May 20, 2017
By Carl Redwood, with Neil Cosgrove
Carl Redwood is the 2017 recipient of the Merton Center’s NewPerson award, which he will receive at an event scheduled for Monday, June 26th, from 6-9 PM at the Letter Carriers Hall on the North Side. Carl is Chair of the Hill District Consensus Group Board of Directors and a life-long community activist dedicated to economic and social justice.
We asked Carl to discuss the issues with which he is most occupied at present—broad-based community development, affordable housing, and the fight for economic equality. We also wanted to know what moved him to become an activist when he was a young man. What follows is his reply to our questions.
I would describe my “movement birthday,” or the time I became conscious of the need for community activism, as 1968. The experiences and issues that got me started as an activist were my opposition to the Vietnam War and the assassination of Martin Luther King. In his speech “Beyond Vietnam,” Dr. King encouraged us to “Rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter, but beautiful, struggle for a new world.” I accepted this challenge.
The historic fight for Black freedom has been anchored in five ideological tendencies that are most often woven together in the thought and practice of any person, group, or movement. These five are Black liberation theology, Pan-Africanism, Nationalism, Feminism and Socialism. As I moved toward “the movement” I began to study historical and contemporary movements for social change in the Black Radical Tradition. Of particular interest were the national liberation movements in Africa at the time and organizations like the Black Panther Party for Self Defense and the League of Revolutionary Black Workers. This study led me to accept that our common fight is against capitalism and for socialism.
In Pittsburgh there’s an affordable housing crisis. This crisis is most severe for families and households who have very low and extremely low incomes. Black families and households are being forced out of the city in large numbers because of the lack of affordable housing for lower income families.
In Pittsburgh over the last four decades, politicians have promised an economically and racially diverse city, but one mayoral administration after another has accelerated existing class and race-based inequities. Public housing complexes have been demolished. Project-based Section 8 units are at risk. Unemployment continues to skyrocket. And wages for working people are stagnant.
Some call Pittsburgh the most livable city, but it’s also the place where black people rank second from the bottom in economic opportunity.
The current policy of the City of Pittsburgh is the forced migration of black people from Pittsburgh to the suburbs.
In 1980, there were 100,000 black people in Pittsburgh. By 2010, there were 80,000 black people in Pittsburgh. During this same time period, the black population in Allegheny County not including the City of Pittsburgh went from eighty thousand in 1980 to one-hundred and fourteen thousand in 2010. We lost twenty thousand black people in Pittsburgh and gained thirty-five thousand black people in the “suburbs.”
This housing crisis cannot be solved in Pittsburgh. This crisis is the result of a century of racist housing policy in the United States. It is also a result of this current type of capitalism that has implemented the shutting down of government support for the people. This trend of privatization and austerity has continued under both the Democratic and Republican parties. Many of the so-called safety net programs have been cut drastically and now are considered for elimination.
The struggle for affordable low income housing and against the forced displacement of families is just one front of the struggle. Whether in the Hill District, the city of Pittsburgh, the U.S., or the world, we must fight on all fronts against all forms of oppression. Our many fronts of struggle should come together as a common attack against the capitalist system as a racist system of class exploitation, national oppression, patriarchy, and imperialism.
Another World is Possible!
Another U.S. is Necessary!
NewPeople Must Make It Happen!
Carl Redwood is chair of the Hill District Consensus Group in Pittsburgh. Neil Cosgrove is a member of the editorial collective and the Merton Center Board.