Tag Archives: Virginia

Public Transportation is a Must, But Not a Solution to Racism

6 Sep

Reading All Aboard? by Ben Campbell brought up conflicting emotions for me.

I felt excited about a public transportation system that might be effective, affordable, and improve the lives of so many low income people in Richmond. I was also excited by Campbell’s accurate, historical look at the loss of good public transit in Richmond, and how he identified racism and bigotry as the reasons why we ended up with the terrible transit we currently eke by with,

So, to get a few things straight before I go into a slight critique-

1- I am for a larger, better thought out, more affordable, multi-jurisdictional public transit system for the Metro Richmond Area.

2- I am against racism, segregation, and policies, institutions and practices that reinforce racism.

The part of Campbell’s article that I think deserves challenging and a more in depth discussion, is the seeming underlying assumption that developing a better public transit system would be anti-racist, and a step towards changing Richmond’s long, dirty legacy of racism. Racism is complex. Racism is not a flag we can change out front of City Hall and move on. Racism is an issue that all Richmonders will have to do a lot of work around for us to take steps forward as a city.
The loss of public transit in Richmond was a symptom of the underlying disease of racism.

Treating the symptom is not enough to solve our problems.
There are some really great things about a better, less segregationist public transit system- the possibility for people to interact more outside of their race, better opportunities for jobs and recreational activities for low income people of color, and more.

But without a more holistic approach to the issue of racism in our city and society, we won’t be “solving” racism. One complicating factor I can think of is simply that a change in our City’s ranking, without a change in real estate practices, might just exacerbate issues of gentrification. As Richmond grows in popularity, low income people, many of whom are People of Color, are forced out of their homes and neighborhoods in response in increasing real estate values. Gentrification represents a systematic problem, out of any individual’s hands to stop. But until this process, poverty, and racism are actively being addressed, I don’t want to see Richmond’s ranking go up.

An improved public transit system would be a marked difference in City policy and programming. Many of the urban renewal projects over the years have been pretty clearly directed towards improving the desireability of Richmond to people who might visit or might one day move here. Consider the tourist aspects of many of the recent projects and events. First Fridays which attracts many people from surrounding counties, and has difficulty when low income youth of color from surrounding neighborhoods in the city start attending in mass. The Canal Walk, where I’ve only ever gone with my grandma (love you grandma). The Convention Center. The upcoming 2015 cycling event. Richmond’s urban planning efforts have been fairly pitiful, and seem to reflect the racism and classism of the City government.

Richmond does need to focus more on keeping current residents, helping current residents, and developing ways to make our daily lives better. Jobs, housing, access to healthy food, and transportation are some really great places to start.

Some questions Richmonders should be asking themselves in the mean time are:

What are we doing to make Richmond a better place for the people who are currently living here?
How can we make sure we take care of the current residents before visitors or potential new residents?
What do low income people want and need?
What do people of color want and need?
How can we listen to low income people and people of color more?

If Richmond really does want to shed our racist reputation we’ve got some work to do. Let’s get a better public transit system, but make sure we don’t lose sight of the whole disease of racism while we ride around on some buses.

Why I want to protect First Fridays!

10 Aug

I have never been a regular attendee of Richmond’s First Fridays Art Walk. In fact, over the years I have been a major critic of the event and the concept of the event.

Richmond is by no means unique in having such an art walk. The tactic of using an art walk to push for the redevelopment or gentrification of an area (depending on your perspective) is not at a new concept. Richmond has had First Fridays for over a decade now. And while over that decade there have been major changes to the Jackson Ward/ Broad Street area, they have no occurred quite as  quickly as they might have were we not in an economic depression. I’m no expert, but the aspects of City Planning that I have studied and read about have lead me to take a position against Art Walks, Canal Walks, Convention Centers and other cookie cutter redevelopment schemes that fail to address the actual needs or wants of people living in a city.

Jackson Ward is a historically black working class neighborhood. The demographics of that neighborhood have been changing, particularly via VCU students moving in. First Fridays basically occurring in Jackson Ward was something I viewed as problematic- another major gentrifying move that had the potential to hurt that community and displace lower income people.

When I have gone to First Fridays in the past it was mostly to support friends who had art on display or who were performing. I even helped to organize some First Fridays events- like the Richmond Zine Fest at Gallery 5 in 2009. And what I saw was mostly white people.  And I saw a lot of white people who were more affluent. Which is definitely the type of crowd this sort of event is desinged to draw in.

I would acknowledge at this point that there have been organizers of First Fridays, Gallery owners and artists, who have all along worked to make this event inclusive and welcoming to pre-existing residents of Jackson Ward and the surrounding areas. I have just always been highly skeptical of their chances of success despite their good intentions.

So I mostly stopped going to First Fridays. I was not interested in participating in  a redevelopment strategy that seemingly reached out only to suburbanites and fearful west enders, adventuring into the heart of a city they really don’t understand. But then this year, we started to hear the rumblings of something else. I am a member of the non-hierarchical organization Richmond Copwatch. We listen to a digital scanner to hear what the Richmond Police are up to. This enables us to go out and observe and record the police, thereby helping to keep them accountable for their behavior. So through this and conversations with people we know who do attend First Fridays we began to hear that this year, the police were there in force, disrupting the crowd.

We heard that the police had maced the crowd a couple times, ridden their horses into the middle of crowds, and were trying to organize with Curated Culture (the non-profit that officially organizes First Fridays) to change the times of the event and potentially get rid of it altogether. We heard from many non-anarchists, respected community members about town, that the police were being very aggressive and that a lot of this aggressiveness seemed directed towards people of color. The media and others mostly spoke of the “youth”, but in this case the youth they meant was mostly youth of color.

Richmond Copwatch decided as a collective to go to the August First Fridays to observe and record the Richmond Police Department. I was still conflicted about how I felt about organizing to try and save something I have been avidly against in the past. For me, my motivations for going were mostly hearing from “youth” from my neighborhood (Southern Barton Heights on Northsiiiide) about the police presence. Regardless of the art, regardless of the suburbanites, I was interested in using Copwatch as a method to try and keep my friends and neighbors, as well as folks from neighboring communities like Gilpin Court a little bit safer from RPD.

We met at the Rite Aid parking lot for August First Fridays. Which was a bad idea, because of the whole private corporate property thing. But we met there, and then hung out in the parking lot waiting for one Copwatch member to go purchase some energy drinks from inside.  They came out and distributed the drinks to the caffeine fiends among us. We were just about to head out in smaller groups to patrol First Fridays for police, when lo and behold one came to us.  This RPO – Toney Waldorf- came speeding into the Rite Aid parking lot, parking at an angle, and got out of his car, basically yelling at me and my friend. He said something along the lines of “Hey you”. I asked if we were being detained (because if you are not being detained you do not have to talk to the police and can go on your merry way). He didn’t respond except to say he was not talking to me. He then crossed in front of me and unholstered his Tazer and held it about 2 feet from my friend’s face. Waldorf is a tall cop, and he positioned himself on a median above my friend, which made it so he would have been shooting my friend in the face had he fired his Tazer. That is the closest up I have ever seen a Tazer, and the fastest I have seen a Richmond  Cop freak out and pull a weapon. Tazers are less lethal weapons, just like if I shoot you in the foot with a .22 it is less lethal. They are still deadly and being shot with a Tazer can very easily end in death. Especially if someone has a heart problem, which my friend does.

Quickly other RPD arrived and kicked the rest of us (who were filming at this point) out of the parking lot. One of them, Stone, committed battery against me by shoving my arm while I was clearly backing out of the lot and not at all resisting. They eventually let my friend go, after we showed a commanding officer the picture of Waldorf with a Tazer in my friend’s face. He had no charges, had done nothing wrong, was simply wearing the same color shorts as a suspect in a call they had received.

So my first experience back with First Fridays is Toney Waldorf, Richmond Cop, freaking out, unholstering a weapon at an inappropriate time and in violation of protocol, and threatening to kill my friend.

As the night carried on, it became quite clear that First Fridays had changed. I liked it better. There were kids from my neighborhood, and overall a lot of people of color seemed to be enjoying a public space. I am a huge proponent of public spaces and our ability to use them. It is the lack of public spaces in lower income neighborhoods that can make community development and organization more difficult. Downtown was packed, loud, and seemed to be full of people enjoying themselves.  These were not the people who might be likely to eat at some of the few new fancy restaurants on Broad Street, but they were people socializing in an area that could certainly benefit from development of community. Continue reading

Happy Fuckin’ New Year

1 Jan

Happy Fuckin’ New Year!

We just celebrated by having the Richmond Anarchist Black Cross’ first annual noise demo in front of the Richmond City Jail. 7 people attended, which was small, but really fucking loud! We didn’t plan very far ahead of time this year- next year should be a much bigger event. It was still a great way to ring in the New Year and I really hope some of the inmates heard us and got stoked that something was happening. Any bands or people interested in organizing for next year’s event or just organizing at all around jail issues should contact the anarchist black cross- rvaabc@gmail.com

Starting off the New Year in the middle of a demo sets a tone for me that I hope will continue. I want to be more politically active this year. And I am specifically very stoked about Copwatch and the Anarchist Black Cross.

Some of my resolutions:

No more sugar in my coffee (wanna avoid the diabetes)

No more high fructose corn syrup (it snuck back into my diet and has got to go)

Make at least 3 zines

Go dumpstering at least once a week

Take Belly Dancing

Save up money

Work out or run 5 times a week

Work really hard to make my relationship work

If I think of any more in the coming days I will probably add them

Getting my book printed soon

22 Nov

This morning I finally finished formatting my book to send it to the printers. I don’t know yet how much it is going to cost to get printed. It is called ‘The South is Still Rising: Contemporary Radical and Anarchist Movements in Richmond, Virginia from 1994 to 2004″.

I’m sure I will get a lot of well deserved shit for various aspects of it. I definitely don’t think it tells the whole story, I don’t think anyone could. But it is an attempt at telling part of it and talking about Richmond in a bigger context. When it is finally published I will post on here so folks can buy a copy if they want one.

Keep Monroe Open- Video and Petition

12 Oct

Food Not Bombs Statement Regarding Monroe Park

10 Oct

Richmond Food Not Bombs has been sharing food in Monroe Park for over sixteen years now. We have developed many connections and friendships over the course of our existence, helped provide healthy food to many individuals who may not have had access to it otherwise, and become a staple of social activity for many people’s Sunday afternoons.

The proposed renovations to Monroe Park are an attack , a judgement on who the park should and shouldn’t be for. It is an attack on the homeless, the “homeless-appearing” (whatever that means – it’s in the Monroe Park Advisory Council’s renovation plans), and groups and individuals who don’t judge people by their social status or whether they have conventional means of acquiring shelter.

We will not stand for it.

The only change that the park really needs is for the city to do its job when it comes do doing maintenance on the bathrooms, as they are functional but one of the water pipes to the sinks has corroded away. Other improvements, such as installing permanent chess tables, or a playground area for kids would be nice, but NOT at the cost of driving out the folks who currently congregate in the park, shutting the entire park down for 18 months, or privatizing the security of the park. Continue reading

Anti-Death Penalty sign making at craft night

18 Aug

Come on out to the Wingnut Anarchist Collective to make signs/banners for the anti-death penalty protest the next day.

Virginia is planning to execute Teresa Lewis on September 23rd. The Anarchist Black Cross is planning a protest on September 23rd from 4-6 at 1111 West Broad Street. We will also be going to the Greenville Correctional Facility where they execute people in order to have a presence there.

If you want to come to either part of the protest, this craft night the night before will be a good chance to make signs that have messages that you would feel comfortable holding. For instance, I personally have no interest in holding signs that advocate for longer prison sentences as alternatives to the death penalty. But there are certainly lots of people who are ok with that and will hold those signs. Making a custom sign helps ensure you will feel comfortable and confident with your message at a protest.

If you want to come and work on other crafts as usual with craft night, that is totally fine too!