What might Nashville be like in twenty-five years? While my friends and I have been seeking to answer that question through the lens of the “transition towns” movement, with what we have called “Transition Nashville,” Metro’s “Nashville Next” program has been the city’s attempt to envision our future, and, to a certain extent, the planners involved in Nashville Next have done a good job. They have asked at least some of the right questions, and they have solicited, and elicited, a fair amount of citizen involvement in their visioning, but I think there are some unasked questions and misguided assumptions in their process. I think “the next Nashville” will be very different from what they envision, and that proceeding on their basic assumption, that the future will, overall, be a lot like the past, could produce some very unhappy results. If we recognize these errors and correct our course, Nashville could still be a pretty nice place to live as we approach mid-century. I am going to start by quoting what Nashville Next’s website and then offer my own comments and suggestions. Continue reading
The election results are in, and I’d like to thank the 2,239 Nashville voters who got my message. I came in second to last, which did not surprise me. I had no campaign committee and no money to spend. My platform does not reduce to easy sound bites, and it calls on people to re-examine their fundamental beliefs about political, economic, and social reality. That’s never an easy sell.
I’d also like to thank the 8,490 people who voted for my Green Party colleague, Elizabeth Dachowski. I’m very curious to see if we can figure out why she outpolled me by nearly 4 to 1! Congratulations, Elizabeth!
I regard this as a first attempt. I ran for Metro Council because I feel the Council needs somebody who takes the long, broad view, and that’s how I look at things. The world/local conditions that inspired me to undertake this campaign are only going to become more apparent to more people. I’ll be back.
I will be participating in a public forum on Thursday, July 23rd, from 6 to 8 PM, at Temple Baptist Church on King’s Lane. The subject of the forum is “criminal justice,” and I will have 2 minutes to share my thoughts on the topic. This is a vast, complex topic, and I don’t think I could “do justice to it” in just two minutes, so here is an extended version of my view of our criminal justice system. I could just about write a book, but this will have to do for now!
There is so much that is so broken about our so-called criminal justice system that it is hard to know where to begin. Here are some topic sentences and opening paragraphs.
There is the adversarial system under which it operates, which creates prosecutors for whom winning the case and putting somebody in jail is more important than finding out what really happened and why, and genuinely “doing justice” to the situation.
There is the way our legal system is tilted in favor of protecting the privileged and their privileges, including their property, which results in many more poor people going to jail than wealthy people, even when they have engaged in the same misbehavior, and there is the tendency to let the wealthy off more lightly for doing worse things than poor people are even capable of. How many members of the American underclass are serving life sentences on “three strikes” convictions for petty theft? Thousands. How many bankers are serving long sentences for the theft of billions of dollars that led to the economic crash of 2008? None.
It almost goes without saying at this point that our “criminal justice system” exhibits a strong bias against people of color, who are much more likely to be jailed than European-Americans who commit the same crime, and that this bias extends from the courtroom to the street, where police repeatedly mistreat or even kill African-Americans over minor offences. This
danger is not confined to young African-Americans, as Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates discovered when he was arrested for “disorderly conduct” when police came to investigate a report that he was “breaking and entering” his’ own home.
But the culture of police violence can also infect African-Americans, as we saw in Baltimore, where three of the six police officers indicted for Freddie Gray’s murder were African-American. This isn’t just a question of racial bias. It’s about domination, alienation, and the failure of compassion.
And, speaking of the domination, alienation, and the failure of compassion, there is the fact that “serving” jail time serves no one–it is no help to the criminal, the victims (if any), or the general public. Prisoners are, more often than not, neglected and abused, and then returned to society in even worse shape than when they started. Even if someone who is arrested avoids a jail sentence, the probation experience seems designed to trip people up, not to rehabilitate them.
I also see “criminal behavior” in the context of our society and its values. Our society’s values are predominantly “economic.” Whatever makes the most money in the shortest time is the highest good. Perhaps that explains why bankers who steal billions get to walk away scot-free. Due to these values, it doesn’t matter if millions of people lose their jobs and all hope of a job, as long as corporations are making money. Unemployed workers are “an externality” to these corporations, as they say in business-speak, or, in plain English, “somebody else’s problem.”
Some people like to venerate the wealthy as “job creators,” but the truth is that CEOs receive more accolades (and raises) for cutting jobs (and costs) than they do for creating jobs. These CEOs have pushed American workers to be more and more efficient, meaning that fewer and fewer workers are needed, while those workers are paid less and less. I think it is important to take this into account when looking at our criminal justice system. Our society creates desperate people, then jails them for taking desperate measures. Here in “the land of the free,” we have more people in jail than any other country in the world. We have more prisons than colleges. What does that say about our national priorities?
Similarly, the failure of our schools is not about incompetent teachers and administrators. It is not about curriculum, or how the curriculum is presented, or whether the schools are public, private, or charter. Our schools are failing because our children look at the society they are entering with the fresh eyes of youth and see that there is little or nothing offered to them. Trying for a college degree may offer substantial rewards, or it may just as easily result in a lifetime burdened with crippling, unrepayable debt, and even “a successful career” may mean decades of doing something meaningless or downright soul-killing. Why bother trying? So the kids rebel, which is some of why many of our schools are becoming more prison-like, and why there is so much talk of “the school-to-prison pipeline.”
In the face of such systemic, national-scale problems, too big to solve here in Nashville, are there things we can do in Nashville do that will make a difference?
Fortunately, the answer is, “Yes, there is a lot we can do.”
At what you could call “ground level,” we could institute genuine “community policing.” In small towns, police are frequently members of the community where they work. They may have grown up in that town. They work in a place where they know the people and the people know them, and they are responsible for their actions to people they know. We can institute something similar in Nashville by, first, assigning police officers to a specific neighborhood and making them accountable to a neighborhood council, and, second, by offering them incentives to move into the neighborhood they patrol, so that their lives are intertwined with that neighborhood and its inhabitants. This approach would help cut the racial bias out of Nashville’s policing, which demonstrates disproportionate stops, arrests, and convictions of African-American citizens.
Nashville’s police should view themselves as peace officers. Arrests and violence should be viewed as the very last resort. They should be trained in conflict resolution and non-violent intervention, and learn to recognize and deal with their own racial and gender biases. We, their employers, should take good care of them so they don’t burn out. They are doing a difficult job on our behalf.
At the court level, the Victim-Offender Reconciliation Project and several other programs that substitute mediation and making amends to the victims for trials and jail time are already in place in Nashville, and could easily be expanded to make what is known as “Restorative Justice” the norm and not the exception in Nashville. The basic concept behind all these programs is, in the words of The Restorative Justice Foundation, that
Restorative justice is a theory of justice that emphasizes repairing the harm caused or revealed by criminal behaviour. It is best accomplished through cooperative processes that include all stakeholders…..
Practices and programs reflecting restorative purposes will respond to crime by:
- identifying and taking steps to repair harm,
- involving all stakeholders, and
- transforming the traditional relationship between communities and their governments in responding to crime.
Three principles form the foundation for restorative justice:
- Justice requires that we work to restore those who have been injured.
- Those most directly involved and affected by crime should have the opportunity to participate fully in the response if they wish.
- Government’s role is to preserve a just public order, and the community’s is to build and maintain a just peace.
Restorative programs are characterized by four key values:
- Encounter: Create opportunities for victims, offenders and community members who want to do so to meet to discuss the crime and its aftermath
- Amends: Expect offenders to take steps to repair the harm they have caused
- Reintegration: Seek to restore victims and offenders to whole, contributing members of society
- Inclusion: Provide opportunities for parties with a stake in a specific crime to participate in its resolution
This approach to “crime,” instead of a prosecutorial approach, would create a greater sense of community, instead of destroying community by jailing its members.
So, perhaps we can cut the number of people we imprison through this approach. Meanwhile, there are plenty of people in prison in Nashville right now. What can we do to help them become better, rather than worse, citizens while they are there?
We can make sure that prisoners have access to programs that teach them employment skills and life skills, classes to broaden their education, and whatever services they may need to heal any personal wounds they may have.
And, when they get out of prison, we can do our best to see that they are freed into a society that has a place for them. One way to do this would be to create a vibrant network of locally oriented, worker-owned businesses. This is not just a concept. This is a program that has been put into place with great success across the country and around the world. We can do this in Nashville.
I’ve written elsewhere about the virtues of worker-owned co-ops, so here’s the short version: having an ownership stake in the business does wonders for employee morale. Working for a business that exists to provide a needed community service and provide a decent living to members of that community is a win-win-win situation. The owner-employees win, because they are making a living wage and are in control of their lives. Customers win, because happy employees do quality work. And the community wins, because the money the business generates stays in the community and is spread widely around the community instead of being concentrated in the hands of a single owner.
So, there are simple, doable ways we can improve the culture of our police force, our judicial system, and our social structure that could make a huge difference in not just the criminal justice system in Nashville, but the whole tone of the city. What I am proposing is not a path to paradise. There will still be tragedies and injustices, but we can meet them with compassion and understanding, and make them much more the exception than the rule. We can make it better–yes, we can.
Questions to be asked at SENU At-Large Candidate Forum 7/9/2015
1. If elected, how will you partner with district council members to assure that all residents throughout the city are given a chance to be heard on issues affecting their respective area?
A:My door, phone, and email will always be open, and I will keep an eye on what’s happening around town and be proactive when I think it’s appropriate.
2. The citizens of Southeast Nashville have worked closely with our elected Metro council members and state representatives to revitalize our community by successfully lobbying for the Nashville State Community College South Annex, the new state-of-the art Southeast Library and Community Center and the Ford Ice Center and many other amenities. We have not yet resolved all our needs for retail development, businesses offering good paying jobs and affordable housing. What specifically will you do to help our Southeast District council members in meeting these needs?
A:My platform is based in meeting those needs not just in SE Nashville but all over Davidson County, by developing locally owned retail and other businesses that feature employee/customer control, financing affordable housing and creating neighborhoods that are owned and controlled by their residents through community land trusts, and doing all of this in walkable neighborhoods so that citizens can work, shop, and send their kids to school without needing an automobile to do it.
3. After Ferguson, Baltimore and Charleston , what will you do to begin/ improve the dialogue that must occur among the many diverse racial, religious and ethnic groups that call Nashville home?
A:We are fortunate here in Nashville to have an intelligent and sensitive police chief who, as far as I can tell, has set a good tone for the police force as a whole. To improve this situation even further, I am proposing that we assign officers to patrol the neighborhood where they live, and make them answerable to a new-old body, the local neighborhood association. This is only one of the functions of the neighborhood associations I would like to see established in Nashville, which would take on not only this function but zoning and codes issues, possibly schools, and various kinds of community organizing.
4. The Metro schools budget comprises roughly 40% of the entire Metro Nashville budget. What actions do you believe you can take that will assure the best working relationship among the Metro Council, elected School Board members, the Director of Schools and the Mayor?
A:That has been a contentious tank of fish, and it might be difficult for a newcomer like me to make much of an impression, but I would remind them that we’re not in this for ourselves, we’re in it for the good of the city. I would work to help different parties understand each others’ viewpoints and counsel that often, there is more to be gained in listening than in talking.
5. The Metropolitan Board of Planning and Zoning and the Board of Zoning Appeals have a huge impact on every neighborhood and on the preservation of historical buildings and sites. The current members of both these Boards include a majority of members who are developers or have strong ties to developers and who typically live on the west side of the City. (a.) What will you do to educate citizens in Southeast Nashville about the importance of these boards? (b.) Will you pledge to nominate to the Mayor for appointment to both these boards, citizens from Southeast Nashville who are NOT developers or have strong ties to developers?
A:The developer-friendly nature of the planning commission/zoning board has long been a concern of mine. My long-term proposal, as I mentioned above, is to give zoning issues back to the neighborhoods, in the context of widespread establishment of community land trusts, which will enable neighbors to literally own their neighborhood as well as their own homes. In other communities, this has proved to be an excellent bulwark against redevelopment and gentrification. In the short term, yes, I would certainly nominate non-developers to these bodies, and I would ask for the resignation of many of the current members of those bodies.
6. Nashville has become a favorite tourist destination for people from many states and foreign countries; however, in some neighborhoods, it is not a great place to live and work. What suggestions do you have for enabling citizens to improve our living and working conditions so that Nashville is not just a great place to visit, but also a great place to live?
A:As I mentioned above, I would like to completely shift the city’s focus, away from big projects downtown, and into making all our neighborhoods livable, walkable, and enjoyable. I’ve written a lot more on this on my website and Facebook pages. Website is holsingerformetrocouncil.wordpress.com, and Facebook is “Holsinger for Metro Council.”
7. Much is being said about affordable housing and gentrification of areas around Nashville. What is your definition of affordable housing and what do you think an at-large council member can do to help provide affordable housing for middle income citizens who are being forced to move to surrounding counties because of the high cost of housing in Nashville?
A:Affordable housing is housing that doesn’t cost more than 30% of a family’s income. The first thing I would do is push for a 0.1% tax on all real estate transactions, which would add $8M a year to the Barnes Fund for affordable housing. That would just be the beginning. The city has spent about a billion dollars on big ticket infrastructure projects that mostly benefit the wealthiest people in Nashville, who are the only ones who can afford the big ticket prices to get into venues like The Schermerhorn and LP Field, or whatever we’re supposed to call it now. The $3M that Mayor Dean had the gall to proudly announce as the city’s contribution to The Barnes Fund is 0.3 % of that. Am I the only person who thinks this is a scandal?
Beyond that, I would look into using the city’s power of eminent domain to take properties away from large-scale landlords and create neighborhood urban land trusts, a setup in which people own their own individual homes, while the land trust, which they are all members of, owns the land under the house. This has been shown, in numerous other cities, to work well at keeping housing costs affordable and at creating friendly, interconnected neighborhoods. People who own, or are buying, their own homes are in a much better position than people who are on the rent treadmill, and I think it is definitely in the city’s interest to use eminent domain to achieve this goal.
8. Recent criticism of the Mayor’s office has centered around the assertion that the Metro Council members have too often rubber-stamped the Mayor’s proposals without fully vetting the real impact on neighborhoods. What will you do to change that?
A:I will bring my strong populist sensibilities to Council meetings and express them as politely as is possible and as forcefully as is necessary.
9. What attribute do you possess that you believe better qualifies you, over the other candidates, to serve the citizens of Nashville?
A: I have rarely earned much more than minimum wage. My current income level is well within the “poverty” range. I raised a family that way, and my kids have turned out pretty well. I think my viewpoint is worthy of representation in Nashville politics—and state and national politics, too, for that matter.
10. What elements of Nashville’s infrastructure do you think need the most attention and why?
A:I think we need to turn Nashville from a centralized big city into a network of interdependent, walkable neighborhoods.
11. Sidewalks and bike lanes contribute to the livability of a neighborhood. With increasing demands on the Metro budget to meet the city’s indebtedness, as well as meet the other non-negotiable demands on the budget, how do you propose we find the capital to fund more sidewalks and bike lanes?
A:An add-on gasoline tax might be a good place to start, or perhaps a motor vehicle sales tax, which would be a more equitable way to distribute the burden, since people with more money tend to spend more on cars, while the amount of gasoline a person buys is not necessarily a reflection of their income level.
12. Transportation / traffic congestion is a huge issue in all of Nashville, but especially in the Southeast corridor on I-24 and other streets and roads. What do you propose to help solve the crisis that threatens our citizens’ ability to travel around the city?
A:As I’ve said earlier in these questions, my overall idea is to turn Nashville into a network of walkable neighborhoods in which it will be possible to walk to where you shop, walk to where you work, and for your children to safely walk to school. In other words, I think the best way to ease the traffic situation in Nashville is to lower the number of people who need to drive anywhere, and provide frequent, fast, affordable public transportation to the greatest extent possible.
What is behind a lot of my vision is the notion that increasing resource scarcity(lessened availability of not just petroleum products but other commodities considered essential to our way of life) and climate change are about to alter our culture in way that we can scarcely imagine. The overall result, it seems to me, is that we will need to find ways to meet our needs more locally, and more simply, than importing lots of things from across the ocean and buying them at the big box store. We need to start making the shift now, while times are still relatively good. If we wait too long, it will be too late, and we risk slipping into chaos. I’m an old man and I would like to die on a peaceful planet, so I’m doing what I can now to, hopefully, insure that outcome.
I drive through Germantown from time to time, and my route takes me past a small, warehouse-type building that bears the legend, “Southern Broom and Mop Co.” There is never any sign of activity there when I drive past. It looks as if it must have been in existence for a hundred years or more, a bit of flotsam left over from our city’s industrial heyday in the late nineteenth century, when much of what Nashville needed for its daily functioning was manufactured or grown right here in middle Tennessee. When I went to research this story, I discovered that, in reality, the company has only been in existence for about twenty years, and is a janitorial service, not a manufacturing enterprise. What’s more, the building has recently been sold–for nearly a million dollars–and will be turned into yet another trendy, high-end restaurant in this rapidly gentrifying neighborhood. That’s too bad. Even the wealthy can only eat so much–but everybody needs a mop and a broom.
In a recent post, I proposed that we re-industrialize Nashville, spreading new, preferably worker-owned enterprises throughout the city so that as many people as possible could walk to work, and thus lessen the pressure on our roads, and the pressure on low-income people to spend money on an automobile. There’s two ways to increase peoples’ disposable income. One is to pay them more, and the other is to lower their cost of living. Even “cheap” cars–some would say, especially “cheap” cars–are expensive!
Today, I want to talk about two aspects of my plan. One thing I want to do is explain the Mondragon Co-operative model, and examine how it could fit Nashville. Another is to talk about what kind of industries would be suitable for the city, where they should be located, and how to raise the startup capital they will need. I will outline some general ideas about appropriate manufacturing enterprises, but the amount of detail involved is more than I could cover here. I think that the Davidson County planning commission and the neighborhoods should work this out among themselves. There are many variables and alternatives. I couldn’t possibly anticipate them all, but citizen involvement and an intelligent, responsive, well-informed oversight agency should be able to figure it all out over the course of a few years.
The first thing I want to say about this plan is that I am not proposing a return to the old industrial model. The old industrial Nashville was a pit of pollution, its air filled with coal smoke, its earth and waters fouled. Nashville’s new factories should be, in the nonpolitical sense, green. They should be quiet, nonpolluting, energy-efficient enterprises that will not detract from their neighbors’ quality of life. Some things we may want to do are going to be loud and/or smelly, and we can find ways to buffer these from their surrounding communities. Since community members, as employees, will also be owners of these enterprises, they will have the power to change things if they need to be changed.
So, what are the basic principles on which Mondragon factory co-ops are founded?
Recently, I was talking a woman who is active in Metro politics, and suggested that she run for Mayor.
“Got a million dollars?” she replied. “It takes a million dollars to run for Mayor in this town.”
Politics ought to be about ideas and accomplishments, not about who can afford the most publicity. All I can do about this situation, as a candidate, is be a “conscientious objector”: refuse to raise money for my campaign.
What would I do with money, anyway?My message is complex enough to be difficult to translate into the kind of “sound bites” that radio, TV, and newspapers demand. Why would a conservation-minded candidate like me spend money on plastic yard signs? There’s too much plastic in the world already. If you support my candidacy, please get in the spirit of my campaign and get creative and connective. Make your own yard sign. Talk with your friends. Invite me to come talk with you and your friends. If you like what I’m saying enough that you’d give me money if I’d take it, find a way to spend your money to spread these ideas yourself. You’re welcome to print any of my writing and pass it out. If you are so excited about my candidacy that you want to form a campaign committee, I would consider co-operating with you–but we’d have to talk.
I can’t say it often enough–my campaign is about spreading ideas, not my personal rise to power. I’m old enough to be getting to the point where I’d rather be retired than in the public eye, but the state of the Nashville and the nation is such that I cannot rest easy. The point of what I’m saying is not “elect me,” but “If the human race, and complex life on the planet in general, is going to have much of a future, a whole lot of us humans are going to have to ‘get it’ and act on what we understand.” I’m sure there are younger, more energetic people who could put these ideas into practice better than I could. I’m just in this race to get the conversation going.
Al Gore called his landmark presentation on climate change “An Inconvenient Truth.” I think he chose the word “an” very purposefully, He’s a smart guy, and he knows that climate change is not the only “inconvenient truth.” There are many “inconvenient truths,” subjects and realities that conventional American politics carefully avoids or glosses over. Gore explored this in his subsequent book, “The Assault on Reason.” My campaign is dedicated to creating greater public awareness of and dialogue on these “inconvenient truths. ” Here are some that come to mind. If you have any you would like to nominate, feel free to comment!
GROWTH IS THE PROBLEM, NOT THE SOLUTION
Conventional politics is religiously dedicated to the proposition that fostering “economic growth” will solve all our problems, and that anything that halts or slows “economic growth” is a Bad Thing. This theory has been most notoriously promulgated as “trickle-down economics,” AKA “Reaganomics,” but its practice is not confined to the GOP. The fallacy of economic growth as a solution to our problems is that we live on a finite planet, with finite resources, and our dedication to “growth” is running up against the limits of those resources, whether we are talking about fossil fuels, phosphates, clean water, fish, other foodstuffs, arable land, oxygen, or anything else tangible. If we use up all of these things, even over the next few hundred years, what will people (and other animals) do to substitute for them in a thousand years?
The notion that whatever increases the Gross National Product is good, is gross. Hurricane-caused damage increases the GNP. Diseases that require expensive treatment increase the GNP; frequently, they are caused by other activities, such as environmental degradation, that increase the GNP. Lots of things that increase the GNP make us less happy. Happiness comes from a sane state of mind, not the possession of a mountain of toys.
“Economic growth” has tended to benefit those who are already wealthy more than those of us who are not. That leads to another inconvenient truth, which is that
AMERICA IS AN OLIGARCHY
The wealthy and powerful, the people the Occupy! movement refers to as “The One Percent,” are the people who call the tune in this country. It doesn’t matter what is best for most people, whether it’s an open internet, a sane health care system, a decent neighbourhood, or a clean environment. Our government will do what benefits the wealthy. Continue reading