birmingham Police Commissioner Eugene “Bull” Connor, the epitome of southern, racist state violence. Today, the corporate-propelled economic Race to the Bottom has, not a face but, more appropriately, a logo: that of Wal-Mart, the world’s biggest and most rapacious business.

Like “Bull” Connor, Wal-Mart’s malevolence has galvanized a deep and broad opposition. As Connor personified centuries of racial oppression, Wal-Mart is truly the “model” of predatory, global capitalism – the “destructive force” that “rezones American cities, sets wage standards and even conducts diplomacy with other nations.”

There is outrage aplenty in Chicago, as the mega-retailer attempts to steamroll its way into the South and West Sides of the city, a conquest that would extend Wal-Mart’s suffocating embrace to all of the top ten U.S. markets except Detroit and New York City. The coalition that is assembling to oppose Wal-Mart and its hyper-aggressive corporate model – in Chicago and elsewhere across the nation – has the potential to transform itself into a genuine anti-corporatist, Black-led movement. Yet, as many of the organizers are aware, the Wal-Mart offensive must be countered by more than popular outrage. To sustain a movement, the people must be given reasons to dream.

The civil rights dreams of Dr. King’s day did not prepare African Americans for the machinations of capital – although King himself was clearly on the cusp of a larger social vision when he was cut down, in 1968. With few exceptions, the men and women that assumed Black political leadership were (and remain) bereft of any notions of urban development other than to accept what is offered by the federal bureaucracy or corporate developers. They have seldom thought beyond patronage and “piece of (somebody else’s) pie” politics, and believe their job is to accept whatever is on the corporate menu – and be grateful.

After three decades of such “leadership,” the very idea that democracy can turn people’s dreams into realities in their own neighborhoods, is alien. Is it any wonder that the Black public sees no relationship between democratic processes and their surroundings? Yet only an organized people, energized by their own dreams, can resist the designs of organized wealth. They need to believe in a “freedom” that affirms the people’s absolute right to prevail over any corporate scheme, and to know that people’s dreams can transform neighborhoods, nations, and history. Especially when the relentless corporate juggernaut called Wal-Mart, with sales of $250 billion a year, comes banging at the city door.

Slaying the dragon

“Living wage Yes – Wal-Mart No!” About 30 young ACORN activists in red T-shirts arrayed themselves like a street-wise choir along the right wall of the St. Sabina Catholic Church auditorium, punctuating a May 1 afternoon of speeches with righteous, sloganeering fervor. St. Sabina has for decades been a progressive venue on Chicago’s South Side, a place where it seemed quite normal to hear visiting United Church of Christ minister Rev. Reggie Williams, Jr. open the mass meeting with the words, “We pray that you will bless those who have been cast out – by corporations.”

St. Sabina’s Father Michael Pfleger challenged the 300-strong crowd: “Let’s not let Chicago be embarrassed by allowing here what Inglewood has already said no to.”

Three weeks earlier, the mostly Black and Latino city of Inglewood, California voted two to one to shut its doors in Wal-Mart’s face. At stake was the democratic process, itself. Wal-Mart spent more than $1 million on a ballot initiative to override local and state regulatory powers at its proposed 60-acre Inglewood site. Until just a few weeks before the vote, it appeared that Wal-Mart would prevail, with the support of Inglewood’s groveling Black mayor, Roosevelt Dorn. But a labor-community coalition – backed by the city council and the tireless efforts of Los Angeles Congresswoman Maxine Waters and a host of national notables – won the day.

"They can't trick cities and communities into giving away the store, getting everything they want without any oversight,” said Madeline Janis-Aparicio, leader of the Coalition for a Better Inglewood. “They're going to have to do business differently if they want to do business in California."

Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott brushed aside the defeat: "It's a single store. We have lost votes on single stores before, and I would assume in the future we will have some we lose."

On to the next victim: Chicago, the second-largest Black population center in the United States, heavily union, and Rev. Jesse Jackson’s home base. Jackson, who lent his voice to the Inglewood resistance, denounced Wal-Mart’s intrusion into the South and West Sides:

“I urge Chicago and communities across the nation to stop the Wal-Mart-ization of our economy. Some may say ‘these jobs are better than no jobs,’ and are attracted to Wal-Mart's promise of ‘jobs and low prices,’ especially in these times of high unemployment and the need for community economic development. But a closer look at Wal-Mart exposes it as a Confederate economic Trojan horse. On the outside, it looks like a show horse. But open it up and what do you see: jobs at welfare level wages; jobs without health care benefits; jobs without the right to organize; a Wal-Mart that forces out local small business and throws their workers into the unemployment lines….

“This month, the communities of Chicago must place their vote in Wal-Mart's path. It will be a signal to communities everywhere that the giant monopoly Wal-Mart, the largest private sector company in the world, with all of its economic power and wealth, can and will be defeated. We must stand up. Let us not forget that Dr. King spent his final days organizing for the right to organize, for livable wages and health care benefits for all. The shadow of his life obligates us to fight Wal-Mart; we will not change our course. Wal-Mart must change its course.”

Wal-Mart is not about to change course. It is the most ideological corporation on the planet, and refuses on rightwing principle to sign any agreement that would dilute capital’s divine right to do whatever it pleases (although the company does on occasion sucker communities with non-binding promises). The mega-chain rings the Windy City with suburban boxes, and has secured the tepid endorsement of Mayor Richard Daley. And unlike in Inglewood, Chicago’s Black councilpersons include some of the most backward, buyable, and just plain ignorant examples of post-civil rights politicians, anywhere in the nation. They are the faces of abject, urban defeat.

A deep, ugly cynicism

When Wal-Mart’s proposed West Side store came before the Council’s Zoning Committee in late April, Alderwoman Emma Mitt dismissed evidence of the company’s fierce anti-labor practices: "I don't know about them because I go in there and shop. I'm not trying to get into their business."

When a people’s representative doesn’t think it’s her job to “get into” Wal-Mart’s “business” – Mitt’s ward includes the proposed site – then we must realize that a vast void has been allowed to descend on the Black political conversation. Mitt’s outrageous remarks reflect much more than a deep, ugly cynicism. Rather, they are comprehensible only in the context of a 30-year-long failure to address Black community development as an issue of democracy. More important than the fact that she has been bought, Mitt and her amen corner cannot conceive of democracy playing any role in development, which she perceives as the “business” of Wal-Mart and other corporations.

Chicago Federation of Labor President Dennis Gannon demanded that Wal-Mart sign agreements before gaining entrance to the city. Alderwoman Carrie Austin made sense by mistake when she countered: "And how many other people have you asked to put it in writing? Did we ask Target? Did we ask Home Depot? Did we ask Menards?"

Although Austin’s question sprang from the same slavish corruption as that which oozes from her colleague, Mitts, she had hit on an essential fact. No city in America is prepared to negotiate with developers except on a case-by-case, episodic basis, because no city has anything that could be accurately called a Plan for development, informed by an exhaustive audit of its strengths and assets, and arrived at through genuine democratic processes. Without a audit and plan, there is no sound, civic basis for negotiations. Alderwoman Austin may not want to set standards, but she knows when there aren’t any – which frees her to wallow in the pig sty with Wal-Mart. 

The committee approved and forwarded Wal-Mart’s plan to the full council.

Corporations, unlike cities, always have plans. They come armed with facts and figures that cannot be disputed by even well meaning politicians who have no countervailing facts of their own. As we wrote in the September 4, 2003 issue of , “Owning all the data, corporations literally feed urban politicians the growth and job projections that are then inflicted on the public as official (and campaign) literature, tightly closing the information loop and smothering democracy in its crib – a prime source of pervasive urban hopelessness.” Mayor Daley buys into Wal-Mart’s figures, too.

A fighting model

The roaring fury of Wal-Mart’s rise to become the world’s business “model” has caught progressives, labor and, especially, Black America flatfooted, scrambling for a response. The citizens of Inglewood, California were fortunate to have access to another “model” – an evolved practice of negotiating Community Benefit Agreements (CBAs) with developers, designed to set a “baselines” for corporate behavior while financing needed services to those directly affected by development projects. The strategy – part of what has made California the “gold standard” for “community grassroots organizing” – was developed by the decade-old Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE).

LAANE takes credit for creating “a powerful coalition of community organizations, unions, religious leaders, academics and elected officials” – the same coalition that defeated Wal-Mart in Ingleside. Madeline Janis-Aparicio, leader of the Coalition for a Better Inglewood, is also a LAANE activist, and co-authored the definitive, how-to document, “Community Benefits Agreements: Making Development Projects Accountable,” along with Greg LeRoy of Good Jobs First.

Among LAANE’s closest allies in the Inglewood confrontation with Wal-Mart was the United Food and Commercial Workers union (UCFW), battered by a three-month strike and lockout with supermarket chains bent on following the Wal-Mart “model” of labor relations in southern California. (See , “Remaking America in Wal-Mart’s Image,“ February 19.)

Wal-Mart’s defeat in Inglewood buoyed spirits among union and grassroots activists in Chicago. Bracing for Wal-Mart’s assault, they borrowed a page from LAANE’s strategy for dealing with developers, creating their own “Community Benefits Agreement for Wal-Mart in the City of Chicago.”

No contract, no sales

"Right now, we have to organize and tackle this beast," said Elce Redmond, as he presented the draft agreement on Wal-Mart to the May Day crowd at St. Sabina Catholic Church. Redmond is a leader of the South Austin Community Council, and one of the drafters the Agreement.

“Even if they sign, we’ve got to push them nationwide,” said Rev. Reginald Williams, Jr. Williams is associate pastor of the 8,500-member Trinity United Church of Christ congregation, but today he was ministering to the “movement” gathered for a Chicago Workers’ Rights Board hearing on Wal-Mart.

The 12-point Community Benefits Agreement is a model for corporate behavior and accountability that could be applied or amended to fit a wide range of development projects, not just Wal-Mart.

The points include: no public subsidy for the project; 100 percent union construction, demolition and remodeling work, with 50 percent of the work performed by contractors from the community surrounding the site; 90 percent of employees must be Chicago residents, including management; a living wage with affordable, comprehensive health benefits; compliance with all workplace laws, and nondiscrimination in hiring; no retaliation for union activities, management neutrality on union representation issues; no inquiries on immigration status; a halt to predatory pricing; the site will be made immediately available to other retailers if abandoned by Wal-Mart; mandatory participation in a “Community Commission” to monitor compliance with the agreement; regular contributions to a Community Improvement Fund to be administered by the Community Commission.  Violation of the agreement would subject Wal-Mart to fines and “possible waiver of future zoning variances for other developments.”

“From this day on we will not be a whore anymore for any kind of corporate pimp,” vowed Rev. Williams. Hundreds said Amen.

Truth gets a hearing

It was time to “testify” in church, and for the Workers’ Rights Board’s secular record. “Anyplace that Wal-Mart has been let into a community, conditions have gone down,” said Mary Finger, UFCW International Vice President and the union’s director of Civil Rights and Community Relations. “Those that lose jobs will have to go out and get public assistance…and the jobs that we have now will be turned into Wal-Mart jobs. Are you going to lay down and say, that’s all we deserve?” A voice in the crowd said “Hell No” to that, and all agreed.

Wal-Mart’s appeal, in the ghetto and elsewhere, is that it creates jobs, as if out of thin air. However, a report completed in March by the Center for Urban Economic Development (CUED) at the University of Illinois-Chicago, projects a net loss of jobs if Wal-Mart is allowed to build its big box on the West Side.

Wal-Mart “will displace more jobs in the general merchandising sector than it creates for Chicago residents,” said the CUED’s Chirag Mehta. “We estimate that the store will lead to a net loss of 54 jobs inside the general merchandising sector and 11 jobs outside the general merchandising sector for Chicago residents. The jobs, once lost, will lead to an annual loss of $1.2 million of income in current dollars for city residents.”

The employment-destroying logic of Wal-Mart’s predatory model is inescapable – although the facts are drowned out of public discussion by the sheer volume of the corporation’s “jobs, jobs, jobs” ad campaigns. Although the proposed West Side store “will expand the pie slightly by pulling in customers currently shopping in the suburbs…for the most part, Wal-Mart will only take away customers from existing retailers,” Mehta testified.

"In the 28-mile area around where the proposed store will open (the typical market area for a big box retail store in an urban market), there are 763 retailers that do business in one or more of the retail sectors that competes directly with Wal-Mart. Among those, there are 61 general merchandising stores and the 40 discount retailers that will likely bear the brunt of job loss…. Without a doubt, the vast majority of the residents who live within the expected service area of the proposed store already have comparable retail options. If the proposed Wal-Mart store opens, the retail options will undoubtedly decline as will the total number of jobs in the local market….

”In terms of the fiscal impact…the City of Chicago should see a slight increase in sales and property taxes. Overall there will be a net tax gain for the city, albeit only a slight gain over the life of the project.”

So much for Mayor Daley’s rational for selling out the city to Wal-Mart.

Carefully calculated oppression

Gonza Kaiijage worked for Wal-Mart while a college student in Carbondale, Illinois. She thought she was a part-timer. “Getting more hours than you asked for probably sounds like a great situation to a lot of people, but the point is that they wanted me to work 38 hours a week, and still be defined as part-time with no benefits and no health insurance.” What Kaiijage described is Wal-Mart’s science of squeezing maximum hours from workers for minimum pay – all carefully calibrated in Bentonville, Arkansas, along with the exact temperatures in each of the company’s thousands of stores. Wal-Mart pimped Ms. Kaiijage and hundreds of thousands of part-timers, keeping her just two hours shy of the (meager) benefits kick-in point. Kaiijage couldn’t live with that, and no other employer can compete with that – although in time they will learn if the Wal-Mart model is not defeated.

Former Miss America Carolyn Sapp flew in from California to report on the largest active class action suit in the nation, seeking injunctive relief and punitive damages for Wal-Mart’s systemic discrimination against women. Ms Sapp cited “voluminous data” showing men are paid more than, and promoted over, women as a matter of corporation-wide practice.

Thus, Wal-Mart is an engine of the “feminization of poverty.”

At age 80, Mississippi-born Rev. Addie L. Wyatt is a legendary activist, having served as the first woman local union president of the United Packinghouse Food and Allied Workers. Wyatt breathed fire from her wheelchair: “Wal-Mart acts like they can come into our city and think that slavery is still alive.  I cannot believe that any of you would allow yourselves to be treated as a slave.”

Among the notables seated at the dais were several city and state officeholders, including state Rep. Mary Flowers. "I'm for jobs in this community, but I have an insult level," she said. "People need a livable wage. As an African-American woman, I once worked for $1 an hour. I'm not talking about what I don't know."

But Wal-Mart is truly something new on Earth, a super-exploiter that devours the competition, lowers labor standards wherever it treads, and rearranges economies to create conditions most beneficial to itself. Already the biggest corporation by any measure, its influence is further magnified by example. “Wal-Mart makes others mimic its way of doing business,” said James Thindwa, testifying for Chicago Jobs With Justice, one of the prime movers of the hearings. Wal-Mart’s model leads to a “proliferation of sweatshops in other countries.”

Wal-Mart beckons falsely to the unemployed while wreaking havoc in bargaining sessions at unionized workplaces. Mike Jackson, a UFCW shop steward at an Osco Distribution Center, testified:

“It seems to me that by targeting minority areas, providing weak pay with poor benefits, they are targeting those that need good jobs the most….

”I have witnessed first hand the effect that predatory competitors have on our contracts. Management always says that they cannot afford to continue paying us decent wages because they have to compete with retailers that  sell everything at discount price. We are constantly told that they must lower what we receive, in order to lower their prices, retain customers and remain competitive. This is low-road employment”

The Low Road

“Retail and other business are forced into Low Road practices to compete with this predatory giant,” said veteran activist Dan Swinney, Executive Director of the Center for Labor and Community Research CLCR). “Wal-Mart will accelerate the de-development of our communities, further drain scarce public resources, and encourage anti-labor actions and sentiment.”

Yet Swinney believes there is a host of companies that are willing to cooperate with community groups and local government – to resist Wal-Mart’s slash-and-burn mode of business. “There are existing stores like Costco, Dominicks, Jewel, as well as thousands of smaller, locally-owned stores that can be part of a High Road retail sector that meets the needs of our local consumers.” These High Road businessmen and women, says Swinney, can potentially become allies in the quest for rational, people-serving urban development strategies. Rather than allow Wal-Mart to pollute the political, social and economic environment of cities, politicians should encourage good corporate citizens and penalize Wal-Mart and its acolytes.

“It’s a business argument,” Swinney explains. “It is simply the obligation of good government to find and reward those in the retail sector who operate on the High Road and will generate a positive return on investment for the city.”

Later, after the hearings were over, Swinney elaborated on CLCR’s “Building the Bridge to the High Road” strategy, which focuses on "people stepping" in to grapple with the “anarchy” of urban economies. The key, he says, is creating “early warning systems” to gather accurate information on which businesses are closing, or in danger of shutting down. CLCR has found that “40 percent or more” of urban businesses that close or leave the city do so because of “the issue of succession” – typically involving elderly owners whose children don’t want to run the business. Swinney’s group helps find neighborhood people “who want to take over the company” and assists workers and entrepreneurs seeking companies to buy.

According to Swinney’s ”High Road,” progressives

must recognize that sections of the business community share the fundamental objectives of our High Road. And a broader segment of the business community has at least a material interest in the success of building the economy, no matter what strategic alliance guides development. Business people bring indispensable skills and resources to the process, and must be attracted and recruited to our efforts. In return for their work, they must be rewarded with fair compensation and return on investment, with partnerships that enhance the performance of their companies, and inclusion in all aspects of our community.

“But,” as Swinney said in the final words of his testimony at St. Sabina Church, “the first step is to stop Wal-Mart from coming to our city.”

Showdown on May 26th

The dreadful Alderwoman Emma Mitt brought about 100 supporters to witness her buffoonery at the May 5 City Council Meeting on Wal-Mart. Consumed by an idiotic megalomania, Mitt worked her crowd. "We want to take the worst retailer in the world, the worst, as they say, and make it the best," said the crazy woman, imagining she could tame a company that punishes nations. "But you know something? To make them the best, you've got to have them inside."

Two hundred of Father Michael Pfleger’s troops waved “No Wal-Mart in Chicago” placards as the priest pushed the Community Benefits Agreement: "We have to demand jobs. We have to demand good-paying jobs and benefits and unless we set a standard, we then accept whatever's thrown out by any company that says, it's better than nothing,"

Wal-Mart had by now mouthed promises on local hiring and “average” wage levels, but it wasn’t negotiating with anyone (except in Alderwoman Mitt’s imagination), and will never set the precedent of signing a binding agreement that might slow down its finely calibrated, global Race to the Bottom.

As 38th Ward Alderman Thomas Allen put it: "They won't put anything in writing, they won't agree to anything, they give lip service, they hoodwink and they bamboozle people. It's like, 'Line-up. Drink the Kool-Aid. It's good for you. You're gonna like it.'"

Richard Daley forgot whose mayor he was, appearing to base his support for Wal-Mart on suburban opinion. "What happened in the suburban area? What happened? Where's the voices? Where are the voices? Where are the people?" said Mayor Daley. According to this logic, Wal-Mart must be a fine company, since folks from the suburbs weren’t demonstrating at Chicago’s City Hall.

Through deft maneuvering by anti-Wal-Mart alderpersons, the vote on the West Side store was postponed until Wednesday, May 26.

Organizer Jim Bakken thinks the Community Benefits Agreement strategy, borrowed from Los Angeles, is working. “There are some alderpeople who are completely opposed to Wal-Mart,” he said. “There is an even larger group that wants to see some written agreement, or they will oppose it. There is a groundswell of opposition to these stores. The more the aldermen learn about Wal-Mart as a company, the more they oppose it.”

Urban democracy

More than any recent event, the supermarket strike and lockout in southern California – considered a “Wal-Mart” strike even though the Walton family’s outlets were not directly involved – has galvanized labor against the Wal-Mart model, creating a more activist-friendly environment in labor circles. Giant predators have that effect on people.

Wal-Mart’s belated drive to fully penetrate the nation’s inner cities exposes the utter failure of post-civil rights politics as actually practiced in much of Black America. The wave of African American urban electoral victories did not give rise to a strategy that would leverage the cities’ inherent – and inherited – strengths and assets. Instead, opportunistic elites within the community – and gutter feeders with even baser ambitions – saw the cities as places to be stripped and sold off or even given away.

In the first installment of ’s ongoing series, “Wanted: A Plan for the Cities to Save Themselves” (August 14, 2003), we described how urban politicians “extend permanent invitations to private capital to do whatever it wants with their constituents’ property and futures, but please do something! Rarely do they have anything resembling a plan of their own, beyond a firm determination to accept whatever capital offers…”  Although we were (and remain) focused on the larger issues of frenzied gentrification and corporate rip-offs subsidized at the expense of existing urban populations, the Wal-Mart urban offensive brings the contradiction into even starker relief. Chicago’s Alderwoman Emma Mitt serves as a perfect example (or straw woman) of the abysmal ignorance and moral corruption that has resulted from thirty years without a plan for the cities. These are the fruits of an historic failure of Black politics.

History sometimes dispenses second chances. Wal-Mart’s corporate personality, as offensive as it is destructive, has placed a logo on the generalized crisis into which concentrated capital is plunging the nation and world. It is no coincidence that the company that is leading the global and domestic Race to the Bottom is also controlled by the most blatant, public reactionaries at the top of America’s billionaire pyramid – Sam Walton’s heirs. Black folks can identify the enemy more easily when they hail from places like Bentonville, Arkansas. That tends to get people in the mood to fight back – but it does not, of course, provide a strategy for resistance to the relentless corporate absorption of the people’s space and rights, in which Wal-Mart is only one player.

The nightmare with Wal-Mart’s name on it – a process that Dan Swinney calls “de-development” and which in other forms results in urban ethnic cleansing – can only be successfully countered by building a movement that is fueled by the people’s dreams. Dreams are what development is all about. Yet in 21st Century America, only rich men’s dreams are allowed – Thou shalt have no other dreams but mine, says capital. Black politicians have collaborated in this people-stunting politics, believing the cities in which they wield at least nominal power are worthless. Why else would they so eagerly transfer urban assets for a song, or for nothing at all, or in Wal-Mart’s case, for a job- and community-destroying monstrosity.

The new urban politics must be rooted in a development strategy that calls upon the people to imagine a city that fulfills their needs, a politics that provides them with the tools to transform their surroundings in ways that they choose, through a process that affirms the value and power of democracy – the value and power of themselves. If people can dream a city, they will fight to make it real.

The Los Angeles Community Benefits Agreements, now part of Chicago’s progressive political arsenal, are flexible templates for campaigns for democratic development. The Agreements create a process of thought and action that places the people’s needs and desires, as expressed by themselves, at the center of the urban development question, which is, at its most basic: What kind of city do we want to create?

The LAANE Agreements are marvelously malleable; they encourage the movement to grow in scope:

“Ideally, cities should make a community needs assessment and baseline community benefits part of every subsidized project. A citywide policy for subsidized projects could do just that. This would promote uniformity, avoid lengthy and repetitious project-by-project battles, and ensure that all subsidized projects in a given jurisdiction provide some basic community benefits. A push for a citywide community benefits policy also provides a valuable opportunity for coalition-building and strengthening organizing networks.”

LAANE’s approach also fits well with Dan Swinney’s “High Road” strategy. At the end of the day, the people’s “corporate ally” is the one who will sign a contract.

The power of dreams

The global and domestic economic crisis with Wal-Mart’s face on it has forced a closer collaboration within the coalition that can forge this new urban politics. It will be an essentially Black-led (and increasingly Latino-oriented) movement, as was glimpsed in Chicago and Inglewood. Black labor will take the point position, goading and guiding their union fellows towards decisions and confrontations that can no longer be avoided. Black labor is also the key to placing large sums of capital at the service of democratic development, through the billions of dollars in union pension funds that are currently controlled by corporate developers.

Many white progressives have proven capable of formulating strategies and inventing tools that serve the larger mission: to create the conditions for a social democracy in which human destinies are not determined by privilege. Still, it will be up to African American progressives to nurture and help articulate a democratic vision among the Black urban majority – to encourage, demand, that they dream cities, and act collectively on those dreams.

We dreamed in concert, once, and won citizenship rights that we never fully used. In that sense, half the battle was won, forty years ago. It’s time for the next step.

Click here to read Part 1 of this series.

Click here to read Part 2 of this series.

Click here to read Part 3 of this series.

Click here to read Part 5 of this series.

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