“Someone’s got plans for our community - plans that don’t include us.” said Ms. Vannice Hughley, a 74 year old African-American woman.
Ms. Hughley has lived in Chattanooga all her life. She is the President of the Lincoln Park Neighborhood Association, a tiny little community tucked away in downtown Chattanooga. But Lincoln Park isn’t just any ordinary neighborhood - it’s home to the historic Lincoln Park, the community’s treasured namesake which was once the only recreation center for African-Americans.
Ms. Hughley, President of Lincoln Park Neighborhood Association, standing at the old park site.
Ms. Hughley comes from a long line of past Presidents of her community, all Black women, who have stood up, despite all pressure and resistance, to save their community from powerful institutions and forces that would encroach on it and do it harm. Now, at the age of 74 and with the help of her daughter, Tiffany Rankins, Ms. Hughley must once again defend and preserve her community.
The threat this time is a proposed extension of Central Avenue to connect to Riverside Drive - an extension that runs straight through their historic park. Planned by the City of Chattanooga’s City Engineering department, the extension was proposed, planned, and passed without the consent or meaningful inclusion of the community itself.
“Its a funny thing to learn what’s happening to your community by having to read the newspaper. But then again, we’re always the first affected and last one’s notified.”
Victories in the Past
This isn’t the first time that Lincoln Park has been threatened - it’s also not the first time they’ve organized, fought back, and won.
“At the time, the nearby hospital was buying up properties and houses around the park. We even lost the park itself after the City swapped it with the hospital for property elsewhere. And the hospital kept developing and encroaching on the community, but that’s when “Mother” organized her residents and fought back.”
In the 1980s, Ms. Hughley joined a coalition of neighborhood residents to form the Lincoln Park Neighborhood Improvement League to save the community from continued development by the nearby hospital. The Improvement League was led by a woman named Georgia Mae Farris and Bessie Smith, known to the community as “Mother”.
“Mother reached out to me,” Ms. Hughley said. “She insisted that I get involved in the community, but I didn’t want to be bothered. ‘Just don’t have the time for it,’ I said to her. But she wore me down. ‘I’m still working,’ I told her. But she wouldn’t take no for an answer. So I decided to get involved.”
“They used to march up there to the Board meetings at the hospital, and just stand there in the back, watching.” Ms. Hughley said. “They’d stand there to let them know the community was together.”
Through community organizing, Lincoln Park was able to halt the encroachment of the hospital and win a moratorium against future development on the old park site. But the Improvement League’s success didn’t end there. Together, residents worked to help one of their own, an elderly low-income widow, purchase her home and escape the threat of eviction. The hard fought improvements and successes of the newly-named Lincoln Park Neighborhood Association were marked by the dedication of an archway in front of the community.
“And then one day, Mother passed.” said Ms. Hughley. “And someone came up to me and said, ‘Well, that makes you President,’ and I said ‘But I’m only the Secretary.’ And do you know what Mother had done? She had gone and made me her Vice-President. Her successor.”
The Encroachment Continues
Now, after living in Lincoln Park for over forty years, Ms. Hughley will have to fight once again to save her community from outside forces that wish to encroach on it.
The City of Chattanooga Public Works and City Engineering Department are proposing an extension of Central Avenue to connect with Riverside Drive - an extension that could include up to five lanes of truck-heavy traffic all going straight over what remains of the community’s cherished Lincoln Park. To add insult to injury, City Engineering notified the residents only after making their decision.
Ms. Hughley and her daughter Tiffany, the Secretary of Lincoln Park, first found out that there were talks of an extension by reading an article in the Times Free Press in late 2011.
Alarmed, Ms. Hughley called then Mayor Littlefield, who attended the February 2012 meeting of the Lincoln Park Neighborhood Association and assured residents that the project was not a “done deal”. Alternate routes that did not cut through the park were still being considered, and getting historic preservation status for the park could still be a goal.
“And then the next time we heard about anything was the day of the City Council vote to accept funds for the project.” said Ms. Hughley.
On June 12th, 2012, the Chattanooga City Council voted to accept the project and approve funds for the Central Avenue extension, despite objections from Ms. Hughley and Tiffany that the community was not informed of the project and had no involvement in the decision-making process.
The next time that Lincoln Park heard from anybody about the proposed extension was the February 2013 Neighborhood Association meeting. There, members of both the Fortwood and Lincoln Park Neighborhood Associations heard from City Engineering and Public Works about their plans for their community. Maps were unveiled, explanations given, but the bottom-line was this:
“The goal isn’t for residents to say if they want the Central Avenue extension but to help the city determine the community impact it will have. It’s not necessarily a question of ‘do you want this or not.” - City Engineer Bill Payne, quoted in the Times Free Press article on 4/19/13
“I remember some of my residents being so worried. Tears in their eyes with worry. Old folks asking me if they should sell their homes and leave. And I told them “No, don’t sell. Don’t sell.” Ms. Hughley said.
Ms. Hughley had more words though.
“When it’s something wrong with our communities, when its the gangs, guns, and the drugs, they say ‘You can take your community back’, but when they want to build a road through your community, when they want to do something to your community, they say ‘You can’t do anything about it.’ So, who’s community is it?” - Ms. Hughley, President, Lincoln Park
The Coalition to Save Lincoln Park
The Lincoln Park Neighborhood Association is now leading the “Coalition to Save Lincoln Park”, a group of neighborhood associations and individuals who are working to oppose the Central Avenue extension and preserve this important piece of cultural legacy.
The Coalition is set to mobilize together at the Transportation Planning Organization Board Meeting on Tuesday, May 28th, at 1:30pm at the Development Resource Center. There, the TPO Board, which is charged with allocating Federal highway dollars to transportation projects, will vote to allocate $5.1 million dollars in Federal funds to the Central Avenue extension.
The Coalition will be asking that the TPO Board deny Federal funds to the project because they were fundamentally excluded from the decision-making process.
Later on that day, the Coalition will gather at the Chattanooga City Council at 6:00pm to ask the Council to stop the project altogether.
What you can do to help:
While it was nice to hear Congressman Paul Ryan recognize Chattanooga Organized for Action’s work for social and economic justice, it is obvious from his discussion of our organization during last week’s Ways and Means Committee in the United States House of Representatives that he is deeply misinformed not only about the exempt status of our organization, but also the very detailed level of scrutiny the IRS gave our organization before awarding us our 501(c)3 designation.
Chattanooga Organized for Action is a 501(c)3 charitable non-profit organization whose mission is to assist individuals and organizations in becoming the essential agents of real systemic change to achieve social, economic and environmental justice. Our organization does not give money to political campaigns, political parties, or engage in activities that in any way support or oppose candidates running for elected office. Chattanooga Organized for Action is not associated or affiliated with any political party or political agenda. Our organization has absolutely nothing to do with “Organizing for Action”, the unfortunately named rebooted version of President Obama’s presidential campaign.
We filed for tax-exempt status in the summer of 2011 and were granted exemption after a rigorous process by the IRS in January 2013. During this period, we were in constant talks with IRS agents, who provided us with screenshots of our online presence, relevant news clippings of our organization, and a detailed multi-question probe into the legal boundaries of our organization’s activities within the federal guidelines for charitable non-profit organizations. Our status was granted only after we submitted an 18-page report detailing the history, growth, and development of our organization over a three year period and how our organization transformed from a progressive activist group to an educational non-profit. Any claim that our organization was not given due scrutiny by the IRS is simply wrong.
Our tax-exempt status is a 501(c)3 charitable organization, meaning that our primary activity is spent providing leadership development, educational workshops, and other valuable resources to grassroots communities in the Chattanooga area.
Other tax-exempt organizations, like a 501(c)4 social welfare organizations, may have lobbying as their primary activity without jeopardizing their tax-exempt status. 501(c)4 organizations may also influence electoral campaigns by running ads for or against candidates running for office. This makes 501(c)4 organizations distinctly different from 501(c)3 organizations, such as Chattanooga Organized for Action, and any comparison between them is like comparing apples to oranges, they might both be fruit, but there are significant differences between them. We reject any comparison by Congressman Paul Ryan between a charitable 501(c)3 organization such as ours and politically active 501(c)4s, such as Tea Party and so-called “Patriot Groups”, that have become notorious front-organizations for millionaires seeking to further corrupt our pay-to-play political process.
As TomDispatch Associate Editor Andy Kroll makes clear in his fantastic piece detailing how organizations such as 501(c)4 social welfare organizations have become tools in the hands of the rising plutocracy:
So what is dark money? How does it wind up in our elections? Say you’re a billionaire and you want to give $1 million to anonymously influence an election. You’re in luck: you can give that money, as many donors have, to a nonprofit organized under the 501(c)(4) section of the tax code. That nonprofit, in turn, can spend your money on election-related TV ads or mailers or online videos. But there’s a catch: unlike super PACs, the majority of a 501(c)(4) nonprofit’s work can’t be political. Note, though, that where the IRS draws the line on how much politicking is too much, and even what the taxman defines as political, is very murky. And until Congress and the IRS straighten all of that out, donors wanting to influence elections have a mostly scrutiny-free way to unload their money… During the 2010 campaign, politically active nonprofits — “super secret spooky PACs,” as Stephen Colbert calls them — outspent super PACs by a three to two margin, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis.
The proliferation of dark money 501 (c)(4)s and Super PACs, which allow for unlimited contributions to support candidates or issues, have created a dangerous threat to our nation’s democracy by allowing a small amount of elite and wealthy donors to wield tremendous power. According to Demos, a public policy think tank, $9 of every $10 dollars raised by a Super PAC came from 3,318 people giving at least $10,000 or more. That’s equal to 0.0011% of the US population. And because 501 (c)(4)s are not required to reveal donors, the influence of wealthy donors is greater. A recent report by the Center for Public Integrity cites that politically-active non-profits outspent Super PACs by a three to two margin during the 2010 election season.
Ultimately, elite interests use dark money 501 (c)(4)s and Super PACs to purchase the electoral process so that they can control the outcomes. Wealthy donors have to control the process because the outcomes - from planned poverty, or sequestration, to the loss of workers’ rights, to the destruction of our environment in order to support corporate profits - are so unpopular that if candidates ran on them they’d lose. This way, by the time you and I get to the polls, no matter how you vote, you just voted for the 1%.
Chattanooga Organized for Action welcomes greater government scrutiny, oversight and regulation of secretly funded non-profit organizations engaging in political activity. It is about time that more light was shown on the workings of all the dark money that has so thoroughly corrupted our political process. Unfortunately, elected officials have been resistant to bite the hand that elects them.
That is, in part, why we don’t have faith or confidence in politicians to create the kinds of meaningful change we need in our world - and why we believe in the people. Because when we fight together, we win. You can help us in our mission by making a tax-exempt donation today by clicking HERE or by mailing a check made out to “Chattanooga Organized for Action” at 1211 Boynton Drive, Chattanooga TN 37404.
Urgent Request for Volunteers - The People’s Mic
Want an easy way to get involved with Chattanooga Organized for Action?
Want to help the voices of our grassroots communities get heard?
Then you should be a part of the People’s Mic!
At COA, we know it isn’t our role to give grassroots leaders a voice. They already have voices - voices that need to be heard.
We can, however, amplify those voicesand help make sure they are heard!
The purpose of the People’s Mic is to do just that - amplify the voices and message of grassroots communities so that they can be heard all over the city. As the People’s Mic, it’ll be your job to utilize social and traditional media, as well as your unique personal relationship networks, to get the message of the campaign out.
Examples can include:
Please e-mail us at email@example.com if you are interested in being a part of the People’s Mic. Just simple let us know over e-mail and we’ll put you on our mailing list.
PLEASE RESPOND ASAP
A grassroots community organization is currently waging a campaign to save one of this city’s most historic parks and cultural treasures. Their campaign is set to go live in the next several days and COA would like to offer “The People’s Mic” to help them achieve their goals!
Director, Chattanooga Organized for Action
In the heart of North Chattanooga, a small community of low-income families are faced with a terrible situation. Their local Head Start, which provides much needed early childhood education, is set to close this month due to the effects of sequestration.
While some may question the value of Head Start and early childhood education, these parents do not, and they work hard everyday to ensure their children can get good opportunities… even if it means walking in the rain to get their children to the Head Start program.
The North Chattanooga Head Start Parent Association reached out to Chattanooga Organized for Action in the past month, and we’ve been working with them come up with solutions to the challenges they are facing.
Please follow the link below to read the Chattanooga Times Free Press article about their story.
“Sequester Brings Cuts to North Chattanooga Head Start Program”
Please help spread the word!
For the past three years, COA’s organizers and volunteers have been in communities all over the city working to build up grassroots leadership. We’ve organized, conducted campaigns, held forums, and met countless amazing individuals dedicated to social justice.
Although many people don’t know, we’ve done it all without an office, and while we think its nice to work in coffee shops and libraries from time to time, sometimes you just need a place to call your own.
That changes this Saturday! Through a generous individual donation, we’ll be able to build our own office at Renaissance Presbyterian Church in the Westside AND provide increased room for the Westside Community Association’s Free Store - a “free store” started with the assistance of the Grove Street Settlement House where residents take as they need and give as they wish in the form of much needed everyday items.
An office for COA isn’t just a space where our Staff can do their work - it can be a much needed space for community leaders to come and work together in building a better Chattanooga. Also, by increasing space for the Westside’s Free Store, you’ll be helping that community better serve it’s own needs!
Come join us on Saturday, May 11th, starting at 10:00am as we build a new shed and take donations for the Free Store and construct a new office for COA!
Help Build an Office for COA/Free Store Celebration
Donations will be accepted for the Free Store at the church site.
Suggested donations include summer clothes and school supplies.
Saturday, May 11th
10:00am - late afternoon
***Event will be postponed if there is rain***
Renaissance Presbyterian Church
1211 Boynton Drive
Chattanooga, TN 37402