Local housing activists teamed with a new media organization July 12th to publicize Miami's affordable housing crisis. Miami was the second stop for a five month, five city tour, “Live from Main Street,” which began in Minneapolis June 8th, and makes its next stop in Denver August 24th, just before the Democratic National Convention. The forums are produced by The Media Consortium, a coalition of 45 liberal-leaning media organizations and prominent blogs including Air America Radio, Salon.com, Alternet, The Nation and Mother Jones magazines and LinkTV, and televised on Dish Networks' Free Speech TV, LinkTV, and on the website livefrommainstreet.com. They're designed to highlight issues facing ordinary Americans that producers say often don't get in-depth coverage in the mainstream press.
“The idea is to bring the focus of what's happening in the election season at sort of a heady level, back [down] to talk about what's happening on the ground,” said Tracy van Slyke, the Media Consortium's 29-year-old director. Van Slyke said the Denver forum would address Democratic Party reforms, immigration, the environment and privatization, while future town halls in Columbus, Ohio and Seattle, Washington would focus on voting rights and national security, respectively.
“Live from Main Street” is hosted by Laura Flanders, of the syndicated radio program of The Nation magazine, “GRITtv” a daily news and discussion program on Free Speech TV and the popular liberal blog Firedoglake.com. In Miami, Flanders was joined onstage by Cheryl Mizell, public affairs director of WEDR 99 JAMZ and host of that station's weekly public affairs talk show “Community Voices.”
“The goal is to develop new ways for mainstream media to reflect grassroots issues,” Flanders told the more than 200 people who attended the event at the historic Lyric Theater in Overtown. “We've had five months of this [presidential] campaign, [and in that time] we've had a quarter million people foreclosed on last month. I'm not feeling the love.”
Panelists including Miami Workers Center Executive Director Gihan Perera, who co-founded the grassroots alliance Right to the City; and Max Rameau, director of Take Back the Land, blamed local governments' coziness with developers for the lack of housing attainable to very low income Miamians.
“In Miami, we're really the canary in the coal mine,” Perera said. “We're at the center of the storm in terms of the economy, how race dynamics are playing out, and what's happening in the environment.” Perera and other panelists criticized what they called the lack of focus by political leaders on top-to-bottom economic development.
“The promise of jobs is just a promise,” he said. “The kind of jobs and how much those jobs pay here has really been a broken promise.” As a result, “workers cannot afford housing and wind up getting pushed out when the high rises go up.”
Other panelists like Carolina Delgado of South Florida Jobs with Justice and Francisca Cortes, who organizes farm workers in Immokalee, Florida, exhorted policy makers to focus on issues like immigration reform, fair wages, job opportunities for those least able to afford decent housing and free trade pacts which they said hurt workers in the U.S. and Latin America.
Some panelists courted controversy.
“I don't think it's fair for people to own pieces of land that are vacant while people are homeless,” said panelist Max Rameau of Take Back the Land, which erected a shanty town called Umoja Village in the Liberty City area in 2007. “The same conditions that made seizing land appropriate then exist now.” Rameau said his group has taken over foreclosed homes, changed the locks and given them to homeless families, “without permits and without permission.”
The forum did offer some counterpoint. Darin Woods, a sales manager at Countrywide Mortgage, took heated questions from the audience and from fellow panelists. And while he acknowledged some of the excesses of the mortgage industry in recent years, he blamed the housing crisis mainly on the economy. “Miami-Dade County has more affordable housing programs than practically any other county in the country,” Woods said. “We need to know what's available to us and take advantage of it.”
Photo by Khary Bruyning. Cheryl Mizell