Editor’s note: Voices is a weekly column that provides a platform for Central New Yorkers to comment about the issues of the day. If you’d like to submit a column, email Larry Dietrich at [email protected]
If you listen to our Democratic, Green and Working Families parties you hear a lot of talk about being “progressive” and encouraging “policies of social justice.” At this time of year it should warm the cockles of your heart. Hollow terms, however, can’t fill your belly. It takes action to stave off hunger, warm your home and pay bills. Progressive action yields results. Ensuring social justice demands tangible, quantifiable stuff–money, jobs and opportunities to be something other than poor. In Syracuse our progressive march is about as authentic as the marble sheathing they used to cover the Dey Brothers building.
When onion-skinned elected officials refuse to meet with constituents who have real neighborhood and quality-of-life concerns, progressivism takes three steps backward. I have seen the tear-stained faces of folks holding candles who eventually ran for office, and once elected they became “shape-shifters” who morphed into whatever the controlling bosses called for. Wave your hand over the heads of some of our esteemed elected representatives and your fingers will get tangled in the strings holding them up. Does anyone remember Pinocchio?
Where I live on the Far West Side, the ally for our little block used to telephone the city on an annual basis requesting that someone clear the overgrown shrubs in our street. For last year’s growing season, we collectively decided to do nothing. Our block has two streetlights, one of which has been on slow blink for three years. We did not call when the second streetlight became a slow blinker; we didn’t call because if your block looks like a scene from Michael Jackson’s Thriller video, people won’t walk down the street. “Creatures crawl in search of blood to terrorize y’all’s neighborhood,” as Vincent Price famously rapped.
Trash cans overflowing with garbage sat across from Porter School for an entire week. Instead of looking at additional fees for things a city should do, how about siccing Code Enforcement on hundreds of property owners who routinely break the law by being neighborhood slobs? What was wrong with tacky corner stores before last fall? All of a sudden there was an epiphany? The skies opened up and someone decided they looked like crap?
In progressive communities such as Rochester, a citizen participation mechanism has teeth. While Syracuse flounders around with five oversize TNT (Tomorrow’s Neighborhoods Today) districts, Rochester’s 10 neighborhood districts create true citizen participation. Residents themselves get together to make decisions on spending in their neighborhoods.
That would never happen here in Syracuse, where we’re reduced to the old game of “Red Light, Green Light.” The leader stands at the end of a room with his back turned toward the people, and as he yells commands, if you are caught moving when you aren’t supposed to be, you’re out of the game. If you manage to tag the leader, you win. Red light stop, green light go.
With unbridled lust, aspiring politicians often court journalists. Once elected, if that same journalist writes something critical of that same politician, you’ll see the laser-beam eyes, gazes that–if they could kill–would vaporize you.
In progressive communities luxury condos and apartments renovated with city assistance are required to add to greenspace and/or create affordable housing units within their tenant mix. Soon there will be no poor people in downtown Syracuse unless they’re stuck at the Centro bus hub waiting for a transfer.
We are so busy polishing up the shiny and new that we’ve allowed vast acreage of the city’s neighborhoods to go bad. The corner stores are just a tip of the iceberg.
If Syracuse were truly progressive and embodied values of social justice, community development funds would be used to empower small neighborhood-based businesses in equal amounts to the welfare deposited into the accounts of large businesses and quasi-governmental entities.
Funding to create and retain jobs for inner-city youth and adults are part of what’s possible with community development block grants, but we routinely give it to developers and the promise of future development. It’s time to make the doughnuts, people!
What’s the difference between Syracuse progressives–Democratic, Green, Working Families parties–and the fake sign-language interpreter at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service? Nothing.
Ken Jackson is an award-winning columnist based in Syracuse. You can read his blog HERE
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