Buffalo Driving through neighborhoods on first the east side and then the west side of Buffalo was a reminder of what happens in America when your issues fall to the bottom of the pile. The impact of deindustrialization was an ever present scar even when we found the occasional still operating Wonder Bread or Milk Bone plants, steam still moving into the frigid air from the smokestacks. There were beacons certainly. Rehabs of some low-slung plants into office space, the rebuilding of the Armory, the work done by Extreme Makeover, and signs, some painted and some peeled and falling, that signaled areas where city supported block and civic associations reigned supreme.
Even the bright spots crept through some clouds when we would pass massive new school construction blocks away from huge shuttered parochial facilities with fences flapping in the wind. Bill Covington, an old colleague from the HOTROC organizing drives in New Orleans, was my guide and mentioned there were 11,000 abandoned houses in the city now. Each one entailed $10,000 in costs to demolish. The city had announced a multi-year plan to tear down 500 per year. Gulp. That would be 22 years of demolition while the inventory would continue to grow and communities would be living with permanent scars.
I was reminded of Professor Ken Reardon’s conversation with me in Sicily about his efforts to build a center at the University of Memphis to address the crises of mid-sized cities and their future. I had heard these stories in Springfield, Massachusetts recently and now Buffalo, New York seemed like deja vu. More than an institute is needed though. The isn’t an organizing plan yet, and that’s work work and thought.
Talking about Citizen Wealth that evening to a great group of hardy souls, the frustration kept arising around healthcare and the slow and fragile development of any progressive legislation. There’s no happiness in Mudville. We may be close to getting something on healthcare, but no one is talking about “winning” anymore.
Today’s papers were discouraging. To reach of Senator Sanders being thwarted from even trying to have a debate about something better is disheartening. To reach the role of the U.S. Catholic Conference’s willingness to hijack any hope for reform around what now seems to be their single issue (abortion) and to realize that a great, historic advocate for the poor and downtrodden has beyond myopic is depressing. It isn’t hard to feel the gloating of the Republicans over the success of their “kill reform” at any price strategy. What the heck?!
But, just like Buffalo there are still strong rays of hope, though perhaps more mirage than reality. Seems that more than one can play the amendment game, and Senator Rockefeller from West Virginia had two great cards on the table according to the story in the Times:
“Senate Democratic leaders said they would probably accept two contentious proposals by Senator John D. Rockefeller IV, Democrat of West Virginia. One would increase the powers of a proposed new agency to limit the growth of health spending, including payments to hospitals.
The other proposal would require insurers to spend a specified share of premiums — at least 85 percent — on clinical services and activities that improve the quality of care. This would, in effect, limit the profits of insurers.”
Hope springs eternal!