Voting No Casino & Reclaiming a Radical Vision of Solidarity & Economic Freedom Amidst a Divisive Casino Campaign
Over the weekend, I learned that one of the owners of the proposed casino who is also one of the most powerful Black women in America, Cathy Hughes (founder of Urban One), and Gary Flowers decided to call me, and some other black leaders in Richmond who opposed a casino, self-hating followed by a myriad of racial slurs live on a local “gospel” station. Urban One continued to use their platform to empower a host to spew the exact type of antisemitic rhetoric that has many of our Jewish Brothers and sisters in our city, nation, and commonwealth fearing for their lives. Why did they target us with such hate and vitriol? Did we approve to knock down public housing without a plan for residents to go? Did we give millions of dollars of free federal money to the same developers topping our evictions lists instead of investing in childcare in Southside? Did we spread lies on black community leaders to heighten the chances of our pay day? Did we throw out thousands of black people’s votes because our multi-million dollar donors wanted a different result? No. And even if we did it would not deserve the types of slander and hateful language spewed. What did we do? We said no to a casino industry that collects up to 60% of its revenue from those addicted to their product and 80% of its revenue from households earning less than $50,000 a year. When people on the fence ask me “what is the impact you think a casino will bring to Richmond” I think the most important question to ask is “Do you like how their presence has impacted our community so far?” As a leader of a peace-building organization that equips change-makers on the frontlines of war, conflict and designing a new future, I always teach them that one of the most important questions in your quest for the future you desire that is seldom asked is: “who are you becoming?”
There are certainly people who I respect on both sides of this issue, but even those who support or are neutral on the casino are concerned especially after Cathy Hughes’ hateful words over the weekend, “who are we becoming to get this casino done?”
In a matter of months, our gospel radio stations have become platforms for bearing false witness against our neighbors. Our music stations built upon the concept of harmony have been utilized to spread hate and racism. Our community leaders are being pitted against each other for multi-million dollar corporations that are about as likely to stay here after a loss as you are to hit the jackpot at their proposed casino. Our democratic processes — like public referendums — downgraded from a final decision to a mere suggestion until monied interests get the result that they want. Our faithful and treasured public servants like Senator Tim Kaine denigrated and falsely accused because he thinks economic opportunity looks more like expanding Pell grants to include those seeking trade school rather than a casino that seeks to separate everyday workers from their hard-earned wages. Our sacred black freedom tradition desecrated so that notions of collective liberation and “we shall overcome” are exchanged for capitalist extractive pipe dreams of “me shall overcome” and “we shall overbet.” If we look with open eyes collectively at what this 3 year process of attempting to get a casino has done for our city, it has paid out more chaos in our city than community in where even an Isley Brothers concert can’t get us out of the societal debt this gamble has cost us for decades to come. It becomes clear why Dr. King said Racism, economic exploitation, and militarism are connected evils and you cannot get rid of one without getting rid of the other. It is why Angela Davis said “it doesn’t matter if you are black or white…If you are trying to exploit me there is something fundamentally wrong and immoral about it.” It is why Fred Hampton said “ We’re not going to fight racism with racism, we are going to fight racism with solidarity. We are not going to fight capitalism with black capitalism, but we’re going to fight it with socialism.” He furthermore warned black leaders and activists of taking action without revolutionary education because “with no (revolutionary) education you have neocolonialism instead of colonialism.” He warns of the emergence of the black imperialist who has plenty of self- determination but a lack of self-reflection and awareness of how they are becoming the exploiter and oppressor they first resisted.
As we zoom out beyond the question of a casino however, the work of eliminating economic exploitation cannot rest merely or solely on resisting the negative impact and economic exploitation to come from a casino. It must also call on addressing how the house of Richmond and those in power has for far too long been stacked against Southside. For far too long, the powers that be in Richmond and systemic racism have handed out what Dr. King would call “socialism (and subsidies) for the rich and rugged individualism and capitalism for the poor.” From its annexation into Richmond to dilute black political power to its exclusion from investment for decades, our city for too long has acted as a casino extracting wealth from Southside to hand the jackpot to white affluent sides of town. We are not becoming who Southside deserves by merely voting against economic exploitation on the ballot in the form of a casino, though it is important. We must also keep the same energy to vote against economic exploitation in the budget. The districts that vote no to the casino must also vote no when the CIP budget chooses to take $18 million dollars to build sidewalks in Scott’s Addition while children are killed in Southside for not having proper sidewalks and pedestrian safety. And we certainly are not becoming who Southside deserves by voting yes on a casino but voting no to prioritizing Southside to the majority of $154 million dollars or taking money $20M a year that could easily pay for childcare in Southside and giving it to tax abatements to real estate developers. The belief that those supporting the casino are somehow standing up to the white power structure in Richmond is a sleight of hand that ignores it is only expanding the existing monopoly capitalism that Churchill Downs already has on our city in gambling establishments that have yet to meaningfully change the lived experience of those who surround them for the better. The Richmond Grand Casino doesn’t even have a jackpot large enough to help the city recover from the social impacts it will bring. A 2011 Baylor University economic study calculated that every problem gambler generates an annual community cost of $9,393. If we multiply this figure by the average number of Virginians some experts in Virginia project to be problem gamblers (7.5% of Richmond is 17,204 citizens) that would result in a municipal cost price of $161,597,172 annually! If you include the immediate surrounding counties of Richmond (1,341,227population) that balloons to about $ $944,860,656. Sure Richmond Grand Casino shouldn’t be tasked with solving all of Southside’s recovery from decades of systemic racism, but it should be held accountable for the deficit they would create and shouldn’t be supported in its quest to further exploit the region and our city.
I am voting no not because I think I know better than people in Southside. I organized with some of them last year who had a vision of developing and helping their communities to thrive beyond a casino. I am voting no because I know for certain the city can do better for the people in Southside in their everyday opportunities that will not create a net loss or exploitation for our community as a whole. It is as Malcolm X said “It’s like black people in America seeing the white man win all the time. He’s a professional gambler; he has all the cards and the odds stacked on his side, and he has always dealt to our people from the bottom of the deck.” Richmond Grand Casino is a bottom of the deck proposal that will further divide our community and Southside from the lasting solutions needed to truly uplift and heal a long-sorted history of exploitation and economic injustice.
It is truly as Stokely Carmichael said in July 1967 to the Dialectics of Liberation Congress, “we understand that a capitalist system automatically contains within itself racism, whether by design or not. Capitalism and racism seem to go hand in hand. The struggle for Black Power in the US, and certainly the world, is the struggle to free these colonies from external domination. But we do not seek merely to create communities where, in place of white rulers, black rulers control the lives of black masses, and where black money goes into a few black pockets. We want to see it go into the communal pocket. The society we seek to build among black people is not an oppressive capitalist society. Capitalism, by its very nature, cannot create structures free from exploitation.”
Casinos produce revenue by mostly challenging the economic freedom of those who most need it and if we can have a community dedicated to becoming more united about healing economic racism in our city versus a community divided over it that is the best hand that we can deal Southside in the choice our city will make tomorrow and in the decades to come. I ask that you join me in voting no to a casino that will turn communities’ affections into animosity, dollars into pennies and economic challenges into crippling debt. Vote instead in the everyday opportunities to do as Maggie Walker sought to do and turn their pennies into dollars and true economic uplift and build a true “One Richmond” that is the beloved community Dr. King envisioned and the Black Power Stokely Carmichael envisioned that is a world free of economic exploitation.
If you would like to read more from those who oppose the Richmond Grand Resort and Casino, go here.