Gender Politics in Brazil

This week in North Philly Notes, Pedro A. G. dos Santos and Farida Jalalzai, coauthors of Women’s Empowerment and Disempowerment in Brazil, address how the election of the first female president of Brazil triggered a gendered backlash culminating in her impeachment and ushered in a new era of male political dominance.  

Former Brazilian president Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva recently had several criminal cases against him dropped, positioning him to possibly run against President Jair Bolsonaro in 2022. Lula’s immense popularity and support helped Brazil elect its first female president in 2010, Dilma Rousseff. Rousseff’s presidency is noted for three years of high popularity and a strong economy followed by three years of economic and political chaos and eventual impeachment in 2016. While she was never found guilty of corruption in a criminal court, the political crisis ensnared several politicians: Lula was arrested in 2018, and President of the Chamber of Deputies Eduardo Cunha was impeached and arrested. Since Rousseff’s impeachment, the country is facing its worst economic recession, elected far-right populist Bolsonaro, and has been recognized as one of the countries hit hardest by the pandemic.

Bolsonaro’s election and Lula’s possible presidential run are the latest developments in Brazil’s male-dominated presidential history. Women’s Empowerment and Disempowerment in Brazil: The Rise and Fall of President Dilma Rousseff, examines the six years a woman led the country. Based on a decade of fieldwork and over 150 original interviews with politicians and political experts in Brazil, findings suggest that the ascension of a woman to a powerful and historically masculine institution can affect women in various ways, including triggering vicious backlash against women’s empowerment.

Technically speaking, Rousseff was impeached over a common but questionable budgetary procedure used by previous presidents such as Lula (2003-2010) and Cardoso (1994-2002). Currently, Bolsonaro’s presidency has been riddled with political scandals and possibly impeachable offenses, including a disastrously incompetent response to COVID-19. And while Rousseff is now out of the political spotlight, Lula is being welcomed back to politics with open arms.

As we think about 2022 and the electoral fight between two “strong men,” we must remember the role gender played throughout Rousseff’s presidency. While misogyny was not the sole reason why President Rousseff was ousted, it was an important element in attempting to disempower the Presidenta and consequently disempower women seeking to enter masculine spaces in Brazilian society. 

The economic crisis that deepened significantly in 2013 was a consequence of falling commodity prices and questionable polices from both Lula’s and Rousseff’s administrations. Yet most blamed only Rousseff for the country’s current history-setting recession. As the institutional crisis intensified in 2014 and 2015, questions regarding Rousseff’s intelligence and leadership became a common thread. Many interviewees saw these intensifying at the height of the crisis and an “incompetence” narrative with an overtly gendered tone took hold. Some recalled Rousseff opponents argued that, as a woman, she needed to be removed from power and that this was a cautionary tale about what happens when women are in charge.

Misogyny was present in the impeachment process in both covert and overt ways. In the ten-hour long Chamber of Deputies session voting to start the impeachment process, very few references were made to the actual fiscal crime Rousseff allegedly committed; other reasons proved far more salient. Deputies said they cast their vote to impeach because they wanted to protect Brazil, their constituents, and their families or even to serve God. Many held green and yellow signs stamped with the expression Tchau Querida, which means “goodbye dear.” The condescending use of the word querida goes beyond mere political satire and into the world of misogynistic tropes against women in power.

Sexism and misogyny went beyond subtle jokes. One Deputy called Rousseff a jararaca, a venomous snake. In Brazil, this is a sexist term to describe women. Making no attempt to hide its misogyny, the speech met applause on the floor. The use of this derogatory expression, combined with the expression Tchau Querida shows that the deputy and his supporters were not just interested in Rousseff’s alleged impeachable offenses, but in degrading the President because of her gender.

Attempts to disempower Rousseff occurred long before the impeachment. The most infamous example was a car decal popularized the year the proceedings. It simulated sexual assault against the president. The decal was meant to protest another increase in gas prices. Such protests have happened before and after Rousseff’s presidency, with the difference being that male presidents such as Michel Temer or Jair Bolsonaro never saw their faces featured on a car decal simulating a sexual act.

The current conversation surrounding the 2022 presidential election feature as front-runners two men: one a former president who can still have his political rights stripped if the decision to drop charges against him is reversed; the other is the current president whose administration is marred by political scandals and a complete failure to protect the country from the pandemic. At least they can rest assure that their gender identity will not be used as a weapon against them.

Celebrating Women’s History Month

This week in North Philly Notes, we celebrate Women’s History Month. Use promo code TWHM21 for 30% off all our Women’s Studies titles. Sale ends April 15, 2021.

Anna May Wong: Performing the Modern, by Shirley Jennifer Lim, shows how Anna May Wong’s work shaped racial modernity and made her one of the most significant actresses of the twentieth century.

The Cost of Being a Girl: Working Teens and the Origins of the Gender Wage Gap, by Yasemin Besen-Cassino, traces the origins of the gender wage gap to part-time teenage work, which sets up a dynamic that persists into adulthood.

Feminist Post-Liberalism, by Judith Baer, reconciles liberalism and feminist theory.

Feminist Reflections on Childhood: A History and Call to Action, by Penny A. Weiss, recovers a history of feminist thought and activism that demands greater voice and respect for young people.

Good Reasons to Run: Women and Political Candidacy, edited by Shauna L. Shames, Rachel I. Bernhard, Mirya R. Holman, and Dawn Langan Teele, how and why women run for office.

Gross Misbehavior and Wickedness: A Notorious Divorce in Early Twentieth-Century America, by Jean Elson, a fascinating story of the troubled marriage and acrimonious divorce of Nina and James Walker elucidates early twentieth-century gender and family mores.

Motherlands: How States Push Mothers Out of Employment, by Leah Ruppanner challenges preconceived notions of the states that support working mothers.

Savoring the Salt: The Legacy of Toni Cade Bambara, edited by Linda Janet Holmes and Cheryl A. Wall, an anthology that celebrates the life and work of a major African American writer.

Their Day in the Sun: Women in the Manhattan Project, by Ruth H. Howes and Caroline C. Herzenberg, tells the hidden story of the contribution of women in the effort to develop the atomic bomb.

Undermining Intersectionality: The Perils of Powerblind Feminism, by Barbara Tomlinson, a sustained critique of the ways in which scholars have engaged with and deployed intersectionality.

Women Take Their Place in State Legislature: The Creation of Women’s Caucuses, by Anna Mitchell Mahoney, investigates the opportunities, resources, and frames that women utilize to create legislative caucuses.

Women’s Empowerment and Disempowerment in Brazil: The Rise and Fall of President Dilma Rousseff, by Pedro A.G. dos Santos and Farida Jalalzai, explains what the rise and fall of Brazil’s first and only female president can teach us about women’s empowerment.

Urban renewal began back in 1915?

This week in North Philly Notes, Dennis Gale, author of The Misunderstood History of Gentrification, recounts the history of gentrification (you probably don’t know).

Gentrification—the physical, economic, and social transformation of poor and working class neighborhoods primarily by middle- and upper-income people—remains one of the most controversial topics in urban studies today. A simple Google search of the term turned up nearly ten million hits. By the time that I began researching gentrification in Washington, D.C. in the late 1970s, I had already witnessed its unfolding in Boston. Like most observers, I thought that a new trend was underway. At that time, America’s cities were in crisis and millions of middle-class people were leaving them for the leafy suburbs. The conventional wisdom was that poverty, racial strife, and crime were undermining American urban life.

Although gentrification was far outweighed nationwide by neighborhood decline, it raised hopes that not all middle-class households were abandoning cities. With more research, I learned that gentrification was not a new phenomenon. In fact, its earliest U.S. origins date to about 1915. The Misunderstood History of Gentrification, reframes our understanding of this trend’s origins, its interaction with public policies, and its evolution from “embryonic” to “advanced” gentrification. The critical role played by a burgeoning national historic preservation movement is also documented.  

What we now know as gentrification first gained momentum in Boston, New York, Charleston, New Orleans, and Washington, D.C. a century ago. In each city, an older neighborhood experiencing disinvestment began attracting newcomers who renovated aging housing and generated renewed interest in inner city living. Perhaps believing that this trend was a mere flash in the pan, observers referred to it variously by terms such as “remodeling,” “regeneration” or “revitalization.” Since the late 1970s, when it became widely known as “gentrification,” online searches of that word have misled people into assuming that the phenomenon itself first appeared at that time. In fact, it dates back sixty years earlier.

Gentrification confounded conventional wisdom—i.e. that once physical neglect, economic decline, and poor and minority residents appeared, older neighborhoods would inevitably spiral downward to the status of “slums.” As official thinking went, only by tearing down slums, relocating their residents and businesses, and building anew, could such places become viable communities. But early gentrification demonstrated that renovation and reuse was not only a feasible alternative, it helped create one of the most desirable neighborhoods in each of the five cities in which it first appeared. And with time, it spread to other neighborhoods in those communities. Moreover, wherever it emerged, the process evolved with little, if any, government financing or bureaucratic administration.

But there’s more. By the late 1940s Congress grappled with the urban crisis by enacting the Urban Redevelopment program. It stipulated that cities could receive federal funds if they completely demolished and cleared older neighborhoods, displaced most existing residents and businesses, and rebuilt with modern architecture and infrastructure. The subtext was clear: only by destroying a neighborhood, could it be “saved.” Gentrification’s lessons—rehabilitating older structures, retaining their historic architecture and scale, and developing a diverse mix of existing and new residents—were written off as a recipe for failure.  

Even after Congress revised Redevelopment, renaming it Urban Renewal, the insights gained from early gentrification were largely ignored. Meanwhile, over the 1950s and 1960s, gentrification was gradually spreading. And opposition to Urban Renewal and other issues led to civil unrest in dozens of cities. Reacting, Congress scrapped the program in the mid-1970s and federal funds were targeted for housing rehabilitation, neighborhood reuse, and greater socioeconomic and racial diversity in declining areas. The new policies rejected large-scale demolition and adopted others that were more compatible with the “reuse and rehabilitate” dynamics of gentrification.

The first American cities in which gentrification surfaced were all located on the East or Gulf coasts. By the 1960s and 1970s though, the trend was metastasizing to San Francisco, Chicago, Seattle, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Toronto, and Vancouver. Public officials were realizing that gentrification posed one essential part of a new strategy to revitalize the nation’s cities. By that time, hundreds of millions of dollars had been misspent on Urban Renewal—money that could have been used to rehabilitate neighborhoods for a combination of new and existing residents and businesses. As The Misunderstood History of Gentrification shows, the relationship between gentrification and Urban Renewal is widely misunderstood today.  

Gentrification demonstrated that not all middle-class people were fleeing cities. It showed that some were eager to live in mixed income and culturally diverse areas. The challenge for public policy has been to find ways to build and maintain socially and economically vibrant communities. Gentrification is a necessary, but not sufficient, ingredient in the revitalization of America’s cities. President Biden, his domestic policy advisor, Susan Rice, and his nominee for Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Marcia Fudge, are well advised to heed the lessons about urban growth and change evolving over the past century. Avoid policy myopia at all costs. The story of the nation’s cities didn’t begin in 2021. In short, history (still) matters.

Considering electric vehicle initiatives

This week in North Philly Notes, Rachel Krause and Christopher Hawkins, coauthors of Implementing City Sustainability, consider the administrative complexity that local governments face to implement sustainability efforts.

Between President Biden’s announcement about replacing the federal government fleet with US-made electric vehicles, General Motors’ recent plans to eliminate the production of light-duty cars and trucks with tail-pipe emissions by 2035, and a few well-placed super bowl ads, electric vehicles are experiencing an upswing in popular attention.

This timing, which parallels the United States’ recommitment to international climate protection goals, is not a coincidence. An estimated 17% of the country’s total annual greenhouse gas emissions come from light-duty passenger vehicles, making their decarbonization essential to achieving larger mitigation efforts. A transition away from gas-powered cars and trucks, along with a simultaneous transition towards clean electricity, is considered by many to be the most feasible route to decarbonizing the transportation sector.

Articles on the future of electric vehicles frequently lead with statements of imperative and possibility only to follow with a litany of challenges that need to be overcome prior to meaningful progress. To a degree, this post follows that typical format, but focuses on a single under-examined consideration: the administrative complexity that local governments face during efforts to implement policies and integrate infrastructure supporting the widespread use of electric vehicles. For example, the setup of a relatively standard city-wide vehicle charging system would likely require on-going collaboration from members of local planning, transportation, and public works departments, not to mention the elected and top managerial leadership who establish general priorities and allocate resources accordingly. The scope of actors and complexity of their interactions would be significantly greater in cities aiming to facilitate electric vehicle integration in a manner that is broadly inclusive and equitable.

In Implementing City Sustainability, we examine the administrative challenges associated with implementing initiatives that necessitate the active input of multiple semi-independent units across an organization. Electric vehicle initiatives are one example (of many) where fuzzy boundaries of responsibility, the presence of externalities, and a potential lack of departmental buy-in can stymie progress on organization-wide goals.

In the book, a case study of the City of Oakland, California provides relevant insight around the implementation of a broad electric vehicles initiative. From the outset, it is worth noting that sustainability efforts in Oakland prioritize equity. Led by “Sustainable Oakland,” a small unit within the City’s Public Works department, programmatic priorities aim to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions in ways that also address the city’s historic and racial inequities. This approach is explicitly spelled out in the city’s Equitable Climate Action Plan (ECAP). In this context, the city’s vehicle electrification policies have focused on ensuring that the approximately 60% of Oakland residents who live in rented multi-family units will have convenient access to charging infrastructure. This availability can in turn facilitate a locally robust used car market for electric vehicles, making them a financially and logistically viable option for a much larger segment of the population. 

In 2017, Oakland’s city council passed an ordinance requiring that all newly constructed multi-family and non-residential buildings include charging infrastructure for plug-in electric vehicles. Extensive conversations were held with renters, property owners, developers, and utility company representatives prior to this ordinance’s final drafting and passage. Its successful implementation, guided by the ECAP, will rely on the active cooperation of multiple city departments. Although implementation logistics and cross-departmental collaboration are often not headline-grabbing topics–at least not when they are working correctly—they are key to the achievement of many sustainability initiatives, including those related a wide-spread transition to electric vehicles.

Implementing City Sustainability delineates four paths forward that cities can use to successfully chart their way through the adoption and implementation of integrative sustainability strategies. Whether it is designing and implementing a plan to make electric vehicle charging stations available to apartment dwellers in Oakland, improving the energy efficiency of large commercial buildings in Orlando, or establishing green infrastructure in Kansas City, how cities organize their sustainability efforts to obtain cooperation from the range of involved partners is integral to success.

The News of New York City’s Death is Greatly Exaggerated

This week in North Philly Notes, Francois Pierre-Louis Jr. and Michael Alan Krasner, two of the coauthors of Immigrant Crossroads, write about immigrant groups in Queens, New York.

Since the advent of COVID-19 and the exodus of affluent New Yorkers to the suburbs, some people have predicted that New York will no longer be the city that never sleeps. Our book Immigrant Crossroads has shown the contrary, documenting and analyzing the many fascinating dynamics of community and political activism in this unique borough.

For immigrant families that had endured the four years of the Trump administration living away from their loved ones, the Biden presidency brings new hope and renewed optimism that what Queens was already showing to America will continue. That the vibrant growth exemplified by the borough of Queens and temporarily impeded will flourish again.

Since the 1990s Queens has become the urban epicenter for contemporary immigration—a place that boasts immigrants from 140 countries. While Manhattan drew millions of tourists and mega-rich condo buyers, the city’s four other Boroughs saw the influx of working- and middle-class newcomers from every continent. Places that used to be unattractive to developers and commercial interests suddenly became prime real estate and desired places for immigrants and the middle class to live. Queens led the way in this transformation from being an enclave dominated by the white working class to being perhaps the most diverse aggregation of human beings on the planet. Queens has become an epicenter of  immigrant striving, and activism, presenting an alternative to the nativist vision pursued by Trump’s  propagandists and enforcers.

Hollowed out by white flight, in the 1980s and 90s, New York City’s outer Boroughs have been revitalized with the influx of new immigrants from Asia, Latin America, Caribbean and Africa. Neighborhoods such as Flushing, Bayside, and Laurelton have emerged as the epicenter of New York City’s Asian American community. Within a decade, Flushing has become one of the city’s major commercial and banking center for the Asian community. Corona and Jackson Heights became destinations for those from Latin America, and Astoria became the home for Russians and Eastern Europeans and those from the Middle East. All across the borough of Queens, immigrants remade blighted neighborhoods into thriving communities.

As major economic developments took place, new forms of immigrant activism emerged in Queens’ other neighborhoods, a process that is remaking the social, cultural, economic, and political fabric of the city. Take the case of Corona, East Elmhurst, Jackson Heights, and Flushing where seventy-five percent of the residents are people of color. When the City announced in 2012, that it would give away portions of Flushing Meadows Park to private developers as a way to revitalize the local economy, a coalition of community-based groups and faith-based organizations created the Fairness Coalition of Queens to fight the Bloomberg administration’s economic development agenda. Forcing the cancellation of a sterile soccer stadium and other mega projects, the Fairness Coalition asserted its own power and priorities to call attention to the need for affordable housing and the checking of rampant  gentrification.

A similar pattern has developed in national immigration politics. Drawing on a heavily foreign-born population (One-in-two residents in Queens are foreign-born, ranking it second in the nation for percentage of foreign-born residents), activist Dreamer organizations have lobbied successfully for state legislation and led the fight for similar action from the federal government. Among the first set of actions by the Biden Administration are a rash of executive orders and a far-reaching legislative proposal to not only undo Trump’s harsh anti-immigrant policies but to usher in human pathways to immigrant inclusion.

Pioneering efforts on health care accessibility, an issue made salient by the Covid crisis also began in Queens where two city-wide immigrant advocacy organizations successfully organized to pass the Language Access in Pharmacies Act in 2009 and in 2012 mandating pharmacies provide comprehensive translation and interpretation services to patients with limited English proficiency.

As these examples suggest, the true impact of the recent surge of new immigrant groups is complex, contradicting partisan stereotypes and xenophobic pandering. Serious scholarship from varied disciplines reveals the richly textured contributions that resurgent nativism has sought to obliterate. Our volume demonstrates that being an Immigrant Crossroads has led New York City to flourish and suggests a path that the entire country would do well to consider following to revive the national motto, “Out of many, one.”

Celebrating Black History Month

This week in North Philly Notes, we celebrate Black History Month with an entry highlighting some of our African American Studies and Understanding Racism titles, which are available at 30% off by using promo code TBHM2021 through 3/31/2021.

Black Identity Viewed from a Barber’s Chair: Nigrescence and Eudaimonia, by William E. Cross Jr., revisits the author’s ground-breaking model on Black identity awakening known as Nigrescence, connects W. E. B. DuBois’s concept of double consciousness to an analysis of how Black identity is performed in everyday life, and traces the origins of the deficit perspective on Black culture to scholarship dating back to the 1930s. He follows with a critique showing such deficit and Black self-hatred tropes were always based on extremely weak evidence.

Do Right by Me: Learning to Raise Black Children in White Spaces, by Valerie I. Harrison and Kathryn Peach D’Angelo, invites readers into a conversation on how best to raise black children in white families and white communities. For decades, Katie D’Angelo and Valerie Harrison engaged in conversations about race and racism. However, when Katie and her husband, who are white, adopted Gabriel, a biracial child, Katie’s conversations with Val, who is black, were no longer theoretical and academic. The stakes grew from the two friends trying to understand each other’s perspectives to a mother navigating, with input from her friend, how to equip a child with the tools that will best serve him as he grows up in a white family.

Biz Mackey, a Giant behind the Plate: The Story of the Negro League Star and Hall of Fame Catcher, by Rich Westcott, is the first biography of arguably the greatest catcher in the Negro Leagues. A celebrated ballplayer before African Americans were permitted to join Major League Baseball, Biz Mackey ranks as one of the top catchers ever to play the game. Using archival materials and interviews with former Negro League players, baseball historian Rich Westcott chronicles the catcher’s life and remarkable career in Biz Mackey as well as providing an in-depth look at Philadelphia Negro League history.

Civic Intimacies: Black Queer Improvisations on Citizenship, by Niels van Doorn, maps the political and personal stakes of Black queer lives in Baltimore. Because members of the Black queer community often exist outside conventional civic institutions, they must explore alternative intimacies to experience a sense of belonging. Civic Intimacies examines how—and to what extent—these different forms of intimacy catalyze the values, aspirations, and collective flourishing of Black queer denizens of Baltimore.

God Is Change: Religious Practices and Ideologies in the Works of Octavia Butler, Edited by Aparajita Nanda and Shelby L. Crosby (forthcoming in June) explores Octavia Butler’s religious imagination and its potential for healing and liberation. The editors of and contributors to God Is Change heighten our appreciation for the range and depth of Butler’s thinking about spirituality and religion, as well as how Butler’s work—especially the Parable and Xenogenesis series—offers resources for healing and community building. God Is Change meditates on alternate religious possibilities that open different political and cultural futures to illustrate humanity’s ability to endure change and thrive.

The Great Migration and the Democratic Party: Black Voters and the Realignment of American Politics in the 20th Century, by Keneshia N. Grant frames the Great Migration as an important economic and social event that also had serious political consequences. Keneshia Grant created one of the first listings of Black elected officials that classifies them based on their status as participants in the Great Migration. She also describes some of the policy/political concerns of the migrants. The Great Migration and the Democratic Party lays the groundwork for ways of thinking about the contemporary impact of Black migration on American politics.

The Man-Not: Race, Class, Genre, and the Dilemmas of Black Manhood, by Tommy J. Curry, is a justification for Black Male Studies. He posits that we should conceptualize the Black male as a victim, oppressed by his sex. The Man-Not, therefore, is a corrective of sorts, offering a concept of Black males that could challenge the existing accounts of Black men and boys desiring the power of white men who oppress them that has been proliferated throughout academic research across disciplines. Curry challenges how we think of and perceive the conditions that actually affect all Black males.

Mediating America: Black and Irish Press and the Struggle for Citizenship, 1870-1914, by Brian Shott, explores the life and work of T. Thomas Fortune and J. Samuel Stemons as well as Rev. Peter C. Yorke and Patrick Ford—respectively two African American and two Irish American editor/activists in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Historian Brian Shott shows how each of these “race men” (the parlance of the time) understood and advocated for his group’s interests through their newspapers.

Labor unions and national reform

This week in North Philly Notes, Dominic Wells, author of From Collective Bargaining to Collective Begging, considers how labor unions will fare under President Biden.

Labor unions have been on a steady decline for decades, but with the Biden administration there is a renewed hope in the labor movement for a reverse of the trend. Joe Biden has promised to be a pro-union president, proposing to strengthen the right to organize and to hold employers accountable for violating labor laws. 

Although there is no doubt a Biden administration is good news for organized labor, there is good reason to question whether Biden’s pro-labor agenda will come into fruition. Democrats have been promising to protect collective bargaining without delivering on those promises for years. While in office, President Barack Obama promised to join the picket line if American workers were being denied their rights, but when historically pro-union states in the Midwest began stripping away collective bargaining rights, Obama left his picket sign in his closet. 

The strength of organized labor today is in the public sector, which is largely governed by state legislation. In my book, From Collective Bargaining to Collective Begging, I analyze the expansion and restriction of collective bargaining rights for public employees from 1960 into the 2010s. I show that there was a time when republicans, at least at the state-level, viewed collective bargaining in the public sector as a legitimate practice. Faced with consistent strike activity from public employees, republican governors and state legislatures were willing to support collective bargaining. Pressure from unions and provisions that prohibited striking helped make collective bargaining legislation bipartisan in many states. 

By the 2010s, bipartisan support for labor unions was nearly nonexistent. Republican state legislatures, with the help of model legislation from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), led efforts to weaken public employee unions. In From Collective Bargaining to Collective Begging, I analyze two of the most high profile cases in stripping away the rights of public employees, Ohio Senate Bill 5 and Wisconsin Act 10. These cases demonstrate how labor unions can be successful (or unsuccessful) in protecting their rights and the Ohio case shows that, though unlikely, a bipartisan coalition to protect collective bargaining is still possible. 

Victories for labor unions in the 21st Century have mostly equated to protecting their own existence. There have been few legislative victories expanding rights in recent years. One of the rare successes for organized labor was in Nevada, where rights were extended to state employees in 2019. Outside of formal bargaining rights, teacher unions won raises and other favorable legislation following strike efforts in West Virginia, Arizona, and Colorado in 2018.    

A Biden administration is certainly better for organized labor than the Trump administration, in the public sector and private sector. It means labor unions will have a seat at the table again. It means a more labor friendly National Labor Relations Board. It means there will not be a national right-to-work law. However, if history is any indication, it is unlikely that there will be any national legislation expanding collective bargaining and the right to organize. These battles will likely continue to be fought in state legislatures. Biden is proposing federal guarantees to the right to bargain for teachers, firefighters, and police officers, but his administration and the new Democratic Party controlled Congress will be focused on the public health crisis at the start of his term. If major labor reforms at the national-level are going to happen, they will need to happen in the first two years before Democrats likely lose their slim majorities in at least one chamber of Congress. There is reason for members of the labor movement to be hopeful for national reform, but as a member of a public employee union myself, I will not be holding my breath. 

Protesting Inequalities across America

This week in North Philly Notes, Heather McKee Hurwitz, author of Are We the 99%?, reveals her findings about the Occupy movement and lessons for contemporary activists:

The nearly constant activism of the 2010’s is one indication that more Americans recognize how profoundly inequalities shape our society. Their protests demonstrate frustration about inequalities and demand social change.

The #MeToo movement exposed the hushed experiences of women in the entertainment and media industries and a range of other contexts. Women tweeted en masse to reveal the harassment they endured, which harmed them and stunted their career advancement.

The Black Lives Matter movement has made undeniable Black persons’ disproportionate experiences of hardship and violence. In neighborhoods across the country, groups are marching against police brutality. They are confronting the racism interwoven in their organizations in order to pursue racial justice.

The Occupy movement, which started in 2011, kicked off widespread conversation about class inequality when people left their houses and camped overnight in their town squares—some for months—to demonstrate for economic change. They revealed how the 1% thrived while the majority of families were suffering from the Great Recession. The movement argued that anyone who was not the 1% had a reason to come together. They advocated stricter banking regulations. They argued for taxing the 1%. They protested for relief from student debt. They popularized universal health care. Striving to create changes toward greater economic justice, they called themselves, “We are the 99%.”

Looking back on the last ten years of activism, and nearing the 10-year anniversary of the Occupy movement in 2021, Are We the 99%? examines the diversity of experiences in the movement by analyzing the stories of especially brave women and genderqueer persons from a variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds. By studying dozens of protests and meetings, and reviewing movement newspapers, flyers, blogs, and other archival materials, Are We the 99%? synthesizes lessons from which anyone concerned about inequalities can learn.

While “the 99%” sought to be an innovative inclusive frame to unify a wide range of people, Are We the 99%? reveals the infighting about this 99% identity. By lumping everyone into one big class, some participants argued that the 99% framing erased the particular experiences of women of color, indigenous persons, and other groups with a history of enduring many kinds of inequality (not just based on class) and who had long been advocating for social change.

When the movement’s message focused on a gender-blind and color-blind definition of class inequality, individuals left the main movement organizations. They formed separate subcommittees to address a more holistic view of class as grounded in and inseparable from other forms of inequality – especially sexism and racism. Groups like Women Occupying Wall Street, Decolonize, Safer Spaces, and Occupy the Hood put forward ways of understanding economic inequality as intrinsically intertwined with racism and sexism. Detailed in the book, they created unique protests and brought Occupy to new communities. These and other groups that emerged from within the movement—and supported Occupy—but also critiqued and opposed aspects of the movement – advocated feminist and racial justice-oriented changes to the main movement and society broadly.

Even in Occupy, a progressive social movement, activists themselves recreated some of the gender, race, and class disparities that they were seeking to change. Yet, especially feminists acted quickly and used a new (at the time) tool—Facebook and Twitter—to address the disparities.

Although years before #MeToo and Black Lives Matter, some Occupy activists called for an excavation of racism and sexism from within the Occupy movement itself.

As seemingly more Americans than ever before evaluate how inequalities profoundly shape our society, Are We the 99%? and its free companion instructor’s guide and student study guide open up conversations about activism against disparities, when that activism falls short of addressing complex and intersectional forms of inequality, and suggests ways to improve inclusivity and diversity in activist and other organizations.

On the highway to grandmother’s house? Lessons from early automobile landscapes

This week in North Philly Notes, Amy Finstein, author of Modern Mobility Aloft, considers how American cities used elevated highways as major architectural statements about local growth and modernization in the early 20th century.

Ah, the winter holidays; that time of the year so often defined by highway car-trips to see family and friends—at least pre-COVID-19. Even as many stay home this year, the basic idea of that pattern—easy mobility—remains a cornerstone of modern American identity, and one indebted to a century’s worth of choices about making landscapes accommodate the scale and pace of the automobile.

As an architectural historian, I wondered if there was a way to measure this automotive shift in the history of the built environment. Historians have documented the design and societal evolution of automobiles and car culture; design and planning scholars have detailed the evolution of streets, roadside landscapes, and Interstate highways as interventions supporting our collective automotive enthusiasm. However, most of these examples thrived outside of city centers. Were there architectural projects that brought the prowess of mobility to bear on the physical landscape of existing American cities?

I found part of the answer to this question in my hometown of Boston, MA. From the 1990s through the early 2000s, the city endured the famous “Big Dig,” an enormous public works project that buried and threaded a tunneled 10-lane highway beneath a still-functioning elevated highway, eventually deconstructing and replacing the elevated highway (the Central Artery) with a surface network of public parks. For the fifty years before the Big Dig, the green steel of the Central Artery had provided a mechanized and looming presence in city streets, unabashedly pronouncing the importance of car travel while simultaneously failing to meet the capacity or speed demands of its automotive users. This, I thought, was a landscape that dramatically demonstrated the arrival of automobility in Boston, and the complexities of its lasting impact. Thus, the genesis of Modern Mobility Aloft was born.

With Boston’s Central Artery as my starting point, I honed in on two other examples of constructed roadways whose physical presences and legacies varied from that in Boston: Chicago’s classically-decorated and still-in-use Wacker Drive, and New York’s West Side Elevated Highway, an Art Deco hulk torn down in the 1990s. All three of these examples were designed in the early twentieth century, but faced hurdles about aesthetics, route, and cost that delayed their implementation; and that ultimately provoked their later reconsideration. Modern Mobility Aloft argues that these constructed roads synthesized architecture and engineering at the scale of the American city, and announced the importance of modern mobility to drivers and streetgoers in prominent visual and experiential terms. The book connects debates about design and transportation across disciplines, showing how the infancy of the automobile age laid the groundwork for landscapes and challenges that linger with us still.

Here are some things that can be learned from studying early urban elevated highways:

  • Before federal highway legislation, many highway initiatives originated locally to respond to local concerns for socio-economic and physical progress.
  • Early 20th century architects, engineers, science-fiction writers, and municipal leaders shared enthusiasm for utopian visions of multi-level streets weaving between and through soaring skyscrapers.
  • The insertion of elevated highways in existing cities became one way of realizing pieces of these utopian schemes.
  • Elevated railroads foretold some of the organizational, visual, and experiential problems of elevated highways, but did not dissuade planners from pursuing them.
  • Architects design more than buildings: high-profile designers planned highway superstructures, on-ramps, guardrails, sculptural reliefs, light fixtures, and balustrades.
  • Connections matter: design and transportation consultants brought similar ideas from place to place, spreading certain patterns across diverse landscapes.
  • Architectural modernity can be conveyed by many different visual languages.
  • The examples in Chicago, New York, and Boston define a pattern that is also visible in many other American cities.
  • Early elevated highways foreshadowed patterns of automobile prioritization and social displacement that came to characterize later federal road-planning approaches.
  • Impacted cities still sport the vestiges of early elevated highways—with varying incarnations of automobile dominance, architectural denial, and visible scars defining 21st century urban landscapes.

So, in many ways, American cities served as the testing grounds for new ideas about modern transportation, architecture, and urbanism. Early elevated highways combined these concepts in singular forms. Before highways stretched across the national landscape, they soared above individual cities, providing exciting yet contradictory visions of expected futures.

What’s a mother to do?

This week in North Philly Notes, Leah Ruppanner, author of Motherlands, writes about women who are forced to choose between working and child care.

Emily Tatro is a paralegal working full-time while balancing the demands of three school aged kids. School closures mean she is learning Seesaw, Google classroom, IXL, and RazKids while also writing up legal briefs. She is at the end of her rope.

Emily said: “My everything is suffering and I’m not sure how much longer we can keep this up. As soon as the kids are asleep, I pass out because I’m always bone tired. But, I also feel this pressure to keep up a happy-it’s-all-good face so the kids don’t feel bad or sad or scared because none of it is their fault and I don’t want them to see this pressure.”

Without the support of her mother, she would drop out of work altogether. Working full-time job on top of school closures is unsustainable.

What happens when state governments close schools to stop the spread of a deadly pathogen?

The same as before: mothers step out of employment to manage the care.

My book, Motherlands: How States Push Mothers Out of Employment, shows these patterns are nothing new. Prior to the pandemic, California had some of the highest childcare costs in the nation and some of the shortest school days. Afterschool care? Forget about it—many Californian families need but cannot access afterschool care. These structural impediments mean mothers often reduce work to part-time or drop out altogether.

As Emily says, “Childcare was always hard and now it’s just impossible. In summer, I pay someone to watch the kids and I would lose money on these days.”

These patterns are distinct to many of the states in the heartland where childcare gobbles up less of the family budget, school days are longer and afterschool care is more accessible. The result? More mothers are employed, in part, because they can access more affordable childcare.

As Motherlands shows, California is a gender progressive state and is one of the leaders in the country in empowering women. When women do work, they make more money and have access to higher level professional positions. More women are voted into California’s state legislature and California is one of the few states in the nation that provides its constituents paid parental leave.

So, what is happening here? How can California be both progressive in its gender policies but have some of the worst childcare outcomes?

Motherlands shows states tend to cluster on one of these metrics or the other—either facilitating mother’s employment through childcare resources or empowering women through policies and access to better economic markets. Only a handful of states do both—empower women and provide childcare resources. This means even the progressive states that aim to empower women must do more to support them when they become mothers.

And, now seems to be the time because women like Emily are suffering with closed schools and limited childcare support.

We need employers and governments to invest in, advocate for and execute comprehensive and effective childcare policies.

The pandemic and its impending recession is a major crisis. Within these crises, if we are smart, can come change. Putting childcare as a central policy solution is the only way forward.

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