In a conversation with Fred Newman some years ago, I asked him how he decided what books to read. He basically said, “If you enjoy the conversation, read it; if you don’t, don’t.” After reading Evicted, I immediately recommended it to Cathy Stewart because I believed that she and other independents would appreciate the conversational journey the book and its author Matthew Desmond take us on. While it is not an easy journey, I found it to be an extraordinarily compassionate and thought-provoking one. Since Desmond is perhaps the quintessential “outsider” – a white, Harvard-trained academic – I appreciate that he took the time to build relationships with people who we get to know, not as “subjects,” but as a delightfully human group of Black and white women and men (whose stories remain with me) trying to fight/manipulate a system that refuses to relate to them, regardless of color, with any humanity at all.
I have spent much of my adult life doing all I can to end poverty, but reading Evicted showed me how easy it still is to relate to it as an abstraction rather than as an endlessly complex and interconnected industry out of which it is becoming more and more impossible to escape. Thus, I appreciate that, while Desmond does not shy away from sharing the foibles and failings of Scott, Patrice, Arleen and the others we meet in Evicted, he does so without blaming or shaming them. As he says in a Huffington Post article I recently read, “Eviction is fundamentally changing the face of poverty. One way we can interpret eviction is like, ‘Oh, it’s a result of irresponsibility, it’s bad spending habits.’ But if you’re spending 80 percent of your income on rent, eviction is much more of an inevitability than an irresponsibility.”
He is also sensitive to the fact that the housing/eviction crisis is not impacting everyone the same way. I was touched/haunted by his observation that, “If incarceration has come to define the lives of men from impoverished black neighborhoods, evictionwas shaping the lives of women. Poor black men were locked up. Poor black women were locked out.” As a woman and an independent determined to transform a political system that is locking out growing numbers of Americans regardless of race, class or gender, I am glad we have an ally in Matthew Desmond and look forward to continuing – and growing – this much needed conversation.
Mary Fridley is the Director of Special Projects at the East Side Institute and a longtime independent activist from Brooklyn, NY.
Politics for the People Conference Call
With Matthew Desmond
Sunday, October 23rd at 7 pm EST
Call In Number: 641 715-3605
Access code 767775#