LETTER FROM CHUCK TURNER : WE NEED AN ECONOMIC STRATEGY TO BENEFIT ALL OF US

Editor’s Note : Roxbury Here columnist Rodney Singleton, who writes “Seen From the Hill,” received this e-mail from former District 7 City Councillor Chuck Turner, who in addition to serving as a District Councillor has been an activist in Roxbury since the late 1960s. We have known Turner since back then and have always found his views enlightening, though we disagree with a lot of how he sees things. That said, we enthusiastically reprint in its entirety, unedited, the letter that he sent to our columnist. Read it now :

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In my ongoing efforts to share my views on confronting the issue of economic gentrification facing our community, I am sharing my response to a public email discussion regarding the issues of economic empowerment and the role of affordable housing.

I agree with your perspective in your December 23rd article “Building a Sustainable Economy”: that building affordable housing in Roxbury or elsewhere is not a solution to the problem of those with low incomes, living in a city with an economy geared to the income of the affluent.

Your statement “So why don’t we just figure out how to make the poor richer in a sustainable way” focuses our attention on what I believe is our major problem as a county. The reality is that this country is operated in a way that diminishes the opportunity for a majority of black people, people of color, and working class whites in this country to benefit economically.

The problem that plagues us now and has plagued black people during our four hundred year experience in this country is that the objective of those in control has been to keep us in a situation of servitude that served and serves their needs.

History demonstrates that people of color and working class whites have been in a similar situation. For a brief period in the middle of the last century, this was not as clear for working class whites but it certainly in clear now. Obviously, the strategy applied to Native Americans was to wall them off. However, while we need to learn from the past, we must use this knowledge to deal with the present.

Professor Michelle Alexander in her book The New Jim Crow argues persuasively that the War on Drugs was not developed to deal with the problem of drugs and crime but rather to develop a new strategy to maintain the caste system that has kept us impoverished as a people during our four hundred years here. She also argues that the success of the ruling oligarchy relies on convincing working class whites that we are the source of their economic difficulties.

If as a people we are to escape from this trap, it is essential that we acknowledge that as a people we are poor by design Therefore, we must develop a collective as well as personal strategy to break the chains that have bound us for 400 years. I believe that our struggle of economic freedom from the 21st century plantation requires a multi prong approach.

Developing an educational system that can provide the foundation that our children need is obviously essential. In addition, we need to overcome the psychological; brainwashing that has taken place systematically over our four hundred year incarceration in America. Internalized racism is the most pernicious racism of all.

However, there also must be an economic strategy that deals with our present situation. Otherwise we will continue to exist as a people driven from one city to another as the ruling class,, the 1%, decide to reclaim the land that we live on. This strategy historically has driven the majority of us from one community to another as our more affluent stay to reap the benefits, along with the 1%, of gentrification.

At a December Boston City Council hearing on poverty and unemployment, on an order on poverty and unemployment filed by Councilors Yancey and Jackson and presided over by Councilor Pressley in her role as chair of the Committee on Women and Healthy Communities, I urged that the City Council use its voice and power to pressure those controlling the economic life of the City to integrate Boston’s economy.

Such integration would have three primary and two secondary targets. The first target would focus the Boston jobs sector, particularly those controlled by the major corporations. Every corporation in Boston should be called on to agree to a ten year plan for the integration of Boston workers into all levels of their operations.

This would mean that fifty percent of the new positions each year on every level would be filled with Boston workers, based on the racial demographics of the city. In order to meet those objectives at the higher levels, there would need to be training and development programs instituted. However, since the corporations in Boston are among the richest in the country they can afford to finance such programs

The second target would be the construction unions. While there is a weakly enforced ordinance requiring 50% Boston workers on all city financed and aided sites, it is time that the unions face up to their responsibility to integrate their own ranks with Boston workers. We can no longer allow the unions to maintain their existence as private clubs deciding which racial groups to include and which to exclude.

If the unions are to be allowed to control the labor force on the vast majority of major projects in Boston, then it is time for them to accept the responsibility to integrate. Each of Boston’s construction trade unions should agree to a ten year plan to have fifty percent of the entrants to their apprenticeship program be Boston workers reflecting the racial demographics of the city.

The third target for economic integration should be the raising of the Boston minimum wage to a level that is necessary for a person to meet their expenses in Boston. While there is progress being made on increasing the state minimum wage if it does not meet the level necessary for Boston workers, we need a minimum “living” wage campaign. This would significantly effect the quality of life for Boston workers, since the majority of workers in Boston’s low wage jobs live in Boston.

There are two secondary but equally important targets. The first is to have the foundations that focus their resources on the Boston area agree that over the next ten years, fifty percent of their resources will be devoted to raising the quality of life for people of color and working class whites in the region that they serve and that fifty percent of these resources be focused on Boston.

The second secondary target is an agreement with the corporations of Boston that they will work with the city and state to assure that every child living in Boston, between the ages of 14 and 18, who wants a summer job will receive one.  The children of our city are not blind. They see the wealth that is being paraded before them. It is an insult to their intelligence and humanity to say that there is not the financial capability of providing a job that can pay $10 an hour to every child in Boston who desires a summer job.

The corporations who cannot provide significant summer opportunities within their organizations should contribute to a fund for the provision of jobs by our city’s nonprofit agencies. Obviously, there is the wealth in our City’s corporate sector to provide such jobs working in alliance with the City and State to fund such a program.

While what I am proposing will not solve the problems of unemployment and poverty within Boston but they will provide significant progress toward your goal of developing a sustainable strategy for improving the quality of life for people in our community as well as throughout the city. I will let you and your allies know how you can help on achieving our shared goal of economic inclusion as we move forward with the development of such a campaign.

Before ending let me share the concerns that were raised by your December 23rd email regarding affordable housing. While I agree that affordable housing needs to be located throughout the city, I do not agree that a 50% plus level for affordable housing as a concern. This issue must be viewed within the framework of the fifty to sixty year struggle to build Greater Roxbury as the bass of a strong predominated black and Latino community

When you look at the reality that the median annual income of black families in Boston is $33,000 plus and Latino families is $28,000 plus, over fifty percent of the units being affordable is reasonable and just. If we did not have the affordability rate of 50%, residency in the community’s new housing would be automatically denied to more than fifty percent of our families. Are the benefits that the struggle of our community to improve the quality of life to be only shared with the well to do.

This question must be faced not only by the people of Roxbury but also the people of Boston, Massachusetts, and the nation.  Are the benefits of development only to be accessible to those with upper income levels?  If so, then let us admit that as truthful Americans we must admit that we don’t have the right to call America a democracy.

A democracy is supposed to be a governmental system where the power to make decisions is in the hands of all the people. It seems logical that if power is vested in the hands of all the people, the economic benefits should not only go to those with high incomes. This is particularly important in a country where the wealth of the country was developed from the slave labor on the plantations and in the factories.

Peace and Love,

Chuck Turner

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