This epic injustice is the complete takeover and reengineering of the modern American metropolis by our nation’s wealthiest sectors—the seizure of public parks, public schools and public lands, largely through the use of land use and zoning policies and executive tax breaks, so that the largely black and brown and Asian populations of those cities, along with the officials they elect, get to have only the most minimal say over a city’s most precious resources: the public commons.
From the parks that we have turned over to wealthy private schools and to professional sports teams, to private tennis and golfing concessions, and to luxury restaurant operators, to huge high-income housing and office development projects that spawn special economic districts, that then siphon off payments in lieu of taxes to pay off private bonds, instead of using that money to add to the city’s general funds, to charter schools that spread at breakneck speed, even though they have no real public oversight and no extensive track record of proven success, yet they are encouraged to displace existing public schools, through all of these ways, our public commons is being taken away.
The American city is being reengineered along the European model, with the poor pushed out to the far-off suburbs, and only the wealthy and middle class able to find housing in a central city core protected by thousands of surveillance cameras that track and record all who enter.
Who will stand up against this? Who will say this is the opposite of a democratic society? Who will defend those who have no power? Where are the leaders who will not simply talk about change, but actually fight for it?
Luckily, there are heroic organizations, like AALDEF and the Mirabal Sisters Center and NEDAP and the Chinese Staff Workers’ Association and the Association for Union Democracy, and scores of others, that persevere. And thankfully, there are still a few places in this wasteland of the American news media where your voices can still be heard. A better world is indeed possible, and we will get there. And I want to thank AALDEF for giving me this award.