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Anthony Pt.2: People must force administration to build sustainable communities

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome back to The Real News Network. We’re in San Francisco at the Momentum Conference of Tides Foundation. We’re joined again by Carl Anthony. Carl wrote the foreword to this book, which is Breakthrough Communities, which is about some model experiments in some of the American urban centers, with some solutions. Before we get into a little more of the solutions story, the Obama administration’s plan for Detroit has been quite controversial in Detroit. We’ve done quite a few stories. And for those of you who’d like to see, one of them is called “Motown blues or Detroit green”. And that was a big debate, whether to use that manufacturing base and expand it and create Detroit as an engine for a new green transportation system—it was a real national vision for a green economy—or cut everything, slash and burn, cut things down, and make them supposedly more efficient car companies again. And they decided to make them car companies again. We played several times on our network an interview with the new president of General Motors when he was asked, “How are you going to compete in this new world?” And he said, “Oh, we’re going to make more stylish cars.” It’s back to the old model. So do you have hopes that this administration is going to have the imagination to kind of break the mold?

CARL ANTHONY, FOUNDER, EARTH HOUSE LEADERSHIP CENTER: Well, I have to say, you know, the notion of investing in a new car industry at this point on the planet is stupid.

JAY: Yeah, that was the point: don’t make cars; make windmills; make green things.

ANTHONY: We just got through with a group of people from Japan who were saying that the Toyota company, which is selling its cars, are not selling them in Japan; they’re selling them in the United States and in China. So the question is: can we get ahead of the wave? And, in fact, we’re behind the wave. Now, I don’t believe that the issue really is whether the administration is going to be smart. I think the real issue is whether we as a people, as a community, including the labor movement and other forces in society, are going to come together and actually force an administration that is sympathetic to these issues to do the right thing. And part of the challenge that we face right now is that, you know, after the election there’s this really great, high hope that the present would be able to make all these things happen, and as much as we really appreciate and celebrate President Obama, he’s only one person.

JAY: Well, hold on. Hold on. He’s not only one person. He’s the head of a big state, which just put trillions of dollars into a lot of purses.

ANTHONY: I get that. But what I’m basically saying is, unless the community-based organizations and labor unions and all the people who make up the 350 million people in the country can find at least a critical mass of people to say don’t do it like that, do it like this, and we can show you—. And, unfortunately, we have a problem in this country, I think. Without blaming the victim, the problem is that we’ve had such a long period in which we have not had a successful relationship with the federal government that people find it really more comfortable to criticize than they are to actually invent solutions that work. So partly, you know, we had a huge problem, as you well know, with the stimulus package to try to get the president and his administration, try to get money out to folks across the country. And they were giving priority to shovel-ready projects. These shovel-ready projects, by and large, were the wrong kind of projects.

JAY: Highways.

ANTHONY: Highways going to nowhere. And so the challenge of sort of shifting the paradigm to say repair, rebuild, build sustainably, create a new smart grid, all these things that have been in the works for a long time, were not necessary.

JAY: And part of the election campaign—I mean, Barack Obama got elected with promises to do just that.

ANTHONY: Exactly. What the challenge is with the stimulus package package and the urgency to get the money out into the communities, unfortunately, the best-organized part of our economy are people who are actually designing and building the wrong thing, which are the people who are out on the suburban fringe that are building these communities in places they shouldn’t be. And so we have a disproportionate—. Now, in all fairness, some of the projects that were being funded do in fact represent a kind of new, sustainable direction, but I think the challenge that we face in going forward is to really rise up and say, here are the kinds of projects that would actually make things sustainable, and we as a community, whether we’re talking about the nonprofit sector, or whether we’re talking about the private sector, whether we’re talking about, you know, the government sector, that we not only know what the right thing to do is, we have our sleeves rolled up and we’re ready to actually implement it now.

JAY: So a lot of this has to do with where—. The majority of the stimulus money’s still sitting there unspent. So a lot of this is going to be a fight over does stimulus money get directed towards these objectives or not.

ANTHONY: Yeah, I think that’s exactly right. And part of the problem, because people are hungry for those resources, is everybody wants to spend the money on what they’re used to spending it on. But we actually need to have a different pattern. We need to be able to invest in our whole metropolitan regions. We need to have stronger public transportation systems that are serving the whole metropolitan region and not just a few places within it. And we also need to have housing that creates opportunities for all of our population in the places where the jobs are, so that people who can get those jobs can also live in communities that have decent schools. So we have to, in a sense, reverse the pattern of segregation, which today is really—it’s a de facto segregation.

JAY: And if stimulus money goes towards the kind of projects you’re talking about, does it also enhance employment in the area?

ANTHONY: Yes, I think so.

JAY: ‘Cause without dealing with unemployment, you can’t really deal with housing.

ANTHONY: Well, a good example: we just went through a huge challenge around the federal support for operating funds for our public transit, and even though we know that in order to reduce greenhouse gases and to make our metropolitan regions function more fairly we need to be investing in public transit. And, in fact, many of the public transportation agencies that serve the poor people are actually facing shortfalls in terms of the money that they have available. So stimulus money that goes for operating expenses for those transit agency is a really important way to protect jobs, and also to protect these infrastructures [inaudible].

JAY: Is it happening, or are you having to fight for it?

ANTHONY: Oh, we had to fight for it in California and across the nation, they had to fight for that, because in fact there’s a bias in favor of using this money for capital expenditures or projects that are sort of fancy and shiny new, and not taking care of the sort of bread-and-butter requirements of making a transportation system work.

JAY: But is there a kind of a feeling that President Obama—this is a very political question, of course, and it’s not just President Obama; it’s chief of staff Rahm Emanuel and it’s a whole—it’s an administration, it’s not one guy. That being said, it’s one guy that’s—one administration that’s extremely political, that’s always calculating the next congressional elections and the next presidential elections. And even though there’d be no President Obama without African Americans having gone out in such numbers to vote, is there kind of a feeling, “Well, they’ve got to vote for me anyway, and so we’ve got some other areas we’re going to worry about”?

ANTHONY: I don’t think that’s true.

JAY: Because why isn’t this, like, a core mission of this administration, the kind of issues you’re talking about?

ANTHONY: That particular scenario that you laid out, that he’s taking the black people for granted, I don’t believe it’s true. I think the challenge that we really face is that we need to organize our communities to be much more effective in demanding the kind of things that we need to have. And so I think, for example, the reinvestment in our cities is a high priority, but we not only have to reinvest in our cities, we have to reinvest in whole metropolitan regions, and that means to have a different way of thinking. So, for example, we need to put a priority of reinvesting in the older suburban places around the center cities. Now, this, the challenge, let’s say, for African-Americans is, because we cut our teeth during the ’60s and the early ’70s on building neighborhood infrastructure to address the populations in the cities, and in fact we found ourselves in opposition to people who had been moving out to the suburbs, it is very hard to think, well, how do we put together the kind of coalitions that we need in order to actually build a collaboration between the older inner ring suburbs and the inner cities. But we need to do that. We need to do it for both political reasons, because the majority of the population, if you actually include the cities and the suburbs come you’re talking about 70 percent of the population—.

JAY: So are people getting organized?

ANTHONY: They are getting organized.

JAY: Is there a motion?

ANTHONY: There is motion. We need to get out of the framework that says, okay, as the president said during his campaign, there’s, you know, blue states and red states. We also have, you know, the black people and the white people, ethnic people, and all this. And I’m not saying people should deny their identity, but what I am saying is that we need to come together as one community, and that means bringing the suburbs and the inner cities together around an agenda for sustainability for everyone.

JAY: And doesn’t there need—not only does there not need—does there not also have to be an acknowledgment of race and structural racism, but [also an acknowledgment that] you can’t just have one class? Like, you can’t just have a middle. If there’s a middle, there’s a lower and an upper. And doesn’t there need to be a frank conversation that this is an America that has classes in it?

ANTHONY: Absolutely. I think the issue of class is a really critical issue. And while we understand that we’re not likely to get a situation in which everybody belongs to the same class, the polarization between the people who are hanging by their fingernails without the money and the resources to feed their families, and people who are obscenely wealthy based upon the casino Wall Street agenda is what we really need to collapse.

JAY: But the administration says over and over again, “We’re interested in a middle class.” They haven’t said much about the lower class.

ANTHONY: Well, from my point of view, I think the issue really is to build a robust middle class. And what’s happened in the last 40 or 50 years, the bottom has dropped out of the middle class. So an important part of this is not to just simply have more powerful people in the lower class; the challenge is to actually end poverty, which means to have a thriving economy that is globally competitive, that is ecologically sustainable and socially just, to which the people who are now impoverished can actually look forward to becoming full members, so they can raise their families and have some [inaudible]

JAY: Are you going to have some milestones that, in a relatively short amount of time, if you don’t get what you’re asking for, then what? What if this administration doesn’t listen?

ANTHONY: You know, maybe it’s because I’ve been out here for 40 years with administrations that don’t listen. I’m not persuaded myself that the be-all and the end-all is getting a new administration in. I believe that we as communities really need to organize for the long term, and it seems to me that we need to be able to make the kind of demands on ourselves, as well as the administration, about the kinds of things that we need to do.

JAY: But there’s a point where it becomes a political question. Like, if there’s any point where this administration—. Like, the Republican administration never is going to get the black inner-city vote, so you don’t have a heck of a lot of leverage. But there is no Obama administration without a black vote. So at some point do you have to get your, you know, knuckles out?

ANTHONY: You know, one of our colleagues, who was actually the trainer, the person who trained Obama to be a community organizer, was recently at the White House, and he said to the president, “Mr. Obama, there are people all around the world who are celebrating your accomplishment.” And the president said to him, “It’s time to stop celebrating Obama. It’s time to be Obama.” And what that basically means is, in the same way that he stepped out of the box, that he organized improbably—he went to Iowa and he went to these places that nobody ever thought he could get the vote. What we need to do in our communities is step outside of the box. Those of us who live in the inner cities need to reach out to our suburban communities. Those of us who have been working on environmental issues need to reach out to business and to the social justice agenda. Those of us who have been concerned about the problems of African-American communities need to reach out to the Latino communities, need to reach out to those improbable people to create a new kind of metropolitan community that really works. So the issue is partly the administration, but the issue is also us.

JAY: Okay, but they’re the ones holding the stimulus money. You don’t have it. So there’s going to be a war over who gets the stimulus money.

ANTHONY: Well, the question is, if there’s going to be a war, we hope and we believe that if we are able to come together as metropolitan regions and say, here is the way it works, here is the way you can invest the stimulus money, let’s say 10 or 15 regions in the country, say, here is the way you can invest the money to heal the racial divide, that creates competitive metropolitan regions, in terms of the global economy, that are actually ecologically sustainable and energy-efficient, then the priority for the stimulus money should go to such communities.

JAY: One would think so, ’cause that’s what the election was supposed to be about.

ANTHONY: That’s what the election is about. But the election is going on every day. It’s not once every four years.

JAY: That’s the point.

ANTHONY: Yeah. I mean, I think the place that we are right now is we have to make manifest the kinds of conditions and the opportunities that we have also asked the administration to do.

JAY: Okay. Well, thank you very much. And, again, the book is Breakthrough Communities, and Carl Anthony did the forward. And you can write us at, and we can tell you how to get it. Thanks for joining us on The Real News Network.


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Carl Anthony is currently a Ford Foundation Senior Fellow at the University of California at Berkeley. Prior to that he was the Acting Director of the Community and Resource Development Unit at the Ford Foundation, where he also directed the Foundation's Sustainable Metropolitan Communities Initiative and the Regional Equity Demonstration Initiative. He was Co-Chair of the Bay Area Alliance for Sustainable Development (BAASD) a multi stake holder collaborative bringing together business leadership, environmental groups, social advocacy groups, labor, faith based organizations, elected and other public officials.
Anthony also served as President of Earth Island Institute. He has taught at the Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture and Planning, the University of California Colleges of Environmental Design and Natural Resources. In 1996, he was appointed Fellow at the Institute of Politics, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University.