Counterpoints: A Response

Introduction by
Manissa M. Maharawal, Erin McElroy, Mary Shi (on behalf of Counterpoints editorial collective)

Being so many things at once allows Counterpoints to open a space for conversations that recognize the manifold histories, layers, and ongoing resistances to displacement while inviting multiple modes of engagement. It is through coming together and working through these conversations in practice that we will collectively find ways forward.

A

lthough Counterpoints was published in the summer of 2021, our work on it began many years earlier. Our early conceptualizations were animated by the work of bringing together an array of Anti-Eviction Mapping Project (AEMP) members to serve as editors. In our attempts to tell the complex and multivocal story of San Francisco Bay Area displacement and resistance struggles, we encountered a multiplicity of stories, maps, visualizations, photographs, poems, and more. As editors we collectively decided on the themes that we saw running through this work. These themes would become the atlas’s seven chapters, each of which would include contributions from AEMP members as well as from the communities that we were in coalition with throughout the region. 

From there, we had no idea that each chapter would essentially become a book in and of itself, often with up to 20 or so contributions. We found ourselves in the midst of an editorial process that was both one of herding cats but also weaving together stories and frameworks from an array of movements, spaces, and geographies. 

From Ohlone feminists working to rematriate stolen land in Huchuin, the ancestral homeland of the Confederated Villages of Lisjan (now known as the East Bay), to activists organizing against tech gentrification and YIMBYism in San Francisco, from researchers chronicling the long histories of anti-Black racism on the island of Alameda, to food justice practitioners working to combat the material effect of long histories of environmental racism in Bayview Hunters Point, the atlas’s contributions are vast. Yet they do all consolidate around shared commitments to housing justice and the importance of maintaining what Jodi Byrd et al. describes as an ethical and political commitment to “grounded relationalities'' alongside “grounded alternatives to economies of dispossession” (2018, 11). Grounded relationalities, they remind us, are not only rooted in the land itself, but also in the capacity to build relationships to the land and those living upon it in ways that transcend and work against the expropriation of collective life. 

Foregrounding this underlying thread was counterbalanced with our commitment to present each contribution in its own voice, to provide as many viewpoints into Bay Area displacement and resistance as possible. Given the sprawling and multivocal nature of the atlas, we knew this approach ran the risk of narrative dissolution and made its own, exceptional demands on the reader. We envisioned our reader as an active participant in navigating Counterpoints, approaching the atlas nonlinearly to identify the themes and connections most relevant to their own concerns. Would readers be willing to engage in such a way? And see the value of this approach? Given these concerns, we are blown away by the depth, breadth, and generosity of these responses. They each evince such an active engagement and in doing so demonstrate that readers are hungry for experimenting with alternative ways of engaging one another as knowers and for producing collective knowledge. And in the best way these responses demonstrate that there are as many Counterpoints as there are readers. 

Danielle Purifoy’s reflections show how Counterpoints, in its entirety, acts as a project that makes visible the Black, Indigenous and Latinx places that have been absent from other representations of the region. The process of making these places “surge to life” as she says, is also to ask the question of what this collective knowledge does and why it is important. As Purifoy points out, what these maps do, what this knowledge makes possible, is a “different kind of future.” This different kind of future requires knowledge that does not abstract people and places to data points but rather, as Counterpoints does, also represents their intimate moments of emotion, of grief, rage, fear alongside, protest, hope and power. Purifoy pulls out two of the book’s oral histories, Edwin from Bernal Heights and Cheryl from the Mission District, directing us to the ways in which these stories show the necessity of interconnectedness and mutual reliance, community cohesions and its sustainability. She also points to the ways that these lessons and stories have resonance outside of the Bay Area, to other places facing tech takeovers and their attendant community erosion. Here Counterpoints can be used as not just a comparative project but as an organizing tool for how to fight for a future in which “generations after us grow in a culture of community safety and solidarity that no company can destroy.” 

Relatedly, Samuel Stein notes Counterpoints’ potentiality for producing political education. As he offers, the atlas can serve as an entry point into understanded grounded geographies and the spatial dynamics of gentrification, as well as resistance. It offers tools in order to comprehend these dynamics, but also provides inspiration by way of repurposing technologies, maps, and analyses for housing justice. Stein also notes the heterogeneity of the atlas and the multiple perspectives it weaves together, helpfully mobilizing the spatial metaphors of “ vast, sprawling, and mixed use.” And indeed, there is no one singular perspective or story that the atlas tells; multiplicity, overlap, divergence, and entanglement sew its pages together. In his reading of the atlas’s two critical pieces on YIMBYism and NIMBYism alike (Yes in My Backyard and Not in My Backyard), Stein helpfully notes the privilege inherent in having a backyard to begin with. Further, what do these racist urban planning identities mean in settler colonial contexts upon stolen lands? This is an important question to ask, and an entry into weaving together essays in the Speculation and Speculative Futures chapter with those in the Indigenous Geographies chapter. As Stein also questions, what would the critiques of YIMBYism have looked like in conversation with Katja Schwaller’s “Becoming Twitterlandia,” which notes that some of San Francisco gentrification woes have been tied to a state policy of attracting highly paid workers but not providing them with enough housing–a critique that could be mobilized to support pro-growth YIMBYism. This is, as Stein notes, a productive tension, one that could be generative in future analysis regarding the role of the state, capital, and speculation in fomenting conditions for dispossession and expulsion. 

Sarah Elwood’s comments invite us to consider what a more fully developed “politics of self-determination” would look like in relation to social science research. How can social science research be used to actualize and empower individuals as knowers (including the researchers themselves), instead of being used to discipline and reduce individuals to the inputs of analytical abstractions which are then so often instrumentalized to serve others? By describing Counterpoints as offering its contributors a “space to locate themselves,” Elwood points to the idea that acts of locating can be understood as an important part of such politics. Counterpoints engages its contributors in an act of mutual recognition by putting its contributors’ pieces together in one place. This coming together helps contributors locate themselves and each other vis a vis one another in a way that crosses professional, disciplinary, genre, and political boundaries. Importantly, because this act of mutual recognition is done on the basis of mutual accountability and respect, it is also an act of valorization. Essays in the language of policy analysis are put on equal footing with oral history; maps of evictions and demographic data are read next to maps of children’s poems. The outcome of these encounters is not general synthesis, but rather transformation as contributors see themselves more clearly in relation to one another as part of an expanded community of knowers fighting for spatial justice. By pointing to this work of locating, Elwood’s comments suggest that perhaps in all the ways in which Counterpoints defies the norms of traditional atlases it is still a useful tool for finding one’s place, and perhaps it is precisely by offering ways for knowers to locate themselves that social science research can serve as a tool for empowerment and actualization.

In turn, Rachel Brahinsky’s comments help locate Counterpoints in the broader body of work resisting Bay Area displacement. She points to the ways that Counterpoints is an archive of resistance and political life, a document of the continual agitation that happens in what she calls the “underground.” She suggests that Counterpoints is a piece of art, an educational cartography, and an archive of stories and feelings that does the work of producing knowledge for current as well as future struggles. Here resistance is not just a reaction but central to the formation of cultural and political life in the region. Brahinsky reminds us that in understanding this resistance as central we can look to how the stories in Counterpoints are echoed in earlier struggles that have happened in the Bay Area. In particular, she points us to other documentary projects: the 1974 film Redevelopment: A Marxist Analysis and the 2002 film Boom: The Sound of Eviction. Both these films document other moments in the history of the Bay Area in which displacement, redevelopment and eviction were prevalent alongside agitating, organizing, legal strategizing and building collective power. In bringing Counterpoints into conversation with these other documentary projects Brahinsky connects the project across time, showing how other archival projects have shaped the context in which Counterpoints exists, as well as showing how the force of this resistance is not temporary or fleeting but lives in the complicated afterlives of resistance. In doing so Brahinsky shows how Counterpoints, taken as a whole project, produces an archive that implicitly draws on past struggles while also being useful for future ones. 

These generative responses speak to how Counterpoints can be mobilized in various struggles, from the abstract and epistemological to the concrete and blood struggles of housing politics. They speak to the shared life of the Bay Area captured by the atlas and suggest new solidarities as well as contradictions that need to be collectively worked out. But they also raise questions for us as editors about what we envision the future of the atlas to be. Is the project, as Rachel Brahinsky suggests, primarily an archive, perhaps one, as Ananya Roy offered, rooted in imaginations and practices of decolonization? Is it, as Sam Stein and Danielle Purifoy suggest, a tool for political education and organizing–one that can be used in other places such as Durham or New York, where similar issues have arisen? How scalable is the knowledge produced in the atlas? Or do we want it to refuse to be scalable and instead, as Sarah Elwood suggests, be a space in which to be located? And finally, what does it mean for the atlas to be doing all of this at once? We would like to offer that these different ways of reading the atlas is one of its strengths–that being so many things at once allows Counterpoints to open a space for conversations that recognize the manifold histories, layers, and ongoing resistances to displacement while inviting multiple modes of engagement. It is through coming together and working through these conversations in practice that we will collectively find ways forward.

References

Byrd J, Reddy C, Goldstein A, and Melamed J (2018) Predatory value: economies of dispossession and disturbed relationalities. Social Text 36 (2): 1-18.

 

Manissa M. Maharawal, Erin McElroy, and Mary Shi are members of the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project and part of the Counterpoints editorial collective, with Erin and Mary acting as Counterpoints co-project wranglers. Manissa is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at American University in Washington, DC. Erin is an Assistant Professor of American Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. Mary is a PhD Candidate in Sociology at the University of California, Berkeley.

essays in this forum

An Atlas of the Difficult World

Counterpoints is both a literary text and the textile of activism. It makes real the possibility of writing, in the broadest sense of the term, as an imagination and practice of decolonization.

By

Ananya Roy

Where are Black people in the Future? In Praise of Counterpoints

Counterpoints represents the kind of knowing that offers a vision of an otherwise world, a counter to settling for extractive relations to each other, for further distancing of our human selves from the more than human ecosystem that gives us life. This is required knowledge, and these are maps to a different kind of future, if we follow them. 

By

Danielle Purifoy 

An Atlas of the Past and the Present, For the Future

Counterpoints is less a map of where we need to go than a guide for understanding the way forward–which direction points us away from our history of displacement and exploitation, and toward a future of emplacement and liberation.

By

Samuel Stein

“The contours of a way forward”: A Review of Counterpoints

The durable impacts of Counterpoints will spring up from the complex set of political, theoretical and epistemological pedagogies it demonstrates, and the careful way these are presented, not for abstraction and generalization, but as lessons for readers to learn from, take seriously, and enact within the places and relations of our own lives. 

By

Sarah Elwood

A Map for the Afterlives of Resistance

Counterpoints showcases a world in which resistance is not just a reaction, but where it is central in the formation of cultural and political life, both the surprising and the everyday. In essence, Counterpoints offers a map for the afterlives of resistance.

By

Rachel Brahinsky