Ford, a New Jersey native, came to Hartford a few weeks back for a critical race-based examination of the stadium plan. Sadly, I missed his talk on July 17, 2014 at the Urban Hope Refuge Church on 136 Westland Street in Hartford, but the indefatigable Stan Heller put it up on the interwebs for all to see.
Two weeks later, I am writing this story because Ford’s words have not made their way into Hartford’s print media When Segarra says this stadium a private development, Ford says it is a bait and switch.
“It is a trick of language he is trying to play,” Ford said. “If you allow this stadium with the same economic intentions, the people will pay the price, the cost and much more. They’ll be paying for decades, if not by financing bonds, they’ll be paying with tax and land giveaways.
The proposed purchase of the 2.08 acres from Rensellear Graduate Institute for $1.8 million dollars is a step in this direction. Segarra is trying to create a whole neighborhood, Ford said.
“It’s about drawing in people who at the present don’t want to come to Hartford,” Ford said. “They don’t want to come to Hartford because you are here. And when I say you, I mean those who are black and brown especially.” This is true. I cannot tell you how many white people I know confide in me their fear of Hartford, only to be surprised when I say I live there.
The stadium and the redevelopment of Downtown North are designed to purge the present population from Hartford, Ford said.
“Ethnic cleansing is not simply a byproduct of the capitalist version of urban economic development,” he said. “It is not something that we would call unintended consequences. It is the ultimate goal and intention of these projects.”
Segarra talks the language of redevelopment. When announcing the withdrawal of the $60 million bond plan, the Mayor said:
“Our goal has always been the successful redevelopment of the entire Downtown North area. What was needed was a spark, a catalyst to drive further interest and development, and we believed the ballpark would be that spark.”
Development in and of itself is a useful term, Ford said. “It is like a mantra. Child development is a good thing. Nobody wants to be called underdeveloped. Nobody wants to be referred to as living in an underdeveloped country,” he said.
Yet when the monied interests use the term development, Ford said they employ it as a weapon of economic and class warfare. “Economic development is the battle cry of the bankers. This is what they holler as they come in to slay you.
“They see it as a war. They are serious about the lethality. For them, you are the enemy and they are going to make you pay for your own disenfranchisement, for your own marginalization and finally you are going to pay for your own expulsion from this city. And it will always be for what they call development.”
Ford solemnly pronounced that activists have to live by this axiom:
“No project can be called development that does not provide lasting benefits to the current, existing population of a city. We are not talking about new populations. We are talking about people who currently reside in the city. If a project does not serve the lasting interests of the people who live in the city right now, it is not economic development. It is in fact part of a blue print for expulsion of people,” he said.
In the 50s and 60s, development was called negro removal. Ford said this concept began before black people started calling themselves black.
“Urban renewal was designed to keep black people away from center cities,” Ford said. “Highways tended to box people in, and keep them from moving to the other side.”
To anyone who has stood at the North Downtown site proposed for the stadium and studied the architecture to the south, Ford makes sense. The stilts building looks like a medieval fortress, warning away miscreants. The highway and its on and off ramps scare the daylights out of pedestrians.
The white people come in to Hartford, and leave Hartford by these same highways. This white flight is a predictable part of racist American society.
In general, he said “White people are predictable in their movements and the choices that they make. Certainly white people’s behavior has a dramatic effect on the value of property. Race has tremendous effects on white American behaviopr. Racism pervades the decision making process of white consumers of both both private goods and public goods.
“White does not just convey privilege, it conveys value. The added value of whiteness is embedded in things that are bought and sold in us society. So many people want to talk about racism as prejudice, they don’t like me cause im that, racism is so embedded in American society, it is embedded in the transactions we make.
Including investment and disinvestment. Race is part of the furniture, he said. What do we say about a country whose first president was not just its wealthiest man, but a slaveholder with 316 slaves at the time of his death?
General Washington authorized his field overseers to whip his slaves, who worked from sun up to sundown without pay. Recently, historians have begun to see Washington’s war for independence more as a war to preserve the institution of slavery.
Historians like Gerald Horne in his 2014 book The Counter-Revolution of 1776 argue that prior to July 4, 1776, the abolition of slavery in Britain was expected. Great Britain abolished the slave trade in 1807, and slavery itself on August 1, 1833, three decades before America did.
Horne concluded the American war of independence was not the heroic, mythical event for all of human liberty, but it was actually fought to save the slave trade.
It is no wonder, then, that our country has turned out this way. So fight the stadium we must.