STARTING THE REVOLUTION WITH….GOURMET HOT CHICKEN?

12 08 2018

My attention was attracted by a headline in a recent Nashville Scene:

H*t Chicken Sh**t Addresses Gentrification in North Nashville

The event, which I’m not sure how to pronounce—“Hot Chicken Shoot”? “Hit Chicken Shi..”….well, never mind–was an effort by Nigerian-American gourmet chef Tunde Wey to call together some movers and shakers to not merely discuss gentrification over a “gentrification priced” $55 dinner, but to actually start funding a community land trust that will “allow residents to buy affordable homes while the land is owned by a non-profit in the community.”

I think this is really good news. I’ve been one of those beating the drum for community land trusts as a way to address gentrification  and was happy to see it featured so prominently at the Co-op Nashville conference a few years back. Recently I’ve been wondering what happened to all the positive energy that was generated at that gathering, so it was very sweet to get an answer without even having to go look.

I wish Tunde Wey and his friends every success in this venture. I hope to send some money  their way, and I hope you will, too. But, being a “deep green perspective” kind of guy, I also have some further thoughts about this project, and that’s what I want to share with you.

This story kind of reminds me of the peace activist slogan “”It will be a great day when our schools get all the money they need and the air force has to hold a bake sale to buy a bomber.” Here in Nashville, we just went through a massive campaign to pass additional taxes for a public transit system that was widely, and correctly, perceived as a tool for further gentrification of the city. “I’ve already got developers calling me about property (along the proposed light rail route)” one advocate of the plan said, on camera.  (Oops!) This plan was defeated, largely by those who realized it was going to gentrify them right out of town. Something that does seem to be going through, on the other hand, is a “major-league soccer stadium” that will undoubtedly raise property values in its neighborhood, which happens to be one of the remaining pockets of affordable housing. The good news is that the soccer stadium plan is structured to listen and respond to input from the surrounding community. The relevant part of this story, however, is that Metro Nashville is issuing $275M in bonds to pay for the project, with the expectation that the stadium will do well enough financially to pay that back.

Let’s contrast that with Metro’s much-ballyhooed “Barnes Fund for Affordable Housing,” which has five million dollars to operate with, and another five million of “leveraging.”  Dig it. Two hundred and seventy-five million for major league soccer, ten million for affordable housing. Or, 5.2 billion for upscale mass transit,  ten million for affordable housing.  The city is willing to spend twenty-seven times more on a soccer stadium than it spends on affordable housing, and five hundred and twenty times more on transit. Another way to look at what a pittance the Barnes fund provides for affordable housing is to note that every month, several single family homes in Nashville sell for a million or two, and that the average sale price of a single-family home in Nashville is north of $200K. That makes The Barnes Fund, even with “leveraging,” good for about 50 houses. According to current estimates, the city needs about one hundred thousand affordable housing units. We’re talking a real drop in the bucket here! Whatever the rhetoric may be, this is a  pretty clear indication of the priorities of Nashville’s governing class.

It’s also worth noting that these are the priorities of so-called “liberal Democrats.” Greens would make dedicated affordable housing a top priority, and then make sure that affordable neighborhoods were served by affordable public transportation. A soccer stadium with broad public support, but owned by a private company? We can talk…..

Let’s take our “deep green perspective” a step further. Community land trusts are an effort to push back against the rising cost of land and housing. Why are the prices of land and housing going up? It’s not just a question of “demand.” These prices are rising because everything  in our society is for sale to the highest bidder, and the rules of the money game we play (there are other ways to play the money game) allow some people to accumulate very large amounts of money, and bid prices up to where only they can afford them. In 2015, International Business Times reported that just twenty Americans owned more wealth than the bottom half of our population. Only two years later, Forbes Magazine reported that three Americans–Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, and Jeff Bezos–were wealthier than the bottom half of the country. By now, maybe Bozo–I mean Bezos–can claim the “honor” all by himself. When you get to this point in the board game “Monopoly,” you know it’s all but over.

And “Monopoly” is, in fact, the game we are playing in our current economic paradigm, which, instead of “Monopoly,”  is called “corporate capitalism.” The basic tenet of corporate capitalism is that capital–money and property–are what is most important, and just about any behavior or strategy that increases an individual’s wealth/property is OK, because it makes them wealthier, and winning the corporate capitalist game is about becoming wealthier and wealthier, even at the expense of most other members of society. If the “player” happens to be a “corporate person,” it is even illegal for them not to do anything they can get away with to become wealthier.

“Get away with” is an important qualifier here. Wealthy people don’t have lawyers to make sure they won’t break the  law. They have lawyers to tell them what they can get away with, and they understand that the standards may change and put them in jeopardy. That’s what we’re seeing with President Turnip and his friends as Robert Mueller pursues them. They just did what everybody else was doing, and it was OK as long as nobody cared, like Eric Holder, for instance. Shine a prosecutorial flashlight in a different direction, and you’ll catch somebody else doing something financially naughty. A Clinton, perhaps, or a Pelosi, or…a Bozo, I mean Bezos, although his wealth is enough to insulate him from such inquiry, at least for now.

Another example of “what you can get away with” is that, in this country, those who object strongly to the way oil companies do business may find themselves arrested on trumped-up charges and embroiled in the legal system, which takes up a great deal of their time and money, and may indeed leave them mentally broiled even if all charges are dropped. On the other hand, third-world people, such as Tunde Wey’s fellow Nigerians or Hondurans, for instance, who oppose the depredations of oil companies will simply be  killed, because you can get away with that in the third world, but not in the US.Corporate-Crime

Murdered third-world environmental activists may seem like quite a drift from establishing community land trusts, but, sooner or later, a community land trust will have to deal with pressure from corporate capitalism, which must continually devour land, labor, markets, and “natural resources” in order to keep growing, and that must keep growing to survive, kind of like a cross between a zombie and a vampire. Dracula…the original “corporate person”!

One of the bases of the corporate capitalist system is “loaning money at interest,” which presumes that there will be more wealth in the future that will be available to pay back more than was borrowed. Unfortunately for this business model, we live on a finite planet, and the infinite growth it demands is simply not possible.  “Nature bats last,” they say, and if we don’t rapidly get off this capitalist jag and change our behavior as a species, our collective head will be the ball Nature hits out of the park when her final turn comes.

So, as long as community land trusts, cooperatively owned businesses, and other such institutions are only islands in a capitalist ocean, that ocean will do all it can to wash them away, no matter how large they grow. After all, what really annoys the corporate state about countries like Iran, Venezuela, Bolivia, and Russia is that they are resisting the encroachment of corporate capitalism, which needs to eat them in order to survive a little longer. That system has already chewed up and swallowed Iraq and Libya, and, in a somewhat gentler way, has neutralized attempts by Ecuador, Brazil, Chile, and Argentina to reserve some economic independence for themselves. If you want to get past spending a lot of time keeping capitalism from drowning your island, you probably ought to think about draining the capitalist ocean. That sounds daunting, but I believe it can be done.

It’s worth noting that, according to economist Ellen Brown, the Trans Pacific Partnership would enable corporations to take legal action against efforts by local communities to establish local sovereignty through community banks, co-operatives, and land trusts. The more successful such endeavors become, the more they will be treated as threats by corporate capitalism.

Establishing co-ops and land trusts is only a first step in stopping corporate capitalism’s efforts to monetize and buy everything. Those who start these ventures will soon realize, if they have not already, that what they are part of, and what they must undertake, is an effort to replace “capitalism”–the supremacy of money and property–with “socialism”–the primacy of a healthy society–which includes affordable housing, a functional natural environment, a healthy diet and health care, meaningful ways to spend one’s time, and community  governance that is responsible to, and seamless with, the people in the community.

That may seem like a lot to ask, but the financial storms, fire storms, dust storms, and heat waves now building in frequency are the future that corporate capitalism is creating for us. There’s still time to make the change. Talking about gentrification in Nashville over a gourmet dinner, and using that dinner as an occasion to raise money for a community land trust, may seem insignificant in comparison to the scale of the danger we face, but you’ve got to start somewhere, by doing something. By definition we have to start where we are, and use whatever talent we have to change what’s in front of us. Nobody else has our skills. Nobody else is facing what each of us is facing. I think Wey understands what he is sinking his teeth into with his “H*t Sh**t” dinner discussions, since he says on his website, fromlagos.com

LAGOS is a port city, the most populous in nigeria and one of the fastest-growing cities in the world. LAGOS is also a concept that uses food, primarily through pop-ups, to interrogate exploitative systems.

If that’s where he’s coming from, I think he’s prepared to do the serious chewing that addressing the issue of “affordable housing” requires. Again, my deepest thanks to him and his friends and supporters for taking a step I could only dream of.

Steve Earle, “The Revolution Starts Now


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One response

13 08 2018
zachary w klein

Good column. All studies done about publicly financed sports venues are a gift to the team’s owner and a loss to taxpayers.

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