We must “return to independent action, organizing a broad movement for economic justice for poor and working people,” Jesse Jackson admonishes us in this issue’s roundup of opinion on the recent sea change in American politics.
His prescription – organizing and coalition building – is shared by long-time organizer Heather Booth, who asks if “people have lost the expectation of needing to fight for change?” She sees this election as a “wake-up call” to reengage the American people in the political process. Something that can only occur if we reinvigorate our grassroots organizations.
John Atlas agrees, but cautions us to focus our attention – as activists and organizers – on the core values that all Americans share. Many contend that it was, in large part, the perception that Democrats have abandoned these values that resulted in so many Americans voting against the Democratic party by staying home on November 8th.
However, ample evidence shows that when middle-class and poor Americans see their interests overlap, they work together for change. Zach Polett and Steve Kest of ACORN take us on a national tour of effective organizing. ACORN members, working with New Party affiliates, have placed winning referenda on ballets and elected progressive candidates. They recommend strategies linking progressive single-issue advocates to build a strong movement.
All their strategies – all strategies, period – depend on organized citizens. Just take a look at Louisville, Kentucky, where organizers like Suzy Post, the Executive Director of the Metropolitan Housing Coalition, have been able to forge a progressive housing program with the city’s Mayor, Jerry E. Abramson.
In an interview with Chester Hartman, Mayor Abramson describes how he’s made affordable housing a centerpiece of his administration and an integral part of the economic growth of the city. Citizen participation in Louisville is actively encouraged. This has fostered an environment where the middle-class recognize that they have common goals with the poor and that by acting together those goals will be realized.
A coalition of the poor and middle-class will be the engine for real change; not Gingrich’s populist flimflam or the DLC’s march to the center. The coalition of the “bottom two thirds” of America will be responsible for ending one of the largest “entitlements” for the rich – the mortgage interest deduction – and bringing a measure of justice to the way housing in provided.
And Housing Justice is exactly what the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) is seeking. In a special supplement provided by the NLIHC, the desperate state of housing in America is examined and a campaign for Housing Justice called.
NLIHC wants to redirect – as a trust fund – to the poor the billions of dollars saved by eliminating the deduction for the rich. Others want to redirect the savings as a progressive housing tax credit. Ultimately, how the “mansion subsidy” is reformed is less important than that it is reformed.
This entitlement is now on the national agenda. From the Senate floor to the editorial pages of The New York Times, calls for its reform are made. But the battle lines are drawn. We sit, badly in need of money and a much improved grassroots infrastructure, on the one side. On the other sits the vested interests (Finance, Insurance, Real-Estate and Construction) who, for example, from January 1993 to June 1994, spent over $21 million on PACs*. On top of that, they spent huge amounts on direct contributions, lobbyists, advertising and marketing.
We’ve put the issue on the table. Now we’ll have to use all our commitment, persistence and organizing skills to bring housing justice to America.
Going and Coming
Rick Cohen recently resigned his volunteer post as a contributing editor to Shelterforce. It seems that Rick is kept busy more than full time with his duties as Vice President of The Local Initiative Support Corporation. LISC keeps him traveling around the country providing guidance to a variety of CDCs. We’ll miss his depth of knowledge, insight and wit at our periodic editorial conferences – not to mention the articles he wrote for us. We hope that he’ll be able to find the time to write for Shelterforce again soon, and that he’ll be able to rejoin us in the future.
Joining us as Assistant Editor is Karen Ceraso. Karen holds an undergraduate degree from Rutgers University and a Masters in Magazine Journalism from Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Public Communication. She also worked for two years as a newspaper reporter in Vermont. She brings an exciting new perspective to Shelterforce, plenty of enthusiasm and a welcome eye for detail.
Two New Columns
We inagurate two columns this issue. Where We Stand will be written on a revolving basis by members of the NHI board and Organize! will be written, also on a revolving basis, by Kim Bobo of the Midwest Academy, Steve Kest of ACORN and others. We hope you find them interesting and useful.
*Source: Center for Responsive Politics.