I do want to address the topic of this blog post, but first I have to link to the speech we read by Ivan Illich entitled "To Hell With Good Intentions." This article has had a pretty significant impact on me. Having just finished reading it, I don't think i have fully absorbed Illich's words, but they have struck a chord. I think it's exposed not only the mindset of summer do-gooders, but of the US in general. We believe we can change other countries, make them better, when we have so may problems of our own. It's almost comical how we ignore our own problems in favor of trying to fix the problems of a country we don't understand. He speaks a lot of the havoc that these summer do-gooders do, that they cause problem within a community that they cannot understand because they cannot communicate with the ones who truly suffers; that Americans come and "sacrifice" their time and their comfort, and go home with these grand stories of the change they have made. I don't want to be that person, and yet at the same time I can't help but feel that I am. I do not know the language, and have no real way of truly communicating with the residents there. I am offering my services to a cause I cannot completely understand and although I am trying to learn, I cannot possibly know all the intricacies as the residents do. Illicc's speech should make us all uncomfortable. It should make us look at how we plan to engage during our trip. We cannot fix the situation. We cannot help. We can offer our time, but we should expect only to learn, not to change.
This connects to gentrification as it speaks to foreign forces that come in to "help" the neighborhood. Expansion and improvement of housing sounds like a good thing on the surface. This should be what neighborhoods strive for, to become better, but for many who live in these areas this progress comes as an ill omen of disaster to come: rents rising, neighborhood vibes changing, safe spaces disappearing, and the eclectic culture being pushed out. Gentrification seems to be most horrendous in artistic neighborhoods, as not only are rent prices rising, but the people who make the neighborhood the way it is are being pushed out, and that neighborhood beings to lose what makes it great. This stand for both Capital Hill in Seattle and Heinrichplatz in Berlin. This idea of trying to help, to make things better, has been toxic for these artistic neighbors in a similar way as the summer volunteerism has been harmful to Mexican villages. Both are fueled by narratives of development, of moving forward into the future. Volunteers in Mexico are propelled by the idea that they are helping villages catch up to the rest of the world, neighborhood gentrification is propelled by the idea of development as an inevitable push towards betterment that all neighborhoods must accept. I noticed quite a few times in the Seattle article, this language of defeatism, that this is going to happen whether we like it or not, whereas the German article seemed more hopeful that the grassroots movements would accomplish something, and I can't help to wonder why that is.
Regardless, this begs the question of how we can engage Ethically in Germany. As I mentioned before and as Illich said, we must come to learn but not to help, yet we are engaging in partnerships with nonprofits. While we will learn a lot our intention seems to be to provide some service, which is not necessarily a bad thing. The question is how to we engage in this service from a more humble, less colonial and patronizing perspective. Although I'm not really sure where to start when it comes to asking how we can engage in ethical community engagement with displaced people, I do have a few questions about our engagement relating to the article.
Laurette Hanna will be a sophomore at the University of Washington with intended majors in psychology and political science. She is hoping to pursue a career in law with a focus in social justice and civil litigation, with goals to work for the ACLU.