I have dedicated a number of posts here at Darkjive to the PUSH Expo, a 1970s exercise in Black Economic Empowerment (or Black Power as it was then known). The PUSH Expo phenomenon was borne from the seed of Operation Breadbasket (a department of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference), but the roots took twisted turns.
The term “Civil Rights Movement” often brings to mind images of the deep south, but Chicago was a key battleground in those days. Not just because of the influx of new Black citizens that the Great Migration delivered, but because of the ongoing struggles for housing equality and empowerment exacerbated by said influx.
Jesse Jackson, whose ties to Dr. King traced back to the Campaign at Selma in 1965, was selected by King to head Operation Breadbasket’s Chicago Branch. True to its name, the organization distributed nourishment to the communtity, but it also played a more proactive role to fighting for social justice.
Tactics such as boycotts were implemented, but according to Black Maverick: T.R.M. Howard’s Fight for Civil Rights and Economic Power by David T. Beito and Linda Royster Beito (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2009), a seamier aspect including cronyism and strong-arming businesses to donate money to Operation Breadbasket were folded into the tactics, as well.
Eventually, leadership rifts came to a head, and in December 1971, Jackson fell out with Ralph Abernathy, King’s successor as head of the national SCLC. Jackson and his allies broke off and formed Operation PUSH (People United to Save Humanity).
Various sources tell me that this was a pivotal moment in Chicago History because a giant, organized black party (the largest in Chicago at the time) broke off into factions and never regained the traction it had built before that point. Then crack hit the community like the atomic bomb (and the fallout is still being felt). I argue that the hindsighted strength of the PUSH Expo-era was built on momentum created in the years that had preceded it, in conjunction with the genius of marketing with a major motion picture (!) and tons of press. Documentation equals existence itself, and media has the power to romanticize just about anything.
In the end, please leave me the romance. Let me believe that we were SO close to breaking free. It gives me a fairy tale to build tomorrow upon.
See Potential: helping us all envision the rebirth of abandoned buildings on the South Side.
See Potential in what’s around us. That’s the goal of photographer Emily Schiffer’s See Potential initiative: affixing huge weatherproof photographic works to undervalued community assets. It’s a great idea that can help harness the public imagination for the greater good. It’s the sort of greater good that Schiffer always hoped her art would serve. She related to Benevolent Media:
For instance, Gladys’ Luncheonette (a Soul Restaurant that served Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood for decades, but recently closed) is re-imagined through imagery as a healthy corner store offering cooking classes. For members of the neighborhood, this is definitely a soft sell; but Schiffer, alongside Orrin Williams and Judith Helfand, is also trying to sell the viability of community development to outside investors (as well as the City of Chicago itself).
The works will illustrate the Center for Urban Transformation’s revitalization plans for shared community spaces such as:
According to their Kickstarter proposal:
This is just the sort of paradigm shift that Darkjive is all about, something I term as Lack versus Fat (outlined fully here). Using the analogy of the coffee can full of grease that my grandmother kept on her stovetop, the grease (and the can itself) could, at first, be considered waste material. But upon reevaluation, it can also be considered a resource that can contribute to the kind of meal that sustains life. The same can be said for abandoned buildings, or so many things in our communities that can be seen as deficits.
for more on the project (which was recently successfully funded via Kickstarter) click here.
2 Comments | tags: Center for Urban Transformation, Chicago, community activism, community building, emily schiffer, gladys' luncheonette chicago, Kickstarter, lack versus fat, Orrin Williams, photography, see potential, urban planning | posted in Arts & Culture, Commentary, Lack Versus Fat, Photography