In a perfect world there would be no homelessness, no war, no poverty, there would be none of the problems that we deal with in the world on a daily basis. In this perfect world we wouldn’t have to make the choice of whether we pay the bill or eat for a week. Life is rarely as simple as this or that. It’s usually – find a way to do part of all. So that you pay on the bill and get some inexpensive food. Such is the way it is with rebuilding a community. It’s easy to say – FIX THIS – when it’s something that clearly has to be fixed but you also have to keep in mind that reality is never simple and never straightforward.
Let’s use Flint as the easy example.
We have a water problem.
We need to have clean water for one and for all.
They have gone around and around the problem but there’s still an issue so the wisest move seems to be to put in new water pipes a VERY costly endeavor. So you decide you are going to replace pipes. GREAT! But who pays? The state, who is the last in line when it came to the decisions for the water? The federal government, whose own offices failed to catch issues as they arose? The city, who let things get so bad that we had to be taken over by the state? Or does some benefactor come in and take care of it. That last part would be swell, a rich uncle sliding in to fix things up for everyone. That’s a fantasy though. Life doesn’t work that way. And it shouldn’t. This issue was caused by people in power, most who still have their jobs. It is on them to figure this out, not for some entity to swing in and save the day. This is how politics is supposed to work – the governing body runs the system with local municipalities keeping things operating. When there is a large scale failure it’s for everyone to work together to find out why this all happened and to rectify the issue. Such is the case here. The problem is that no one will admit they were wrong and no one wants to cough up the money. They KNOW that pipes need to be replaced and that the city needs clean, safe water, but there’s more interest in politics, grandstanding, and job security than there is in making things right. That’s also politics.
Along with this issue of the water you have a city that still needs to prove to people that it is not dead and is not ‘the most dangerous city in the country’. Another difficult proposition. The fact is that we have crime, too much crime, but that is the case with most cities. It’s people getting into messes that have dire consequences. It’s inherited poverty and hopelessness. It’s a system that works against people in need and people of color. It’s about a hundred things at once and all of that is what Flint has to own because that’s who we are. We’re also amazingly talented artists, and gifted musicians, and passionate activists, and sports heroes, and authors, and more than people ever see and you cannot abandon the city to fix its problems. Which means – even when you have to work on the failures of the past you also have to work on the dreams of the future. The same person willing and able to set aside money for the dream may not be willing or able to be involved in the failures of the past. Those reasons are their own. If it’s someone else’s money, it’s not for us to tell them how to spend it. We can refuse it, sure, but we need to make this a place attractive to people to visit and live. And yeah, that means fixing the darn water but in this world we live in you have to work with both hands. One hand has to clean up the mess as the other builds something new.
This is not perfect.
It’s frankly messed up.
But that is life.
We can spend our time fighting the system or learning to work inside it OR we can learn to do both. A little fighting and a little working and a lot of hoping.
With Flint we have a lot of work to do but there are a lot of people already DOING that work and in doing that work we are building the future and addressing the past. Our problems aren’t going to go away. Ever. But that’s reality. That’s life. Some people work just to create problems and that’s also part of life. But you cannot abandon the future as you fix the past just as you cannot ignore the past as you build a future.
At the same time.
That’s how this works.
We work on fixing the water while we also fix our image and the city itself. You rebuild the heart and from there the blood pumps out to the rest of the body. None of these things may be ideal but life isn’t ideal but you work to make it better.
That’s what it’s all about.
And we can be better.
Everything can be better.
With work and hope and change.