Captain Heck (capthek) wrote in radicalreads,
Captain Heck

I don't review books nearly as much as I should so here goes one...

Stoecker, Randy. 1994. Defending Community: The Struggle for Alternative Redevelopment in Cedar-Riverside. Philadelphia:Temple University Press.

This book might be of particular interest to local Minnesota people. You know that big building complex over at Cedar Square West aka Riverside Plaza? Man, originally the city was going to have it be a huge complex of buildings with over 30,000 people living in them on under 3 acres. They were going to demolish the entire neighborhood, but the interesting thing is that lots of 60s radicals had moved into the area and they organized and contested the thing so only those few buildings that are there now were built and the neighborhood was largely saved. yay?

People look at them now, all run down and decrepit and assume it was some kind of public housing project but the original builders were very much for profit and actually envisioned that University professors might live there, lol! Low incomes communities were demolished in city after city to make way for highways or new developments for more wealthy residents. The really unusual thing in this case is that usually the neighborhoods slated for destruction were minority and this neighborhood was low-income but mostly of Scandinavian stock. I guess they were still an immigrant ethnic enclave, which in Minnesota is close enough to be put under "urban renewal".

So this book follows the efforts to contest this huge redevelopment project. The city was going to demolish everything over in that area to put up the tower blocks. Looking at how it ended up, man it would have been horrible!

The final few chapters take a very Marxist turn which was very interesting as it echoed lots of other readings I have been doing on urban movements. You see, we just don't have a class consciousness in this nation. Instead what we have are many movements by many different fragmented classes. These classes are basically based on identity politics, you are white, you are black, you are a man, you are a woman, you are gay, you are straight, it goes on and on. It's like we only see differences when there are huge unities out there.

These days it seems that when people do act out as a class (the working class anyway, the wealthy seem to work together quite well) it is when their community is generally working class and it is somehow threatened. That is why quite a few radical authors kind of idealize community organizations. Yet as this author points out, these community based struggles can be very limited, only passionate over one issue until it is either won or lost and then they dissipate into their own fragmented identity politics again.

This book, like many others from a Marxist perspective, are not particularly inspiring. It tries to be though, it speaks of success, of a fight where the little guy beat the government and corporate giants. Yet the local radical inspired organizations it speaks of just a decade ago have mostly vanished. Even the radical movements of the 60s and 70s disassembled when their fights against Vietnam and segregation seemingly ended. Is success the first sign of radical movements turning into dust? Is this the meaning behind more brilliant propaganda movements who build never ending wars for the passion of the masses? Is there something that could just as passionately unify the left? Sure, Obama was elected and that is great, but it seems mostly pragmatic over idealistic. It's funny how such an inspiring story would leave me feeling so cynical.
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