For some of us, every month is Black History Month. At TransForm, we’re reflecting on how Black Americans (Black women in particular) and the struggle for equal opportunity have strengthened our democracy and helped bring our country closer to living up to our highest values.
I consider anti-racist policy work to be a patriotic endeavor. Centering equity for Black folks and others who’ve been harmed by white power and patriarchy is how we’ll keep forming a more perfect union that benefits everyone. That’s also how I see TransForm’s work to make public institutions and policy work for the people they have hurt or excluded — it’s a patriotic calling.
And make no mistake, anti-government sentiment and anti-Black racism overlap and intersect. The January 6 attack on the capitol was an attack on the power and legitimacy of Black voters. Look at #6 on this Vox explainer, which shows how anti-democratic sentiments track with “ethnic antagonism.”
To build well-being and opportunity for Black folks, we need to support local governments and fund public services that can redress the immense damage that generations of racist policies have done — not just to Black people and communities, but to many other people in the process. (For more on that, check out the new book by Heather McGhee, The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together.)
Take transportation funding, where bus ridership is associated with Black and brown and poor communities, so it is woefully underfunded. Highways get the lion’s share, but world-class bus networks would benefit everyone. Or take affordable housing, where decades of NIMBYism and racist, exclusionary zoning policies blocked housing production and made single-family zoning the norm in most places. Now the lack of housing affordability negatively impacts us all.
Luckily, anti-racist policy work is underway, and there are plenty of examples to lift up of local governments working well. Here are just a few that are inspiring us lately.
- The Berkeley City Council, led by Black and LGBT councilmembers, unanimously voted last week to end exclusionary zoning by 2022. That was just a few weeks after they eliminated parking minimums, instituted parking maximums, and made other parking and TDM policy improvements to facilitate more housing production.
- SFMTA’s Geary Rapid Project is on time and on budget, and will soon make one of San Francisco’s busiest corridors safer for everyone and much faster for transit. See a summary of their 2020 progress. Last year, AC Transit’s BRT service opened in the East Bay and did the same thing for International Boulevard in the East Bay.
- The Central Valley segment of High Speed Rail is well on its way, with the first 119 miles already in construction at 35 job sites. The project is currently providing over 5,200 labor jobs in the Central Valley, and the Selma Workforce Development Center has already graduated its first cohort of students. A trip on this zero-emission transportation system, running on renewable energy between Merced and Bakersfield, is only an hour. That’s 90 minutes better than a car trip and two hours faster than the old Amtrak diesel trains.
- It’s amazing to have the US Department of Transportation being led by Secretary Buttigieg with equity as a top priority. It’s up to all of us to make sure he can follow through, and to finally win an infrastructure package that puts transit and climate action first.
Justice is not a zero-sum game, it’s a tide that can lift all boats. When we create real opportunity for people who’ve been left out in the past, we’ll create a new growth machine that can get us out of this pandemic downturn and build an economy that works better for everyone — and for the planet.