Religion and politics mix – what matters is how they mix

This week in North Philly Notes, L. Felipe Mantilla, author of How Political Parties Mobilize Religion, writes about the rise of religious political parties.

A glance at global headlines suggests that religion is playing an ever-growing role in electoral politics. Islamist parties have become fixtures in Muslim-majority countries from Morocco to Indonesia, conservative Catholics are entrenched in Poland, Evangelicals flex their political muscles in Brazil, and Hindu nationalists are dominant across much of India. In all these settings, secularists often express fear that the political success of religious groups will threaten democratic institutions and endanger minorities.

My new book, How Political Parties Mobilize Religion: Lessons from Mexico and Turkey, aims to bring some nuance to the debates prompted by the rise of religious political parties. One of its main arguments is that religion often enters the electoral arena, but that it can do so in strikingly different ways. Religious mobilization by political parties is not monolithic, and secular laws and religious leaders can have a great deal of influence on how religious parties behave in practice.

In the United States, for example, the idea of a clear separation between church and state is embedded in American political tradition. Yet religion and partisanship are clearly intertwined. Candidates often speak publicly about faith, craft appeal to religious voters, and place their personal beliefs on public display. While churches risk losing their tax-exempt status if they engage in explicitly partisan activities, these restrictions are widely disregarded in practice. Given electoral laws that favor a two-party system, religious activists operate within broader coalitions rather than form their own party organizations. As a result, both Democrats and Republicans engage in religious mobilization.

Still, there is a great deal of diversity in how political parties engage with religion. Consider the contrast between the religious services attended by Donald Trump and Joseph Biden on the eve of the 2020 election. Biden sat at a pew in St. Joseph on the Brandywine Catholic Church and was treated like a regular parishioner; his presence was not mentioned in the sermon. Trump, attending an evangelical congregation in Las Vegas, was repeatedly praised and blessed, declared to be “lighting a bright light for God and for all those who believe in a good America, a noble America, a righteous America,” and was invited to speak to the congregation.

In my book, I argue that much of this difference can be explained by the contrasting patterns of religious organization among Evangelicals and Catholics. Individual leaders of Evangelical churches can benefit from the fervor and national visibility that brazen partisanship brings, even if their stances alienate most Americans and potentially antagonize elected officials. In contrast, the contemporary Catholic Church is a hierarchical, transnational organization, and as such is more wary of the potential costs of partisanship. Gaining a thousand devout converts by antagonizing millions is fine, perhaps even smart, if you are running a local church but makes little sense if you are leading a world religion.

These differences are not unique to the United States. In Peru’s recent elections, the absence of effective legal restrictions on religious partisanship created an opening for religious political mobilization. In that Catholic-majority country, it led some lay Catholics to launch campaigns based on appeals to religious values and identities. However, Catholic leaders largely withheld their blessing, preferring to make broad statements about the importance of electoral participation. In contrast, many clerics linked with Peru’s rapidly growing Evangelical minority engaged in openly partisan activities, such as praying with specific candidates and organizing events on their behalf.

My book also shows that changes in the rules and regulations governing elections can affect the mobilizing strategies used by religious parties. In 1950s Mexico, electoral rules that disadvantaged opposition parties drove away all but the most committed activists, many of whom were devout Catholics. This left opposition parties dependent on religious activists. As legal reforms gradually made it easier for challengers to gain seats, they began to attract more diverse supporters and the relative influence of religious activists waned. In Turkey in the 1970s, electoral laws gave a competitive edge to small parties. Religious activists took note and formed specialized organizations that catered exclusively to devout voters. However, when constitutional reforms made it harder for these organizations to gain seats in parliament, religious politicians reorganized and moderated their policy proposals to appeal to more mainstream voters. In both cases, religious activists responded strategically to incentives created by electoral laws.

In other words, it makes little sense to support or condemn religious political engagement in general. In democratic settings, religion and political parties are bound to interact. What matters is how political parties engage with religion, and that is something that can be shaped by legal reforms and religious leadership.

The Roots of Migrant Suffering

This week in North Philly Notes, Jamie Longazel and Miranda Cady Hallett, editor of Migration and Mortality, consider the lethal threat U.S. imperialism poses for migrants.

During a June visit to Guatemala, Vice President Kamala Harris had a simple, three-word message for those thinking about migrating to the United States: “Do not come.” Her stern statement received pushback from progressives, but Harris remained unwavering. “Listen,” she said, “I’m really clear we have to deal with the root causes and that is my focus. Period.”

But what exactly are the ‘root causes’ of the so-called migrant crisis? Who in actuality is being harmed and in what ways? Who is benefiting? And what is missing from political rhetoric of this sort?

We take on these questions in our new, edited book, Migration and Mortality. Our central argument is that capitalism, white supremacy, and U.S. imperialism—not poor individual choices or inherently despotic tendencies in the region—are at the root of death and social suffering among migrants in the Americas.

Simply saying “do not come” overlooks how systemic dynamics produce displacement in the Americas. It also changes the narrative. When it becomes an issue of individual choice, we lose sight of all the unnecessary social and biological death migrants experience, not just along the deadly U.S.-Mexico border and in detention centers, but at home, on the streets, and at work—in high-risk extractive industries and on the plantations of large agribusiness.

The Trump administration’s spectacularly harsh policies as well as the exclusion and risks faced by asylum seekers and other migrants during the coronavirus pandemic have brought this violence into sharp focus. Yet Migration and Mortality makes clear that these dynamics, and the harsh and undeniable differential mortality they reproduce, are bipartisan and longstanding.

The current conditions of violence faced by transnational migrants in this hemisphere are the product of long histories of U.S. interventionism. Without apology, ongoing policies from the Monroe Doctrine forward overtly seek regional control and domination, spurring violence and destabilization.

Domestically, brought on by a lethal mix of fearmongering, economic anxieties related to global restructuring, and the continued reactionary response to basic civil and human rights reforms, we’re seeing a rapid rise in xenophobic discourses and policies. Other forms of legal exclusion, too, threaten migrants’ lives: health policies that discriminate on the basis of status and labor law that fails to protect migrant workers, for example.

From our description, you may assume that we, like many others, argue that “the system is broken” and requires comprehensive reform. Our conclusion is a bit different: the system works just as it should for the most powerful and that is why it continues. Immigration policies and enforcement regimes underpin a system designed to give parasitic capitalists and corporations the ability to extract wealth from migrant bodies with impunity.

While this analysis frames the book, the chapters present diverse research reports and essays—drawing on empirical work from public health to cultural anthropology, and bringing critical social theory to bear on the devastating details. While some contributions trace the profiteering of private prison companies, for example, others describe migrants’ experiences of risk and solidarity through qualitative research with impacted communities.

Contributing authors also make a point to stay attuned to migrants’ survival and agency. Because even when non-migrants are sympathetic to the plight of people on the move, we have a tendency to dehumanize, to paint migrants as helpless victims. This is the other thing Harris gets wrong: of course her command won’t cause Guatemalans to relinquish their human urge to survive at all costs. The stories in our book are horrific, to be sure, but each also reveals people fighting back, engaging in collective resistance and personal resilience, and using solidarity and ingenuity to persist—not always surviving as individuals, yet enduring as a collective.

Celebrating National Book Lover’s Day

This week in North Philly Notes, we celebrate National Book Lover’s Day with a collection of Temple University Press titles our staff members cherish.

Bass Line: The Stories and Photographs of Milt Hinton. Many years ago, in 1988, the Press published a collection of stories and photographs from the “dean of bass players,” Milt Hinton. Through this book I got to view the jazz world from an original source as Hinton played for over 50 years with all of the greats—Cab Calloway, Count Basie, Billie Holiday, Dizzy Gillespie, and my idol Sarah Vaughan, just to name a few. Recall that famous photo of Billie Holliday in the recording studio in 1958? Hinton took it! When the book was published, even Paul McCartney said of all the bass players he played with “…none were better than Milt…”  I treasure this TUP book!!—Ann-Marie Anderson, Marketing Director

I cannot possibly choose a favorite, but I’d like to highlight one recent title I’m particularly proud of, John Kromer’s Philadelphia Battlefields: Disruptive Campaigns and Upset Elections in a Changing City. This book demonstrates something special about the Press. Most people know we have a strong list in scholarly titles focused on social change, as well as a top-notch regional trade list, but Kromer’s book nicely bridges these, with engaging stories and a scholarly backbone to teach us important lessons about politics in the city we love and call home.—Aaron Javsicas, Editor-in-Chief

P is for Philadelphia. I love that we published a children’s book that gives an alphabetical tour of our area, but the fact that it is illustrated by the children of Philadelphia makes it so much more special.—Karen Baker, Associate Director and Financial Manager

A Guide to the Great Gardens of the Philadelphia Region A beautifully illustrated look at the gardens in the area in a handheld book. What a wonderful way to reminisce of gardens visited or add to your must-see lists! Grab a copy, go outside, and enjoy!—Irene Imperio, Advertising and Promotions Manager

I wouldn’t dare choose between my projects and authors since I arrived at the Press, so I would point to our backlist title The Philosophy of Alain Locke.—Ryan Mulligan, Editor

I love Palestra Pandemonium. Before I came to Temple, or knew anything about TUP, I gifted this book to several Big 5 fans and Penn alums for whom the Palestra is hallowed ground.—Mary Rose Muccie, Director 

Celeste-Marie Bernier’s Suffering and Sunset. His story, and the sketches and paintings included in this book, are very moving and beautiful.—Kate Nichols, Art Director 

While I have too many favorites to count, in terms of recent publications I would like to give Q & A: Voices from Queer Asian North America a special mention. Working on this new volume that continues on in the spirit of the landmark Q & A: Queer in Asian America is just the type of opportunity that every editor hopes to find. Moreover, it was truly a pleasure shepherding a volume that has all the makings of a landmark volume in its own right.—Shaun Vigil, Editor

May-lee Chai’s poignant memoir, Hapa Girl, is a beautifully written, heartbreaking memoir about a mixed-race family struggling against racism in South Dakota. Chai proves how deep the bonds of family can be but also about her resilience during difficult times. While her story unfolds in the 1980s, it is, sadly, still timely today.—Gary Kramer, Publicity Manager

Cricket Tragic: How the game “seeps into an author’s life”

This week in North Philly Notes, Samir Chopra, author of The Evolution of a Cricket Fan: My Shapeshifting Journey, writes about how the game of cricket informed his life.

A memoir can be a score-settler against real and imagined foes, a confessional from a therapeutic couch, a made-up story to reconcile oneself to the present, to seek exculpation for the many sins we commit in our lives. I suspect my book The Evolution of a Cricket Fan: My Shapeshifting Journey is all these things. Unapologetically.

In my book, through the act of writing a memoir of a fan of the game of cricket, I wanted to clarify the internal world of a dedicated sports fan, but with a difference: I had not had a stable identity through my ‘sports career,’ and so as the game of cricket changed—as it had to, in response to a changing world of politics, culture, technology—so did I, a paired dance of shifting identities that made for some interesting interactions between the two. I wanted to contribute, in my own way, to cricketing literature, a great corpus of writing, dominated by the works of professional writers and its players but not so much by its fans. I sought to do so mostly as an act of personal discovery and understanding but also as clarification and illumination of that entity whose commitment to the game supply its attendant dreams and wellsprings of motivation and passion. Players of the game, we must remember, begin their lives as fans of it first.  

‘Fan,’ it is said, is short for ‘fanatic.’ I do not think of myself as one, but my following of cricket has been described in similar terms: “obsessive” and “cricket tragic.” I suspect this term means, as my book shows, that my following of the sport is a loaded business, that I see much more than just sportsmen on a field, more than just bat making contact with ball, when I see players playing. It means that the game seeps into my life; that I derive lessons from the game for my life; that the changing events in my life influence the interpretations I place on sporting events; that I take the game to illustrate important truths relevant to the ways we live our lives; that the game influences how I view the world and its peoples, and of course, how I view myself.  

A ‘fan’ then, is someone who will laugh in your face if you say something like, “Relax, it’s just a game.” You would not say to an avid reader that a book is “just words on a page,” or “just ink marks on wood pulp,” would you? Once you see that, you see that the sports fan is not watching a game; he is reading and writing a text. He is reading the game, and he is writing himself into its playing and meaning. In doing so, he is changing the game itself because the products of his imagination inform the way the game is understood by others.  

Our lives are a long process of self-construction and self-discovery; cricket has aided me in both these endeavors; It was how I learned geography, history, politics, literature, and indeed, how to write. I am an immigrant, and so I have either multiple homes or none; this displacement always meant that my understanding of a “mere game” would be informed by this absence of a stable political identity, one riven by all too many conflicting imperatives and influences. Cricket was the mirror that let me observe myself as I morphed and transformed; this book is an attempt to reduce that resultant blur just a bit.

Celebrating Pennsylvania Day!

July 20 is National Pennsylvania Day. (Yes, historians, Pennsylvania was admitted to the Union December 12, 1787, the National Day Calendar is honoring each state, in order, each week following July 4). As such, Temple University Press is preparing to celebrate with our books that focus on the Keystone State.

A compilation of a dozen of his fascinating articles showcasing the Keystone State, Pennsylvania Stories—Well Told, by William Ecenbarger, observes that in the quirky state of Pennsylvania, the town of Mauch Chunk changed its name to Jim Thorpe—even though the famous American-Indian athlete never set foot in it. He goes driving with Pennsylvania native John Updike in rural Berks County, Pennsylvania. And he highlights just what makes Pennsylvania both eccentric and great, providing a delightfully intriguing read for natives and curious outsiders alike.

Want to take the state’s temperature before there was COVID? The Health of the Commonwealth:A Brief History of Medicine, Public Health, and Disease in Pennsylvania, by James E. Higgins, provides an overview of medicine and public health in the state. Covering the outbreak of yellow fever in 1793 through the 1976 Legionnaires’ Disease epidemic, and the challenges of the present day, Higgins shows how Pennsylvania has played a central role in humanity’s understanding of—and progress against—disease. The Health of the Commonwealth places Pennsylvania’s unique contribution to the history of public health and medicine in a larger narrative of health and disease throughout the United States and the world.

Pennsylvania Politics and Policy: A Commonwealth Reader, Volume 1, edited by J. Wesley Leckrone and Michelle J. Atherton, contains updated chapters from recent issues of Commonwealth: A Journal of Pennsylvania Politics and Policy on education, health care, public finance, tax policy, environmental policy, alcohol policy and more. Pennsylvania Politics and Policy: A Commonwealth Reader, Volume 2, edited by Michelle J. Atherton and J. Wesley Leckrone, focuses on government institutions, election laws, the judiciary, government finance and budgeting, the opioid crisis, childcare, property taxes, environmental policy, demographics, and more. In both volumes, each chapter is supplemented by discussion questions, suggestions for further reading, and forums with arguments in support of or opposed to contested elements of state policy.

The Scots Irish were one of early Pennsylvania’s largest non-English immigrant groups. They were stereotyped as frontier ruffians and Indian haters. In The Scots Irish of Early Pennsylvania, historian Judith Ridner insists that this immigrant group was socio-economically diverse. Servants and free people, individuals and families, and political exiles and refugees from Ulster, they not only pioneered new frontier settlements, but also populated the state’s cities—Philadelphia and Pittsburgh—and its towns, such as Lancaster, Easton, and Carlisle.

Undocumented Fears, by Jamie Longazel shows how the local politics of immigration pit working people against one another. The Illegal Immigration Relief Act (IIRA), passed in the small Rustbelt city of Hazleton, Pennsylvania in 2006, was a local ordinance that laid out penalties for renting to or hiring undocumented immigrants and declared English the city’s official language. The notorious IIRA gained national prominence and kicked off a parade of local and state-level legislative initiatives designed to crack down on undocumented immigrants. Longazel uses the debate around Hazleton’s controversial ordinance as a case study that reveals the mechanics of contemporary divide and conquer politics. He shows how neoliberal ideology, misconceptions about Latina/o immigrants, and nostalgic imagery of “Small Town, America” led to a racialized account of an undocumented immigrant “invasion,” masking the real story of a city beset by large-scale loss of manufacturing jobs.

And forthcoming this fall, Slavery and Abolition in Pennsylvania, by Beverly Tomek, corrects the long-held notion that slavery in the North was “not so bad” as, or somehow “more humane” than, in the South due to the presence of abolitionists. While the Quaker presence focused on moral and practical opposition to bondage, slavery was ubiquitous. Nevertheless, Pennsylvania was the first state to pass an abolition law in the United States. Slavery and Abolition in Pennsylvania traces this movement from its beginning to the years immediately following the American Civil War. Discussions of the complexities of the state’s antislavery movement illustrate how different groups of Pennsylvanians followed different paths in an effort to achieve their goal. Tomek also examines the backlash abolitionists and Black Americans faced. In addition, she considers the civil rights movement from the period of state reconstruction through the national reconstruction that occurred after the Civil War.

Political Mourning Delayed, but Not Denied

This week in North Philly Notes, Heather Pool, author of Political Mourning, writes about the Tulsa Race Massacre.

Earlier this month, for the first time ever, an American president visited Tulsa to commemorate the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre.

I was born in Oklahoma and was subjected to the state-mandated semester of “Oklahoma History” in the 1980s. In that class, we cursorily covered the forced removal of indigenous peoples to Indian Territory via the Trail of Tears and the evolution to statehood. That history was taught, but it was taught as history, as if the oppression suffered by indigenous people was something that happened long ago. In Oklahoma, about a third of the population are native even if they don’t have a roll number, live on a reservation, or identify with a tribe; thus, there was no way to avoid that history, even if the curriculum in no way did justice to it. And Oklahoma as a state has come to embrace its ties to native peoples; the state seal and flag prominently display symbols drawn from or referencing indigenous people, and, for years, its license plates proclaimed “Native America.” This does not mean that native peoples in Oklahoma are free from present oppression, by any means, but at least it is discussed.

But I learned next to nothing in that class (or in any history class during my public school education) about Black Oklahomans. It wasn’t until years later that I realized my hometown had probably been a Sundown Town; the silence about Black history, then, was not surprising. I didn’t learn about the Tulsa Massacre until I ran across a book about it in a public library in New York in the early 2000s. I distinctly remember pulling Riot and Remembrance off the shelf and holding my breath as I read the blurb on the back, stunned that I knew nothing about this event.

In the 2012 article version of the Triangle Fire chapter in my book, Political Mourning, I compared the massive publicity generated by the Triangle Fire with the scant publicity accorded to the Tulsa Race Massacre. Fortunately, the past several years – aided by work done by survivors of the Tulsa race massacre to remember the event in the face of a sustained official effort to forget it, the state legislature’s 2001 Race Riot Commission Report, and the massive increase in awareness about racial injustice spurred by rise of Black Lives Matter – have yielded a more honest accounting of the events that took place in the Greenwood section of Tulsa on May 31-June 1, 1921, as well as generated considerable media coverage. Biden’s visit to Tulsa can be read as an effort to educate Americans about the historical violence of white supremacy that has been silenced, obscured, or actively erased.

Death can do that; it can illuminate everyday violence that we know but don’t know. It’s why my work focuses on moments when everyday people die, and the polity pays attention. There are many moments we could attend to – young women being killed by their partners, the disproportionately young deaths of people of color of all varieties, queer youth disproportionately dying by suicide or homicide – and yet we often choose not to see or take up collective responsibility for deaths that do not receive widespread coverage or which, if we took up collective responsibility for them, would require us to make fundamental shifts in our way of life.

Moments such as the Tulsa Massacre, the Triangle Fire, Emmett Till’s lynching, or George Floyd’s death can break through the crust of sedimented privilege to see the unequally borne costs of the status quo. And the costs are so high. But the barriers to seeing are, too: particularly for people in positions of privilege, whose refusal to recognize that privilege makes it difficult for them to see how race has shaped a status quo that is better for whites than it is for non-white people. Charles Mills calls this the “epistemology of ignorance.” White people are rewarded for their cluelessness, just as I was rewarded for not asking more and better questions in that Oklahoma History classroom. White Americans’ refusal to learn our actual history when it comes to race and violence continues to obstruct our ability to build an actual democracy instead of a white one.

It is encouraging that the Tulsa Race Massacre is getting the attention, respect, and mourning it has always deserved; it is a marker of how much things have changed in the past decade that an American president spoke at the 100th anniversary of the terrible events in Tulsa. But it is also a reminder that who we mourn and how we mourn them speaks volumes about who we as a nation are, and that mourning – when linked to conceptions of collective identity and responsibility – can be deeply political. The political mourning denied the survivors of the Tulsa Massacre is being rekindled now and mobilized to call for racial justice, and that is important. But equally important is to ensure – through education, more just political institutions, and reparations – that we do our best to reduce or eliminate similar losses in the present and future, whether the sudden horror of a large-scale, state-sponsored massacre or the slow-motion violence of poverty, lack of opportunity, and incarceration that people of color continue to face disproportionately today. 

The Political Incorporation of Chinese Migrants

This week in North Philly Notes, Amy Liu, author of The Language of Political Incorporation, recounts lessons she learned studying how Chinese migrants are treated in Europe.

Central-Eastern Europe is not an oft-discussed migration destination. Yet, places such as Hungary are some of the most popular European countries for Chinese migrants. Likewise, the Chinese constitute one of the largest migrant populations—not just in Hungary, but in all of Europe. To better understand the Chinese in Europe, I surveyed over 2500 Chinese migrants in Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, Portugal, Romania, and Serbia. I find that while the vast majority still held on to their Chinese passports (Beijing forbids dual citizenship), there is substantial variation in the migrant networks. Some are from parts of southern China with large migrant populations in Europe. These southern Chinese communities have a distinct vernacular that ensures their insularity—not just from the local Europeans but from other Chinese.

Everyone else is resigned to larger, all-inclusive Chinese networks. The diversity of these networks requires Mandarin Chinese—the Chinese lingua franca—to be the operating vernacular. The use of this lingua franca means the average Chinese migrant engages regularly with other Chinese persons from different backgrounds. They also interact with the locals more frequently—whether it is because the locals had learned Mandarin or because the Chinese migrant had learned the local European language. This repeated, regularized diversity in interactions translates into a differential: The Chinese in lingua franca networks were on average more trusting of authorities (6 percentage point differential) and civically engaged (7 percentage point differential) than their co-nationals in insular networks.

The surveys were conducted over a five-year period—all before the COVID outbreak. For over a year now, the pandemic has put the Chinese—those in China proper and its migrant/diaspora population globally—on display. As we begin to return to some post-pandemic normalcy, here are two lessons the Chinese in Europe can teach us.

First, what drives higher incorporation levels among the Chinese in the lingua franca networks (i.e., diversity) is also what undermines it when there is a crisis. When I was doing surveys in Romania, the tax authorities launched a four-month raid of Chinatown. It was part of a larger, national campaign to collect unpaid taxes. Responses to these raids—seen very much as an ethnic attack—varied by networks. Those in the insular networks bunkered down and weathered the storm. Conversely, those in the inclusive networks finger-pointed and demarcated new group boundaries. There was sudden suspicion of anyone and everyone that was different. And here is the irony: Those most hurt by the raids were those who trusted and engaged more before; and conversely, those who had been insular were left relatively unscathed. The troubling implication is that anti-Asian hate crimes—while they do not discriminate against passport color or the generation number—affects those who were better integrated in the U.S. And this makes bouncing back after the crisis subsides even harder.

Second, political rhetoric—even the empty rhetoric—matters. During my research, Hungary—led by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and his Fidesz party—pursued aggressive nationalist rhetoric. And policies matched the rhetoric (e.g. the border fence). Yet, during this time, Chinese migrant attitudes towards the Hungarian authorities remained consistently high (86% in 2014; 95% in 2018). The interviews corroborated these numbers. Interestingly, even at the height of targeting the Muslims and refugees, Fidesz reached out to leaders in the Chinese community to emphasize the Chinese were not the targets of the xenophobic policies. Similarly, text analysis of Hungarian language newspapers across the political spectrum showed when the Chinese are talked about, it is rarely negative. Even as COVID broke out in Hungary, Orbán refrained from associating the Chinese with the virus. This is in stark contrast to his American counterpart. What the former U.S. president did to link COVID with the Chinese cannot be undone. As the Asian-American community tries to make sense of what happened last month in Atlanta, the Biden administration must exercise caution in what it says and how it says it.

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.

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.

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.”

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