Neo-Settlements: Gentrification is the New Occupation

Tiny - Posted on 21 August 2015

Jose H. Villarreal

The word “gentrification” has become very familiar to poor folks in recent times. Even in prisons "gentrification" has become popularized mostly because it is in large part prisoners' families who have been experiencing "gentrification” out in society.

When I first began hearing about this “gentrification” going on out there especially in the Bay Area I thought it may be a passing trend, but years later it's still going strong. It wasn't until I began hearing from friends and family who were being evicted or told rents are being jacked up that I began to look deeper into this gentrified offensive on poor people.

For those who do not know, the way that gentrification works in neighborhoods which have had a long presence of Raza or Black folks, they have been getting pushed out of these areas and well heeled techies are moving in. Poor people are being pushed out by having their homes essentially stolen by developers or in Frisco through “Ellis Act Eviction” which codifies gentrification. Even small businesses ran by Raza or Black folks are taken over by raised rents. This is used to flush poor people out of the area. When I began to really look into this phenomenon from the gate it smacked of the Israeli settlements that are constantly encroaching into Palestinian lands.

This gentrification was eerily similar to when Amerikans first settled in Texas before their land grab. Perhaps the First Nations will find this “gentrification” all too familiar. When a people have lived in poverty in enclaves for generations and are forced to move because a privileged class of people are moving in, it can only be seen as neo-settlements, which are settlements where you're not told it is for the oppressor nation or for rich people or another class but it is. The neo-settlements are introduced under the guise of the Ellis Act, eminent domain or you're told you can stay if you can pay the rent which is two or three times more than what you earn or receive. But the outcome of the neo-settlments is to displace and grab up poor people's dwellings.

What really had me thinking is if the state is allowing these neo-settlements to displace law abiding folks out in society, people who have in many cases worked all their lives and contributed to building these same communities that they are now being booted out of, what will become of people leaving the prisons? Most prisoners at some point will be released and unfortunately many will be on some type of relief, whether it is disability, social security, unemployment etc. and if so will not be qualified for low income housing because they don't make enough. So how will this gentrification or neo-settlements affect the ex-prisoners? The thought of it kind of validates the notion of a felonious caste-like system.

In today's society prisoners or ex-prisoners are already considered as cast off's and even in somewhere like the Bay Area with it being a tech center most jobs in the tech industry are off limits to ex-felons and this is enforced by background checks when applying for work. An ex-prisoner paroling to a historically Brown or Black neigborhood may be gentrified right next to other longtime locals.

I was reading an article that came out around a year ago about an artist and longtime resident of San Francisco's Mission District, Yolanda M. Lopez, who was being evicted from her home of 40 years due to the neo-settlement “Ellis Act.” Lopez has been described as a “Pioneer of the Chicana movement” but neither her work struggling for social justice, nor her 71 years wise saved her from the neo-settlement claws.

Most recently there was a section of the Mission District which was designated as a “Cultural Corridor.” This was done to at least hold a small place of the Mission District from the claws of neo-settlements and preserve its Chican@/Raza essence. In a way it's good to preserve anything from the oppressors, but it's a shame that Aztlan must be reduced to a few blocks called a “Cultural Corridor.”

When I see this taking place to folks with no criminal records, people who in some cases worked for 50 years and contributed to invigorating the community, it leaves no doubt in my mind that ex-prisoners will be left with few options.

What is occurring in cities like San Francisco are test runs which will expand to other cities throughout California and the U.S. Many times prisoners focus on our immediate needs, and this is understandable to a point. At the same time in our efforts to create change and opportunities we should also begin the process of generating qualitative needs for prisoners and ex-prisoners alike. It is after all ex-prisoners who become some of the fiercest fighters for prison reform and prisoners' rights once released from prison.

Our common oppressor thus is not only who us prisoners share, but who our communities share on the outside as well. The reality of being deprived of material existence as people works to enrich and fortify our common oppressor.

As prisoners we are almost always misunderstood by society and sometimes misunderstood by our fellow prisoner. The act of committing “crimes” in U.S. society does not condemn us to a life of ignorance, nor of being unsalvageable because for one, what is considered “crime” in this corrupt society is up for debate. But being in prison does not condemn us to bystanders of hystory, but creates the natural conditions for a powerful organism which works for anti-imperialism.

These neo-settlements are a symptom of the disease called national oppression. This is something which for many in the U.S. Left has been brushed aside and given no attention in some circles. The bald truth is that the national oppression within the internal nations of the U.S. becomes almost a secondary concern, if a concern at all, taking a back seat to tending to Amerikkkan “workers.” This First World chauvinism expresses itself not just in ignoring issues affecting the oppressed like these neo-settlements, but in so many other ways, all of which serve to stagnate or sabotage national liberation struggles in the U.S.

These actions that are carried out in our communities that affect our peoples derive not from some bank or wealthy land owner per se. Much of today's behavior reflects the dominant political culture of today which is Capitalism. It is a selfish culture that cares about nothing but the dollar. But not all societies are fuled by personal come up and preying on others. When the earthquake struck Haiti a couple years ago Cuba sent Doctors to Haiti as did the U.S. , yet Cuban Doctors slept in tents right by the suffering Haitians, while Amerikkkan Doctors slept in luxury hotels that they were flown to nightly be helicopter (Monthly Review, Vol. 64, No.4 “Cuba: The New Global Medicine” by Don Fitz. Page 37.) The point is that there are societies where serving the people is put above serving the dollar.

Activist groups need to carry on more work addressing the neo-settlements i.e. “gentrification.” We need to address poor communities and enact efforts and projects which halt these neo-settements which will help eviscerate the class oppressors in their encroachments into oppressed communities. We can't expect folks to partake in social justice struggles when they are homeless, and anyone expecting prisoners to be released and help the prisoners rights movement when their communities are being gentrified will be equally disappointed.

The fact that amidst the heart of the heart of the tech industry of California which is amongst the wealthiest in the U.S. exists the largest homeless tent city proves that what is occurring is an epidemic. San Jose, California has the biggest homeless camp in the U.S. (the camp has recently been broken up and dispersed into dozens of smaller encampments throughout the city) and so the neo-settlements are not just pushing folks out of their communities but pushing poor people out on the streets.

The struggles inside these prisons are just a small piece to the puzzle of what we are poor people are facing. The struggles to close the SHU are linked to the struggle against neo-settlemets because it is the rotten state which we are ultimately struggling against. Only complete liberation of poor people will solve these social ills.


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