Visionary Voices: A Candid Conversation with Brittany Packnett
Shaping Cities to Nourish Social Equity
Speaker: Patty Heyda, Associate Professor of Urban Design and Architecture, Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Arts, Washington University
Urban designer Patty Heyda describes her field as the intersection of urban planning and architecture. She shared insights into what St. Louis has learned from the successes and failures of redevelopment efforts ranging from the razing of Mill Creek Valley, to the Pruitt-Igoe project and the redevelopment of Botanical Heights.
Redevelopment is a complicated process. The goals and interests of those in power do not always align with those of the neighborhood residents. To assure that the process results in fairness to all, “it’s important to remember that the community was here before redevelopment,” Heyda said. Thoughtful redevelopment can improve communities while preserving the good that exists in them.
Today, as private developers have largely taken over redevelopment, invisible and visible barriers obstruct inclusiveness. Developers lack incentives to offer lower cost housing. “Redlining is still embedded in the way we operate,” Heyda cautioned, “and only 10 percent of home loans go to African American families.”
In McCree Town (now Botanical Heights), low-income units were torn down. Phase 1 of redevelopment was a great market success, but offered expensive suburban-style homes, attached garages, and cul de sacs. Phase 2 offered traditional urban-style houses that face the street and are designed for passive cooling. A mixed-rate development, these were also a success. But only about 3 percent of those who lived in the “old” neighborhood now reside in Botanical Heights.
To ensure social equity in redevelopment, Heyda advised us to advocate for equity with the many decision makers that control redevelopment—including mayors, legislators, commissions, organizational landowners, and funders. Assure the community has real voice. Demand accountability. Call out bad options. Vote for candidates who understand the need to preserve communities and create affordable housing, she said.
No Time to Lose: The High Cost of Ignoring Climate Change
Jennifer R. Smith, Professor of Earth & Planetary Sciences and Dean, College of Arts & Sciences, Washington University; John Hickey, Chapter Director, Sierra Club Missouri
Speakers: Jennifer R. Smith, Professor of Earth & Planetary Sciences and Dean, College of Arts & Sciences, Washington University; John Hickey, Chapter Director, Sierra Club Missouri
Jennifer Smith said the science is clear: A major National Climate Assessment report released in November 2018 warns that climate change is negatively impacting communities across the country, with devastating effects on people’s health and the U.S. economy. “We need to move fast and globally,” she insisted, to stabilize global warming. Deep emissions reductions in our industrial, energy, and transportation systems and “significant upscaling of investments” are needed, she said. She allayed concerns that resources might be diverted from social justice issues. Mitigating climate change has positive effects for all social justice concerns such as poverty, hunger, and inequality, she said.
The Midwest will suffer greatly if global warming is not stabilized, Smith warned. She predicted more very high temperatures, rain, and flooding, which will lead to loss of agricultural productivity, forest ecosystems, and biodiversity. Infrastructure to deal with water in flood plains and cities will be incredibly costly. Human health will decline because of poor air quality, extended pollen seasons, and pest-borne diseases. While “quick and global’ solutions are needed to address the underlying problem, Smith pointed out that negative health outcomes require improved basic health services and public health initiatives.
John Hickey cited research affirming that air pollution, primarily from coal-fired power plants, contributes to global warming and is a public health threat. He documented increasing rates of premature death, asthma, heart disease, cancer, and stroke. Since African Americans more often live near sources of pollution, he said, they experience disproportionately higher rates than whites.
Hickey called on the audience to urge legislators and the governor to staff the Missouri Air Conservation Commission, which is supposed to enforce the Clean Air Act throughout the state. Currently the commission has only 4 of its required 7 members, he said, and most of the counties that are in violation of pollution standards are in the St. Louis area. Hickey noted that Missouri does not require Ameren to place sulfur dioxide scrubbers in its coal-fired plants. But he cited one hopeful development: Springfield now gets 40 percent of its electricity from wind. Wind-produced electricity is 25 percent cheaper than coal, he said, so market forces should drive its becoming more prominent.
Hickey also urged attendees to contact their legislators about the effort to stop the Grain Belt Express. The Missouri House of Representatives will vote this week on House Bill 1062 which is designed to stop the Grain Belt Express transmission line which would bring clean, inexpensive wind energy from southwest Kansas to Missouri.
#MeToo #YouToo #NowWhat?
Susan Kidder, Chief Executive Officer, Safe Connections; Judi Jennetten, former Women’s Voices board member and retired teacher
The 2017 Harvey Weinstein scandal, when Alyssa Milano launched the #MeToo movement on Twitter, marked a “watershed moment” in the nation’s recognition of the extent of sexual harassment and misogyny, said Susan Kidder. She applauded #MeToo for giving survivors “the power of numbers” on a platform where they tell their stories and feel they are not alone. Her nonprofit organization, Safe Connections, supports people of all gender identities who are struggling with issues stemming from sexual and/or domestic abuse.
Safe Connections helps victims understand that abuse is not their fault, that abusers use sexual violence to assert power and control over their partners. The organization teaches clients to recognize types of abuse. Domestic abuse, Kidder said, includes physical, emotional, financial, sexual, and technological (e.g., Internet threats) assaultive behaviors to keep a person trapped. Sexual abuse occurs when someone forces or manipulates another into unwanted sexual activity without their consent. Rape is the least reported violent crime, and victims do not report for a variety of complex reasons, including fear of not being believed or of being blamed themselves. Judi Jennetten shared her personal experience of sexual harassment as a young teen. Only years later did she decide to tell her story in order to break the silence that keeps abuse hidden. Kidder and Jennetten emphasized the need for open discussion and education to prevent and stop abuse.
Kidder warned against “the great coopt,” the current phenomenon by which the tables are turned and abusers (most often men) are portrayed as the victims and some refuse to mentor or work with women. Rather than coopting the movement, Kidder urged men to take responsibility for changing the culture by speaking out when they see misogyny and sexism.
Safe Connections employs 30 therapists and provides crisis support, individual counseling for adults and teens, support groups, prevention education in schools, and a 24-hour crisis helpline (314-531-2003). Its services are free. For more information: www.safeconnections.org; 314-646-7500.
Reporting the News: Truth and Consequences
Tony Messenger, columnist, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and Jessica Z. Brown, founder and past president, Gateway Media Literacy Partners, Inc.
Tony Messenger cautioned that social media are making it difficult for people to distinguish “fake news” from the truth. “Politicians are ahead of the press,” he said, and young people playing video games are receiving campaign ads and messages through YouTube. White supremacists and trolls also use YouTube to reach people with false messages, he said.
Because of the speed of social media, professional journalists are spending precious staff time staying ahead of fake news. When they correct false stories, they are being undermined by political operatives who push misinformation or disinformation (deliberate lies) while telling their audience not to believe any other source. “So when a story is corrected, people don’t believe it because they have already been told not to,” he said.
Despite the challenges, Messenger has hope for the journalism profession and its protection of our democracy. “Today our newspapers are good sources of news, unlike Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. The value of a newspaper is in the breadth of news it provides.” He explained that newspapers expose readers to issues that will engage them in their community. For example, Messenger said his columns on Missouri’s debtors’ prisons have received favorable comments from people of every political bent.
Jessica Brown warned that false information is often deliberately and covertly spread—often by planting rumors to influence public opinion and/or obscure the truth. She advised the audience to learn the skills of media literacy, which she described as using critical thinking to access, analyze, and evaluate messages. She said to ask three key questions when assessing the veracity of a media message:
- Who is the communicator?
- What is the function of the message?
- What feeling does the message elicit—e.g., anger, fear, desire to act? Persuasive messages appeal to emotions.
To understand why journalism is essential to our democracy, she told the audience to go to the website of the Society of Professional Journalists of casinos in Ireland ( https://www.spj.org) and view the Code of Ethics that requires journalists to to verify information. She also suggested using Snopes (www.snopes.com), a source that debunks false messages.
Being Poor: No Crime, All Punishment
Speakers: Blake Strode, Executive Director, ArchCity Defenders; Qiana Williams, former ArchCity Defenders client
“We are in a crisis moment,” Blake Strode warned the audience of 200 members and guests. Thousands in this region are locked in cages, most are poor and black, largely because they do not have the cash to buy their freedom, he said. They hail from communities, still scarred by the legacy of slavery, that are struggling with disinvestment, over-policing, and underemployment. The Ferguson uprising following the killing of Michael Brown in 2014 brought to light the discriminatory court system that exacerbates this inequality by defining public safety as “arrest and incarceration.”
In response, ArchCity Defenders, which provides civil legal services to the indigent and those experiencing homelessness, is partnering with other groups to redefine public safety. The status quo definition– “police, prosecution, jail”– has resulted in Missouri having the ninth-highest incarceration rate of anywhere in the world, Strode said. ArchCity envisions a new model focusing on public safety as community well-being.
The organization’s vision of community well-being includes affordable housing, mental health care, economic and educational opportunities, and free community spaces open to all. It promotes its vision through advocacy, litigation, and programs such as the Close the Workhouse Campaign. Strode said the City of St. Louis spends $16 million yearly to operate the Workhouse, money that should be redirected to provide human services that ultimately make the community safer. (Go to www.closetheworkhouse.org to learn more about why the Workhouse should be closed.)
Strode said “the most radical thing we do at ArchCity is listen to our clients. Our whitepaper that profiled the criminal justice system was written on what people told us—the voices of those who aren’t heard.” He said the people who are impacted by poverty and homelessness give a different perspective for solutions. A former ArchCity Defenders client, Qiana Williams, explained how the region’s municipal court system has harmed her life. Although she never abused drugs or committed any crime, she spent 20 years in and out of jail because of traffic tickets. Working odd jobs, going to school, and raising children, she was unable to pay daunting fines for offenses such as expired license plates and bail costs. In effect, she was criminalized for being poor.
Strode said the Bail Project, which assists people to pay bail and return to court, is succeeding. But ArchCity Defenders, the Bail Project, and others are fighting a “reform” effort that requires people to pay large fees to a private company for pretrial ankle monitoring instead of bail. Strode noted that about 98 percent of Workhouse inmates are pretrial, that is, not charged or convicted of any offense.
Strode told the audience they can help promote ArchCity Defenders’ vision by engaging the community to educate people about the issues, by joining others who are working on the problems, and by mobilizing and organizing to take action.
Students against Gun Violence: Young, Smart, and Mad as Hell ~ A Panel Discussion
With their energy and commitment, a panel of student activists gave the audience of more than 100 hope for a future in which sensible gun control may finally become a reality in America. As the first generation to grow up witnessing school shootings kill and injure their peers, these young people feel that adults have failed them. They believe that it has fallen to them to respond to the rampant violence that politicians and others have ignored for years. They have formed organizations, organized protests, and spoken out to rouse the nation from its apathy. As 11-year-old Elizabeth Randall said, “People have become numb to [gun violence].” Hannah Shine added, “It’s so common but in Missouri no one is doing anything.” The shooting in Parkland, Florida, with video and social media showing the shooting and the emotional and physical damage to their peers, spurred them to take action beyond the tepid “thoughts and prayers” that adults offered. “To see people standing up, I didn’t feel alone,” said Hannah Brown. “I realized it could be me or my friends.” Morgan Lowe emphasized that removing guns from society, while extremely important, is not the only solution. She said activists want to focus also on the root causes of gun violence such as poverty and lack of education.
Sustaining the movement into the future poses many challenges. Hannah Shine cited apathy. She said that getting people, especially those from affluent white areas, to listen is difficult because many don’t see the problem as important to their own lives. Maggie Hannick said young people are victims of “ageism” from people who insist the students are too young to comprehend the issues or are merely parroting their parents’ views. Several students expressed frustration that their schools refused to allow students to participate in peaceful walkouts in solidarity with the Parkland students. Panelists also said their efforts are constrained by lack of money. “Our funding depends on donations,” Morgan Lowe pointed out, while the National Rifle Association has money to buy influence in Washington, DC. Brian Wingbermuehle warned that some Missouri legislators are advocating arming classroom teachers, an idea the students strongly oppose as dangerous. He urged us to pay attention to bills introduced in the upcoming Missouri legislative session.
Despite the challenges, these students will not give up. They plan to continue to spread their message, reach out to communities, and work with other groups such as Moms Demand Action. They urged the audience to vote and “show up.” Sunny Lu said she has learned that politics affect all the issues important to her generation: gun violence prevention, health care, climate change, education, voters’ rights. “We need to change policies that stop candidates from getting elected. Then we can change many issues, not just gun violence. Our future is in our hands.”
Marcel Scaife skillfully managed the panel discussion, posing questions to the students and giving each an opportunity to speak. Uniquely qualified for the moderator role, Scaife is manager of Safe and Thriving Communities with Ready By 21 at the United Way of Greater St. Louis. He leads violence prevention efforts with the Youth Violence Prevention Partnership, an initiative of the St. Louis Health Department.
More about our panelists:
Hannah Brown, a student activist, currently co-chairs High School Democrats of Missouri. Maggie Hannick is a senior at a Catholic high school and activist for many causes. Morgan Lowe, Director of Outreach for Ceasefire STL and an activist for many causes, plans to work in politics after graduating from SIUE with a bachelor’s in Business Administration in May 2019. Sunny Lu, a Horton Watkins High School student, has been featured in media outlets for her work with Students Demand Action St. Louis. Elizabeth Randall is a 6th grader and honor roll student in East St. Louis, IL. Hannah Shine, a senior at Visitation Academy, is involved in several organizations, including Students Demand Action and the St. Louis High School Democrats. Brian Wingbermuehle, a freshman at Saint Louis University, spearheaded Students Demand Action St Louis.
Before the panel discussion, the audience viewed a clip from No More Thoughts and Prayers, a documentary on the St. Louis March for Our Lives. This inspiring film by Angela Lamb and Michele Steinberg is available on Amazon (free for Prime members) and on Vimeo.
Policing in America: Problems, Perspectives, and Priorities
Speakers: Dr. Tobias Winright, associate professor of health care ethics, St. Louis University, and former law enforcement officer; Rev. Darryl Gray, community liaison for the Ethical Society of Police and associate pastor, Greater Fairfax Missionary Baptist Church, St. Louis
Dr. Winright, who has written extensively about policing in America, explained how a military model of policing supplanted a “social peacemaker” model. A photo of police pointing rifles at Ferguson protestors from atop an armored vehicle starkly illustrated his point. Historically, he said, police focused on their role to “protect and serve” their communities, and in earlier times American police forces were not armed. But militarization grew, driven by slave patrols in the South, gangsters in the 1920s, and “wars” on drugs and crime in the 1970s and 1980s. The latter mainly targeted African Americans, encouraged extreme use of force, and fostered an “us versus them” distrust between police and community members. Acknowledging that there are now more guns in society than citizens, Winright said the times call for a policing model in which police and community members work together.
Reverend Gray, a prominent civil rights activist, said African Americans want policing that is fair, just, and equitable. He recommended ways to change the “siege mentality” that is felt in black communities, where African Americans are disproportionately arrested and police testimony is often considered unreliable:
- Using technology such as body and surveillance cameras as a tool to hold police accountable and protect both the police and community members
- Training police to de-escalate conflicts without gun violence
- Ensuring that police departments reflect the racial makeup of the communities they serve by ending race-based discrimination in hiring and advancement opportunities and by actively recruiting people, who may be reluctant to apply because of departments’ racist history
Responding to an audience question, Gray said that only three of the Ferguson Commission’s 189 policy calls to action have been implemented. He blamed lack of political will on the part of elected officials. “They won’t move until we start calling them out,” he said, and urged the audience to contact their elected representatives.
Homing In On Housing Policies: Moving from Segregation to Diverse, Inclusive Communities
Speakers: Jason Purnell, PhD, MPH, associate professor, Brown School, Washington University and director of Health Equity Works; Molly Metzger, PhD, assistant professor, Brown School, Washington University and author of the forthcoming book “Facing Segregation: Policy Solutions for a Stronger Society.”
Segregation, with all its destructive effects, is still very much with us in St. Louis, one of the most segregated cities in the country. The speakers at our October meeting work to focus attention on the history of unfair policies that cemented segregation in St. Louis City and County and what can be done to solve the resulting problems. Dr. Purnell explained to the audience of about 100 attendees that discriminatory policies pushed many African Americans into crowded urban neighborhoods and housing projects. The Federal Housing Authority gave loans to housing developers on the condition that they would not sell to blacks. Restrictive deed covenants (in which white homeowner associations prohibited sales to black buyers) and zoning prohibiting multi-family housing meant that many African Americans could only obtain affordable housing in areas far from jobs, education, and health care. We have not built the transportation infrastructure to enable people to access opportunities, Purnell said.
Dr. Metzger proposed possible local solutions:
- Mobility strategies that help people move to areas that offer opportunities. These include allowing those with housing choice vouchers to obtain housing in the private rental market.
- Investment strategies that improve existing communities. These strategies include requiring new housing developments to set aside a percentage of units for low-income families.
Both speakers agreed that the best solution would be to create consciously inclusive communities that strive for policies that are fair and equitable for people of all races, ages, and income levels. When asked what we as interested citizens can do now, they recommended that we:
- Support organizationsworking to “dismantle the divide”—including Arch City Defenders, Empower Missouri, Beyond Housing, Ascend STL, Team TIF, Community Builders Network, and St. Louis Equal Housing and Opportunity Council (EHOC). Donate to them and follow them on social media.
- Pay attention when hearings take place in our communities and ask questions about TIFs, special business districts, and housing developments.
- Go to stlouisco.com/housingtrustfundto learn about St. Louis County’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund Task Force and fill out their survey to identify housing needs by December 12, 2018.
For more information: Dr. Purnell is one of the authors of “Segregation in St. Louis: Dismantling the Divide,” a new report describing a century of housing policies intentionally designed to exclude African Americans from access and opportunity.https://forthesakeofall.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/SegregationinSTL_DismantlingDivideReport.pdf
Here Comes the Vote: Ballot Ballyhoo and Redistricting Ramifications
Speaker: Nancy Miller, co-president, League of Women Voters, St. Louis Chapter
On November 6, we will go to the polls to vote on a daunting number of candidates, amendments, and propositions—some local, some national–that will have critical consequences for our lives. Nancy Miller helped us untangle the state issues, beginning withAmendment 1, which is also known as “Clean Missouri” because its goal is to clean up Missouri politics. Among other things, it will limit campaign contributions, stop the revolving door of legislators becoming lobbyists, and curtail gerrymandering of legislative districts through a transparent, nonpartisan process. See www.CleanMissouri.org. Women’s Voices and the League of Women Voters support this amendment.
Miller clarified the confusing three medical marijuanainitiatives on the ballot. Proposition C and Amendment 2offer similar pricing and protections, she said. But sales tax revenue raised through Amendment 2 will go solely for veterans’ health programs, whereas under Proposition C, a small portion of the taxes would also fund drug treatment and early childhood education. An important factor for voters to consider is the difference between propositions and amendments. The state legislature can change or not implement propositions that are passed, but the legislature cannot change amendments. Women’s Voices and the League favor medical marijuana. However, neither organization supports a third option–Amendment 3—because it directs sales tax revenues to an entity that will be created and overseen by one wealthy individual who would control the funds.
Another problematic initiative is Proposition D: Gas Tax Increase. The tax increase will raise more than $288 million, but the proposition does not clearly specify how the new funds would be used to benefit Missouri. The tax is also regressive, putting greater burden on low-income individuals. Because of these concerns, neither Women’s Voices nor the League supports this measure or has taken a position on it.
In November, we will also vote on judges. Christine Bertelson, communications director, St. Louis County Circuit Court, urged us to inform ourselves about the 21 judges who are up for retention. Go to www.mobar.org; www.yourmissourijudges.org; and https://wp.stlcountycourts.com to learn more. She also recommended that we learn about the Missouri Plan (www.MissouriPlan.com), a method of choosing judges that keeps politics out of our courts and is used in 30 other states.
Also of note: Miller said the League is suing the Missouri secretary of state for not complying with requirements that help people obtain photo IDs and register to vote. See www.showit2vote.com for information on what forms of ID are needed and how to obtain a free photo ID or register to vote (which can now be done online with a tablet, mobile device or other touchscreen device at https://s1.sos.mo.gov/votemissouri/request).
All Women’s Voices positions on these and other ballot initiatives are available here.
Find out how to get involved in voter efforts (education, engagement, mobilization, protection and registration):