Reining in Dollar Stores (Episode 59)

Date: 15 Nov 2018 | posted in: Building Local Power, Podcast | 0 Facebooktwitterredditmail

Since 2011, the number of chain dollar stores has grown from 20,000 to a staggering 30,000 locations nationwide, as these stores profit off of continued economic distress and insecurity across the country. In this same period, the number of full-service grocery stores supplying communities with healthier food options has been in decline.

The city of Tulsa, Okla., is no stranger to this phenomenon. There are 50 dollar stores within the city limits, many concentrated on the city’s north side, where residents are left with few if any other options to buy their groceries.

Tulsa City Councilor Vanessa Hall-Harper

In this episode, co-hosts Stacy Mitchell and Marie Donahue speak with Tulsa City Councilor Vanessa Hall-Harper. Earlier this year, Vanessa led a successful effort to convince the City Council to pass an ordinance restricting dollar stores from building new locations in the community of North Tulsa, a historically and predominantly African-American area of the city. The ordinance was part of community members’ and Vanessa’s efforts to address the lack of healthy food options in their neighborhood.

Drawing some inspiration from ILSR’s policy tools, Vanessa was able to amend the city’s zoning code to stop the proliferation of chain dollar stores that have crowded out full-service grocery stores in North Tulsa. She overcame opposition from developers, chambers of commerce, and even some city agencies that were hesitant to exercise Tulsa’s local authority in this unique way. Stacy, Marie, and Vanessa discuss the two-year journey to pass the ordinance. They cover both the challenges and successes Vanessa had along the way, concluding with a discussion of Vanessa’s more recent efforts to bring a full-service grocery store to North Tulsa.

Tune in to learn more about Tulsa’s innovative example of building local power!

If we continue to just accept Family Dollars and Dollar Generals, that’s all we receive, then we’re not going to get anything better. We have to make our voices heard, and we have to demand better. That was a lot, to a large degree, a part of this process in saying, no to this, and this is what we want.

Interested in learning more about the rapid proliferation and impacts of dollar stores? Our team has released an in-depth feature “Dollar Stores Are Targeting Struggling Urban Neighborhoods and Small Towns. One Community Is Showing How to Fight Back.” We have also compiled a shorter 2-page fact sheet The Impact of Dollar Stores and How Communities Can Fight Back, with facts and strategies to take action. Sign up for our Hometown Advantage Bulletin newsletter to get updates and related resources straight to your inbox.



Stacy Mitchell: Hello, and welcome to Building Local Power. I’m Stacy Mitchell, of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. Today, I’m joined at hosting this episode by my colleague, Marie Donahue. Hey, Marie.
Marie Donahue: Hi, Stacy. Happy to be here.
Stacy Mitchell: In the years since The Great Recession, many retail chains have been closing their stores, but one striking exception to this trend, are dollar stores. Since 2011, the number of dollar stores has grown from 20,000, to nearly 30,000. If you map the location of these stores, it quickly becomes clear that these chains have figured out how to profit, from economic insecurity, and they’ve done so largely under the radar.

It might surprise you to learn that dollar stores, most of which sell only a limited selection of processed foods, and offer no fresh produce at all, are now feeding more Americans than Whole Foods is. These stores are not nearly a by-product of economic distress. It’s becoming increasingly clear that they’re also a cause of it. In small towns and urban neighborhoods alike, dollar stores are leading full-service grocery stores to close, and their strategy is saturating urban neighborhoods with multiple outlets, is making it impossible for new grocers to take root and grow.

Today on the show, our guest is someone who has been on the front lines of battling this trend. Vanessa Hall-Harper was recently re-elected to her second term on the Tulsa, Oklahoma City Council. There are more than 50 dollar stores within the city limits of Tulsa, and many are located in Vanessa’s neighborhood, a neighborhood that does not have a single full-service grocery store. Thanks in part to Vanessa’s work though, that’s about to change.

Earlier this year she passed an ordinance that puts limits on dollar stores, and now, there is a new grocery store coming to her neighborhood. So, we’re really looking forward to having Vanessa on the show, and hearing how she’s done this. Vanessa, welcome to Building Local Power.

Vanessa Hall-Harper: Thanks so much. I’m happy to be here.
Stacy Mitchell: Well, I want to start by asking, why did you decide to run for city council?
Vanessa Hall-Harper: I was bothered by the fact that I continued to see my community deteriorate, and so, knowing that there was so many things that are needed in the community, I actually have … my educational background is in Political Science, and so, politics and at least the process, and how politics work, has always been near and dear to my heart, and so, just knowing better, knowing how better to get things accomplished on a local level, and not doing anything about it, finally just got to me.

I believe this was a calling for me in my life, and I decided after several years of trying to put it off, to go ahead and throw my hat in the ring, and I ran for the first time in 2014 for city council for District One, here in my community, the community that I was born and raised in. I lost my first election, and then when I ran again in 2016, I won. So, that’s kind of how it happened.

Stacy Mitchell: What were some of the issues that were motivating you, when you ran? Tell us a little bit about your neighborhood, and you mentioned sort of seeing these problems that you knew there were solutions to, but not seeing those solutions get implemented. Talk a little bit about what those were.
Vanessa Hall-Harper: I just felt like our leadership was not there, as a true voice for the community. One of the continuing problems, that we’ve had in my community, is the lack of full-service quality grocery stores. That is overwhelmingly, the number one concern, that citizens in my district complained about for years, and still to this day. Although, we have some light at the end of the tunnel, but again, I would say that’s probably number one, the greatest concern for my community.

Other things, as far as just not having a real voice, not having the, I guess, liberty, or the permission if you will, to come down to City Hall, and to say, “Look, we have a problem with this.” Our parks in our community are something that’s a dying breed. Several of the community centers have been closed, one even demolished, and so, that was a great concern to families in our community, and again, decisions being made for the community, but without the community. That is not how our American government is set up to work. Our government is set up in a Democratic way, in which, people can have a voice, and input on the very decisions that are changing, or could possibly change their lives.

In a nutshell, I wanted to run so that I can not only improve the quality of life for my district, but to give the people a voice so they would feel like they’ve been heard, and if they have a say on how they live day-to-day.

Marie Donahue: Kind of curious, just to have you speak a little more about this question of dollar stores in the North Tulsa community, and to just maybe paint a picture for us a bit, about the extent of these stores, that you’ve seen, and then maybe expand on that to some other sort of questions around geography that you have, both in your district, but in the larger urban area as well.
Vanessa Hall-Harper: Absolutely. So, we definitely have a proliferation, or an issue of proliferation of these discount dollar stores, and the only two that exist in my district are Family Dollar and Dollar General. There are Dollar Trees in other parts of the community, but I believe that Dollar Tree is being marketed towards the more upper class, white community, and not the black, brown, and poor communities. That’s just really, I don’t have any data or anything on that, but that’s just what I see. That’s how I perceive that marketing to go, or the way they market Dollar Tree, but for Family Dollar and Dollar General in my community, there’s definitely, what I would call proliferation. They’re were nine. Now there’s 10. There is currently an 11th store, that’s being built right outside of the Healthy Neighborhoods Overlay, that we were able to put in to place in our zoning code.

They are built in such a way, that they are literally on top of each other. So, there is no spacing. Before the Healthy Neighborhoods Overlay, there was no spacing requirements, and so Family Dollars, and Dollar Generals, would literally build across the street from each other, or next door to one another, and I believe, and after studying, and doing some research, that when these stores proliferate communities, particularly low-income communities, it makes it more difficult for full-service grocery stores to survive, and if they’re aren’t any to begin with, it makes it more difficult for them to come in, and set up shop and be successful.

Knowing a little bit about government, and how things work, I knew that as a city government, we have the authority to address these types of issues and concerns, that ultimately affect the community, both economically, as well as, the health, the overall health of a community. I sought to do something about it, and that’s when I started some research, and came upon your website, and found a lot of good information. I’m so thankful for that. I was really kind of getting discouraged for a while there, until I came across your website, and it just really gave me some good direction in which to go, so that I can use that information, and share it with our zoning department, and our econ department. So, that’s kind of how it got started.

Stacy Mitchell: I’m really interested to talk about the ordinance, and about the process that you led to actually get this passed, ’cause my sense was that it was a process with a lot of twists and turns, and some uphill fights, but before we turn to that, I wanted to ask you a little bit more about the geography about dollar stores. Marie made some maps, as we were putting together, the article that’s on our website of dollar stores in Tulsa, and then looked at census tracks, both percentage of poverty, and percentage of people that identify as African American, or black, and what was so striking is that, there didn’t seem to actually be a lot of correlation with income, but there was a real strong correlation with race.

I’m curious about, do you have insights on why that is? I mean, is that your experience in the city, is that dollars stores are much more closely correlated with African American neighborhoods, and particularly with North Tulsa, and do you have a sense of why it is that they’ve targeted those communities so much?

Vanessa Hall-Harper: I do believe they target the black brown, in poor communities. As far as here in Tulsa, and I’m assuming that it’s the case in other communities as well, but in Tulsa, we are a very polarized community, and that would stem back to the 1921 Race Massacre, if you’re familiar with that.
Stacy Mitchell: Mm-hmm.
Vanessa Hall-Harper: Just how our city came in to being. There’s a cliché that’s used, oftentimes in movies and government that says, “The other side of the tracks.” Well, that is absolutely 100% true, when it comes to Tulsa. Our city is literally divided by a set of railroad tracks, and the south side of town is overwhelmingly white, and the north side of town is overwhelmingly black. That is changing somewhat, but it still holds true to this day. I guess, as a company, as a business, when you come to Tulsa, it is deeply polarized, and when you are looking for the black community, it is more of Tulsa.

Of course, there is also Hispanic, Native American, and white in the community, but overwhelmingly, it is the African American community, and I would have to say that, that is the case because of just how this city came in to being, before statehood and since. When you came to Tulsa, as a light person, you went to North Tulsa to live. You could not live anywhere else. That still holds true today, as far as locating, but you know, with integration you can live other places, but for the most part, North Tulsa’s do the African American side of town.

Marie Donahue: Could you expand a little bit for us, Vanessa, and for our listeners about The Race Massacre that occurred in the 1920’s in Tulsa, for those who may not be familiar? I certainly know that there’s a quite rich history of Black Wall Street, for example, in that community, and if you could just kind of share a little bit more for those who may not be familiar.
Vanessa Hall-Harper: Absolutely. So, O.W. Gurley, who’s an African American, who actually came from or by way of Greenwood, Mississippi, who was a successful businessman, came to Tulsa in 1906, before Statehood, and was able to purchase 40 acres of land, in, what we now know, as to be North Tulsa, but in the part of town where African Americans could purchase land.

So, it grew to be a very successful, very bustling business district, which became known, I think Booker T. Washington, is the gentleman that named it Black Wall Street. There were over 600 successful businesses, homes, home to several millionaires back then, which was very rare, and so, at the end of May of 1921, D. Rowland, who was a bellhop at a hotel downtown, was said to have to tried to attack a white woman, who actually rode the elevator. We know now that, that was not true. In fact, they were involved in a relationship, and was later married in Chicago, we found out just from history, but I believe it looks like they were caught maybe kissing or holding hands, or something to that affect, and at that point, someone, we don’t know who that is, but said, that he had raped her, or at least attempted, to rape her, which was obviously not true, but that is all that was needed to start what we know now to be The Race Massacre of 1921.

This is something that happened all over really, the Southern United States, and our Eastern border. It was not new. In fact, The Red Summer of 1919, it happened in Rosewood, Florida. It happened in Arkansas, in Chicago, in cities, in black cities, black communities throughout the country, where normally that was what was said. A black person, a black man, touched, winked, spoke to, anything to a white woman, and then that gave the city the justification in their minds at least, to go in and to destroy.

Tulsa is known because it was certainly by far, the largest black business community in the country, that was destroyed, and it was the first time, that aerial bombs were flown from an airplane. There was an airplane out in Southwest Tulsa, where when the rioters, the white mob, was not able to come in and take over the community, because there were people fighting back. They then got in airplanes, and dropped bombs, and that’s really how they were able to win and to destroy, because who could fight against aerial bombs. That’s a really short history of what happened, and to a very large degree, that division still exists today, unfortunately.

Certainly working on it, to change through our government, the government, the city, and the state was very complicit in the massacre, as well as the KKK. Very complicit in the massacre that took place in 1921, and we are approaching the 100 year centennial of the 1921 Race Massacre, so we’re working to acknowledge, and to hopefully find some reconciliation with the truth, as we try to improve our city and our state.

Stacy Mitchell: It seems in some ways that the huge number of dollar stores that you have in North Tulsa, it really connects to this history, in the sense that the absence of grocery stores for miles in your neighborhood is in some ways, a legacy of that history of the destruction of the economic base of the community, and also maybe is connected to a lack of political power. I wonder how much these corporations perceive, if they try to open stores in more politically powerful white neighborhoods, that there’s gonna be pushback, and maybe they feel like that’s something they’re not gonna encounter in black and brown neighborhoods, in the same way.

You have passed the first ordinance, as far as we know, in the country, that limits the proliferation of dollar stores, and so, your work is very much about bringing political power back to your community, back to this neighborhood. Tell us a little bit about what you first proposed, as you came in to city council, and what kind of reception you got.

Vanessa Hall-Harper: The first step was to put a moratorium in place. There was a store, that was in the process, I wouldn’t say of being built. It hadn’t. We have an authority here, called The Tulsa Development Authority, and they came about as a result of urban renewal, back in the 70’s, and they essential bought up a lot of properties in depressed areas, which was mainly North Tulsa, and they’re responsible for the development of that.

When I first learned that there was another proposal for a discount dollar store right after I came in to office, I went to the Authority and spoke and said, “With all due respect, this is not something we need, another dollar store in the community.” In fact, that same project had been proposed three times prior to the moratorium, and it was put down by the community, because the location where that store was initially trying to move to was zoned residential, which was literally a stone’s throw away, from a Family Dollar store, that was already in existence.

The neighbor’s in that direct community went to planning, ’cause whenever there’s a zoning change, they have to notify the community, by law. The community showed up at these meetings, and said, “We don’t want another dollar store.” So, again, there were three times, when that store was denied. The first time, they waited two years, and did it again. Waited another couple years. I guess they were just hoping that the community would forget about it, but again, when your zoning is changing, by law, the community has to be notified, and so, after those three failures, they decided to move to another piece of land, that was already still in the very close proximity, but was already zoned retail or zoned commercial.

They started that process, and one of the problems that I had with that, is that the Tulsa Development Authority, which is an authority of the city, did not adequately publish what type of store, or what type of business that would be. They left out that it was going to be a dollar store. They left out that it was a Dollar General, even though they knew what kind of store it would be, and I believe that was intentional.

Currently, as we sit here today, there is a pending lawsuit against the Tulsa Development Authority. I, and four other citizens that live in the area, filed the lawsuit claiming violation of the Oklahoma Open Meetings Act, against the Tulsa Development Authority. I would venture to say, I’m the first elected official in our city’s history to sue an authority of the city, but I think these types of things are necessary for, just as you were saying earlier, that the community’s voice is heard, that we understand the political power that we have, and to use that political power. We protest it. We have said from day one, this is not what we want.

In fact, I reached out to the headquarters, the corporate offices of Dollar General early on, and said, “Look, if this is something you’re going to do, why not make it your market concept?” So, I’m not sure if you’re all aware, but Dollar General has a market concept store, where it is a full, I won’t say very full, but it offers fresh fruits, meats, and vegetables. There’s two in the state of Oklahoma, but out in very rural communities, and I had not seen it myself. I’ve had other people in the community saying, “I was in Okemah …” or whatever the little town it was, and saw that Dollar General had a full-service store, or what they considered a full-service store, and so, I requested that. If you’re going to do this, why don’t you make it one of those stores, so that you would at least offer some fresh fruits and vegetables, and some fresh meats, and they basically said no. They said, “We don’t have to.” And they know that they don’t, because they know in communities that are a disenfranchised in communities that do not have options, which I believe is their market strategy.

They go in to communities, where they know that there aren’t many options. That ensures their success, and again, makes it in my opinion, more difficult for fuller service quality stores to come in later, and survive, and provide those much needed fruits and vegetables. That’s kind of how that came about. The store had not broken ground or anything. It was still in the process of transferring the property, when I started working on the moratorium, and yes, there was a lot of push-back, particularly from the business community. There were calls made, not so much to me, but there was definitely more calls made to some of my fellow counselors.

In fact, there were two other city counselors, that were on-board with me initially, because they have some low socioeconomic communities as well, like brown and poor, and they were facing, and are facing, the same proliferation issues, but after some calls were made by some very powerful people, they said they’re not gonna do it. They backed down, and I didn’t. So, I continued the fight.

Marie Donahue: So, Vanessa, you’re speaking a bit about Dollar General’s power, the area’s business community, and some of the opposition that you faced in that community and in government. I’m curious how you, and how the community overcame that opposition to successfully pass this moratorium, and then some of the later policies, that will get in to a little bit, in more depth later, but some of the strategies were what who was involved, in building that power more locally?
Vanessa Hall-Harper: My tool for everything, but particularly in this effort is transparency. Everything that I do, everything that I find out, every steps that we’re taking, I make it public. I make it known to the community, and I encourage, and demand, in fact, for the community to come out and have their voices heard.

Education … letting them know. I can’t tell you how many things I’ve printed off of the Institute For Local Self-Reliance. Sharing this information about formula based businesses, and restrictions, and so forth, to say, there are examples. There is information out there, that we can take, and implement in our own communities, to demand better, and unless the people demand better, we can’t expect better. Transparency is my greatest tool. I would have to say, and that empowers people to speak up, and say, no.

Most people probably don’t understand proliferation. When I’ve had my town hall meetings, and I’ll ask, “The problem’s proliferation. Does everyone know what that means?” Most did not. A lot did, but a lot didn’t either, and unbalanced development. So, we talk about those things, and we’re raising awareness around these issues, so that you can open the eyes of those that don’t see what’s taking place around them, and for a lot of people, they said, “You know what? I never thought about it that way, but you’re right. You’re right.”

We have these stores, and that’s all that we are receiving. You have this one particular company or developer, who was building this Dollar General in North Tulsa, but you go a half a mile to downtown, south, and they’re building this huge beautiful development of flats or apartments, which are housing in retail on the bottom, on the first floor of the buildings, and my question is, why can’t we receive some of those same types of developments? If we continue to just accept Family Dollars and Dollar Generals, that’s all we receive, then we’re not going to get anything better. We have to make our voices heard, and we have to demand better. That was a lot, to a large degree, a part of this process in saying, no to this, and this is what we want.

As I said, there were people very powerful, when I say powerful people, you’re talking about developers. You’re talking about chambers of commerce. You know, all of the same key players, that I’m sure that are making development decisions, in any other city who were against this. I got some pretty nasty emails and comments, but you know, I stood the course, and I stood the course with my community in saying, “No, and we’re not going to accept anything less.”

Stacy Mitchell: You’re listening to Vanessa Hall-Harper, City Council Member in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I’m Stacy Mitchell with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. We’ll be right back, after a short break.

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So, you passed the six month moratorium, and then went on to devise an ordinance, that’s a kind of a dispersal ordinance. It limits the ability of dollar stores, as I understand it, to locate within a mile of an existing dollar store. So, it basically says, “We’re not gonna accept this kind of saturation, because that saturation is what’s preventing grocery stores from being able to come in. They can’t find any room in a market, that’s got so many dollar stores, kind of squeezing out room for other options.

One of the things, as I understand it, that the opposition was, as you noted from developers and the Chamber of Commerce, and sort of this sense of like business ought to be able to just do what it wants, but it also is coming from within City Hall, right? I mean, there were city councilors, but also just a reluctance on the part maybe of city agencies, to exercise owning authority in this way. Is that right?

Vanessa Hall Harper: Absolutely. Absolutely. Initially, our planning department felt like that’s not something that should be done. I was even told, that it’s illegal. That we are a little concerned about lawsuits. You know, all the reasons not to do something, and what I considered fear tactics, rather than addressing the need. Absolutely. I eventually had to go to the mayor, because as I was reaching out to department heads. In our form of government, the department heads, whether it’s the planning department, the parks department, the water department, whatever the case may be, answers directly to our mayor. They don’t answer to City Council, and so, I was experiencing road blocks. I was trying to schedule meetings to get this information out. To share the information that I had found in my research, asking them to look as they are the experts in zoning. That’s not my area of expertise by any stretch, but I just kept getting road blocks, or the door shut, or you know. It just was not being taken seriously. When it comes to our planning department, or even our legal department, was not taking it seriously.

So, I went to the mayor, and I said, “Look, I need your help.” Our mayor actually came in to office with me. He had previously been a city councilor about eight years, and he ran for office, so we actually won our elections at the same time, and he ran on a platform of health, and improving community, and putting down the racial barriers that are so strong in Tulsa. I went to him and told him, “I need your help. This is yet another opportunity that the city, our community, the poor community, and black community has gone to the city for help, and so many times, in the past, we’ve had the door closed in our face.” And so, I appealed to him at that level, and he said, “Okay.” He made calls to the people again, that answer to him, the legal department, and the planning department, and said, “You all need to work on this.”

So, some more work started to be done, with that directive, and at the first meeting didn’t go as well as I had hoped, because on of the assignments were to go out and find other examples of policies, where the city has been able to address these issues, proliferation, unbalanced development, et cetera, you know, address the issue, and improve quality of life. We’ve had those here in the city, where when it comes to moratoriums, and zoning code changes, but it always related more so to retail. We don’t want anymore parking here downtown, on other affluent communities in the city, but when it came to North Tulsa, that wasn’t a priority.

It took us a while, but we started making some progress. Again, I shared a lot of information from The Institute For Local Self-Reliance with our legal department, our planning department, and the mayor said, “Figure it out. Do something. If it’s unique to Tulsa, if it’s unique to this country, figure something out, that’s going to work for us.” And they did.

So, I started working with Susan Miller, who’s actually in INCOG, and she did some research and came up with what’s called a Healthy Neighborhood’s Overlay, and working with some area sector plans, that already existed, and using those sector plan boundaries to incorporate The Healthy Neighborhoods Overlay, to address some of the issues, that we had raised as a community.

Marie Donahue: Thanks, Vanessa. I’m curious just to draw on that success a little bit, about the Healthy Neighborhood ordinance, now that it was passed earlier this year, and has been incorporated in to the zoning code, as you mentioned. That we have understood that you have also been actively working on developing some other grocery store options, and really advocating for that. I’m curious just to have you expand a little bit more about that stores, some of the details of it. Sort of why you think it’s important for North Tulsa.
Vanessa Hall-Harper: Oh, yes. Absolutely important. I actually, the day after I won the election, I reached out to TEDC, which is the Tulsa Economic Development Corporation. There was a young lady named Rose Washington, who’s the Executive Director, and I reached out to her for help. I said, “Look, we need a grocery store in my community.” She’s very familiar with my community, and she said, “Okay, let’s see what we can do.” There were federal dollars, that were available called The Oasis Grant, and it’s through CDBG, Community Development Block Grants, and she applied for the Oasis Grant, which is specifically addresses food insecurity, and food deserts. She applied for it, and received it, and that was awesome. It was a 1.5 million dollar grant, and so, with that and some other resources, that she has available, or at least access to, reached out to a local grocer, who was going to come in and be the operator of the store.

The funds that we received from this CDBG, will be used to build a store. That’s not gonna cover it all, but it’s gonna cover a huge chunk of it, so that we can have a full-service, quality store directly in the community. I’m hoping that that’s the first of more. Easily, my community can accommodate two, maybe even three, grocery stores, but I think if we start with one, that will give us some hope. Hopefully, that will make other operators notice that, hey, you can survive here, and there’s a need for full-service, quality groceries, and it would be a good bet to come here as a grocer, and open up a grocery store, and survive.

That’s kind of where we are. I actually need to talk to some to get an update on that process, but we have a architect that has been selected, that’s going to do the architecture for the building, and I think the next step is to meet with the architect and work with the community, and the development and the design of the store. I’m excited about that, because one thing I did want is the community to be involved as much as possible, in every aspect of us addressing our food security issue in our community. I think that empowers people, and it lets the community citizens know, that I have a say. I have a voice, and I have power, and if there’s something that we need to improve the quality in our communities, that will improve the quality of life, then I can participate in that, and I can demand that these things happen. I’m excited about that. I’m waiting for the call to say, “Look, we can start community meetings on what we want our grocery store to look like.” That’s when I’ll probably turn some back flips.

Stacy Mitchell: Oh, that’s great to hear, Vanessa. Well, that’s really wonderful news. Yeah, I guess just as a last question. I’m curious just reflecting on this two year process, that you’ve been through, in trying to control the proliferation of dollar stores. The fight that you had to go through, to get this piece of legislation through you marshaling the community really, to overcome even a sense on the part of local government, that there was not the authority to do exactly what they had the authority to do, and now this new grocery store coming in with a lot of community input. I’m curious just stepping back from all of that, if you feel like this marks a kind of a new era in inclusion for Tulsa’s African American community, and in local politics, and having some power over the future?
Vanessa Hall-Harper: I do. I believe that strongly. I believe we have a lot of work to do, but I do think we have taken a first step in reconciliation, which is something we need a great deal of in Tulsa, but what we want is honesty. We want honest reconciliation. We just don’t want words on a page. Just to give you an example of another issue in our community, that has racially divided this community. There was a street in our community, that was named Cincinnati.

Well, a previous city councilor asked for that name. That street’s one of our main streets to be named Martin Luther King Boulevard. There was a lot of drawback to that in the community, ’cause the street runs from north to the other side of town, and it’s South Tulsa, and obviously, a lot of people in South Tulsa did not want that name change. So, the city agreed to go ahead and change it, but it stops at the railroad tracks. It stops at the dividing line, of the black community and the white community. Things like that, that are still happening today, is a reminder of just how much work we need to do. This work, I believe, as you said, it is at least a step. It is a step, and I’m just committed, and I want to keep my community engaged and committed to improving it, because without the work, and without the dedication of citizens, and of elected officials who’s willing to put their head out there, with the possibility of it getting chopped off, we’re not going to have reconciliation. We’re not going to be the community we all want to be.

There’s a saying here, our regional chamber constantly calls this one Tulsa. Well, we’re one Tulsa, and I’ve said publicly in interviews, and in public places, that, “No, we’re not. We’re not one Tulsa yet, but there are things that we can do to become one Tulsa, and this fight for putting this moratorium in to place, is just one step or one way, in which we are fighting and making progress. That was some very discouraging times, during this process, because it just did not make sense for some of the reasons of why people were saying, No, we don’t want this for you.” Because the people that were saying no don’t live in the community, but yet the city wanted to take the position of the powerful, and say, “No, this is not something we need. It’s not good business, free market.”

You know, I’m sure you’ve heard all of the excuses, and it was discouraging to get it for a while, but we were able to overcome that, and a lot of the reason for that, is because we were speaking truth to power, and we were saying that, “You all are putting profits over people, and that’s not right.” And we hollered it, and we screamed it from the rooftops, and we were not quiet with it. We protested, and a lot of people are turned off by those tactics, but they work. We’ve had some success, and got a lot more work to do. This is one success we can say we were able to overcome, and hopefully, we can use this as an example for future work, that we must do.

Stacy Mitchell: Vanessa, thank you so much for joining us today, and sharing the work that you’re doing in Tulsa. We really appreciate it.
Vanessa Hall-Harper: Thank you. Thank you so much. I mean, you guys here are a great resource, and I’ve been getting calls from other people in New Orleans and other cities, and I tell them, “Go on this website.” This improvisation and the work that you all do and provide, you can’t put a price to it, so I appreciate the Institute for Local Self-Reliance a great deal.
Stacy Mitchell: Oh well, that’s great. Thank you so much for saying that.

Thank you for tuning in to this episode of, Building Local Power. You can find links to what we discussed today, by going to our website, and clicking on the show page for this episode. That’s We’ll be sure to include a link on that page to Marie’s new article about dollar stores, where you can find out more about what Tulsa has done, and more about how dollar stores are impacting local economies across the country.

This show is produced by Lisa Gonzales, Zach Freed, and Hibba Meraay. Our theme music is Funk Interlude, by Dysfunction Al. For the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, I’m Stacy Mitchell. I hope you’ll join us again in two weeks, for the next episode of Building Local Power.


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Photo Credit: Vice News

Audio Credit: Funk Interlude by Dysfunction_AL Ft: Fourstones – Scomber (Bonus Track). Copyright 2016 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial (3.0) license.

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