Ohio

A Coal Worker's Life—With a Lot Less Coal

10/16/14
Image
The John Amos coal-fired power plant is seen behind a home in Poca, West Virginia, on May 18, 2014. (Reuters/Robert Galbraith)

King Coal Highway is the portion of U.S. Route 52 that gets drivers from Williamson to Bluefield, West Virginia. It's also a reminder of a mining industry that has supported the state's middle class for generations—an era of prosperity that is quickly winding down.

As Chico Harlan reported for the Washington Post's Storyline blog earlier this year, over 10,000 miners in southern West Virginia and eastern Kentucky have been laid off since 2012. Many of the coal reserves are harder to mine after years of easy extraction. And Environmental Protection Agency regulations, both existing and proposed, make an industry comeback unlikely.

The state sued the EPA in August, claiming that the federal agency can't put limits on carbon dioxide emissions from coal plants under the Clean Air Act. In June, the EPA proposed new emissions guidelines that would create state-specific goals to lower rates of CO2 emissions.

With many small towns along the West Virginia portion of U.S. 52 struggling, local politicians are trying to come up with answers. Early Thursday, West Virginia Senate President, Jeff Kessler (D), announced the creation of a new task force that will look into creating new kinds of employment in the region while preserving what's left of the mining industry that so many still depend on.

Photographer Robert Galbraith recently shared his trip along King Coal highway over at Reuters' Wider Image blog. Through his shots, we see a typical day in the life of a coal worker.

Coal miners Rodney Blankenship (L), Roger Vanatter (C), and an unidentified colleague prepare for the start of their afternoon shift in the locker room of a coal mine near Gilbert, West Virginia, on May 22, 2014. Blankenship, 53, a coal miner for 30 years, said, "You go in there, hope to have good productivity on your shift, and get out safely." (Reuters/Robert Galbraith)
Coal miners enter a coal mine for the start of an afternoon shift near Gilbert, West Virginia, on May 22, 2014. (Reuters/Robert Galbraith)
Coal miner Mike Hawks, 53, stands in an underground tunnel at a coal processing facility near Gilbert, West Virginia, on May 22, 2014. (Reuters/Robert Galbraith)
Coal is stacked at the base of loaders along the Ohio River in Ceredo, West Virginia, on May 18, 2014. (Reuters/Robert Galbraith)
A view of the Tug river running through downtown Iaeger, West Virginia, on May 20, 2014. (Reuters/Robert Galbraith)
A vacant building is shown covered in vegetation along U.S. Route 52 near Gilbert, West Virginia, on May 21, 2014. The highway, known locally as "The King Coal Highway," runs through West Virginia's traditional coal mining belt. (Reuters/Robert Galbraith)
A car is parked outside of the "Hard Times Tavern" in Fort Gay, West Virginia, on May 19, 2014. (Reuters/Robert Galbraith)
A statue of Marilyn Monroe is shown outside the now-closed Happy Days Diner in Gilbert, West Virginia, on May 20, 2014. (Reuters/Robert Galbraith)
Coal trains sit idle in front of a home in Iaeger, West Virginia, on May 20, 2014. (Reuters/Robert Galbraith)
A man rides a bicycle past vacant storefronts in Gilbert, West Virginia, on May 22, 2014. (Reuters/Robert Galbraith)
Unemployed coal miners Todd Hatfield (L) and Dave Houck talk at Hatfield's bar and restaurant in Gilbert, West Virginia, on May 22, 2014. (Reuters/Robert Galbraith)
A replica of the Statue of Liberty is shown in downtown Matewan, West Virginia, on May 19, 2014. (Reuters/Robert Galbraith)








A Coal Worker's Life—With a Lot Less Coal

10/16/14
Image
The John Amos coal-fired power plant is seen behind a home in Poca, West Virginia, on May 18, 2014. (Reuters/Robert Galbraith)

King Coal Highway is the portion of U.S. Route 52 that gets drivers from Williamson to Bluefield, West Virginia. It's also a reminder of a mining industry that has supported the state's middle class for generations—an era of prosperity that is quickly winding down.

As Chico Harlan reported for the Washington Post's Storyline blog earlier this year, over 10,000 miners in southern West Virginia and eastern Kentucky have been laid off since 2012. Many of the coal reserves are harder to mine after years of easy extraction. And Environmental Protection Agency regulations, both existing and proposed, make an industry comeback unlikely.

The state sued the EPA in August, claiming that the federal agency can't put limits on carbon dioxide emissions from coal plants under the Clean Air Act. In June, the EPA proposed new emissions guidelines that would create state-specific goals to lower rates of CO2 emissions.

With many small towns along the West Virginia portion of U.S. 52 struggling, local politicians are trying to come up with answers. Early Thursday, West Virginia Senate President, Jeff Kessler (D), announced the creation of a new task force that will look into creating new kinds of employment in the region while preserving what's left of the mining industry that so many still depend on.

Photographer Robert Galbraith recently shared his trip along King Coal highway over at Reuters' Wider Image blog. Through his shots, we see a typical day in the life of a coal worker.

Coal miners Rodney Blankenship (L), Roger Vanatter (C), and an unidentified colleague prepare for the start of their afternoon shift in the locker room of a coal mine near Gilbert, West Virginia, on May 22, 2014. Blankenship, 53, a coal miner for 30 years, said, "You go in there, hope to have good productivity on your shift, and get out safely." (Reuters/Robert Galbraith)
Coal miners enter a coal mine for the start of an afternoon shift near Gilbert, West Virginia, on May 22, 2014. (Reuters/Robert Galbraith)
Coal miner Mike Hawks, 53, stands in an underground tunnel at a coal processing facility near Gilbert, West Virginia, on May 22, 2014. (Reuters/Robert Galbraith)
Coal is stacked at the base of loaders along the Ohio River in Ceredo, West Virginia, on May 18, 2014. (Reuters/Robert Galbraith)
A view of the Tug river running through downtown Iaeger, West Virginia, on May 20, 2014. (Reuters/Robert Galbraith)
A vacant building is shown covered in vegetation along U.S. Route 52 near Gilbert, West Virginia, on May 21, 2014. The highway, known locally as "The King Coal Highway," runs through West Virginia's traditional coal mining belt. (Reuters/Robert Galbraith)
A car is parked outside of the "Hard Times Tavern" in Fort Gay, West Virginia, on May 19, 2014. (Reuters/Robert Galbraith)
A statue of Marilyn Monroe is shown outside the now-closed Happy Days Diner in Gilbert, West Virginia, on May 20, 2014. (Reuters/Robert Galbraith)
Coal trains sit idle in front of a home in Iaeger, West Virginia, on May 20, 2014. (Reuters/Robert Galbraith)
A man rides a bicycle past vacant storefronts in Gilbert, West Virginia, on May 22, 2014. (Reuters/Robert Galbraith)
Unemployed coal miners Todd Hatfield (L) and Dave Houck talk at Hatfield's bar and restaurant in Gilbert, West Virginia, on May 22, 2014. (Reuters/Robert Galbraith)
A replica of the Statue of Liberty is shown in downtown Matewan, West Virginia, on May 19, 2014. (Reuters/Robert Galbraith)








The Taliban's Twitter misstep?

10/15/14

For more Last Look, watch GPS, Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN

Terrorists and jihadis have embraced social media using the Wild West of the Internet to exhibit bravado and spread their messages of hate. The bad guys have learned how to turn Twitter into a tool of terror. And Twitter is fighting back.

One analyst who monitors such accounts, J.M. Berger, tweeted last month that Twitter suspended 400 accounts linked to ISIS in just seven hours. But social media can also sometimes be a counterterrorism weapon.

Just recently, Afghan Taliban spokesperson Zabiullah Mujahid, might have made the CIA's job a little easier. Mujahid's Twitter profile says he is in Kabul, but he posted tweets that showed his location, and as many media outlets reported, those tweets showed him to be in neighboring Pakistan, where many believe leaders of his group are in hiding.

He quickly claimed to be the victim of an "enemy forgery," turned off the location feature and showed that it is possible to spoof your location by sending a tweet that made it look like he was in Brian, Ohio, population 8,000.

While it is possible he was hacked, we think the book "Twitter for Dummies" might better explain what happened.


Obama Ebola Cabinet Meeting: President Cancels Campaign Stops To Discuss Outbreak

10/15/14

Hours after a second health care worker was diagnosed with Ebola, U.S. President Barack Obama canceled campaign stops in New Jersey and Connecticut Wednesday to meet with his Cabinet on the growing Ebola outbreak. Obama administration officials are expected during the meeting to coordinate the government's response to Ebola after news broke that the second health care worker flew on a commercial flight from Ohio to Texas this week.

Academia, the ‘battleground’ in the Palestinian solidarity movement

10/9/14

On September 23 2014, Palestinian solidarity activists took part in the International Day of Action on College Campuses, calling for students and faculty around the world to pressure their academic institutions to support justice, human rights, and freedom for the Palestinian people.

The International Day of Action officially stated as its demands:

  • No to Academic Complicity with Israeli Occupation
  • No to Study Abroad Programs in Israel
  • No Investments in Apartheid and Occupation Supporting Companies
  • No to University Presidents’ Visits to Israel
  • No Campus Police Training or Cooperation with Israeli Security
  • No Joint Research or Conferences with Israeli Institutions
  • No Cooperation with Hasbara Networks on College Campuses
  • No to Targeting Faculty for Speaking Against Israeli Crimes
  • No to Administrative Limits on Free Speech Rights of Palestine Activists
  • No to University Coordination and Strategizing with the ADL, JCRC, AJC, Stand With US, ZOA, Israeli Consulate to Limit Students Pro-Palestine Constitutionally Protected Activities.

The call was spearheaded by Hatem Bazian, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley. A large rally was held at this school, with over 300 attendees.

At the demonstration, Bazian stated that “this international day of solidarity is to highlight the BDS” (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement. Muslim Student Association activist Unis Barakat echoed the call, and explained that activists had gathered “to peacefully demand that Israeli universities and the Israeli state give academic freedom toall individuals” and recognize “the Palestinian people’s basic human rights.”

A die-in at UC Berkley (Photo: Facebook)

A die-in at UC Berkley
(Photo: Facebook)

The rally concluded with a die-in. Later that evening, Bazian joined several other California professors for a teach-in.

Many university Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapters tabled and held demonstrations on their campuses to raise awareness and to educate fellow students about Israel’s brutal occupation and oppression of Palestinians.

Stanford University SJP’s memorial to children killed in Gaza in Operation Protective Edge (Photo: Facebook)

Stanford University SJP’s memorial to children killed in Gaza in Operation Protective Edge (Photo: Facebook)

Stanford SJP activists chalked the center of their campus with the names and ages of Palestinian children killed in Gaza in Operation Protective Edge.

Similar demonstrations and events were held around the country.

Student organizing was by no means unencumbered, nonetheless. The day of action entered the spotlight in mid September when a leaked email showed that the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) was pressuring universities to crackdown on Palestinian solidarity activists. The ADL demonized the organization American Muslims for Palestine in particular, who helped organize the International Day of Action, falsely accusing it of attacking “Jewish communal organizations.” The chancellor of University of California, Davis was later publicly criticized for circulating the dishonest email with administrators.

Not soon after, the executive director of Jewish fraternity Zeta Beta Tau (ZBT) sent a letter to 1,000s of members, defending “our strong historic ties to the State of Israel” and implying Palestinian solidarity activists were planning on engaging in “intimidation and acts of violence.” Leading Palestinian journalist Ali Abunimah condemned the message as an attempt “to stoke tensions between Jewish and other students in an effort to discredit criticism of Israel following the recent massacre in Gaza.” (Abunimah also noted the irony that such a directive would come from ZBT, a fraternity with “a long history of internal violence” andwhose members steadfastly defended Israel in the summer of 2014, when the country killed over 1,500 Palestinian civilians, including approximately 500 children.)

Oberlin Students for a Free Palestine

Flags arranged by  Oberlin Students for a Free Palestine

Flags arranged by Oberlin Students for a Free Palestine

Perhaps the highlight of student actions took place at Oberlin College, a small liberal arts college in Oberlin, Ohio. There, the organization Oberlin Students for a Free Palestine held a “2,133 black flags, 2,133 Palestinians dead, do not be silent” action, in which activists created an enormous installation, planting a small black flag for every Palestinian killed in Israel’s most recent massacre in Gaza, Operation Protective Edge.

In front of the 2,133 flags students hung a banner reading

These black flags honor the 2,133 Palestinians murdered by the Israeli Defense Forces over the 51 days of Operation Protective Edge. Israel receives more military assistance from the United States than any other country in the world at an annual rate of $3.1 billion dollars. Our tax dollars, and likely our tuition, funded this genocide.

This is not a vigil. This is a call to action. It is a recognition of our complicity in these acts of violence. It is a refusal to be silent.

The activists asked onlookers to sign their online petition, demanding an administrative response to an Oberlin student divestment resolution.

The flags remained up until the morning of the 27th.

I contacted Oberlin SFP to inquire how the college and community responded to their action. They were pleased with how well the action went. They reported seeing a lot of support from the student body. On the evening of the 24th, approximately 60 people, representing a variety of student and local organizations, gathered to read statements of solidarity with Palestine. Many of these connected the struggle for justice in Palestine to those other oppressed peoples around the world, particularly those in Ferguson, MI—a parallel numerous Palestinian organizations have made since the murder of Michael Brown on 9 August 2014.

Not everyone was happy with their demonstration, however. SFP members noted “a lot of disapproval,” particularly with the fact that the demonstration also marked the beginning of Rosh Hashanah. “We hold that this action was in accordance with the larger International Day of Action of September 23,” they insisted, adding “despite the provocative timing also assert that the mourning of Palestinian deaths and recognizing our own complicity in this violence should not be mutually exclusive from celebrating Rosh Hashanah.”

According to SFP members, the Zionist presence at Oberlin is much more of a liberal variety, as is increasingly common for today’s generation. A student told me that many Jewish students at Oberlin are in fact uncomfortable with more hardline Zionist organizations, namely Hillel, and “feel unwelcome in their spaces.” The Oberlin Hillel Facebook page has not been active in two years.

J Street U Oberlin did criticize SFP, writing on Facebook that it was “saddened by the polarization within our community and want to offer a productive path forward based on establishing conditions for a sustainable, real peace.” SFP members rejected such accusations, and lamented that J Street members “often try to conflate our messages while erasing the very obvious power dynamics that exist between Israel and Palestine.”

Oberlin SFP’s International Day of Action demonstration is just one part of its ongoing BDS campaign. A member told me that their “ultimate goal is to continue to push for true economic divestment from six corporations profiting from the occupation: Caterpillar, Veolia, G4S, SodaStream, Elbit Systems, and Hewlett-Packard.” The Oberlin Student Senate already passed a divestment resolution in May 2013, “but since then neither the administration nor the Board of Trustees have expressed any interest in moving forward.” The activist added, “Thus, while we wanted this action to be about mourning the tremendous loss of life, we are also firm in our insistence that this is not a vigil—it is a call to action.” SJP released a press release condemning the administration for being “unresponsive” and “demanding that the college divest from companies profiting from and perpetuating the Israeli occupation of Palestine.”

The Oberlin administration has yet to respond to the action or to the calls for accountability, and SFP members admitted that do not find it likely that it will.

University Crackdown on Palestinian Solidarity Activists

Oberlin Students for a Free Palestine did not encounter any trouble from their administration, as they registered the installation with Oberlin’s security and facilities departments beforehand. Other university administrations, however, have not been so kind.

In one of the more publicized recent controversies, in March 2014, Northeastern University banned its SJP branch, in what many characterized as a draconian act of censorship. Student activists had engaged in a harmless mock eviction action, distributing what were clearly fake notices in order to educate students about just one of the many fears Palestinians face on a daily basis—the very real possibility of an Israeli government official arriving to tell you that the home your family has lived in for generations is, without any kind of trial or due process, now going to be demolished.

Northeastern SJP member Max Geller stated that his “school was accusing us of an act of criminality for simply [an] act of leafleting,” and that “NYPD-style tactics were used against students” for handing out pieces of paper. The administration asked the Northeastern University Police Department to conduct an investigation. The authorities immediately went after any Arab and Muslim students involved. Two students were threatened with expulsion—both of whom happened to be women of color. Neither was an officer in the organization, just rank-and-file members.

Journalist Max Blumenthal uncovered big money and powerful leaders of Zionist organizations with close ties to the university. Geller bemoaned that Northeastern was “more interested in appeasing outside astroturfed Zionist groups than in fostering an environment where the vigorous exchange of ideas can take place.”

Fortunately, after “Weeks of protests, picket lines, petitions, phone calls, and emails,” the student organization was reinstated. ACLU attorney Sarah Wunsch called the branch’s reinstatement “a victory for freedom of expression, which is a crucial aspect to any quality university.” Staff attorney with Palestine Solidarity Legal Support and co-operating counsel with the Center for Constitutional Rights Radhika Sainath remarked that “What happened to SJP at Northeastern is just one part of the larger assault on speech supporting Palestinian rights in this country. There is no ‘Palestine Exception’ to free speech rights and the First Amendment.”

Crackdowns of this kind are by no means limited to the US. In Israel itself, students are suffering huge consequences for criticizing their government. In the wake of Operation Protective Edge, Israeli scholar Amir Hetsroni wrote in Haaretz of “the undeniable attempts by academic management to prevent students and faculty from speaking their minds and punishing those who protest against the war.” He details extreme policies of Israeli universities, enumerating incidents in which students were were punished, fined, and even arrested simply for speaking their mind.

Before the massacre in Gaza, Hetsroni explains, he opposed the academic boycott of Israel. But when he saw the role Israeli universities played in stifling opposition, his position quickly shifted. “A college that prohibits students from taking part in political protest is not an academic institute. A university that vetoes its faculty’s right to publish non-Zionist (not to say anti-Zionist) scholarship is not a university. In such cases an academic boycott might be an acceptable response,” he confessed.

Academia as a Locus of the Palestinian Solidarity Movement

The International Day of Action for Palestine was organized by a scholar, to take place on college campuses. Many of the leading figures of the Palestine solidarity movement, and the organizers of the BDS movement, are scholars. Academe is, in many ways, today a locus of the struggle against Israeli apartheid—just as it was for the struggle against apartheid in South Africa in the quite recent past.

In April 2004, numerous Palestinian scholars and intellectuals organized the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI). The organization maintains that “all Israeli academic institutions, unless proven otherwise, are complicit in maintaining the Israeli occupation and denial of basic Palestinian rights.” In its guidelines for the international academic boycott of Israel, PACBI writes:

Academic institutions are a key part of the ideological and institutional scaffolding of Israel’s regime of occupation, colonialism and apartheid against the Palestinian people. Since its founding, the Israeli academy has cast its lot with the hegemonic political-military establishment in Israel, and notwithstanding the efforts of a handful of principled academics, the Israeli academy is profoundly implicated in supporting and perpetuating Israel’s systematic denial of Palestinian rights.

This is the reason institutions are cracking down so harshly on student activism. Much of the ground gained in the BDS movement has been in Academia, led by the PACBI. Israel’s own desperate attempts to manipulate public opinion demonstrate how much it fears the power of the BDS movement to end its decades-long process of colonization.

Israel pays students (and handsomely, at that) to spread government propaganda online. In recent years, as the momentum and strength of the BDS movement increases, Israel has even gone so far as to pressure foreign governments to crush Palestinian solidarity activism.

The recent firing, on incredibly suspect grounds, of Palestinian-American professor Steven Salaita for the “crime” of criticizing Israel is a more palpable and personal manifestation of this encroaching attack. In the words of Tithi Bhattacharya and Bill V. Mullen, the firing of Salaita “shows where Zionism meets neoliberalism at US universities.”

It is not mere happenstance that so much of this struggle has taken place in academia. Academe, of course, is where policies are researched and created that will later be implemented to capture the “hearts and minds” of citizens. Yet, even more simply, Israel deliberately decided to make the Academy an important center of struggle. During the Second Intifada, head of Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) and Deputy Prime Minister Natan Sharansky visited a slew of North American colleges. Upon returning to Israel, he “said to [Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon—the most important battleground for the future of the Jewish people is campuses.”

Sharansky’s rhetoric about college campuses—as with so much of the rhetoric in the hyper-militarized life of far-, far-right Israel—is extremely militaristic in character. He speaks of a “war” on campus, and insists “that one battle would finish and immediately the other would start on the campuses.”

Israel is well-prepared for this “war.” The Times of Israel boasts that, at “the height of this summer’s Gaza conflict [read: one-sided massacre], JAFI had already begun training its 2014 cohort of 66 campus Israel Fellows, which are based out of Hillel Houses on 111 campuses throughout North America (some fellows have a presence on multiple campuses).” All of these 66 fellows “have completed army service … and sign on for up to two years on campuses where they aim to ‘empower student leadership and create Israel-engaged campuses.’” And the JAFI’s propaganda campaign on US college campuses doesn’t just adopt the rhetoric of militarism; it openly adopts the Israeli military’s tactics. The Times of Israel practically gloats:

Using this summer’s massive call-up of IDF reserves as a model, JAFI began to conscript its “reservists” and, with emergency funding from Jewish Federations of North America, pressed 20 former Israel Fellows back into its ranks. The reservists themselves are happy to serve and have taken off between two weeks and a month from their “civilian lives” to return to campuses in North America.

Bending toward Justice

In spite of the ferocity of the clampdown on dissent, and in spite of the prodigious political capital of the Zionist establishment, the truth of Israel’s crimes in Palestine has been increasingly difficult for the average American to ignore. The victory of Northeastern SJP, the calls for divestment by student activists at schools like Oberlin College, and the immense push-back against the attack on Salaita’s academic freedom all show that the Palestinian solidarity movement is really taking off in the US. To call the US Academy the “battleground” for Palestinian liberation is of course hyperbolic—and even downright insulting, considering the actual live battleground the Palestinian people live in, and their valiant and multifarious forms of resistance against oppression. At the end of the day, the struggle in the US is only one of solidarity with the Palestinians as they themselves fight to liberate themselves. Yet the fact that Americans, the citizens of the superpower whose economic and political support has allowed Israel to continue its egregious crimes with complete impunity for so many years, are now questioning their country’s relationship with Israel is an exceedingly important step in this long haul.

In April 2013, the Association for Asian American Studies voted to boycott Israeli academic institutions. Months later, in December, the American Studies Association and the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association did as well. Similar boycotts of Israeli academic institutions have been declared by prominent organizations in the UK, Australia, South Africa, and many more countries around the world.

In May 2013, Stephen Hawking, a scientist with celebrity status in the scholarly world, joined the academic boycott of Israel. Renowned philosopher Judith Butler, herself an anti-Zionist of Jewish descent, has also become a leading figure in the BDS movement. Of her support for the boycott of Israeli academic institutions, she explains

I have no problem collaborating with Israeli scholars and artists as long as we do not participate in any Israeli institution or have Israeli state monies support our collaborative work. The reason, of course, is that the academic and cultural boycott seeks to put pressure on all those cultural institutions that have failed to oppose the occupation and struggle for equal rights and the rights of the dispossessed, all those cultural institutions that think it is not their place to criticize their government for these practices, all of them that understand themselves to be above or beyond this intractable political condition. In this sense, they do contribute to an unacceptable status quo.

Butler’s distinguishing individual Israeli scholars (and artists) from Israeli institutions is incredibly important. It is an aspect often overlooked and ignored by critics of the BDS movement. The PACBI has been very careful to honor this distinction. The BDS movement is “Anchored in precepts of international law and universal human rights,” it explains, and rejects “boycotts of individuals based on their identity (such as citizenship, race, gender, or religion) or opinion.” The only circumstances in which it advocates boycotting in individuals is when they are “representing the state of Israel or a complicit Israeli institution (such as a dean, rector, or president), or is commissioned/recruited to participate in Israel’s efforts to ‘rebrand’ itself. … Mere affiliation of Israeli scholars to an Israeli academic institution is therefore not grounds for applying the boycott.”

Today, distinguished Israeli scholars such as Ilan Pappé, Shlomo Sand, Neve Gordon, Oren Yiftachel, Anat Biletzki, and more have supported academic and cultural boycotts of their own state. Their calls for justice, in fact, have been some of the most vociferous. People from all walks of life, around the world, are calling for human rights and dignity for the Palestinians, and the university has served as the rallying point for these calls.

In his canonical August 1967 speech “Where Do We Go From Here?” Martin Luther King, Jr. paraphrased 19th-century American abolitionist Theodore Parker, proclaiming “The arc of the Moral Universe is long, but it bends toward Justice!”

The “war” for hearts and minds, as Sharansky fancies it, is indeed being waged on the “battleground” of the US university campus. But, despite the enormous and formidable forces rising against them, those seeking justice and freedom for the Palestinian people are winning. The arc of the Moral Universe is indeed slowly, and painfully, but surely, bending toward Justice.

The 10 Best Music Videos That Spread the Putin-Love

10/8/14
"All the single Putins!" Image edited by Kevin Rothrock.

“All the single Putins!” Image edited by Kevin Rothrock.

Vladimir Putin, the President of Russia, turned 62 yesterday. Public opinion polls assure us that the people of Russia are quite fond of their head of state, despite the checkered reputation Putin enjoys abroad, especially in the West. The country's mounting economic problems don't seem to bother most Russians, either. The proof, it seems, is in the music.

Yesterday, in a mix of satire and homage, news media around the world covered the spectacle surrounding Putin's most recent birthday. But the party has been going on for years already. If “Russia under Putin” were a human being, she'd be an adolescent now, pushing fourteen. Throughout this time, the Internet has been a treasure trove of artistic expression of Russian citizens’ feelings about their president.

Expressing themselves in song comes naturally to most Russians, so it's no wonder that music about Putin abounds on the Internet. While some of the songs are critical or offensive in nature (slamming Putin for corruption, abuse of power, and greed), many others laud “VVP” (the president's initials) for his manliness, bravery, and no-nonsense je ne sais quoi.

RuNet Echo looks back at the 10 best examples of foot-tapping, hip-thrusting Putin-love to have appeared online. A “cult of personality” never sounded so good.

1. Who Could Be The President? (2006)


This laid-back reggae track gives us a brilliant mashup of Putin's real words, excerpted from a public speech (and taken wildly out of context, of course!). The song treats listeners to a Putin not shy about extolling his own virtues. “Who could be the president? Who could be me? Because nobody wants to do the dirty work. Because nobody wants to be caught in the Kremlin. We need strong authorities—strong presidential authority. Who could be president? Me!”

2. Go Hard Like Vladimir Putin (2014)


An amazing monochrome rap video praising Putin's hard-hitting, no-compromising side. We don't really know what AMG (aka Jason Lewis), a rapper from Ohio, and the Russian President have in common, or why AMG looks up to VVP. But it's an instant hit.

3. One Like Putin (2002)


This one is a classic. A sexy techno anthem to the machismo that is the president. The ladies in the video say they're done with their boyfriends (so disappointing!) and the only man they could ever settle for is someone like Putin. This is one of the longest-running Putin tracks of all time, and it's still as good as it was the first time we heard it.

4. Putin Can Do Anything (2013)


A cute cartoon accompanied by a riff on a Russian children's song (the original is “Daddy Can Do Anything”). (Yes, we know.) Putin emerges as an all-around talented man: he can go to space, play the piano, climb mountains, breakdance, pilot an airplane—there's really nothing he can't do. Bonus feature: a super-sad, but hilarious, Yanukovych character. Also, the choir at the end. It's worth watching all the way. We promise.

5. Putin Super DJ (2008)


Sorry, Mr. Jackson, but when Mr. Putin, the new super DJ in town, gets behind the turntable, we're gonna dance 'til morning. He's a superstar! “We all dream of being like him,” sings Andrey Gubin, who used to be a legitimate pop singer in Russia. Yeah, it's sad to watch the stars fade, but the track is still kind of catchy!

6. Go Forth, Vladimir Putin! (2012)


A more traditional song with an accordion, balalaikas, and back-up choir, not to mention the obligatory mentions of Russian villages, love, and bad weather. No matter how dark the sky, singer Vladimir Slepak rasps, we shall overcome all our problems, as long as we're moving forward with Putin at the helm. History in the making!

7. VVP (2012)


This one is secretly our favorite. Tadjik singer Tolibdjon Kurbankhanov praises Putin in a very earnest, but monotonous techno-number, set to a series of depressing, unspectacular shots of Russian cities in the winter. (This is the icy, dilapidated paradise you've come to know and love, foreigners.) “VVP, he saved the country, he elevated Russia!” The rest of the text is more poor rhymes and broken rhythms. It's so bad it's almost too good, and Kurbankhanov tries so hard. Bonus: Balalaika solo!

8. Stir It Up, Muddle It Up (2012)


Another example of brilliant sampling skills. This track mixes up soundbites from Putin, Medvedev, and other officials, as well as quotes from popular culture with a catchy refrain. The gist is, Putin has got to be president, and we will do anything we can—stir up trouble and muddy the waters—to keep Vova (Putin) in power. This almost sounds like satire, but not quite. Also, Putin wears a crown, because why not.

9. The Song of Putin (2010)


This one has a more raw, garageband sound, but it still works. Some rapping, some distorted guitars, and more praise for Putin. The authors walk us through VVP's epic biography, from his early years to his ascent to power. The guitar riffs are nice, and the refrain is to die for: “Bro, don't sweat it! Everything's gonna be ace!”

10. Vova Is Rocking It (2010)


This hilarious cartoon music video is built on the classic R&B canon: the soloist, the hip-swinging backup girls, and the harmonies. Dress Code, the band behind the song, presents Putin as an epic hero, who is more awesome than James Bond, Superman, or Harry Potter, and saving the day is basically his day job. (We won't ask what he gets up to at night.) Nothing but respect for the man who is our Luke Skywalker and our Terminator, rolled into one.

The 10 Best Music Videos That Spread the Putin-Love

10/8/14
"All the single Putins!" Image edited by Kevin Rothrock.

“All the single Putins!” Image edited by Kevin Rothrock.

Vladimir Putin, the President of Russia, turned 62 yesterday. Public opinion polls assure us that the people of Russia are quite fond of their head of state, despite the checkered reputation Putin enjoys abroad, especially in the West. The country's mounting economic problems don't seem to bother most Russians, either. The proof, it seems, is in the music.

Yesterday, in a mix of satire and homage, news media around the world covered the spectacle surrounding Putin's most recent birthday. But the party has been going on for years already. If “Russia under Putin” were a human being, she'd be an adolescent now, pushing fourteen. Throughout this time, the Internet has been a treasure trove of artistic expression of Russian citizens’ feelings about their president.

Expressing themselves in song comes naturally to most Russians, so it's no wonder that music about Putin abounds on the Internet. While some of the songs are critical or offensive in nature (slamming Putin for corruption, abuse of power, and greed), many others laud “VVP” (the president's initials) for his manliness, bravery, and no-nonsense je ne sais quoi.

RuNet Echo looks back at the 10 best examples of foot-tapping, hip-thrusting Putin-love to have appeared online. A “cult of personality” never sounded so good.

1. Who Could Be The President? (2006)


This laid-back reggae track gives us a brilliant mashup of Putin's real words, excerpted from a public speech (and taken wildly out of context, of course!). The song treats listeners to a Putin not shy about extolling his own virtues. “Who could be the president? Who could be me? Because nobody wants to do the dirty work. Because nobody wants to be caught in the Kremlin. We need strong authorities—strong presidential authority. Who could be president? Me!”

2. Go Hard Like Vladimir Putin (2014)


An amazing monochrome rap video praising Putin's hard-hitting, no-compromising side. We don't really know what AMG (aka Jason Lewis), a rapper from Ohio, and the Russian President have in common, or why AMG looks up to VVP. But it's an instant hit.

3. One Like Putin (2002)


This one is a classic. A sexy techno anthem to the machismo that is the president. The ladies in the video say they're done with their boyfriends (so disappointing!) and the only man they could ever settle for is someone like Putin. This is one of the longest-running Putin tracks of all time, and it's still as good as it was the first time we heard it.

4. Putin Can Do Anything (2013)


A cute cartoon accompanied by a riff on a Russian children's song (the original is “Daddy Can Do Anything”). (Yes, we know.) Putin emerges as an all-around talented man: he can go to space, play the piano, climb mountains, breakdance, pilot an airplane—there's really nothing he can't do. Bonus feature: a super-sad, but hilarious, Yanukovych character. Also, the choir at the end. It's worth watching all the way. We promise.

5. Putin Super DJ (2008)


Sorry, Mr. Jackson, but when Mr. Putin, the new super DJ in town, gets behind the turntable, we're gonna dance 'til morning. He's a superstar! “We all dream of being like him,” sings Andrey Gubin, who used to be a legitimate pop singer in Russia. Yeah, it's sad to watch the stars fade, but the track is still kind of catchy!

6. Go Forth, Vladimir Putin! (2012)


A more traditional song with an accordion, balalaikas, and back-up choir, not to mention the obligatory mentions of Russian villages, love, and bad weather. No matter how dark the sky, singer Vladimir Slepak rasps, we shall overcome all our problems, as long as we're moving forward with Putin at the helm. History in the making!

7. VVP (2012)


This one is secretly our favorite. Tadjik singer Tolibdjon Kurbankhanov praises Putin in a very earnest, but monotonous techno-number, set to a series of depressing, unspectacular shots of Russian cities in the winter. (This is the icy, dilapidated paradise you've come to know and love, foreigners.) “VVP, he saved the country, he elevated Russia!” The rest of the text is more poor rhymes and broken rhythms. It's so bad it's almost too good, and Kurbankhanov tries so hard. Bonus: Balalaika solo!

8. Stir It Up, Muddle It Up (2012)


Another example of brilliant sampling skills. This track mixes up soundbites from Putin, Medvedev, and other officials, as well as quotes from popular culture with a catchy refrain. The gist is, Putin has got to be president, and we will do anything we can—stir up trouble and muddy the waters—to keep Vova (Putin) in power. This almost sounds like satire, but not quite. Also, Putin wears a crown, because why not.

9. The Song of Putin (2010)


This one has a more raw, garageband sound, but it still works. Some rapping, some distorted guitars, and more praise for Putin. The authors walk us through VVP's epic biography, from his early years to his ascent to power. The guitar riffs are nice, and the refrain is to die for: “Bro, don't sweat it! Everything's gonna be ace!”

10. Vova Is Rocking It (2010)


This hilarious cartoon music video is built on the classic R&B canon: the soloist, the hip-swinging backup girls, and the harmonies. Dress Code, the band behind the song, presents Putin as an epic hero, who is more awesome than James Bond, Superman, or Harry Potter, and saving the day is basically his day job. (We won't ask what he gets up to at night.) Nothing but respect for the man who is our Luke Skywalker and our Terminator, rolled into one.

The Diverse Suburbs Movement Has Never Been More Relevant

10/3/14
Image
People protest Monday, Aug. 18, 2014, for Michael Brown, who was killed by a police officer Aug. 9 in Ferguson. ((AP Photo/Charlie Riedel))

At a time when thousands of American suburbs like Ferguson, Missouri, are gaining more and more black and Hispanic families, the killing of Michael Brown this summer and the frustration that poured onto suburban streets afterward should prompt officials across the country to rethink their responses to demographic change.

“Ferguson is a cautionary tale,” says Jay Readey, executive director of the Chicago Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights and an advocate of fair housing policies and racially diverse communities. “The demographic wave that is overtaking America is brown. Less than half of the families looking for homes and communities to settle into over the next decade will be white.”

Readey and others argue that as the U.S. population, now only 63 percent non-Hispanic white, continues to evolve toward a “majority-minority” status, the memory of August in Ferguson should draw more attention to suburbs that have taken a dramatically different approach to addressing demographic change. In fact, a growing number of suburban jurisdictions are working to sustain diverse communities by actively addressing the types of racial issues that can lead to instability, police brutality and civil unrest.

Oak Park, Illinois, a suburb south of Chicago, for instance, has been thinking about how best to sustain a diverse community for 40 years. “In Oak Park, the community chose to embrace diversity and more importantly to embrace integration and inclusion,” says Rob Breymaier of the Oak Park Regional Housing Center, a non-profit that works with renters and property owners to promote racially balanced neighborhoods. “As a result, Oak Park has prospered and our diversity is an asset, while Ferguson appears to be struggling.”

Suburbia at the Crossroads

Long before mortally wounded Michael Brown lay on the streets of Ferguson, the landscape of thousands of similar post-World War II middle-class and predominantly white suburbs was changing. Federal and state policies in the 1990s and 2000s supported “home ownership” for more American families, including black and Hispanic families that had previously lived in city apartments. These policies not only led to the subprime mortgage frenzy and eventual housing market crash by providing incentives to lower-income home buyers and their mortgage lenders. They also dramatically changed the racial identity of inner-ring suburbia like Ferguson.

As additional Clinton and Bush-era policies supported the tax-abated construction of luxury condos in cities, more affluent whites have moved back to the same cities their parents and grandparents fled 60 years ago. In addition to this white and affluent “return to urban,” other white Americans have left changing suburbs like Ferguson and moved to more remote, still predominantly white communities. Still other long-term white suburban residents, like 30 percent of the Ferguson population, stay put for a variety of reasons, including growing acceptance of neighbors of other races or lack of resources to leave.

According to a University of Minnesota report, in the 50 largest U.S. metropolitan areas, 44 percent of residents live in racially and ethnically diverse suburbs, defined as between 20 and 60 percent non-white.

“Ironically, these inner ring suburbs, once considered ‘white flight’ communities, are now more reflective of the country’s demographics than the cities are,” says Paul Scully, executive director of Building One America, which advocates for policies that support diverse suburban communities.

A Movement Rooted in History

For Braymaier and others who have been doing this work for a long time, any uptick in interest in diverse suburbs signals not a “new” movement, but the resurgence of an old one whose time has finally come. Places like Oak Park; Shaker Heights, Ohio, which borders Cleveland; or Maplewood-South Orange near Newark, New Jersey, set out decades ago, working with local real estate agents, to ensure that as blacks and Hispanics moved in, white residents did not flee. Organizers in these communities knew that too much white flight too quickly would lead to a downward spiral of lower property values, tax revenue and local services.

Oak Park's A Day in Our Village community festival is held each year on the first Sunday in June. (Village of Oak Park)

In fact, when the Oak Park Regional Housing Center was founded in the 1970s, many Midwestern and Northeastern suburbs were working to stabilize diverse communities. Organizations such as the National Conference of Christians and Jews, (now the National Conference of Communities and Justice), brought people from diverse suburbs and towns together to share strategies.

Momentum waned in the 1980s when many older, inner-ring suburbs became predominantly black and the federal government more or less stopped enforcing fair housing rules. But these issues have reappeared on the political radar in the last decade , as the long-term impact of post-1965 immigration policy and differential birthrates across racial groups has led more policy makers to pay attention to the increasingly diverse electorate and market of home buyers.  

The Obama Administration has been relatively more proactive in terms of enforcing federal anti-discrimination laws. A good example is a 2009 Westchester Countyfair-housing case that ultimately forced the suburban New York county to build more mixed-income housing in some of its more affluent neighborhoods. In 2013, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) officials withdrew about $7.4 million in federal grants earmarked for Westchester, accusing the county of failing to comply with the order. While Westchester officials argue that HUD is overreaching, the Obama Administration’s actions in this case have put local communities on notice about fair housing enforcement.

HUD has also developed programs to support stable, diverse communities. In the Philadelphia metro area, several southwestern suburban townships came together to found Building One Pennsylvania, a state chapter of Building One America, and worked with HUD officials to develop a “mobility program.” The program helps assure low-income recipients of federal rent assistant vouchers, known as Section Eight vouchers, are not concentrated in one or two townships, but spread across several suburbs.

Still, many of HUD’s most innovative programs were cut during the federal budget sequestration of 2013. One example is the Sustainable Communities Initiative, or SCI, which was a partnership between HUD, the Department of Transportation and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to fund communities across the country seeking to develop master plans for economically strong, environmentally sustainable, and “inclusive” communities. Salin Geevarghese, former Acting Director of the Office of Sustainable Housing and Communities (now the Office of Economic Resilience), confirmed that while the SCI communities made much progress during the initial planning stage of the program, the sequester left HUD with no funds for the next phase of the project.

As Philip Tegeler, executive director of the Poverty and Race Research Action Council (PRRAC), explains, the Obama Administration’s actions on fair housing enforcement in predominantly white communities have been significant. But the more proactive, regional approach to planning that SCI supported is what is needed most in suburban counties that are already diverse.  According to Tegeler, “What is missing are the program mechanics and incentives that create integration. Sequestration has been brutal to these efforts within HUD.”

From Addressing Discrimination to Sustaining Diversity

In line with HUD’s defunded strategies, those working on these issues of diversity at the grass roots level say that addressing racial discrimination in terms of access to housing is not enough. In addition, suburbs such as Ferguson also need to proactively address racial profiling, equal access to infrastructure, economic revitalization, and school reform.

In Shaker Heights, Ohio, which has had clear policies on housing integration for decades, this shift is obvious. “We don’t talk so much about neighborhood integration anymore, we talk about stabilization and revitalization,” says Lisa Gold-Scott, Housing Attorney for Shaker Heights.

A long-standing home loan program called Fund for the Future was established in Shaker in the 1980s to assist home buyers in making “pro-integrative” moves into neighborhoods in which they would contribute to racial balance. But after the mortgage lending crisis in 2008, credit became tighter and more homes were converted to rentals units as the recession continued. By 2012, the Fund for the Future was no longer a viable model for sustaining a racially diverse and mixed-income community.

Now, Shaker Heights, with support from HUD and local non-profits, is focused on revitalization efforts including rehabbing vacant lots and foreclosed houses. They are building playgrounds and gardens in spaces where abandoned houses once stood and rehabbing old retail establishments that once housed auto repair shops to make office space for start-up tech companies.

According to Gold-Scott, the sustainability of older suburbs like Shaker Heights goes well beyond ensuring fair housing now that the demographics have changed so much. She notes that when you have safe, healthy homes and vibrant business districts, it has a ripple effect on the whole community. “It is a never-ending process, and you can’t just rest on your laurels,” she says.

Similar sentiments are echoed in other contexts, including Maplewood-South Orange in New Jersey, where Nancy Gagnier is executive director of the Community Coalition on Race. Modeled after the Fund for the Future, Maplewood-South Orange established a loan program in the late 1990s called Prism (Pro-integration Supplemental Money), which provided low-interest loans to homebuyers to purchase on streets where their racial/ethnic group was underrepresented. In recent years, Prism, like Fund for the Future, has evolved into a home improvement loan program to help community members hit hardest by the mortgage crisis and recession maintain their homes.

The Coalition also formed a Realtor Advisory Group to test how realtors reacted to prospective home buyers of different racial ethnic groups. This effort has evolved as well, as fair housing laws have greatly restricted what real estate agents can say to prospective buyers about race. Ironically, some of the same advocacy groups that once wanted the tighter restrictions on how realtors are allowed to talk about race now bemoan the fact that these restrictions forbid realtors who understand the benefits of diverse communities and schools to talk about diversity as a selling point.

So in Maplewood-South Orange, the Realtor Advisory Group now holds meetings with local real estate agents and school officials about which neighborhoods are the hardest to sell and how that relates to perceptions of public schools. They then recruit enthusiastic parents from those schools to give prospective buyers a tour. “These school tours are given by people who love the town and can say a lot more about racial diversity than a realtor can,” says Gagnier.  

Hope Springs Eternal

With so many obstacles working against suburbs’ efforts to remain diverse, stable and economically viable, these communities are increasingly seen as  bellweathers. Recent events in Ferguson suggest it is a model worth duplicating.

“We are at an interesting turning point in the suburbs of this country,” says Readey of the Chicago Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights.  “It can go one way in to a blatant racial stratification scenario, with pockets of suburban affluent and everybody else. But if we embrace the idea of a strong middle class—a multi-ethnic and multi-racial multi-national middle—it will go another way.”

Interest in diversity today reflects the changing demographics of the country as a whole and a related shift in racial attitudes. More Americans than ever, especially younger, Millennial generation adults (age 18-34), say they are open to inter-racial marriage and interested in living in racially diverse communities. According to a recent Pew survey, a majority of these young adults also think that more needs to be done to address racial issues in the United States—55 percent of adults aged 18 to 34 agreed that more should be done, versus 40 percent of Americans over age 65.

Despite the views of this next generation of home buyers, sustaining racially diverse suburbs will be easier said than done. For one, property values for similar homes tend to differ in racially distinct communities. For example, my colleagues and I recently completed a study of demographic changes on Long Island, New York, and found statistically significant property value differences for the exact same houses on opposite sides of the suburban color line.

David Sabatino, a 20-something of Italian descent, grew up in Valley Stream on Long Island, where the population has shifted from more than 90 percent white and middle class in the 1980s to less than 50 percent white today. Newcomers include middle- and working-class blacks and Hispanics from Brooklyn and immigrants from the Caribbean, Central American, India, Pakistan, and Western Africa.

With a degree in urban planning and a commitment to his community, Sabatino recently bought a house in Valley Stream. He realizes that the question on many homeowners’ minds in suburbs like his is whether the whites will flee, as their parents and grandparents fled from Brooklyn decades ago. If they do, property values may well plummet. Or could it be that more white suburbanites will embrace diverse neighborhoods and stay put.

Sabatino is counting on the latter scenario. Founder of Envision Valley Stream, a community-based group focused on revitalizing and stabilizing his suburban home. Sabatino and Envision Valley Stream make planning proposals and host an annual Community Fest specifically designed to help residents feel more comfortable with their multicultural neighbors.

Property values are back up from their 2008 lows, and white residents are more willing to stay. Sabatino, who recently started working for the Long Island Planning Board, says a growing number of local residents— new and old— want to support diverse suburbs: “I finally feel justified. I’m not just some crazy person out there talking about Valley Stream. I feel a connection to other people.”








The Diverse Suburbs Movement Has Never Been More Relevant

10/3/14
Image
People protest Monday, Aug. 18, 2014, for Michael Brown, who was killed by a police officer Aug. 9 in Ferguson. ((AP Photo/Charlie Riedel))

At a time when thousands of American suburbs like Ferguson, Missouri, are gaining more and more black and Hispanic families, the killing of Michael Brown this summer and the frustration that poured onto suburban streets afterward should prompt officials across the country to rethink their responses to demographic change.

“Ferguson is a cautionary tale,” says Jay Readey, executive director of the Chicago Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights and an advocate of fair housing policies and racially diverse communities. “The demographic wave that is overtaking America is brown. Less than half of the families looking for homes and communities to settle into over the next decade will be white.”

Readey and others argue that as the U.S. population, now only 63 percent non-Hispanic white, continues to evolve toward a “majority-minority” status, the memory of August in Ferguson should draw more attention to suburbs that have taken a dramatically different approach to addressing demographic change. In fact, a growing number of suburban jurisdictions are working to sustain diverse communities by actively addressing the types of racial issues that can lead to instability, police brutality and civil unrest.

Oak Park, Illinois, a suburb south of Chicago, for instance, has been thinking about how best to sustain a diverse community for 40 years. “In Oak Park, the community chose to embrace diversity and more importantly to embrace integration and inclusion,” says Rob Breymaier of the Oak Park Regional Housing Center, a non-profit that works with renters and property owners to promote racially balanced neighborhoods. “As a result, Oak Park has prospered and our diversity is an asset, while Ferguson appears to be struggling.”

Suburbia at the Crossroads

Long before mortally wounded Michael Brown lay on the streets of Ferguson, the landscape of thousands of similar post-World War II middle-class and predominantly white suburbs was changing. Federal and state policies in the 1990s and 2000s supported “home ownership” for more American families, including black and Hispanic families that had previously lived in city apartments. These policies not only led to the subprime mortgage frenzy and eventual housing market crash by providing incentives to lower-income home buyers and their mortgage lenders. They also dramatically changed the racial identity of inner-ring suburbia like Ferguson.

As additional Clinton and Bush-era policies supported the tax-abated construction of luxury condos in cities, more affluent whites have moved back to the same cities their parents and grandparents fled 60 years ago. In addition to this white and affluent “return to urban,” other white Americans have left changing suburbs like Ferguson and moved to more remote, still predominantly white communities. Still other long-term white suburban residents, like 30 percent of the Ferguson population, stay put for a variety of reasons, including growing acceptance of neighbors of other races or lack of resources to leave.

According to a University of Minnesota report, in the 50 largest U.S. metropolitan areas, 44 percent of residents live in racially and ethnically diverse suburbs, defined as between 20 and 60 percent non-white.

“Ironically, these inner ring suburbs, once considered ‘white flight’ communities, are now more reflective of the country’s demographics than the cities are,” says Paul Scully, executive director of Building One America, which advocates for policies that support diverse suburban communities.

A Movement Rooted in History

For Braymaier and others who have been doing this work for a long time, any uptick in interest in diverse suburbs signals not a “new” movement, but the resurgence of an old one whose time has finally come. Places like Oak Park; Shaker Heights, Ohio, which borders Cleveland; or Maplewood-South Orange near Newark, New Jersey, set out decades ago, working with local real estate agents, to ensure that as blacks and Hispanics moved in, white residents did not flee. Organizers in these communities knew that too much white flight too quickly would lead to a downward spiral of lower property values, tax revenue and local services.

Oak Park's A Day in Our Village community festival is held each year on the first Sunday in June. (Village of Oak Park)

In fact, when the Oak Park Regional Housing Center was founded in the 1970s, many Midwestern and Northeastern suburbs were working to stabilize diverse communities. Organizations such as the National Conference of Christians and Jews, (now the National Conference of Communities and Justice), brought people from diverse suburbs and towns together to share strategies.

Momentum waned in the 1980s when many older, inner-ring suburbs became predominantly black and the federal government more or less stopped enforcing fair housing rules. But these issues have reappeared on the political radar in the last decade , as the long-term impact of post-1965 immigration policy and differential birthrates across racial groups has led more policy makers to pay attention to the increasingly diverse electorate and market of home buyers.  

The Obama Administration has been relatively more proactive in terms of enforcing federal anti-discrimination laws. A good example is a 2009 Westchester Countyfair-housing case that ultimately forced the suburban New York county to build more mixed-income housing in some of its more affluent neighborhoods. In 2013, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) officials withdrew about $7.4 million in federal grants earmarked for Westchester, accusing the county of failing to comply with the order. While Westchester officials argue that HUD is overreaching, the Obama Administration’s actions in this case have put local communities on notice about fair housing enforcement.

HUD has also developed programs to support stable, diverse communities. In the Philadelphia metro area, several southwestern suburban townships came together to found Building One Pennsylvania, a state chapter of Building One America, and worked with HUD officials to develop a “mobility program.” The program helps assure low-income recipients of federal rent assistant vouchers, known as Section Eight vouchers, are not concentrated in one or two townships, but spread across several suburbs.

Still, many of HUD’s most innovative programs were cut during the federal budget sequestration of 2013. One example is the Sustainable Communities Initiative, or SCI, which was a partnership between HUD, the Department of Transportation and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to fund communities across the country seeking to develop master plans for economically strong, environmentally sustainable, and “inclusive” communities. Salin Geevarghese, former Acting Director of the Office of Sustainable Housing and Communities (now the Office of Economic Resilience), confirmed that while the SCI communities made much progress during the initial planning stage of the program, the sequester left HUD with no funds for the next phase of the project.

As Philip Tegeler, executive director of the Poverty and Race Research Action Council (PRRAC), explains, the Obama Administration’s actions on fair housing enforcement in predominantly white communities have been significant. But the more proactive, regional approach to planning that SCI supported is what is needed most in suburban counties that are already diverse.  According to Tegeler, “What is missing are the program mechanics and incentives that create integration. Sequestration has been brutal to these efforts within HUD.”

From Addressing Discrimination to Sustaining Diversity

In line with HUD’s defunded strategies, those working on these issues of diversity at the grass roots level say that addressing racial discrimination in terms of access to housing is not enough. In addition, suburbs such as Ferguson also need to proactively address racial profiling, equal access to infrastructure, economic revitalization, and school reform.

In Shaker Heights, Ohio, which has had clear policies on housing integration for decades, this shift is obvious. “We don’t talk so much about neighborhood integration anymore, we talk about stabilization and revitalization,” says Lisa Gold-Scott, Housing Attorney for Shaker Heights.

A long-standing home loan program called Fund for the Future was established in Shaker in the 1980s to assist home buyers in making “pro-integrative” moves into neighborhoods in which they would contribute to racial balance. But after the mortgage lending crisis in 2008, credit became tighter and more homes were converted to rentals units as the recession continued. By 2012, the Fund for the Future was no longer a viable model for sustaining a racially diverse and mixed-income community.

Now, Shaker Heights, with support from HUD and local non-profits, is focused on revitalization efforts including rehabbing vacant lots and foreclosed houses. They are building playgrounds and gardens in spaces where abandoned houses once stood and rehabbing old retail establishments that once housed auto repair shops to make office space for start-up tech companies.

According to Gold-Scott, the sustainability of older suburbs like Shaker Heights goes well beyond ensuring fair housing now that the demographics have changed so much. She notes that when you have safe, healthy homes and vibrant business districts, it has a ripple effect on the whole community. “It is a never-ending process, and you can’t just rest on your laurels,” she says.

Similar sentiments are echoed in other contexts, including Maplewood-South Orange in New Jersey, where Nancy Gagnier is executive director of the Community Coalition on Race. Modeled after the Fund for the Future, Maplewood-South Orange established a loan program in the late 1990s called Prism (Pro-integration Supplemental Money), which provided low-interest loans to homebuyers to purchase on streets where their racial/ethnic group was underrepresented. In recent years, Prism, like Fund for the Future, has evolved into a home improvement loan program to help community members hit hardest by the mortgage crisis and recession maintain their homes.

The Coalition also formed a Realtor Advisory Group to test how realtors reacted to prospective home buyers of different racial ethnic groups. This effort has evolved as well, as fair housing laws have greatly restricted what real estate agents can say to prospective buyers about race. Ironically, some of the same advocacy groups that once wanted the tighter restrictions on how realtors are allowed to talk about race now bemoan the fact that these restrictions forbid realtors who understand the benefits of diverse communities and schools to talk about diversity as a selling point.

So in Maplewood-South Orange, the Realtor Advisory Group now holds meetings with local real estate agents and school officials about which neighborhoods are the hardest to sell and how that relates to perceptions of public schools. They then recruit enthusiastic parents from those schools to give prospective buyers a tour. “These school tours are given by people who love the town and can say a lot more about racial diversity than a realtor can,” says Gagnier.  

Hope Springs Eternal

With so many obstacles working against suburbs’ efforts to remain diverse, stable and economically viable, these communities are increasingly seen as  bellweathers. Recent events in Ferguson suggest it is a model worth duplicating.

“We are at an interesting turning point in the suburbs of this country,” says Readey of the Chicago Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights.  “It can go one way in to a blatant racial stratification scenario, with pockets of suburban affluent and everybody else. But if we embrace the idea of a strong middle class—a multi-ethnic and multi-racial multi-national middle—it will go another way.”

Interest in diversity today reflects the changing demographics of the country as a whole and a related shift in racial attitudes. More Americans than ever, especially younger, Millennial generation adults (age 18-34), say they are open to inter-racial marriage and interested in living in racially diverse communities. According to a recent Pew survey, a majority of these young adults also think that more needs to be done to address racial issues in the United States—55 percent of adults aged 18 to 34 agreed that more should be done, versus 40 percent of Americans over age 65.

Despite the views of this next generation of home buyers, sustaining racially diverse suburbs will be easier said than done. For one, property values for similar homes tend to differ in racially distinct communities. For example, my colleagues and I recently completed a study of demographic changes on Long Island, New York, and found statistically significant property value differences for the exact same houses on opposite sides of the suburban color line.

David Sabatino, a 20-something of Italian descent, grew up in Valley Stream on Long Island, where the population has shifted from more than 90 percent white and middle class in the 1980s to less than 50 percent white today. Newcomers include middle- and working-class blacks and Hispanics from Brooklyn and immigrants from the Caribbean, Central American, India, Pakistan, and Western Africa.

With a degree in urban planning and a commitment to his community, Sabatino recently bought a house in Valley Stream. He realizes that the question on many homeowners’ minds in suburbs like his is whether the whites will flee, as their parents and grandparents fled from Brooklyn decades ago. If they do, property values may well plummet. Or could it be that more white suburbanites will embrace diverse neighborhoods and stay put.

Sabatino is counting on the latter scenario. Founder of Envision Valley Stream, a community-based group focused on revitalizing and stabilizing his suburban home. Sabatino and Envision Valley Stream make planning proposals and host an annual Community Fest specifically designed to help residents feel more comfortable with their multicultural neighbors.

Property values are back up from their 2008 lows, and white residents are more willing to stay. Sabatino, who recently started working for the Long Island Planning Board, says a growing number of local residents— new and old— want to support diverse suburbs: “I finally feel justified. I’m not just some crazy person out there talking about Valley Stream. I feel a connection to other people.”