Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Gentrification, Neighborhoods and Holiday Spirit

Ah, the holidays…a time for family, love and kind words. And where else would one expect to find such sentimentalities but on “Ellen?” Hey, Queen Latifah was on and she can do no wrong in my book (we’ll ignore the film with Mr. Martin). She is a true inspiration and this I knew when I nearly spit up my eggnog upon hearing her spectacular suggestion for New Jersey’s new motto: “New Jersey – We don’t like you either!” Oh, please, please, don’t be offended. New Jersey has had to defend itself against a tirade of abuses for decades and it was a much-welcomed stance from one of New Jersey’s most regal members. Currently, that stance may be to no avail, however, because it seems that the “you” in the suggested motto is quickly becoming “us.”

What do I mean? I’ll tell you. I have never seen so many people rushing towards me and mine since I was the most unfortunate customer in K-Mart to grab the last Tickle-Me-Elmo in ’92. The same frantic get-whatcha-can-while-you-can energy has engulfed Jersey City for the past year and it is making me twitch with nervousness. I keep looking over my shoulder, out of fear that an actual physical wave of business suits and $100 haircuts will tsunami my ass. I had always heard of gentrification. I always knew about the neighborhoods that gentrification happened in – hell, I partied in ‘em! But, I never lived in an area under the process. It stinks! Construction is going on 24-7, you see new people in the area who look nicer than you do, and you are always afraid of when your lease is up. Will the landlord change it? Will he raise it if we ask him to fix the missing floorboard that our feet keep falling into? Will he get angry if we ask him to fix the rotting pipes and then keep our deposit?

I suppose it’s not all bad. For two years we lived with an X-TREME Sports obstacle course for a road in front of our apartment, but this year it was paved and it is a smooth as Pilate’s-trained yuppie’s bottom. Our supermarket changed, too. When we first moved in, we had a choice between orange drink and some neon blue stuff that they serve in public schools. Now, we have all kinds of organic fruits and veggies, cage-free eggs, and other overpriced foods for people who believe in animal rights. Ain’t I an animal?

Oh, and the most important thing. We got Christmas spirit. Yes, believe it or not, gentrification has brought Christmas spirit to Jersey City. See, before all the upper middle class people started moving here, Journal Square (my area of Jersey City) had a few lighted branches and lampposts, and maybe a wreath or two here and there, to represent the few Christians in the area. Journal Square, while I have lived here, has A LOT of cultures represented, so maybe Christmas is cool and all, but not everyone here celebrates it.

Now, however, a really cool developer called Metrovest Equities is making what used to be a hospital that served the poorest of Jersey City into condos. Hey, it’s a gorgeous art deco building and sick people can’t appreciate that! Anyway, as a token of its love for the residents of Jersey City, Metrovest Equities also dedicated a big, big tree to us. I’m not joking; the holiday tree stands one foot taller than the tree that is going to be lit at Rockefeller. Yes, a big tree for us, the residents of Jersey City, to enjoy. Although, I guess we’ll have to enjoy it from outside the gate of the condo complex because that’s where the tree was erected. No, it wasn’t erected in a public place where families can gather. The big, big tree was erected in front of the condos that Metrovest Equities wants to sell…to people who buy condos…who are moving here…and who may leave us New Jersey peons with no place to live. Someone with a more business-oriented mind might think that the big, big tree is actually a way to advertise the condos, a sort of beacon for the incoming masses, but I know nothing of business. Funny, though, that the complex is, indeed, called The Beacon. Hmmm. It’s right around the corner from my apartment, so I get to look at it and get filled with…inspiration every day.

It seems to me that this type of thing wouldn’t happen if we had policies that kept people in the same neighborhood for years. My friend Rachel said I should post an idea I had and I guess I will, but the idea cannot work unless we ensure a variety of rents in any given neighborhood. I read once that the most successful and active neighborhoods have people who represent a range of incomes – and when I write successful, I mean ECONOMICALLY, for all you bottom-line people.

That said, my idea is somewhat simple. Why not get a group of people from, say, three neighborhoods in a city/town? Each neighborhood group has to have two kinds of people in it: stationary folks and travelers. The neighborhood group of leaders should be small, like maybe six people. Anyway, the stationary people STAY in the neighborhood for a minimum of 20 years and vow to be active in its development. The travelers agree to regularly travel to other towns, in the United States or in other countries, and study what successful neighborhoods are doing. They bring their ideas back and share ‘em with the stationary folks. Then, maybe once a year, the three neighborhoods get together and have a festival, sharing neighborhood accomplishments, etc. The participants shouldn’t be politically motivated or have corporate interests. In practice, it might be as simple as getting neighborhood residents to know each other at block parties or as complex as bringing someone from another country to teach residents how to repair each other’s cars (the way people do in Cuba). Ultimately, the goal is to create a place that belongs to the people who live there, as opposed to people who don’t. Okay, Rachel – it’s your fault if I have to sift through countless emails about how this can’t ever be done!

Gentrification does stink, but the ideas and dreams in my mind cannot be appropriated with such ease. I can still imagine. Sometimes, I even create. Can you? Sure you can.

Happy Holidays!


Painful definition (Jersey City is in it!): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gentrification

Jersey Journal article, “Tree is holiday beacon at old Med Center site,” Nov. 29, 2005.
http://www.nj.com (pick "Jersey Journal" and type "beacon tree" in the keyword bar; the article will be posted for a week, maybe two)

Monday, October 24, 2005

Please don't ruin my language

What do skulls, CEOs and test scores have to do with each other? Have you noticed that everything we say often means the exact opposite? Am I being vague? Then I will spell it out, my dears.

As a proud 80s punk, I liked skulls. Skulls scared the popular girls away. Boys didn’t mess with girls who wore skulls (although they may have wanted to in private) and mothers certainly didn’t want anything to do with girls who wore skulls. Skulls were gross and badass back then, and all was right. Well, about five years ago I heard someone in the fashion industry call skulls the new “happy face,” and although I didn’t exactly know what the sell-out whore meant, the phrase stuck with me. Oh, to be blind again. Now, one can go into any Mandee, check out Delia’s Online, or visit the trendy poseur capital of the world, Hot Topic, and find skulls on underwear, sneakers, scarves, hats, jeans, jackets, sweaters, purses…I won’t go on. Pink skulls. Pink skulls. NO SKULL SHOULD BE PINK! A skull should ONLY be pink if the oozing blood of its crushed brains has been diluted by the acid rain pouring down upon it! They have smiley faces, even! Why? I will tell you why, my humble reader – money. How do we make the hellacious set of the 80s a nostalgia that everyone wants to buy? Make their anger pink. Happy pink fu***** skulls.

But this mentality isn’t limited to the punk subculture that created independent music and film that is now owned by Disney. It attempts to wrench the life out of much of the creativity that tries to revive culture in the U.S. There is an ad that has been running nationally for a while now where a CEO explains to his underling that he is “sticking it to the man” by purchasing a certain product. The underling claims, “But you are the man.” Ah, but what the little underling doesn’t realize is that even THE MAN HIMSELF longs to stick it to the man. So now, when the man sticks it to the man, it really means that there is no sticking done at all. Hell, WE could be the man, thus making the man nonexistent. Right. It’s kind of like when someone who knows nothing of street culture tries to use its language. Ewww. To quote John Leguizamo, “Please don’t ruin my language.” Must you, Mr. Man, take what little strength we have in our own poetic phrases by appropriating them? Thus, sticking it to the man has no strength now. Pink skulls.

Not only are phrases weakened, but also some phrases are outright lies. Believe it or not, I am not inspired by the Orwell classic, 1984. When I read that novel, even though I am prone to a theory or two, I wholeheartedly believed that his portrayal of names and statements that meant the exact opposite of what they said was a possibility that might happen after I was dead and buried. No, my inspiration comes from all around me. We have “fat free” foods that have so much sugar in them that the sweet stuff ends up being stored as fat because our bodies are not equipped to break it down fast enough. We have a mayor in New York who dismantled the Board of Education and allowed teachers to work without a contract for years and is claiming to be the “Education Mayor” now that elections are coming. We had a “war on drugs” during the time our country was forging a new international drug economy that still exists today. We have countless vendors claiming that we can SAVE money if we just SPEND X amount of dollars. We have a Justice Department that often has very little to do with that; don’t mess with me on that one – my grandmother’s name was Justicia (not kidding). I shouldn’t go on, but I haven’t gotten to the test scores. Ah, yes, the test scores. We have a program called NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND and just because it isn’t in the news as often anymore doesn’t mean its shadow isn’t lurking around the corner. Some states have taken the tests already. In Chicago, Illinois, it is estimated that over 30 schools may close due to inadequate test scores. Under NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND, schools that have low test scores get no money from the government, and schools that have no money often close. Students in wealthier neighborhoods have test scores that are just fine (ensuring their schools will stay open). An upbringing without poverty and knowing your teacher cares for you are the two things that have shown the only consistent results in better student performance, so I guess the poor kids are screwed unless they have loving teachers (which is all we can hope for). If not, where will the poor, uneducated kids go? Who knows, but they sure as heck won’t get LEFT BEHIND! Maybe they’ll stick it to the man by wearing a damn pink skull.

These are a few of the ways I’ve noticed that we say the opposite of the truth. I’m sure all of you wonderful readers are aware of many more. Post ‘em!

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Enough of Valueless Leaders

I've had a hard time coming up with my next piece of writing for several reasons: not wanting to bore, not wanting to place something trivial out there in the wake of the Katrina disaster, and wanting to challenge already saavy East Coast readers. As I've pieced together different things that have come to be in the past few weeks, there is a term that blossomed after many talks with my husband, Vincent. That term is "valueless leaders."

My life has been lucky in that it began in the 1970s, when a lot of social service programs, that were planned in the 1950s and '60s, came to fruition. For example, I was able to go to a college preparatory school that was actually public, and it served other middle class and poor black, Latino, Asian, and white students who might not have had such an opportunity otherwise. That program was the result of people who valued education and those who did not have money.

However, by the time I came out of that 7th-12th grade program, in 1989, it was already suffering in terms of funding and community support. The 1980s are now known for the radical growth of suburbanization, inner-city homelessness, social program cuts, tax-cuts for the upper middle classes, and big miltary. It was the beginning of the United States we know today. Here's a good overview of that: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_United_States_(1980-1988)

Nonetheless, the effect of the earlier social movements did affect my upbringing, and this was apparent in the art of the time, the new rap music, in particular. I grew up listening to songs like "White Lines" by Grandmaster Flash and "Kill the Poor" by The Dead Kennedys. My social awareness was supported by community leaders who would tell it like it is.

This year, Gil Noble, producer and host of "Like It Is," the amazing Sunday morning news program on ABC, nearly lost his show. That is representative of what we value today, or don't value, I should say. Well, luckily, with community support he didn't lose his show, but it was shortened. Still, this morning on the show I was able to see how so many people in the African American community mobilized themselves to help the victims of the Katrina Hurricane. I was able to see how strong black leaders who obtained buses and drove down to New Orleans were arrested because it was assumed the buses were stolen. I was able to hear strong black leaders bring up facts in New York speeches about how Cuba's Fidel Castro was able to evacuate over one million Cubans out of areas that were to be affected by Hurricane Hugo some time ago, but the same efforts were not made by our government in the case of Katrina.

Vincent and I talked about racism and classism, but Vincent said, "There is no word that has been invented to describe the people who are at fault for what is happening in our government. They will slay anyone in order to obtain more for themselves." In this case, the "more" to be obtained is land in New Orleans that will now be bought up by "investors."

I said to Vincent that when I think of my visit to Cuba and everything that my family has gone through in regards to Cuba, I do have strong feelings against Castro, but at least he values education and he does treat most people equally. He definitely wants to be in a class higher than the majority, but at least those in the majority mostly have an equal shot. Blacks are educated there, and the only propaganda I saw there was copious pictures of Che' on billboards and shots of Castro on the little TV that does exist. I do not in any way promote what exists in Cuba, but the fact is that people are much more community-minded, people are educated and read whether they have some money or none, and people know what they are experiencing. It seems to me that there is a huge population of people in the United States who are completely unaware that they, through their taxes, are contributing to slavery and death. My students are so brainwashed that they do not want to educate themselves. I have to take great lengths to convince them that they are valuable, that education is valuable, and that the people next to them are valuable.

This is because the leaders set the precedent. Our current leaders, as shown by the Katrina disaster, value property more than human life. Our leaders, as shown by the current war, value an idea more than human life. Our leaders, as shown by the promoted arts, value a slick product and brainwashing, more than true creativity and the thought-provoking. Our leaders, as shown by our most popular mediums (TV and other screen mediums), value the flashy visual more than the awkward human interaction. All of this adds up to no value at all. We have leaders that are not necessarily racist alone - they simply value nothing. They don't value themselves, for they destroyed their souls long ago.

Real estate dealers buy property and make profit, but at the same time they destroy homes and communities. Wall Street investors buy businesses and make profit, but they destroy jobs and lives. Government officials claim to represent everyone but in the end they represent no one.

Haven't we had enough of this? Are we too afraid to change it? Have we become too comfortable with convenience to actually say, "I want to be a leader of value and not follow a valueless leader?" Are folks really fooled into believing that it is normal to have every amenity in one's home at one's fingertips when there are people, who make our life so convenient by their underpaid work, who have no money for food, even? When will we demand the Value of the Sacred from ourselves? What more does it take?

I've had an idea for a long time, and I'm just throwing it out there because I alone do not have the power to organize people into doing something this drastic. Well, I don't think it is drastic, but many people will. It seems to me that the only thing that Valueless Leaders value is money (which is actually valuing nothing at all, to me), so the only way to affect them is by affecting what they consider their money.

My idea is this: Come April, a significant number of people should hand in their tax returns with huge red marker letters on them that state, "I PROTEST THIS GOVERNMENT AND ITS LACK OF VALUES." There are several reasons why people will be afraid to do this. First of all, the government will know who has sent in such a return, where he/she lives, and will have every right to arrest said person. Second, many people believe that other avenues of protest still work (even though millions of people around the entire globe protesting the Iraq war didn't deter our government). Third, many people will be afraid that the large numbers of people not handing in returns will cause problems in the everyday infrastructure, such as road repair, funding to public hospitals, etc.

All of those are legitimate concerns, but it is still an idea that I have to put out there. I just can't live with the fact that my money is being used to destroy people, not help them. I've had enough. Petitions and picket lines have become meaningless cliches. I want my students to grow up and see how we value the environment and each other, but as it stands they are seeing the exact opposite. It has been proven time and time again that voting is fixed. They cannot drop another bomb or arrest another "looter," who is actually a person who has been moved to help Katrina victims in person instead of donating money to a faceless organization, if they don't have the public's financial support.

I realize my idea might seem crazy or insane or unrealistic to some of you. Please don't judge me for this. John Lennon was often called crazy for writing "Imagine." I cannot help that my unobstructed imagination has brought me to this place. All I ask of you is, what do you think?

P.S. The United States was founded on tax protest. If you didn't learn this in school, here's a link: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/historyofus/web01/.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Rotting CDs, Rotting Libraries

I still get the same look when I talk about it. It's like admitting being stubborn or that you have boils growing on your back. The look is a mixture of confusion, annoyance, and pity. What can I say? I still collect records. I had to make this statement as if it were a political opinion that I just wasn't going to change, but I'd still get a lot of arguments. My mother would roll her eyes and say, "I HATE all those pops and cracks!" I'd have to argue about the warmth of the sound, that the sound is real and not produced by a computer (use a needle on a record without amplification and the sound is still there), and that the range of bass sounds is better. Only DJs or people who appreciated DJs would understand. Mostly, I was alone, very alone. Ohhhh!

This all changed when in July of 2004, Mary Nersessian of the Toronto Globe, wrote the article, "Communication Breakdown: CDs Aren't Forever After All." In that article, she quoted United States Library of Congress preservation specialist Michele Youket as saying, "The poorest-quality CDs will last less than 10 years, and the best will last 50 or more." Really? Apparently, the casing tends to crack and rust develops on the inner CD. The problem is mainly with older CDs, but ultimately, the shelf life of a CD is much shorter than we were made to believe. NOW I had some fire power! Whenever anyone gave me that look, I would mention this article and send the new-technology-addicts home crying, wondering if they were going to have to replace their collection again. Ha!

However, despite my newfound victory, I began to wonder about a bigger problem. Records, if they are taken care of, can last a pretty long time. Even though my mom doesn't use many of her records anymore, she has still saved them and I will be set to inherit them when the time comes. My plan has always been to have a nice music library that, hopefully, my future child(ren) will enjoy. But what if I or she had changed everything over to CD? Or, what if I had done as my spouse has done, and changed everything over to MP3? How does one hand down or file electronic information? Will we be handing down hard drives to our children?

The original U.S. Constitution is written on paper, and as far as we know, paper is the best way to record anything. If it is strong paper, such as the hemp paper the Constitution is on, and it is kept in a dry place, it can last for hundreds of years. This is the same idea behind records. If the record is of quality material, and it is kept in a dry, cool place, it can last quite a long time. But if the move to make everything smaller so that it can be stored in a smaller space implies that all our recordings, our information, must be placed on a hard drive, will that move mean that we can or cannot save things for as long a time?

It is a fact that civilization progresses by handing down important information. The only reason we know how to build skyscrapers, maintain plumbing, or farm vegetation is because someone who lived before us was kind enough to pass on the knowledge and create places where the knowledge could be stored: libraries. However, even libraries are used less, with many people and students opting for electronic information instead of paper information.

According to www.urbanlibraries.org survey about library and internet usage, in the year 2000, people who used only the internet (20.3%) were over double the number of people who used only the library (9.7%). Most people used both, but I imagine things have changed in the past five years with soaring PC sales because of drops in prices. According to an internet study posted on www.stanford.edu, "The more time people spend using the internet, the more they turn their back on traditional media." In other words, not only is TV watching affected, but so is traditional reading of newspapers, etc. How often does the average person print out an important news article that he has seen online? I print them out regularly, but I went to school for journalism and I am more likely to do that. Some of us might save the document in our hard drive or on a disk, and then we find ourselves in the same place of not necessarily having a lasting recording.

How important is it to have hard copies, and lasting copies, of who we are, what we do, how we do it, what we believe in, etc.? I know that the first time I really came to understand everything that my Chicago library had in it, I was very excited. I felt as if I could find out anything I wanted to, learn anything I wanted to. And, I felt that option would always be open to me. As a researcher, I do not find everything I'd like to electronically, but as a busy individual and as a person without much space, my time in the library has been changed by electronic information and my own home library has been affected by electronic information. Will my children have access to the same cool stuff I had access to? Will they be forced to have to sift through endless amounts of commercial information to find one good piece of information? Tell me, what is the future of the home and public library?

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Hello and Welcome!

Hi there! This is Grisel, your humble writer, artist, and journalist, welcoming you to my little blog. What can you expect on "Write to Right?" The main focus of this blog space will be NEWS and EVERYDAY INSIGHTS that might go unnoticed.

No comments on the usual TV and news stories that we are all innundated with. Think of me as your RARE AND HARD-TO-FIND NEWS DJ. I will be digging through the moldy corners of newsland to bring some things to your attention that traditional news sources neglect, and, of course, my DRY AND WITTY COMMENTARY will most likely follow.

In addition to these gourmet tidbits for the socially aware, I will also, on occasion, let you know about other writers, artists, and their work. I am certainly not the only writer or artist in the world worth paying attention to, so WHEN WE SEE SOME COOL, MIND-CHALLENGING STUFF, WE MUST SHARE!

Oh, and if my cat or my husband do something really cute, I may post a picture of it, but you can forgive that, right? Sweet.