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Bringing Back the WPA (Because the Government Hasn't)

How we've taken the old Work Projects Administration and made it new again.

I have to admit, when the stock market collapsed and America's economic titans crumbled with it, I was hopeful. Because in all the devastation, I saw an America that could be rebuilt.

Over the preceding decade, the financial growth, the urban development, the housing boom—it hadn't helped anyone I knew. Further, this constant development in the neighborhoods in which I lived only seemed to make everything more inaccessible. Our country was clearly living beyond its means, when what we really needed was to get back to basics.

People started talking about things like rebuilding and recovery.

I began to get excited.

I imagined the power of our country focused on helping, rather than attacking each other. I envisioned the citizens and the government of the United States, bonded through the labor of public works, uniting to pick our country up off the trading floor.

Instead, what followed were bailouts and stimulus packages. And by the time 2009 had come and gone, recovery seemed like a long way away. Everyone I talked to seemed to feel left out as well. All this money and effort somehow skipped over those who needed it most.

I looked back at the Work Projects Administration, which employed millions of people in the 1930s and 1940s. It was responsible for pulling us out of the Great Depression, through public works ranging from building parks and bridges to designing posters and reclaiming oral histories.

The 2009, top-down system funded the wealthiest through massive projects in the hopes of a massive trickle down. Instead, I thought, what we needed were small-scale works. We need to hire people to improve their own neighborhoods. We need a sense of togetherness with our government. We need the WPA.

So, I decided to bring it back.

I secured donations for construction gear, silk screen equipment, office-space, even a pavement press, and started working towards bringing back the WPA. We've been stenciling WPA logos on traffic cones and construction helmets, sewing WPA logos onto contractor vests, and spreading the word that the WPA is returning.






And now, we're ready. For the launch, we've secured two offices—one in a rural hamlet, and one in New York City. Our first Work Projects Administration office will open in Wassaic, New York in May of this year.

The people involved in this project have histories in either community development or public art, and we are using those skills to bring communities together in a sort of real-life street theater. John Ewing is a public artist who has worked in the U.S., El Salvador, and Cuba. Carmen Montoya is an artist and health worker with experience here and in Mexico. Finally, I am a public artist who has worked in community development and peace-building throughout the world.

We will run participatory action research workshops with community members to identify needed public works, and then hire people in the neighborhood to complete the projects they choose, all under the auspices of "official" WPA business.

This is not a massive redevelopment scheme. Our goal isn't to build a new bridge or shopping mall; it's to get people involved in small projects in their own neighborhoods. Our goal is to create a functional model and a feeling of partnership with our government—a real example of working together in small but important ways to contribute to the cultural and economic vitality of our local communities.

We want this to be an accessible project, something anyone could do. So, we're keeping our costs down.

For the final leg of this project, we need to raise the funds needed for this project from small donations by American citizens. We're not seeking huge grants from major benefactors, but really want this to be something by and of the people. So, we launched a Kickstarter initiative to raise the $2,000 needed to bring back the WPA. This last bit of cash will help pay for art and construction materials, and pay the WPA wages of local workers in Wassaic, New York and Jamaica, Queens.

Any amount will help: We just want to get as many citizens as possible involved in this pilot, so we can start to open offices around the country. Think of it as a renegade WPA for D.I.Y. recovery.

Christopher Robbins works on the cusp of public art and community development, and has lived and worked in New York, London, Tokyo, West Africa, the Fiji Islands, and former Yugoslavia. After serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Benin, West Africa, he co-founded the Ghana Think Tank, a global network of think tanks creating strategies to resolve local problems in the "developed" world. It was recently shortlisted for the Frieze Foundation's Cartier Award.

Articles
via Collection of the New-York Historical Society / Wikimedia Commons

Fredrick Douglass was born into slavery in 1818. At the age of 10 he was given to the Auld family.

As a child, he worked as a house slave and was able to learn to read and write, and he attempted to teach his fellow slaves the same skills.

At the age of 15, he was given to Thomas Auld, a cruel man who beat and starved his slaves and thwarted any opportunity for them to practice their faith or to learn to read or write.

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Culture
via Thomas Ledia / Wikimedia Commons

On April 20, 1889 at the Braunau am Inn, in Upper Austria Salzburger located at Vorstadt 15, Alois and Klara Hitler brought a son into the world. They named him Adolph.

Little did they know he would grow up to be one of the greatest forces of evil the world has ever known.

The Hitlers moved out of the Braunau am Inn when Adolph was three, but the three-story butter-colored building still stands. It has been the subject of controversy for seven decades.

via Thomas Ledia / Wikimedia Commons

The building was a meeting place for Nazi loyalists in the 1930s and '40s. After World War II, the building has become an informal pilgrimage site for neo-Nazis and veterans to glorify the murderous dictator.

The building was a thorn in the side to local government and residents to say the least.

RELATED: He photographed Nazi atrocities and buried the negatives. The unearthed images are unforgettable.

For years it was owned by Gerlinde Pommer, a descendant of the original owners. The Austrian government made numerous attempts to purchase it from her, but to no avail. The building has served many purposes, a school, a library, and a makeshift museum.

In 1989, a stone from the building was inscribed with:

"For Peace, Freedom

and Democracy.

Never Again Fascism.

Millions of Dead Remind [us]."

via Jo Oh / Wikimedia Commons

For three decades it was home to an organization that offered support and integration assistance for disabled people. But in 2011, the organization vacated the property because Pommer refused to bring it up to code.

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In 2017, the fight between the government and Pommer ended with it seizing the property. Authorities said it would get a "thorough architectural remodeling is necessary to permanently prevent the recognition and the symbolism of the building."

Now, the government intends to turn it into a police station which will surely deter any neo-Nazis from hanging around the building.

Austria has strict anti-Nazi laws that aim to prohibit any potential Nazi revival. The laws state that anyone who denies, belittles, condones or tries to justify the Nazi genocide or other Nazi crimes against humanity shall be punished with imprisonment for one year up to ten years.

In Austria the anti-Nazi laws are so strict one can go to prison for making the Nazi hand salute or saying "Heil Hitler."

"The future use of the house by the police should send an unmistakable signal that the role of this building as a memorial to the Nazis has been permanently revoked," Austria's IInterior Minister, Wolfgang Peschorn said in a statement.

The house is set to be redesigned following an international architectural competition.

Communities
via Chela Horsdal / Twitter

Amazon's "The Man in the High Castle" debuted the first episode of its final season last week.

The show is loosely based on an alternative history novel by Philip K. Dick that postulates what would happen if Nazi Germany and the Empire of Japan controlled the United States after being victorious in World War II.

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Politics
via Mike Mozart / Flickr

Chick-fil-A is the third-largest fast food chain in America, behind McDonald's and Starbucks, raking in over $10 billion a year.

But for years, the company has faced boycotts for supporting anti-LGBT charities, including the Salvation Army, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and the Paul Anderson Youth Home.

The Salvation Army faced criticism after a leader in the organization implied that gay people "deserve to die" and the company also came under fire after refusing to offer same-sex couples health insurance. But the organization swears it's evolving on such issues.

via Thomas Hawk / Flickr

The Fellowship of Christian Athletes explicitly announced it was anti gay marriage in a recent "Statement of Faith."

God instituted marriage between one man and one woman as the foundation of the family and the basic structure of human society. For this reason, we believe that marriage is exclusively the union of one man and one woman.

The Paul Anderson Youth Home teaches boys that homosexuality is wrong and that same-sex marriage is "rage against Jesus Christ and His values."

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In 2012, Chick-fil-A's CEO, Dan Cathy, made anti same-sex marriage comments on a radio broadcast:

I think we are inviting God's judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say, "We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage". I pray God's mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is about.

But the chicken giant has now decided to change it's says its charitable donation strategy because it's bad for business...Not because being homophobic is wrong.

The company recently lost several bids to provide concessions in U.S. airports. A pop-up shop in England was told it would not be renewed after eight days following LGBTQ protests.

Chick-fil-A also has plans to expand to Boston, Massachusetts where its mayor, Thomas Menino, pledged to ban the restaurant from the city.

via Wikimedia Commons

"There's no question we know that, as we go into new markets, we need to be clear about who we are," Chick-fil-A President and Chief Operating Officer Tim Tassopoulos told Bisnow. "There are lots of articles and newscasts about Chick-fil-A, and we thought we needed to be clear about our message."

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Instead, the Chick-fil-A Foundation plans to give $9 million to organizations that support education and fight homelessness. Which is commendable regardless of the company's troubled past.

"If Chick-Fil-A is serious about their pledge to stop holding hands with divisive anti-LGBTQ activists, then further transparency is needed regarding their deep ties to organizations like Focus on the Family, which exist purely to harm LGBTQ people and families," Drew Anderson, GLAAD's director of campaigns and rapid response, said in a statement.

Chick-fil-A's decision to back down from contributing to anti-LGBT charities shows the power that people have to fight back against companies by hitting them where it really hurts — the pocket book.

The question remains: If you previously avoided Chick-fil-A because it supported anti-LGBT organizations, is it now OK to eat there? Especially when Popeye's chicken sandwich is so good people will kill for it?

Lifestyle

Oh, irony. You are having quite a day.

The Italian region of Veneto, which includes the city of Venice, is currently experiencing historic flooding. Venice Mayor Luigi Brugnaro has stated that the flooding is a direct result of climate change, with the tide measuring the highest level in 50 years. The city (which is actually a collection of 100 islands in a lagoon—hence its famous canal streets), is no stranger to regular flooding, but is currently on the brink of declaring a state of emergency as waters refuse to recede.

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