Beyond the “serve us” industry

We can create an economy of care, where justice and sustainability are a given. In Buncombe County, this will include divesting from a service industry which caters to the owning class at the expense of an underpaid workforce and an overdeveloped landscape. It will include investing in our neighbors instead of relying on tourists, while protecting our trees and water

The fact that “service” sounds like “serve us” is a reminder of who the “us” this industry is actually for. Hint: it’s not for all of us. Set against the backdrop of a pandemic, a floundering economy, and revolutionary uprisings in defense of Black lives, the extreme reliance on hotel-centric tourism that the TDA has created here is clearly a liability and not an asset to our community.

We are at a turning point. If there was ever a time to turn in a new direction, it is now.

With their complete lack of accountability, there are no indications that the TDA plans to change their business model. Fueling the unchecked expansion of an industry that relies on low-wage workers catering to wealthy visitors will continue as soon as they can justify it, even before the pandemic subsides. The class and race issues it exacerbates and the overdevelopment it encourages will continue – unless we resist and innovate. 

Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

In an economy of care, we keep each other safe. In contrast, as certain businesses welcome tourists (many from Covid hotspots) to Buncombe County, we are gambling with the lives of hospitality workers and their families. For example, I’ve heard numerous reports of frightening conditions for hotel housekeepers, who were already exploited before the pandemic, and now have the added stress of a high level of risk of exposure to Covid-19 and little protection.

“Serve us,” James Patton said, as he commanded the enslaved laborers who ran his Eagle Hotel, building the foundation of the tourism industry here on their backs. “Serve us,” yelled bosses of the railroad construction that expanded tourist travel to Asheville, even as unjustly incarcerated Black men died in the process. “Serve us,” unmasked diners and drinkers say, opting out of the mutuality of “my mask protects you, your mask protects me” for the dubious privilege of having someone serve them in public during a pandemic. 

The immense racial disparities we are seeing in terms of who is contracting Covid are not unrelated to who is serving and who is being served. 

This is not an economy of care. 

Cenzotle Language Justice Cooperative

What is? I invite you to revisit my last post and the components of a People’s Economy (aka the Solidarity Economy), and to read the Xpress cover story, “Co-op network grows community-based businesses,” a feature on PODER Emma‘s worker-owned cooperative network.

This is the time for more of us to be a part of building the caring, collective systems we need to weather the current crisis and to be more resilient during future crises. 

As we build these alternative systems, we can continue to advocate for dismantling the harmful ones we inherited. I know that, due to hoteliers’ money and therefore influence, Republicans in the NC Senate have prevented the changes the people want made to the occupancy tax statute. I know that Buncombe County Commissioners have been unwilling to repeal the occupancy tax until it can be overhauled. Thus far. Yet the revolution is real and roaring. The days of old-boy institutions like the TDA are numbered.

Many Buncombe County residents are reiterating the demand for occupancy tax dollars to be community-controlled and go directly to meet resident needs rather than being controlled by hoteliers and used to line their pockets. Specifically, I’ll lift up and co-sign a call made by CoThinkk that “all proceeds from all tourism taxes allocated to racial equity, structural change, and addressing systemic racism across the community.”

In these intense days of transition, Buncombe County can shift away from an inequitable, extractive, and unsustainable tourism-based service industry, towards generative practices of being in service to each other and our ecosystem. Collective care can be our future.

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One thought on “Beyond the “serve us” industry

  1. Ami! Thanks for having the courage to post that “serve us” essay. I truly feel sorry for those that have lost their jobs, but sincerely hope many of the bars, restaurants and hotels go out of business. To think that our local economy is so reliant on this type enterprise. And not only locally but nationally. The money does not stay here. It supports no actual growth. Most of these restauranteurs, breweries and hoteliers are recent arrivals coming like vampires to feast off of a bloated tourist environment. Personally, I dislike eating at most restaurants because it harkens back to a classicist hierarchy, being waited on. Ugh. (Don’t people cook for themselves anymore?) Also check out the article in the New Yorker by Helen Rosner entitled “The case for letting the restaurant industry die” in the May 22, 2020 issue.https://www.newyorker.com/culture/annals-of-gastronomy/the-case-for-letting-the-restaurant-industry-die

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