Special Edition: City Council Candidate Forum
Our Solutions are in Our Neighborhoods.
By Darrell O’Quinn
City Council Candidate
I believe there is tremendous untapped potential within every neighborhood in the City of Birmingham. Too often, neighborhoods are viewed in terms of what they lack. I see something different. I see people who care about their communities, who want good quality of life for themselves and their neighbors, and who are looking for ways to make that happen. I also see people who have valuable knowledge, marketable skills, local social connectivity, and other individual assets. I see all of these things and imagine their potential in the context of a collective, which leads me to the conclusion that building community - real community - within our geographic communities is a vital, yet currently overlooked and/or under-resourced, tool for improving quality of life in our neighborhoods and increasing access to opportunity for residents. I believe that many of the challenges in our city’s neighborhoods can be significantly impacted with old-school community organizing supplemented with 21st century communications and technology. For example, wealth is a significant challenge for a large segment of our population, yet collectively we own a great deal of useful stuff that spends most of its time not being used. It pains me to think how many hundreds of unused step ladders there are sitting in basements and tool sheds in an average neighborhood on an average day. In the context of a collective, that redundancy represents wealth that could be utilized elsewhere to benefit the individual resident. The creation of commons - collective assets - represents one approach to reducing this redundancy and thus reducing the need to utilize one’s wealth for things that will largely go unused. In the case of a ladder and other similar items, that might be accomplished by the establishment of a community tool library. Extrapolating the same concept to skills might take the shape of a community “skills guild” in which members barter services and/or collaborate to accomplish a goal unattainable individually. The point is this, as a collective a community of residents has capacity that dwarfs the potential of even the rare, exceptionally talented individual. I believe that Birmingham’s neighborhoods are particularly well positioned for this type of asset-based community development (ABCD) in large part because of its well established system of neighborhood associations and larger community groups. As a candidate for City Council in District 5, I view this framework and its integration within City Hall, as an opportunity to utilize my leadership position as Councilor to apply ABCD concepts to address many neighborhood challenges at a grassroots level. And having myself been a neighborhood officer for a decade and also in my second term as the President of the Citizens Advisory Board, I believe I have the knowledge and experience to successfully executive this type of initiative. In fact, it is how I intend to help residents build their communities, providing them with support and resources they need to actively participate in the work of improving quality of life for themselves and their neighbors through real community and the power of the collective.
Hope in the Midst of Chaos: Restoring the “Magic City” by Empowering and Building Communities
By Eric Hall
City Council Candidate
In Dedication to Jackson’s late Mayor Honorable Chokwe Lumumba
“We are now in one of the most truly prophetic moments in the history of America. The poor and very poor are sleeping with self-destruction. The working and middle classes are struggling against paralyzing pessimism and the privileged are swinging between cynicism and hedonism. Yes, these are the circumstances that people of conscience must operate under during this moment of national truth or consequences.” Dr. Cornel West Birmingham has its problems like any other mid-major city. It is dealing with rising crime rate, poverty, a poor educational system, lack of jobs, and challenged communities. For decades, Birmingham’s predominately Black inner-city neighborhoods have observed the doom, death, and destruction of communities; at the hands of a substandard government. Community neighborhood meetings have become a depository for complaints. Regrettably, most of the neighborhood meeting time is spent discussing dilapidated structures, monthly crime stats, abandoned vehicles, loose dogs and planning annual community fun days. In a recent report released by the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama (PARCA), the average annual employment in Birmingham-Hoover metropolitan area has increased by only 0.24 percent since 2000. A direct result of little to no job growth and proliferating poverty within last 17 years had led to a situation of violent crime in Birmingham.
A Tale of Two Cities
What is behind this opposition? Birmingham is, in reality, a story of two cities, on the cusp of two contending visions. Given its demographics, with a population of approximately 212,237 individuals, nearly 155,791 are Black or African American comprising of 74 percent of the populace any Mayor is probably going to be Black. However, what that might mean is another issue. Simply driving around the city gives you a snapshot of the problems facing our city. While the biggest city in the state and largest county, loaded with real government structures, the city is shockingly dry and boring. There are a couple of upscale areas such as Uptown, Regions Field, and Avondale. However, theses venues aren’t economically friendly, safe or approving of Birmingham’s most vulnerable residents: working poor, Black and Brown people, immigrants, and trans communities of color. Birmingham is a city in crisis, with an institutional problem. We have literally become a city with a lively downtown and broken communities, balanced budgets and homeless citizens.
As I reflect on the current condition of our city with heartache and disappointment, yet I remain hopeful. In spite of being a city once known as the most segregated city in America for Civil Rights and City Planning; in spite of being termed one of the most violent cities in America; in spite of poor black communities not having access to fresh foods and groceries or indigent care facilities; in spite of being a city known for corrupt politicians and risking the lives mostly poor black people by depositing poisonous toxins in the ground, yet I remain hopeful. In spite of all these ills, I remain hopeful because of the energy, exuberance, and excitement of new leaders and grassroots organizations such as Black Lives Matter, Birmingham Chapter and others that emulate the spirit of freedom fighters such as: Angela Davis, Ella Baker, Reverend William Barber and the late Chockwe Lumumba Sr.
“Black humanity and dignity require Black political will and power. Despite constant exploitation and perpetual oppression, Black people have bravely and brilliantly been the driving force pushing the U.S. towards the ideals it articulates but has never achieved. In recent years we have taken to the streets, launched massive campaigns, and impacted elections, but our elected leaders have failed to address the legitimate demands of our Movement. We can no longer wait!” Movement for Black Lives.
For decades, in Birmingham, Alabama we have recycled the same career politicians for public office. These elected officials have kept more people in poverty, illiterate, hungry and un-informed than any regime. For some unknown reason, Birmingham residents continue to vote for them. I wholeheartedly believe that it’s a new day in politics in America. A revolution of value could change the course of this nation. Alongside a reimagined and reinvigorated black politics, such a plan might have a fighting chance, thus why I’m running for Birmingham City Council District 9.
Establishment of Community Development Financial Institutions (community controlled banking) purposed to promote economic revitalization and community development in low-income communities through investment in and assistance to Community Development Financial Institutions. These institutions will be designed to make small loans at relatively low-interest rates. Also lower interest options for payday loans.
According to Movement for Black Lives, over the past 50 years, Black urban communities have faced economic disinvestment, deindustrialization, suburban flight, redlining and a declining tax base. As a consequence, our communities have been ravaged by under and unemployment, poorly performing schools, gentrification, and growing inequality. A 2014 report from the Federal of Protestant Welfare Agencies found that cooperatives can play a crucial role in a broader campaign to fight poverty, joblessness, and income inequality, but are often hindered by the lack of available public and private funding sources. The report also found that these efforts are greatly aided by the existence of a cooperative support ecosystem, where government agencies, support organizations, cooperatives networks, and financing institutions that can offer resources, professional guidance, and technical assistance.
Implementation of this policy would direct municipal procurement contracts to cooperatives; transfer city-owned land to Community Land Trusts with financing through Community Block Grants; provide municipal funding for technical assistance providers; pass legislation providing capital for loan funds to support cooperative development. Moreover, this policy will create avenues to advance the city’s Ban the Box initiative by providing more opportunities to our most marginalized communities by providing people with a range of job and housing opportunities while also ensuring their involvement in decision making.
Demand for State and Federal jobs/Increase Minimum Wage - A Federal and State Jobs Program that Specifically Targets the Most Economically Marginalized Black People - Such As Those Who Are Queer, Trans, Femmes, Cash Poor, Working Class, Formerly Incarcerated, and Differently Abled - Funds a Living Wage, and Encourages Support For Local Workers Centers, Unions, and Black Owned Cooperative Businesses. All citizens should be earning a livable wage... I will work to make certain that minimum wage is raised to at least $10.00 for Birmingham residents. Moreover, I will work to challenge the State and any other entities that will refute providing our resident's jobs with livable wages and benefits.
According to Movement for Black Lives, For nearly 70 years, Black people have had two times the unemployment rate of white people in the U.S — even when the economy is strong. During tough economic times, Black unemployment is in the double-digits, with some cities and states reaching into the mid 20’s. Economic violence is the result of private state and federal divestment in Black communities in three specific categories: housing, education, and employment. As employment in Black communities declines, violence increases. So we can’t discuss employment without addressing the latent impact of unemployment on Black bodies.
Implementation of this policy would support economic empowerment in low-income Black communities, by introducing and implementing cooperative institutions throughout urban and rural Black communities.Focus on past and present legislation that supports community economic development to generate employment in Black communities. Encourage sustained collaboration between government, the private sector, and community organizations and contain community-based accountability monitoring, forcing them to be responsive to low-income Black communities. Furthermore, it will reduce violent crime in poverty-stricken communities.
Divest/Invest- Divest from over policing and invest in education, mental health, and social services. The aim of the divest/invest plan would be to review the current $100 million dollar budget for policing and determine how that capital could be used to increase officer salaries, provide mental health services, invest in social workers, fund schools, and youth programs. Instead of investments in the criminalizing, caging, and harming of Black people. We want investments in Black communities, determined by Black communities, and divestment from exploitative forces including prisons, fossil fuels, police, surveillance and exploitative corporations.
Implementation of this policy would redirect resources into the community for our most vulnerable populations. Moreover, it would free police up from responding to non-emergency situations and allow them an opportunity to focus on real criminal activity. Furthermore, I believe it is important that we invest our resources in helping the socially, mentally emotionally, and economically--we cannot jail away our problems.
Cooperatives: A Vision for the Future
By Ryan Jones
Candidate for City Council, District 3
My name is Ryan Jones, and I will be the next Birmingham City Councilor for District 3.
I believe in Birmingham and I’m proud to call Southside my home for over 15 years. I perceive a long term vision of the great city Birmingham can become and the prosperous future we can achieve together. Birmingham has an identity crisis. We don’t know who we are or what we want to be. Despite the progress the city has made recently, we remain shackled to our past. We need to collectively decide on what it actually means to be a Birminghamian.
Let’s empower our people to determine their own future. My vision of our city begins with our neighborhood system. We must utilize these foundational units of our democracy to their utmost. I want our neighborhood associations to become a resident led driving force in local development and revitalization.
We must first provide them tools for self-sufficiency. Such as by establishing citywide community financial institutions organized around the neighborhood system. Acting as a lender of last resort to residents, they will offer accounts to all regardless of credit. While also providing needed financial education. Land Trusts are another tool we should use. Through establishing these throughout our city, as some areas have already done, we can take ownership of land management. I will use similar initiatives to combat food deserts, and support our schools at the same time by creating a farm to school program to provide local produce to our schools and neighborhoods in need. These are among just a few of the opportunities that lay before us. Together, we can build broad based prosperity and self-sustaining resources for the residents of this city.
I ask for your support on August 22nd. To get involved reach me at 205-530-0611 or by email firstname.lastname@example.org.
A Modest Proposal
By Zac Henson
I want to take a brief moment to talk about a policy that we have proposed that I think would jump start the Birmingham economy. This policy is called a Community Enterprise Zone.
- The CEZ serves a geographic area of 50,000 with a poverty rate above 30%.
- The city will charter and capitalize a community development financial institution (CDFI) controlled by residents of the zone at a rate of $1,000,000 per year for ten years.
- There will be a series of job credits for businesses located in the zone with the highest credit going to cooperatives, the second highest credit going to businesses with collective bargaining, and the lowest credit going to traditional businesses. A job credit is a tax break for hiring someone from within the zone to work at one’s business.
The advantage of this system would be that it supplies small loans to poor residents within the zone. These loans would jump start the “side hustles” that many residents already have, turning them into viable businesses. Cooperatives are the best economic solution because the vast majority of the revenue would stay in the community and create multiplier effects. Traditional businesses are the worst option because these businesses can extract wealth from poor communities if the owners don’t live there.
All of the candidates writing for this special issue have expressed support for cooperatives and Mayoral Candidate Randall Woodfin has expressed tacit support for cooperatives and explicit support for community land trusts. I believe that Community Enterprise Zones are a good policy to start with in developing the cooperative economy.
Online Webinar: Agroecology in the Context of Urban Agriculture and Food Justice Movements
July 22, 2017
1pm-3pm Central Time