December 11, 2017 by
South Carolina Army National Guard Responds to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico October 2017. Since Hurricane Maria, NPQ has been covering the crisis in Puerto Rico. We saw a situation that we felt needed to be highlighted, full of warnings, learnings, and opportunities. As the island faces a near-total collapse of infrastructure—economic, political, communications, energy, transportation, education, health, arts and culture—nonprofits there are faced with the perfect crisis opportunity. Many nonprofits in Puerto Rico and the US have jumped into the federal political vacuum to answer the call for help. But what does this moment make possible for Puerto Rico’s nonprofit sector? This is something that others, including the nonprofit sector in the US, have a stake in, for we are facing increasingly similar crisis opportunities. This line of questioning is incredibly salient because the general conditions in Puerto Rico—increasing economic inequality and an attack on democracy—are reflected the world over. Further, even though funders may not currently have catastrophe portfolios, that may be changing. Places like Puerto Rico that are experiencing full-scale collapse are simply at the edge, experiencing it first. In Dmitry Orlov’s The Five Stages of Collapse: Survivors’ Toolkit, he proposes that current civilization has entered the collapse phase where, rather than long-term decline, we have sudden changes caused by systems out of control. Perhaps these moments are the new high-leverage points in systems change; when systems are collapsing, there is a vacuum and a battle for the new order. This month, I will go to Puerto Rico on a reporting tour to see first-hand how everyday people are holding it down and to connect you, the reader, to this opportunity to contribute to the building of a strong and thriving, and increasingly critical, nonprofit sector in Puerto Rico, and garner the learnings (and perhaps even partnerships) available for our own sector in the US. In discussions NPQ has had so far with Puerto Rican nonprofit leaders and their funders, we have discovered there have already been learning conversations between the island and leaders from Detroit and other US cities that have struggled with municipal bankruptcy. These crises may be precursors to a future in which we are called upon to experiment with more localized, self-reliant strategies in the midst of democratic crises. As we move into 2018, NPQ will feature what we are learning in Puerto Rico. Context Many of Puerto Rico’s social challenges are related to the island’s economic model and political positioning, the result of a long colonial history first with Spain and, since 1898, with the US. As Puerto Rico’s economy developed, it shifted from agriculture to intensive manufacturing and foreign investments. In 1976, the focus shifted to industrial pharmaceuticals and high technology, due to significant tax breaks to US corporations that ended in 1996. Since then, Puerto Rico has not had a coherent economic strategy. Neoliberal trade agreements and the rise of Asia as a major player have diminished Puerto Rico’s attractiveness as a manufacturing site. In 2005, Puerto Rico reached the point where its public debt had surpassed 100 percent of its gross domestic product. Further, because of the high level of integration between the economies of the US and Puerto Rico, the challenges faced by the mainland have further exacerbated the island’s economic problems. The US recession and the subsequent intensification of federal partisan politics have frozen funds that have been critical to Puerto Rico’s economic development, and no significant change is expected in this area. As a result of these economic and political changes, Puerto Rico’s economy has been contracting since 2000, losing about 200,000 jobs between 2006 and 2013 in an island of 3.6 million in 2013. (It’s closer to 3.4 million now due to economic and environmental migration.) This period has been characterized by an increase in social polarization and a decrease in economic mobility. While Puerto Rico may be seen as a homogeneous society, marked demographic and geographic differences exist on the island. The differences have been amplified by a mass migration of Puerto Ricans from the island to the US over the same period that was also demographically and geographically varied; many of those who have left are young professionals, resulting in an older population, and the western part of the island has been hardest hit by the exodus. The demand on direct service nonprofits has increased over this time, as they began to fill the vacuum left by the federal and local government. At the same time, funding to nonprofits has significantly decreased in response to fiscal austerities. Describing the Sector Though nonprofits can be found across Puerto Rico’s municipalities, they are concentrated in the largest cities: San Juan (30.3 percent), Caguas (16.1 percent), Bayamon (13.9 percent), Carolina (13.4 percent), Ponce (13.4 percent), and Mayaguez (10.1 percent). Estudios Tecnicos Inc., Puerto Rico’s leading consulting firm, has studied the island’s nonprofit sector and published reports in 1996, 2007, and 2015. The reports focus on nonprofits that provide a direct social service to the population, such as sports and recreation (14 percent); education and research (10.9 percent); arts and culture (7.8 percent); economic, social, and community development (7.7 percent); social services (6.7 percent); and other services (10.9 percent). They exclude the health and education sectors because they are significantly different. In 1996, the study identified fewer than 4,000 active nonprofit organizations across the island. But by 2007, one year after the 2006 recession, the report showed that the sector had increased to 6,000. Anitza María Cox-Marrero, Director of the Social Analysis and Policy Division at Estudios Tecnicos Inc. and one of the authors in the aforementioned series of reports on the sector, recently told NPQ, “You had big nonprofits that were the foundation of the sector and a sector that was evolving and professionalizing.” By 2015, the study identified 11,570 nonprofits, almost triple the size of the previous phase. However, in response to decreased funding, the big organizations had become smaller after taking measures to respond to the economic crisis. The study also found a significant increase in community-based organizations, which were at 22 percent, or 1 in 5. In response to the austerities of the long-term recession, neighborhood committees grew across the island to respond to local needs. According to the study, Puerto Rico’s 2014 nonprofit work force was estimated to be 150,410. The sector experienced a reduction in employee salary between 2006 and 2014 of 10.8 percent. Seventy percent of Puerto Rican nonprofit revenues go towards staff salary, and the authors use salary change as an indicator of organizational budget change. It found that in response to the long-term recession, nonprofits were laying off workers—an average of 23 full-time staff for each of the 400 organizations that responded to a poll in the same nonprofit study. In fact, more than half of those organizations reported 0 staff in 2014. Further, the number of management staff positions were significantly reduced, at an average of three to one. More than half reported 0 management staff and three-quarters reported only one. An average of eight out of 13 employees were part-time. Volunteers play a significant role in Puerto Rico’s nonprofit sector. When converting the number of volunteer hours into number of full-time staff positions, Puerto Rico’s volunteer force equaled 23,633 positions in 2014. So, volunteers were the equivalent of an additional 16 percent full-time nonprofit positions. Defining the Sector The aforementioned 2015 nonprofit report sought to position Puerto Rico’s nonprofit sector as a serious and critical stakeholder in the country’s service delivery. In doing so, it assessed its contribution and made a case for its cost-effectiveness and efficiency in providing social services. For example, it looked at the cost of nonprofit service delivery in comparison to government service delivery and found that the agility and local knowledge and relationships of nonprofits allowed them to deliver comparable services at significantly lower cost. In health-related services, for every $1 that a nonprofit spends, the government spends $7. For every $1 a nonprofit spends on an education-related services, the government spends $20. However, Ataveyra Medina Hernandez, Executive Director of Movimiento Una Sola Voz (One Voice Movement), the island’s nonprofit network, a Vice President at Boys and Girls Clubs of Puerto Rico, and a leader of the team that commissioned the nonprofit study from Estudios Tecnicos, recently told NPQ, “Puerto Rico does not have a philanthropic culture. Most nonprofits have a very high percentage of government funding. In the case of Boys and Girls Clubs, 16 percent comes from private individuals and 84 comes from government contracts. This replicates itself across most nonprofits on the island.” Puerto Rican nonprofits tend to not be funded by US foundations because they are not considered domestic, and they are not funded by international development funders because they are part of the US, so they are heavily dependent on the Puerto Rican government for their revenues. Further, Cox, who is also a lawyer, told NPQ, “One of the difficulties of Puerto Rico’s nonprofit sector is the fragmented legal framework for the operation of nonprofits. We don’t have a public policy for the sector, but pieces everywhere.” There have been initiatives over the years to develop a comprehensive public policy that would integrate the different laws regarding the sector. The most recent effort, on which Cox worked, was in 2012. According to Cox, it was a very participatory process sponsored by Puerto Rico’s Department of State, which certifies and registers nonprofit organizations. The final draft of the policy framework was vetted by 1,000 participants at a public forum and included a new committee for advising the government on the role and function of the nonprofit sector. It was presented to the Puerto Rican legislature and approved by the commonwealth’s House of Representatives, but not considered by its Senate because it came at the end of the last administration, and the new one focused instead on integrating two government agencies that work with the sector. “The timing was not good. So, the resulting proposal is not in effect. Right now, we have an agency that is supposed to be in charge, but we still have a fragmented legal framework which makes it difficult for the sector to comply with the laws,” Cox said. The 2015 report concludes with a set of recommendations for strengthening the nonprofit sector in its role as an effective social service provider for the island. It asserts, In an economy that does not grow, where the government has a series of fiscal restrictions that does not permit it to assume economic and social initiatives, and that confronts structural changes, one can expect a surge in new social needs. Nonprofit organizations must necessarily play a more proactive role. Framing the Moment The Puerto Rican nonprofit leaders that NPQ recently spoke with reiterated the conclusion of the 2015 nonprofit report: that Puerto Rico’s nonprofit sector is primed to best deliver on the government’s social service responsibilities and that they need a seat at the decision-making table, especially on agenda and budget setting. In fact, this has only been amplified since the hurricane, when the Puerto Rican government effectively shut down and nonprofits were the first responders, as they were already in place and knew the communities. Nonprofits faced an increase in requests for their services—and, in many cases for different, response-based services—at the same time that the government was unable to pay for those services. In response, nonprofits had to reduce their services and/or refocus on the most extremely affected. Medina Hernandez says, When you have a government that was weak fiscally and structurally before the hurricane, and then after, the collapse of information systems, databases, even government employees not being able to go to their offices…the capacity to invoice and get paid was limited almost to 0. We had pending invoices up to $2 million dollars. Our credit lines were totally maxed. What we have, essentially, is an effort to address island-wide poverty with local, civic participation, led by fiscally unstable nonprofits who are seeking central government level participation in a country that is in the midst of an economic collapse caused largely in part by its inability to self-govern. It’s like being in a hall of mirrors where everywhere you turn, you see the reflections of the reality you are trying to escape. It is very tempting, especially when one is fiscally free-falling, to reflect the dominant paradigm. This can also happen when a sector is in the development phase, where it is trying to define and assert itself as a relevant stakeholder. The US nonprofit sector went through this in the 1980s during the War on Poverty. There was a lot of government funding to address root level causes of poverty, like marginalization, but the resulting political activity made the government nervous. There were attempts to push organizations to act within the dominant framework, so collectives and alternatives were frowned upon, and instead leaders managed hierarchies and access to seats of power. All of the work that the report recommends, and which the leaders we spoke with reassert, the completion of the formalization of the sector into coherent sector-wide laws and regulations. This can keep the sector very busy. It is an important strategy; a crisis like this creates opportunities. There are resources flowing, and nonprofits could be part of that or left out. The service providers do need self-determination and agenda-setting power. In this recovery period, many decisions will be made and priorities set. Who is going to set those? Washington certainly will. But even if Puerto Rican nonprofits manage to renegotiate their relationships with the Puerto Rican government, they could still be treated as subcontractors. It seems one way they can gain greater legitimacy in agenda-setting is by being a democratic voice for the people. What do the people want? Who else besides these nonprofits thinks they know what’s going on and what should happen? Are they holding regular, public meetings and sustaining an ongoing dialogue with the communities so that when they propose solutions, the communities and other nonprofits are aligned? Puerto Rico’s nonprofit sector must think practically about what it can set up for itself that helps it be more collectively than what it is as individual organizations. In addition to renegotiating its relationship with the government, it can build a robust local democracy that can change Puerto Rico from the bottom up. Luckily, a significant part of the sector is working on alternative solutions. These are the co-ops, the community organizers, and the institutes for a resilient economy. They have been working side-by-side with service nonprofits. Perhaps an island-wide alliance should be considered, a joining of strategies that combines meeting needs through service delivery and building a sustainable, people-centered agenda for the rebuilding of Puerto Rico. These crisis opportunity moments don’t wait for cycles of organizational development. What’s the most strategic thing that Puerto Rico’s nonprofit sector can do right now? And what is it going to take to make it happen? The moment is ripe; in the absence of effective governance, people are self-governing anyway. By  Cyndi Suarez

December 5, 2017 by
In the three months since Hurricane Maria, hundreds of thousands of people living in Puerto Rico left for the U.S. mainland. More than 215,000 arrived in Florida since October 3, when the state began counting. One study estimates more than 470,000 people will leave Puerto Rico over two years. Many need help to make the transition. For many Puerto Rican families the first stop after getting off the plane in Orlando, Florida, is a multi-agency resource center at the Orlando International Airport, reports CBS News correspondent David Begnaud. The center, along with another like it in Miami, have helped 31,000 Puerto Rican migrants adjust to life in Florida. Many go there to find new homes. Araceles Baez Martinez and her husband Jose Rodriguez found hope in a hotel room. It's where they're calling home, for now. Araceles arrived with $4 in her pocket. Their first stop was the resource center set up for Puerto Ricans displaced by Maria at the Orlando airport. Multi-agency resource center at the Orlando International Airport "She emotionally is heartbroken because she misses her island," Betsy Franceschini translated for Araceles. "We have a crisis in Puerto Rico and now it's moving to Central Florida," said Franceschini, who is with the Hispanic Federation. The non-profit organization helps Puerto Ricans arriving there find housing, register to vote, and learn English. "The folks that are coming here and the families are running into difficulties you know to find a house, to find a job, to register their children if they don't have the documents," Franceschini said. More than a million Puerto Ricans already live in Florida. In 2016, the state had the second highest Puerto Rican population in the United States, after New York. Eliud Peña, his wife, and two stepdaughters arrived in Florida on September 24, four days after Hurricane Maria made landfall. They've spent 72 days in a hotel room with double beds. Eliud Peña, his wife, and two stepdaughters at the hotel they've been living in. "Being inside four walls is not helping my stress," said 17-year-old Yerianne Roldan, one of Peña's stepdaughters.  She is one of about 2,500 Maria victims to enroll in the Orange County school system. She's debating going to college there and many Florida universities are offering Puerto Rican students in-state tuition. Yerianne has been offered a scholarship. "For job opportunities I think it's better over here," Yerianne said. "The stress you know, it's been hard. I don't know anyone who's gone through what we're going through." Araceles is considering returning to Puerto Rico, eventually. Once it rebuilds and things are back to normal she has the dream of going back. Two political experts told CBS News the mass exodus from Puerto Rico could shift politics here in Florida, a prized swing state. Once registered in Florida, Puerto Rican migrants will be able to vote in next year's midterm elections.  In the last presidential election Florida's Latino vote went to the Democrats, and Donald Trump won Florida by just about 100,000 votes. cbs

December 2, 2017 by
At the heart of Philip Alston’s special mission will be one question: can Americans enjoy fundamental human rights if they’re unable to meet basic living standards? Deana Lucion, who lives in McDowell County, West Virginia. Life expectancy for men in McDowell County is 64 years old – the same as for men in Namibia. Photograph: Jeff Swensen The United Nations monitor on extreme poverty and human rights has embarked on a coast-to-coast tour of the US to hold the world’s richest nation – and its president – to account for the hardships endured by America’s most vulnerable citizens. The tour, which kicked off on Friday morning, will make stops in four states as well as Washington DC and the US territory of Puerto Rico. It will focus on several of the social and economic barriers that render the American dream merely a pipe dream to millions – from homelessness in California to racial discrimination in the Deep South, cumulative neglect in Puerto Rico and the decline of industrial jobs in West Virginia. With 41 million Americans officially in poverty according to the US Census Bureau (other estimates put that figure much higher), one aim of the UN mission will be to demonstrate that no country, however wealthy, is immune from human suffering induced by growing inequality. Nor is any nation, however powerful, beyond the reach of human rights law – a message that the US government and Donald Trump might find hard to stomach given their tendency to regard internal affairs as sacrosanct. The UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, is a feisty Australian and New York University law professor who has a fearsome track record of holding power to account. He tore a strip off the Saudi Arabian regime for its treatment of women months before the kingdom legalized their right to drive, denounced the Brazilian government for attacking the poor through austerity, and even excoriated the UN itself for importing cholera to Haiti. The US is no stranger to Alston’s withering tongue, having come under heavy criticism from him for its program of drone strikes on terrorist targets abroad. In his previous role as UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, Alston blamed the Obama administration and the CIA for killing many innocent civilians in attacks he said were of dubious international legality. United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston. Photograph: Ng Han Guan/AP Now Alston has set off on his sixth, and arguably most sensitive, visit as UN monitor on extreme poverty since he took up the position in June 2014. At the heart of his fact-finding tour will be a question that is causing increasing anxiety at a troubled time: is it possible, in one of the world’s leading democracies, to enjoy fundamental human rights such as political participation or voting rights if you are unable to meet basic living standards, let alone engage, as Thomas Jefferson put it, in the pursuit of happiness? “Despite great wealth in the US, there also exists great poverty and inequality,” Alston said in remarks released before the start of the visit. The rapporteur said he intended to focus on the detrimental effects of poverty on the civil and political rights of Americans, “given the United States’ consistent emphasis on the importance it attaches to these rights in its foreign policy, and given that it has ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.” Poverty experts are watching the UN tour closely in the hope that it might draw public attention to a largely neglected but critical aspect of US society. David Grusky, director of the Center on Poverty and Inequality at Stanford, said the visit had the potential to hold a mirror up to the country at a moment when globalization combined with a host of domestic policies have generated a vast gulf between rich and poor. “The US has an extraordinary ability to naturalize and accept the extreme poverty that exists even in the context of such extreme wealth,” he said. Grusky added that the US reaction to Alston’s visit could go either way. “It has the potential to open our eyes to what an outlier the US has become compared with the rest of the world, or it could precipitate an adverse reaction towards an outsider who has no legitimacy telling us what to do about internal US affairs.” Alston’s findings will be announced in preliminary form in Washington on 15 December, and then presented as a full report to the UN human rights council in Geneva next June. An especially unpredictable element of the fallout will be how Trump himself receives the final report, given the president’s habit of lashing out at anyone perceived to criticize him or his administration. Trump has also shown open disdain towards the world body. In the course of the 2016 presidential campaign he griped that “we get nothing out of the United Nations other than good real-estate prices”. On the other hand, observers have been surprised that the White House has honored the invitation to host Alston after the initial offer was extended by Barack Obama. US diplomats on more than one occasion since Trump’s inauguration have said they welcomed the UN party. Ruby Dee Rudolph in her home in Lowndes County. A recent study suggests that nearly one one in three people in Lowndes County have hookworm, a parasite normally found in poor, developing countries. Photograph: Bob Miller for The Guardian Alston himself is reserving his comments until the end of the tour. But his published work suggests that he is likely to be a formidable critic of the new president. In a lecture he gave last year on the challenges posed by Trump and other modern populist leaders, he warned that their agenda was “avowedly nationalistic, xenophobic, misogynistic, and explicitly antagonistic to all or much of the human rights agenda”. Alston concluded the speech by saying: “These are extraordinarily dangerous times, unprecedentedly so in my lifetime. The response is really up to us.” The UN poverty tour falls at a singularly tense moment for the US. In its 2016 state of the nation review, the Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality placed the US rank at the bottom of the league table of 10 well-off countries, in terms of the extent of its income and wealth inequality. It also found that the US hit rock bottom in terms of the safety net it offers struggling families, and is one of the worst offenders in terms of the ability of low-income families to lift themselves out of poverty – a stark contrast to the much-vaunted myth of the American dream. To some extent, Trump’s focus on “making America great again” – a political jingo that in itself contains an element of criticism of the state of the nation – chimes with the UN’s concern about extreme poverty. His call for greater prosperity for white working Americans in declining manufacturing areas that proved so vital to his election victory will be echoed in Alston’s visit to the depressed coal-producing state of West Virginia, which backed Trump in 2016 by a resounding 69%. In many other ways, though, the Trump administration in its first year has taken a radically hostile approach towards communities in need. He has tried, so far unsuccessfully, to abolish Obamacare in a move that would deprive millions of low-income families of healthcare insurance, was widely criticized for his lackluster response to the hurricane disaster in Puerto Rico that has left thousands homeless and without power, and is currently pushing a tax reform that would benefit one group above all others: the super rich. A man who lost his home during Hurricane Maria in September sits on a cot at a school turned shelter in Canovanas. Photograph: Alvin Baez/Reuters The US poses an especially challenging subject for the UN special rapporteur because unlike all other industrialized nations, it fails to recognize fundamental social and economic rights such as the right to healthcare, a roof over your head or food to keep hunger at bay. The federal government has consistently refused to sign up to the international covenant on economic, social and cultural rights – arguing that these matters are best left to individual states. Such an emphasis on states’ rights has spawned a patchwork of provision for low-income families across the country. Republican-controlled states in the Deep South provide relatively little help to those struggling from unemployment and lack of ready cash, while more assistance is likely to be forthcoming in bigger coastal cities. By contrast, raging house prices and gentrification is fueling a homelessness crisis in liberal cities such as Los Angeles and San Francisco – the first stop next week of the UN tour. Martha Davis, a law professor specializing in US human rights at Northeastern University, said that such vast regional variations present the UN monitor with a huge opportunity. Unlike other international officials, he has the ability to move freely at both federal and state levels – and be equally critical of both. “There’s a lot that Philip Alston can say about basic inequality that goes to the heart of the rights that he is reviewing,” Davis said. Ed Pilkington

November 30, 2017 by
As NBC News fires Matt Lauer after accusations of “inappropriate sexual behavior,” our guest Heather McGhee, president of Demos, makes the connection between patriarchy and abuses of power in media and government, from the White House and its endorsement of Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, to the GOP tax plan that Republicans are pushing toward a vote in the Senate.   Heather McGhee president of Demos and Demos Action.

November 26, 2017 by
From urban planning and tech corners, there's resistance to a proposed streetcar that would otherwise seem to make transportation easier and faster. om Grech, President, CEO of Queens Chamber of Commerce with Lawrence Simmons, outreach director at Friends of BQX. (Photo by Gerri Hernandez, courtesy of Friends of the BQX) Last week the the group Friends of the BQX showed off a prototype of a streetcar the organization hopes could be the newest form of transportation for the Brooklyn and Queens waterfront. The event took place at the sparkling, new industry and innovation hub New Lab, which is located in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. The proposed $2.5 billion project would build a 14-mile streetcar line along the waterfront from Astoria to Sunset Park, including stops in Long Island City, Greenpoint, Williamsburg, Dumbo, Brooklyn Heights and Red Hook. Because of the nature of who’s behind the Friends of the BQX group—particularly real estate developers, investors, chambers of commerce—it might not be surprising there’s pushback from activists and neighborhood groups. And in fact, there is. “It is a luxury trolley for rich people along the waterfront that is expected to massively raise property values and rents, and ultimately result in the displacement of working class families,” explained a spokesman for the group Queens Anti-Gentrification Project, when we reached out to them for comment. The state of transportation in New York, especially intra-borough transportation, is not good. Although many of the neighborhoods that would be served by the streetcar are some of the highest-income in the entire borough, others, like Red Hook and Sunset Park, are not. The Friends of the BQX board of directors includes not only mega-developers like Tishman Speyer and Two Trees, but also includes representation from neighborhood organizations like the Red Hook Initiative, LaGuardia Community College, and Brooklyn native Carmelo Anthony’s Melo7 Tech Partners. Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams explained that he sees the project as one which connects “historically underserved transit deserts and unlock the full potential of our neighborhoods,” his office said in an email. “That vision is captured by the BQX proposal.” But others, including those deep in the transit and urban planning world, argue that if the point of the project is really to upgrade transportation to those neighborhoods needing it most, that could be done more easily and less expensively in other ways. Tabitha Decker, the deputy executive director of the urban planning foundation TransitCenter, explained that Red Hook’s transit needs would best be served by a bus line connection to Manhattan through the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, and that one of the highest density transportation deserts is the area around Utica Ave., which runs through the less developer-friendly neighborhoods of Crown Heights and Flatbush, which the BQX doesn’t address at all. “The BQX corridor’s ridership doesn’t even come close to warranting a major capacity increase,” Decker explained in an email. “The very features that will be required to ensure a streetcar is faster than a bus, namely true dedicated lanes, could be used to make the buses that currently run on that route faster and more reliable now.” But there are critics in the tech community as well, such as Shaun Abramson, a venture capitalist at the firm Urban Us, which invests in companies attempting to address urban issues. “On purely tech terms, my sense is that streetcars are probably not the place to invest, as things like driverless electric buses come online,” he wrote in an email. “It feels like buying a bunch of servers just as cloud computing is announced.” The recent history of urban streetcars is checkered. Portland seems to have a good one, with annual ridership of 4.6 million. More recently, the DC Streetcar has been a catastrophe, pruning back its plans from a proposed five lines to one that runs just 2.2 miles in the northeast part of the city. It has racked up a pricetag of more than $200 million, much more than the city had originally planned. When reached for comment, a spokesman for the Friends of the BQX replied that the project is a “no-brainer.” “The notion that we shouldn’t provide transit to communities long in need of better options for fear of gentrification only perpetuates the cycles of poverty that projects like the BQX aim to break,” the Friends of the BQX spokesman wrote in an email. “The BQX is just as much about economic justice as it is transportation, which is why it is supported by thousands of NYCHA residents living in the 8 complexes along the waterfront, along with a wide cross-section of community organizations, small businesses, health care and higher education institutions and more.” The spokesman also noted that the BQX would connect to several high-density employment centers sprouting up in the neighborhoods along the line. These would include the Brooklyn Navy Yard, which just opened a million new square feet of office space geared toward tech companies. Another is Industry City in Sunset Park, the mega-project that covers 40 acres and 16 buildings of manufacturing, design, and tech companies. And it will soon include 25 Kent, which is under construction in Williamsburg, but which will soon be half a million gleaming square feet of upscale waterfront office space. Public perception of the BQX might be lagging. This spring, the Daily News reported a leaked memo with the De Blasio administration, which, according to the tabloid, “laid out a brutal assessment of the construction and financial challenges.” The city would have to dig up and move “a maze of water mains, sewer lines and power utilities buried beneath the 16-mile route,” according to the story. And the idea that the system would pay for itself with an increase in tax receipts from the neighborhoods affected, might not add up to “sufficient revenue to fund the entire project as originally stated.” More recently, the Times published a dazzlingly thorough report on the negligence of the city’s subway system this weekend, which detailed, among many other problems, how the state has diverted needed money away from core maintenance issues in favor of projects with higher visibility, such as station renovations and upgrades. The consequence has been, according to the report, the awful service New Yorkers continue to enjoy. It’s unclear how the flashy and expensive BQX project would be affected by such a sentiment, if it lingers, but…probably not helpful. Still, the project powers on with support from the administration and from Borough President Adams. “To be sure, there are key details that need resolution before this project can advance,” his office wrote in an email. But added that “the growth of our emerging job hubs is stifled by the severe lack of transit connecting them with our workforce… I am confident that the City can work productively in a community-led process on issues such as route design, financing structure, and MTA fare integration.” Over at TransitCenter, Tabitha Decker was not blinking. “We doubt the BQX will even break ground during the DeBlasio administration,” she wrote. Tyler Woods is the lead reporter for Brooklyn. He has previously worked in television and as a small town print reporter.

November 24, 2017 by
"As Indigenous Two-Spirit, transgender, and gender-nonconforming people, we are entitled to flaunt our survival." There are too many reasons why this Thanksgiving is the most difficult for me as a queer, nonbinary, Indigenous person. As the not-so-distant memories of #NoDAPL linger, my people in Puerto Rico still recover after Hurricane Maria, and 14-year-old Native boy Jason Pero lies cold after being killed by police; colonialism has never felt so raw. With little recourse, I find hope in this attempt to pull the veil covering this deceitful day. While I aspire to reach those who have yet to confront the origins of Thanksgiving, I call on all of us to consider how colonialism doesn’t just exist in a vacuum. These myths have material effects on how society views Indigenous Two-Spirit and TGNC (transgender and gender-nonconforming) people.   Think back to the first time you heard the phrase “Two-Spirit”. Did it appear in a headline on your Facebook news feed? Was it, perhaps, tacked onto the bottom of a glossary of LGBTQ+ terms? Did you encounter the phrase for the first time when you saw this article? While “Two-Spirit” is an umbrella term, it generally refers to Indigenous people who have both masculine and feminine spirits. Coined in 1990, the term is not meant to replace tribal-specific names, such as Winkte among the Lakota and Nadleeh among the Navajo people. As such, the complexity of Two-Spirit identity varies across communities and individuals. Two-Spirit and Indigenous TGNC people have existed long before the first Thanksgiving, so why aren’t we widely recognized in mainstream TGNC narratives? Everyone should know about Two-Spirit people because they were here before this land was stolen and are still here. Their role in history is something we all could gain from knowing and in the queer community, it is something that we do a great disservice to by not celebrating. Traditionally, Two-Spirit people served esteemed roles in their communities. They acted as healers and mediators, valued for their wisdom by possessing both the masculine and the feminine. We are a force to be reckoned with. We have existed for far longer than the limited Western gender binary that has sought to decimate us. When settlers see something in native people they cannot make sense of, they seek to colonize it into non-existence. We are people whose histories have been eroded under colonization, but our vision propels us to become history in the making. We breathe life into Indigenous culture and identity as we speak it into existence. If you attended school in the U.S., your Thanksgiving lesson plan was probably centered around this story: The pilgrims sailed across the ocean in a dangerous journey to flee religious persecution, and many of them died along the way. The pilgrims who were fortunate enough to make it to Plymouth Rock struggled to harvest crops and survive the cold winter. The Native Americans were kind enough to help the pilgrims by teaching them how to sustain themselves off the land, and by the next harvest, the pilgrims reaped an abundance of crops. To celebrate their successful harvest and the camaraderie fostered between communities, the pilgrims and Native Americans observed the first Thanksgiving. This history is only partially true, with many plot holes. What is usually hailed as the first Thanksgiving and the inspiration for the yearly tradition occurred in 1621; however, the settlers did not did not call it “Thanksgiving”, and it did not re-occur until at least a decade later. The first self-proclaimed Thanksgiving, known as the 1637 Pequot Massacre, celebrated the volunteers who slaughtered 700 Native people of a Pequot village in what is now Mystic, Connecticut. The Governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony held a feast in honor of what he dubbed as a “Day of Thanksgiving.” As part of the festivities, they cut off heads of Native people and displayed them publicly, including the head of the Wampanoag Chief that remained on display for 24 years. As the killings became more frequent, each “victory” was celebrated with a Thanksgiving. According to Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Historic Preservation Officer Ramona Peters, Abraham Lincoln used the idea of “pilgrims and Indians eating happily together” as a point of unity during the Civil War. He declared Thanksgiving a federal Holiday in 1862, the same year that Congress expelled the Sioux tribe from Minnesota. As an incentive, a bounty of $25 was offered in exchange for a scalp of any Sioux found living in the state. Colonialism and transphobia have been and continue to be inextricably linked when it comes to understanding the destruction that Thanksgiving and the pilgrims who originally celebrated it have wrought. Through colonization, the gender binary, along with all aspects of Western culture, has been violently imposed on Indigenous people. Two-Spirit and Indigenous TGNC people cannot thrive when the legacy of theft and genocide remain unaddressed, as our government continues to trample on both Native sovereignty and the rights of Two-Spirit and TGNC people. We are people who have to bear the brunt of both colonialism at-large and the violence of the gender binary simultaneously. A recent resurgence of Two-Spirit and Indigenous TGNC visibility might have you think that we are a niche, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. While I abhor Thanksgiving for everything it represents and perpetuates, I believe that all of us have the power to change tradition and create culture. As long as Thanksgiving exists, it remains a reminder of what really matters when resisting white supremacy. As Indigenous Two-Spirit and TGNC people, we are entitled to flaunt our survival. And as I look around my community, my head floods with reasons to express gratitude. I am thankful to share knowledge with siblings all across the continent; to be supported by loving people who believe in my growth and healing, and to have survived thus far. I am thankful to be alive in this moment, to see resistance grow, and to witness my people inch closer to decolonization. K Rodriguez is an Indigenous, Latinx writer, artist, and organizer in Chicago. They are also a member of For the People Artist's Collective and the direct action collective, Lifted Voices. Their writing has been featured on the Grappler.