Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Does Caring Pay?

It has been over 180 days since pretty much everything in my life changed.

I have always been concerned about other people, about the world, about issues of social justice. Readers of my blogs, book reviews, tweets, and posts can attest to my ten year concern about fairness and life. I've written and spoke about the prison industrial complex, educational equity, and diversity in publishing. It was not a far leap that the events of August 9, 2014 would capture and hold my attention.

The movement compelled me to use the gift of time, talent, and resources to try to elevate voice to an issue that has affected so many. At first, the issue was just about the police lynching that took place in a lower income community that I never knew existed on August 8th. Everything after August 10th has been a reminder that this truly is nothing new and that the connected issues are about more than just the police.

Over the course of meetings, marches, vigils, dialogues, and community forums, it was apparent to me that the system was holding on tight to its ways of control. I, like others, heard with pained horror about more and more lives that were affected by the ticket-to-prison industrial complex that preyed on the least of theses. We sat in dialogue with our educated peers and had the modern day Washington/DuBois debates on how to fix the "black plight issue." We tossed around ideas and our part, we debated what is in the responsibility of the self, and in everything, we could not take our eyes off the glaring reality of a system that has made many into puppets.

It is the puppetry that made it also evident that to care comes with a high cost and that not everyone can pay that cost. There was the cost of being in the mix by tweets that were up-to-the-second on reporting the tear gas, the arrests, the tickets, the taunts, the in-fights, the everything associated with getting people of different backgrounds, persuasions, and locations to agree simply that Black Lives Matter. The intersections of gender equality and sexuality and racism began to cloud the dialogue along with issues of intra-racial conflict and classism, the haves vs. havenots, the accusations of who was "down" or "real" and how long someone had been in the struggle only to learn that some who claimed to be authentic activist were paid agents. It is the whole damn system.

The new year dawned and some of my colleagues and I began to examine and count up our cost. Some of my less sun-kissed activist associates have lost friends and family love, none have lost jobs,though. Some of my sun-kissed activist associates have been blocked from gainful employment for fear they are "angry" or "talk too much about equality or race." Some have chosen to work behind the scenes because "I gotta eat and the kids do also." Other have hoped that the whole thing would simply go away.

St. Louis' complicated racial and class history reared its ugly head and reminded everyone that 180+ days was not long enough to talk about the ticket quotas issued by the city and some north county police chiefs to their low-hanging-fruit police officers who barely have a high school diploma. It reared its head as the continued dialogue of educational disparity highlighted another all -black losing their accreditation from an all-white state institution that stripped it of its chance to make a difference in young lives that have been screaming from the front lines, "what about us!" We saw Mardi Gras Parades crashed with bold young people reminding the Mayor that he couldn't cover up the issues and what they thought was just contained to one of the regions remaining Sundown Towns, is actually a cancer that has spread throughout all the arteries, organs,and veins of the region's body, no one can escape the touch.

When we sat back in our self-prescribed doctor's chair to examine the wound, we found that the only way to bring the healing is to keep exposing and talking. The bandaids were only a breeding ground for the bacteria and germs to spread. Some fled far west only to find that the bugs out there were worse than what they thought they were crawling away from through flight and neglect. Even the retailers that left the Mills in search of lush lakes and walkways, found that the region with a chokehold on transportation and opportunity, did not produce enough disposable income to justify the westward expansion.

The cost of caring is keeping some well fed and well clothed through endless dialogue sessions or townhalls to decide if we are better together or if that salary for a commission report will turn up anything different than 1967. When the least of these in old north are blatantly told they don't matter for the lure of a big corporation to line the city coffers and promise something more than a push broom job, when the city fathers and mothers vote and continue to vote against oversight, when the doors of opportunity are slammed in the face of those with credentials, when workhouses replace schoolhouses, when even the least of the least are hidden away from the city's dark eye, when weariness sets in and the goal is too far out of reach, the cost of caring can seem like it is too high.

What does it cost? Who is willing to pay? How long? When?