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Neo-Liberal Cleveland: the Silence Ends
Submitted by Randino on Mon, 03/20/2017 - 09:45.
Neo-Liberal Cleveland: The Silence Ends
By Randy Cunningham
I recently attended a Cuyahoga County Council meeting on the proposed renovation of the Q. All the usual suspects were there – a bunch of suits salivating for profits, and the building trades, salivating for jobs. What was unusual was the meeting drew a standing room only crowd, that included activists from the Greater Cleveland Congregations (GCC) who voiced their opposition to the proposal. The suits talked numbers. The GCC talked about the lives of people in the neighborhoods.
The life of an opponent of schemes such as the Q is a lonely one. I have lived in Cleveland since 1980 and have watched as one convention center, stadium and hotel proposal after another have rolled on through the rubber stamp process to approval. They are all deemed essential to the future of civilized life in Cleveland. They are all accompanied with an implicit threat made by the extortionists of the economic development profession. If this convention, or that hotel is not approved and subsidized by the city, county or both, Cleveland will become a Walking Dead like dystopian wasteland. The residents of the area, mindful of the threat and not willing to risk that the warnings may be true, dutifully trudge to the polls and approve another raid on the public treasury. Either that or they just keep their mouths shut and let their elected representatives tend to the needs of their real constituents – the ever-avaricious downtown developers.
What has changed is that the opponents of this development scheme are not as lonely as usual. The standing room only crowd at the county building, was only surpassed by a town hall the GCC held at one of its member churches earlier in the month to voice its opposition to the Q renovation as proposed. This meeting was reminiscent of the old community organizing groups of the 1970s and 80s. Again, there was the full church, with signs marking where various delegations were to be seated. They had the chairs reserved for the County Council members – most of whom did not attend, and they had the list of demands. The only change was that GCC people – being good church people – were more polite to those council members who did attend than the groups were in the past. The demands were soft ball, and the responses of the officials in attendance were non-committal. In the old days, these responses would have gotten you thrown out of the meeting, but the kinder and gentler approach of GCC enabled the officials to leave unmolested.
The smart money is still that the Q renovation will go forward through the next step of the process to Cleveland City Hall. The downtown coalition that backs this proposal still has mojo to spare and almost always gets its way. This is how it has been since the overthrow of the Kucinich administration in 1979 and the suppression of the community organizations in the 1980s. A new regime was founded based on downtown development and the pacification of the neighborhoods. Seldom is heard a discouraging word ever since then.
That is until recently. The natives have been getting restless of late. A movement to raise the minimum wage was threatening enough to Cleveland City Hall, to compel Mayor Frank Jackson and Council President Kevin Kelly to kowtow to city hating Republicans in the state house to pass a law that derailed the ballot initiative for the wage increase. In the process, they screwed other municipalities out of their rights to set labor standards in another bad day for home rule in a state where it is practically dead. Then there was the End Poverty Now march during the RNC convention. City Hall tried all manner of obfuscation to prevent the march. They made scary predictions of rampaging Anarchist zombies feasting on Republican convention goers. They predicted ruin and riot and turned the city into a police state. Nothing as lurid as their predictions came true. They even sent detectives out to visit desperados like me to let us know we were being watched. And now the dust up over the Q.
What has gone wrong for the winners in Cleveland is that the fate of the losers has just gotten worse. The economic development hustlers have promised the residents of Cleveland heaven on earth and life everlasting with each new downtown development. The development is approved and built, but for some mysterious reason heaven remains far off and out of sight for the neighborhoods. The successes of downtown have made even more glaring the squalor in Cleveland’s neighborhoods, where lead poisoning is pervasive, housing abandonment is rampant, and if the gangsters don’t get you, the police will. The ruling neo-liberal regime is ignorant of the old English saying “The castle is not safe, if there is trouble in the cottages.” The current regime has been able to maintain a rough silence for over thirty years with the skilled application of the carrot and the stick, but a situation where there is so much success existing right next to so much failure is inherently unstable. Something has got to give.
The pop-corn rebellions that have occurred recently are dress rehearsals for future insurgencies. Our Zen Mayor, Frank Jackson will run and probably win. The past 30 years of pacification has culled the ranks of potential rivals. He will wax eloquent about how concerned he is about the least of us, even though he will conveniently forget those words once he is re-elected. His deep pocket backers, who have made out like bandits under his tenure, will spend as much money as they need to keep a friend in City Hall. After all, there are many more grandiose projects on their wish list waiting for the rubber stamp. And the parts of Cleveland outside downtown and a handful of hip ghettos, will continue to rot and the pacified poor will be left to their fatalism. But, the combustibles will continue to accumulate as well. The dynamite is there. It is only lacking a blasting cap.
Hopefully the blasting cap will not be a police incident that will result in a riot. The best blasting cap would be a well-articulated alternative to the old neo-liberal regime. You fight ideas with ideas. Protest is great. I have been doing it all my life and will continue until I go into the ground. It keeps you young and keeps your opponents on the defensive. But it is not enough for the cottage to take the castle. You need alternative ideas, strategies and visions to do that.
GCC made a baby step in the right direction with their proposal for a neighborhood development fund to match the amount being shoveled down Dan Gilbert’s gullet. Now such proposals need to be developed and magnified to the power of ten. You need activists who can move from protest to politics without losing the energy of protest, while keeping mindful of the seductive perils of politics. The goal must be power for a new progressive regime that will take Jackson’s rhetoric about the least of us and turn it from an insult into an operating principle for how Cleveland is governed. When those conditions are met, then we may see a new day in a city that I call the home town of the humble.