Power of Place and Space

Local dimensions of imperial economic and development policy

The word “imperialism” is back on the radar of political discourse, after lying dormant for many years, thanks to the Bush administration’s willingness to throw the weight of the United States around with abandon. Imperialism is a useful word. Just as the concept of “internal colonialism” was helpful to people thinking about power and injustice in the 1960s, imperialism can be brought home to good effect for today’s activists and movement leaders. But as an analytical term, it needs to be deepened beyond sweeping statements like, “U.S. imperialism is ravaging the globe”—which are so broad as to be mere slogans—if we are to apply it to conditions of race, poverty and the environment in California and nationwide.

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From the Director's Desk

What does the topic of “imperialism” have to do with environmental and social justice?

This historical and political term is again a subject of debate in large part because of the war in Iraq. Anti-war organizers have used it to critique U.S. government administration of Iraq’s territory, and military and political systems. But as an analytical term, imperialism is also useful to examine broader issues, such as corporate-driven globalization. The “free trade” agreements being devised by wealthy nations and investors allow for foreign control of not just trade, but of environmental regulation; farming and agricultural policy; water extraction and delivery systems; health care; education; and other public services in poor and developing nations across the globe.

About this Issue

Editing this issue of Race, Poverty & the Environment with the analytical framework of imperialism has been a fascinating task. To do the theme justice, we decided to gather a set of introductory articles that define and frame imperialism as a challenge to environmental justice.

In this introductory section, U.C. Berkeley Professor R.A. Walker defines imperialism first as a “geographic term: the power of one place over another.” An author of several articles about Bay Area development, Walker describes how elite “command over space and place” has characterized urban development throughout the United States, and particularly in San Francisco and the East Bay. Tom B. K. Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network provides readers with an historical overview of colonialism’s impact on Indigenous populations and explains how exploitation of Indigenous land and resources continues today. To close this section, a Q&A with Eric Mann, director of the Labor/Community Strategy Center in Los Angeles, articulates why anti-imperialism has long been a part of the Center’s mission and what organizers can do now to further the global justice movement.

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