University Park needs a race-class-gender analysis, pronto!

It’s probably true that every small town has its dramas, but the ones in University Park seem to always fall out along lines of race and class. This shouldn’t surprise me, given that I live in a town that was incorporated with racial covenants in a county that was and is predominantly black. Language is an important window into thinking; here, whenever the town needs to make a choice about access and distribution of resources, the desire for exclusion of outsiders and fear of a loss of privilege predominates. This was true when the town invested in a playing field in the public park — who would be allowed to use it, would they pay, how would it be policed — and years ago when a major road was closed off to through-traffic and the metro line extended to our area.

Currently, this dynamic is playing out over the issue of enrolling the 24 town employees in a defined-benefit pension plan run by the State of Maryland. The pension plan would replace the 401(k) plan that’s been in place for over 20 years and is now essentially worthless, would provide defined contribution and payout amounts, and would provide disability insurance for the police and maintenance workers without the risk that a claim would send the Town’s rates through the roof. There are debates about the specifics of the numbers, but the proponents of the plan perceive it to be essentially affordable and a more secure way of meeting our obligations as an employer and the opponents would rather not spend the money at all.

This last is where language, rhetoric, and a whole bunch of unseemly underlying assumptions come into play, and where an intersectionality approach is useful. There has been rhetoric about how federal social security benefits are adequate for the (majority black) working class employees, rhetoric that would be appalling were it to be offered to any of the resident doctors, lawyers, professors and bankers as a rationale from their own employers. The underlying belief is that the folks working for us in town are fundamentally different from us, and there is no reason to provide to them the quality or extent of benefits that we expect to be provided to us as a matter of course at our own jobs. There’s also the underlying assumption by the opposition that in matters of finances, we would all rather have more money in our pockets than pay more for better services; this assumption is revealed by talk of doing away with town employees altogether and outsourcing their jobs. Of course, race and class play into this argument as well, because if there’s a working population more vulnerable to exploitation than the men who work jobs in city maintenance, it’s the usually-recent-immigrants who work for large companies that supply the outsourced labor to clean office buildings and haul trash. But if folks have no qualms about suggesting workers retiring after 30 years of service live on social security alone, they certainly have no qualms about suggesting the town benefit financially from further exploitation of vulnerable workers.

None of this is anything new, and is entirely typical of an entitled cultural attitude wherein people who do our dirty work are nothing more than a cost on a balance sheet to be whittled down whenever possible. Certainly this type of race and class privilege cloaked in the language of economics and cost-benefit analysis is something with which we’re all too familiar. What’s different in this particular debate is the fall back on a deep-rooted and classic sexism in categorizing the proponents as ’emotional’ and the opponents as ‘rational,’ conflating all ethics with emotion and assuming that the most rational action of all is one that moves to block expenditures whenever possible. Perhaps it should be heartening that the opposition perceives itself to be backed into a corner and is grasping at straws, but it plays like a case study for a feminist analysis straight out of the 1970s. Patronizing language and attitude? Check. Insistence that your side alone has the true facts and the other is guided by the whims of emotion, which of course has no place in decision-making? Check. Insistence on speaking first, last, and repeatedly at all meetings related to this subject? Check. And last but certainly not least, loud and derisive interruption of women speaking on the other side? Check, check, check. (There are men speaking on both sides, but it’s only the opponents who do the interrupting and only to the women on the other side.)

I know I should be finding it amusing that the people nearly apoplectic and sputtering at the Town Council meetings are those who are accusing the other side of being guided by irrelevant emotion, but it’s such an old and galling argument that I find myself frequently unable to see the lighter side. The behavior and rhetoric is insulting to everyone, and I don’t think the opposition realizes just how much they are alienating people with their continued pursuit of this approach: the Mayor who’s crafted this proposal with knowledge from a long career in financial data analysis; the employees who are constantly being publicly characterized as not worth equal treatment; and the town residents ourselves whose collective choice to be responsible and ethical employers is being ridiculed as irrational and weak-minded. The opposition spends a lot of energy claiming to have the facts on their side, but I have to think that if they actually did they wouldn’t perceive a need to be behaving in this manner. Unless of course, a rational and strategic assessment of the tactics most likely to succeed isn’t what’s guiding their actions after all.

University Park needs a race-class-gender analysis, pronto!

7 thoughts on “University Park needs a race-class-gender analysis, pronto!

  1. UPJohn says:

    You’ve lived in UP for less than 3 years, and now you’re an expert on UP politics? Why does UP need to have employees in the first place? If we contracted out our services, then we wouldn’t have to worry about a pension. I am a white-collar worker with no pension – do you think that I’m less of a person? I don’t think of our loyal Town employees as lower-status individuals because they don’t have a pension (other than a 401K, to which the Town contributes). Many of our Town employees maker more per annum than I, more than a lot of residents, I’m sure! The anger and frustration from those opposed to the pension plan stems, in my oppinion, from the holier-than-thou attitude of those pushing the pension plan: “Well, we are better people because we want to help our poor, trod-upon, employees.” Reminds me of the old Eleanor Roosevelt quote: “My heart weeps for the Coloreds.” Would you feel so strongly for the pension if all of the employees were white? What happens if this pension plan passes, and taxes go up year after year, and suddenly, the elderly retirees on fixed incomes can’t afford to stay where they’ve lived for so many years? Or they have to start taking in boarders, turning more houses into rooming houses? Frankly, I care more about the residents of the town than the employees, and, respectfully, I don’t feel that I should have to pay for your white guilt.

  2. Smith says:

    I completely disagree with everything in your post. I am not in favor of the pension (buy back) but I don’t feel any town employee is beneath me or anyone.

    I do have an example of where I think your vision has been clouded for some reason. Maybe you could explain?

    “And last but certainly not least, loud and derisive interruption of women speaking on the other side? Check, check, check. (There are men speaking on both sides, but it’s only the opponents who do the interrupting and only to the women on the other side.”

    I know you were at the meeting when a council member (a man in favor of the pension) harshly interrupted a town resident (a women against the pension), Check!

    Where is the outcry?

  3. Shannon says:

    Race card not helpful and irrelevant.

    I believe it is the 1st blogger who stated many residents have told her that they do not mind taxes going up in order to “do the right thing”. If I am incorrect, I apologize.


    that the least wealthy of our residents should be forced to pay into a pension when we have one of the highest matching 401K’s?

    that it is OK for most resindents to have only a 401K and Social Security, but it is not OK for our employees?

    that only our employees alone are suffering the results of the economic crisis?

    that those who cannot afford the pension should be disregarded and simply expect to move when taxes increase?

    that we should become a neighborhod in which only the “elite” can afford to live?

    By rhetoric, does she mean how opponents have pointed out that the facts that the pension has lost $11 billion and is more unstable than the 401K?

    Is it right to force residents who have depleted reitirements, are unemployed or underemployed to pay into this plan?

    is it OK to put our budget, and by extensionsion, our residents and employees at risk?


    When the pension falls we will pay more tax to compensate. When the 401K falls we will not.

    Taxes may only rise to a certain piont in a given year, so the next move will be to cut services and therefore, LAY-OFF employees when the pension plummets.

    With the tax assessments decreasing, we will have much less in our treasury. Due to this, the tax rate must increase at some point to compensate for back-funding and pension shortfalls.

    What is “right” for our employees should never superceed that which may be “wrong” for the least wealthy of our residents.

    When the previous Mayor asked of we could imagine opening our 401K’s to find it half depleted? Why yes – we not only imagine it – it has happened to most all of us.

    Perhaps, those that think the pension is so right should offer to pay for all of it. Some of us cannot afford it and this should not be disregarded as it has been thus far.

    And if you are referring to me as the outspoken female at council meetings – this would be correct. As I will do anything I can to stand up for the “least” of our residents.

    While I do not wish to offend anyone and am happy our employees receive such an excellent 401K, I would also like to see that all residents may remain in UP if it is their wish to do so.

  4. SS says:

    One more thing – when the Mayor “says” taxes will not go up for 5 years, this is based on many assumptions that are not proven correct. And he cannot gaurantee this if he leaves office and as new voting coucil members enter the picture. Regardless, many residents feel they cannot afford the pension now or 5 years from now.

    Has anyone on the proponent side asked the Mayor what his projections are as far as our tax bill 5 years from now? What happens then?

  5. Kerry says:

    I find it incredibly disturbing that my husband and I have sent numerous emails to both the mayor and ward members in favor of the pension plan simply asking for more clarification on the pension vs. 401K debate. We have repeatedly ask very simple questions in an attempt to try to understand how this change could be beneficial to UP from a financial, service, and long-term strategic standpoint.

    NOT ONE PERSON ever responded.

    Our emails were polite, inquisitive, and we put a lot of thought into our questions.

    Frankly, I find it very telling that NO ONE took the time to respond.

  6. UPJohn says:

    As for your brief comment that “a major road was closed off to through-traffic and the metro line extended to our area,” please don’t tell me that you want to re-open Queens Chapel Road! First of all, it was closed so that Metro could tunnel directly under QC Road, following its exact path. After that was completed (it took roughly two years), we residents realized how nice it was not having 15,000 cars A DAY travelling down a two-lane residential street in the heart of our small town. It was literally like the Berlin Wall. Eventually the town put up stop signs at every intersection, but before that, it was almost impossbile to cross. Surely you don’t want a return of that. In your mind, do you see this as an elitist maneuver to keep women and minorities out of our Town?!

  7. SS says:

    Your experience has alarmingly been the same for many with questions about the pension. It is disturbing that some on the town council and mayor are moving forward with their own agenda without answering the concerns or questions of their constituent taxpayers footing the bill for the pension.

    Again, the only analysis we have been permitted is that of the Mayor and Dan Baden who are strongly in favor of the pension.

    Many have felt ignored and disregarded.

    Could it be because some on council and the mayor in favor of the pension know they already have the votes to pass it into law, and thus realize there is no need to reply to us?

    AllI can say is – hold on to your wallets everybody! Within 5 years your taxes will go sky high!

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