The War on ISIS: Views from Syrian Activists and Intellectuals

by Danny Postel, Dissent Magazine

Free Syrian Army fighters, Aleppo, July 2013 (Dona_Bozzi / Shutterstock)

Free Syrian Army fighters, Aleppo, July 2013 (Dona_Bozzi / Shutterstock)

Conspicuously absent from the debate about ISIS and U.S. intervention—both in the mainstream and in the leftosphere—are Syrian voices. ISIS and U.S. officialdom occupy center stage, leaving the perspectives of Syrian civil society activists and writers out of the equation. While hardly surprising, this omission is troubling.

In an attempt to remedy this imbalance, I asked several Syrians—longtime activists and intellectuals from a range of backgrounds, including Kurdish, Palestinian, and Assyrian Christian—what they think about the ISIS crisis and Western intervention. Here are their responses.

Three Monsters

I am ambivalent about a Western attack against ISIS.

On the one hand, I would like to see this thuggish gang wiped from the face of the earth. ISIS is a criminal organization that has killed thousands of Syrians and Iraqis while leaving intact another criminal organization—the Assad regime—that is responsible for the deaths of close to 200,000 people. ISIS has destroyed the cause of the Syrian revolution as much as the Assad regime has destroyed our country and society.

On the other hand, an attack against ISIS will send a message to many Syrians (and Iraqis and other Arabs) that this intervention isn’t about seeking justice for heinous crimes, but is rather an attack against those who challenged Western powers. This will lead to more resentment against and suspicion of the outside world, which is the very nihilist mood on which ISIS capitalizes and profits.

Western powers could have avoided this had they helped the Syrian resistance in its battle against the fascist Assad regime. The right thing to do, ethically and politically, is to build a coalition against both ISIS and the Assad regime, and to help Syrians bring about significant changes in their country’s political environment.

Let me finally say that I am very skeptical of the plans and intentions of the American administration. ISIS is the terrible outcome of our monstrous regimes and the West’s role in the region for decades, as much as it is the result of grave illnesses within Islam. Three monsters are treading on Syria’s exhausted body.

—Yassin al-Haj Saleh, one of the leading writers and intellectual figures of the Syrian uprising, imprisoned from 1980 to 1996 for left-wing activities, now living in exile in Istanbul (see this interview with him for more)

Symptoms and Causes

Any attempt to uproot or crush ISIS will be of no avail if it is undertaken without adequate analysis of the reasons for the group’s rise. The widespread feelings among Syrians of indignation and betrayal by the international community for the better part of the last four years will not be an easy matter to deal with, and will only be heightened if the international community does not commit to a serious initiative beyond sloganeering.

Fighting against ISIS without stopping the Assad regime’s massacres would have serious ramifications. Living under daily bombardment and shelling have led some Syrians to see ISIS, despite its barbarity, as a savior and avenger on their behalf against a murderous regime. These are sensitive matters. Neglecting them will only help ISIS spread further. Any attempt to deal with symptoms without serious considerations of the causes will lead to more dangerous complications. You can’t remove a malignant tumor without dealing with and disinfecting the whole context and resolving the problem. Otherwise you can end up with a bigger tumor, leading to complete loss of control over the situation.

—Iyas Kadouni, former director of the Centre for Civil Society and Democracy in the city of Idlib, former member of the Revolutionary Council in the city of Saraqib, pursued both by ISIS and by the Assad regime, now living in exile in Brussels

Alternatives to Military Intervention

As a Syrian from a Christian background who has many years of experience with different Syrian opposition groups, I believe military intervention against ISIS will only lead to the creation of more extremism.

Before starting with a military solution, why not explore political, economic, and social solutions? Why did it take the West so long to embargo the oil produced by ISIS? Why did the West turn a blind eye to the flood of jihadists entering Syria through Turkey? Why no real pressure on Gulf countries for their official and unofficial massive support of different nefarious armed groups? Why did the “Friends of Syria” fail to provide Raqqa—the first liberated area in the country—with any support for the local community, the civil society organizations, and the emerging local council, despite all the calls to do so?

—Rasha Qass Yousef, member of the Syrian Nonviolence Movement and the Syrian Democratic Forum, a co-founder of the Haquna Movement, a civil resistance group in the city of Raqqa that campaigned against both the Assad regime and the armed groups who seized the city, including ISIS

Arm the Rebels and Smash ISIS

I strongly support U.S./NATO air strikes against ISIS, which has committed, and continues to commit, horrifying atrocities against civilians in Syria and Iraq, and I urge the international community to arm the Syrian rebels and provide them with the necessary means to take down ISIS, which has shown nothing but brutality against the Syrian people. This course of action will advance the cause of the Syrian revolution, which started as a struggle for freedom and dignity for the Syrian people.

But attacking ISIS without taking down the Assad regime’s air force would invite problems, as the regime can be expected to strike the Syrian rebels during their battles with ISIS, as it has done previously. The Assad regime is the source of extremism and violence in Syria. Any move against ISIS must be followed by effective steps toward a political transition beyond Assad.

—Kassem Eid, a.k.a. Qusai Zakarya, Syrian-Palestinian activist and chemical weapons attack survivor who launched a hunger strike in November to protest the starvation sieges of cities throughout Syria and demand that humanitarian agencies be allowed unfettered access into these besieged areas

Who Fueled ISIS’s Rise?

My support for the Syrian revolution is unconditional and for that reason I am opposed to the U.S. intervention. The United States and its regional allies have done everything to undermine the Syrian revolution. Most importantly they have done so by supporting the Syrian National Coalition against the grassroots movements. U.S. allies such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar initially backed Assad and later funded and equipped the most reactionary forces in the opposition. These same powers (plus Iraq) are now forming a coalition to fight ISIS. But these countries played a major role, directly and indirectly, in making ISIS a regional power. The United States and Saudi Arabia were instrumental in the creation and funding of global jihadism since the 1980s to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. The 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq led to the emergence of al Qaeda in Iraq. Qatar is helping Jabhat al-Nusra while Turkey was, until recently, allowing ISIS to operate freely and cross its borders unchecked.

The U.S. intervention in Syria (and Iraq) will kill many innocent civilians. It will also fulfill ISIS’s wish to become the primary anti-American force in the region and thereby help the terrorist organization recruit more fighters. The beheading of the two U.S. citizens by ISIS was intended to generate the reaction it is now getting from the United States. Finally, Assad played a crucial role in strengthening ISIS and using it against revolutionary forces. The irony of all this is that the United States is asking the Free Syrian Army to fight ISIS but not use American weapons against the Assad regime.

Yasser Munif, professor of sociology at Emerson College and co-founder of the Global Campaign of Solidarity with the Syrian Revolution

Remove One of the Syrian Revolution’s Key Obstacles

For me there is no simple answer. On the most elementary level, I am inclined to favor U.S./EU/NATO intervention against ISIS. Attacking ISIS would remove one of the Syrian revolution’s key obstacles, and this would leave the Assad regime more vulnerable. But I believe it is wishful thinking to expect any meaningful intervention that would give us such ideal outcomes. I think the future is gloomier than this. Despite all the political rhetoric on Syria from the White House, the U.S. administration is deadlocked, much as it has been since the beginning of the Syrian revolution. Obama’s strategy of “seduce and abandon” has been used consistently over the last three years to deflect criticism about U.S. intervention in the Middle East. There has been no appetite to intervene in any real way to come to the aid of Syrian rebels. Either way, it is too little, too late.

Confronting ISIS, while crucial, is meaningless without at least two things: urgent and actual support for whatever remains of the secular and democratic forces within the Free Syrian Army, and sustained international political and economic pressure on the Assad regime. ISIS plays the role of a deus ex machina in the Assad regime’s version of reality, resolving the seemingly unsolvable problem that the regime has faced since Syrian protestors demanded its downfall: that of restoring its political legitimacy and international credentials. It ensures the regime’s survival and confirms the narrative that Assad’s forces are embroiled in a bitter fight against Islamic fundamentalist terrorists. Moreover, the present situation enables the regime to paint itself as an indispensible partner in the fight against terrorism, which is why commentators like The Nation’s Bob Dreyfuss will continue to argue that “one key to solving the ISIS crisis is hunkered down in the presidential palace in Damascus, and his name is Bashar al-Assad.”

Firas Massouh, doctoral student at the University of Melbourne in Australia and author of several essays on the Syrian uprising, including “Left Out? The Syrian Revolution and the Crisis of the Left

Too Little, Too Late?

From a policy standpoint, Obama’s plan to train and equip moderate Syrian rebels would have been more effective if implemented over two years ago, when Syrian opposition forces were less depleted. Syrian activists must welcome Obama’s plan with a sense of trepidation, because we were left in the lurch in August 2013 after the chemical weapons attack in the Damascus suburbs. We waited for the retaliation against Assad that never came, despite assurances from the administration that it was imminent. Obama’s backtracking emboldened Assad, paving the way for the deaths of tens of thousands more Syrians. Now we are playing the waiting game again. When will the weapons arrive? And will they effectively change the balance of power on the ground? Our objective now has to include the downfall of both Assad and ISIS. Whether Obama’s plan will help achieve both remains to be seen.

Rasha Othman, Syrian-American activist based in Washington, one of the key organizers of the International Solidarity Hunger Strike for Syria

No Shortcuts

Violence will only yield more violence. You can’t put out fire with gas. The U.S. attack on ISIS will only contribute to its proliferation. The international community and the United States have played a role in creating ISIS. They rely on hegemony rather than spearheading democracy, as they claim. There is a conspicuous lack of ethics in dealing with various global issues. For example, the Syrian issue got lost in the corridors of the UN for years, due to double standards in dealing with humanitarian crises. But suddenly the Iraqi case has taken center stage—it did so in a matter of days and without evening going through UN channels—due to geostrategic interests.

The solution lies in dealing with these matters on a consistent humanitarian and humanist basis and seeing people as fellow human beings and not as strange citizen of other lands, and to start seriously viewing our common and intertwined interests on the planet. Concretely this could be achieved by supporting civil resistance movements and other institutions and organizations that are helping spread education and awareness. Empowering local people and NGOs, particularly investing now in the millions of refugees, would represent an alternative path forward. There is no short cut to heaven.

Khorshid Mohammad, Syrian-Kurdish co-founder of the Syrian Nonviolence Movement and neonatologist at Alberta Health Services , University of Calgary, Canada

Special thanks to Afra Jalabi, a Syrian activist and writer in Montreal, for connecting me with several of the people I interviewed for this article. She is active in the Syrian Nonviolence Movement and serves on the Executive Committee of The Day After project, an international working group of Syrians representing a large spectrum of the country’s opposition engaged in an independent transition-planning dialogue. —Danny Postel


Danny Postel is Associate Director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Denver. His books include The Syria Dilemma and The People Reloaded: The Green Movement and the Struggle for Iran’s Future. He blogs for Critical Inquiry and the Huffington Post and is a co-editor of PULSE.

US Strikes in Syria

by Maysaloon

Syrians demonstrate for democracy and freedom.  President Assad crushed peaceful demonstrations with force, leading some to take up arms against the regime

Syrians demonstrate for democracy and freedom. President Assad crushed peaceful demonstrations with force, leading some activists to take up arms against the regime. Many areas in Syria liberated from Assad have had to face the imposition of Islamist groups like ISIL.

Since 2011 Assad has progressively escalated his war against the Syrian people. His regime set the daily killing quotas, they escalated from small arms fire to tanks, cannon, rockets and airplanes. As the days turned into weeks and the months turned into years we were subjected to the same diatribe demanding that innocent unarmed people die for the principles of those watching them from a thousand miles away. Anybody who thought otherwise was dismissed as a warmonger. The chemical attacks came, and still the world did nothing. Then ISIS emerged, it almost overran the north of Syria before the Free Syrian Army along with Jabhat al Nusra pushed it out, and it went on to overrun most of Iraq. Then the world took notice but that was only because ISIS were about to commit the mother of all massacres against the Azidis of Iraq. Nobody complained about the airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq. Today those airstrikes began in Syria, and like earthworms after the rain the people who were silent before have now appeared and are able to speak.

Now they wring their hands in anguish. They pray for Syria. They wish there was another way. They worry about the innocents whose lives would be lost if the US led strikes against Syria materialised. Maybe to them a death by a US made bomb is a far worse fate than being killed by a Russian made one. So they shake their heads, “No, this won’t do at all. It is one thing to watch a country bleed white over the course of three years, but to have the United States cauterise the cancer that is ISIS immediately, well that’s just outrageous”.

There’s only one reason why the United States is bombing ISIS in northern Syria, and that’s because the Assad regime gunned down innocent protesters in 2011. In his first speech after the protests in Deraa, and when his regime could no longer pretend like nothing was happening, he ranted and raved about a terrorism that didn’t exist in Syria yet. He warned, no he threatened, that Syria will turn into another Afghanistan. He abandoned the north east of Syria, he struck oil deals with ISIS, he deliberately avoided bombing their headquarters whilst raining his wrath on the parts of Syria in control by the Free Syrian Army. His army obliterated parts of Homs, and eviscerated Aleppo, in a scorched earth policy that his soldiers spray-paint christened as “Assad or this country burns”. If there is anybody who holds the moral blame for all that has befallen Syrians since then, it is this bankrupt regime and its Russian and Iranian backers.

Syrians have had three years of this murder. Three years of his apologists using smoke and mirrors and every trick in the book to paralyse the international community and prevent it from doing anything about the barrel bombs and the chlorine bombs dropping on the heads of civilians. Again and again the spectre of Iraq is raised, not so that anybody can learn anything, but to frighten anyone from action, however much needed, to help Syrians. The anti-imperialist camp must, at any cost, oppose intervention in Syria and they are pathologically incapable of comprehending its necessity. Others will get on to the moral high horse and say that strikes on Syria will lead to innocent lives being lost. Of course, they don’t seem to mind much that the very next day those lives could be lost either by an overzealous ISIS fanatic enforcing his apocalyptic vision of a utopian society, or that death could come by Assad’s barrel bombs or rocket attacks or air strikes. No, for that they can only offer the potential victims a lot of moral anguish, hand wringing and anxiety as they are crushed between Assad and ISIS. Heaven forbid that anybody interfere, that anybody try to do something.

Last year many of those same people cheered with joy that strikes against the Assad regime were averted after he used chemical weapons against the Syrian people. Since then the death toll in Syria has risen to over 200,000. But they have nothing to say about that. They’ve been too busy spending the last year basking in the warm glow of their own self righteousness. Since then Assad and his Shiite allies have managed to push back the Free Syrian Army (without ever challenging ISIS seriously) and ISIS has emerged from a fringe lunatic group to a lunatic messianic state controlling an area larger than the size of England. The non-interventionists are responsible for this turn of events, and they are responsible for the rise of ISIS. They offered no solutions, only obstacles. They don’t have a position you can criticise. They just insist that nobody have a position either, that Syrians die for the principles of somebody else; somebody who can rubber-stamp the revolution and say, “Yes, you’re a bonafide revolution and we approve of you”, and say to them, “We will sing your praises in post-graduate Middle East courses across the Western world for all time, and write books about your sacrifices”.

The fact is non-interventionists have no right to talk about who may or may not get hurt in Syria, to pretend to be concerned for the innocent, and they have no right to hold the moral high ground after the debacle we’ve seen in Syria for the last twelve months. This is a disaster, step aside and let someone do something about it.

Record Number of Children Going Hungry in Orange, Ulster, & Sullivan Counties

by Steve Israel, Times Herald-Record

Monticello summer school student Mark Turner reaches for a lunch at Kenneth L. Rutherford Elementary School. (JOHN MEORE/Times Herald-Record)

Monticello summer school student Mark Turner reaches for a lunch at Kenneth L. Rutherford Elementary School.
(JOHN MEORE/Times Herald-Record)

A little boy in kindergarten is so hungry he tries to take an extra peanut butter and jelly sandwich from the school cafeteria and slip it in his backpack — even though he’s already getting one for free.

Another little boy has such a gnawing emptiness in his belly, he can’t wait to eat the fresh tomatoes he just got at the church food pantry — so he sits down on the church steps and chomps away.

Then there’s the child who’s too ashamed to tell the people handing out the food at a free meals program that his family doesn’t have enough at home. So he keeps saying he’s not hungry because he wants to bring the lunch home.

A record number of children in Orange, Ulster and Sullivan counties are hungry, and these examples are just a few of them. Forty-one thousand public school children in the three counties — nearly half of all students — must rely on our schools to do what many of us take for granted — eat.

This means that nearly one of every two children needs the help of free or reduced-price meals in our schools. That’s an increase of 12 percent, or some 4,400 students, from just five years ago.

Hunger is so common that nurses routinely stock crackers, peanut butter and juices for hungry kids. Backpacks full of food are handed out on weekends because kids just don’t have enough food at home — even in an affluent district like Warwick.

All of which means that for thousands of local kids and their parents, the Great Recession is far from over.

“It means the recession is only over for rich people,” says Eileen Goodman, director of food service for the Middletown School District, where three-quarters of the students receive free or reduced-price meals.

It isn’t only urban districts like Middletown, Monticello or Newburgh that have scores of hungry kids. Suburban districts, like Chester, have seen the amount of needy children rise, from about 20 percent five years ago, to nearly one-third of all kids today. Even tiny, rural Eldred in Sullivan County has had the percentage of its hungry children soar, from about 1 in 4 in 2009 to one-third of all students today.

Nowhere to eat

When summer arrives and schools close, many of these hungry kids have nowhere to eat.

So if they don’t go to summer school, they must rely on the federal Summer Food Service Program, which is administered by local school districts, often in partnership with area nonprofits like the YMCA.

Even as the number of needy kids soars, that summer program doesn’t come close to feeding all of the hungry children. Less than one-quarter of all needy kids in our region who eat free and reduced-price meals throughout the school year are able to take advantage of the program. This is despite the fact the number of local sites has more than doubled in the past four years, from 22 to 55 — and a district like Monticello serves some 4,000 breakfasts and lunches per day at rural sites in Bethel and Forestburgh and more urban spots in Monticello.

“It still isn’t enough,” says Michelle Golden of the statewide anti-hunger organization Hunger Solutions.

One big reason the Summer Food Service Program doesn’t reach the majority of our hungry kids is that a school district must have at least 50 percent of its students receiving free and reduced-price meals to be eligible.

So, if you’re poor and happen to live in a rural area without a summer food site – and you don’t have transportation to a neighboring district with one – you’re out of luck – and food.

That’s why a program in a sprawling, needy district like Monticello can serve those 4,000 kids. It can bus kids in out-of-the-way district spots to its various sites.

“If it wasn’t for this program, kids wouldn’t be eating,” says Melinda Gwiordowksi, who oversees the Monticello School District/Middletown YMCA summer meals program at the Town of Thompson Park in Sullivan County, which feeds 275 kids, many of whom had never seen vegetables like broccoli or beets before the program.

Getting those kids to eat those vegetables (often chopped up in salads) is another reason the program is so worthwhile, says Monticello Food Service Director Andy Yeomans.

Food stamps cuts hurt

The need is especially acute, say child hunger advocates, since SNAP benefits — or food stamps — were last year reduced by about $10 per person per month for a family of three. Plus, many summer school programs that would normally serve lunch have been cut, thanks to slashed budgets. And those close to the programs, like Chris Brinckerhoff, assistant superintendent of Middletown’s Parks and Recreation Department, say they’re still feeding many children of working families who just don’t make enough money to pay all their bills and have enough to spend on the food that’s provided by schools the rest of the year.

This is why U.S. Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-NY, and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, are proposing a law that would lower the threshold for summer meals program eligibility from 50 percent of the children receiving free and reduced meals to 40 percent.

It would also increase transportation in rural districts, reduce paperwork for public-private partnerships to offer the meals and provide an evening meal for kids in evening programs.

“Every child that is hungry should have food year-round,” said Gillibrand, who appears at the Town of Thompson Park Monday to promote the bills.

Bill won’t change reality

Still, even if that bill — part of the proposed Child Nutrition Act — does what countless others haven’t and clears a bitterly divided Congress, it still won’t come close to changing a reality that is as hard and unforgiving as the piece of plywood atop a bathtub that one hungry child must call a bed, according to Alexis Eggleton, executive director of the Boys and Girls Club of the Town of Wallkill:

Too many kids are hungry.

Kids like the little boy who comes to Academy Avenue Park in Middletown with a shopping bag so he can get several boxes of Golden Grahams cereal and chocolate milk for him and his family.

Or the toddlers — maybe 3 and 4 years old — whose grandma brings them to the Newburgh pool every summer day, just so they can nibble on a turkey sandwich.

“No child should be hungry in this country,” says Eggleton, whose organization serves 60,000 meals per year to needy kids. “But we notice that more and more of them are.”

sisrael@th-record.com

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How to qualify as a summer food site

The most common way to become eligible is to prove that the location where meals are served is in a high-need area. These are the criteria:

• At least 50 percent of the students in the school district serving the area must qualify for free or reduced price school meals.

• An area or organization in the area may also qualify if it meets certain census data. To see if your area qualifies, go online and search for “Summer Food Target Mapper.”

• If a location doesn’t meet the above criteria, there is still a chance to serve summer food – as long as the organization, such as a camp or summer program, is serving low-income kids and can prove at least 50 percent of those kids qualify for free or reduced-price school meals.

To see if you qualify for free or reduced price meals, contact your school district.

To volunteer at a summer program, call the meal site or visit hungersolutionsny.org

The Peril of Hipster Economics

by Sarah Kendzior, Al Jazeera English

In some north Philadelphia elementary schools, nearly every child is living below the poverty line, writes Kendzior [AP]

In some north Philadelphia elementary schools, nearly every child is living below the poverty line, writes Kendzior [AP]

On May 16, an artist, a railway service and a government agency spent $291,978 to block poverty from the public eye.

Called psychylustro, German artist Katharina Grosse’s project is a large-scale work designed to distract Amtrak train riders from the dilapidated buildings and fallen factories of north Philadelphia. The city has a 28 percent poverty rate – the highest of any major US city – with much of it concentrated in the north. In some north Philadelphia elementary schools, nearly every child is living below the poverty line.

Grosse partnered with the National Endowment of the Arts and Amtrak to mask North Philadelphia’s hardship with a delightful view. The Wall Street Journal calls this “Fighting Urban Blight With Art”. Liz Thomas, the curator of the project, calls it “an experience that asks people to think about this space that they hurtle through every day”.

The project is not actually fighting blight, of course – only the ability of Amtrak customers to see it.

“I need the brilliance of colour to get close to people, to stir up a sense of life experience and heighten their sense of presence,” Grosse proclaims.

“People”, in Grosse and Thomas’s formulation, are not those who actually live in north Philadelphia and bear the brunt of its burdens. “People” are those who can afford to view poverty through the lens of aesthetics as they pass it by.

Urban decay becomes a set piece to be remodeled or romanticised. This is hipster economics.

Influx of hipsters

In February, director Spike Lee delivered an impassioned critique – derisively characterised as a“rant” by US media outlets – on the gentrification of New York city. Arguing that an influx of “… hipsters” had driven up rent in most neighbourhoods – and in turn driven out the African-American communities that once called them home – he noted how long-dormant city services suddenly reappeared:

“Why does it take an influx of white New Yorkers in the south Bronx, in Harlem, in Bed Stuy, in Crown Heights for the facilities to get better? The garbage wasn’t picked up every … day when I was living in 165 Washington Park… So, why did it take this great influx of white people to get the schools better? Why’s there more police protection in Bed Stuy and Harlem now? Why’s the garbage getting picked up more regularly? We been here!”

Gentrification spreads the myth of native incompetence: That people need to be imported to be important, that a sign of a neighbourhood’s ‘success’ is the removal of its poorest residents. True success lies in giving those residents the services and opportunities they have long been denied.

 

Lee was criticised by many for “hipster-bashing”, including African-American professor John McWhorter, who claimed that “hipster” was “a sneaky way of saying ‘honkey'” and compared Lee to television character George Jefferson.

These dismissals, which focus on gentrification as culture, ignore that Lee’s was a critique of the racist allocation of resources. Black communities whose complaints about poor schools and city services go unheeded find these complaints are readily addressed when wealthier, whiter people move in. Meanwhile, long-time locals are treated as contagions on the landscape,targeted by police for annoying the new arrivals.

Gentrifiers focus on aesthetics, not people. Because people, to them, are aesthetics.

Proponents of gentrification will vouch for its benevolence by noting it “cleaned up the neighbourhood”. This is often code for a literal white-washing. The problems that existed in the neighbourhood – poverty, lack of opportunity, struggling populations denied city services – did not go away. They were simply priced out to a new location.

That new location is often an impoverished suburb, which lacks the glamour to make it the object of future renewal efforts. There is no history to attract preservationists because there is nothing in poor suburbs viewed as worth preserving, including the futures of the people forced to live in them. This is blight without beauty, ruin without romance: payday loan stores, dollar stores, unassuming homes and unpaid bills. In the suburbs, poverty looks banal and is overlooked.

In cities, gentrifiers have the political clout – and accompanying racial privilege – to reallocate resources and repair infrastructure. The neighbourhood is “cleaned up” through the removal of its residents. Gentrifiers can then bask in “urban life” – the storied history, the selective nostalgia, the carefully sprinkled grit – while avoiding responsibility to those they displaced.

Hipsters want rubble with guarantee of renewal. They want to move into a memory they have already made.

Impoverished suburbs

In a sweeping analysis of displacement in San Francisco and its increasingly impoverished suburbs, journalist Adam Hudson notes that “gentrification is trickle-down economics applied to urban development: the idea being that as long as a neighbourhood is made suitable for rich and predominantly white people, the benefits will trickle down to everyone else”. Like trickle-down economics itself, this theory does not play out in practice.

Rich cities such as New York and San Francisco have become what journalist Simon Kuper calls gated citadels: “Vast gated communities where the one percent reproduces itself.”

Struggling US cities of the rust belt and heartland lack the investment of coastal contemporaries, but have in turn been spared the rapid displacement of hipster economics. Buffered by their eternal uncoolness, these slow-changing cities have a chance to make better choices – choices that value the lives of people over the aesthetics of place.

In an April blog postUmar Lee, a St Louis writer and full-time taxi driver, bemoaned the economic model of rideshare services, which are trying to establish themselves in the city. Noting that they hurt not only taxi drivers but poor residents who have neither cars nor public transport and thus depend on taxis willing to serve dangerous neighbourhoods, he dismisses Uber and Lyft as hipster elitists masquerading as innovators:

“I’ve heard several young hipsters tell me they’re socially-liberal and economic-conservative, a popular trend in American politics,” he writes. “Well, I hate to break it to you buddy, but it’s economics and the role of the state that defines politics. If you’re an economic conservative, despite how ironic and sarcastic you may be or how tight your jeans are, you, my friend, are a conservative …”

Lee tells me he has his own plan to try to mitigate the negative effects of gentrification, which he calls “50-50-20-15”. All employers who launch businesses in gentrifying neighbourhoods should have a workforce that is at least 50 percent minorities, 50 percent people from the local neighbourhood, and 20 percent ex-offenders. The employees should be paid at least $15 per hour.

Gentrification spreads the myth of native incompetence: That people need to be imported to be important, that a sign of a neighbourhood’s “success” is the removal of its poorest residents. True success lies in giving those residents the services and opportunities they have long been denied.

When neighbourhoods experience business development, priority in hiring should go to locals who have long struggled to find nearby jobs that pay a decent wage. Let us learn from the mistakes of New York and San Francisco, and build cities that reflect more than surface values.

Sarah Kendzior is a St Louis-based writer who studies politics and media.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.

A.L.F. Communique Enlists Support in Destroying Fur Industry

The following is an anonymous message sent by a supporter of the Animal Liberation Front to Earth First! Newswire. Solidarity with all those struggling for a cruelty-free future. 

To my fellow liberationists,

Though I am nameless, faceless, unseen and unheard in nearly everyrespect, I am everywhere. I am the torment ofcaptivity and the despair of the caged spirit. I am the frozen steel of the transport truck, the corrosive agony of the testing facility, and the unspeakable pain of flesh torn from bone. Though my spirit has been subdued, shaken, tortured, repressed beyond all recognition, I also embody that which can never be stripped of me: I am the resistance to further incursions onto animal dignity and survival.

fur-farm-raid-1024x768

I come to you, fellow practitioners of direct action in service to the earth and her animal children, to formally enlist support in driving the fur industry into its long-overdue grave.

Through calculated acts of sabotage at the points of research, production and other strategically weak links, this monstrous industry will fall. To quantify the weakness that permeates this conglomerate of killers, consider that there is but one major supplier of vaccine against aleutian disease outbreak among mink. Its capacity to wipe out entire farms if left untreated speaks for itself: one strategic action against United Vaccines, Inc. (2919 Commerce Park Drive, Fitchburg, WI 53719) will have ripple effects across the entire industry.

Similarly, there is but one major pelt processing facility in the United States. The North American Fur Auctions plant (205 Industrial Circle, Stoughton, WI 53589) is already struggling to handle the current volume of raw animal skins, and it is the opinion of this anonymous liberator that two friends and a handful of incendiary creativity would assuredly relieve this facility of its workload.

As the single largest expense in raising animals for their skin, feed supplies are of tremendous significance. Any deliberate campaign (or single act) of sabotage and disruption against the material apparatus of mink and fox raising would have far-reaching effects on the very prisons in which these animals are held.

And isn’t this the point? Not to strike abstract blows against the goliath of exploitation, but to do all we can to relieve the suffering of those relegated to sheds and pens; to extend a hand in tearing open the cages which subjugate our brothers and sisters in fur.

To confront this exploitation and challenge it effectively is the duty of all whom proclaim love for the dying spirit of the wild. To embrace the dark of night as an opportunity to liberate, without yield, without compromise, is the task before us.

In these times of full-blown surveillance warfare, it may seem difficult to assume this role, as if one could not possibly research, practice and deploy the skills necessary to achieve freedom for the mink, fox, bobcat and lynx; but these fears will dissipate once concrete steps are taken to achieve them. Overcoming this fear is part of the liberation process, whereby the trembling hand becomes the courageous fist. After all, under the ubiquitous eye of ever-increasing counter-terrorism law enforcement, compassionate individuals have laid siege to farms in Montana, Idaho, Utah, Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Colorado and Wisconsin, within a four-month period.

As liberationists, our history is replete with mistakes, misfortunes, and regrets. Repeated battles with the iron fists of state repression have left us questioning our tactics and commitments, producing divisions among our allied networks of above- and underground support. Many of us have been separated from our loved ones, as our fellow warriors are locked in cages themselves, or even killed while acting as the counter-friction we all strive to embody. For them, we act.

The entity we face is unforgiving and unmoved by the trauma and death it perpetuates, so let us reel from history, correct our mis-steps, embrace our role as earth and animal defenders and have as our only regret that the strength within us to liberate was not channeled sooner.

As the next raiding season befalls us, let us envision an endless string of mornings in which the scattered ashes of breeding cards and the hollow remnants of empty cages are all that’s left.

With bolt-cutters, gloves and a heart full of bravery, a single individual can be the stark contrast between an existence spent in hell, and a life returned to the wild.

for love and liberation,

-A.L.F.

Notes: Dec. 6th, 2013

8 folks were on hand for our Anti-Oppression Forum meeting last Friday at the African Roots Library in the Family Partnership Center, Poughkeepsie. These are my notes from the meeting. -Schuyler

DECISIONS

-We will make 4 separate banners out of the large sheet brought in by Sharon. Sharon will dye the banners black before using white spray paint to decorate. 

-Ryan will create a Facebook page and Schuyler will write a blog post to publicize our concert fundraiser for Earth First! on January 21st.

-Jared will reach out to student organizations to endorse/participate in the Earth First! concert

-Ryan will look into Ustreaming the concert

-We should consider a film screening for a future action. As “homework,” collective participants are encouraged (by Ryan) to watch Home, a film about the destruction of the ecosystem. If we like it, that’ll be the film we show for movie night. 

-Schuyler will set up a Youtube page for the collective so that we can utilize best utilize video media. 

-We will host opinion pieces/debates on this blog

IDEAS

-Holiday direct action: Food Not Bombs outside Mayor Tzcick’s restuarant? Radical caroling?

-Nelson Mandela memorial event

-Metro-North train accident: What are its implication for worker/passenger safety?

UPCOMING EVENTS

December 15 @2:00 PM: Icarus Project radical mental health meeting at Panera Bread, 2020 South Road, Poughkeepsie NY

-December 16 @7:00 PM: Last Poughkeepsie City Council meeting of the year—opportunity to oppose city bus privatization!