Many of the most controversial race-related laws passed over the last decade have emerged from Arizona. Legislation, including SB1070 and HB2281, the racial profiling law and the banning of ethnic studies in Tucson, respectively, are both examples of systemic and structural racism working to keep communities of color incarcerated and displaced from access to power. The higher courts largely defeated these bills, but the impact on the Arizona and national community in the wake of their passing has been destructive beyond measure.
Partly as a result of these bills and other forms of systemic racism, we see a 14-year lifespan difference between south and north Phoenix communities, for example. Imagine that every mile you move north a person lives two extra years. Or reverse this – you die faster the more south you live in Phoenix. We have many sobering statistics of systemic neglect, which speaks to the histories of displacement of Indigenous, Black, and Brown bodies in this area.
Across our nation, and around the world, we are witnessing the mass-mobilization of communities to combat displacement from their homes. This displacement is most often caused by large-scale infrastructure projects that ostensibly bring prosperity and improvement to the city. The challenge we face is that these projects improve the lives of some, while simultaneously hurting others. We know that infrastructure projects that run through historically marginalized communities displace those residents at exponential rates, particularly lower-income women of color.
At Insite, we think of displacement along three-lines: Dispossession (gentrification out of homes), Disappearance (increasing people of color in prisons), and premature Death (decreasing life expectancy). So, we are not just talking about people losing their homes, which is devastating, but more importantly, the ways that losing one’s home is the beginning of a process of slow premature death as it connects to poor health, lack of community infrastructure, homelessness, and imprisonment. We can longer accept a false logic of progress that has us believe that for some to live then some must die. It is not true and not necessary.
Our partnership with LISC Phoenix was a natural fit, because at their core, LISC’s mission is about addressing the root causes of displacement and to keep communities of color on their land and in their homes. Our relationship, beyond just consulting and projects, has deepened into what is best described as a thought-partnership in the service of large-scale systemic change that considers communities of color, women and immigrants at the center of the transit project, rather than at the periphery. This is no small or easy process, considering transit projects are really about creating access to capital flows, which usually represent white middle-class consumer interests and not lower-income communities of color. We have asked for a lot of courage in our partnership with LISC Phoenix, and we are seeing some very important results.
To speak of racial equity and/or systems change is really to talk about a massive disruption in the status quo of power. As one might imagine, a disruption of this kind will not be taken lightly or with open-arms, but often will be met with considerable push back. We think it is important to be transparent about the risks associated with this type of work, so everyone is prepared for the challenges. It takes a long time to build trust and value for leaders to make these changes. And it only happens if there is a considerable pressure from outside forces, like those community organizations that mobilize to make visible the injustices of policy-brutality, deportations, and gentrification (all of which are connected to transit projects). There is a calculus to the work of institutional change and it is forged through the partnerships with local organizers on the ground, NGOs and organizations like LISC. Once we have made these relationships, we can then decide who is willing to act in solidarity. Most people want to do the right thing, but do not have the tools for the work. Inviting people is often about building a critical mass and requires a lot of resources, of which we are thankful to work with LISC in the ongoing work that happens behind the scenes.
There are some really wonderful folks doing critical work and have been for decades. Not surprisingly, they are mostly women of color and organizations who are led by people of color. At InSite, we think the work of Race Forward and the Government Alliance for Race & Equity are wonderful starting points for any organization who wants to do this work. It is also vital for us that we are following the lead of political organizations like Black Lives Matter, Mijente, Southerns on New Ground, Trans Queer Pueblo, and Poder in Action to name just a few. These organizations are more adaptable and responsive to the inequities facing their constituents. They are more nimble and imaginative than most institutions or NGOs, and therefore should really lead our thinking and practice on this topic. This is hard, because it means that we have to give up power, but it is essential for equity.
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LISC Safety and Justice funded the report done by InSite Consulting. To learn more about the LISC Safety and Justice team you can visit their site, available via the link below.