HEEDING A WARNING TO HUMANITY

HEEDING A WARNING TO HUMANITY

I had some expectations when we decided to tour Auschwitz on our first day in Poland. But I’m still processing the experience.

First, I did not know that the first to be rounded up by the Nazis and sent to Auschwitz were the Polish intelligentsia, who could be resistance threats. So if I had been a college graduate in 1939, I very well could have been among the 150,000 Poles interned and exterminated there along with 1.3 million Jews.Auschwitz PlagueThere were several staggering exhibits: the collections of shoes & luggage; the firing squad Wall of Death; and the gas chamber and crematoria. But even more shocking was when the tour moved to the Birkenau Camp and I comprehended the scale of mass extermination that was designed and implemented over the course of only six years. Yes, let this place forever be “a cry of despair and a warning to humanity.”

There were other museums and sights on our tour of Central Europe that bore witness to Nazi terrors as well as the decades of Soviet domination. There were also stories of hope and persistence such as the Warsaw Uprising in 1944 and the rebuilding of Warsaw from rubble.

This was one of those lifetime trips. I joke that my wife Lynne and I watched so much Masterpiece Theater on PBS that we finally gave in to those Viking River Cruise ads.

Danube from the Cruise

Cruising the Danube

We are glad that we did. The cruise itself was great. Our pre- and post- cruise nights in Budapest and Prague added those cities to our favorites list. The Parliament in Budapest and the Charles Bridge in Prague are major photo opps.

Budapest Parliament

Parliament in Budapest

Looking at a map of our Viking itinerary, we realized that we had never been this close to Poland, where my father’s family emigrated from in the early 1870’s fleeing from domestic policies in the German part of partitioned Poland, where poverty, unemployment, and official discrimination aimed at Catholics were prevalent. So we added six more nights in Poland to our itinerary.

Krakow Square

Cloth Hall in Krakow’s Market Square

We especially enjoyed Krakow with all its buildings that avoided destruction in the war. Its Market Square is the largest medieval square in Europe, set out in 1257. Located in the center of the Square, the Cloth Hall is a former and present place of trade, where we did our souvenir shopping.

Throughout our guided tours, the history of these places was pervasive. Standing in Prague’s Wenceslas Square, one can imagine, among all of today’s retail options, where in 1989 hundreds of thousands of Czechs gathered for days and launched the Velvet Revolution, jangling their key chains and telling their communist oppressors — “It’s time for you to go home.”

Getting off the tram in Krakow on our way to Schindler’s Factory, Krakow Memorial chairsthere were the 33 memorial over-sized chairs in Ghetto Heroes Square, another historical testament and warning to humanity.

God knows; these are again times to be heeding such historical warnings.

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“GREEDING OUT” AFFORDABLE HOUSING

“This is about the moral center. This is about our humanity.” — Rev. William J. Barber II

There have been a number of distinct stories in the papers over the last two months that from my perspective are connected. Unfortunately, their common denominator is the demise of affordable housing caused by the malignant neglect of government at all levels.

On June 10th, I was again inspired by the front page New York Times story by Laurie Goodstein, Religious Liberals Sat Out of Politics for 40 Years. Now They Want in the Game. I have blogged before about the visionary and prophetic Rev. Barber. Rev Barber 2015Having keynoted the annual conference of the National Community Reinvestment Conference twice, he has become the harbinger for nationalizing state movements.

I respectfully suggest there is an imperative to also nationally coordinate movements focused on city planning departments.

Here in Chicago, the last weeks of July offered three strikes against communities by developments without moral centers. Strike one was a fast ball thrown in the community where I work, Uptown – still Chicago’s most economically and racially diverse community. One of my favorite columnists, Mark Brown captured the play-by-play in his Chicago Sun-Times’ July 21 article, Sale of ‘cubicle hotel’ in Uptown puts residents at risk.

“One hundred and 47 men reside at the Wilson Men’s Hotel — for decades one of the lowest cost housing options for Chicago’s down-and-out…. On Tuesday, the Uptown building was sold to a developer who plans to remove the tenants and remodel the decrepit flophouse to appeal to a more upscale clientele… remodeling the property into 75 to 82 studio apartments, with 20 percent of them set aside as affordable — for individuals with annual incomes of up to about $33,000. That’s just 16 spots in a place that currently shelters 10 times that many on a cold winter’s night.”

Single Room Occupancy [SRO] are now easily “remodeled” into units for single hipsters, who because of student debt and inadequate job opportunities are not able themselves to pursue affordable family home ownership.

Strike two was a splitter catching the “insider” corner, where I used to work in Chicago’s North Branch Industrial Corridor. This Chicago Sun-Times’ headline from July 26 captures the real estate frenzy ready to descend: Council unleashes North Side land rush despite infrastructure concerns.

The final “score” was 46-2 to open up 760 acres of previously protected (for 30 years) North Side industrial land for residential and commercial use, despite “lingering concern about a shortage of park space and infrastructure to accommodate an avalanche of new residents that nobody at City Hall is prepared to quantify.” Alderman Brian Hopkins (2nd Ward) said he’s excited about the opportunity to preside over development “on a scale rarely seen, probably since the Great Chicago Fire.” northbranchfreedomcenterThe City’s public stance is that there will be three kinds of developer fees: for parks and infrastructure improvements; industrial development elsewhere in the city; and development of retail corridors in impoverished South and West Side communities. All those are commendable, but nowhere has anyone said “Affordable Housing” will be a mandate for “gold rushing” developers.

Strike three is an outside curveball in the neighborhood I have lived for 38 years, Logan Square. A July 28th DNA Chicago on-line story, Getting An Affordable Rent Apartment Under City Program Isn’t Easy, reports that developers continue to skirt Chicago’s Affordable Requirements Ordinance by writing their way out of actually producing affordable housing with checks for units not in their building and most often not even in the same community.

Two years later, the new rules have applied to 61 developments. But despite the effort, most developers are still choosing to pay millions of dollars rather than set aside units as affordable housing. Just 202 affordable units have been created under the provision so far, which means the city’s on pace to create about 500 units over the course of five years, well below its goal of 1,200 units.

Developers have paid almost $39.5 million in fees since the ordinance passed, which capitalizes the Affordable Housing Opportunity Fund for affordable housing and rental assistance. While the south and west sides of Chicago can benefit from such investments, there remains a major moral dilemma being ignored – the continued economic and racial segregation of our city.

Unfortunately, this same game is being played in communities throughout our country. The pitches are being called by City Halls shirking their duties to plan for the future of their citizens and children in order to chase development at any cost, but to developers’ profits.

We are once again watching the “Greeding Out” of Affordable Housing. There will be no affirmative action on fair housing unless local action is taken project by project. Shark Week may be over but developers are still circling.

FAILING THE EQUITABLE DEVELOPMENT TEST

FAILING THE EQUITABLE DEVELOPMENT TEST

“The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.” — Franklin Delano Roosevelt

FDR Memorial

I think I’ve attended all the annual conferences of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition [NCRC] since 1992. This year’s theme was again “Creating a Just Economy” — an appropriate and timely admonition. FDR’s test surely is not being pursued in the first 100 days of the Trump Presidency.

After my countless trips to DC, I finally made time to visit the memorials for Dr. King, FDR and Jefferson. A very reflective hike on which I found particularly relevant quotes at each stop – none using the word “huge.”

The above FDR quote was etched by a sculpture of Americans forgotten in the Great Depression. Not sure those Americans who suffered the injustice of our most recent Great Recession haven’t already been not only forgotten but abandoned by the White House and Congress despite their votes.

But “creating a just economy” is not just a matter of federal policy or tax reform. A just economy is threatened locally by every decision in our communities to forsake those who have too little affordable housing and insufficient employment to raise a family. Equitable development is imperative for a just economy.

Given the challenges confronting Chicago’s Uptown community, where I now work as CEO of the Institute of Cultural Affairs [ICA]-USA, I volunteered to moderate the workshop at this year’s NCRC conference, entitled Equitable Development in Gentrifying Communities. The four panelists shared similar stories from Portland, OR; Roxbury, MA; New York City; and Washington, DC.

Empower DC’s mission is to enhance, improve and promote the self-advocacy of low and moderate income DC residents in order to bring about sustained improvements in their quality of life. The presentation by its Executive Director, Parisa Norouzi, included a historical ICA surprise for me. The historic Ivy City community is re-establishing a strong Civic Association around several issues including the restoration of the Alexander Crummell School. Named for abolitionist, educator and clergyman Rev. Doctor Alexander Crummell whose life’s mission was the uplift of Black people, it was the first public school for African Americans in DC when it opened in 1911.

Ivy City was chosen in 1976 as a site for one of the Human Development Projects initiated by the Institute for Cultural Affairs (ICA) along with other such initiatives across all 24 global time zones that became known as the “Band of 24.” Two ICA organizers moved into the Ivy City community who, following ICA’s participation model, assisted the community with developing and carrying out a four year Human Development plan. From 1976-1980, ICA and neighborhood residents created the Ivy City Preschool and the Ivy City Corporation (ICCO), which promoted commerce in the community. All activities were centered at the Crummell School, which had been closed in the ‘70s, and were documented in the Ivy City Voice, a newsletter which was published during that time.

More recently, the school building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2002 and listed as one of DC’s Most Endangered Places by the DC Preservation League in 2013. Crummell abandonedResidents of Ivy City have long been on record asking that the school be turned into a multi-use center to serve youth and elders. They have endured years of testifying at hearings, participating in city planning meetings, and mobilizing community participation. They experienced many broken promises, and even had to file a lawsuit to block attempts to turn Crummell into a bus parking lot.

Last year, Empower DC worked with Ivy City residents and partners to submit a proposal that would turn the historic Crummell School and 1 acre of the site into a Community Land Trust, keeping the grounds open for community recreational use (with a playground/splash park, basketball court, walking trail, and garden) and opening the school as a nonprofit Community Center with a mix of programming to meet the needs of youth, adults and seniors. The school building would become a community square surrounded by new affordable housing. Alexander Crummell SchoolUnfortunately, local government is forsaking Ivy City’s community dream and choosing another high-end development striving to be DC’s newest “hot” real estate.

When President Trump tells us in seven days how “huge” his accomplishments have been in his first 100 days, let’s ponder the “huge” decisions being made in Planning Departments and Mayors’ Offices across our country to not provide enough [housing & jobs] for those who have too little. Many politicians are failing the equitable development test. Our civic duty is to grade accordingly.

MAKING PEACE…RESPECTING DIVERSITY

MAKING PEACE…RESPECTING DIVERSITY

“When I first came here, people on both sides of what is ironically called the peace line told me, without any rehearsal, exactly the same thing – that there was direct correlation between the level of violence and unemployment.” – Senator George Mitchell, June 25, 1996

Mitchell & Ted Belfast 1996That was former U.S. Senator Mitchell’s welcoming comment, as Special Advisor to President Clinton and Secretary of State for Economic Initiatives in Ireland, to our delegation in Belfast at a three-day conference on Work, Education & Training for which the US State Department had invited us as participants. As CEO then of the Chicago Association of Neighborhood Development Organizations [CANDO], that quote resonated with me and I shared it in for my article entitled, “Rainbow Over Belfast,” in CANDO’s 1996-97 Annual Report.

Now over 20 years later, there remains a direct correlation between the level of violence and unemployment in Chicago. A lesson repeatedly revealed in every morning’s news headlines.

Senator Mitchell was in Chicago this past St. Patrick’s week as the narrator for Old St. Patrick’s Church’s 21st Annual Siamsa na nGael. This year’s theme was “A Bridge Over the Troubles: The Peacemakers.”

Yes, the choir did sing that Simon & Garfunkel song; but they also sang my favorite hymn, Canticle of the Turning, and my favorite Broadway tune, Make Them Hear You from Ragtime. I have used lyrics from both for previous blog posts.

Senator Mitchell’s narration shared many stories from his “few months” assignment that became five years. I had already read some of them in his memoir, The Negotiator, and look forward to more as I start his book, Making Peace. I particularly appreciated his reflections on John Hume, who not only won the Nobel Peace Prize but also the Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. Awards; the only person to have earned all three.

When the audience entered Chicago’s Symphony Center for the concert, there was a large screen hanging over the orchestra with a quote from Hume’s Nobel acceptance speech. Hume quoteAgain, a lesson learned 20 years ago in Northern Ireland that the US remains in dire need of remembering today: “most fundamental principle of peace: respect for diversity.”

Composer Scott Stevenson was commissioned to write the “Hymn of Unity” from Hume speeches with lyrics that ring out as a call even more acute today for us.

In this land, this land of ours, by difference torn apart
We pray for strength and wisdom to discern our common heart.
A heart with ample space for many different minds,
A heart that is open to the whole of human kind.
A heart that breaks down ancient walls,
because we share the same bright sun
by which we walk together towards tomorrow.
From many, we are one!

 

ENABLING CITIZENS COMES NEXT

ENABLING CITIZENS COMES NEXT

Do you know how hard it is to lead?
You’re on your own
Awesome…wow
Do you have a clue what happens now?
Oceans rise
Empires fall
It’s much harder when it’s all your call
“What Comes Next” from Hamilton as performed by King George

I finally saw Hamilton this month and couldn’t help but reflect on our current politics in light of our country’s founding politics. I also was interviewed this month for a book on redlining that sent me back to the ‘70s going thru my file of the national newsletter, DISCLOSURE, which I edited for Gale Cincotta starting in July 1974 thru July 1984.

Government has always required challenging by its citizens. In fact, you can say that’s our job description as citizens. A robust media is essential for enabling citizens to exercise their rights.

Disclosure remains our right to know today as it was as a national demand in 1975 for Congress to pass the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act [HMDA]. As we all start preparing to file our 2016 tax returns, what’s the betting pool on whether the President ever discloses his?

disclosure-oct-1976I still wonder why the US Senate couldn’t have waited a week to see what Scott Pruitt’s emails to the fossil fuel industry disclosed before confirming him as the USEPA chief. Maybe they were afraid for us to know before putting him in charge of policing industries that helped his career.

I’m not even going to speculate on the spy novels and Putin films being written in the absence of full disclosure of what Michael Flynn was up to before he resigned as national security adviser. Congress used to insist on their own right to know as our elected representatives. It should be interesting mid-term elections in 2018 if members of Congress don’t get over their self-imposed “don’t ask the emperor about his clothes.”

Then there is the forthcoming effort to repeal protecting consumers as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is under siege. 2017 marks 40 years since Congress passed the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) to ensure fair and responsive investment. Yet, redlining is alive and will become rampant again if the Trump Administration and Congress collude to deregulate financial services. Our country won’t be great again; it will be broke again by Wall Street greed.

ncrc-2017-conferenceThat’s why I’m looking forward to convening with other community development colleagues in DC at the National Community Reinvestment Coalition [NCRC] 2017 Annual Conference, Creating a Just Economy, starting on Tuesday March 28 thru Thursday March 30, 2017. It may be “last call” to hear from responsive bank regulators such as keynote speakers: Janet Yellen, Chair of the Federal Reserve; Thomas Curry, Comptroller of the Currency; and Richard Cordray, Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. It’s not clear who President Trump would nominate to these crucial positions; perhaps the highest bidder?

The effectiveness of CRA has always been subject to vigorous enforcement by its regulators. Not sure those 77,000 voters across three states fully understood that investments in their communities’ futures were at risk in a Trump administration.

Hope your Presidents Day was “HUGE.” The next three may be “TITANIC.”

HAPPENING HERE?

HAPPENING HERE?

Too often we honor swagger and bluster and the wielders of force. Too often we excuse those who are willing to build their own lives on the shattered dreams of other human beings.– Robert F. Kennedy, April 5, 1968

My political heart was first broken when I awoke on the morning of June 6, 1968 to learn that Bobby Kennedy had been assassinated the night before. The 50th Anniversary of that event will now occur during a Trump Presidency. Given his “American Carnage” inauguration speech, I don’t expect much eloquence from the White House on that memorial date.

41t-9lej7cl-_ac_us218_President Trump’s inaugural pledge to listen to “the forgotten men” may be promising to some. To me, it is reminiscent of the League of Forgotten Men from Sinclair Lewis’ It Can’t Happen Here. According to a Chicago Tribune 1/15/17 article on the growth in alternative history fiction and movies, this 1935 best-seller tracts the rise to the US Presidency of “a crass, plain-spoken East Coast businessman who drapes totalitarian urges in the flag, demonizes his enemies, then defeats Roosevelt and wins the presidency.”

This Trib story noted that the day after Trump’s election was a good one for Sinclair Lewis. His book sold out on Amazon. With a spike in sales in excess of 1000%, more copies have appeared on bookstore shelves. I got my copy last week. The 1930s writing style is a bit challenging. I’ve only made it through the first 100 pages and the 1936 election. So I have yet to read about the first American Fascist administration. However, there are passages that seem relevant:

“any gang daring enough and unscrupulous enough, and smart enough not to seem illegal, can grab hold of the entire government and have all the power and applause and salutes, all the money and palaces and willin’ women they want.”

One day after his term starts, President Trump and his spokesman, amid mass protests nationwide, accuse the media of understating the turnout for his inauguration. Whose rally was bigger? Really, that’s what matters to our new President’s ego.

rfk-campaign_speechMy current non-fiction reading is Larry Tye’s recent biography, Bobby Kennedy: The Making of a Liberal  It’s what got me through the fall election. I’m only a third of the way, up to Bobby’s Attorney General days. Really, Alabama’s Jeff Sessions nominated for the same office?

Many remember the eloquence with which Senator Kennedy informed the Indianapolis community of the murder of Dr. King. The next day he was scheduled to speak in Cleveland where he changed his remarks to what became known as his “Mindless Menace of Violence” speech. Particularly relevant to Trump discourse is this RFK admonition:

“When you teach that those who differ from you threaten your freedom or your job or your family, then you also learn to confront others not as fellow citizens but as enemies — to be met not with cooperation but conquest, to be subjugated and mastered. We learn, at the last, to look at our brothers as aliens.”

In my alternative history, I envision the inaugural speech that President Robert F. Kennedy could have delivered in January 1969 and should be considered as a mantra during the four years ahead:

“Surely this bond of common faith, this bond of common goal, can begin to teach us something. Surely we can learn, at least, to look at those around us as fellow men and women. Surely we can begin to work a little harder to bind up the wounds among us and to become in our hearts brothers and sisters, countrymen and countrywomen once again.” — Robert F. Kennedy, April 5, 1968

I now dream that someone will give that inaugural speech in January 2021.

LIVING DANGEROUSLY

LIVING DANGEROUSLY

“Today, I am as optimistic and resolved as ever that we will solve the climate crisis. Our collective efforts are dependent not on politics or ideology — or elections — but on our commitment to each other, to the health of our planet and to a sustainable future for all…. Now, more than ever, our planet needs us — and I’m inspired by the knowledge that we’ll take the path forward together.”
Al Gore, Founder & Chairman, The Climate Reality Project, November 09, 2016 24hours-logo

The last presidential candidate who won the popular vote only to lose the Electoral College went on to use his free time to give us “The Inconvenient Truth.” Perhaps, it is now obvious to Hillary Clinton she should have made this year’s election about climate change.

Turns out I had pre-booked my post-election group therapy by getting tickets with other colleagues of the Institute of Cultural Affairs [ICA]-USA to hear Bill McKibben, the founder of 350.org. I’m sure all in the audience were looking forward to hearing about all the progress on climate action that was awaiting us over the next four years. While McKibben shared the audience’s frustrations, he inspired me with his story telling on how 350.org was founded.

In 2008, 350.org began with six Middlebury college students of McKibben’s. One of the first environmental organizations to use a website as its moniker, 350 signifies the 350-vs-400concentration of carbon dioxide in parts per million (ppm) that the atmosphere can safely hold without changing our climate. Too bad for us, we are currently around 400ppm.

The group first focused on an International Day of Climate Action to encourage the world’s most widespread day of political action reporting 5,245 actions in 181 countries on Saturday October 24, 2009. This resonated with me for several reasons.

First, college students sparking this initiative shows the strength of service learning projects such as ICA’s Accelerate77 convening the Chicago Sustainability Leaders Network. Second, the breadth of the international engagement challenges ICA to collaborate with our ICA-International colleagues to commemorate in 2017 the 40th anniversary of ICA’s “Band of 24”which created human development projects in all 24 time zones across the globe.

Then there is the flashback memory to my organizing roots with Gale Cincotta speaking truth to the imperative of Reclaiming America from big oil and big banks in the early Reagan years of deregulation for profits.

McKibben outlined the arguments for divestment in 2012, when he boiled down the future of the fossil fuel industry to simple arithmetic – companies own at least four times more fossil fuel reserves than we can safely burn, so it must stay in the ground, so the reserves and the companies are overvalued when these become “stranded assets.” Not a good long-term investment.

Divestment movements continue to spread on campuses across America. 350.org’s fossil fuel divestment campaign is shifting money faster than any divestment movement before it. Now it’s time for local governments to enter the fray and protect the future of our citizens.

If you’re looking this fall for real “reality TV,” check out season two of Years of Living Dangerously, airing on Nation Geographic Channel. In the October 30th opening episode, BLOCKING THE SUN, “Saturday Night Live” cast member Cecily Strong traveled to Florida and Nevada to investigate what’s blocking the growth of solar energy in the U.S. I know it’s shocking to discover it’s our publicly regulated utility companies.

On the good news side, Florida voters in the “Sunshine State” rejected on November 8th, a misleading utility-backed campaign promoting a referendum as protecting consumers and encouraging solar. Their promotional materials did not include an explanation that the amendment would open the door to new fees and costs to rooftop solar users. As Cecily’s interviews captured, solar industry advocates argued that instead of expanding rooftop solar generation, the amendment had the potential to make it less economically viable and limit its expansion. So the battle will continue for more solar in the Sunshine State.

But as other episodes on Years of Living Dangerously document local battles abound. David Letterman’s trip to India —soon to be the world’s most populous but with 300 million people living in rural villages without power – focused on India’s dilemma of using dirty fossils fuels like coal or leading the way with the renewable energy.

central-valley-caIn California, the worst drought in 1,200 years is devastating the nation’s most populous state and the world’s seventh-largest economy. A global water crisis is forcing family farmers off their land in the parched Central Valley and threatening our food supply.

In the remote corners of the African Sahel, migrants are being forced to make the deadly trip across the Mediterranean as “climate refugees.” senegal_ricci_shryock-111-1024x683

“We have a choice, we can build walls or we can build gardens. If we don’t help people build gardens here in Africa, they’re going to come right over our wall,” New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman.

Perhaps, the President-Elect can find the time to watch a few episodes and learn how all this is connected and why climate action is an imperative. Otherwise, we all will be living dangerously over the next four years.