Friday, August 18, 2006

Todd Elliott Koger's Op-Ed Article: We gathered to say

The protests outside Three Rivers were a plea to help resolve endemic poverty in our city -- which could result in real chaos.

We gathered to say: Pittsburgh, please listen

The following is an Op-Ed article written by Todd Elliott Koger and featured in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

This was to be a good day!

On this the 15th day of January 1995, an unseasonable 65-degree thaw had liquefied our worries into warmth and excitement. Hosting a professional football conference championship game added hopes and plans for the next couple of weeks for those who live here.

Check! Not all who reside here projected warmth, excitement and hope. Some, as shown by the Coalition of African Americans for Justice protest outside of Three Rivers Stadium, had different plans and concerns for the next couple of weeks.

Forget the basic facts that you have come to learn about our beautiful city. Sure it surprises visitors with booming banks, thriving hospitals, expanding universities and more than 600 advanced technology companies.

Word! These new industries cannot provide as many jobs as the factories and mills that dominated the city's past.

A glorious face-lift. A wonderful outlook for the future. Steeped in historical tradition, the city is poised for expansion. Pittsburgh is a city where some can put down roots and then reach for the sky.

But not all of us can put down roots and reach for the sky. Some of you forget about the blend of Lysol and body order at homeless shelters. Some of you forget about the bent spine of our fixes-income grandparents living on the edge of town. Some of you forget about the blare of TV soap operas in our housing projects, drowning out the cry of the badly diapered babies on linoleum floors. Some of you even forget the shrieks of friends and family at community funeral homes when teen-age murder victims are mourned.

Pittsburgh still suffers beyond its face-lift.

It suffers because some lack jobs. And worse yet, some lack responsible parents. It suffers because of the problem some of you have with the color of your neighbor's skin. And worse yet, because of the gang color of a person's gear.

Let's revisit the young women in the housing projects. Pittsburgh suffers when our young sisters drag their toddlers into a medical van for vaccination shots that are a year late. Why? Because bureaucratic red tape of social-service agencies that make them run from here to there, and do this or that for nothing, puts other children at risk of disease.

Such is also the case with the loss of Pittsburgh's small-town safety and previous immunity to violent crime. Now there's an epidemic: Homicide disease," caused by the spread of gang and drug activity, the increasing availability of guns, a growing fear of retaliation that led to a lack of cooperation with the police, more community tolerance of violence, a decline in values, an increase in alienation.

Word! Young people and blacks are the disproportionate perpetrators and victims of violent acts. And, while this disease may be kiling only a small percentage of the community's young people, it is threatening the health of the entire body.

It's not Pittsburgh apartheid. Such would be exaggeration. Further, the poor 'hood is not exclusive to blacks. Take an expressway from town and disappear into desolate 'hoods and encounter the civilization of menace. Pittsburgh, a dual city! The glass wonder of PPG Place is a faded memory. Here in the 'hood lives lie abandoned as far as the eye can see.

It used to be that when Pittsburgh talked about its poor, you were talking about the working poor. Today the nonworking poor are those isolated and not able to maintain social mobility now that good-paying jobs (blue collar) have disappeared.

The avenue for recourse is normally to telephone, write and knock on doors. But when politicians refuse to answer, this makes you angry and bitter. The angrier you get, the more you display your dissatisfaction.

The protest at Three Rivers Sunday was an eyesore. But Pittsburgh -- your poor citizens need assistance. They need immediate assistance. It was rage that set Los Angeles ablaze in 1992. Pittsburgh's political leaders had better realize that in many ways, the city is filled with volatile tinder that a social explosion is waiting to happen.

In the past, civil-rights legislation and affirmative-action programs have benefited primarily the more advantaged and the educated poor, as opposed to the truly disadvantaged. Welfare has enabled some to survive. But it certainly is not the answer to these problems. When you are a welfare recipient and you've been out of work for a long time, you develop the feeling of low self-efficacy. This is the feeling that you cannot accomplish the goal you set for yourself. This is different than low self-esteem.

If Pittsburgh is committed to addressing its poverty needs -- the problems that led to the protest -- the commitment must be long term, not short term.

While there is an obvious need to continue sanctions against racial discrimination, an effective long-term strategy for social justice must include race-neutral policies that can draw support in today's political climate.