Letters to #Ammerica is a weekly letter “sent” from Europe to the US in the aftermaths of November 8, 2016. It’s a personal take, based on my research experience in the South of US and Southern Europe, on cities, their policies, politics and institutional systems. Because the making of (urban) America shapes the making of Europe and beyond; and we are all involved.
1. I have been struggling for some time with my blog, namely since I’ve come back from the USA – I’ve been since January to August 2016 at the University of Memphis, funded under a Fulbright grant (US-Italy Commission), to research on public safety and crime prevention in Memphis. During my stay in the US, I’ve been writing regularly to share feelings, ideas, images and histories from “Ammerica” (many, in my homeregion, Sicily, called the US “Ammerica”, back in the day). Back to Lisbon, I’ve had hard times to find a new thread to update the blog, which I have been keeping for 4 years now, in Italian.
November 8, 2016, prompted me the urge to write here again, now in a different language, with a coherent political project.
2. We’ll hardly forget November 8, 2016. Call it a shock, call it a disaster, call it a surprise, call it the day we came to terms with the dust under the carpet; however you’ll call it, the result of the US presidential elections of November 8 will be crucial in shaping the American, hence global, scenario for the foreseeable future.
The pessimists will say that the world, in the aftermath of November 8, 2016, is, and is destined to become, a worst place. And it’s hard to deny that’s possible and likely. But the optimists would advocate that the aftermath of November 8 is still to be imagined and built. And that November 9 is the moment to step up, to learn from the lessons of the past and twist the present rage, pain, fear and anger to create a future where the world is more just.
I want to be, I feel the need to be, critically and carefully optimist. By critically optimist, I mean I want to critique “our” mistakes of the past – meaning, with “us”, those people that share visions of radical or progressive change from the left-wing perspective of the political spectrum. By carefully optimist, I mean I want to contribute to the painful road we have to walk if we want the world to become better in the aftermath of November 8, 2016.
My contribution to this endeavor can’t help but be political. At the same time, I can and will make use of what I’ve learnt in the last few years while making social research in places such as Palermo, Lisbon and Memphis – in the “Souths” of the West, so to speak.
During those years, I have been working on topics that provide an advantage perspective to understand some dimensions of the present conjuncture. I refer to topics such as the fear of crime and its role in shaping political consensus; the policies (and the rhetoric) of crime prevention, public safety and urban security; the neoliberal transformations of urban policy (I promise I’ll define what I mean by neoliberalization); crisis and austerity as experienced in cities.
3. Many thinkers have suggested that the recent few decades have been characterized by the emergence of the so-called “urban geopolitics“, that is, a set of transformations, at the same time spatial, social and political, of the way the power over the city is produced and enforced. Scholars such as Saskia Sassen, Ugo Rossi, Alberto Vanolo, Stephen Graham, Mike Davis, Simon Marvin (and more humbly myself) believe that democracy, and especially urban democracy, is under attack since the 1980s. Those scholars, “we”, believe that governments of all sides of the mainstream politics (Democrats and Republicans, European social democratic and popular parties alike) have been attacking and reducing the space for public, open and democratic debate in cities all around the US, Europe and beyond.
I want to suggest, and will try and discuss, that:
- this longstanding attack to democracy is one of the core reasons of the recent transformations of American (and European) politics;
- and deepening democracy and reclaiming the city is the only way to build an alternative to the so-called “establishment” without falling in the trap of demagogues, buffoons and fascists (and fascio-demagogue buffoons).
I believe this political endeavor is of crucial importance in the aftermath of November 8. I believe that changing American politics is a necessary step to improve the whole world. I believe that we are all involved in this endeavor, whatever our geographic location is.
This blog, in the next weeks, will be a contribution to this endeavor.
(The plan is publishing a post a week; but may well be too ambitious a plan.)