In order for injustice to exist, a large segment of the population must be misguided, unethical, apathetic, or asleep. Or they must be so beaten down that they forget the power that burns in their bellies, their bones.
For the last several years, a large segment of Nashvillians have watched silently as huge swaths of our city were bought by the highest bidder. The hunger for profit drives the market. Money flows from developers in L.A., New York, Atlanta. They know the drill, they know when and where to invest, how to fit through loopholes, move in the dead of night. And in Metro government, few, if any, checks and balances exist to ensure that the “rising tide lifts all boats.”
Nashville has given millions upon millions of tax breaks, tax incentives, and public money to high end development projects while thousands of affordable homes, duplexes, and apartments are bought out. The low income tenants are evicted, moved further out of sight, out of mind. The housing is razed or renovated, replaced by expensive condos, “tall and skinnies,” boutique hotels, or Airbnb units. Poverty rates climb. Food stamps are cut. Homeless camps are cleared. Anti-refugee and anti-LGBTQI+ legislation is passed. Police cameras go up in public housing projects.
As political organizer and professor Sekou Franklin says, “Nashville is being built like a playground for the rich and a prison for the poor.” The message is clear: the new Nashville is for people with money in their pockets—the young, the privileged, the white, the rich. So instead of the “rising tide lifting all boats,” a few drift by in pricey yachts while our people are drowning. The progress Mayor Barry’s administration is making is throwing life preservers out, but real change, real equity, real justice, will take decisive leadership and bold actions from the Mayor’s Office and City Council. And it will take a critical mass of people who are awake and willing to hold our city leaders accountable.
For too many years, we’ve watched silently, waiting for a tipping point, waiting for something to shake us out of our slumber. And then, for many of us, the buzz of bulldozers rang in our ears, jolting us awake. For many of us, that tipping point came when the Mayor’s Office announced that they would move forward with plans to evict the people camping in the woods at Fort Negley who had nowhere to go. So on April 15th, hundreds rallied, marched, camped out with the residents. Others in homeless camps across the city joined together with low-wage workers, people fighting for racial justice, students, faith leaders, and organizers. With open eyes, the feeling of love, of newly discovered collective power, blazed in their bones.
During Mayor Barry’s State of Metro Address on April 29th, this same group came together for a silent vigil, followed by “The People’s State of Metro” press conference. The following reflection is the speech I shared during the press conference. The other speakers included Steve Hopper who lives in an encampment south of downtown, Neptali Perez with Workers’ Dignity, Rhiana Anthony with Black Lives Matter, Marie Campbell with Showing Up for Racial Justice, Sekou Franklin with Democracy Nashville, Dick Blin with Jobs with Justice, and Ingrid McIntyre with Open Table Nashville.
What happens next depends on all of us. “The revolution is not an apple that falls when it is ripe,” says Ernesto Che Guevera. “You have to make it fall.”
The People’s State of Metro Speech, April 29th
How many people here have struggled to find housing they can afford in Nashville over the last couple years? How many people would have to move if your rent doubled overnight? All of us on the bottom and in the middle are united in our struggle for safe, decent, affordable housing.
We came here today to ask a question – What does the “State of Metro” look like from below? For me, it looks like a homeless woman name Alyce freezing to death in her car. It looks like over 70 deaths in the homeless community last year. It looks like clearing homeless camps like Fort Negley when there’s not enough room in the inn. It looks like Section 8 waiting lists with over 14,000 people waiting…. waiting for a better life, waiting for a better future for their children, hoping and praying their name is called.
Yes, this is the State of Metro in 2016, the state of the city we love. It’s a playground for the rich and a prison – or graveyard – for the poor. But it doesn’t have to be like this.
We’re not here today to protest Mayor Barry, per se. We’re here to protest silence and apathy in the face of injustice. We’re here to protest the perpetual displacement of our people in camps, projects, and low-income housing. We’re here to protest the watered down, status-quo, business-as-usual politics that have given this city to wealthy developers and taken it out of our hands. This is a crisis. This is tipping point. People are waking up, coming together, demanding change, declaring that this city must start putting people over profit.
The banner that now hangs from the Pedestrian Bridge reads, “Stop Displacement Now!” These are our demands: End all the closures of campsites and low-income housing until we have sufficient alternatives. Come up with a strategic, comprehensive plan to create 20,000 units of low-income housing – the units we need to address this crisis.
So if you are listening now and find yourself one of the wealthy, one of the privileged, one of the decision makers, we ask you to join us. Use your privilege, your resources, your influence for social, economic, and racial justice.
If you are listening now and find yourself in the middle, we ask you to join us. Help us build bridges to those in power and to those on the bottom. Use your networks to mobilize more people into this crucial work.
And if you are here and find yourself on the bottom, we want to say we are with you. Stay strong. Your voice is most important in this struggle and you are not alone. We see your suffering, we see your strength. So keep raising your voice, keep telling your story, and keep coming together in solidarity. The future of our city depends on it.