Local Chapter Highlight: Birmingham, AL

by Zac Henson

I landed in Birmingham in 2009.  Recovering from a new diagnosis of bipolar disorder, I began working at a community garden in the West End neighborhood of Birmingham. In 2011, a queer graduate student, Anna McCown and a community leader in the Grasselli Community, Virginia Ward, started Magic City Agriculture Project, an anti-racist and community development organization.  Over the next four years, we helped a community-based organization, Project Hopewell, create a community garden - Southwest Birmingham Community Farm.  We also did antiracist trainings.

In 2015, our organization, which at that point was majority black, created the Magic City Agriculture Project Strategic and Organizational Plan. It was written in two months and workshopped with community leaders over the next 7.  
The plan has six parts:

  1. Antiracism

  2. Cooperatives

  3. Community Land Trusts

  4. Community Enterprise Zones (a new policy combining micro-lending and tax breaks that favor cooperative enterprises)

  5. Policy Organization

  6. Magic City Grown (a regional sustainability brand)

The three core pieces of the plan, community land trusts, cooperatives, and CEZs represent the three things you need for an economy, land, labor, and capital respectively.  Thus far, we have created four cooperatives, a land trust, a policy organization, and an antiracist organization. Because of the geographic center of Birmingham, Alabama, the organizations are at least 50% black and focused on developing cooperative enterprises among the black working class.

The antiracist organization that is part of this decentralized, non-hierarchical networked institution is The Young Patriots Organization, which we see as operating in a two step process. The first step is antiracism among rednecks, or white working class Southerners. However, this antiracism is different in that it uses a true popular education and cultural organizing methodology to attempt to bend existing redneck culture away from neo-Confederacy and toward class consciousness and antiracism.  We argue that antiracism is in the self-interest of rednecks and we eschew many privilege arguments because they are ineffective.

The second step is to pass antiracist, organized rednecks to the Cooperative Business Development Center, a new organization that is 50% black, to get them organized into cooperative enterprises that can act in solidarity with black cooperative enterprises establishing diverse, antiracist, decentralized, and non-hierarchical networks of cooperative enterprises and supporting organizations that will act as a South regional economic institution.

This networked institution has thus far been focused on economic independence in Birmingham. YPO serves the purpose of both developing an anti-racist working class and extending this network regionally to build a broader base of power.

What Will Happen to the People?: Urban Renewal Yesterday and Gentrification Today

urbanrenewal.png

by Colleen Wessel-McCoy

When the Young Patriots organized against Mayor Daley’s efforts to use urban renewal programs in Uptown, they were fighting new versions of older programs. Slum clearance was not new to Chicago. It had been used to clear the poor from neighborhoods around The Loop in the 1940s and Hyde Park in the 1950s. In the 1960s Urban Renewal programs included building massive public housing high rises like Robert Taylor and Cabrini Greene. Although renewal displacement had impacted poor whites alongside poor blacks, the public  housing projects increasingly housed only black families, Poor whites displaced from neighborhoods like Harrison-Halsted and Uptown were pushed into the suburbs, either dissipating or hyper-segregating communities.

When residents of Uptown were battling unemployment, slum living conditions, absentee landlords, police violence, lack of health care, malnutrition, high infant mortality rates, and disease, the city responded with urban renewal plans. Uptown was slated to be a site for a new community college, and the poor white residents were slated for displacement. A committee of landowners and business owners were selected by Daley to oversee the process. A coalition of neighborhood leaders including Young Patriots came together to propose an alternative, the Hank Williams Village. The community-envisioned development would include affordable housing, services, community space, parks and a hotel for displaced southern migrants looking for work. But the city commission pushed through their own development plans and local forces began the displacement process which included arson by property owners (murdering children and people with disabilities) and increasingly repressive policing.

The Young Patriots interrupted urban renewal planning meetings and set up community services like health care and welfare application support to meet needs the city intentionally neglected. These were the same organizing tactics that were being used in poor black and brown communities across the city. Leaders from those kindred communities, like Bobby Lee of the Illinois Black Panther Party, recognized that being divided along racial lines was preventing them from seeing how the same forces were moving against them with the same tactics. The original Rainbow Coalition between the Black Panthers, Young Lords and Young Patriots was a threat to the controlling interests in the city, including those who were using urban renewal programs to grow rich. And so their attempt to come together across racial lines around class demands was swiftly and violently repressed.

Urban renewal and gentrification are never about meeting the needs of the poor or eradicating poverty. They are plans for stabilizing the economy of the city: maintaining a tax base of middle and upper-income residents and making the city conducive to business interests. While in earlier periods when the economy was expanding, urban renewal was able to include plans for public housing, low-cost community colleges other public services. In today’s contracting economy, where homelessness can increase even as the stock market climbs, gentrification consolidates a shrinking middle class in urban centers, pushing the existing residents out of the city or into homelessness. Vacant buildings held for speculation are part of the gentrification process, as Picture the Homeless documented.

Gentrification not only impacts the poor in urban areas but is deeply connected to suburban and rural poverty and homelessness. These are areas where poor people go when they are pushed out of cities. Poverty rates are highest in large urban centers, but most poor people live in suburban and rural areas. And poverty has been growing fastest in those areas. Half of the growth of poverty after 2000 has been in the suburbs, where poverty as grown by 57 percent. These non-metro areas are even less able than large metro areas to meet people’s needs with public transportation and health care clinics.

Gentrification today pushes rents to unprecedented levels, forcing half of all renters in the US—not just those below the poverty line—to pay rents that are unaffordable to us. (49% of us had unaffordable rents in 2015. Rent is considered affordable if it is less than 30% of your household income.) One in four renters spent more than half their income on housing in 2013. In 2016 rent in Miami consumed 72% of the typical income; in Los Angeles it was 51%; even in Hattiesburg, Mississippi it was 35.8%. Yet only one in four families who are income-eligible for federal housing assistance receive it. 

Today we are experiencing a crisis of homelessness tied to the unaffordability of housing in a society where housing is not a right. Even a job does not guarantee that you will have a place to live. This is despite the contradiction that there are far more vacant homes than there are homeless people. One in eight homes in the US are empty, 17.2 million units. 

Yet homelessness rose in 2016 for the first time since the Great Recession. This “point in time” count doesn’t include those of us who are living in double-ups, insecure housing, or are moving in and out of homelessness. It only counts who is on the streets on one particular night. School records show that 1.3 million school children were homeless during the 2015-2016 year.

 Photo: Frank James Johnson

Photo: Frank James Johnson

Across the country the poor are living in tent city encampments, including in Uptown where the Young Patriots first learned that being white does not guarantee the right to housing. And across the country tent encampments are facing further eviction and harassment. This harassment is part of the gentrification process, pushing people further out and down.  

But people who are forced into homelessness have been and continue to fight back. When homelessness first started to take on a more permanent and widespread character in the 1980s, leaders from among the homeless formed the National Union of the Homeless in 20 states across the country.

 Photo: Picture the Homeless

Photo: Picture the Homeless

After ten years of organizing, Picture the Homeless recently succeeded in passing the Housing Not Warehousing Act in New York City. Every year Young Patriot Marc Steiner hosts a remembrance day podcast to name those who were died while homeless in Baltimore City. And Chaplains on the Harbor is organizing in rural Grays Harbor County in Washington. Calling themselves the “Freedom Church of the Poor,” they are coming together through survival projects, a School of Hard Knocks and jail ministry. Aaron Scott is their organizer and street chaplain, and he recently became chairman of the Grays Harbor Chapter of the Young Patriots.
 

 Photo: Chaplains on the Harbor Winter Shelter

Photo: Chaplains on the Harbor Winter Shelter

Homelessness crosses race, gender and geography, impacting us in cities and in rural areas. And those of us who are not homeless tonight are one job crisis or health care crises away from it. Those who are homeless tonight are the front lines of a crisis that is expanding. Without the right to housing, none of our housing is secure. The fight against Urban Renewal among the Young Patriots of yesterday inspires us to organize today against the manifestations of dispossession today and the stakes are even higher.

In Memoriam: Bobby Lee, Black Panther

In Memoriam: Bobby Lee, Black Panther

“Peace and love my white panther Young Patriot brother” is how Bobby Lee would greet me every time we would talk. I would respond with "Peace and love, my Black Panther brother,” because neither of us considered himself a former Panther or Patriot. Bobby kept his identity as a Black Panther up to the end of his life. Bobby lived what he preached. He wanted peace, love and equality for all people.

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The Young Patriot Organization has a theme song and you can listen to it

Jon Langford and Martin Billheimer have recorded a song written by Doug Youngblood, one of the original Young Patriots in Uptown.  Jon sings lead and plays guitar and banjo, while Martin sings back up and plays the harp. You can listen to  the mp3 in this blog post.

Jon and Martin have a band called Bad Luck Jonathan with an upcoming self-titled album due in November from Blue Arrow Records.

They intend to record a whole bunch more songs from the YPO songbook.
 

 Jon Langford and Martin Billheimer playing at The Hideout in Chicago

Jon Langford and Martin Billheimer playing at The Hideout in Chicago

Saturday October 8 will be a big day for the YPO

Hy Thurman, a member of the original YPO, reports that on October 8, the Young Patriot Huntsville, Alabama Chapter will officially launch. One of its first acts will be to join the call for a  2017 New Poor People's Campaign for Today. According to Hy, the Alabama people are "really fired up" about the prospects for a 2017 New Poor People's Campaign.

2017 will mark the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King's December 4, 1967 call for a multiracial Poor People's Campaign that would present radical demands in Washington to deal with the nation's poverty. You can read more about how these demands were drawn up by following this LINK.

 The original Poor People's Campaign marches through Washington DC in June of 1968.

The original Poor People's Campaign marches through Washington DC in June of 1968.

Dr King was assassinated in April of 1968 but the Campaign went ahead. With the US government waging war on poor people in Vietnam, the Campaign fell short of King's vision. Hy Thurmond was among those people from Chicago's Uptown neighborhood who participated in the 1968 Poor People's Campaign.

The Kairos Center for Religions, Rights, and Social Justice is one of the groups who is involved in organizing the  2017 New Poor People's Campaign. Here's why:

" Today, nearly 50 years later, we are experiencing unprecedented poverty in the midst of plenty and unnecessary abandonment in spite of unheard abundance. According to official data, at least 46.5 million people, including 1 of every 5 children, are living in poverty, an increase of more than 9 million since 2008. An additional 97.3 million people are officially designated as low income. Taken together, this means that 48% of the U.S. population, nearly one in every two people, is poor or low income. At the same time, racial and gender inequality remains as deep as ever. "

For more information about the call for a 2017 New Poor People's Campaign please visit poorpeoplescampaign.org.  We will share details about the 2017 New Poor People's Campaign plans as they become known.

 In May of 2016 organizers of the 2017 New Poor People's CamPaign toured the Midwest.

In May of 2016 organizers of the 2017 New Poor People's CamPaign toured the Midwest.

 

 

The Young Patriot Organization(YPO) now has a new brochure.

The YPO now has new colorful brochure we will be using to inform people about our history and our plans for for the future. The brochure is available as a PDF download

The mission statement is on the front of the brochure and reads:

"To  find, support, inspire, offer resources and train residents of poor
and working class communities to become leaders in the policies that
affect their daily lives by building upon the accomplishments of the
original Young Patriots and the original Rainbow Coalition. We will
carry out our mission by direct contact with grassroots community groups
to offer them a model to build coalitions (in many areas interracial
coalitions)."

Please circulate this brochure widely and help get the message of the Young Patriots out to the people.

 

 

It was a big day for the YPO in both Chicago and New York

It was a big day for the YPO in both Chicago and New York

September 9 2016 was a big day for veterans of the Original Rainbow Coalition. It was the opening for a display of Rainbow memorabilia at the Uri-Eichen Gallery on Chicago’s South Side. On the same day in New York City, Hy Thurman, a former member of the Young Patriot Organization and James Tracy, author of Hillbilly Nationalists, Urban Race Rebels, and Black Power: Community Organizing in Radical Times
 were panelists on a webcast sponsored by the Kairos Center for Religion, Rights and Social Justice at Union Theological Seminary.  A complete audio recording of the webcast can be heard HERE

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The Young Patriots Organization(YPO) now has an office space

The YPO is now sharing office space with the Chicago Grassroots Curriculum Resource Center at 4554 N Broadway at Wilson Ave.  

We've been busy over the past few months with activities including the Organize Your Own  exhibit at the Averill and Bernard Leviton Gallery at Columbia College, a fundraising concert at the Hideout in Chicago that featured Jake LaBotz, Sally Timms and Jon Langford, a neighborhood tour of Uptown, the book release of Against the Picture Window: A Time of the Phoenix that included a special night at Carol's Pub, plans for an Organizer Institute and speakers bureau, as well as a revival of the Blues to Bluegrass organization which will be the musical wing of the Young Patriots Organization.

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The Rainbow blog is back in action and we have news to report:

The Rainbow blog is back in action and we have news to report:

Apologies for the long delay between posts but we have been doing a lot of organizing since you last heard from us.

First things first. There is a traveling exhibit that is just finishing up a successful run in Philadelphia. Organized by Daniel Tucker, “Organize Your Own: The Politics and Poetics of Self-Determination Movements”, is a multi-city exhibition and event series taking place in Philadelphia at Kelly Writers House (January 14 – February 17, 2016) and in Chicago at The Averill and Bernard Leviton Gallery (March 3 – April 9, 2016), with events taking place in both cities throughout the exhibitions. 

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Our new website is up and we have only just begun

We still have plenty of material to add. Look for more info about the Young Patriots, the Young Lords and Black Panther Panther Party as well as the Patriot Party, Peoples Party II, Brown Berets and other organizations around the country who were influenced by the rainbow model.

We have public exhibits planned in 3 cities for 2016 about reinterpreting white anti-racist organizing from the 1970s.  The primary documents the contributors have been asked to respond to include a collection of Young Patriot out-of-print books titled Time of the Phoenix: a collection of poems, songs, and stories of poor residents ranging from missing country living, southern culture in northern cities, urban renewal, police brutality, whiteness, cross-racial solidarity and race relations in general. 

 

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