It *HAS* to be you.

Sorry this will be long and I’m asking something unreasonable of you.
 
First, there was a dude named Alinsky who wrote a book called “Rules for Radicals.” I’m happy to share a copy of the audiobook. It was a simple set of rules for how to build communities. It spawned the field we now know as “Community Organizing.” Hillary Clinton wrote her thesis about this book. Barack Obama based his career on this book. I think in both cases, their core mistake was being first a neoliberal and therefore never truly examining their core assumptions before addressing the rules Alinsky developed. (The definition of radicalism is examining the root causes and neoliberals by definition are not able to do that.)
 
Two, Alisnky’s rules, and what I’m about to say are sort of dangerous. They would be equally valuable to a nazi versus a progressive (Though Alinsky was a Jew so nazis seem unlikely to embrace him). In either case the rules show you how to build an extremely focused and powerful group capable of doing whatever you want. I used these rules to build a powerful antifascist organization in the Sierras last year which successfully dismantled multiple neo-nazi cells and did a lot more than that to be extremely aggressive in demanding progress from the institutions in place.
 
Third, I recently took a class called “Black Online – Cyberspace, Culture, and Community” as part of my Racial Resistance degree. For the final project, I created a simple manifesto which was a synthesis of Alinskyan Tactics and social-media-based anti-racism.
 
Fourth, the main argument I made is that when you say some really wild anti-racist shit or some really wild hard-marxist shit like “let’s start exterminating landlords,” people will react. The most important thing you can do is pay attention to who LOVES it (not likes it, LOVES it) and who gets MAD. Feel free to be vicious to the ones who get mad, chase them away, this will give you more opportunities to see who stans you. Alinsky is drooling in his grave watching you. Those who love what you’re doing are your stans. Stans are the foundation of the machine you *could* build to do the thing you’re talking about.
 
The conclusion of my manifesto was that it *has* to be you. It can only be you. Whoever you are, whatever you’re talking about; it has to be you. If you believe in what you’re doing then do it; make it your cause. Kant said we can only consider the merit of our actions in terms of what the world would be like if everyone did what we are doing. If everyone shied away from the challenge of progress then nothing would ever change and nothing would ever get done. You don’t have to change the world but when someone deletes you; that should be the best feeling. Everything about who you are is a choice. You can choose to compromise your truth for those people that disagree with it, or you can choose to live honestly and let your surroundings reflect your truth. If you are right, then living honestly will make the world a better place.

“Intelligence” Is A Racist Lie

Sapiophilia

IQ tests, SAT tests, GMAT tests, etc are racist. “Preferences” for people who score high on these tests are preferences for people who are a part of white culture.

Let’s look at some examples of statistical racism to illustrate exactly why this idea that “intelligence is a real thing” is so problematic. Statistical racism is a form of prediscursive construction; observing an outcome and falsely characterizing it as the cause.

Gender is an example of prediscursive construction. Because society creates gender, it exists; and yet it is falsely claimed that society believes in it because it’s a natural fact. Here are several examples of statistically racist claims which allow false arguments to be made about the relative “merit” or “ability” of people in different racial groups.

Statistical Racism: Race and IQ

Let’s start here. This is a graph of IQ scores based on race. There are a lot of problems here. As one example of how the IQ test is racist, one component scores test takers based on word association. The test giver will say a word and you say the first word you think of. The fancier your response, the smarter you must be. Another example is watching you try to make shapes out of blocks. If you haven’t had exposure to hands-on learning or had lots of toys as a child, then you won’t do as well. The list of reasons goes on and on.

The problem is that people see this graph and argue that these results reflect the natural genetic ability of people in these groups. In reality, there is more genetic diversity among people in a racial group than there is for people between racial groups. The idea that races are genetic is just not true.

Statistical Racism: SAT Scores By Race

Here is another graph of sat scores by race. This one it easy. Lots of affluent white-culture words like “regatta” appear in questions on the SAT. This privileges people who are familiar with affluent white-culture. Additionally, concepts from math and science are more available to students who go to better funded schools; that means white kids. This test measures the wealth of the neighborhood that kids grew up in, not their ability or “intelligence.”
Statistical Racism: Various Test Scores By Race
Here is another set of test scores broken out by race including gmat. As you can see, the same trend follows. There is no genetic difference between these groups. The tests are measuring the quality of education the kids have received and the relative wealth of the neighborhoods they grew up in.
In all of these cases, the results of generational poverty, racial profiling, and education underfunding are showing up in the test results of kids based on the neighborhoods they came from and the opportunities for advancement they were given. This result is then presented as evidence that these groups of kids are somehow fundamentally different, and “intelligence” is the name given to what’s different about the groups.
This claim is categorically false and categorically racist.

The Core Strength of Community-Centered Activism Built on Radical Queer Anarcho-Communism

One of the huge advantages of anarcho-communist radical queer organizations comes as a deliberate result of the way they were constructed. Early gay leaders like Harry Hay started nonprofits like Mattachine Society in order to advocate for gay rights from within the structures of the political establishment.
 
At the time, COINTELPRO was an FBI program designed to dismantle these kinds of organizations through infiltration and even assassinations. This happened to many civil rights organizations from black liberation to gay liberation. Harry Hay’s Mattachine Society was dismantled by FBI infiltrators who got elected to the board and fired him, closing the organization.
 
At the time, Harry Hay was a member of the American Communist Party and a member of multiple Antifa groups. This led him and others to articulate a new kind of activist organization which would be constructed to be impossible to dismantle.
 
Activist nonprofits are focused on reacting to a status quo by critiquing it hierarchically and calling for incremental change.
 
In the new era architected by Hay and others, an ancom radical queer organization should be focused first on queering; on the active verb sense of the word, rather than the adjective form. Instead of arguing for legal progress, we should be having queer orgies. Instead of being against our oppressors we should be for ourselves, being the thing we would be without them. Activism becomes secondary.
 
The key advantage with this new model is the fact that it is fundamentally impossible to infiltrate or dismantle an organization like this. Any hierarchical power in the hands of boards or executives is designed and intended to be weak. Anyone can and should speak out against the decisions of people in power on the basis of the principles upon which these organizations are built. Committee life is horrible, and it’s supposed to be that way because if it’s possible to have Caesars, then the organization will be dismantled. This is the fundamental argument behind this type of organizational structure.
Space Force Narc
 I took this photo of myself at Burning Man with a person wearing a law-enforcement issued respirator who introduced himself by describing clearly fake sexual predilections and then asking where he could get drugs. I believe his exact words were, “I like balls. Who knows where I can get mushrooms?”
Buy-bust is a common law-enforcement tactic; they show up and ask for drugs and then arrest anyone who gives any indication that they know anything about drugs. At Burning Man, the police can use this strategy as the basis for probable cause to conduct searches of entire blocks with hundreds of people based on the argument that these people are associated with the same organization.
 
Needless to say, this person was immediately ejected by an entire community who knew why he was there and which was carefully designed to thwart exactly this kind of intrusion. This is the strength of having a community-centered approach to activism. If the community notices an outsider who is clearly not a part of the community, then the community can act to insulate and expel threats.

The Slow-Motion Mass Suicide Of American Neo-Conservatism

I’m sure you’ve heard the claim, “You’ll get more conservative as you get older.” Throughout the middle of the twentieth century, the reality was that our society was designed to kill anyone who wasn’t a conservative. In the last six months, this trend has reversed in a big way.

War and racism were the two most fundamental forces behind the creation of the “middle class” after World War 2. For the first time, the GI bill and FHA program handed trillions of dollars to white conservatives and funded the creation of the suburbs. “White flight” saw an enormous swathe of the urban tax base and white population leave to create new enclaves outside the cities. As an institution, the suburbs became an extension of the ideology of the class of people for whom they were created. Bans on ethnic minorities were common in these new white enclaves, and black people were specifically exempted from access to much of the government’s white-flight funding. Locally funded education in the new suburban enclaves meant white suburbanites withheld funding for urban communities; carefully denying access to quality education to entire generations of the urban minorities.

While that government money kept flowing, the suburbs continued to grow and prosper. At the same time, white flight flight meant the diverse urban landscapes continued to suffer. Since then, the Keynesian multiplier has been running its course in those suburban enclaves. Real estate markets still play a central role in recycling the trillions that were handed to white conservatives, with homes doubling or tripling in “value” and exchanging hands to fund small businesses and education, so the next generation of white conservatives can continue the work of cultivating their dystopian anti-community vision of a segregated, reactionary world.

For these reasons and many more, our society has long punished and systematically exterminated non-conservatives and especially non-whites. For example, there are significant differences in life expectancy between black and white people living in the same neighborhoods, even in the San Francisco Bay Area. Those differences are much more extreme in the more common highly-segregated neighborhoods in the bay area.

One side effect of the systematic extermination of non-whites and non-conservatives is the fact that white conservatives get to vote more times in their lives since they live longer. Also, because of gerrymandering and centuries of racial voter suppression efforts, white conservative voices in America count for more than black non-conservative voices.

All of that changed very suddenly in 2020. Let’s look at two graphs…

Ideological trends with generations

Coronavirus mortality rate by age

Statistically in America, the generations that are oldest right now are also the most conservative. Another thing that comes with age is risk of death from coronavirus. This connection alone is already enough to scare many pundits into fearing that the ongoing leftward demographic shifts will be dramatically accelerated by the effects of the pandemic. Some have gone so far as to speculate that the mass death forecast for the president’s core voter base could cost him the election.

It is perhaps ironic therefore that his strategy has been to do nothing and pretend it will go away. Maybe it’s ironic that the white conservative movement in America decided to achieve consensus on several salient points. These older white conservatives — the people most at risk — tend to think coronavirus is not real or exaggerated. The same people also refuse to take even the most basic health precautions.  This rejection of reality amplifies the potential impact of the pandemic.

For this reason, the long-standing trend of systematic extermination of non-conservatives has suddenly been reversed, as conservatives hoist themselves high on their own petards, committing this final act of mass suicide in defense of their core principle of rejecting evidence and focusing on ideological divisions instead.

 

Black Online – Cyberspace, Culture, and Community: Final Project

The final project for this class was to create a tool people can use for building communities of racial justice online. Here is the outline, and the PDF of the final project.

  • How to create structural change in organizations and institutions plagued by systemic racism and anti-blackness. (especially online institutions)
  • We live in a culture of pervasive anti-blackness and systemic racism.
    • All institutions, communities, and groups must necessarily reflect that system by default to at least some degree.
    • The default mode, as Jessie Daniels points out in “Race, Civil Rights, and Hate Speech in the Digital Era,” is often to do this covertly without even realizing this is what they are doing.
    • Throughout their careers, both MLK and Malcolm X pointed out that well-meaning white liberals are the worst enemy black people have when they profess to want racial progress but refuse to lift a finger to get there by practicing critical self-examination to see how they are contributing to systemic racism and benefiting from it.
  • Your group reflects systemic racism and anti-blackness because all groups do.
    • What is the population your group claims to represent?
      • Is it America? The world? The SF Bay Area?
    • Measure the group’s structural racism and talk about it:
      • What kind of people have the power to make decisions for the group?
      • How different is the group of decision makers from the demographics of the population they claim to represent?
      • How do the rules and guidelines of the group reflect and reinforce systemic racism?
      • How are black voices silenced or excluded?
    • Before you can change the system, you need to build a powerful coalition…
      • First, a line needs to be drawn between two subgroups:
        • Some people want to embrace progress. Find them and connect with them!
        • Some people want to “leave politics out” or gatekeep who counts as part of the community. These are the racist white liberals who MLK and Malcolm X warned us about. These are the people on the other side of the line we are drawing. Outright white supremacists in the group will be indistinguishable from white liberals. This is the covert racism Jessie Daniels tells us about.
      • Your ideas are tools: a meme is any idea which spreads through culture. Memes are the tools for transforming the group. Create and share memes and ideas which speak to the people who are on your side, and show you who is not on your side.
        • For online communities this can be literal memes.
        • For in-person communities it can be ideas like
          • “Let’s switch to equal opportunity hiring.”
          • “Let’s work on racism in the organization.”
          • “Let’s work on closing the wage gap.”
        • Whether online or in-person, some people will roll their eyes while others will smile and engage. People on both sides of the line will do the work of telling you which side they are on. Just show them the line and they will pick a side.
        • Pay attention to the responses you get when you talk about racial progress. Make a list of those who agree with you, and organize them into a coalition.
          • Start group chats and build connections between people who share your belief that structural change is needed to achieve racial progress in the organization.
          • Pay special attention to those in power who are on your side and those who are not.
          • Save screenshots of any problematic behavior for later use.
        • Demand Specific Change
          • In the words of Quellcrist Falconer, power is not a static structure, it’s a flow system. Systemic racism is a system where power and resources flow to white people at the expense of black people. We need to change the flow, the structure that the group is built on.
          • The demographics of the people in power making decisions needs to reflect the population. Demand black representation on the board, on the admin team, on the mod team.
          • No matter what kind of group it is, resources are flowing from some people to other people. Even if no one is getting paid, money is changing hands. Whose hands is it going to, and does the demographics of that group reflect the population the group claims to represent?
        • More Tools
        • It Has To Be You
          • It is only with the help of people like YOU that these groups and institutions can choose to deliberately cultivate a just alternative to the racist defaults in our society.
          • Only through empowering black people to make decisions for the group and have a representative share of the resources can an organization move away from systemic anti-blackness and racism and towards an equitable alternative.

“The drug war is the international projection of a domestic American psychosis.”

The drug war is the international projection of a domestic American psychosis.

Focusing just on drug use and not on the causes for addiction, I was struck by this line from Ethan Nadelmann’s Ted Talk. It reminded me of arguments made by founding Queer Theorist Michel Foucault in his landmark book Discipline and Punish. Foucault talks about the way that the early pandemic response in urban European environments was built around building a line separating the clean from the unclean and punishing the unclean. He went on to give us the idea of cultural expectations as a panopticon or a prison of identity where we as prisoners enforce the rules on one another. He also talked about the modern punishment being indefinite examination rather than drawing and quartering as was the case in ancient times. In particular, Foucault explores the idea of pathologized categorizations of certain kinds of people who are bad or sick or unhealthy based on seemingly irrelevant behaviors. This is essentially identical to the discourses around addiction in America, as well as many other modern cultural issues.

Do you choose to use adderall and ritalin, or rather the less legal forms of amphetamines?

Do you choose to use vicodin and norco, or rather the less legal forms of heroin?

What factors contribute to the decision on which of these a given person may choose to use, and why is it the decision between which forms of each drug that means a person should be treated as “sick” and punished?

Many of the texts and videos we went through in this unit make the same argument; that underprivileged people are given pathologized identities based on which drugs they choose to use, and then marginalized on that basis. There are many queer arguments to make about drug use, but I think this is the core one; pathologizing a given behavior — only when certain kinds of people have that behavior, and not for other groups — is merely an extension of the systemic oppression of racism, classism, and other forms of bigotry and prejudice.

Giovanni’s Room Refutes Sexual Orientation

CJ Trowbridge

2020-05-21

English 16

Final

Giovanni’s Room tells the story of a character struggling to fit simultaneously inside several contradictory identities, all of which fail to encompass the truth of his life. David is a straight man. David is also a gay man. David treats his multiple selves like characters to be played. He never reconciles the conflicts between these multiple selves, feeling that he has to choose one final self or jump back and forth between his disparate truths.

David is ostensibly a heterosexual man with a fiancé who he plans to eventually marry. He expresses constant conflict throughout the story about his future plans to marry Hella, even when he’s in bed with Giovanni. Marrying Hella is a sincere desire of David’s on one level. On another level, marrying Hella is fulfilling his father’s expectations for his life. There is also financial pressure for David to fulfill his heterosexual role; his father withholds support for him until he fulfills this part of his assigned identity.

David is also a gay man who has fallen in love with another gay man. It was almost love at first sight. There is no mistaking the deep connection between David and Giovanni. They shared passionate months together and even moved in together for most of the book. David describes the two of them walking through Paris at sunrise and expressing more wonder at one another than the surroundings. This is not a one-off relationship either, David has had many male and female sexual and romantic partners.

Because these conflicting ideas are never reconciled, David must bottle everything up until he loses control. He stumbles through life unable to take deliberate action precisely because he can not admit to the truth that many of his desires and experiences do not fit neatly into the categories he has given himself to choose between. Sociologists call this the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis; people see the world in terms of the language and ideas they have. If they don’t have words or ideas for something, then they are unable to perceive it. In David’s case, he has these two people he is trying to be at the same time. He is unaware of the possibility of reconciling these people into a single unified and honest self. If he lived in modern day San Francisco, there would be nothing strange at all about the desires and experiences he has. He might call it something like polyamory or free love, and go about his life happily and well-integrated.

In an article called “What is Sexual Orientation,” published in Hypatia, Robin Dembroff argues that neither of the two popular ideas about what sexual orientation is, holds up to scrutiny. The behavioral perspective tries to classify people based on what physical characteristics their partners have. The second framework depends on classifying people based on the conditions under which they experience attraction. I think this is a very concise rebuttal of the idea that either perspective could reasonably hold up in this story. If we classify David by his behavior, he is neither homosexual nor heterosexual. Likewise, there are little to no similarities in the way he experiences attraction to Giovanni and Hella.

In Gender Trouble by Judith Butler, the author argues that implicit in the idea of categorizing people by their sexual behaviors is the argument that there is some essential core truth behind these categories.

The prevailing assumption of the ontological integrity of the subject before the law might be understood as the contemporary trace of the state of nature hypothesis, that foundationalist fable constitutive of the juridical structures of classical liberalism. The performative invocation of a nonhistorical “before” becomes the foundational premise that guarantees a presocial ontology of persons who freely consent to be governed and, thereby, constitute the legitimacy of the social contract

In reality, we know from the work of Kinsey in the early twentieth century, just a few years after sexual orientation was invented by Hirschfeld, that almost no one fits into the categories of “homosexual” or “heterosexual.” The reality is much more complex and much less categorical. This work by Kinsey lends credence to the claim by Butler that if there is some essential truth of people, sexual orientation is not a reflection of that truth. Instead, people experience conflict in trying to limit their behavior to fit whatever category they are supposed to be. The categories are not a reflection of the person; the person rather chooses to attempt to become a reflection of the category.

From this perspective, Giovanni’s Room is a classic Hegalian Dialectic. We start with the thesis that David is heterosexual, then the antithesis that David is actually a homosexual, then we reach the synthesis that neither of these fits. Perhaps something greater and broader is the real truth? Could it be that — as many queer theorists have argued — these identities do not reflect any essential truth about people, and rather people try to live in a way which reflects their assigned or chosen identity? If the queer theorists are right, then David is really just a person trying to fit himself into a bunch of made up categories and ideas about how he should live. In a more honest world, there would be no conflict between loving Giovanni and loving Hella. In the words of Dossie Easton, author of The Ethical Slut, “There is enough of everything for everyone.” Imagine how much differently the story would have played out it everyone had been honest with one another. Maybe David would choose at some point to shift the primary locus of his attention from Giovanni to Hella. If everyone had been more honest about what they were doing, there would be no cause for conflict and murder and heartbreak and resentment. If these characters were armed with a broader sexual lexicon that acknowledged more than two non-overlapping categories of sexual orientation and identity, none of the conflicts in this story would have happened. Sexual orientation does not fall neatly into the separate categories or “homosexual” and “heterosexual” because these ideas do not reflect the truth about how people exist in the world. This point is illustrated wonderfully in Giovanni’s Room.

Conversation with a Professor

This was in a lower division LGBT Studies class. We were discussing “Redefining Realness” by Janet Mock.

Me:

I really connected personally with the line “When I look back at my childhood, I often say I always knew I was a girl since the age of three or four, a time when I began cataloging memories. ”

Not because I felt the same way, but because I recall having a realization a the same age  that I was gay. At the time I knew there to be two options: straight or gay. I also knew that I had an interest in a guy, therefore obviously I was gay. It took half a decade before I acted on this conclusion. I’ve always wondered how my life and identity would have played out if I had a better understanding at the time of the broader range of options and the fact that these identities are socially constructed rather than reflecting some truth about people.

This is a deeply queer discourse. Queer Theorists like Foucault and Butler argue that identities are a prison that limit us to fit their boundaries while preventing exploration outside the boxes we choose to  put ourselves in.  Most people accept a limited range of options and choose to live within the artificial boundaries they are handed, rather than exploring their full selves. I can’t help but see this in my own experience and that of the author.

Professor:

Do you see your identity purely as a social construction, or does it (also) reflect some essential truth about you? It seems like you’ve constructed another binary here, but I’m wondering how that accords with your lived experience? Is it possible that our identities exist along a spectrum of constructivism and essentialism? Apologies if you find these questions naive or unintelligible, but I ask them in earnest and out of a deep interest in the ontological and epistemological implications.

Me:

In Gender Trouble, Judith Butler argues that many of the discourses of identity try and fail to establish themselves as prediscursive. There is an implicit and explicit argument in many cases that these categories are essential or that the identity reflects a truth, rather than the truth reflecting an identity. I like this quote from Chapter 1 of Gender Trouble;

The prevailing assumption of the ontological integrity of the subject before the law might be understood as the contemporary trace of the state of nature hypothesis, that foundationalist fable constitutive of the juridical structures of classical liberalism. The performative invocation of a nonhistorical “before” becomes the foundational premise that guarantees a presocial ontology of persons who freely consent to be governed and, thereby, constitute the legitimacy of the social contract.

Butler is arguing based on earlier work by De Beauvoir for anti-essentialism; that there is no true essence at the core of these identities. Obviously both Butler and De Beauvoir go into much deeper detail, but I think this excerpt is a good summary of the Queer perspective as put forward by Butler.

Coronavirus and The Environment

CJ Trowbridge

Environmental Problems & Solutions

2020-05-20

Final Exam

In preparing for this essay, I looked back for evidence on my early personal response to coronavirus. I recall that early on, it seemed like a repeat of SARS-CoV-03. Since then, we have learned that though SARS-CoV-19 is much less lethal and contagious, the response has been bungled in epic fashion by our inept leadership, leading to much more widespread death and suffering compared to the previous SARS virus. My reaction to the ongoing chaos and lack of leadership was to launch several websites to allow people to track their local data. The first of these was called “Covid19 Progress” (https://cjtrowbridge.com/covid19-progress/) It allows people to see and compare data like percent infected, deaths, tests, etc for countries and states. This data is shown in tables as well as linear or logarithmic charts. People can also request further data or visualizations to help clarify and inform others. I later launched “Corona Country” (https://cjtrowbridge.com/corona-country/) which does essentially the same thing but by county in the US; so you can see the same data for your US county and the adjacent counties.

I see three problems with “going back to business as usual.” First, the situation before this crisis was not good and we should not want to go back to it. We were already well underway in our ongoing ecological collapse. Even with the dramatic reduction in CO2 as a result of the shutdown, the climate change situation is not significantly improved. (Lombrana) Secondly, the SBA and FEMA are projecting that up to 90% of businesses will never reopen (Access), and the current Federal Reserve unemployment projections are already double-digits higher than the peak of the great depression (Castro). There is no “business as usual” to go back to. Third, as evidenced in Appendix A, there are historical examples where relaxing restrictions during a pandemic immediately caused more than double the death and suffering that would have otherwise happened. This is to say nothing of the second and third waves as evidenced in Appendix B. In Texas, prematurely reopening led to an overnight tripling in new infections in the last week. (Wallace) The idea of going back to business as usual just doesn’t make any sense and is not possible.

Coronavirus has exposed the fact that there are fundamental problems with our current system. Not only is it incapable of addressing serious challenges and existential threats, but it isn’t even capable of acknowledging them. Many people have drawn parallels to the climate crisis which is not only much larger and more dangerous, but we are not on track to either acknowledge or address it on any level.

As a student, my personal experience of the pandemic has been a comfortable and unchallenging one. I left the bay area as soon as the lockdown happened, and went somewhere that I can essentially live for free indefinitely while still receiving scholarships, financial aid, pandemic unemployment assistance, and other financial help. I built a large garden and sewed a fruit orchard.

My experience reflects a broader trend where a great many people are having their first experiences with real reflective analysis of their lives. People are forced to confront the reality that they are not living like they want to. With conveniences like fast food and cafes taken away, people are forced to subsist on their own, and they are waking up to the fact that consumer culture is not healthy and not necessary. There has been a huge surge in gardening for example as people begin to consider the source of their food and their impact on their surroundings. (Mark) People are reconnecting with nature at the same time as asking themselves what kind of world we want to go back to. I predict that future historians will look back at this time as a critical moment when people started to ask important questions about our role in the world and the duty that our leaders have to represent our interests both in the short-term and the long-term. In many countries around the world, we are already seeing shifts in public policy towards divesting from harmful industries and investing in the green future. (Hutin)

Things are going to get a lot worse before they get better, but this crisis if also an opportunity to decide what kind of world we want to go back to. Confronting these issues is not optional since most of the world of yesteryear will never reopen. Whatever comes next, we will have to build starting now. This means now is the time to discuss what we want to build next. Maybe we will start to see real change on these important issues throughout the world. Maybe future historians will look back at this moment and say this was one of the few times humanity decided to take advantage of its opportunities rather than squandering them. Maybe this is our moment to shine.

 

Works Cited

Access. “Study: 40% of businesses fail to reopen after a disaster.” Accessed 2020-05-20. https://www.accesscorp.com/access-in-the-news/study-40-percent-businesses-fail-reopen-disaster/?fbclid=IwAR2t33TSvNFi4BZ8X26753ydh_5UTTNd39d7AY-NYegEeE88jfOvGfmPFeY

Castro, Miguel. “Back-of-the-Envelope Estimates of Next Quarter’s Unemployment Rate.” The Federal Reserve. Published 2020-04-24. Accessed 2020-05-20. https://www.stlouisfed.org/on-the-economy/2020/march/back-envelope-estimates-next-quarters-unemployment-rate

Hutin, Clemence. “A green bailout must put Europe’s energy poor first”. Euractive. Published 2020-04-23. Accessed 2020-05-20. https://www.euractiv.com/section/energy/opinion/a-green-bailout-must-put-europes-energy-poor-first/

Lombrana, Lauda Millan. “A Pandemic That Cleared Skies and Halted Cities Isn’t Slowing Global Warming.” Bloomberg. Published 2020-05-07. Accessed 2020-05-20. https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/2020-how-coronavirus-impacts-climate-change/

Mark, Michelle.” People are rushing to plant ‘pandemic gardens’ and seed companies say they can’t keep up with the surge in demand.” Insider. Published 2020-04-14. Accessed 2020-05-20. https://www.insider.com/seed-companies-cant-keep-up-with-demand-for-pandemic-gardens-2020-4

Wallace, Jeremy. “Texas reports massive jump in COVID-19 cases in single day.” Houston Chronicle. Published 2020-05-16. Accessed 2020-05-20. https://www.houstonchronicle.com/news/houston-texas/texas/article/Massive-jump-in-Texas-COVID-19-cases-15275484.php

Appendix A

 

Appendix B

The fact that housing is almost always only being built by investors means it’s not possible to have affordable housing for everyone.

CJ Trowbridge

2020-05-12

USP GWAR

Urban Studies GWAR Final

The fact that housing is almost always only being built by investors means it’s not possible to have affordable housing for everyone. In this paper I will show that when real estate investors act in their own rational self-interest, they harm everyone else. I will show that this is because affordable housing can’t be a good investment. As we will see, there are many non-profits struggling to develop and operate affordable housing, but there is not nearly enough funding available for them to meet the demand. Even before the current corona crisis, we were nowhere near on-track to meet our current housing needs. This problem has been getting worse for a long time; we used to have widespread public housing projects to fill unmet need. Finally, we will see how Crisis Theory explains the current crisis while also suggesting a solution.

Real estate investors who act in their own rational self-interest harm everyone else. Monopolistic practices prevent competition and artificially inflate prices because real estate investors collude to decrease supply. Height and bulk restrictions prevent housing from being built. Holding vacant property to deliberately drive up price. Delaying construction until prices go up. As a political and economic special interest class, real estate investors fight for interests that are exactly the opposite of the interests of the people. Adam Smith said as much in his book, The Wealth of Nations (Smith 43). Local governments are dominated by these special interest real estate investor groups. These groups work against the needs and interests of the broader population, purportedly in the public interest but actually only in the interest of the real estate investor class which they represent.

Affordable housing cannot currently be a good investment. The barriers and systems put in place to artificially inflate prices by preventing density from increasing and preventing new development makes it cost-prohibitive to build affordable housing (Hertz). By comparing income percentiles in every state to housing prices, my original research has shown that nowhere in the country is housing affordable, and in most states, it’s not affordable until you reach the 75th percentile in income. (Appendix 1) Efforts to incentivize for-profit investors to build at least some affordable units include trivially small “fines” in lieu of those units. The in-lieu fee in San Francisco is currently about $200 per square foot. Let’s consider an average apartment which in San Francisco is 747 square feet (Rent Cafe). This means an investor need only pay $150k in lieu of building an affordable unit. Building an affordable unit costs an average of $750k in San Francisco (Fuller). Now consider that the average market-rate rental price for that unit in San Francisco is $3,629 (Rent Cafe). This means that even at market rate, this unit does not break even for 17 years. At an affordable rate, it is not likely to ever break even at these prices. Therefore, for-profit real estate investment is focused on providing for the wealthy while increasing the prices paid, meanwhile the vast majority of people must go without any affordable housing options. This problem exists everywhere; San Francisco is easy to talk about because so much research has been done, but the same holds true in every state, as you can see in Appendix 1 where I compare these numbers across the country.

There are many non-profits developing and operating affordable housing, but there is not nearly enough funding to meet demand. Many of these focus on specific neighborhoods, for example the Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation focuses protecting and developing affordable housing in the Tenderloin neighborhood while the Chinatown Community Development Center focuses on that neighborhood. Others focus on specific communities or causes. These include non-profit affordable housing for formerly unhoused people, people living with AIDS, seniors, and other groups. All of these nonprofits must compete for extremely tight funding. In the words of a development officer I interviewed at one of these organizations, the solutions they are able to build are not even a drop in the bucket towards solving the problem.

We used to have widespread public housing projects to fill unmet need. This gave us the ability to house everyone and provide enough supply to meet demand. During a period of extremely racist public policy, almost all public housing was demolished. 90% of that housing was never replaced, and this was almost forty years ago (Race, The Power of an Illusion).

Even before the current corona crisis, we were nowhere near on-track to meet our current needs. The San Francisco bay area’s official RHNA projections say some parts of the bay will not meet their 2016 housing needs until 2880 at the current pace (MTC). Housing is not affordable anywhere in the country unless it’s subsidized, and states are going bankrupt because of the current crisis. In a recent interview, California Governor Gavin Newsom said he expects unemployment to pass 25% in the coming weeks (Vanek-Smith). The broader global economy seems likely to suffer widespread collapse in the coming months and years. Housing will be hit hard, as more and more people fall from being unable to afford enough housing to being unable to afford any housing. We are likely to see a dramatic rise in homelessness and civil unrest.

Crisis Theory explains the current crisis while also suggesting a solution. The fundamental argument of Crisis Theory is that under capitalism, a moment inevitably comes when certain kinds of countervailing forces overpower the prevailing forces, causing a crisis. At this point, fundamental change is possible, or else we can face the long slog towards trying the same mistakes once again. In this case, one of the prevailing forces was the over-exploitation of housing. Instead of competing to provide enough housing to meet demand, players in the market colluded to eliminate housing while artificially inflating prices through anticompetitive oligopolistic practices as outlined above. The main countervailing force in this crisis could be seen as the under-exploitation of labor. 75% of Americans cannot afford housing despite having one or more jobs. This essay focuses on the housing issue, but similar issues affect labor in this country.

Because we have a crisis, we have the opportunity to create fundamental change. How do we do that? Affordable housing has become a condensing symbol in American culture. Everyone who hears the phrase understands the issue at least to some degree, if only through the personal experience of being one of the 75% of people who cannot afford housing. If we look at this issue through the lens of Kingdon’s Three Stream Model of policy change, this condensing symbol fulfils the requirements of the first stream; the troubling social condition has been clearly articulated with a condensing symbol and most people understand that there is a social problem around affordable housing (Kingdon). The second stream, policy, is also well developed; there is a clear policy framework in place for how to build affordable housing in the current set of conditions. Just look at the many nonprofits which are already doing that with the limited funding that’s available. The piece that’s missing is the politics around how much money needs to be spent on this issue by the government. Currently, the amount being invested is barely a drop in the bucket. All that’s required to solve this problem is for the streams to come together during the window of opportunity provided by this crisis and broaden the available funding to such a degree that enough housing can be built to make a meaningful impact on this issue. Hopefully at the same time, we can also address anticompetitive practices such as height and bulk restrictions which prevent new or denser housing from being built in many areas around the country.

Kingdon's Three Streams

We have spent over six trillion dollars on the “war on terror” (Zeballos-Roig). That’s a billion dollars A DAY for the last twenty years. How much different would our nation be today if we had spent that money on housing, education, healthcare, infrastructure, and small businesses? We’ve spent MORE than that in the last few weeks alone in response to coronavirus (Van Dam). A bill just passed the house to spend yet another three trillion on coronavirus (Shabad). The amount of money we spend on issues we take seriously is incredible, and yet we live in a country where 75% of people do not have access to housing they can afford. We have the tools, we have the organizations, we have the people in place, we understand the problem. Solving housing is not impossible, we just need the political will to accomplish the task. We face dark times, but we also have the rare opportunity to decide what kind of world we want to go back to when the global collapse is over. In conclusion, I believe that every community which can’t meet its housing needs should automatically get enough federally funded non-profit-administered high-density housing to fill all unmet housing needs.

 

 

Works Cited

Fuller, Thomas. “Why does it cost $750,000 to build affordable housing in San Francisco?” The New York Times. Published 2020-02-20. Accessed 2020-05-17. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/20/us/California-housing-costs.html

Hertz, Daniel. City Observatory. “Housing can’t both be a good investment and be affordable.” Published 2018-10-30. Accessed 2020-05-17.

Kingdon, John. Agendas, Alternatives, and Public Policies. Boston: Little, Brown, 1984.

MTC. When Will Bay Area Cities Reach Plan Bay Area 2040 Housing Targets? Accessed 2020-02-11. https://mtc.ca.gov/tools-resources/maps/when-will-bay-area-cities-reach- plan-bay-area-2040-housing-targets

Race, The Power of an Illusion. California Newsreel.  April 2003. http://www.pbs.org/race/000_About/002_04-about-03-01.htm

Rent Cafe. “San Francisco Rental Market Trends.” Accessed 2020-05-17. https://www.rentcafe.com/average-rent-market-trends/us/ca/san-francisco/

San Francisco Planning. “Inclusionary Affordable Housing Program.” Accessed 2020-05-17. https://sfplanning.org/project/inclusionary-affordable-housing-program#2019-fee-update

Shabad, Rebecca. “House passes Democrats’ $3T coronavirus ‘HEROES’ aid: Stimulus checks, money for states, rent assistance.” NBC News. Published 2020-05-15. Accessed 2020-05-17. https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/congress/house-vote-democrats-3t-coronavirus-heroes-aid-stimulus-checks-money-n1207816

Smith, Adam, and Edwin Cannan. The Wealth of Nations. New York, N.Y: Bantam Classic, 2003.

Van Dam, Andrew. “The U.S. has thrown more than $6 trillion at the coronavirus crisis. That number could grow.” The Washington Post. Published 2020-04-15. Accessed 2020-05-17 https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2020/04/15/coronavirus-economy-6-trillion/

Vanek-Smith, Stacey. “Gov. Newsom On Reopening California” The Indicator. NPR. Published 2020-05-07. https://www.npr.org/2020/05/07/852436112/gov-newsom-on-reopening-california

Zeballos-Roig, Joseph. “The US has blown past $6 trillion in ‘war on terror’ spending since 2001 — and its cost to taxpayers will keep climbing for decades, study says.” Business Insider. Published 2020-11-21. Accessed 2020-05-17. https://www.businessinsider.com/us-spending-war-on-terror-stands-at-6-trillion-report-2019-11

 

 

Appendix 1

Summary: Affordable rent is defined as 30% of income. Comparing income percentiles in every state to median rents, you can see that for most states, up to 75% of the population can not afford rent. This data is from before the pandemic and spiking unemployment rates, so these problems are likely far worse now, but it will take years to understand exactly how bad things currently are.

Housing Affordatbility by percentile by state