Empowering CommunitiesIn Ben’s great post a few weeks back, he talked a little about finding out what Black issues are by going into communities and getting it straight from the horse’s mouth. This got me thinking. I’m a Black person. What issues are important to me?
Then I remembered why I liked Howard Dean so much. He talked about the fact that social programs are for everyone and that people were voting against their economic interests because of racism or the culture war. Jobs, Healthcare, and Education aren’t Black issues, or poor issues, but American issues. Then I remembered what I learned over the past year, both in politics and in life. There is more that unites us than divides us. It sounds so corny to say that, but it is true. We all want the same things. We want the ability to get a good job, send our kids to good schools, and to walk the streets at night without constantly looking over our shoulders wondering when we are going to get mugged. And what do we all want from our Government? We want to feel a sense of empowerment. We want to feel that we have control over our own destiny, and that isn’t a Black thing or a White thing, but a human thing.
David Cohen said, “We don’t need bigger Government. We don’t need smaller Government. What we need is better Government.” He is talking about a Government that responds to the concerns of communities. I think that we need to, at times, get out of this issues based mindset. Where people stand on the issues is important to all of us. But at the end of the day, all anyone wants is a partner in their struggles. You would be amazed at the power of fixing a streetlight, adding a tree to a park, organizing a neighborhood party, and getting someone’s heat turned back on. That’s why Old School politicians got away with murder. Because at the end of the day, if you take care of people’s needs, then they don’t care if you are a “Liberal” or “Conservative”. They don’t care about your voting record on “insert issue here”. Heck, they don’t even care if you a are crook. All they want is that feeling of empowerment in their own communities. People will do anything for that.
A perfect example of this is the issue of LaSalle trying to close 20th Street. I think that it is an extremely complicated issue, and thus, I don’t really have a position on the subject. To the people, mostly old women, however, the issue is everything. For over a year, 5 days a week, in the cold, the snow, the rain, or the heat, they have protested the closing of 20th Street. It may sound crazy to us, but to them it is everything. Why is it everything? They feel kicked around by LaSalle and their local representation. Their community is rundown and riddled with crime. Their Councilperson does not respond to their concerns or help build the community, and the police are non-responsive to their needs. To them, it isn’t a street, but a symbol of the loss of control in their community.
This is something that total proponents of gentrification do not understand. Even if the people in the community could still afford to live there, it isn’t their community anymore. They feel kicked around by Developers coming in and changing things without addressing their concerns. Then people move in who, in general, have no interest in being apart of the community. They are just there to be in the new hip neighborhood. It isn’t about race. It’s about community. It’s about power.
So, when we ask ourselves what kind of candidates we should support, or what issues are important to this person or that person, I would say that we should think differently than normal. We should support people who we know will empower communities, and I think the rest will just fall into place.