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Gopal Dayaneni

Land. Food. Power. again

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Hey folks,

I tried to publish this earlier this morning and the F*#ing computer/internet destroyed more than half my post. I just tired to rewrite it, so here it is. Sorry of the delay on the delay.

 

Sorry that my contribution is late. I’m in a motel room with Ila on my way to LA.

I will start by saying that I am a big fan of La Via Campesina because they fundamentally connect land, food and power – not just the question of ensuring that everyone eat, but that the fundamental questions around food sovereignty are about ownership, scale, community – basically – the violence of enclosure.

The strategies of La Via are finding there way into the US in a host of different ways. In the case of the work of Saru and ROC – the idea of not just fighting for food chain workers, but recognizing that the conditions for food-chain workers will never fundamentally change unless the nature of ownership changes is a good example. The work to develop COLORS and other attempts at worker ownership in various aspects of the food-chain is in that tradition. Unfortunately, Saru has not had positive things to say about their experience with coop development, and has been very critical of the model based on her (in my opinion) limited experience. That said, she is now working with her partner, Zachary Norris from Ella Baker Center on a food justice, worker justice/ownership project with formerly incarcerated folks, which I’m very excited about. (but I digress, as Chris would say).

I’m interested in us bridging the gap between the immediate justice issues in the food system and the more fundamental issues of Land Reform, ownership and power.

 

I want to share a few campaign that I know of and have been involved in that I think are helpful illustrations of things we can do – or ways we can build a movement, particularly in the urban context – that can try to do both.

 

In Oakland, we have an Oakland Climate Action Coalition that was developed to advance an Energy and Climate Action Plan for the city that was rooted in Climate Justice principles. As part of that, we knew that because climate “changes everything,” we could touch so much more than just GHG emissions in our plan. While we didn’t win everything in the plan, we were able to advance significant improvement in municipal zero-waste, transit and food systems.

One thing we fought for on the food side was, “10% of all fruits and vegetables consumed in Oakland be grown in Oakland,” and to justify that claim we used a food-miles analysis to show that it would reduce GHG emission in the city. We also had an elaborate survey of all the arable underutilized public and private land in Oakland to show that we could actually reach a 10% target through primarily non-commercial means (and there are examples of this in other places, such as Havana). We also put forward implementation mechanisms such as blight fine avoidance for private land if the owners give community groups rights to farm the land, models for community use-agreements for access to underutilized public lands; changes to urban ag policy such as giving renters the right to grow food on the land they rent. Again, we didn’t win everything, but putting it forward also gave OCAC the momentum to implement many actions based on the 10% vision. We occupied vacant lands, sometime successfully and sometime not, but always engaging the community in the questions of land, food and power.

I also want to share the story of Occupy the Farm (at the risk of being self-promoting). There’s a documentary called Occupy the Farm about the story, in which I am one of the four characters that drive the narrative, even though in reality there were a whole lot of people behind the actions. I won’t go into the whole story, but I think we can watch the film online now. Basically, we fought against the UC form paving over prime farmland in Berkeley/Albany. They want to turn it into a commercial development. We managed to semi-permanently protect 10 acres for a free public access learning farm that grows food that people can harvest and that goes to food justice projects for poor folks. We are still fighting over the remaining 10 acres, which they want to pave over and rent to Sprouts Market, among others.

I have a few things I want to share about this struggle. Some people were in it for the urban farming, some people were in it for the “occupy,” some were in it to fight the UC (and their cops), but I was in it for the land reform. “What can we do to take control of this land away from the UC –which is one of the most powerful land-holders/developers in the State of CA – and permanently protect it for public benefit?” I advocated (and still do) the use of an Agricultural Easement, which would allow us to restrict forever what the UC could do with the land. The State, by the way, privileges in law the protection of urgan and peri-urban agricultural land, so we even had that on our side.

The struggle continues, but as it is growing, we are making key connections to other folks in food justice fights. As part of the Fight for 15 with fast-food workers, Movement Generation and Occupy the Farm did workshops with fast-food workers on climate, ecology, peak oil, peak soil and exploitation of workers. We heard from fast-food workers about how they had to throw away food into dumpsters, hose it down with hundreds of gallons of water and then lock the dumpsters rather than give away unsold, edible food. They cried as they told us how they feel about what they serve, and they had such inspiring visions of how the food systems should be organized. For the fight for 15 day of action, Occupy the Farm and other urban farmers got together with fast-food workers and made hundreds of organic, veggie breakfast burritos and when we shut down the McDonalds, we have all the people in the drive-through free coffee, burritos and muffins. The burritos were wrapped in Fight for 15 fliers. THEN, the fast food workers and the farmers took a bus to the grand opening of a Sprouts in another town to protest Sprouts Union Busting, to protest their plan to build on the farm and to support the fast food workers. This was a great way to fight for the justice issues (higher wages, better conditions) in an industry that we all know has to go away (fast food) but with a vision of what we really want – and led by the workers in the industry. This was a small thing, but it is the kind of organizing we think we need.

The Food Chain Worker’s Alliance is the national campaign that tires to make those connections – from the farmers to the fast-food workers.

There is a narrative in the predominantly white “back to the land,” movement about how we, as a nation, are experiencing a generational loss of farmers. That most family farmers are aging out and industrial agriculture has taken over more and more of our food production. There are a ton of young, white, well-intentioned farmers buying land and starting these farms. But one thing that I always point out is that we have all the farmers we need, we just call them farm-workers because they are not in control of the land. Of course, running a farm is a much bigger lift than just knowing how to grow, but there is a deep tradition of peasant farmers in the US from other home countries that could be planted in this soil to grow a new food system –but it will take policy and action that changes the way land is held an how land is used. (I fully realize this is the same argument I made in the housing module, but it is the same problem).

Via Campesina has two important slogans. “Small Farmers cool the planet.” “Small Farmers feed the world.” Both are true. Industrial agriculture is just mining for calories, and the calories are subsidized by exploitation, pollution and habitat destruction, all of which lead to greater hunger and a hotter planet.

(this isn’t exactly what I wrote the first time, but here it is!)

Land. Food. Power.

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Sorry that my contribution is late. I’m in a motel room with Ila on my way to LA.

I will start by saying that I am a big fan of La Via Campesina because they fundamentally connect land, food and power – not just the question of ensuring that everyone eat, but that the fundamental questions around food sovereignty are about ownership, scale, community – basically – the violence of enclosure.

The strategies of La Via are finding there way into the US in a host of different ways. In the case of the work of Saru and ROC – the idea of not just fighting for food chain workers, but recognizing that the conditions for food-chain workers will never fundamentally change unless the nature of ownership changes is a good example. The work to develop COLORS and other attempts at worker ownership in various aspects of the food-chain is in that tradition. Unfortunately, Saru has not had positive things to say about their experience with coop development, and has been very critical of the model based on her (in my opinion) limited experience. That said, she is now working with her partner, Zachary Norris from Ella Baker Center on a food justice, worker justice/ownership project with formerly incarcerated folks, which I’m very excited about. (but I digress, as Chris would say).

I’m interested in us bridging the gap between the immediate justice issues in the food system and the more fundamental issues of Land Reform, ownership and power.

I want to share a few campaign that I know of and have been involved in that I think are helpful illustrations of things we can do – or ways we can build a movement, particularly in the urban context – that can try to do both.

In Oakland, we have an Oakland Climate Action Coalition that was developed to advance an Energy and Climate Action Plan for the city that was rooted in Climate Justice principles. As part of that, we knew that because climate “changes everything,” we could touch so much more than just GHG emissions in our plan. While we didn’t win everything in the plan, we were able to advance significant improvement in municipal zero-waste, transit and food systems. One thing we fought for on the food side was, “10% of all fruits and vegetables consumed in Oakland be grown in Oakland,” and to justify that claim we used a food-miles analysis to show that it woudl

Urban Land Reform, Housing as a Human Right and Community Land Trust

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I’m going to focus on Urban Land Reform, Housing as a Human Right, and Community Land Trusts.

I really appreciated the way John E. Davis laid out the different dimensions of land reform in the “Reallocating Equity,” article, looking at the three types of land reform. This resonates deeply with the way I’ve been talking about Urban Land Reform for several years, but hadn’t actually seen it written up in this way. I think of the three types of land reform as:

  • changing who owns land (deconcentrating the ownership of land from a few to many land owners)
  • changing the use of land (preserving land for agriculture or prioritizing rental housing over condos)
  • changing the structures of how land is held and governed (moving land into public hands, restricting speculation, etc.)

This actually maps onto a strategic framework for action that is modeled after the MST (Landless Peasants Movement) in Brazil. The MST is a political land reform movement that is made up of nearly 2 million people living in 30,000 autonomous settlements throughout Brazil. The MST three part strategy is to Occupy, Improve, Contest the Title. The peasants occupy the underutilized lands of large landowners (very few mega-owners control most of the agricultural land in Brazil) and immediately begin working the land. They build settlements and improve the land through work. This “sweat equity,” is what gives them both the moral standing and the legal standing to contest the title within the courts. This legal contestation is based on changes to the Brazilian constitution in 1988 (I believe) that requires that land actually create social benefit or perform a social function. I don’t know the whole history, but there was massive dispossession of peasants from land in the 60’s during the military dictatorship, and as that came to and end, the new language was included in the constitution.

My point here is that this idea of combining the different types of land reform towards a comprehensive strategy towards not just the redistribution of land but fundamental changes in the way land is held and governed is well established, and many are bringing that practice to the US in various ways. One important thing to note about the MST is that these communities are self-governing; organized from the family unit up to the settlement unit and then in a regional and national congress that directs the movement. So this isn’t just about “improving conditions,” it is fundamentally about exercising new economic rights.

This is something that I think is critical. So much of the readings are about “Housing as a Human Right,” but the policy strategies that are proposed, while absolutely essential, are not actually about exercising/executing on Housing as a Human Right.

I really like the Right to the City campaing, and the policy framework laid out in, “Rise of the Renter Nation,” gets at key aspects, including restricting speculation, keeping people in their homes (just cause eviction, rent control, etc.) – but fundamentally, if w are going to say that “Housing is a Human Right,” then the only way to test that right is to exercise it in a way that is contrary to the existing rights (speculation, private property) that infringe upon that right and claim pre-emption over the right to housing.

I want to give a couple really good examples of ways in which the right to housing asserted/exercises that I think can better articulate what I’m getting at.

TAKE BACK THE LAND

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U_tOP8WkZFk

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PbWIlHryIGc

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=skZgEEY1UWE

These are all short videos of my friend Max Remeau, one of the founders of Take Back the Land, talking about housing as a human right and publicly moving on that right.

In 2006, a group of homeless folks in Miami joined forces with, “The Center for Pan African Development,” headed by Max Remeau, and occupied vacant public land right next to vacant public housing. They built a shanty village called, “Umoja Village,” which they held for more than 6 months before winning permanent control over the land from Miami-Dade County. The entire basis of their struggle with to take the land and use it to public benefit. Instead of demanding access to housing, they asserted control over the land. When the police came to arrest them on the first day, they legally thwarted the cops by using a little known law that protects the right to do life sustaining activity on public land (The Pottinger Act, I think it is called). Using this law and a permanent, self-governed, democratic occupation by almost exclusively homeless folks, they were able to win the land. After the victory, there was a fire and the shanty burned down, so they ended up walking away from it. They learned some very important lessons about self-organizing, democratic governance and what it takes to truly control land. I was honored to help them with the direct action design and ongoing work with them.

In 2008, when the housing crisis took off, Take Back the Land shifted from taking small bits of land to taking over vacant houses and moving houseless folks into them – insisting that the right to housing supersedes the right to speculate. This evolved, by 2010, to include eviction defense. (I created the direct action training guide for TBTL, and trained hundreds of folks in how to take-over vacant homes.)

What is really interesting here is that part of the vision was not just to keep folks in their homes or assert the right to housing, but to work with folks who were facing eviction or foreclosure to keep them in their homes, but then the land should be turned over to a Community Land Trust as part of the campaign. What this allows for is people get to stay in their homes and the community can come together around them to defend them – in exchange, when the Bank gives in, the land is turned over to a land trust. The family gets the key securities that folks seek with property (as per the CLT framework laid out in the Davis article: stability, right to reside across generations, right to the value of improvements made through labor and investment, etc.) but the land is permanently taken out of the speculative market, creating the land reform needed.

We were not very successful. I would argue that the main reason we were not successful was not because of how hard the fight was going to be and what it means to assert the right to housing, but primarily because of movement infighting between different forces working on housing. If we had all worked together in that movement, we would have not only made some real models of land reform rooted in movement building, but had a much stronger platform from which to fight for Housing as a Human Right. *there is much more to this story, but I’ll stop here.

EMINENT DOMAIN

In 1984, The Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative, became the first and only (till today) grassroots non-profit organization to get the power of Eminent Domain to spark what is one of the most inspiring land reform movements in the US. Based in Roxbury, Massachusetts, DSNI began taking over burned out homes and redeveloping them into a massive Land Trust and cooperative housing development in a very low income community. All the residents are members and run the organization, which also does political advocacy. What is amazing, is the use of the power of the people (almost always through government) to take underutilized land that could be put to higher use through eminent domain. This is a legal tool to take land from private owners for public benefit. Owners are entitled to fair compensation, but that is always adjudicated – and in this case, people were burning down houses to get insurance money, so the seizing of the land was cheap. Eminent domain is ALMOST ALWAYS used by private interests or for large public infrastructure. People loose their homes to eminent domain for malls, freeways, high-rises, etc. DNSI built the power to get Eminent Domain and use it for the people, creating a permanently organized community (similar to Bhoodan and Gramdan movements in India) by taking huge amounts of land off the market.

Now, the City of Richmond, CA is looking at the use of eminent domain to seize underwater mortgages from banks and re-finance them to keep people in their homes. They would seize the banks’ assets for public benefit. One of the proposals on the table is that if you are protected through this eminent domain, then the land would go into a Community Land Trust and you would continue to have permanent rights to reside. This is taking the TBTL model and combing it with eminent domain AND doing it at a municipal scale, thereby asserting the right of a community to self-govern. There is a clear crisis of jurisdiction, because to seize these mortgages, the Banks argue, is a violation of their rights under state and federal law. In this way, the right to housing is being asserted locally – creating a revolutionary opportunity.

I think we need to intervene on all fronts – from the reform policies that help stabilize housing for folks and confront the further corporatization of land and housing; but we also need to aim towards strategies that more fundamentally contest the moral foundation of the current system of property rights over human rights. Housing as a Human Right has the potential to further expand that larger fight.

First GROWTH poster

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Hello folks,

Here’s the first of a series of posters that are not very good. I went with a “Rapid Prototyping Model,” and used the method of rapid iteration shared at the residency. I came up with several scribbles and explored a few of them.

I worked on one based on, “If it is too big to fail, it is too big to exist.” This is a slogan we were using during the 2008 meltdown/bail-out that also got picked up by Bernie Sanders. I also explored a theme on “Bubble Economics,” and the idea that all bubbles burst, and we are on the bring of “bursting the mother of all bubbles.” Within that, there are interesting themes around “inflation,” “over-inflation,” etc. I also thought about Structural Adjustment as “The Rack” (i.e. medieval torture device) with part of it labeled as “debt, privatization, etc.” But that was outside of my skill-set.

I landed on a “Cycle of Strife vs Cycle of Life” theme. I put together the cycle of strife poster (which could have much better imagery, of course; that explores the process that drives growth and the human and ecological consequences. In general, I find that the discussion of growth tend to focus on “you can’t have infinite growth on a finite planet,” but what tends to be missing is the fact that growth inherently and always eradicates diversity. Corporate consolidation, for example, is a growth mechanism that eliminates diversity in the market, which creates precariousness. Big box stores, and the growth of Walmart inherently destroys the economic diversity of small businesses. Then there is the larger growth paradigm of globalization – bringing every community on the planet into a single economic form, and that also destroys diversity.

I am still working on the “Cycle of Life” poster (which we have at MG, but I figured I should create a new one). This is the idea not of “degrowth,” as the alternative to growth, but “nurturing economic diversity” as the alternative to growth. I do think much of the degrowth language and values are about nurturing economic diversity, but often don’t make that broader economic and cultural diversity the central premise/argument. It is there, for sure, but I guess degrowth being a negative frame (you can not talk about regrowth without evoking growth first) misses the chance to lead with vision.

The premise of “Cycle of Life” economic wheel includes, “decentralize activity (create more and more niche, which allows for diversity), democratize (many readings and videos on this, but basically, put people in control of the decisions that effect their daily lives, from the workplace to the statehouse), diversify (even in a decentralized economy, you must have diversity of economic activity in the community), reduce and redistribute resources (we must damper down our consumption in an equitable way).”  hmm. That is a run on sentence. Oh well, it is a blog.

Okay, I’ll upload this first poster and then scan my drawings.GDP poster

my role in urban sustainable economies and a theory of change question

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My role in sustainable urban economies is, I think, primarily in supporting organizing strategies and movement building towards the reorganization of “management of home” so that it is realigned with principles of ecology (zero waste, dynamic balance, cooperation and mutually beneficial relationships, diversity, form-follows-function, “sheds,” flexible boundaries not rigid borders, etc.)

To that end, my work has centered on development of movement infrastructure to support cooperative economic activity and Urban Land Reform.

On the infrastructure side, my primary focus in that work is bridging the gap between community-based organizing and economic development, particularly in the form of non-extractive finance and other supports to community-controlled economic activity. This involves working with grassroots member-led organizing to support the political education and technical support to create visionary economic activity in their communities. I am privileged to work with folks in Black Mesa Arizona on their Just Transition strategies away from coal mining towards Navajo owned clean energy. I also get to work with organizations in Richmond and many other places on worker-coop development. But the cooperative economy isn’t enough if we are not trying to build power to transform the very questions of governance in the economy, and realigning the purpose of the economy with the ecological imperatives – such as building soil, creating healthier communities, cleaning up our water ways, reducing our resource consumption, phasing out destructive technologies from factory farms and pharmaceuticals to drones and prisons (a particularly heinous social technology). I want to be clear that by cooperative economics I mean economy in the “management of home,” sense. I really enjoyed going back over Naomi Klein’s chapters from Shock Doctrine and it reminded me that one of the really important responses to “disaster capitalism” is “disaster collectivism.” That communities have organized ways to meet their needs and manage their relationships so that they are both less dependent on the terms set by corporations and their government lap-dogs, AND are more able to fight back against the well established plans to remake communities. Part of my work on sustainable urban economy is to develop infrastructure & strategies – as sort of Blueprint for Resilience – that can be a counter to the blueprint of disaster capitalism. I think in this work, I’m trying to get us to a place where we are asserting new economic rights – including the right to capital.

Related to the development of cooperative economic infrastructure we also need Urban Land Reform, which has to also include water reform and must recognize the relationship between the urban and the rural. I want to say a bit about my perspective on Urban Land Reform. I was really excited by the way in which Gilda’s article raised the question of land reform in LA, but wanted to see the “back side” of the poster, to learn about how Urban Land Reform was defined in that context. When we talk about Land Reform we can be talking about any of the following things, or any combination of the following things (and I’m sure there are more):

  • Changing how land is used –
  • Changing who controls land –
  • Changing how land is controlled –

Examples of changing how land is used include things such as the LA River Revitalization, or rules that allow for more urban agriculture. One could even argue that new bike-lanes, fruit-trees on public land, elimination of parking, are all ways in which land use can be reformed.

Changing who controls land is, I think, what most folks I interact with think of when they hear “land reform.” This is creating greater equity or diversity in ownership of land. In Zimbabwe, for example, land was taken from large white land-holders and redistributed to many smaller black farmers. This changed who controls land, but didn’t necessarily change the structures of control of land (private ownership). Much of what has been fought for in “urban land reform” over the past two decades, and in particular since 2008, has been to fight to diversify ownership of land, but not necessarily to transform the very structures of ownership, control or governance. When I look at much of the work of Right to The City, the right to remain; to resist displacement, for example, has been focused on these kinds of interventions.

The third kind of land reform is fundamentally a question of how land title/tenure is held and governed. In this sense of land reform, which is what I work on, we are not only interested in more urban agriculture and more diverse and stable communities, but that land is taken out of private ownership and returned to the commons. (I could go off here on enclosure and the commons, but I won’t). In this sense, we are seeking to create new ways of holding and governing land collectively and strengthening existing structure, such as Land Trusts.

All of this is getting me to a Theory of Change question about how we go about fundamentally transforming land use, access and governance towards ecological sustainability and equity.

Gihan presents an organizing Theory of Change in his piece on The Right to The City Alliance’s work.

“Systems of power do not change unless they are forced to. The question for me in organizing has been how do we actually translate a moral assertion of rights into a practical demand on power. Effective demands do two things. They weaken the power of existing systems of inequality and strengthen the rights and conditions of those whose rights are at risk.

The difference between a universal assertion of what’s right and a practical demand is that effective demands recognize current power relationships. To be useful, organizing demands must be winnable by our forces and the target of the demands must be capable of conceding and delivering on its promises.”

I have some pretty deep differences with Gihan on this theory of change. I think he is absolutely right in the first part, “Systems of Power do not change unless they are forced to.” But where I differ is in the ideal that, “To be useful, organizing demands must be winnable by our forces and the target of the demands must be capable of conceding and delivering on its promises.”

I believe that the only way to assert a moral right is to exercise it. One can say they have the “right to free speech,” but unless you exercise that right, you will never know whether you have it or not. I think given where we are in terms of ecological and economic crisis; and given that the changes we can achieve within the existing structure of power are constrained to THE VERY PURPOSE of the economy, we must actually organize around exercising new rights that remake the landscape of struggle such that they contest the very question of who is in power and who has the power to define the economy and govern the community. This is about contesting for power, rather than winning concession from power. There is much more I want to say about this, but I’m out of word count (and out of time – gotta get the kids).