So Now What?

February 2014
… now we organize…
… now we form associations and coalitions to challenge the status quo…
… now we take action independent from the Democratic Party and from the bottom up…
… the time is now to acknowledge that socialists can and do get elected…

Hello friends!
It has been quite some time since I posted on this site, rest assured I have continued my engagement in local, state , and national political struggles. I had intended for a while to revisit my platform and see where things stand and where things might be headed.

I have not been thrilled with direction Charlottesville City Council has headed since my competitors took office after the 2011 election. I had seriously considered a run in 2013, and saw it as necessary process by which to continue to promote my platform and gather support for a left analysis of politics in Charlottesville.

Instead- my long time life partner (my honey bunny!) Reagan became pregnant with twins! This has been an amazing journey, but a journey that would have been impossible to  begin had I ran in 2013. We actually were skirting back and forth from Martha Jefferson hospital and UVA Hospital on election day 2013 as our new babies struggled to get a solid start on life in two separate special care nurseries. Thankfully, they are super healthy and super awesome!

Nevertheless, Charlottesville increasingly is left without a progressive, or even a liberal, presence in decision making, much less a solid pro-socialist, anti-capitalist voice in government.

The 2011 election brought in Mr. Huja, Ms. Galvin, and Ms. Smith. They were added to seated incumbents Mr. Norris and Ms. Szakos. Watching this group of councilors work was fascinating. There were no clear alliances, but generally one could see where things would go by examining positions on an issue by issue basis. Dave Norris retained at least small amount of respect, but as possibly the most progressive of the bunch, was increasingly pushed aside, though not completely ignored. Losing councilor Holly Edwards, a friend and strong voice for marginalized people in our community, from political life seemed to leave Mr. Norris alone on council, though many times he would partner with Ms. Smith. Now we have Bob Fenwick on the council taking Norris’s old seat. I trust Bob, and have come to know him. I wish him well. Though his politics do not line up with mine, he is the quintessential underdog and common man and not afraid to buck the system.

I summarize all of this  mainly for my own benefit, but also so that readers might get a sense for how I see the dynamics of city council, though much it is totally apparent. A significant and focused effort has been made by the city council to over develop our communities from the top down. One need only look at the number of “small area plans” such as the Strategic Investment Area being promoted, and funded, by council to see how large an impact the current council will have on the future of our town, especially as it relates to housing, gentrification, poverty, and joblessness. That is to say- gentrification is not just being allowed, but specifically planned for. Affordable housing is not being addressed, decisions after decisions are made that push the notion that “you can’t build our way out of our housing problem” and that support the construction of large buildings designed for anybody except those who desperately need a home that they can afford. They bait and switch and offer up the delusion that increased construction, although dramatically hurting neighborhoods and displacing people will bring construction jobs. This is folly. A very small number of jobs for low-income people will materialize, and they will disappear once this round of construction is completed, we cannot build our way out poverty, but we could build some affordable homes if we wanted to.

Poverty and joblessness are approached with the liberal version of trickle-down economics, relying on the free market to magically improve our community. The twist comes with council’s philosophical support and funding of programs that seek to encourage entrepreneurship among our poorest residents at all cost and with nothing else. To that I say two things-

1. Not everyone can successfully create and sustain a business, especially those with little resources. Even with public support, convincing vulnerable people that their problems will be solved by taking on debt and struggling to operate a business seems painfully insulting, and negligent. The few examples of success in this philosophy do not outweigh the large numbers of people who need a living wage and sustained employment. We are talking about thousands of people, and changing the landscape so that struggling people can make enough money to live in this community. The City Council’s current philosophy buys into an ideological pipe dream that takes the burden of actually doing something about poverty off of the backs of elected officials.

2. Pouring public money into for-profit business starting schemes is not responsible use of public funds. The programs, in order to be successful, will require substantial public funding in perpetuity. Too many will fail, but the training and entrepreneurship would have to continue to be funded to have any kind of success. I don’t see the public, or the council committed to sustained funding for business classes for poor people. They will instead, continue to pass responsibility to non-profits instead of committing funds to increasing the actual number of jobs.

My 2011 campaign was not a total bust, though putting real pressure on decision makers was and is tough. The Democratic Party is a sure bet (for now!) so they don’t take electoral challenges seriously. I made a strong showing though, and have attended almost every city council meeting since, often promoting parts of my platform and even bringing forward a “people’s agenda”. I have also managed to continue to organize which is a much stronger and effective way to compel the council to address certain items. The real force of my campaign was to shame those elected into actually doing something to address our local crisis of poverty, housing, ecological devastation, and contribution to militarism. The 1500 votes i garnered, as well, were a wake up call for some councilors, though certainly not enough for anyone int he Democratic party to feel threatened. As the years have moved along I have seen some movement on items that were part of my campaign and I have been happy to support those changes. Many times, however, an issue is addressed and because the philosophy and analysis ios different from mine, the results wind up being mixed. More times than not, the council has either ignored or done the opposite of what I ], and a large group of residents of harlottesville demand.

A quick spin through my platform shows victory on these items
– end freeze on non-profit funding ( a small piece, this is worthless without those funds going to homeless shelters and housing)
– jobs center in downtown Charlottesville (almosty a reality)
– creation of more parkland
– formation of transit advisory board
– holiday bus service
– bus service to CATECH
– permanent downtown space for City Market (?)
– policy for de-barment in public housing
– funding for DoR
– Vinegar Hill apology (thanks Holly!)
– Alternative to Military service allowed at CHS (thanks CCPJ!)
– resolution to stop funding wars and don’t attack Iran
… and they called me unrealistic

Here are items that have been addressed, but only partially and without the proper approach, I supported these, but not being in the decision making body have no influence over implementation or the “spririt”: of implementation.
– non-profit funding- mentioned above, this was meant to free up funds for the Haven and PACEM and possibly for the creation of more shelters for homeless people.
– end utility shut -offs- this has not happened, though the council now recieves updates on the numbers of people faced with shut-offs
– CAT expansion- the results have not produced an expansion but rather a restructuring, from the top down, that has not benefited transit dependent people. Had I been elected this whole mess would have been avoided for certain.
– Recognize same sex marriage- I had called for this knowing it was not legal with the Commonwealth of Virginia- I would have voted to break the law and initiate a court challenge. City council did not have the political will to make marriage rights for same sex couples a tangible reality in Charlottesville. Instead they opted for symbolism (as they so often do).
– oppose the “Dillon Rule” council frequently includes items on it’s legislative agenda for Virginia, and spends some effort lobbying for these things. Mostly those items disappear from our minds forever. We need to remove some of the Dillon Rule barriers in order to make progress, council uses it as an excuse and simultaneously claims it is doing something about issues by moving them to the black hole of the legislative agenda.

I have made some attempts to keep some of my platform planks alive, and have found some support, but council has failed to take even the most modest of steps at addressing poverty, joblessness, homelessness, ecological degradation, unless the solution is promoted by the Chamber of Commerce and based on free market solutions to crisis situations. Here’s what they haven’t done:
– no attempts to build more affordable housing in Charlottesville
– no attempts to alleviate homelessness or build institutions to shelter the homeless
– “City of Second Chances” has been completely ignored
– no expansion of the bus system
– absolutely no attempt to employ large numbers of people using public funding
– absolutely no attempt to gain support for or implement a tax increase that could: hire a lot of people to green the city and build those structures mentioned above
– no attempt has been made to identify the root causes of gentrification, the effects on our communities, nor how to stop gentrification

and the list goes on…

What are we going to do about it?
I might run, I might not. We need to make the case to as many people in town as possible that the Democratic Party has failed the poor and working people of Charlottesville. And we need to organize around a common platform or set of principles to build power that will present a solid challenge to the status quo. Just voting for cool candidates (like myself) won’t do this. Voting for Democrats will not do this, and organizing in silos on issues won’t do this. We need a grand coalition. A poor people’s coalition that fights in solidarity, and has the potential to run and win elections. Of course I would choose for everyone to join the Socialist Party with me and my comrades, but this unlikely (but please consider joining! here)
One option is to get everyone together to craft a platform and agree to fight to make real change, to the point of drafting and supporting full slates of candidates for Council, School Board, applying for board appointments, lobbying for a platform, and organizing in the streets!

I have said before that I support principles and analysis over a simple platform, but this may be the way forward in Charlottesville.
Wanna help?

drop me a line at brandoncollins@comcast.net or give a call (434) 249-3312

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