We dropped door knockers on every home, reminded folks about the election date and told them their voice matters even if their neighborhoods sometimes get treated like the gum on the bottom of someone’s shoe. Our route was bound by the historic 27th street boundary on the north (a line of demarcation African Americans once couldn’t cross after 6:00 p.m.) and Bruce R. Watkins Drive on the west (a highway that swiftly cut the east side down its belly while decimating its central shopping corridors).
We passed by dead cats in the gutters, houses with busted out windows and vacant lots strewn with garbage. Roofs and porches caved in like a natural disaster hit and FEMA never showed up.
I’ve gutted homes in New Orleans’ Lower Ninth. Rebuilt walls in Greensboro. And I still find myself gob smacked, on a regular and recurring basis, by the devastation in my own hometown. We’ve got more homes uninhabitable than inhabited on some of our blocks. Kids with eyes aged like old people play in the rubble of half torn down houses. Porch lights nobody ever turns on.
We grew up close enough to that route to know the answer ourselves, but still couldn’t help but ask, “What happened to this place?”
Sometimes asking the questions we know the answers to is the only way to really and truly take responsibility for them. What happened to this place? Redlining. Blockbusting. Riots. A desegregation order with impacts so reeling, it made us all realize just how much we have run from living with each other. Joblessness. Predatory lenders. Foreclosures. Schools built like prisons and children six grade levels behind. A whole city heaving a sigh and slowly turning its back.
This is our home. These are the kinds of neighborhoods that we were created to empower.
A lot of voters whose voices are so often ignored have given up on practicing their democracy. I’m hitting the doors every chance I can, every hour I’m not in a one-to-one and every night I’m not on the phones. I’m hitting the doors before the election to get out the vote so that I can hit the doors after the election and say, “Let’s use that power to do something about this rubble all around you.”
Molly Fleming-Pierre is the Communities Creating Opportunity Policy Director, leading the Economic Dignity Campaign to Cap the Rate on predatory payday loans and Raise the Wage for Missouri’s lowest-paid workers. Through the coordination of 150 congregations from Joplin to St. Joseph to Columbia, Molly is supporting Missouri Faith Voices’ campaign to engage over 30,000 Faith Voices voters for Economic Dignity. Follow Molly on Twitter @CCOmolly