The Public Bank

The question has been posed to me: what is the difference between a public bank and a credit union? It’s a good question, considering that, as one person recently expressed on social media “Madison is the credit union capitol of the world.” My response to him was that while credit unions provide many of the same services as banks, and sometimes better, they are limited in other ways.

A public bank, such as the one which has been servicing the state of North Dakota for nearly one hundred years and ostensibly saved them from the fallout of the 2008 financial crisis, does business as the city or state in which it is located. This means that it is the authority of the city or state upon which the bank is predicated, that it is able to access far greater resources than a credit union — or even some private banks — and that the revenue which it generates goes not into the hands of shareholders or to the bank itself but to the municipality or region which it services.

Would a Bank of Madison compete with private banks or credit unions? No. Credit unions do an excellent job of serving their member-owners and of creating credit for small businesses. The public bank would go after bigger fish, namely commercial mortgages and municipal bonds trading. We will be able to offer large commercial interests within the city the option of removing their mortgages from private banks which, we have seen, are more than willing to mix them up in the derivatives market. Now, after the passage of the “Cromnibus bill” last December which further stripped the Dodd-Frank bill — passed after the crisis of 2008 in order to prevent a repeat crash — of its power, it is more urgent than ever that we act to insulate local businesses from the fluctuations of the derivatives market.

Retail mortgages and individuals’ mortgages are taken care of relatively well by credit unions and there is no reason that the public bank should reach into and alter already well-functioning institutions. Neither would we immediately begin lending money to stimulate or support the growth of small business, that can come later and with careful consideration of the rest of Madison’s lending-ecosystem.

We will be able to offer a lower interest rate for mortgages than the private banks and the money which we do collect will go towards paying down our debt. This will have a twofold benefit. It will allow us to slow down the continual rise of our property tax rate which will in turn stabilize rent prices. For those who haven’t noticed, rental prices have been rising steadily over the past few years and they are poised to continue their climb, especially if we do not decide quickly how we will guide the growth of business and high-density real estate. The clamoring of tech companies outside our door should give us a clue as to what some in our political scene have in mind for the future of Madison — and cities like San Antonion and San Francisco may offer a warning. Development is already booming, and if we aren’t careful we may feel the bust harder than other parts of the country which aren’t considered such hot areas for speculation. High-tech companies and wealthy developers may not be worried, but those in Madison’s middle and working classes should be.

This is the real reason for all of Madison’s recent placements on “Best” place lists. It is a signal for national corporations that the proverbial Fruit has matured and that it is time to eat.

Another opportunity will be available to us once the public bank is up and running successfully for a few years: we will be able to create credit for our own development. This means loans to the city to fund infrastructure, loans which will not weigh us down with usurious compound interest rates imposed by the private banks. How nice it will be to go to the public bank and break ground on a new garage for our metro fleet (which would be necessary before talking about expanding our bus system and making room for rapid transit, which we badly need) in the same day, and knowing that the funding will not be borrowed money but interest gathered in the course of doing business!

Nationally, politicians have been pushing states and municipalities towards bankruptcy so that it will be easier to press privatization upon an otherwise unwilling populace. We saw it with the “austerity” measures forced upon Greece and Ireland in 2006, and we would be remiss if we allowed it to happen here without doing everything we could to prevent it. New Jersey’s governor just moved to privatize their water. We do not have to go along with it. There is still time to determine our own economic fate, to take an active role in the creation of local businesses, and to decide the character of our own city. There is still time to choose a better future for our children.

On Race, Police, and Incarceration

Recently the Isthmus published an article which gave brief mention to my position on the hot issue of the Dane County Jail and my support for alternatives to incarceration such as work-sentencing programs: especially those revolving around agriculture. This report is correct; I believe that the essential function of “corrections” should be to grow individuals’ skill-sets and self confidence as well as foster improved connections to their communities. It was not mentioned that I also believe that all workers are deserving of earning a reasonable wage. That is: all who do work, whether the circumstances under which they work are freely chosen or not, deserve a reasonable wage.

When the subject of agricultural education and training programs for HUBER inmates — programs which would, as proposed, have been conducted on county land and with county-paid instructors — came up last Spring before the county board the county executive declined to pursue the idea. I believe that things will go differently next time. Work-sentencing is an excellent way to reduce the expense we pay towards a wholly unjust institution and if we can keep people in their own communities rather than removing them the positive impact will be immeasurable. Likewise, this is an opportunity to redirect Federal and State funds which should have already been going to programs which educate and provide greater economic opportunity for people…

Just a few days ago Dane Co. Supervisor John Hendrick introduced a resolution which would guarantee that inmates are paid at least the Federal minimum wage for all work that they perform. This is a laudable proposal and I applaud Mr. Hendrick for his work.

Back to the Isthmus, here are my thoughts on jails:

I don’t believe that the modern American penal system is corrective or “restorative” by any stretch of the imagination. How do we correct behaviors that stem from the traumas of physical, mental, or emotional abuse? It is childhood trauma and neglect, lack of guidance and the absence of empathetic persons in positions of authority which shape young minds into anti-social adults. It is material poverty which drives most of the activity deemed “criminal” by today’s justice system.

So how does locking someone up solve the problem? The answer is, of course, that it doesn’t. It merely quarantines them. Not only that, but it turns its victims into sources of extremely cheap labor. In America that labor is taken full advantage of…producing goods sold by major American retailers, fighting fires (in California), doing highway cleanup (everywhere) which would otherwise be performed by unionized state or city workers, and through companies like UNICOR producing attire which is worn by our military. This is the true purpose of the system, and it is working exactly how it was intended to.

Our prison system has taken on the appearance of a pre-civil war era Southern plantation. Is this by accident? Some of the earliest prisons in the country were built in order to temporarily hold enslaved Africans as their captors moved through towns, and today’s Rangers (a la Walker of Texas) can trace their origins to roving bands of slave-catchers. Slavery was the law and the Rangers, usually poor whites who would otherwise be working as share-croppers themselves, who were paid and told by the land-holding gentry that they were deserving of special distinction above blacks, were more than happy to enforce it. What better way to convince themselves things weren’t so bad despite the inequalities in wealth and ownership of resources which were part-and-parcel of their daily lives? Such delusion runs rampant in our society today, just as it did then.

How have we arrived at our current levels of racial disparity in incarceration? The answer to this question is the same answer as we may give to the question of disparities in education and employment, and it is this: Following the verdict in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 a group of 101 Southern politicians came together to put forward what they dubbed the “Southern Manifesto.” It was presented on March 12th, 1956, with the expressed purpose of reversing the results of the ruling by all available legal means. The means which they chose were the de-funding of now-desegregated public schools. Systematically-advantaged whites could enroll their children in private schools, the reasoning went, while blacks who did not enjoy the same privilege would have no choice but to continue relying on the public system. The strategy has been very successful, and over the subsequent decades the cuts to our schools have continued in an ever-more frenzied fashion. At the same time the welfare system has been dismantled. The easily foreseeable result of these cuts for historically-disadvantaged communities, especially communities of color, has been the continual increase in rates of poverty. The criminalization of activities such as trading and selling drugs, a reliable method of gaining income for those not granted legitimacy by the [white, male] power structure, closed the loop, and by redirecting funds which would otherwise have gone to education and basic support for those who most needed it into the prison system the fate of black communities was sealed. We now pay $40,000 per year for every Federal prisoner. These are individuals who would otherwise be working and raising families, who might have received an excellent education if it had not been decided that the money would be better used to lock them up. This is the new plantation and it is a stain on the fabric of our nation.

In the North, the modern system of policing evolved along a slightly different, though convergent route. As Sam Mitrani, Associate Professor of History at the College of DuPage and author of “The Rise of the Chicago Police Department: Class and Conflict 1850-1894” writes for LAWCHO.org:

“The police were not created to protect and serve the population. They were not created to stop crime, at least not as most people understand it. And they were certainly not created to promote justice. They were created to protect the new form of wage-labor capitalism that emerged in the mid to late nineteenth century from the threat posed by that system’s offspring, the working class.

Before the nineteenth century, there were no police forces that we would recognize as such anywhere in the world. In the Northern United States, there was a system of elected constables and sheriffs, much more responsible to the population in a very direct way than the police are today. In the South, the closest thing to a police force was the slave patrols. Then, as Northern cities grew and filled with mostly immigrant wage workers who were physically and socially separated from the ruling class, the wealthy elite who ran the various municipal governments hired hundreds and then thousands of armed men to impose order on the new working class neighborhoods.

Class conflict roiled late nineteenth century American cities like Chicago, which experienced major strikes and riots in 1867, 1877, 1886, and 1894. In each of these upheavals, the police attacked strikers with extreme violence, even if in 1877 and 1894 the U.S. Army played a bigger role in ultimately repressing the working class. In the aftermath of these movements, the police increasingly presented themselves as a thin blue line protecting civilization, by which they meant bourgeois civilization, from the disorder of the working class. This ideology of order that developed in the late nineteenth century echoes down to today – except that today, poor black and Latino people are the main threat, rather than immigrant workers.”

So we can see quite clearly why the Young, Gifted, and Black Coalition might propose the elimination of police contact in Madison’s communities of color. We can see why people protesting the deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Dontre Hamilton, Tamir Rice, and the countless other victims of a flawed social philosophy have faced severe backlash from law enforcement in cities around the country. The concentration of power in the hands of police has increased over the past decades, and especially since America’s invasion of Iraq in 2003. With surplus military weapons now being fed to local law enforcement agencies around the country it is no wonder that many of the people in whose hands the power has been concentrated have become unable to wield it responsibly. Consider also the macabre irony that weapons created to kill dark-skinned foreigners have now been turned on our own populations of color…but even this follows a well-established historical precedent.

As Steven Thrasher writes for The Guardian:
“The War Machine has always had an insatiable need for bodies of color from before the birth of this nation. The genocide of Native Americans, the Atlantic Slave trade of Africans, the conquest of Mexicans, the colonization of Filipinos and Hawaiians, the mass importation of Chinese workers subsequently denied citizenship under the Chinese Exclusion Act: the War Machine created and then expanded the size of the United States using non-white bodies, waging war against them, and making them second-class citizens (when it deigned to make them citizens at all). Though the 13th Amendment ended legal slavery, it did not end the War Machine’s assault on black people, which has simply morphed from slavery, sharecropping and Jim Crow segregation, to modern day schools which are just as segregated, police violence, economic exploitation and mass incarceration. The War Machine has so effectively decimated the black community, for example, that for the few of us who do manage to get, say, an education, it is almost meaningless as a way to move up in the world.

The Black Lives Matter movement is about more than just justice for our deaths: it’s about the depreciation of black life in the service of accumulation of stuff for white people, from slavery to “security” to shopping. This status quo is protected,often violently, by police. And now as the War on Terror (allegedly) scales down, there is an oversupply of “stuff” used to commit violence in the name of quelling it – and an undersupply of violence to quell. The “ongoing slippage between policing and war that still visibly characterizes the present”, as the historian Nikhil Pal Singh recently observed, shouldn’t be seen as mere coincidence: it’s the War Machine coming home, and coming home as hungry as ever.”

We now must start the great task of dismantling this system of oppression. It will not be easy, because almost everything we know has been built on it, but if we do not begin now then our children will be crushed under its immeasurable weight, condemned to a new and universal slavery. Orwell’s perpetual war has nearly been realized, and if we are to escape it we must turn our attention now to a totally different way of life.

In Norway they take quite a different approach than that taken in most industrial countries to solving the problems of anti-social behavior. What is their approach? They treat people like human beings. There jails are set up as small villages where inmates are given roles and responsibilities. This is not true of every jail, but the model is being employed in some areas and with great success. Inmates are provided with opportunities to learn useful skills and to situate themselves within a social network, preparing them for life on the outside as rehabilitated citizens. The recidivism rate is extremely low when compared to places such as Great Britain or the United States and there are no life sentences.

For another model we can look to the pre-Columbian period during which this land held a population roughly equal to that of today. There were no jails or structures built for the capture and detention of individuals before the arrival of the white man. So how did they deal with the social conflicts which inevitably arise during the course of human interactions? The inhabitants of Turtle Island (North America) kept what were known as Peace Villages. The Peace Villages were places, under the auspices of Peace Chiefs, where individuals who had broken the social contract could go for a period of up to one year to wash themselves of their transgressions through meditation, physical training, ceremony, and restricted diet. No blood could be spilled, neither human nor animal, in these villages, and the Peace Chief conducted different rites and rituals to maintain the space. Members of warring tribes could occupy these spaces and rest even in the midst of conflicts, and many whites who had been forced out of their communities found their way to these places. After one year, even if they had committed murder, individuals who were sent to the Peace Village would be allowed to return to their homes where they would be welcomed back with the understanding that they had performed proper penance and were prepared to rejoin communal life. It is a shameful and absurd irony that we who decimated the native way of life would dare to call ours the Land of the Free when it was only truly so before our arrival.

I believe that we can look to these models of respect and restorative justice to guide our policies here in Madison. The first step is to acknowledge that in many ways our current model of incarceration, punishment, and extraction (both of capital as fines and court costs and of labor) does not strengthen but actually weakens our communities. The second step is to begin thinking of ways by which we can build trust and equity in the application of justice. We must recognize that many of our laws are designed more around property rights and the guarantee that people of privilege may conduct their business undisturbed by the complaints of those without than around a truly equitable and pro-social model. Third, we must pursue programs which offer people the opportunity to build connections rather than relying on practices which sever them.

These are the fact, and they must be acknowledged. My personal belief is that we must strive to create a society which is free of the need for police and jails, one which offers opportunities for all people, one which is based on mutual respect and cooperation. It is class division which foments violence, which creates a need for a class of enforcers to prevent those who have been systematically denied the privileges which the few have claimed for their own from casting their oppressors away.

Despite the tones mentioned in the Isthmus; as mayor I would not dissolve the police department, because it would not be my lot to do so. It is the will of the people of Madison which I am responsible to, and only when the whole of society was ready to do so would it be a reasonable action to take. My commitment is instead to create the conditions which will lead us away from the need for these systems. It is my ambition to make ours’ a Peace City.

Place-Making

Wed. Oct. 2nd, Community Input Meeting for 2015 Economic Development Strategy hosted by the city at Warner Park Community Center.

Last week I sifted through the power point presented by Paul Soglin at the Economic Development symposium at the beginning of September. Integrated into the presentation were some audience participation exercises; each table had a large sheet of paper with one of four categories in the center: Innovation, Talent, Opportunity, and Place.  The audience was to brainstorm ways in which these determinants of Madison’s economic development are or could be better expressed and write them down in the blank space.  The format was copied again throughout the month at community input meetings around the city, with the last of these meetings taking place Oct. 2nd.

I was happy to see a few familiar faces at the Oct. 2nd meeting at Warner Park, and even more so for the conversations which were had. Sitting around the “Innovation” table, felt-marker in hand, I discussed with five other members of the public and one city employee the need for alternatives to innovations centering only around “tech.” Tech companies, everyone seemed well aware, are rather skewed towards hiring affluent, extensively educated employees; mostly middle or upper class college grads who have learned to write software code. The conversation turned naturally toward the need for better math and science education from grade school up. The Innovation category overlaps significantly, it turns out, with Opportunity.

One thing I was glad to hear was the suggestion that we need to encourage  jobs in skilled trades, not just technologies. I was tempted to suggest several ideas but held my tongue, knowing that there was a chance, should they get written down, that they would be presented by Paul Soglin as his own ideas in a few months when debate time rolls around and I would have nothing to say but “that’s my idea!” I feel a bit more comfortable presenting them here, however.

An idea which I gave away (oops!) as I first sat down at the Place table when I first came in (a few minutes late, having biked all the way from downtown) was the suggestion that a citywide effort to inventory the all of the goods and services we consume on a yearly basis should be undertaken, much as has been done by the Rocky Mountain Institute in the past, in order to identify areas of high demand which are currently being met by providers outside of the city or the state. This would allow us to “plug the leaks” by encouraging and subsidizing local businesses which could meet those demands instead of paying extra costs for transportation and/or letting money escape which could be circulating back into Madison’s economy.

Such a measure would also restore some of the power to neighborhood committees for self-determinism. Given recent actions by the city council it seems that this may be necessary in order to restore some faith on the parts of residents in their city government’s receptivity…isn’t it ironic that in the same month the city council ignored the building protocols put forward by the Marquette neighborhood association and alder Marsha Rummel but they are seeking input from citizens on how we should be guiding the city’s development?

I’d also like to see a few changes made under “Place” — all of these pop-up concerts and entertainment events strike me as overly manufactured. We ship in bands from Canada and across the US for things like the Taste of Madison and [insert summer festival here] when we have fantastically talented local bands that are barely scraping by. Instead of the tourist model we should be growing the local artist incubation model. Spaces open to members of the creative public (as I believe is being discussed for the Yahara River area development, Yay!). We could use a lot more of this.

I don’t think that Paul Soglin or the city council is expecting the economic climate to change much in the next five years, considering what they’ve been talking about, but I along with many others anticipate some radical changes. Some of these will be positive and some negative. How Madison fares will be up to what we can do to prepare for these.

Most people seem to have some vague sense that we will see a repeat of the 2008 economic crisis, and we will. The difference will be that this time things will end up much the was they did for Greece and Ireland. We are wasting our city’s time growing industries which compete in the global market because those companies will end up being bought by the major international players. Non-tangible products such as software and technology cannot be contained within a local area.

Our country’s reliance on monoculture and industrial farming is likewise driving us towards a cliff. Take a few minutes to look up “super-weeds.” The overuse of pesticides and herbicides and transition to GMO crops has set us up for a fall. The complex systems which underlie healthy soil have been steadily eroded across the country and the selective pressure created through biotech companies’ use of herbicides has bred weeds which are thick enough to stop an industrial combine in its tracks. The same companies are now asking for FDA approval to use even more toxic chemicals to kill the weeds, despite the fact that any 7th grader could tell you that it would just create even tougher weeds!

[In order to support healthy, nutrient-rich plant life the soil must contain a network of insects, fungi, and bacteria which continually recycle and renew it. The application of chemicals has all but completely removed these networks from the equation. How many years before the soil can support nothing but the more resilient weeds, not even able to grow the corn and soy that were supposed to “feed the world.” ]

For these reasons we must undertake the task of setting up a comprehensive urban agricultural infrastructure. There are a number of ways we could go about doing this. The first way I would propose would be to get creative with our TIF districts, putting the money straight to building greenhouses. More development and higher population density will only create  a greater need. No more high-rises until we can fully support those people who already live here. Those greenhouses could also quickly be turned to growing hemp once it is allowed (I know I keep coming back to it, but hemp is going to SAVE THIS COUNTRY!). Hemp can be turned into myriad building materials as well as being highly nutritious. It can also be turned into bio-diesel, pelletized to be burned to generate energy, and/or cooked into a super-conductor which transfers energy with the same efficacy as graphene; currently the superconductor gold-standard.

We need to think a little bit bigger if we want to truly “innovate.” It’s time to take this city off auto-pilot.

 

So, Who is this “Dave” Guy, Anyway?

In the Letters & Comments section on the inside front page of the Aug. 27th issue of Isthmus magazine there was a tongue-in-cheek submission by Chuck Litweiler. He wrote;

“I know that Madison will never elect a mayor whose views are close to mine. Still I wake each day profoundly grateful that Dave Cieslewicz is not mayor (“Time to Start Over on Judge Doyle Square” 8/21/2014). He still envisions a “great” city ever growing with carless, childless, hip, affluent downtown dwellers. Thank goodness he did not get us to cram a railroad station and public market downtown. Thank goodness we did not finance the Edgewater renewal and a trolley system to replace buses downtown. The list could go on and on.
Dave, give in to your urge and run for mayor again so that we can choose once and for all whether we want your vision for our city. As to Judge Doyle square, let’s not quibble over the planning process and subsidy amount. Do not subsidize a hotel there, period.”

As someone who is admittedly new to examining our city’s political scene with a critical eye it’s a bit difficult for me to pick apart the above statement, but I guess I’ll give it a shot.

First of all, I like the idea of a trolley or any type of public rail transportation with a low carbon footprint. I have even suggested to constituents that the city begin tearing up lesser-used roads to replace them with Greenways complete with substantial agricultural space and dairy barns. This is how cities should be built, and while I’m not saying that this would be my first priority it would be a long-term goal. A trolley or light rail system would be something I would push for in the more immediate future. I’ve often wondered what we could accomplish if we said “to heck with the State government, why shouldn’t Madison and the surrounding cities pool their resources, borrow if necessary, and just build the dang train?” We should ALREADY have high speed rail, but what if we stopped griping about it and actually did something?

As far as I know the public market is already happening (woo-hoo!), so I’ll leave that one be.

When I read “hip and affluent” the Cap Times cover story written by ald. Lucas Dailey (no relation) six weeks ago came immediately to my mind. The headline was “Vision for a Complete City” (since we’re discussing Visions anyway I figure let’s have at it) and the article laid out a plan for a city which would “compete with convention deals not with the Dells but with San Francisco and New York,” a city which would be “relevant to the 21st century.”

This says a lot about where he (and presumably others) believe our city’s strengths are: as a destination for business travelers and tourists, for one. It is easy to see how one might reach this conclusion…given the state of our economy, driven as it has been in the last years by a group whose sole purpose is to privatize everything. Some people believe that “Corporatocracy” is inevitable. I however do not.

He goes on to write “I believe the city should create a staff position to market Madison and recruit tech companies to move here…” all I can say is that we should not be prostituting ourselves into the 21st century. It is not the way to build more sustainable or just communities.

He goes on to write that “Economically, the world is being divided. This is largely due to technology replacing middle and low-skilled jobs, as well as adding scalability to high-skilled jobs. Technology isn’t just reducing blue-collar jobs, it’s also reducing white-collar jobs. This will continue indefinitely and expand into new industries and positions. The companies that will be most durable and prosperous will be those that lead this wave of change: technology companies.”

Dailey’s (again, no relation) vision fits neatly within the neoliberal perpetual-growth paradigm, again, and while his other rhetoric, centering around “helping us reach the highest levels of social justice, democracy and public policy” (see my comment above) sounds quite nice, it ignores the elephant in the room; the fact that social justice and democracy stand at odds with the very notion of perpetual economic expansion and greater reliance on private business to solve the world’s problems. Why? Because perpetual growth assumes perpetual and ever-greater exploitation of our natural resources for one. Because the profit motive has no moral imperative. The rare Earth metals used to make every six months’ new wave of iPhones are extracted in tandem with coal through mountain-top removal and open-pit mining, and private businesses (at this moment) use private banks and private banks have no incentive to invest in the kind of low-return projects which are the heart of a thriving local economy. They go after bigger gains.  We may not be in a position to immediately halt such practices but we need to relentlessly call for their timely cessation. A public bank is one avenue through which this can be achieved…more on that later.

Not only that, but as is pointed out in the film Take Back Your Power technology itself is amoral. The abuse which can be perpetuated, the possibilities for invasion of privacy — and we have already arrived at a moment in history in which all of our movements both online and offline (for anyone who owns a device hooked up to the telecom network and made in the last eight years) — grow exponentially as technology continues to be developed. In the film there is a clip of the CEO of Google appearing on a talk show and speaking of how Google intentionally “goes right up to the “creepy line“‘ in terms of violating people’s privacy, but does not cross it, commenting that the “creepy line” gets pushed farther with every advancement in monitoring and data collection. He commented glibly that at this moment the line is drawn somewhere short of brain-implants, but that should that technology be developed then the line will again have moved and that ultimate invasion, too, will be acceptable. I have absolutely Zero desire to live in such a techno-fascist state. Phone apps are not benign. Our email accounts are not benign. The expansion of wi-fi is not bening. We need to wise up.

From a human rights perspective: the fact that all of this [tech] that Westerners are so in love with is produced under extremely unjust working conditions should be equally concerning. Suicide nets in iphone factories and low wages forced upon desperate people should not be ignored. Companies dedicated to pandering to consumer tech only serve to continue this inhumane and unsustainable business model. We have enough tech devices already for every person on the planet and if American companies would bring their production lines back to America then we would have the skilled workers necessary to turn used components into [new] devices. We should be importing companies which would start doing that.

My vision for a complete city includes substantially increasing the production of tangible goods, skilled crafts-jobs, and centers for cultural/artistic production. We do not have to passively accept the national trends of displacement of labor capitol through greater mechanization/computerization.

Most people may not be thinking about it now but in the next ten years industrial hemp will be legalized and the floodgates will be open. Local production of raw and processed goods will suddenly be back on the table after decades or decline, with the potential applications of this most hardy and abundant material being all but limitless. Concrete, paper, textiles, nutritious foodstuffs, and extremely efficient batteries; all of these things (and about 50 more) can be made from hemp, and if we can beat the major agribusiness conglomerates to the punch we could control the production and manufacturing on the local level. Workers cooperatives could be producing real goods with a “Made in Madison, WI” stamp by the end of my first term (and you can bet your boots that I will be driving for it)!

More immediately, I believe that urban agriculture of the vegetable variety will build stronger, more sustainable communities while answering the need for non-electronic commodities. Portland’s common council recently began instituting its plan to transform unused land into food forests in order to create better nutritional outcomes for its residents. Madison should do the same — and more. Five million sq. ft. of vertical agricultural space could feed the entire city of Madison, and while I accept that it is unlikely that we will achieve that volume in the next five years, I believe that a series of greenhouses which grew even a portion of the food consumed in Madison [in Madison] could significantly bolster our city’s economy. While this may not be as glamorous as another hotel/convention center and may not offer the same quick payoff, the value of such a project in the long-term would be huge, and across the country people are reaching this same conclusion — that the only apparent way to counter the influence of major agribusiness will be to shift to a local food production based model, and there is no reason that Madison shouldn’t lead the way. The jobs created would be a boon to the city, and the vegetables could be put to use where they are most needed; in school lunch and elder-care programs. These initiatives would not attract more “affluent” people, but rather provide working class people with the opportunities that they need.

That’s all I’ll say for right now…(oh yeah, and no subsidy for Judge Doyle Square!)

So Chuck, how do I measure up?

A Simple, Equitable, Sustainable Solution

I had the pleasure this week of sitting in  a supportive housing development presentation hosted by Urban Assets and Chicago-based Heartland Housing and Health Outreach at the Central Library. The subject of the presentation was a new 40+ unit housing development being planned for East Washington Ave. The development will be 4 stories tall with 10 units on each floor, a fully functional kitchen, recreation area, three counseling offices, and a reception desk. It will also include a  packed backyard garden, edible plants along the front walkway, a chicken coop and run, and a backyard beehive. The units will house single, chronically homeless individuals, who will pay 30% of their income in order to live in the apartments. Heartland is working hard to make the building “net-zero ready;” ready to transition to zero-energy cost operation once the infrastructure is in place withing the city/county.

This is exactly the kind of project which Madison needs and represents the best possible vision for this city. It is a simple and direct approach to one of our most visible and painful reminders of inequality within the city and it is an exemplar of exactly what I have been talking about for the last several months. We desperately need programs, initiatives, and developments that engage with the homeless population (and under-served, marginalized  populations, and the population at large, in fact!) and this supportive housing plan incorporates just about everything that these individuals need to lift themselves up.

I believe that the gardens, especially, play an important role for several reasons. The first reason is that they provide residents with an extremely rewarding creative-work outlet. Human beings have always engaged in cultivation of the land, and it is this practice which truly separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom. Tending the land connects us to our ancestral roots; roots which have been severed by our modern reliance on automation, technology, and mass production. Watching something grow provides a sense of accomplishment, a sense of purpose, which other work simply cannot match, and it is this kind of [spiritual] satisfaction which individuals affected by chronic poverty, mental illness, and trauma, the most common prerequisites for homelessness are most in need of.

Second, the gardens provide something which almost all people dealing with homelessness desperately need: nutritious food. In recent years the correlation between nutrition and mental ability has been extensively documented, and we now know that behavioral problems develop as a direct result of inadequate nutrition. This has significant implications, as the food which is accessible to those living below the poverty line is most often completely devoid of nutrients, covered in toxic pesticides and herbicides, or treated with chemical washes.

Third, and perhaps most obviously, the gardens and kitchen provide residents with skills that can never be taken away from them. Knowledge is power and knowledge of how to grow food, how to tend the soil, and about the importance of nutrition is a priceless gift. In the future the majority of people who are able will tend land in some capacity in their communities, and if we can offer these opportunities first to those who need them most I say let’s do it!

On that note I will elucidate on where I think that our community and our country at large are headed…

Micro-agriculture, energy efficiency, and community building are, as I see it, the keys to this city’s future. As the national economy continues its roller-coaster course and things continue to deteriorate within the Federal government, it is now left to localities; towns, villages, and cities, to correct the ecological and social imbalances which have grown out of laise-faire economic policies championed by Democrats and Republicans alike in the last several decades. We are coming to a generational crossroads, we see, as the children of the baby boomers are asking how we  can address the imbalances built into our social system and redirect our collective energies toward the healing of past hurts both environmental and social.

The answer which we are waking up to more and more each day is that the solution to [global] problems of poverty, ecosystem destruction, and military aggression, problems exacerbated by (and indeed created by) the demands of a market system which depends on continual expansion, a system which has its roots in colonialism and empire, will be local. “Going local” has a kind of kitschy ring to it, but the sustainability movement is set to roll over the corporate agenda at an ever increasing pace. As the public becomes aware of widespread problems in our food system, tremendous inequities in our legal system, and myriad other problems which have grown out of a system which has been co-opted to work for the rich at the expense of the poor, organic resistance is proliferating all over the country. Often it is said that these problems are “too big,” but I believe that  for local communities the problems only persist while people continue to think small.

I am running for Mayor because I want Madison to lead the Midwest in promoting sustainable, equitable developments such as this project (and WAY more). My goal is nothing short of total community engagement for the purpose of attaining “net-zero,” the restoration of local production, and achieving energy and agricultural independence from national and multi-national corporations. We have the means, it is just a matter of directing our energies towards ends which benefit our community members most.

It is now for us to reach out across dividing lines and find ways in which we may come together to better our communities, to support each other, and to realize a vision of a world that we want to live in, rather than simply living with the world which has been given to us.

Peace,
Christopher