Jim Kent:

"Human change initiatives must work at social, economic, and ecological levels if they are to succeed."

Archive for May, 2010

What is going on in Arizona?

Posted by Jim on May 13, 2010

My daughter Teresa Kent Zink who lives in Paoli, Pennsylvania sent me this question.

Hey Dad,
First the immigration law, now this! Any of your crew getting boots on the ground in Arizona? Yes to the boots on the ground, and see below for the rest of the story……….

Hi Teresa:
They have dropped off of the deep end of xenophobia. There has always been embedded in some of the Anglo culture in Arizona a deep fear of the Hispanic and Indian people. I first ran into it when setting up a meeting in Tucson in 1964 for hearings on establishing the War on Poverty. Our Center for Delinquency Control at the University of Denver got the assignment to hold hearings on poverty in the Southwest. The hearings were to establish what needed to go into the legislation. We picked Tucson because of its location and made arrangements to use a local well known hotel for the hearings.

I guess they thought we were a knitting circle or something like that, because when we showed up with Hispanics, Indians and Blacks, they would not let us into the hotel. To put the times and situation into context the Civil Rights Act of 1964 had just been passed.
We had with us for the panel: Steve Allen, Hubert Humphrey, Sam Yette (editor of Life Magazine), Herrick Roth (labor leader) and two other dignitaries for the panel. (I can’t recall their names right now). So we met to see what we should do about this “lunch counter incident”. We all agreed, the panel and participants, to set up picket lines and shut the hotel down which we did. No one was going to cross THAT picket line.

Well the hotel relented after one day and let us in to conduct our business.

When I got back to DU where I was an Assistant Professor and Deputy Director of the Center for Delinquency Control, Dean Miller, my department head boss fired me with the explanation “we don’t do community action as part of our academic program.”
So being radicalized at 28 years old, Bernard Valdez led a group to create the Foundation for Urban and Neighborhood Development, a non-profit, for me to pursue my love of social justice and as Bernie said “to keep me in Denver”.

They the Anglo power structure in Arizona can’t stand the guilt that they carry for the treatment of the Indians, the original inhabitants and the hundreds of years of Spanish residents long before Anglos arrived.  It is embedded at the culture core. Arizona became a part of Mexico along with Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and California as a result of the 1822 Mexican war with Spain which Mexico won. President Polk then provoked a war with Mexico in 1848 where U.S. captured the territories listed above. Mexico surrendered.

To get a sense of the times and the imbedded cultural fear in Arizona the Congressional Globe in 1847 published the following accredited to President Polk: “We must march from ocean to ocean…we must march from Texas straight to the Pacific Ocean. It is the destiny of the white race, it is the destiny of the Anglo-Saxon Race.” So you get a sense of this underlying cultural guilt that is built into the political and social systems of Arizona.
From my days with discrimination in the 1960-to Arizona not recognizing Martin Luther King day (a international boycott brought Arizona to its knees and they relented)-to the present–racism remains embedded in the power structure of Arizona. The fear in the Anglo establishment is deep. Complicating this fear is the fact that Hispanics have made stunning gains in the power structure, to the point of displacing the establishment. This establishment sits on all of the ghosts of oppression over the years like the Interior Department at the turn of the 20th century channeled through diversions, the Gila River water away from the Gila and Tohono O`odham Nation lands to privately owned lands of large farmers–drying up the Gila River and the agricultural life of the Indian nations. Only in 2004 with the passing of the Arizona Water Rights Settlement Act in that year were the historic water rights restored to the Gila River and the tribes use.

On it goes, but it is coming to an end and these attempts to use the legislature to turn history and social and moral and economic gains back generations where Anglos controlled everyone’s destiny are at an end. Of course there is no turning back and it will not work and the BOYCOTT as one tool will prevail. Already California, New Mexico and Texas have announced they will not join or be a party to the actions of the Arizona legislator and Governor have taken.

There is much more to this but that is my first hand experience with discrimination in Arizona. In a sense they cannot help themselves given the guilt that they must live with everyday. If you can stop immigration the storyh goes, then the guilt of what we did to the original inhabitants will go away. It won’t. Culturally and historically there is no boundary between Arizona and Mexico.



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Heart and Soul Stories

Posted by Jim on May 12, 2010

I collect stories that reflect on a communities heart and soul. This is a story from Tom Baker about a heart and soul moment when he was Director of the Aspen-Pitkin Affordable Housing Office.

Tom: I am pleased to be copied on the Heart and Soul emails and thought that I would give you my impression of how Jim and I translated Aspen’s and Basalt’s H&S into the more formal structures of various governments.

In terms of discovering, understanding and making conscious H&S, my experience is that a concerted effort needs to be made to connect with the “informal” networks and the “formal” structure of government-in that order. This intersection can be termed governance; however, not all governance makes this connection. In the early 1990’s, when I was Director of Affordable Housing for Aspen and Pitkin County it was an especially turbulent time. Development was out of control and causing ever increasing land prices, which in turn created more and more pressure for affordable housing (AH) (at that time Aspen and Pitkin County had over 2,000 AH units today we have over 3,000). The community’s confidence in the AH program was at a low point. Jim and I spoke about how to enter my job at that time and Jim suggested that I spend the first month “hanging out” in the local gathering places to attempt to understand how the informal networks felt about the Housing Office and AH. Ten years later, when I was appointed Town Manager of Basalt Jim had the same advice for me.

What the hanging out did for me was connect me to the community without any filters. I listened to the language that community members used, which was very different than the language used by the newspapers, developers, planners and elected officials. This language was crucial for me to understand what people wanted and what they would be willing to support and why they would support it – in terms of AH in Aspen and Pitkin Co or general development and/or community building in Basalt. I also began to understand where the important gathering places were for different segments of the community, who were the important caretakers and communicators, which proved invaluable when I wanted grassroots interaction with a policy proposal, and how people survived, in some cases they worked around government policies that did not serve them. Also of critical importance was the question of what policy adjustments would serve people the best.

By hanging out (Kent calls this Management by Hanging Out) I gained critical insights into how the community viewed various public policy concerns and what they found important about an issue. Having this information I could influence the policy discussion at the formal level in a community friendly direction, which was the goal of most elected officials. However without a connection to the community’s networks they were captured by a special interest group, which influenced their thinking and decisions and often prevented community interaction.

So, once someone is connected to the informal networks of a community how does this knowledge get translated into the formal structure? As you may expect there are two ways: informally, by honoring the language and ideas of the informal networks in policy discussions and by encouraging others in government to “hang out”; and formally, through documents and procedures, which fit the formal structures data and information system but honor the knowledge and wisdom within the informal networks. For example, in Basalt the Master Plan has a chapter titled, Civic Engagement and Social Capital. This chapter formalized the importance of understanding networks and their place in governance. Later, using the Basalt Master Plan’s Civic Engagement and Social Capital concept, citizens were given the resources and responsibility to develop a River Master Plan. This effort engaged over 40 community members directly (l00s indirectly through the multiplier of informal networks), took 16 months to develop, and because ofthe support that had been build throughout the community it was adopted in two-weeks of formal hearings, unheard of in most governmental processes. (While this is a story that deserves its own paper, one discovery that we made was that community members are far more effective at dealing with developers than the typical elected official in terms of adhering to community goals and policy objectives. In Social Capital terms citizens would meet with developers to work out issue resolution at the informal level long before they got to the formal system)

In the Aspen/Pitkin Housing Office we set-up procedures for staffers to go to gathering places and network as a way to establish trust and build support in the community for affordable housing on a project by project basis. Staffers also vetted AH plans at gathering places to ensure that new projects were both understood and addressed the desires of the community. I still remember the point when the Housing Board became re-empowered for their mission to build affordable housing and build community after several years of battering by special interest groups. Jim and I had made a concerted effort to engage the community in gathering places and networking over the first three months of my tenure as Housing Director. During that time we learned what people wanted and how we could enlist them to help build affordable housing. At the time the Housing Board was developing plans for a downtown housing development. As was typical during that period of time, the Housing Board’s meetings were crowded with people telling them that they were supporters of AH but not at this location and/or the development’s density was too great and should be significantly reduced. This particular meeting was crucial for this particular downtown development – a go or no go point. The special interests were very empowered and many times sent their attorneys and real estate people to do the dirty work at the Housing Board’s meetings.

Jim and I had a number of community members at this meeting and it was a real eye opener for them to see how the Housing Board was treated. At one point a real estate person that had property management duties for an adjacent townhouse development said, “we don’t want to see laundry hanging off the balconies and we don’t want riff-raff in our neighborhood”. This language now sounds ridiculous, but at the time it was typical of comments at the Housing Board meetings and the Housing Board just sat there and took it. Immediately after the comment was made one of the community members stood up, turned to look at the real estate person and said in a very calm and caring way, “Mickey, I’m going to live there.” At that moment everything changed. It’s hard for me to communicate what happened, but I could see the air go out of the opposition and you could feel the Housing Board become more assertive – they even sat up straighter. The Housing Board approved the development at the recommended density at that meeting by a unanimous vote. The room quietly emptied out. It was a new era.

The community member who spoke was Jennifer Rice. At that time Jennifer was a striking 30 year old professional that radiated gentleness, good will and selflessness. In a way, I feel that Jennifer symbolized everything that was good about community, Aspen’s character and what we stood to lose or gain regarding Aspen’s future – and affordable housing was the policy vehicle that could take us there. She was its Heart & Soul at that moment and into the future. The situation was totally unscripted – it just happened, but then again when you engage the community to assist with issues of public policy things seem to “just happen”. I’m never disappointed and always amazed at how wise the collective community is regarding public policy.

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Posted by Jim on May 6, 2010

This reflection on the transformation of our society is inspired by JKA Associate Harley Parks in Honolulu, Hawaii. Collaboration, participation, citizen-based stewardship, sustainability, livability, individual and ecosystem health are all part of the emerging Age of Ecology. The Age of Ecology, which is my term, had its origins with Ed Ricketts, a Marine Biologist, who owned the Pacific Biological Laboratory on Cannery Row. He wrote an amazing book called Between Pacific Tides after his and Steinbeck’s excursion to the Sea of Cortez. This was one of the earliest books on ecology. It was published in 1939 and republished several times since because it is still used in college courses on marine biology. Ed predicted the demise of the sardine industry, tracking his indicators to the very year that the sardines did not come back. Of course the commercial sardine industry would not pay heed to this strange prediction.
This publication was followed by Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath which documented the physical-ecological destruction of America’s grasslands known as the Dust Bowl. What a surprise that the “rain did not follow the plow” a deep held myth propagated for many years in the agriculture communities of the Great Plains. When the rain stopped the soil turned to dust due to lack of care. In California the Oklahoma migrants trying to find work ran into a social- ecological disaster when there was no protection for them from predatory farmers and orchard growers who exploited their powerless condition. It was a government camp where the Jode’s finally found control and predictability over their environment. A “U.S. government run camp” that provided a safe island in a sea of inhumanity.
The next major event was the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring in the early 1960s. This book and its aftermath set the stage for the passing of the first federal laws to protect our environment from continued exploitation by the industrial complex. NEPA, Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, Council on Environmental Quality, new regulations for all federal agencies, especially Interior and the US Forest Service. At the same time the social inequities were being addressed by the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Voters Rights Act, War on Poverty including Head Start, Legal Aid, Neighborhood Health Centers. Environmental protection and social justice arrived in our society at about the same time—a major confluence of incredible proportions that was a once in a lifetime happening.
Thus began our move as a nation from the Industrial Age to the Age of Ecology. It was the strong environmental movement that grew and carried the burden forcing compliance while other profound shifts were taking place in our society. Citizen awareness to their external environments and the fact that they could impact those environments that oppressed them began to fall into place. People in their everyday informal networks began to empower themselves. Surviving, taking care of each other and maintaining ones culture began to gain strength. It became clearer and clearer that oppressive systems in the formal order that fed our politicians were coming under siege. The current turmoil is the turmoil that takes place when a society moves from one Age to another. Chaos is the adjustment of our citizens to an ecological age.
The Age of Ecology requires collaboration, participation, partnerships, deep democracy– all concepts that are currently being driven by a major trend called citizen-based ecological stewardship. The election of Barack Obama was the institutionalization of the shift from industrial age exploitation to the ecological age of caring for our physical, biological, social, cultural and economic environment. It was the long awaited “tipping point”. The major crisis in finance and banking that almost brought our society down, climate change, exploding oil rigs and refineries are all indicators of an end of the industrial era where citizen’s lives are exploited for narrow vested interests to accumulate wealth at the expense of the environment and society. What we are seeing is the emergence of formal government, systems that must get their strength and legitimization from the citizens in their informal networks, from citizen-based ecological stewardship, and not from formal vested/ special interest groups.
The future is based on a new phoenix rising of people, in their human geographical areas, taking control of their immediate environments. The new order is based on participating and gaining predictability and control of our physical and social environments in a manner where others do not have to be oppressed or sacrificed for individual or corporate gain.
Indeed there is a new era arising and it is profound.
Jim Kent

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