The VAST INDIFFERENCE OF TEAM: Where is social justice?

“Time marches on
Time stands still
Time on my hands
Time to kill
Blood on my hands
And my hands in the till
Down at the 7-11…….. (The Vast Indifference of Heaven, Warren Zevon (written after the 1992 LA riots)

August 23rd will mark the 43rd anniversary of one of history’s greatest modern lessons in social justice: the Detroit riots. In a 5 day outbreak of violence, 43 people died, 2,509 stores were looted or burned, 7,200 arrests were made and 2000 buildings were destroyed. Martial law was imposed for a week, with tanks and machine gun bearing National Guard troops patrolling as far as twelve miles into the suburbs – right where I lived.

As an 18-year-old in a middle class suburb north of Detroit, the first months of 1967 were filled with innocent, coming of age, Summer of Love fun. My friends and I heard Allen Ginsburg chant at a Be-In at Wayne State University in the heart of Detroit. We decorated a van and handed out cookies at a Love-In at a park on the Detroit River a month before the deadly riots. We danced to the MC5 at the Grande Ballroom under black lights. The Doors blared “Light my Fire” on our car radios. We were marking time till we headed off to our new lives as college students “somewhere else”.

We thought protesting the Vietnam War was our biggest social justice responsibility.

We were wrong: our pre-college summer fun came to a screeching halt with the imposition of martial law and curfews – even the suburbs were “at war” those last weeks of August, 1967.

A small light about the lack of social justice had gone on for me in early 1967 as I visited a grocery store near Wayne State. I was stunned by the high cost and very low quality of the products for sale in the run down ghetto around the College and around another favorite downtown Detroit haunt, the Detroit Art Institute.

A little voice in my head wondered why, in a place that was so obviously filled with the very poor, the prices were so high, the stores were so dirty and run down and the merchants so nasty compared to the social and economic conditions in my home town, Royal Oak, just 12 miles to the north.

After the riot, the causes of the outrage of the looters were clear: residents trapped in a very low quality of life place found a way to relieve the pressure and the anger about their conditions.

In Detroit, the inter-city stores were not owned by the community members. The store owners lived far away in the pleasant suburbs.

In Detroit, the ghetto dwellings were not owned by people who lived in Detroit and collected the usurious rents for the run down, dirty apartments. The landlords lived far away in the pleasant suburbs.

The business owners didn’t have a stake in the quality of life or economic issues facing Detroit’s inner city residents. They took ill-gotten money and ran to pleasant places in the suburbs – places with trees, parks, clean and well stocked stores with fresh, fairly priced products, great schools and attractive owner occupied homes where everyone looked the same.

The store owners and slum lords in Detroit had no stake in the future of the inner city – except to exploit the trapped residents for all they were worth.

The economic rape of the poor was closely studied after the carnage ended in Detroit.(quote):

“…. according to Violence in the Model City by University of Michigan’s Sidney Fine, African-Americans felt dissatisfaction with social conditions in Detroit before July 23, 1967. After the riot, the Kerner Commission reported that their survey of blacks in Detroit found that none was “happy” about conditions in the city prior to the event. The areas of discrimination identified by Fine were: policing, housing, employment, spatial segregation within the city, mistreatment by merchants, shortage of recreational facilities, quality of public education, access to medical services, and “the way the war on poverty operated in Detroit.”

Mistreatment by merchants

Complaints about the price and quality of the commercial trade in inner-city retail stores were prevalent before the riot/rebellion. Customer surveys published by the Detroit Free Press indicated that blacks were disproportionately unhappy with the way store owners treated them compared to whites. In stores serving black neighborhoods, owners engaged in “sharp and unethical credit practices” and were “discourteous if not abusive to their customers.” The NAACP, Trade Union Leadership Council (TULC) and Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) all took up this issue with the Cavanagh administration before the riot. In 1968, the Archdiocese of Detroit published one of the largest shopper surveys in American history. It found that the inner-city shopper paid 20% more for his food and groceries than the suburbanite.

(end quote)

So what does all this have to do with us today in Molalla?

I’d say the social justice aspects are growing in crumbling, isolated, failing Molalla. TEAM is largely made up of business owners/landowners who DON’T LIVE IN MOLALLA.

The merchants/landowners on the TEAM board recently signed an idiotic endorsement of the City of Molalla’s shortsighted and disastrous policy of refusing to charge System Development Charges. The lack of SDCs and the lack of professional planning, accompanied by the “stuff  in buildings cheaper than somewhere else” policy that drives Molalla, is now showing the beginnings of social justice issues:

Section 8 is “welcome” at brand new StonePlace Apts.

Molalla now has the lowest home values of any cities around the area and foreclosures abound.

No job growth has occurred.

Here comes a pawn shop into prime downtown space – hey, with the crumbling and cruddy downtown, I guess TEAM thinks that’s something to celebrate!

The City wishes to force taxpayers to pay for their own parks and to force neighborhoods to pay to fix City owned roads.

Planning BOZO is drooling about TAX BURDEN SHIFTING when he hopes a school district bond could “help” build needed playfields, because Molalla is too broke to spend City funds on parks!

Stolen urban renewal funds will likely “help” the CHEAP RICH LANDOWNERS get richer by “helping” them with projects that should fall to market forces – so that’s MORE TAX BURDEN SHIFTING.

Molalla gave big raises to salaried incompetents like PLANNING BOZO POTTER and “I live somewhere else” Manager Atkins, yet refuses to give raises to the rank and file hourly workers.

And TEAM thinks it is a great idea to LOSE A MILLION DOLLARS that should go to quality of life fixes – like parks and roads and sidewalks and sewers!

“They say Everything’s all right
They say Better days are near
They tell us These are the good times
But they don’t live around here……….”

Warren got that part correct: most of the members of TEAM don’t live in the City of Molalla – they take the money and run to “nice” homes elsewhere!

When merchants/landlords/speculators drive the process without an eye to the needed balance of quality of life needs, tension builds.

Last week, after seeing that the owner of a Molalla tax service, who has enjoyed my long-term patronage (my MONEY!) for years, had signed the TEAM letter praising the City for GIVING AWAY A MILLION DOLLARS IN DESPERATELY NEEDED SDCs, I picked up the phone and did what my social justice conscience required: I FIRED HER.

This tax season I’ll put my money where my mouth is – I will make an example of this local merchant and spend my money SOMEWHERE ELSE. Until the merchants of TEAM  and the City Manger of Molalla  who DON’T LIVE IN THE CITY LIMITS start to understand that QUALITY OF LIFE is more important than SELLING STUFF I will limit my exposure to the merchants of Molalla.

And I will continue, with the exception of a few old-time Molalla TEAM hating merchants, to take MY MONEY ELSEWHERE.

The gulf between the “haves and have-nots” is growing by the day here. The merchants/landowners/ speculators don’t have to deal with the poor conditions of the streets or the lack of parks and sidewalks. They don’t have any stake in Molalla’s future except to make a quick buck. Shame on them all for not working to demand overall improvement in ALL DIMENSIONS OF LIFE IN THE CITY.

While the TEAM OF FOOLS drive away to live “somewhere else” I’ll enjoy driving my money “somewhere else” where competent professional planners and respect for over-all quality of life drives the process of urban planning instead of abject greed. That won’t be a hard “place” to find: IT IS ANYWHERE BUT MOLALLA.

A recent seminar at County led by a Natural Step Sustainability expert drove the quality of life issue home with an excellent observation about how little our real human needs have to do with “stuff”.

The “Manfred-Max-Neef: Nine Human Needs” matrix tells us that the need for STUFF BOUGHT WITH MONEY (listed as “subsistence” on the matrix) is only one of the nine human needs: besides subsistence (stuff!) a well-balanced, sustainable community must provide the other eight needs for its residents: protection, participation, idleness, affection, understanding, creativity, identity and freedom.

I guess TEAM better get a committee going to figure out how to “market” those other eight needs! Or could it be that filling those needs might take INVESTMENT in quality of life issues – like parks, sidewalks, open spaces and recruitment of REAL RESIDENTS OF THE CITY TO PLAN THEIR OWN FUTURE – instead of simply looking for customer “marks” and catering to land speculators?

Oh, no! Spending money for quality of life and showing respect to everyone – now that’s a big “NO-NO” among those ABSENTEE ” TEAM powers that be” in Molalla, isn’t it?

Here’s Warren’s entire take on the LA riots of 1992. Gee, again, it seems NOTHING EVER CHANGES: LA in 1992, Detroit in 1967, what’s next? What city will oppress and disrespect its residents enough to drive them over the wall of despair?

The Vast Indifference of Heaven

“Time marches on
Time stands still
Time on my hands
Time to kill
Blood on my hands
And my hands in the till
Down at the 7-11

Gentle rain
Falls on me
All life folds back
Into the sea
We contemplate eternity
Beneath the vast indifference of heaven

The past seems realer than the present to me now
I’ve got memories to last me
When the sky is gray
The way it is today
I remember the times when I was happy

Same old sun
Same old moon
It’s the same old story
Same old tune
They all say
Someday soon
My sins will all be forgiven

Gentle rain
Falls on me
All life folds back
Into the sea
We contemplate eternity
Beneath the vast indifference of heaven

They say Everything’s all right
They say Better days are near
They tell us These are the good times
But they don’t live around here
Billy and Christie don’t–
Bruce and Patti don’t–
They don’t live around here

I had a girl
Now she’s gone
She left town
Town burned down
Nothing left
But the sound
Of the front door closing forever

Gentle rain
Falls on me
All life folds back
Into the sea
We contemplate eternity
Beneath the vast indifference of heaven…”

Warren Zevon, 1993

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