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When Private Enterprise Fails, Public Enterprise Must Step Up

Jim Hightower on

In cities all across America, an infiltration of wealthy investors, developers and bankers is driving poor and middle-class families out of their own towns.

What's at work here is the relentless financial shove of high-dollar gentrification. House by house, block by block, moneyed interests suddenly (and often secretly) buy up properties, bulldozing modest family homes to erect sprawling edifices for the rich. It's a profiteering money grab that intentionally prices out regular homebuyers. Worse, it also artificially skyrockets property taxes for the area's longtime homeowners, forcing them to sell out and leave town.

This financial whirligig is enormously destructive to a community's crucial sense of fairness and ... well, community. For one glaring example, look at who likely does NOT live in your city: schoolteachers, fire fighters, police, nurses, utility crews and others who're essential to making any city work.

If the so-called "free market" can't (or won't) provide affordable spaces so these families can "come home," where they belong, then the community itself must step up to meet the need with creative public initiatives.

The good news is that many cities are doing just that, including where I live. Fed up with losing teachers who endure spirit-sucking, hourlong commutes from distant suburbs, Austin's school board recently created its own affordable housing arm. It's starting to build hundreds of rental homes affordable to teachers, cafeteria workers, bus drivers and other school employees. In addition, the district has formed a "public facility corporation" that partners with local developers and groups like Habitat for Humanity to build and sell family homes at prices within reach of the city's school employees.

Housing is not only a basic human need but also a community essential that can't be left to the whims and greed of developers.

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MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. DIDN'T JUST DREAM; HE ORGANIZED!

It's time once again for America's annual sing-along of "We Shall Overcome," in celebration of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday. As even schoolchildren know, he famously had a dream. His dream was that over the long arc of history, America will someday achieve racial harmony -- if Black people will stop being pushy about racial injustice.

 

Oh, wait -- that's the right wing's current whitewashed version of King's dream, scrubbing out his condemnation of brutally racist white leaders and institutions (which still repress Black progress and foment racial hatred). And far from meekly waiting on "the arc of history," King rallied people to take immediate action, calling it "the fierce urgency of now."

He sought "a grand alliance of Negro and White (to) eradicate social evils (that) oppress both White and Negro." At the time of his assassination, he was actively forging that populist coalition to battle plutocratic wealth.

Indeed, King knew the history he sought to revive. The post-Civil War Populist Movement, he said, "began awakening the poor White masses and the former Negro slaves to the fact that (both) were being fleeced by (Southern aristocrat interests)." That movement, he noted, intended to write a black-white voting bloc "to build a great society of justice where none would prey upon the weakness of others; a society of plenty where greed and poverty would be done away."

But the unifying, democratic promise of Populism, King rightly explained, so terrified the aristocracy of wealth that its leaders made it "a crime for Negroes and Whites to come together as equals at any level." Thus moneyed elites effectively killed the people's Populist party in the 1890s -- but not the people's Populist spirit.

So rather than merely celebrating a birthday, let's recommit to King's real dream of a multiracial, democratic Populism.

To find out more about Jim Hightower and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators webpage at www.creators.com.

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