When Suzanne Hudson asked me to write for “Ours is a City of Writers,” I replied with few quick questions. One of them was how the compensation for such an assignment for the Brooklyn Rail works? Suzanne told me their group’s guest editor fee would be split amongst the writers; I don’t know exactly how it works for everyone involved, but of course, as you could guess, the “honorarium” is minimal. This is the means of cultural production—to ask for something, anything, and hope one receives. As a recent New York Times piece highlights, BR operates on a shoestring, hustling to stay afloat, and generally offers writers no compensation for their work. The independent publication has been afloat in this manner since 1998.
How do we remain a city of writers, of artists, in these places? The same New York Times found that in Los Angeles, median rent is 47% of median income. The median rent in Los Angeles is $2,460 (New York is $2,331). According to UCLA’s Ziman Center for Real Estate and LA Curbed, Los Angeles has “the most unaffordable rental market in the U.S. [. . .] due to the fact that 52% of its inhabitants are renters” (the national rental rate is about 35%) and “since 1970, median rent has risen 175% in Los Angeles while median income has stayed just about flat.” Or, in other words, “one needs to earn at least $33 an hour—$68,640 a year—to be able to afford the average apartment in Los Angeles County.” This is unmanageable and ridickulous. Enhancing this dystopic landscape is a city with no water for its population of inhabitants, not enough anymore for wildlife, flora and fauna, and dying oceans. Sunny SoCal is now home to the country’s first desalination plant—the resort town of Carlsbad, California is pumping fifty million gallons per day, enough water to fill an Olympic-size swimming pool every eighteen minutes. And for what? To perpetuate crapitalist production and reproduction, growth and relaxed lifestyles.
We’re a city of hapless hopefuls at the site of a hopeless millennium. Subjects of a white supremacist murderous patriarchy that will extract everything until the end. Until it’s all over and we have filed enough content to fill every hole. We must stop the clocks, we must stop producing for production’s sake. We must start thinking together. As indigenous activist and academic Leanne Betasamosake Simpson stated,
Our elders have been warning us about this for generations now—they saw the unsustainability of settler society immediately. Societies based on conquest cannot be sustained[…]We’re running out of time. We’re losing the opportunity to turn this thing around. We don’t have time for this massive slow transformation into something that’s sustainable and alternative. I do feel like I’m getting pushed up against the wall. Maybe my ancestors felt that 200 years ago or 400 years ago. But I don’t think it matters. I think that the impetus to act and to change and to transform, for me, exists whether or not this is the end of the world. If a river is threatened, it’s the end of the world for those fish. It’s been the end of the world for somebody all along. And I think the sadness and the trauma of that is reason enough for me to act.
- This title originates from a ten-point missive entitled “Dear World” from Ridykeulouse’s archives, composed in collaboration with longtime comrades Nicole Eisenman and Laurie Weeks.
ContributorA. L. Steiner
A.L. STEINER is based in Los Angeles and New York and is recipient of the 2015 Berlin Prize. Photo courtesy Working Artists and the Greater Economy (W.A.G.E.)