Red Dawn in Pennsylvania

It’s been three weeks since the election and I still encounter so many people who can’t believe that Pennsylvania, like most of the rest of the country, is a “red” state. In 2016 Pennsylvania finally voted for a Republican presidential candidate, even if by the slimmest of margins.  Just as maddening for Democrats, Katie McGinty lost the senatorial race to rightwing nut Pat Toomey by a similar margin.

But it doesn’t end there: our congressional delegation has 13 Republicans to five Dems, and the GOP increased its already considerable margin in the General Assembly; they now have a 122 to 81 advantage in the house and a veto-sustaining 34 to 16 margin in the state senate. We’re going to be seeing red a lot for the next two years.

Liberal commentators – insulated elitists that many of them are – have been blaming the white working class, or non college-educated whites, for the nationwide debacle.  I’m tired of hearing all the snide “Pennsyltucky” comments: they’re not funny and, as the polling data is showing, not very accurate.  A lot of college-educated people pulled the lever for Trump and other down-ballot Republicans, including the highly educated union members in the two teachers unions.

No, lack of education wasn’t the problem.  Stevie Wonder captured the mood of voters of all races and genders decades ago when he sang:“We are sick and tired of hearing your song/Telling how you are changing right from wrong/’Cause if you really want to hear our view/you haven’t done nothin.’”

Anyone trying to come up with an electoral strategy to reverse national and local GOP dominance should study the 1988 Jesse Jackson campaign for president.

A working-class problem?

Perhaps the “problem” with those workers – especially the white ones – is a problem of leadership: no leadership and misleadership. With only 11 percent of all eligible employees belonging to unions – 6.7 percent in the private sector – it’s safe to say that most workers have no organic political leaders.  They have to find them where they can, among politicians, religious leaders and celebrities.  There’s not a lot of political clarity or wisdom to be found from Kanye West, Angelina Jolie or someone from the cast of Duck Dynasty.

But looking to one’s obvious leaders — trade union officials — doesn’t offer much better. Take, for example, the inane remarks of American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten.  After attributing Hillary Clinton’s defeat, at least in part, to sexism, she reaches this conclusion: “So I think we’re never really ever going to understand it.”

Okay then, she’s not familiar with feminist theory. Even worse, Weingarten goes on to say that Bernie Sanders, who has been in Congress since 1992 and whose record is an open book, “was never tested or vetted by anyone, and frankly we have no idea whether he would have actually been able to get through this crucible.”

By “anyone,” Weingarten means anyone in the Democratic Party power structure – the very same people who find unions and union leaders like Weingarten contemptible. Our nation’s labor leaders have no independent political vision.  It’s embarrassing to see how slavish they are in serving Democrats who reciprocate by giving very little in return. Labor would be better off eschewing electoral politics altogether and concentrating on organizing and representing workers.

It would be great to see this kind of leadership replaced by one that has vision and true dedication to their membership and the working class in general, and that is a matter that must ultimately be settled by working men and women. But in the meantime, we need aspiring political leaders who understand the value of creating or being a part of broad movements for change.  And that type of leader can come from anywhere, not necessarily labor. Back in the 1980’s, the Rev. Jesse Jackson was such a leader.

Hope through struggle

Unlike Barack Obama’s Hope/Change thing, Jackson’s “Keep Hope Alive” slogan was tied to a history of participation in grassroots movements and a vision of creating a new movement — a Rainbow Coalition — to achieve goals that mainstream politicians and commentators saw as either unreasonable or unachievable.  His platform called for affirmative action, passing the ERA, cutting defense spending, a foreign policy based on respect for self-determination, immigrant rights, civil rights, single-payer health care, reversing the Reagan tax cuts for the rich, ending the so-called war on drugs, free community college for all, support for family farmers, reparations for the descendants of slaves, and more.

To achieve these objectives, Jackson believed in coalition building — fusing existing movements into a Rainbow Coalition of common interests. He visibly fought for his platform before his first presidential run in 1984, between the 1984 and 1988 campaigns, as well as during the latter campaign.

Jackson won 11 primaries or caucuses – in places like Alabama, Louisiana, Michigan, Georgia, Mississippi and Vermont, where he had the endorsement of then Burlington mayor Bernie Sanders. He had strong finishes in several others and his campaign registered 2 million new voters.  Needless to say, many of his supporters were white working class folks; he even won some endorsements from majority-white union locals.

Jackson’s big weakness was his considerable ego and willingness to compromise with Democratic Party power brokers at the expense of his Rainbow Coalition, which never developed the capacity to function effectively without him.  He ended up getting it backwards, and we’re all the worse off for it.

Nevertheless, we shouldn’t throw out the baby with the bath water.  The potential power of coalitions based on common interest was demonstrated.  Nor should we place all of the blame on Jackson: he was indeed a charismatic figure, but it’s not his fault that our nation’s culture, political and otherwise, is so enamored with charisma.

We still need to build and sustain powerful mass movements; if we are to succeed in electing politicians who will serve our people’s needs, they need to be tied to and pushed by masses of people.

Crying over the defeat of Hillary Clinton — a (possibly) good person who is certainly not beholden to people like us, but instead to ultra-rich ruling-class powers — is a waste of time.  Scapegoating white workers misleads people who are already confused.  We need to build strong movements — in labor, among oppressed people of all races, genders and colors — from which strong leaders — not just a leader — can emerge to serve our interests.

As bad as things seem to be, the future is unwritten.  But it’s past time to write off people like the Clintons, who haven’t done nothin.’

— Coleman Saint James

 

 

 

 

 

The Morning After

There was a lot of talk among Democrats and their fellow travelers before the general election about the crisis in the GOP. Donald Trump – outlandish, buffoonish and downright unelectable – had, by winning the party’s nomination, led the Republican Party to drink from the waters that it had so terribly polluted.  He had taken the party’s possibly cynical embrace of rightwing crazies like Tea Partiers, creationists and anti-choicers to its logical conclusion: implosion.

 But who’s in crisis now? Whose party is in danger of, if not implosion, then sliding into a period of weak and floundering opposition to the know-nothing GOP juggernaut that is now firmly in control of things?

If the Democrats can’t even defeat a candidate like Donald Trump, can they ever be expected to retake the White House or regain a majority in either or both houses of Congress? Will our citizens ever be freed from the tyranny of state governments run by ignorant Republicans hell bent on destroying all that is public and not profitable?

We’re at the long receiving end of the so-called Reagan “revolution,” my friends, a decades-long realignment of political forces and economic priorities. It’s been a long time since Democrats could count on unorganized white workers to vote for them – maybe because it’s been a long time since the Democrats have done anything for anybody because they’re workers.  Black, Latino, and women workers benefit from civil rights policies, which the Democrats are still willing to support, so they still support Democrats but not as workers.

As for organized workers, it’s long past time for labor to stop busting their asses for the Democrats who only repay them with support for economic policies that must have folks like John L. Lewis, Phil Murray and even FDR spinning in their graves.

Occupy the political space

For the past decade or so, liberal Dems have staked their fortunes and future on demographic changes that their naïve, if well meaning, policy wonks have termed “cultural.” Culture is somehow interwoven with “identity,” and everybody has to be identified.  She’s not just a woman; she’s an Afro-Asian with a hint of Scotch-Irish woman!  Once everyone is correctly identified, we can come up with the algorithm for optimum “diversity.”

The word diversity is now spoken as if there’s some magic in its very utterance. It might come as a surprise to some people to learn that this has always been a diverse country, made up of people of many different races, from many different places, who have had many different experiences. And here’s a tidbit about “minorities:” people who have been excluded aren’t concerned about diversity – they want inclusion and fairness.  Inclusion might refer to the right to a decent education, good-paying job and a nice house or apartment to live in.  An example of fairness would be not being shot by police under circumstances that white citizens would survive.

The Occupy movement was on the right track when it said that there are those making money, and then there are the rest of us. The ninety-nine percent includes people of all races, genders, nationalities, religions and ages.  Once upon a time, they were called members of the working class and the middle class.  We don’t use that working-class term much anymore, except to disparage (some of) the people who voted for Donald Trump.  I suggest we start using that word again to describe the people who, well . . . work.  Then we might want to rethink what it really means to be in the middle.

On this “morning after” an election where we learned just how cuckoo our political system has become, I suggest we save some of our vitriol for Trump voters and give it to the Democrats who haven’t really been for the working people for a very long time. It’s time to stop supporting smooth, cynical, venal politicians who don’t give a rat’s ass about common people once the election season is over.

I wrote earlier that the ruling class – even elites in the Republican Party – had lined up behind Hillary Clinton, and so they had. But now the GOP controls the entire federal government and the majority of state governments as well, and you can bet that that’s just fine with this same ruling class.  Their interests will be well served by a billionaire landlord who believes in lowering taxes on corporations and the rich, while lowering the boom on the rest of us.

And so I suggest, once again, in the words of the immortal Joe Hill: Don’t waste time mourning; organize! Let’s make the next four years very uncomfortable for Trump and the GOP.

— James Collins

Gridiron Grit

NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick has restored the role of the black athlete as a leading fighter for human rights in general, and specifically for the rights of African Americans.  His simple act of kneeling, rather than standing with hand on heart, during the playing of the Star Spangled Banner has inspired myriad acts of protest and solidarity from athletes at all levels, ranging from pre-teen youth to professional football and basketball players.

The practice of not worshipping the flag and related trappings of patriotism at sporting events has impacted the Pittsburgh area in a big way.  People are taking a stand for equality by taking the knee, and some of the heroes aren’t even athletes – they’re player supporters like parents, fans and cheerleaders.

The fans and cheerleaders of Cornell High School in Coraopolis haven’t had much to cheer about on the gridiron — the Raiders have yet to win a game – but on September 30th twelve out of fifteen Cornell cheerleaders took a knee during the playing of the national anthem.  The honor guard at that particular game happened to represent the local VFW post, and so the protest prompted tears, vitriol and stupid statements like “these kids don’t know what they’re doing.”

Don’t know what they’re doing? How about, protesting racism?

More ominously, Superintendent Aaron Thomas, his family and other administrators received hundreds of threatening phone calls as the Youtube video went viral and paragons of truth and reason like the website Blue Lives Matter spread the lie that Thomas had deliberately set the vets up.  To Thomas and the school board’s credit, the rights of the students to protest were respected, but because of the threats, attendance at the homecoming game two weeks later was restricted to parents of players.

The bold action of the cheerleaders, with the parents standing behind them, and the superintendent standing behind them, is representative of the pluck of this small community. The very existence of this year’s winless football team is a victory: it is the first team Cornell has fielded in five years.  The last team, from 2011, went 5-5 and made the WPIAL playoffs.  This year’s team has few players with any high school football experience – just a few who had suited up for Quaker Valley in previous seasons but none of them had gotten any playing time.

Cornell serves residents of Coraopolis and Neville Township, small working-class communities whose population has dwindled over the decades – Coraopolis has about 5,600 residents and Neville about 1,000 – so there aren’t a lot of kids in the district.  The percentage of African-Americans, in both Coraopolis and the school district, is rising.

The response of Thomas, the school board, coaching staff and parents is commendable. Rather than give in to those who would mischaracterize legitimate (and respectful) protest speech as something else, this small working-class community seems to be holding the line and supporting their youth.

Abide no evil

Last month, three players from Woodland Hills took a knee during the national anthem during a game at Bethel Park.  The all-black team was then subjected to racial taunts from the stands and from opposing players.  This was a game in the Parkway Youth Football League, whose players are 12-and-under.

The same three Wolverines had taken a knee earlier in the season, with no backlash from fans. When questioned then by their coach about the motive of their actions, they reasonably enough felt strongly about the spate of cop-on-black killings – especially the shooting of young Tamir Rice in Cleveland.  Coach Marcus Burkley Sr. decided to support their right to express their opinions.  He was proud of how his team kept its composure in Bethel Park, going on to win the game by a score of 20-6.  (See the Oct. 15 Post-Gazette.)

The president of the Bethel Park team promised an investigation and Woodland Hills officials were initially optimistic.  But it turned out to be a hear-no-evil investigation.  The Bethel Park Junior Football Board released a statement that said, “Not one individual we spoke with observed, witnessed or can corroborate Woodland Hills’ accusations of racial slurs or discrimination.”

But Woodland Hills supporters aren’t buying it and in a massive show of solidarity, dozens of fans of all ages – black and white – took a knee before the young Wolverines’ home game against Moon Township late last month.

A lot of divisive trash talk has congealed around the election and the response to the police shootings of people of color, attempting to portray our reality as black against white, native born versus immigrants, and scary blacks versus hard-pressed cops. But these local incidents point the way forward. White people can and do support the sanctity of black lives and our right to protest injustice.  In both cases, these are working-class communities where black and white live in close proximity to one another and go to school together.

And it is the young people who have forced the issue; thank goodness the adults responded.

 

— Jim Collins

Millionaire versus Billionaire: The Final Frontier?

This year’s presidential contest, now thankfully heading into the final stretch of campaigning, makes one wonder how much longer the American people will tolerate a political system of the rich, for the rich, and by the rich. No matter your political affiliation, ideology or beliefs, it’s likely that both major party candidates strike you as being mucho unsavory.

Of course Donald Trump is the worst. An unhinged egomaniac with few equals, Trump could be called a fraud if he didn’t actually believe his every boast.  Nevertheless, he’s not to be trusted.  Rather than serve as president of the United States, I would think it’s still not to late to either hospitalize him (involuntarily, of course) or incarcerate him for something along the order of business fraud or tax evasion.  Yes, he’s that crazy and that corrupt, and it speaks to our rigged socioeconomic and political systems that a man like him is allowed to get wealthy at the expense of others.

Many people call Trump a fascist and maybe he would become our dictator-for-life under the right circumstances. But he reminds me more of Silvio Berlusconi, the four-time prime minister of Italy who dominated Italian politics for most of the 1990s and the beginning of this century.  A billionaire who, like Trump, adores the limelight (albeit in a much raunchier fashion), Berlusconi flaunted his wealth while claiming to be a man of the people and his nation’s salvation: the name of his political party translates as “Go Italy” in English.

For years, numerous corruption charges failed to stick and Berlusconi became the longest-serving prime minister in post-war Italy.  Finally, the Eurozone crisis weakened him enough in 2011 to politically do him in for good – we hope.

That would be the best possible outcome of a Trump presidency: the man’s policies would surely bring about an economic and social crisis of mammoth proportions, leading to his ignominious downfall as well as (again, we hope) an end to the long-standing aforementioned setup of-for-and-by the rich.

As for Hillary Clinton, we all know she’ll lie at the drop of a hat. The email scandal demonstrates just what your parents told you about liars: after the first fib, they just keep telling more and more, even after they’ve been caught. We know just how venal she is, too, her profitable speechifying and the pay-to-play scandal being just two examples.  As for the business of scamming people, we’ve heard about Trump University but what about Laureate International Universities?

It seems that Bill Clinton was paid somewhere between $16 and $17 million to act as “honorary chancellor” of this for-profit chain of secondary schools from 2010 to 2015.

Suffice it to say that Laureate has a crushing debt load, still managed to generously contribute to the Clinton Foundation, disdains the trappings of ordinary universities (curriculum, syllabi, degrees, grades) and admitted to the Security and Exchange Commission that it has “weaknesses in our internal control over financial reporting.”

Trust Hillary (or anybody named Clinton)?  I don’t think so.

Ruling-class consensus

Perhaps the most worrisome aspect of this election is that the ruling class is lining up solidly behind one candidate – Hillary Clinton. With a majority of the country’s money- and power-brokers supporting her, which proverbial angel dancing on her shoulders and whispering in her ears, do you think Hillary Clinton is going to listen to: the one advocating debt relief for students, justice for the harassed and incarcerated, a fairer tax structure, etc.; or the advocate of the continuation of trickle-down lite?

And almost certainly, a Clinton II presidency would do nothing to change our government’s aggressive, neo-imperialist foreign policy.

Our senatorial race in Pennsylvania also epitomizes the current situation: millionaire GOP incumbent Pat Toomey is facing off against millionaire Democrat Katie McGinty.  McGinty wins by default over a man who would do away with the increasingly symbolic corporate income tax. However, both campaigns have been absolutely masterful at pointing out the upper-class shenanigans of the other.  Katie McGinty might have working-class roots, but her track record makes her promise to champion the “middle class” hard to believe.

It’s a sad situation. Whether you hold your nose when you go to the polls and vote for a Democrat, or cast a ballot for a third party candidate like the Green Party’s Jill Stein, you know the outcome is going to be less than optimal for those of us who want international peace, an end to institutional racism and sexism, progress toward economic equality, and real action on climate change. Therefore, when the election is over it will be good to remember and heed the words of Joe Hill:

“Don’t waste time mourning.  Organize.”

— James Collins

Good Cop, Bad

Cameron McLay is a good cop and wants to be a good chief of police for Pittsburgh.  Even as police nationwide continue to shoot people of color, particularly African Americans, as if it’s hunting season, in McLay’s two years as police chief, complaints against Pittsburgh police are way down and lawsuits against the city have dropped by 50 percent.  In these two years City of Pittsburgh police have also avoided the stark, racist shootings and beatings of black folk that have sparked outrage, protests and rebellions across the country.

That’s saying something for a department once cited by the Justice Department for using excessive force, making false arrests, carrying out improper searches and seizures, and failing to supervise and discipline rogue officers.

But the majority of rank-and-file officers have “no confidence” in their chief, as demonstrated by a recent poll taken by their union, the FOP. That poll is nonbinding and the last Pittsburgh chief to lose one ended up serving ten more years, but one shouldn’t count on such an outcome in today’s law-and-order America.  A spike in crime (visible crime against people and property, that is; not the white-collar kind), the rise of a charismatic politician adept at playing the law-and-order (or race) card, or any number of unforeseeable occurrences could turn McLay into a casualty of his good intentions.

McLay has staked his legacy as chief on community policing – repairing, building and maintaining relationships with the people of the communities that his force polices.  Coming to Pittsburgh from Madison, Wisconsin, he has been vocal in criticizing the old department’s ways and proactive in making changes.

There’s one thing McLay cannot change: the police protect some communities and police others.  There is never much tension between the police and the protected communities, but the second type of community often experiences the police as an occupying force.  McLay is trying to change how black communities are policed, but is he – or his boss, the mayor – even aware of the larger protected/policed dichotomy?

But just being nicer to oppressed communities is too much for many current cops. McLay alienated many of his troops after just two months on the job when, after a meeting with anti-racism activists, he posted this photo on his Twitter account:

mclay-image

McLay closed his account and took down the photograph, but didn’t apologize for the sentiments expressed by the sign he carried. As the months and years passed, his transgressions against the cops continued.  He fired bully Stephen Matakovich, famously caught on video beating a teenager outside Heinz Field; he made cops work security for the hated Beyonce’s concert; he wouldn’t let them wear riot gear at a Trump event earlier this year; and, the final straw, he appeared at the Democratic National Convention in uniform.

McLay’s speech didn’t endorse Hillary Clinton, but the FOP usually endorses Republican presidential candidates, as it did again this year.  And what McLay was endorsing is much worse than Hillary Clinton to many cops – the sanctity of black lives.  McLay appeared during a DNC program segment featuring “Mothers of the Movement” – people who had lost loved ones to police violence including the mothers of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Hadiya Pendleton, and Sandra Bland.

This willingness to co-exist with the Black Lives Matter movement was too much for Pittsburgh FOP president Robert Swartzwelder and his backers.  They began pushing for a “vote.”

Right now McLay continues to have the backing of Mayor Peduto, city council and, most crucially, the black community. He will need all that support and more to stay the course in the months to come.  Changing the way oppressed communities are policed won’t do away with the oppression, but we’ll take any break we can get.

Do the wrong thing

Stephen Mader of Weirton tried to be a good cop, but he was fired last spring for refusing to shoot suspect Ronald Williams Jr. of Pittsburgh.  In official City of Weirton-ese, Mader “failed to eliminate a threat.”  The “threat,” a young distraught African-American, was carrying an unloaded weapon.

Mader was a Marine Corp veteran and had been on the Weirton force for less than a year.  He took his use-of-force training from both institutions seriously and when he was confronted with a suspect who was, in Mader’s judgment, mentally unstable and trying to commit “suicide by cop,” Mader refused to shoot and used words to calm the suspect down.  Unfortunately, two of his colleagues arrived late on the scene, got Williams so agitated  that he began waving the gun, so one of the newcomers shot him dead.

Mader felt bad about the whole affair but didn’t blame his coworkers, who didn’t have as much information to work with. However, Mader’s superiors – the chief of police and the city manager – knew a bad apple when they saw one and fired Mader, who refused out of principal to resign as that would have been an admission of wrongdoing.

Maybe Stephen Mader would like to come to Pittsburgh to work for Cameron McLay.

— James Collins

Happy Labor Day

Labor Day greetings to all those who work, once worked, are looking for work, or would like to work one day. It is through your efforts that others have food, shelter, clothing, transportation, health care, products both necessary and superfluous, recreation and much more.  (Work goes a long way towards keeping you alive, too!) And on Labor Day, a special shout-out goes to members of North America’s labor unions.

The Labor Day holiday was first proposed and celebrated by trade unionists in the late 1800s. After the bloody Pullman Strike of 1894 – when the United States Army and Marshals Service killed striking workers – Congress voted unanimously to approve the federal holiday and President Grover Cleveland signed the legislation.  Neither Cleveland nor Congress were supporters of labor or the Pullman strikers, but they quickly rallied to mollify an angry public by supporting the creation of a national holiday.

So the creation of Labor Day was a bittersweet affair: organized labor and the working-class had become considerably restlessness and increasingly organized during the previous decade, continually battling employers and militias to improve their wages and conditions. In losing the railroad strike, labor won the grudging respect of the nation’s political leaders.

Sadly, organized labor today is almost as tiny a percentage of the workforce as it was 122 years ago, and it is nowhere near as class-conscious or militant. Still, there is much to celebrate on Labor Day 2016.  The union advantage for employees is well-known.  Although union workers now constitute only 11.1 percent of the workforce, the continued existence of unionized workplaces keeps wages, salaries and benefits from plummeting even lower, which is what employers and the capitalists would like to see.

In Pennsylvania, there were some 800,000 workers represented by unions in 2015, 14.4 percent of the workforce and up from 13.7 percent the year before. Only three states have more union members than Pennsylvania.

Criticisms of labor abound from the left and the right; we (and, we assume, many of our readers) would heartily join in the criticisms and debates raging on the left flank – but not today. Today we celebrate the women and men of labor, whose tenacious existence provide us with hope for better days – days of fairness on the job, economic justice and sanity.

In the days and years to come, organized labor – and entire working class, here in the United States and all over the world – will continue to confront a powerful capitalist class bent on continually restructuring the economy to increase profits, coopting labor and other potential opponents, and (always) deploying just the right amount of repression to keep things running smoothly.

We stand with all members of the working class, and their principled leaders, as we gird ourselves for the struggles to come.

— James Collins

 

No Peace, No Coffee at Zeke’s

I love my neighborhood. I have lived and worked in East Liberty for 15 years. When I bought my home,  Home Depot had already moved in. There were plans for the Whole Foods. I knew that some amount of gentrification would follow (you can argue that I contributed to it by moving in) but I had no idea just how much.

I was happy to move into a diverse neighborhood. Happier still when my neighborhood association lobbied to sell three properties on my street to Sojourner House as permanent housing for women in recovery with children.  Then I watched as things began to change. I watched as some of the businesses I loved began to close — Abay, then Shadow Lounge for example — to make way for more upscale (whiter) venues that were willing and able to pay the increasing rents.

Having worked in the business district for years, I love walking down Penn Ave — I know all the regulars on the street. It’s the small town feeling that I have grown to love so much about Pittsburgh over the years. I had to confront my own privilege recently when I realized that there was a sign posted outside my beloved local coffee shop.

I am embarrassed to admit that it had been there for about a month before I took notice, so I was obviously not the intended recipient of its message.

I started frequenting the coffee shop when it was in its original location on the other side of Penn Avenue than where it is now. When they were forced out of their location due to the property being acquired for more development, I empathized with their plight.

I donated as part of their fundraising efforts to stay alive and move to their current location across the street. I wanted to support a local business and not the Starbucks in the whitewashed “Eastside.”  I noticed the movie theater style barriers go up after they decided to put tables out on the sidewalks (for customers only). But it took me a while to see the sign:

                      image (1)

But when I did, I could not ignore it. Now? In this climate? When the police shooting and killing of black people is in the news regularly? When corporations and white-owned establishments are encroaching on a traditionally vibrant and proud black community? To sell coffee to white people in peace lest they be disturbed by the “local color?”

The coffee shop has been here. They knew what the neighborhood was. I cannot even begin to imagine what their expectations could have been to have resorted to this type of action.

The level of insensitivity to the issues of race and gentrification currently facing this neighborhood astounded me. I can’t help but believe that there is a better way. Hostility and aggression only beget the same in return, in my opinion. Rather than attempting an amicable and peaceful co-existence, this type of public display contributed to alienation and divisiveness. In trying to gain customers, they lost me.

I think that I reacted as strongly as I did because they were who they were: the underdogs, struggling to stay afloat in a progressively more expensive neighborhood.

After I let them know how I felt about the issue, one of the owners contacted me. He wanted to meet and talk. So we met. It was me, him and the manager of the cafe. He thanked me for coming in to talk. We sat outside at the tables for customers only. I asked what led to the placement of the sign. They described episodes of intoxicated people intimidating the female staff people, who said they were in favor of the sign.

Then I asked if it helped. They said “immensely.”

But that did not end the conversation. We kept talking. I explained my position. We brainstormed together and, as we sat out on the sidewalk on a busy Friday evening, I watched them interact with all the regulars, just like I do. In preparation for First Friday the atmosphere was festive and interactions were friendly and fun.

I asked if they would try a different kind of sign. One that conveys their intent, that they want their customers to have seating available without being hostile and threatening. In the end they agreed that they will try. They plan to now change the sign and see how that goes. I went in and bought a pound of coffee before I left.

And now?

I trusted that they had heard me and I believed them when they said that they would make a change. That was more than two weeks ago. I know that they are busy, as we all are, but I am hopeful that they have not simply forgotten or pushed it aside.

My optimism and faith in humanity drive both my belief that a new, less provocative and potentially dangerous sign would still yield the desired results and that the coffee shop owner and management will be true to their word.

I will not give up. If the sign remains I will continue to pursue the issue. I hope that others will notice as well and join me. But in the end, my hope is that I will be able to follow up with a photo of a new, improved sign and a report of positive effects.

Kim Kir