Organizing for Economic Justice in Buffalo

The Fight of Local Residents to Establish Community Control, Self Determination


As the deputy director of movement building at PUSH Buffalo, Harper Bishop believes the people closest to the challenges have the best solutions. For over 10 years, he has been fighting alongside marginalized groups in Buffalo to see more mixed income neighborhoods, affordable housing closer to jobs and transit, and economic and environmental justice.


“We believe that their success is our success as a movement,” Bishop said. “Together, we’re showing the city and the country what is possible in terms of building community-controlled economies and how they can be used to drive systems change.”


PUSH was one of the first organizations to aid the Fruit Belt because of their expertise in affordable housing, planning, and community engagement processes. In addition to creating the GDZ, PUSH transformed long-vacant School 77 into a multi-use building with 30 units of affordable housing for seniors, PUSH office space, community space including the Ujima Theater Company, and the first-ever community solar project.


“Like I’ve said since the beginning of the campaign for the FBCLT, the grassroots leaders in that community decided that they didn’t just want a seat at the table, they wanted their own table, where they were the decision-makers, and that’s also what we practice here at PUSH,” Bishop said. “I am honored to bear witness to that each and every day.”


In his previous role as the director of equitable development at Open Buffalo, he had the opportunity to learn and work with Walton and other inspiring Fruit Belt residents who he says, have become like family to him.


He too, is no stranger to the systems of oppression as a queer-identifying person having grown up in a very conservative community, and he too, found a community of like-minded people to fight for justice with in a real way by bringing power back to the people in the place that was home for him. Today, he feels privileged to have created an intersectional movement that represents the community that was there before the medical corridor appeared.


“I am incredibly heartened by the progress I have seen and the build-out of spaces like a community land trust, or where we are situated right now in the GDZ, on the West Side in one of the most diverse zip codes (14213) in the whole state that has always been a place for immigrants, refugees, and new arrivals.”


Since its founding in 2005, PUSH has engaged local residents on what changes they would like to see in their neighborhood. One thing founders Aaron Bartly and Eric Walker heard repeatedly as they went door-to-door was that residents were spending more on utilities than even their rent — in a cold climate like Buffalo they were pumping heat into homes that were built without insulation and needed basic weatherization assistance to mitigate the cost burden of wasted energy.


PUSH Green, a program that promotes energy efficiency, was birthed out of this need. Similarly, The Net Zero House on 10 Winter Street, on the West Side of Buffalo, uses the latest green technologies like geothermal or solar energy to produce as much energy as it consumes on an annual basis, and has become a national model for an energy-efficient home.


PUSH refers to the GDZ as a community of practice in which they create affordable housing units, allow green infrastructure, rain gardens, cultural programming, meeting spaces, commercial spaces, and public art to thrive, and democratic control to rule.


“As you walk through the Green Development Zone, you can see people from every socioeconomic background, every immigration status, sexual orientation, gender identity, of different abilities and it’s incredibly beautiful,” Bishop said. “It’s inspiring everyday to know that PUSH has been working at the intersection of affordable housing, climate and energy for 14 years.”


PUSH is looking to break ground on roughly 50 three-to-four bedroom affordable housing units in the GDZ in 2020. In that process, they held a community congress to get input from the community on what they would like to see included in that development.


“The power of community organizing is built in deep relationship,” Bishop said. “We need to believe that we are real people that have real power, and that happens when we unify, come together, and use all of our skills and all of our talents in the service of the common good.”


This excerpt is from an article by PolicyLink.
PolicyLink is a national research and action institute advancing racial and economic equity by Lifting Up What Works.

Read the whole article here.