Thousands of people from around the world attended the World Social Forum in Tunis at the end of March. Security was up due to the horrific attack at the Bardo Museum only the week before, but spirits and energies were also high. Participants with their WSF badges, both Tunisian and international, were identifiable throughout the city, along with young Tunisian volunteers wearing blue vests. When we braved the crowded metro to get to the opening march, we squeezed in next to politicians and community organizers from across the globe.
Throughout the hundreds of activities, translation was a constant challenge. Impressively, the World Social Forum organizers tried to have at least a few volunteer translators at each event. But technical issues abounded, speakers spoke too quickly for the translators, translations were understandably imperfect, and often it was a random participant at the last minute who offered to translate, periodically whispering back to a group of people who happened to speak French or English or Spanish or Arabic. One of the most striking aspects of the Forum was this constant flurry of languages among people united by common interests.
On the first day I went to a #BlackLivesMatter event organized by the Grassroots Global Justice Alliance. Activists from Jackson, Miami, and Oakland shared experiences of racial injustice, especially in light of the recent police killings of black men, and efforts to join forces for justice across the United States. One Asian American woman talked about the movement #Asians4BlackLives and how Asians in the U.S. have been used in a “divide-and-conquer” strategy within a white supremacist system, rendering alliances across identity groups all the more important.
What made this event even more interesting was the fact that most of the participants were Brazilians from black justice movements in Brazil. My Brazilian colleague ended up translating from Portuguese to English and back again as they asked questions of the American activists, eager to make connections between what they had just heard and their own experiences. They expanded the debate as well: “How do your movements treat capitalism? What about economic justice?”, asked one Brazilian. “If you get rid of white supremacy without addressing capitalism, you perpetuate an oppressive system,” responded an American activist, who forms part of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (His own reflection on the World Social Forum can be found here.)
It has been very sad to see the Joiners’ Arms, an iconic LGBT bar/venue on Hackney road, being picked apart to make way for its demolition. Property developers purchased the building to make way for a new block of flats, and the pub, which has been there since 1997, could not afford to stay.This This seems to be an increasingly common occurrence in the area, and is also part of a pattern of independent LGBT venues across London being forced out by the whim of property developers. David Pollard, the owner of the pub, was quoted in a an article in Vice:
“I think London will end up destroying itself…London depends on people moving here that can afford to live here. It’s a big city, but London has always been more than a playground for the super-rich. We mustn’t forget that.”
It really seems like talk of gentrification is everywhere lately. It may be that I’ve just been paying more attention to it, but I think if you live somewhere like London or San Francisco, it’s pretty hard not to notice the changes taking place. It was cool to see a video like this on a mainstream site like BuzzFeed, of a former Mission resident, Kai, who has been evicted from two different homes in San Francisco. While it doesn’t go too deep into the structural causes of gentrification, it does highlight the massive displacement of black and Latino communities in San Francisco, as well as the California policies that have facilitated this. Kai comments on the way the city is segregated by race and class and notes, “the wealth is directly related to people’s displacement from their homes”.
The topic of gentrification was even addressed in a recent Saturday Night Live sketch, which I think brilliantly comments on the intersection of gentrification and race. Why is it so funny to see black men on the corner discussing spin class and the new artisanal mayonnaise shop around the corner? Maybe because we know deep down that the supposed positive effects of gentrification (if 8 dollar mayonnaise can be considered a positive effect) rarely benefit anyone other than white, middle- to upper-class residents.
As (hopefully) more and more debate about gentrification unfolds, I really hope we see fewer people claiming that this is an inevitable process or that, you know, “it’s really all the hipsters’ fault”. We need to dig further into how our current economic system encourages eviction and displacement along race and class lines.