Painkillers in the Front, and a Knife in the Back: A Tale of Two Housing Programs
A STATEMENT FROM RATPAC-ATX
The Revolutionary Alliance of Trans People Against Capitalism – Austin (RATPAC-ATX) condemns the emergency trans housing app being developed as a tech startup company in our city by “revolutionary”-turned-entrepreneur McKinley Forbes. There is no doubt that emergency housing is a dire need facing trans people, something we recognize in our own work. However, our understanding of addressing the immediate material needs of trans people should never be separated from the long-term struggle for trans liberation. If we truly desire to combat the scarcity facing trans people, we must recognize the class struggle in which it is taking place. Capitalism creates, upholds, and regenerates patriarchal brutality and scarcity facing trans people, and will continue to do so until it is smashed. It is a system for those who own everything, and built off the backs of those who own nothing. It is a system that can never be for the broad majority of the world’s trans people.
The interests of everyday trans people are completely incompatible with that of the capitalists and their state. The conflict between the makers of society vs. the owners of society is present in every fiber of life under capitalism, and is the foundation of why there is an interest in keeping trans people invisible, down, and dead. This means that even various approaches to addressing the needs of trans people will have a political character. It will side with one camp of the conflict, or the other. It will either advance revolution, or it will serve those who profit from trans oppression. When we see something that claims (or even outwardly appears) to help trans people, but ultimately sides with the enemy camp in the struggle, this is a “sugar-coated bullet.” It is with this understanding that we denounce McKinley Forbes and her startup business. While her business fronts the feel-good image of “helping trans people,” it is actually a product of traitorous actions meant to build her own career. The fact that she continues to call herself a “revolutionary” makes it all the more two-faced on her part.
RATPAC EMERGENCY HOUSING PROGRAM
At the end of March this year, RATPAC announced its emergency trans housing program. It was the first of such programs in our city. It was established on revolutionary principles: it exists not only to meet the immediate material needs of trans people, but to politically equip us with the ability to defend each other, to build community power independent of the capitalist state and corporations, to be by-and-for the community alone, and to be part of laying the foundations of the liberated society that trans people need. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs), non-profit organizations (NPOs), and corporate charities build careers off the needs of the people in our city, but they ultimately do nothing to address a system that ensures these needs remain infinitely unmet. There are no careers to be found in siding against the enemy. So, rather than building careers, we address immediate material needs through a program that is part of the political struggle to put a final end to the infinite continuation of scarcity and brutality. We are fighting to provide vetted and sober safe housing, work closely with our housing guests in addressing all aspects of their circumstances, enhance political agency and participation in the militant trans liberation struggle, and offer integration into a comradely network of mutual support and community defense. Because “rights” and the scraps handed out by rainbow capitalist businesses can all be taken away by the capitalists, we fight for power in our communities instead.
McKinley Forbes first reached out to RATPAC in mid March, before the official announcement of our housing program. She told us she had been homeless, accepted a job offer in Austin, and had been directed to us for assistance with temporary housing and relocation. In that first contact, she presented herself as a revolutionary looking to become involved in local struggles and to assist with building up RATPAC. We lined up temporary housing with some local comrades, and one of our members picked her up from the bus station. Quickly after her arrival, she became a seemingly enthusiastic and dedicated member of our organization, espousing revolutionary principles and dedication to building up our work with Austin’s trans folks including our housing program. Other members invested themselves into supporting her struggles with relocation, and her energy excited members and supporters alike. She participated in flyering teams and was actively engaged during RATPAC’s Month of Stonewall in June.
However, in late June, her trajectory quickly nosedived after having won the first place prize of the Startup Weekend HackOut Event, the prize for which included SXSW (the scourge of Austin) tickets, office space from Capital Factory (hosted in the Omni “luxury hotel” in Austin’s “Innovation Zone” where speculative entrepreneurs are connected with investors), and having her business infrastructure handed to her. She had won the Startup Weekend by, unbeknownst to RATPAC, pitching a prospective business plan for an emergency trans housing app that mirrored similar infrastructure to our housing program but utterly hollowed of its community roots and political content. She informed one member of having won a prize so contradictory to the revolutionary principles that uphold our own work in Austin, to which that member expressed considerable concern and attempted to establish a meeting for her to talk about what was going on. At first, McKinley was open towards that idea, but in the weeks following she mysteriously became less and less available for such a meeting, and was entirely absent from the revolutionary project that she had shown so much enthusiasm for weeks earlier. Without further communication, McKinley began spreading tech industry publications’ gushing coverage of her new business. The member she had spoken to previously again expressed their concerns and criticisms with how a supposed “revolutionary” who had claimed dedication to the struggles of our city was handling this, to which McKinley never responded. Another member attempted to reach out to her, to which their messages were uncharacteristically ignored. After that, she rather bluntly informed a member of her exit from RATPAC, primarily because of her newfound business. While she assured that member that her beliefs “remained the same as before”, the action which gave those beliefs life were now gone. She also expressed that her project was somehow unique in that it was starting in Austin but intended to go country-wide. One has to wonder what she thought the point of her work with us in Austin was.
MORE SHADY CHARACTERS IN A DARK WORLD
The most important aspect of these developments were the opportunistic, career-oriented, and traitorous choices made by McKinley Forbes–but first we should note the grimy entities that have oversaw the establishment process of this tech startup. While the housing program she had formerly claimed dedication to had its roots in everyday Austin trans people, her starting point is immensely different. It was these shady characters that she needed to appeal to, since they made up a large part of the judge’s table. The Startup Weekend HackOut was hosted in the affluent Domain area in northwest Austin, in the offices of HomeAway (the main competitor to airbnb in the homestay industry). The weekend is a joint project of LGBTQ capitalist groups and heads of the tech startup industry, bringing in many prospective entrepreneurs from outside of Austin (like McKinley herself only three months before). Of course, prospective startup techies descending upon our city is nothing new. Between 2000-2010, the tech industry market expanded by over 40% in Austin, bringing with it a substantial gentrifying population. However, as Austin’s population grew by ~20% in that time, Austin’s predominantly working class black population was reduced by at least 5% as gentrification pushed folks out of their historic neighborhoods.
HomeAway was not only the host, but the primary sponsor of the event. As we face rapid urban displacement, Austin’s east side has come to know what the spread of the homestay industry means means: more and more homes stripped of their working class families and turned into “host houses” for short-term rentals oriented towards tourists and business travelers, greasing the cogs in driving property values up. Among HackOut’s other sponsors was Keller-Williams real estate, one of the many entities that are overseeing the gentrification process in the brown working class areas of the eastside, cashing in on the rising property values and despair of local residents. A former everyday brown family home on E. Cesar Chavez is up for sale by them for a cool million bucks! These are also the same folks who are actively attempting to rebrand South Harlem into “SoHa.” Finally, the “Startup Weekend” is masterminded by Techstars. This was just the local example of their event which takes place all over the globe. Techstars prides itself in being a “diverse company” that seeks to “accelerate” tech industry startups (and gentrification across the U.S. along with it). Aside from their partnerships with cybersecurity providers for the brutal Israel Defense Forces in occupied Palestine, their other projects include traveling Latin America to speak with politicians and tech industry heads about “modern and harmonized legislation between different countries [to] promote the availability of capital” and create new marketplaces for their leaches to stick their fangs. Among the recommendations was support for collusion between local governance and big money to do such. Given that we’ve seen the effects of such “innovative approaches” by the tech industry in our own city, we can only imagine what this would mean for the working classes of those new target areas to the south of us. This month, their partnership with some folks in the defense industry that are making bank off dropping bombs on people began (including with Boeing)—starting with their “acceleration” of a drones technology startup.
LIES AND BETRAYAL: THE MAKING OF A CAREER, NOT REVOLUTION
However, no matter how skeevy the players are in overseeing the opportunity for her newfound career, the real knife in the back of Austin’s trans people is in her own lies and self-serving choices (and which class they serve). In her recent newfound spotlight in the news rags of the ATX startup industry, she has taken to underhandedly referencing RATPAC’s own housing program, not to offer welcomed criticism of our housing program as it struggles to build, but only to boost her own parasitic career. In one article she claims that RATPAC failed to account for her being “highly allergic to peanuts and cats”. Strangely, the presence of both peanuts and cats in her hosts’ home was discussed with her directly to which she gave assurance of it not being worth seeking alternatives. She claimed there were no other possibilities provided in the housing program, and yet this is not based on any honest investigation on her part. Afterall, she was never involved with our vetting process, nor in working with our hosts past and present (beyond those who she stayed with for a short time). Even more suspicious is the fact that despite being active in RATPAC for months in a time when she no longer had material reliance on the organization (having already established her own apartment and flashy tech industry job in Lakeway), these criticisms were never brought up. This was despite our organization’s foundations upon a constant process of internal criticism and self-criticism to hold everyone politically accountable and keep our organization moving forward. Not only is our organization open to criticism, it asks for it directly in our internal operation! It appears that these “criticisms” have magically materialized only alongside her new entrepreneurial career path, and primarily serve to boost her own brand and media spectacle. Sadly, this represents more and more of her general activity as she sells out Austin’s trans masses in the name of careerism (selling-out revolutionary and community-based projects to build a career that fighting capitalism will never offer) and opportunism (swaying to whatever is going to offer the best immediate personal gain rather than having any semblance of principles) to serve herself.
There is something particularly backhanded about someone espousing revolutionary principles while siding against them, especially in the context of our city where there is no shortage of sell-outs and career-builders who see personal opportunities in building top-down hollow “$olution$” to constant devastation while doing nothing to kill it. Her exodus from RATPAC for her career isn’t just us losing a member, but a former member joining the enemy’s side of the class struggle on this front. Revolutionary community programs, such as our housing network, stand opposed to the usual model of “assistance” by non-governmental organization (NGOs), non-profit organizations (NPOs), and corporate charities. Our program differs in that it does its best to put the political interests of everyday trans people at the forefront, including above flaunting surface-level numbers “served” like those churned out by careerists looking for corporate and government funding. We recognize that assisting the most trans people possible actually means much more than an outlook that only values serving the most short-sighted needs of the most people with the path of least resistance under capitalism… without any attention or investment into building people power to stop the inevitable unendingness of trans oppression under this system. While these surface-level numbers can give the appearance of benefitting the trans people of our class, this is also content with allowing infinite unmet needs to continue: it creates a cycle by which careers are built up for a few crisis industry aristocrats who make comfortable livelihoods off of the cyclical devastation of trans people under capitalism. Getting a tech start up business handed to McKinley by some of the shadiest motherfuckers in Austin may assist her in having immediate resources for a rainbow capitalist program to spread quickly (and getting to be her own boss, the American Pipedream for most of us!), but only as a hollow careerist shell of the program she feigned dedication to in our city. It takes painstaking work to build up a deep difference in the lives of trans people and RATPAC struggles to get this right ourselves, but people who consider themselves revolutionary have a responsibility to engage in that work regardless of the tides of personal opportunity. This shit won’t stop until we stop it, and there is no career to be made in sailing against the winds of a society that produces trans oppression. Something that is empty is going to move fastest, and startups like these get the applause of the entire society they work for, and not against. At some point our community has to have a basis of coming together to do the necessary work. We are quickly approaching a point, as fascism lurks closer in this country, that siphoning work and energy away from community power is going to mean blood on your hands. McKinley Forbes came to a city where there was a revolutionary community program independent of the capitalists when it came to meeting the material housing needs of trans people while defending each other and getting folks together to fight… and she is now attempting to hand it right back to the ruling parasites in the form of her own career. She looked at all available opportunities for investment, and she chose the one with a paycheck.
WE MUST STAND AGAINST TRANS FLAGS IN THE ENEMY CAMP
Depending on the situation, our relationship to certain resource providers can vary. However, in a situation where it becomes a matter of a fake revolutionary redirecting efforts and potential resources away from a community program independent of capitalism (and aligned with local anti-gentrification groups, revolutionary students, and from-the-people-to-the-people organizations actively in struggle in Austin’s hoods) for the sake of building one’s own career, this conflict ultimately embodies escalated class struggle—with one program upholding the interests of everyday people, and the other serving up sugar-coated bullets for the ruling class. NGOs, NPOs, and corporate charities are no strangers to historical campaigns at co-opting revolutionary community programs and political struggles to bring folks back into a non-threatening formation, and the system invests in this process where they are able to. In a time and place where conflict is sharpening, the truth that all of our actions and investments will at the end of the day either serve trans people or strengthen the people who profit off their oppression is more obvious than ever. No matter what McKinley thinks she believes, it is the real-world result of her actions that determine what camp she stands in. McKinley has claimed that RATPAC did not desire to be associated with the app, though McKinley never offered that ability towards our work—and absolutely, we wouldn’t desire to liquify a single inch of our work into her career, especially as her startup is publicly entertaining the notion of partnering up with HomeAway and airbnb to operate her platform “for trans people”. There’s nothing quite like feeding Austin’s hoods painkillers in the front while stabbing them in the back.
RATPAC writes this statement not only to explain what went down, but to draw a clear line of division between our housing program and any hollow tech startup lookalikes. We call on all politically conscious people to keep this in mind as we move forward in providing for each other and engaging in struggle together. The sinister outlook this society spreads against the people it oppresses will be quick to try and frame RATPAC as self-serving in this statement, even in the minds of some self-fancied “revolutionaries”. It bows down at the feet of non-profits and corporate charities as a counterbalance to capitalist oppression rather than part-and-parcel to its function. It is quick to fawn over and support disarmed projects by charlatans as “revolutionary!” and “what we really need right now!”, and it hopes that you will too. We have absolutely no profit to gain from going against these smokescreens. Gaining the trust of the people we want to fight alongside us means telling the truth no matter how unpopular it is in the short-term, or how pretty the veneer of the enemy looks. RATPAC believes in holding true to the principles of serving the exploited majority of Austin’s trans people. McKinley Forbes’ half-truths and cardboard commitments are the bricks that careerism is paved with. We welcome investigation into these events, but her narratives and motives should be deeply questioned. After all, she has a brand to defend now. Maybe with her new tech startup, she’ll be able to afford a gravesite for her revolutionary principles.