A Better Way than a Six Lane Highway


The Brooklyn-Queens Expressway as seen from the Brooklyn Heights Promenade above. The Brooklyn Bridge is partially visible in the background.

A friend of mine who lives in New York recently took a walk on the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, which is threatened under the status quo by City plans to rehabilitate the expressway below it. The Promenade is a lovely pedestrian park that sits directly above a section of the Brooklyn Queens Expressway (The BQE), thanks to a unique “triple cantilever” whose lower two cantilevered structures carry six lanes of expressway traffic, plus two lanes on the surface-level local street below. Rather than rehabilitate the existing BQE, activists in New York should demand its full removal, and with it, the pedestrianization of the Brooklyn Bridge. The unique collection of political actors affected by these plans give socialists a unique opportunity to put together a broad coalition to address traffic congestion, build new social housing, and create the best park since the High Line. Below is the sewer socialist counter-proposal: the Brooklyn Bridge to Promenade Proposal, with a map at the link.

The BQE is in the news because the New York City Department of Transportation (DOT) recently announced that its plans to rehabilitate the structure involve closing the Promenade and replacing it with a six-lane highway for at least six years. The triple cantilever is overdue for rehabilitation. There is no reason to doubt the civil engineers who have outlined the need for repairs. However, from the point of view of politics and policy, New York’s leadership has assumed that the rehabilitation must preserve all six lanes of expressway traffic throughout the duration of the project. Accordingly, DOT has come up with a complicated plan that will allow them to permit traffic to flow freely by replicating the functions of the expressway at the expense of the Promenade, rehabilitate the structure itself, and then (in theory) restore the Promenade to its former glory. In practice, cost and schedule overruns in American infrastructure (especially in New York) being what they are, it is entirely possible that the “temporary” expressway will simply become permanent.

Why should socialists care?
In the poorer and less powerful neighborhoods in the city (the ones that Moses simply bulldozed rather than accommodating with his prowess for park building), the City would simply be able to force the technocratic outcome. Brooklyn Heights, however, is a wealthy and well-connected place. The Promenade was a dream of the Brooklynite middle class for over a century before it was constructed for Robert Moses as part of the BQE’s original build-out. Unlike other neighborhoods that were destroyed to make way for Moses’ expressways, the Master Builder had to accommodate Brooklyn Heights when the neighborhood lobbied against his original plan to destroy it, resulting in the original construction of the Promenade. It’s fair to ask why socialists should make common cause with wealthy and privileged communities that, if the history of urban space is any indication, are capable of taking care of their own interests. After all, there are many urban highways through poor neighborhoods that don’t have promenades on them. Why should Brooklyn Heights get special treatment? Why should the socialist movement intervene to save a rich neighborhood’s park?

There are a number of reasons: because decommissioning highways will cut carbon emissions regardless of whether those highways are sited in rich or poor neighborhoods, because the promenade is a public space that anyone can enjoy regardless of wealth, and because left a local issue, the most likely outcome is an alternative that preserves the Promenade but rebuilds the same carbon-spewing roadway below, probably at greater expense. From a pure realpolitik perspective, decommissioning the BQE is a climate campaign that socialists can jump onto and have a decent chance at victory, because a coalition that includes the relatively well-connected Brooklyn Heights upper middle class has a good chance at beating City Hall. The task for socialists is to convince them that they must not only save the Promenade but decommission the expressway below (a source of pollution and noise), while bringing on board more socially diverse coalition partners. They would do this by expanding the scope of the local protest to encompass a broader agenda that would benefit the great majority of the city, addressing an icon as universally beloved and shared as Brooklyn Bridge. In addition, poorer, less connected neighborhoods would be able to point to the BQE decommissioning when their own expressways come due for replacement. The beginnings of well-connected resistance are on display already, as, according to my friend, windows are dotted with signs that say “We need a better way than a six-lane highway.”  For all that urbanists like to complain of “NIMBYs” blocking light rail, bike lanes, new housing, and various other urban dreams, we forget that they have their roots in good old-fashioned freeway revolts.

Accordingly, a series of proposals have been put forth as an alternative to the City’s plans. The Brooklyn Heights Association proposes a six-lane temporary structure outside the Promenade. The Regional Plan Association proposes a four-lane rather than six-lane replacement. The City Comptroller proposes a partial rehabilitation that would create a two-lane road for trucks only, probably the best of the mainstream proposals considering the freight needs. The most aesthetically exciting proposal is from architecture firm Bjarke Ingels Group, which understands the value of knitting together the Promenade to the new parklands being built by the city below. A similar proposal called the “Tri-Line” proposes to do the same thing, with preservation of the triple cantilever as a pedestrian space. However, both propose a new boondoggle in their place: a buried highway, almost certainly making these options more expensive. The City should carry out a version of these proposals (the Tri-Line or the Bjarke Ingels “Option A”),  minus the buried highway. The only through route should be the existing two-lane Furman Street, and as little traffic as possible should use it.

Independent researcher Alon Levy goes a step farther, saying what the institutional powers of New York cannot: that the whole thing should be torn down from the Battery Tunnel to the Williamsburg Bridge. Despite being wrong in some details (and, in a stark example of urbanist hyperbole, making a bizarre comparison to lynching and colonialism), he’s right. The portion from Atlantic Ave to Sands St, along with the additional work at the Brooklyn Bridge and elsewhere that would be necessary to make its decommissioning successful are the focus of the Bridge to Promenade Proposal.

Brooklyn Bridge to Promenade
Decommissioning the BQE triple cantilever would allow the City to build a continuous stretch of parkland for pedestrians and cyclists all the way from the southern tip of the Brooklyn Heights Promenade to City Hall via a pedestrianized Brooklyn Bridge. Decommissioning solves the basic problem of infrastructure rehabilitation. With no need to phase construction with partial lane closures or build temporary routes, it will be easier, faster, and cheaper to rehabilitate the triple cantilever, freeing up the money for other needs. There are three issues that need to be addressed with this approach, however: the problem of car traffic, the problem of freight traffic, and the problem of bus traffic (due to the redirected car and freight traffic). All three can be addressed, but not without changing the political status quo. Fortunately, there are three opportunities that arise from using this approach, that can each bring in a member of the broader coalition: more parkland, more bicycle and pedestrian connections, and more housing.

The Problem of Car Traffic
Reducing car traffic in favor of pedestrian, wheelchair, bicycle, and transit modal share should be a goal of public policy, for the sake of cutting climate emissions if nothing else. Fortunately, teardowns of urban highways actually reduce traffic, as New York learned when the West Side Highway collapsed (and was never replaced) and Seattle recently learned when “Viadoom” never happened during the temporary decommissioning of the Alaskan Way Viaduct. On balance, traffic reduces by about half, with the other half redirected to surface streets. In other words, decommissioning the BQE does half of the job in and of itself. With the entire BQE decommissioned between two major crossings into Manhattan, a large share of regional traffic would simply avoid downtown Brooklyn. To further cut down on car traffic that currently uses the BQE, two more measures would be required: closing the Brooklyn Bridge to cars, and extending the newly minted Central Business District (CBD) Congestion Zone to Downtown Brooklyn. Without the Brooklyn Bridge, another source of car traffic to the BQE is eliminated, and congestion pricing on the Manhattan side will likely cut down on the impact of the Brooklyn Bridge closure to traffic on surface streets. It follows to do the same thing on the Brooklyn side, extending the congestion zone into Downtown Brooklyn. The new zone would be bordered by a major vehicular street on all four sides to allow a free bypass: Sands to the North, Atlantic to the South, Flatbush to the East, and Boerum to the West. The CBD toll would be applied to the Manhattan Bridge in both directions to prevent “bridge shopping,” but anyone driving from within Brooklyn who stays on those four streets would not be tolled. With the elimination of the temporary highway on the Promenade, and everything outside the cantilever reduced to demolition, the Bridge to Promenade proposal would save highway transportation funding relative to current plans, while increasing congestion pricing revenue. Including this in the proposal would likely win the support of many of the members of the coalition that supported congestion pricing, fresh off a historic victory.

The Problem of Freight Traffic
With such walkable neighborhoods and so many public transit options, it is makes sense to ask motorists to pay their fair share. Trucks, however, are harder to redirect, especially for an archipelago city that lacks a rail connection to its own port, an issue that should be separately addressed with the construction of the Cross-Harbor Freight Tunnel. The section of the BQE proposed for demolition is the main north-south through route for trucks. Though regional north-south traffic should stay in New Jersey and only cross at the George Washington or Tappan Zee Bridge, there is still a need for a secondary through route within Brooklyn. At Atlantic Ave, the expressway structure would be replaced by an intersection, and trucks would be required to turn right and head east. A few blocks later, they would turn left onto the new north-south route: Boerum Place, the western boundary of the congestion zone, and then Sands, the northern boundary. From Sands to Park, the existing BQE would be torn down and the new truck route configured as an arterial road. As Levy proposes, the sections on either side of the decommissioned Brooklyn Heights and Downtown Brooklyn sections of the BQE would be directly replaced with surface avenues. Though not the first choice of shippers compared to an expressway, ensuring a modern surface through route might allay their concerns. This would mean that the project would retain freight transportation funding sources and, ideally, ensure some measure of support from commercial interests.

The Problem of Bus Traffic
Boerum Place is currently used by buses as the southbound portion of a loop at which several services terminate. Buses coming from the bus mall on Fulton Street and points south discharge passengers near the Borough Hall, lay up on Cadman Place West, turn onto Tillary St, and then begin their new runs southbound on Boerum. With Boerum repurposed as a truck-priority arterial, the eastern portion of the bus loop (as well as the bike lanes) would be moved one block east, to Jay Street, which would be closed to cars entirely. Jay St would retain its protected bicycle lanes and turn its travel lanes into into an extension of the Fulton Bus Mall. The protected bike lanes would continue south as Jay St becomes Smith St, which would be converted to a bidirectional street at least as far as Atlantic, at the entrance of the congestion zone. Buses that currently use Boerum to approach Borough Hall from the south would use Smith instead, and either turn left into the bus loop or continue north on Jay. The portions of the bus loop made up by Cadman Plaza West and Tillary St would still be open to car traffic, but on-street parking would be removed and replaced with bus lanes, protected bike lanes, and a bus terminal with opportunity chargers for electric buses. If possible during this conversion of Boerum into a truck route, the work would be combined with a major transit expansion: the street would be torn up using cut-and-cover to build a new connection between the Borough Hall and Jay Street Subway stations, as well as a station cavern below for a Regional Rail station on the LIRR Atlantic Branch (which already has a disused tunnel under Atlantic). The station cavern would be used to stage the tunnel boring machines which would drill under the river into Lower Manhattan’s WTC/Fulton complex under Pineapple St or another candidate for an under-river tunneling approach. Even if only the bus improvements take place, they could bring in public transportation funding sources to the project and win the support of transit advocates.

The Opportunity of Park Development
The proximate reason to decommission the BQE is to save the Promenade, but the opportunity is to better connect it to the Brooklyn Bridge Park below. Only one vertical circulation connection exists now, a pedestrian bridge about a block north of the Promenade. Repairing and pedestrianizing the cantilever would more than triple the size of the Promenade, creating a High Line for Brooklyn. Simple pedestrian bridges over Furman Street would connect the to the parks below. In order to preserve maintenance access to the repaired cantilever, the City would not build any new structures on or under it, but would equip the lower levels of the Promenade for street vendors and other programming. Park expansion is what can make the proposal decisive politically. It would bring in parks funding sources and, as Robert Moses himself said, “when you’re on the side of parks, you’re on the side of the angels,” and so could win the support of everyone who likes parks. In addition, more space is freed up with the decommissioning of the BQE, because a large berm sits behind Pier 3 whose purpose seems to be to block the park from noise. One possible use for the land would be as a hotel, as the Brooklyn Bridge Park is technically zoned for manufacturing and already has a hotel on it. This would bring in economic development funding sources to the project. The City would contract with a union hotel chain to operate the hotel, receiving income from their ownership of the land and providing an aggressively marketed alternative to illegal AirBNB hotels. This might win support of the Hotel Trades Council.

The Opportunity of Bicycle and Pedestrian Connections
The pedestrianization of the Brooklyn Bridge is proposed here as a necessary step to reduce traffic in response to the BQE’s decommissioning, but it is also an opportunity to improve bicycle and pedestrian connections. The Brooklyn Bridge has six lanes: three on the southern span and three on the northern span. In addition, it has a pedestrian path, half of which is, in theory, reserved for bicycles. In practice, there are too many pedestrians to make this a usable bicycle route at all times of day, and the pedestrian areas would be crowded in and of themselves even if they had the full path. Under the Bridge to Promenade proposal, the southern span would be repurposed for the exclusive use of bicycles and pedestrians (closing the existing pedestrian path to bicycles). The northern span would be reconfigured for use by emergency vehicles only, as a two-lane road with shoulders. This would require reconfiguring one exit ramp each direction on the northern half (because its direction would change) but these ramps would not need to accept high traffic volumes. They should still be designed not to preclude use by buses or light rail, in case those services are added to the Brooklyn Bridge. The southern span would become bicycle and pedestrian-only, with the vehicular ramps repurposed as bicycle and pedestrian approaches, connected to protected bike lanes and crosswalks on the surface streets on either side. With the Brooklyn Bridge pedestrianized, vertical circulation between the two levels would be added at both towers, with an additional elevator and stairs added to the eastern tower, giving direct access from the bridge to the park that bears its name – and even designate the pedestrian path as a linear park for branding purposes, meaning that Brooklyn Bridge Park would stretch all the way from City Hall to the expanded Brooklyn Heights Promenade. The bicycle and pedestrian improvements would bring in streets funding sources and win the support of safe streets advocates.

The Opportunity of Mixed-Use Social Housing
Even with the expanded parkland, there would be a great deal of space created for development, including approximately ten city blocks’ worth of land in Brooklyn and Lower Manhattan, thanks to the demolition of the BQE in Brooklyn and unneeded exit ramps leading from the bridge to the FDR in Manhattan. More may be available with the conversion of other sections of the BQE into avenues: Hicks Ave, Park Ave, and Williamsburg Ave. Considering that they are replacing expressways, mid- or even high-rise development would not be an eyesore, and the land is already owned by the City. Rather than give city land away to private interests, socialists would use their position in the coalition to fight for city-developed mixed-use districts with retail, light manufacturing, and especially social housing. As proposed by People’s Policy Project in Social Housing in the United States, social housing is publicly-developed housing built to serve a mix of incomes, with market-rate apartments to help cover the costs of construction and maintenance, but also produce a share of deeply affordable units. Though ideally receiving federal funding under a new Green New Deal housing bill, the City could finance construction through bonds backed by the rents of the market-rate units and the retail parcels on the ground floor. Because some of these parcels are technically zoned for parkland, the new buildings would have rooftop parks that would be directly accessible to the public through elevators connecting to the rest of the parkland (while residents would have their own lobby entrance and residents-only balconies and terraces). Public housing residents elsewhere in the community board district would have the right of first refusal to the new apartments, permitting the gut rehabilitation of any public apartments in need of repair, and saving money for the embattled New York City Housing Authority as it addresses its massive capital backlog. This would bring in housing funding sources and allow the proposal to win the support of tenant activists, housing advocates, and some development interests such as the building trades, as well as everyone who pays too much rent.

Take Back the City
These are very much first-draft proposals, especially considering that planners and engineers would have to weigh in on the feasibility and implications of each of them. While it expands the scope of the BQE project, it does so alongside the money saved from decommissioning, and does so to take advantage of the likely effects of the teardown, while  proposing new funding sources and political interests that might support the additional scope. Despite the fact that it would involve working with interest groups under capitalism – the upper middle class of Brooklyn Heights, the development interests that want new buildings and new property-value boosting parkland with them, and the private contractors who would build it all – it is a socialist proposal. Acknowledging the engineering constraints and the existing balance of interests in the city is what makes it a sewer socialist proposal – the epithet originated as a criticism of Miwaukee’s Socialists by the more revolutionary wing of party. It is still a socialist proposal because unlike the capitalist status quo of balancing the exchange values of various property owners against one another, it subordinates each of those special interests to a social vision of the public interest. That public interest is defined in terms of use values for the great majority of ordinary people who lack connections to political and bureaucratic insiders. They don’t control the city, but they live in it, work in it, and use it, and they deserve a city that works for them. The people of Brooklyn Heights have a right to keep their Promenade, just as the residents of the Gowanus and Farragut Homes have a right to decent, affordable social housing. Pedestrians have a right to public recreational amenities, just as truck drivers and e-bike delivery workers have a right to safe and well-designed routes through those same areas to do their jobs. Everyone has a right to mobility, but because cars are the dirtiest, most dangerous, most socially exclusive, and most inefficient way to achieve that mobility, motorists must be secondary in plans to allocate city space, and must pay their fair share.

The people of Brooklyn Heights are demanding a better way than a six lane highway. Socialists in New York should use that demand to make it happen.


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The Economist Wants Socialist Taxes

In the fourth explainer this week, the Economist continues its steady transformation into a socialist magazine. Today, taxes:

MARKETS are supposed to generate a magical state, where nobody could do better without somebody else doing worse. Awkwardly, they often fail. The reason is that those directly involved in a transaction are not the only ones affected by it. A drive into the centre of town, for example, creates congestion for everyone else; a company dumping waste into a river poisons the downstream drinking water; carbon emissions warm everyone’s planet. Economists have a special name for these extra costs: they are “externalities”. Unfettered market prices do not take them into account.

The much-lauded market dumps hidden costs on the people. Nothing new to socialists. So, the Economist, after Arthur Pigou, proposes taxes:

Pigouvian taxes are now central to well-meaning governments’ toolkits. A tax placed on plastic bags in Ireland in 2002 cut their use by more than 90%. Three years after the British government introduced a charge on driving in central London in 2003, congestion had fallen by a quarter. Carbon taxes are currently applied in Finland, Denmark, Chile and Mexico. By using prices as signals, a tax should encourage people and companies to lower their carbon emissions more efficiently than a regulator could by diktat.

The Economist does hedge here, new as it is to socialism. That they see Pigouvian taxes as a superior alternative to regulation, while most socialists would consider both depending on circumstances. But the only thing keeping the Economist from renaming itself the Tax Collector is that they see externality taxes as a technocratic lever for a rational state bureaucracy to pull. They fail to imagine, as socialists do, that such policies have their most potential as a tool the people can wield to build a more just and fair society – after, and not before, they who would be free themselves have struck the blow.

The idea of externalities is elegant in theory. But responding to them involves the real world, which is harder.

The Economist hurls a chair onto the barricade, sweating in the shadow of their young nation’s tricolor waving above the morning fog. The hereditary tyrant’s regulars advance on them through the narrow streets of the capital. The Economist hands their last letter to an urchin, promising a silver coin if the boy delivers their last words to their pregnant widow. “I pray this letter finds you, my love,” it reads. “In this springtime of peoples born in the blood of our sacrifice, the community of nations will rise.”

The regulars loose thunder and advance with bayonets fixed. Struck by a musket ball, the Economist staggers off the barricade, their blood running in rivers between the filthy cobblestones. In their last moments, the Economist mouths the final words of their testament. “The ancient tyrants will fall,” the Economist gasps, as agony gives way to oblivion, “and the triumphant Republic will levy user fees whose marginal effect on individual behavior will trend towards Pareto optimum in the aggregate.”


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The Economist Defends Socialist Economic Planning

In today’s explainer, The Economist embraces more socialism. This one is pretty straightforward. It’s Jean-Baptiste Say’s theory that supply creates demand:

Say and his intellectual allies pointed out that people would not go to all the trouble of producing a good or service, unless they intended to obtain something of equal value in return. So each addition to supply is accompanied by an intended addition to demand. Moreover, the act of production creates an additional item of value for which other things can be exchanged. In this way, production creates a fresh “outlet” for existing products (and 17 times as much production creates 17 times as many outlets).

In Milwaukee, the (original) sewer socialists built or brought under public control utilities, parks, housing, and the sanitation system. Rather than crowding out private business, Milwaukee thrived. During the New Deal, an active government managed demand in the public interest – and built a staggering array of public projects Americans still use today. They stop just short of the realization that this is true of many social organizations, not simply national governments, but municipalities, cooperatives, labor unions, and land trusts:

…over the long run Say’s law is largely true. And by increasing the supply of money to meet any excess demand for it, modern central banks can try to make it true in the short run too.

The only thing keeping the Economist from renaming itself the Social Economics Administration is their failure to imagine – as socialists do – demand management being carried out by anyone other than technocratic central bankers who serve the interests of private capital.

The Economist looks directly into the reptile eyes of senseless human misery, which stare back, pitiless, as the beast bears its yellow fangs. The Economist does not flinch, secure in the knowledge of the great truth that can slay the ancient foe: that no human being must go hungry in a land of plenty. Slow but resolute, the  Economist draws a sword on whose blade are carved the words  – the central bank ought to hold the interbank interest rate steady even after concluding the latest round of quantitative easing – just before it is devoured whole by the unsated maw.


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The Economist Embraces Socialist Humanism

In the second in a series of explainers in which the Economist (almost) embraces socialism, the newspaper turns to the great humanist question of the soul of man under socialism. They begin by describing Gary Becker’s theory of human capital:

Companies talk of investing in factories, governments in infrastructure, and people in houses. But there is a softer, less tangible focus of investment that, in many cases, is more important: knowledge and skills. Companies try to cultivate these in their workforces, governments in their populations, and people in themselves.

The means of production are not simply the roads and rails, the farms and cities, the offices and shops. The means of production are embedded within the mind and muscle of the workers themselves – without which, not a single wheel can turn.

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The Economist Explains Why Socialism Works

In a surprise twist, the Economist is now a socialist magazine. In the first of a series of explainers this week, the Economist asks, and explains: why do firms exist? They outline a simple typology of two different kinds of economic transactions – spot transactions and contracts:

Most transactions take place in spot markets. They are well suited to simple, low-value transactions, such as buying a newspaper or taking a taxi. And they are governed by market forces, as lots of buyers bargain over the price of similar goods. Things become trickier for goods or services that are not standardised. Parties to a transaction are then required to make commitments to each other that are costly to reverse.

Those commitments, formalized as long-term contracts, cannot be regulated by free markets and require economic planning organizations to oversee.

In a 2010 treatment of the same topic, Schumpeter (perhaps considering a name change to Polyani or Kautsky) began with a simple question:

“Why do firms exist? Why isn’t everything done by the market?”

The Economist …. welcome to the #Resistance.

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The Fight Over Sanctuary

As of press time, “resistance” is a hot topic. It seems like the word is on the tongues of everyone, from revolutionary leftists to the most mediocre of liberals. This, for the record, is good: more people being more engaged, and feeling pushed more to the left, is good and necessary. The real question is, what does that resistance look like?

The first flashpoint in the crisis of urban governance was this week’s confrontation at major international airports. However, another upcoming flashpoint that is interesting to us here at Sewer Socialists is the fight over “sanctuary cities.” One of us hopes to soon be an immigration lawyer. But more broadly, the fight over sanctuary cities is exactly the kind of flashpoint between cities and the federal government that we’ve recently written about.

What Are Sanctuary Cities?

A “sanctuary city” is a city that does not cooperate with immigration officials, or turn over immigrants for deportation. It is not an official designation, and different places may provide sanctuary in different ways. The Washington Post has a decent summary.

Many cities and counties provide sanctuary by refusing to hold people in jail because of their immigration status. One of the most common ways immigrants wind up in deportation proceedings is after getting arrested, often for drug possession or DUI. Many convictions make non-citizens deportable, and undocumented immigrants can be removed simply for being present without documents. For these reasons, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) asks state and local governments to keep immigrants in jail after their arrest or conviction, so ICE can more easily pick them up and put them in deportation proceedings. But thanks to federalism, state and local governments do not HAVE to comply with these requests, and many cities and counties refuse compliance in some way or another. This does not mean that ICE cannot deport these people—an immigrant with certain convictions is deportable no matter what—but it is much harder for them to actually do so.

This means that local noncompliance is a critical part of protecting immigrant workers and families. If more cities turn immigrants and immigrants’ information over to ICE, more people will be deported, and more families will be broken up. If fewer cities snitch on immigrants, fewer people will be deported, and fewer families will be broken up.

What’s The Deal?

Because mass deportation relies so heavily on the compliance of local governments, the federal government is coercing cities to bring them in line. The White House, through executive order, is trying to cut off all federal funds from any city or county that does not comply with immigration enforcement requests. This is probably illegal for a host of reasons. In fact, part of what’s so concerning about this is that the executive branch has said that it will ignore court orders and do whatever it wants. But at the end of the day, politics is about power, and we need to focus on how to fight these orders with power.

This is where the crisis of urban governance comes in. Cities and urban areas have immense political and economic power at their fingertips. Politically, they have the power to make mass deportation unsustainable, by providing sanctuary and refusing to cooperate. Economically, they have the power to shut down the economy. . The capitalist class that currently runs the government relies on cities. Without the ports of Long Beach, New Orleans, or Newark, the trade that makes big business rich grinds to a halt. Without railroad hubs in Chicago, distribution centers in Memphis and Seattle, or a thousand other factors all based in major cities, big business has nothing.

Cities will be pressured to comply with the federal government, especially on mass deportation. Washington has already threatened to cut funds from cities that do not cooperate. But cities can pressure Washington, too. That pressure will have to come straight from the people, demanding that their city governments act, but it will be effective. The American deportation machine, like the American economy, relies on American cities. That gives cities power. We should use it.


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The Future that Liberals Want is Socialism


This is a glimpse of the future liberals want – but it’s going to take socialism to get there.

It’s not every day that the fascists accidentally make a strong case for your values. It’s not every day, either, that they – also quite by accident – pierce one of the most insidious of our American lies.

We tell ourselves a lie in the USA. Not the only lie, not the biggest lie, not even the most interesting lie – but it’s a lie we tell ourselves over and over again. We tell the lie so much that we think we’re the only ones who don’t believe it. We whisper to one another that, yes, you and I don’t believe the lie. But everyone else does, they’ll never believe us, they’ll think we’re crazy, better keep telling the lie.

The lie is this: that freedom can’t be shared. That freedom is selfish, alone, individualist.

Yesterday, the cave-dwelling reactionary hive mind, let’s call him Hentai Pepe (don’t google it). He said the lie in such a blatantly obvious way that the sheer force of our contempt pierced the bubble, and the lie collapsed before us. Hentai Pepe didn’t know what he was doing – he actually does believe the lie – but he took a break from photoshopping cartoon ponies doing the Hitlergrüß and posted an image that destroyed it.

The image was a photograph of two culturally distinctive women sitting next to each other on a subway train. Hentai Pepe’s keys clacked to life, agitating the ant colony that lives in his sticky keyboard. “This is the future,” he sputtered – flecks of mustard and mechanically separated meats spraying through the air to feed the unwitting symbiotes below – “that liberals want.”

Predictably, it became a hilarious meme. The future liberals want will be chaos. Red and green Power Rangers sitting next to each other. Harambe lying down with Cecil the Lion. Dogs and cats sharing a litter box. Pandemonium. Anarchy. Who will defend the West from people with different cultural identities sitting next to each other? “Nobody!” yelled everyone else, all at once. “There is nothing wrong with this at all!”

The meme makers were piercing a great American lie. One of the people depicted in the photo is a drag queen named Gilda Wabbit, who summarized why she thought the image struck such a chord. It’s simple – the photograph depicts freedom:


I’d like to see a future where it isn’t a big deal for a woman in full modesty garb to sit next to a drag queen in NYC. It’s become a bit of a sensation, but her and I were just existing. The freedom to simply be yourself in a sea of people who aren’t like you is a freedom we all deserve.

This doesn’t fit the lie. These two women are sitting next to one another on public transportation in a big city. If they were free (says the lie) they would be far away from one another, living in their own individual houses, driving their own individual cars, spending time with their own individual possessions. They would surround themselves with other individuals who were just like them, and conform. This, says the lie, is freedom. But the collective, subsidized, public transportation system these women share lets them be themselves in a sea of people, separated by eighteen inches.

This has been framed as a “liberal” cause, since Hentai Pepe used the word “liberal” just before emptying week-old bong water into his pet tarantula’s water dish. It’s true that liberals aspire to support this kind of freedom. But liberals still think they’re the only ones who don’t believe the voice in the back of their head that whispers the lie. “Freedom can’t be shared,” it lies, “the people sharing it wouldn’t be free.” They don’t quite believe this, but they think they’re alone. “Freedom can’t join a union,” it lies, “the bosses wouldn’t be free.” This lie makes some sense to them. Aren’t unions for old white guys in factories? Sensing doubt, the voice whispers again: “Freedom can’t educate poor children,” it lies, “the rich children wouldn’t be free.” Yes, they think, public schools aren’t very good. The voice whispers once more: “Freedom can’t have government healthcare,” it lies, “the patients wouldn’t be free.” And again: “freedom can’t pay higher taxes,” it lies, “the taxpayers wouldn’t be free.” This isn’t true, think the liberals. They know it’s a lie. But there are so many lies. How could there be so many lies if people don’t believe them? Isn’t it just easier just to go along and pretend?

Here is the great truth of socialism – democratic socialism, not the tyrannies of the twentieth century that called themselves socialist – socialism is the belief in freedom in a complex society. In a complex society, some people must at some times tell some others what to do. This is unavoidable – the only question is whether or not they reflect and reinforce oppressive social relationships. If they do, the only way to be a “rugged individualist” is to be the boss, the cop, or the crime lord. Conservatives and reactionaries embrace this, and side with bosses over workers and cops over communities, while liberals split the difference.

Real freedom takes socialism. To free our minds from backwardness, we need education. To free our bodies from illness, we need healthcare. To free ourselves from financial insecurity we need income. Conservatives and reactionaries want to send the rich children to the good schools and the poor children to the bad schools, and they call it “freedom.” Liberals listened to the lie and focused on getting a few poor children into the rich schools. Conservatives and reactionaries want to give the best healthcare to rich people and let insurance companies profit off the mediocre coverage they give working people, and they call it “freedom.” Liberals listened to the lie and focused on getting a few more working people into the mediocre coverage. Conservatives and reactionaries want bosses to make big profits and save money by paying their workers less, and they call it “freedom.” Liberals listened to the lie and focused on tax credits. Liberals want real freedom, but they’ve listened to the lies too much.The future liberals want is a future that will take socialists to build.

Socialists are liberals who stopped believing the lies. Socialists want all children to have a good, public education, so that they can all be free. Socialists want all people to have good, public healthcare, so that they can all be free. Socialists want all people to have good, public transportation, so that they can all be free. Sewer socialists are the nerds on the team who are interested in how best to run the trains, but for most people, here’s the story of the future socialists want: everyone, no matter their class, race, gender, or creed is free to sit down between a niqabi and a drag queen, and be themselves in a sea of people.


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