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An Interview with Sean Posey

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I'm progressively focusing more on the various writers at the Hampton Institute as I head towards finalization of my book project. I talked with Justin Mueller last time. This time I am talking with Sean Posey, who has been a writer on city planning and other subjects for Hampton for a few years. My questions are in bold while his questions are in italics.

You graduated from the Academy of Art in San Francisco. I am sure you are more
than well aware of how insane housing prices are there. Most of your writing for
Hampton is on urban planning. How did your Bay Area experience manifest in your
writing and thought process on urban planning?

I moved to the Bay Area not long after the tech bubble burst. Housing prices were down,
but compared to the rest of the country, they were still insane. Housing affordability
dominates many aspects of life there, especially in San Francisco. And the gross
inequities of the area are always omnipresent. That’s what first got me interested in urban
studies—the idea that such a “successful” city could also house thousands of homeless
people, highly polluting industry, and large pockets of impoverished residents. Hence I
became interested in urban contradictions, planning, and societal inequities.

In addition to urban planning, you also talk about racial issues. You seem clued in
to black culture on an intimate level, which even in this day and age is unusual. How
did this come about? What maintains your involvement?

This aspect of my writing also evolved from my time in San Francisco. I came to be
involved in with several campaigns in the Bayview/Hunter’s Point neighborhood, a
largely black and segregated area of the city. Children in Hunter’s Point traditionally
suffered from highly elevated asthma rates; several heavily polluting, antiquated power
plants—and a superfund site—dotted the area. My time there really exposed me to the
long-standing impacts of institutional racism, and it led to my interest in African
American history and the black experience in general.

I’ve continued to write about race the past several years, attempting to offer a historical
analysis of many of the current issues facing African Americans. I recently finished a
piece about the future of Black Lives Matters as a movement set to (possibly) craft a new
electoral agenda for Black America, much along the lines of what was attempted in the

Your photography is also impressive. How does your writing and photography
differ and how do they feed in to one another?

I’ve worked in most areas of commercial photography, but my personal work focuses on
places and urban spaces. I view my photography as somewhat distinct from my writing;
however, the two bleed over into each other. Many of the cities I’ve written about I’ve
also photographed. In that sense, the two inform one another—my eye leads me to pick
up my pen, in many cases.

I’ve spent the last several years photographing and writing about distressed communities
in America’s “Rust Belt,” and increasingly those two different aspects of my work are
starting to blend together. I have a book coming out next year, which is an historical
examination of my hometown of Youngstown, Ohio. It combines photographs depicting
long-abandoned neighborhoods, businesses, etc., with their individual histories as places.
The entire project is a balance of images and the written word.

How do you like writing for Hampton? What do you think of the other writers or
the project as a whole?

The idea of a “working class think tank” is a really intriguing one, especially as far as
traditional think tanks go. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed writing for Hampton; it gives me the
option of submitting pieces for departments other than just the one I chair. The other
chairs at the institute are uniformly excellent writers. We also have a wide variety of
exciting contributors, as you know. The diversity and breadth of talent writing for
Hampton really makes it all very intellectually rewarding.

You're not the only Ohioan I know at Hampton. Both Josh Deeds and Derek Alan
Ide are from there. I'm the oddball - as a Washington and California native, I'm
immersed in liberalism. Radicals from Ohio are a bit more bold and idea driven
than the snotty liberals of major west coast cities and certainly more engaging, at
least in my experience. Why do you think radical politics has taken off in that state
and what do you think the future is?

Hampton originally formed around a nexus of writers in New York, but gradually it has
grown to encompass a wider geographic area. Still, I’m surprised that we have as many
Ohio writers as we do. But that’s all for the better; we need that kind of representation in
this part of the Midwest.

Ohio has eight distinct urban centers, a large percentage of which are very troubled. That
economic malaise, which most of America has been contending with for the last several
years, came to Ohio many decades ago. A more radical narrative has become increasingly
tenable as the state’s cities continue to decline. I always say: If Ohio’s cities don’t make
you radical, then probably nothing in this country will.

Where would you like to write if you could write anywhere and what about?

I would like to imbed myself in a community somewhere for a long-term project, perhaps
in Detroit or New Orleans. I’d use it as an opportunity to write about the micro effects of
urban inequality and the very real impacts they have on communities. That kind of long-
term investigating reporting is becoming rare these days as the traditional economic
model of journalism erodes. But truth be told, mainstream news outlets rarely did those
projects well, even during the golden age of journalism.

Any questions for me?

How did you get involved in Hampton? How did you first hear about it?

I'll treat this as one question. I was a conservative for a good amount of time. I still rank books like The Quest for Community as among my favorite books. I stopped being one for reasons I'm sure you can imagine. I'm still a man of faith and most of my writing is religious in nature albeit much more left leaning. I was looking for left wing places to write for and Hampton was by leaps and bounds the most intellectually exhaustive and serious.


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About Radical Second Things

Michael Orion is a blogger, writer, artist and photographer based in the Bay Area. Besides his maintenance and promotion of Radical Second Things, he contributes to the San Francisco newspaper SF Western Edition, where he writes about local non-profit organizations.

Mark Cappetta is a practicing Catholic and active LGBT activist. He has been instrumental in keeping Radical Second Things and updates the Facebook account almost daily.

Eva Gnostiquette is an artist, programmer, "future scientist," bi-trans girl and graphic designer. She voluntarily helped to create the first print issue Radical Second Things and designed our beautiful banners. Thanks so much, Eva!

Jordan Denato is a professional artist based out of Iowa. He took the initiative to illustrate both Jennifer Reimer's story and Michael Orion's Oscar Romero work. He has his own art studio, Tar and Feather Studios, and is a critical part of Radical Second Things.

Radical Second Things is a liberation theology themed blog that has clear cut goals - we see the structural decline of the United States and much of the west and hope to present alternatives that will offer "a preferential option for the poor" as more become vulnerable.

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