“We Have to Believe We Deserve Better!”- Laura Wiens Speaks at Panel on Democracy and Corporate Power

If we expect to have a livable future in Pittsburgh, we’ve got to believe that we deserve better. In this case, it means keeping Amazon out.

Our resources are our land, our taxes, our infrastructure and roads, our beautiful housing stock, our working-class mythology and culture. Not only are the corporations coming here to take that from us, our elected officials are giving it to them. And then we’ll not be able to live here anymore.

– Laura Wiens

There was an excellent panel this weekend hosted by the Community Power Movement and the Human Rights City Alliance to talk about the impacts of large corporations on public institutions, resources, and democratic processes. The panel was moderated by Michelle King, and the panelists were Kelauni Cook from Black Tech Nation, Rich Lord from the Post-Gazette, Chris Potter from City Paper, and PPT’s very own Laura Wiens!

Check out the video shared by Public Source shared by Public Source to see the excellent discussion.


Some excerpts from Laura Wiens:

“There is a silver bullet narrative that goes along with [autonomous vehicle (AV)] technologies. To hear the companies tell it, AVs will eliminate congestion and air pollutants, provide faster and better transit access for underserved communities, eliminate parking lots and provide more available housing space and generate higher tax revenue from land use, increase safety, reduce operational costs, and give us new leisure time as we transition into our LED lit AI future.

But I’m going to paint a more realistic scenario, absent some pretty serious regulatory sticks. In 5 years, rich people in Fox Chapel are going to buy their own autonomous vehicles, have their cars drive them downtown and drop them off at work, then have the cars go home to park in the garage and wait to pick them up, driverless, at the end of the day. That’s double the emissions, double the congestion, in gas-powered vehicles…. Where they don’t operate, on the other hand, are Penn Hills, Duquesne, North Versailles, East Pittsburgh, and Braddock, and if folks from these communities can’t now afford to do their daily commute by Uber, they sure as hell won’t be able to afford an autonomous ride in a more expensive car in 5 years.

Maybe most importantly, the leisure time that AVs will usher in is that special timelessness of unemployment, and the inability to do wage work to care for your family and your basic needs. 1 out of every 15 workers in the US works in the trucking industry. In 39 out of 50 states, truck driving employs more people than ANY OTHER JOB. And add to that all taxi and Uber and Lyft and Access, and bus driver and delivery and sanitation driver jobs, and you’ve got one hell of an unemployment problem. Which is also a tax problem. We’re been promised 400 jobs from an Argo plant producing AV vehicle parts here in Pittsburgh. 400! How many of those tens of thousands of 55 year old truck drivers with a high school degree are going to become machinists? It’s hard to understand why the City of Pittsburgh insists not only in running headlong over the same cliff that we fell over in the late 70s and early 80s, but insisting on being the first to do so as well.”

…The problem is not Uber or Amazon, per se. Capitalism will do capitalism, and it’s the nature of these companies to disguise their harms in order to maximize profits. I lay the blame squarely at the feet of our elected officials and our public agencies who that are doing this work for them. Our City in January hosted a “Mobility Showcase” that was basically a several hour-long advertisement for AVs and other tech. Can’t those companies rent the convention center themselves?