And, so, another new year has begun. I’m guessing that most of us are more than a little scared of what might be in store for us; optimism seems to be in short supply, anxiety plentiful. Many of us are downright scared of the path. We have an impulsive president who has a dangerous perspective on our world. It is a world where my gains are mine and don’t even think that I might share them. It’s an us-versus-them or, more accurately, me-versus-them perspective.
Standing on the threshold of that path, I have to admit I’m scared to death. I’d really rather not head down it, not with this president leading the way. I’d rather take that path over there. Yes, it’s less traveled. But we have to abandon the route that takes us to a society where climate change is putting the human species at risk, where too few accumulate most of the spoils and too many pay the price, where bullies prevail, where a nation that professes faith behaves in ways that are totally at odds with that faith.
This is what I think needs to happen in 2019: the hourly minimum wage should be increased immediately to $15 and indexed for inflation thereafter; we must offer early childhood education to every three- and four-year-old, then fund K-12 public education equitably; we need to respect all people – not just those who look like me, but with particular sensitivity to the needs of those who don’t; we need to find a way to give all who want a college education a way to afford it; we need to acknowledge that far too many of us have behavioral health problems (addiction and mental illness), remove the stigma and begin to ramp up resources to rescue those individuals and their families from the devastating effect of the dark corners of our world; we need to shift hundreds of millions of dollars from subsidizing big homes with gigantic mortgages in favor of those whose alternative to a subsidized, low-cost apartment is the street; and we need to stop placing the burden of the availability of health insurance on employers.
But we won’t. We won’t because too few of those in Congress and Harrisburg either understand or even care about these issues. We won’t because voters don’t reward politicians for negotiating a deal that works for most, they reward politicians who score points with the extremes of their parties by being the loudest obstructionists to progress. And we won’t because too few of us understand that we all win when we all win.
These are public policy issues for federal and state governments to address.
Local efforts to confront the challenges we face have a very different dynamic. There is very little partisanship at the local level. At the municipal and county levels, the sides are different: it’s suburb versus city or suburban versus rural; it’s wealthy, mostly white school districts versus poor, mostly minority districts; it’s pro-development versus anti-development, warehouse versus cornfield. Alliances aren’t rigid, they’re agile, shifting. The Chamber of Commerce can promote locally-owned and urban instead of suburban big box. The Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley can push back on those who think “gentrification” is a bad thing. The Workforce Investment Board can say, “we don’t want your stinkin’ warehouse and its handful of $13 per hour jobs.” The hospitals can promote better care for poor people because they figured out that the cost to ignore them is too high. A diverse coalition of stakeholders can declare that this region is going to find a way to include everyone and spurn racism, sexism and any other divisive ‘-ism.” The colleges and universities can work with local groups to find competitive, local minority applicants to help them achieve the diversity they claim to seek. Banks and community development groups can seek creative ways to reduce income and wealth disparity.
Or we can follow Harrisburg’s and Washington’s leads. We can blame the victims. We can let the lucky few off the hook. We can punish people for being poor. We can stop reading the newspaper and stay blissfully ignorant. We can think and act only for ourselves and thumb our collective noses at everyone, anyone else. Hell, we can build a wall along the Delaware River to keep those folks from New York and New Jersey out.
The Lehigh Valley is a pretty good place to be. But it can be better. All aboard!