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Grants Support Challenging Convention, Strengthening Communities

Four members of the UCLA Luskin faculty have received research grants from the Institute on Inequality and Democracy. The 2019-20 grants, among 10 awarded to faculty across the UCLA campus, support research, scholarship and teaching that challenge established academic wisdom, contribute to public debate and/or strengthen communities and movements, the institute said. UCLA Luskin recipients are:

  • Amada Armenta, assistant professor of urban planning, who will study undocumented Mexican immigrants in Philadelphia and their layered, complex relationship with the legal system in their everyday lives.
  • Kian Goh, assistant professor of urban planning, who will use the lessons of Hurricane Sandy to research the key role public housing and infrastructure play in the quest for climate justice.
  • Paul Ong, research professor and director of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge, who will create multimedia public narratives that document the stresses of gentrification, displacement and other community changes.
  • Amy Ritterbusch, assistant professor of social welfare, who will develop a restorative justice initiative to take research to the streets, producing knowledge about historically misrepresented communities beyond the confines of academic publication traditions.

In addition to awarding faculty grants of up to $10,000, the Institute on Inequality and Democracy supports research by graduate student working groups. The six groups announced for the 2019-2020 academic year include several urban planning and social welfare students from UCLA Luskin.

Armoring Up for the Fight Against Housing Injustice At a weeklong summer institute at UCLA, scholars and activists master the tools of research to advance safe shelter as a human right

By Mary Braswell

When Raquel Rolnik began her work for the United Nations Human Rights Council monitoring access to adequate housing, she found that the world body did not fully grasp the scope of the challenge.

“Adequate housing was seen as a problem of underdeveloped countries, those countries full of favelas, slums, barrios,” said Rolnik, who served as a U.N. special rapporteur from 2008 to 2014. “And of course it was not a problem at all in the developed world — at all.”

The global financial crisis of the last decade helped put that myth to rest, shining a spotlight on people in countries — rich and poor — who struggle to find secure housing, said Rolnik, who shared her experiences at a weeklong summer course hosted by the Institute on Inequality and Democracy at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

With “challenge inequality” as its rallying cry, the institute strives to advance democracy through research, critical thought and alliances between academia and activism. With that mission in mind, the institute developed the curriculum on “Methodologies for Housing Justice.”

‘We are talking about banishment, we are talking about permanent transitoriness, we are talking about invisible people who are pushed from place to place.’ — Raquel Rolnik

More than 50 participants from universities and social movements attended the Aug. 5-9 course led by Rolnik and Ananya Roy, director of the Institute on Inequality and Democracy and professor of urban planning, social welfare and geography. A large Los Angeles contingent was joined by participants from Oakland, Orange County, Austin, Chicago, New York, Berlin, Buenos Aires, Cape Town, Manila and other locales.

Their goal was to share knowledge, master the tools of research and strengthen their commitment to uphold what the United Nations calls a basic human right: a place to live in peace, security and dignity.

Nancy Mejia, who works with Latino Health Access and other advocacy groups in Santa Ana, said the swelling demand for stable housing in Orange County compelled her to take part in the summer institute.

For years, Mejia’s work centered on access to healthy food, open spaces and recreation, but she found that constituents forced to move from place to place could not take advantage of these programs. So she shifted her focus to tenant rights, rent control and other housing justice issues.

“We’re getting more organized, and this is the sort of place to come and hear what else is going on around the country,” Mejia said. “We are getting the tools, connections and networks to build our capacity as a movement.”

The summer institute underscored that, rather than a social good, housing has become a commodity used to enrich property owners.

The dozen instructors covered a broad spectrum of issues, including laws against squatting or sleeping in one’s car that in effect make poverty a criminal offense; the ethics of collecting and controlling data on private citizens; and the responsibility of researchers to take the next step — to act for the greater good.

“We are not talking about an individual process of eviction,” Rolnik said during a session on her work with the São Paulo Evictions Observatory. “We are talking about banishment, we are talking about permanent transitoriness, we are talking about invisible people who are pushed from place to place.”

The Evictions Observatory was created to turn small bits of information collected from across the Brazilian metropolis into data-rich maps exposing broad trends of inhumane behavior.

Rolnik displayed a map highlighting pockets of São Paulo where at least 100 evictions took place within one kilometer — frequently in locations known for drug consumption or inhabited by non-white residents. At times, tenants were cleared out so that businesses could expand. In one case, she said, a building was demolished while squatters were still inside.

Largely powered by university students, the Evictions Observatory intervenes on behalf of the homeless and lobbies for “key-to-key” policies — that is, no person may be evicted unless he or she has a safe place to land.

The observatory is led by Rolnik, a professor, architect, urban planner and author. In addition to her position as U.N. special rapporteur on adequate housing, Rolnik has held positions with the Brazilian government, non-governmental organizations and academia. She currently chairs the design and planning department at the University of São Paulo.

“Raquel’s work and career to me have always been an inspiration for how one might in fact be both inside and outside powerful institutions and produce scholarship and frameworks of social change that are abolitionist, that are anti-colonial and that are committed to a human right to housing,” said Roy, who also holds the Meyer and Renee Luskin Chair in Inequality and Democracy at UCLA.

The summer course was offered through the Housing Justice in #UnequalCities Network, which was launched by Roy’s institute, with support from the National Science Foundation, to unite movement-based and university-based scholars in the field.

That expression of solidarity attracted Joshua Poe, an independent geographer, city planner and community activist from Louisville, Kentucky. To sharpen his skills in urban design and data visualization, Poe returned to school to earn a master’s in urban planning but acknowledged that he has an “insurgent relationship” with academia.

“For a lot of people who’ve been doing movement-based research or movement geography or movement science, we’ve been somewhat isolated and somewhat invalidated at times and kind of gaslighted by academia,” Poe said. “But this institute lends not just legitimacy to what we’re doing but also expands our networks and emboldens our work in a lot of ways.”

Poe spoke after a day of lectures and training at the Los Angeles Community Action Network, or LA CAN, an advocacy group headquartered in downtown’s Skid Row. LA CAN, part of the Housing Justice in #UnequalCities Network, also hosted a book launch for the English version of Rolnik’s “Urban Warfare: Housing Under the Empire of Finance.”

At the close of the summer institute, the work was not done. In the coming weeks, participants will craft chapters on key housing justice methodologies, which will be disseminated as a digital resource guide available to all.

“This open-access volume will be a critical resource for defining housing justice as a field of inquiry,” Roy said.

View photos from the summer institute on Flickr.
Summer Institute on Housing Justice

Professors Urged to Fight for Free College

The Institute on Inequality and Democracy at UCLA Luskin was cited in a Chronicle of Higher Education article calling on academics to speak out in favor of legislation that would eliminate student debt and make public college free. Momentum toward this goal increased after a group of students launched a “debt strike” in 2015, using the slogan, “We are the first generation made poor by the business of education,” the article said. But it added, “The fact is that most elite academics have been absent from the political fight for free college.” The article encouraged public universities to collaborate with grassroots activists and commended the Institute on Inequality and Democracy for providing funding and other resources to local organizers. “Academics who want to see transformative change must use their positions to help win back the promise of college as a necessary and vital public good,” the article said.

Roy on Sanctuary Cities in the Trump Era

Professor of Urban Planning, Social Welfare and Geography Ananya Roy spoke with The Blue and White Magazine prior to giving a lecture at Columbia University on sanctuary cities in the Trump era. Roy discussed the mission of the Institute on Inequality and Democracy at UCLA Luskin, which she directs. “The collaborations between powerful universities and radical social movements and community-based organizing is never an easy one, but it is work that we are committed to doing,” Roy said. In the Trump era, she said, cities have been reactivated as sites of resistance even though sanctuary cities predate Trump. The 1980s saw a more radical and expansive understanding of sanctuary due to the recognition of U.S. imperialism and the violence it inflicted as the cause for Central Americans fleeing their countries, Roy said. The contemporary sanctuary movement is founded on the assertion of local sovereignty and reliance on local police power, she added.


 

Micah White, founder of the Activist Graduate School, launches the course on housing justice and activism at UCLA Luskin.

At the Intersection of Activism, Housing and Politics UCLA’s Institute on Inequality and Democracy hosts new course for graduate students across campus interested in battling housing injustice

By George Foulsham and Mary Braswell

A critical shortage of places to live — especially safe, affordable housing — has afflicted neighborhoods across California, the nation and the world. As politicians and civic leaders debate zoning laws and developer incentives, one principle is too often ignored: housing justice.

To fill this gap, the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs has entered into a first-time collaboration with the Activist Graduate School (AGS) to offer a new class called “Housing Justice Activism and Protest: Past, Present, and Future,” which weaves together history, theory and strategy in a curriculum designed to forge equitable solutions to the housing crisis.

Housing injustice takes many forms, and each week the course will delve into a different facet: Mobilizing renters threatened by unfair evictions. Cracking down on predatory financing. Viewing public housing in a global context. Understanding tensions among tenants, landowners and law enforcement.

Open to all UCLA graduate students, the winter-quarter course quickly filled to capacity. Class sessions are being recorded to eventually be made available for online study worldwide through AGS, a learning community designed to meet the needs of activists.

“Activist Graduate School is part of our ongoing efforts at the Institute on Inequality and Democracy to develop strong alliances between university-based research and movement-based advocacy and activism,” said Ananya Roy, professor of urban planning, social welfare and geography at UCLA and director of the Institute, which is hosting the course.

“We call this ‘teach, organize, resist,’ and the idea is to train graduate students at UCLA to make change in unequal cities as well as to share this training and pedagogy with activists and young professionals nationwide,” said Roy, who is co-teaching the course with Micah White, founder of AGS, co-creator of the Occupy Wall Street movement and one of UCLA’s 2019 Activists-in-Residence.

“We try to teach how to think like a critical activist — focusing on theory of change, strategy, history — without presuming to teach what will be effective or what will spark a social movement,” White said.

“One of the pedagogical principles of AGS is that activism cannot be taught in a prescriptive manner,” he added. “This is because any tactic that was useful in the past is likely to be ineffective in the future, and social movements nearly always come as a surprise; therefore, it is nearly impossible to predict which campaigns will take off.”

During the first class of the quarter, grassroots organizing and renter revolts took center stage. René Christian Moya, an activist with the L.A. Tenants Union and other advocacy groups, shared tactics learned in the trenches of the housing justice fight — including rent strikes and the public shaming of landlords, developers and politicians.

“The law is not on the side of tenants,” Moya said. “We have to be very, very clear and honest with tenants when we’re dealing with them that ultimately it is not the law that’s going to save them, and it’s damn well sure not going to be their elected officials. It’s going to be through their own power.”

The roots of housing injustice in the United States run deep, added speaker Marques Vestal, a Ph.D. candidate in UCLA’s History department.

“Think of all the ways that tenants are maligned or completely disregarded in everyday culture,” Vestal said. “One of our most dangerous problems … is that most of society thinks landlordism is a natural hierarchy of land.”

Students in the class represented graduate programs from across campus: Geography, History, Law, Public Health, Chinese Studies and all three Luskin School programs — Urban Planning, Social Welfare and Public Policy. By the end of the course, each student will have developed a campaign tackling some area of housing injustice.

Dian Tri Irawaty, who came to UCLA after spending years as a tenant activist in Jakarta, Indonesia, was immediately drawn to the curriculum.

“I want to empower myself with academic tools while doing activism at the same time,” said Irawaty, a fourth-year Ph.D. candidate in urban geography and member of a graduate student working group at the Institute on Inequality and Democracy.

She hopes the course will enrich her research into housing and evictions in the global South and ultimately plans to bring her new skills and scholarship back to Jakarta to foster change.

“History, theory and strategy are really important if we want to win the fight for housing,” Irawaty said.

The course was designed in collaboration with Institute graduate student researchers Terra Graziani and Hilary Malson of UCLA Luskin Urban Planning.

“This continues the tradition of student-organized courses here at UCLA where we come together and create a curriculum that we feel is urgently needed but otherwise missing,” Roy said.

Graziani, who is also co-director of the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project, Los Angeles, said the course will spur graduate students “to not only think like activists, but to think of ways that their scholarship can take up activists’ mandates for justice-oriented research.”

At the inaugural class, tenant organizer Moya issued a challenge to the gathered students. “You’re not here just to hear me lecture about this. You’re not here to hear any of us just tell you what we already know — that we’re suffering a horrible housing crisis that impacts all of our communities,” he said. “We need every single one of you here to jump into this movement.”

Support for the course is provided by the Institute on Inequality and Democracy, Urban Planning and Social Welfare from the Luskin School. Other UCLA supporters are the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, Institute of American Cultures and the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies.

Cristina Barrera contributed to this report.

Follow the Institute on Inequality and Democracy at UCLA Luskin on Twitter @challengeineq to learn more about AGS featured speakers and for updates about the UCLA Activist-in-Residence Program.

View more photos from the Housing Justice Activism and Protest course on Flickr.

Housing Justice Activism and Protest

An Academic Space for Activists Funmilola Fagbamila and Lisa Hasegawa have been awarded inaugural 2017 UCLA Activist-in-Residence Fellowships

With a shared commitment to advance democracy through research and alliances with civil rights organizations and progressive social movements, the Institute on Inequality and Democracy at UCLA Luskin and the UCLA Asian American Studies Center have partnered to pilot a UCLA Activist-in-Residence Program. Funmilola Fagbamila and Lisa Hasegawa are the inaugural 2017 Activist Fellows. They will be in residence on the UCLA campus during winter quarter, from Jan. 4 to March 31.

“Our organizations recognize that the work of social change is demanding,” both organizations said in a statement. “It is our objective to help sustain the activists involved in this work. The collaboration will help strengthen the infrastructure of social transformation by providing activists with the time and space to recharge and to reflect upon a complex challenge facing their communities, while also allowing UCLA undergraduate students to develop or strengthen their own commitment to social justice.”

Fagbamila, an activist and community organizer with more than eight years of experience in Los Angeles County, is the 2017 Irvine Fellow on Urban Life. Hasegawa, who is a UCLA Luskin Senior Fellow, has worked at the intersections of civil and human rights, housing, health and community organizing for her entire career.

Funmilola Fagbamila

Fagbamila has been an organizer with Black Lives Matter since its inception, centering its work on policing, mass incarceration and the overall physical health and wellness in poor black and brown communities. As the arts and culture director for Black Lives Matter Los Angeles, Fagbamila’s work sits at the intersection of blackness and freedom.

While she was a graduate student in UCLA’s African American Studies Department, Fagbamila also worked with a number of campus and community groups, primarily organizing around student rights, promoting faculty and student solidarity, and hosting educational events on the increased privatization of public education in California.

The Irvine Fellow on Urban Life is a residence program funded by the James Irvine Foundation established to bring scholar-activists to the Institute on Inequality and Democracy at UCLA Luskin who will undertake social movement research and pedagogy directly concerned with equity at the urban scale.

Ananya Roy, director of the Institute on Inequality and Democracy at UCLA Luskin, considers the Activist-in-Residence Program “an important anchor for the work of the institute.”

“It brings to the campus leading public intellectuals and foregrounds the significance of learning directly from social movements and community organizations,” Roy said. “We are especially thrilled that our inaugural activist-in-residence is Funmilola Fagbamila whose work with Black Lives Matter L.A. connects performance art, scholarship, and activism to create new public spheres and new modes of dissent. We know that in particular our students will benefit tremendously from her presence and will be inspired to recast their own engagements in dialogue with her.”

Fagbamila explained that her “scholarship explores the complexity of black identity and ideological posturing in the context of Western world.” During her residency Fagbamila plans not only to produce a curriculum and host campus workshops regarding inter-ideological communication and intracommunal difference but also complete her stage play, “The Intersection,” based on engagement across ideological communities. Moe information about Funmilola Fagbamila’s work can be found on YouTube.

Lisa Hasegawa

Hasegawa, the Asian American Studies Center (AASC) Activist Fellow, served as the executive director of the National Coalition for Asian Pacific American Development (CAPACD) for the past 15 years, stepping down in December. Prior to National CAPACD, she was the community liaison of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans Pacific Islanders in the Clinton administration.

Hasegawa said she is committed to leveraging her cross-disciplinary networks across the country for UCLA students, faculty and larger community. Returning to the AASC as the Activist in Residence is a homecoming for her. While she was an undergraduate at UCLA, she started her career in community activism through an AASC internship at the Asian Pacific Health Care Venture.

The AASC Activist Fellow is made possible through the Yuji Ichioka and Emma Gee Endowment in Social Justice and Immigration Studies. The endowment was established in honor of the late UCLA scholar Yuji Ichioka and his wife, activist-scholar Emma Gee, and supports engaging leading activist scholars who are pursing research that provides new analysis of the significant historic and contemporary role of race, ethnicity, class and gender in American life.

“Lisa has an extraordinary knack for bridging the worlds of policymaking, community practice and academic research,” said AASC Interim Director Marjorie Kagawa Singer. “The Center is truly excited to work with Lisa in addressing social inequality in Asian American and Pacific Islander communities through a variety of events, such as presentations, class visits, workshops, panels, activist projects, and much more.”

“We are on the brink of a very challenging period for Asian Americans Pacific Islanders, undocumented immigrants, communities of color, low-income and queer communities,” Hasegawa said. “This fellowship will give me the opportunity to reflect on my 20 years in D.C., as well as a chance to think critically, with fresh perspective, about what we need to do in the next 20 years to create systemic equity. I look forward to facilitating lively dialogue and concerted action amongst networks of activists, advocates and practitioners, together with students and faculty.”

As part of her fellowship, Hasegawa will document achievements and challenges faced during the Obama administration. Additionally, she plans to engage students, faculty and community activists in dialogue about how strategies may have fallen short, and take stock of policies that can be strengthened, preserved or defended.

A welcome reception for the two activist fellows will be held on Jan. 12 at the Luskin Commons. Please RSVP here.

For nearly 50 years, the UCLA Asian American Studies Center has enriched and informed not only the UCLA community, but also an array of broader audiences and sectors in the state, the nation, and internationally about the long neglected history, rich cultural heritage, and present position of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in our society.

The Institute on Inequality and Democracy at UCLA Luskin advances radical democracy in an unequal world through research, critical thought, and alliances with social movements and racial justice activism. The work of the institute analyzes and transforms the divides and dispossessions of our times, in the university and in our cities, across global South and global North. Launched in February 2016, the institute support research developed in partnership with social movements and community-based organizing.

For more information on the Activist-in-Residence program, please contact UCLA Asian American Studies Center at melanyd@ucla.edu or the Institute on Inequality and Democracy at guihama@luskin.ucla.edu.

On the Meaning of Inequality and Poverty In a post written for the Social Science Research Council’s website, the director of UCLA Luskin School’s Institute on Inequality and Democracy calls for revived attention to the concept of poverty

“We are not all equal in the experience of inequality.”

Ananya Roy, director of the Institute on Inequality and Democracy

By Stan Paul

Over time and with over-use, words can lose their meaning. “Inequality” and “poverty” — buzzwords of the media, philanthropy and academia — are words that Ananya Roy wants to repoliticize and resignify as critical concepts for social science research.

Roy, the director of the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs’ new Institute on Inequality and Democracy, has a personal stake in defending their meaning. She has spent her academic career focused on these issues.

“I worry that the expansive use of inequality distracts attention from specific forms of impoverishment, exploitation, discrimination, and segregation,” Roy wrote in a recent post on the Social Science Research Council (SSRC) website. In the post, “In Defense of Poverty,” she explained that, as “banner themes,” the concepts become “twinned with other liberal terms such as inclusion and diversity.”

Roy, who is a professor of Urban Planning and Social Welfare as well as the Meyer and Renee Luskin Chair in Inequality and Democracy at UCLA Luskin, identified three areas that may fall under the label “critical poverty studies” — the active relations of impoverishment, the problem of poverty and rethinking north and south.

“Repoliticizing inequality is an ongoing project, one that increasingly demands vigilance and creativity on the part of social sciences,” she explained.

Read the full article at http://items.ssrc.org/in-defense-of-poverty/