Learning in Public

It is a particular kind of vulnerability to learn in public. Related: I was nauseous as I watched the Asheville City Council hotel guidelines discussion and votes last Tuesday. In the moment, the letter I sent to council (and shared here), felt infinitely naive. While I do not regret advocating for harm reduction in a process which gave no other options, I questioned my attempt to reason with an unreasonable system. Hearing actual concerns about “disincentivizing” hotels, I was reminded that my fundamental framework is vastly different than that of most of the players that night. On a policy level, while we agree on the necessity of reparations, I second Kim Roney’s statement that “we can’t keep saying reparations out of one side of our mouth and then continue ongoing harm from the other – like gentrification, more low wages, and supporting an industry fundamentally based on extraction of our natural resources, our labor, and our occupancy tax.”

Protesters in downtown Asheville, February 8, 2021 (WLOS)

It is clear that, even though residents continue to raise their voices against hotels, the powers that be believe continued hotel (and other) development is good for Asheville. Of course that leads us to the question of who is meant by “Asheville.” As long as local government chooses to cater to out-of-town corporations and developers looking to exploit our resources for profit, we will continue to get the same horrible results in terms of racial disparities, environmental destruction, and all of the injustices that come with a service-based economy. 

We will also continue to experience over-policing. It comes at no surprise that, speaking to the CIBO last week, state Senator Chuck Edwards talked about how he will not support changing the occupancy tax percentages to allow more to go to community needs (not even a small % change that would align us with the state statue). He also shared two terrible bills he has put forth – SB100, which would penalize cities that cut their police budgets and SB101, which would force sheriffs to cooperate with ICE. His platform reinforces the connection between hotel-driven tourism and our city’s bloated police budget. Thus we call for defunding the police and the BCTDA. Our community can put those millions to better use. 

As we know, movements to create transformative alternatives to our current reality are faced with overwhelming challenges. We are up against racial capitalism, as described by Cedric Robinson, which has centuries of momentum and resources behind it. Those of us who are working to forge a solidarity economy are bushwhacking through a thicket of overgrown, tenaciously destructive systems. Yet our tools are sharp. And we’re coming from a generative place of community care. The status quo, however entrenched, can change. Here I’ll affirm that, thanks to people speaking up, there were some wins in terms of adjustments made to the hotel guidelines. While there are reasons to be discouraged, we have no reason to give up.

We Do This ‘Til We Free Us

And I return to my reckoning last Tuesday. As fate would have it, at the same time as the council meeting there was an online event to celebrate the release of Miriame Kaba’s brilliant new book, We Do This ‘Til We Free Us, a collection of essays about “abolitionist organizing and transforming justice.” As I flipped between the two livestreams, I heard Kaba state (in part quoting Ruth Wilson Gilmore), “Abolition necessitates that we change everything – while reform requires us to affirm the current system and surrender our imagination to the carcel state, abolition requires us to use the best of our thinking and our creativity to build another world here and now.” 

Exhale. Inhale. Reorient. 

We know these systems can’t be reformed. We also know our creativity is infinite. As Kaba writes in her book, “Changing everything may sound daunting, but it also means there are infinite opportunities to collaborate, and endless imaginative interventions and experiments to create.” Yes!

Kaba also reminds us that, “when we set about trying to transform society, we must remember that we ourselves will also need to transform. Our imagination of what a different world can be is limited. We are deeply entangled in the systems we are organizing to change.” True, true, true. For example, in my case, my family has been entangled in tourism. She continues, “Being intentionally in relation to one another, a part of a collective, helps to not only imagine new worlds, but also to imagine ourselves differently.” Our answers are found together. 

My piece last week started with “the practice of hope,” an idea which, reading her book, I am reminded was inspired by Kaba, who talks about the “discipline of hope,” a concept she learned from a nun. Thankfully, our commitment to community care does not cease. We can continue to learn (in public and private) and to put our hope into action. 

Hopeful Action Ideas 2/28/2021

Oppose SB100 and SB101 – Click here for an ACLU tool to write your senator in opposition to SB101

Contact the Buncombe County Commissioners with a call for them to stop collecting the occupancy tax immediately until the community, and not hotels, can determine how it is used (aka Abolish the TDA)

Donate to the mutual aid fund being organized by CIMA, Asheville Survival Program, Sunrise Movement Asheville, and the Asheville DSA – paypal.me/AVLStimulusFund or Venmo @AVLStimulusFund

Order We Do This ‘Til We Free Us from Firestorm Books

Donate to the WNC Worker’s Center

Plant a tree


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