Over the years Youngstown has been called, “Murder Town” and the “Armpit Of Ohio” etc. by various U.S. publications. Youngstown has a story to tell about rebirth but when the outside media comes to town all they want to film is boarded up buildings. That is the image most people expect so the media doesn’t disappoint.
If someone listened to conservative callers on our local talk radio they would get an image that we are a strong union area and that is why businesses won’t locate here. The facts dispute that because the IUE at Delphi has voted for three tiers of wages and barely stopped the fourth from being established. The UAW at GM’s Lordstown facility also has lower paid second tier wages. These are not strong unions these are the best friends the CEO’s could ever want. These jobs paid good wage and were the backbone of our area once the steel plants closed. Now with the jobs held mostly by lower tiered workers that backbone is ruptured.
Because Youngstown is a city that lost it’s industrial base it gets portrayed along with Gary, Detroit and Flint as cities 30 years behind the times. Fact is as other cities are losing more and more jobs we were thirty years ahead of the times. Explorers sent on fact-finding missions from other struggling cities in America and through out the world are coming to Youngstown to see how it survived. The message we heard after the steel industry folded up tent was, ‘”Last one out turn off the light.” Lots of people cut and ran but many stayed behind to change that bulb and see if a new light couldn’t shine on the city.
As a young boy I remember Youngstown as a shopping mecca while today it is an entertainment and cultural mecca. I don’t blame the outside media for not seeing how beautiful Downtown Youngstown is as many in our surrounding suburbs haven’t been downtown in years.
I hear many in the suburbs say disparaging things about Youngstown as if they didn’t realize it’s their neighbor. They don’t seem to know that “common unity” makes up the word community. Truth is the larger suburbs are not unlike most of America’s suburbs that have sold out their neighborhoods to franchised stores and chain restaurants. It’s hard to get residents of Big Box America to see the beauty of old historical buildings in cities.
Now that the economy is the worst it’s been in years it could be the perfect time to realize that Youngstown and the suburbs make up the Mahoning Valley and what’s good for the goose could be good for the gander. I don’t really care to talk about what image of Youngstown outsiders now have. I think it’s better to make our whole area a role model of what can be done to make a better community and let that image speak for itself. Many volunteers have come forward to make Youngstown and the area better but much still remains to be done.
The first thing we need to do is empower everyone in our area with the fact that they are the solution to making our valley a better place to live. That could start with setting up New England style town hall meetings. This style of meeting has each citizen being a legislator which makes for some real democracy. This form of government would end corruption and cronyism in local government.
Money is always an issue but what can the citizens of our area do to get money to improve the area? If you were around in the late 70’s when Sheet & Tube was closing maybe you remember the “Save our Valley” campaign. This was a bank account that area residents put money into that would be used towards the purchase of the mill, in exchange for stock in the mill. In November 1978, “Save our Valley” accounts held $4,014,927. Of course Sheet & Tube was not bought because the owners did not really want to sell to the employees and a federal loan to help did not come through but it still shows you how people self empowered themselves to raise over $4 million dollars.
I think a good idea might be to start our own area credit union where the money would give us interest but also be available to benefit the area. The credit union could give very low interest loans to area college students. Money could be available for mortgages on new homes that meet green standards or for remodeling that includes solar panels or other green technology. Low interest car loans could be given for hybrid or fuel-efficient vehicle. Also low interest loans for people or businesses that are buying local made products.
As far as jobs, money could also be loaned to people who want to start area businesses. We also need to learn that making and buying local is best for our economic well-being. Studies have shown for example that for every $100 spent at a local bookstore $45 stays in the local economy. On the other hand for every $100 spent at a chain bookstore only $13 stays in the community. That’s over three times the money circulated in the local economy to create more jobs and wealth. Our community also spends way too much money on corporate welfare in the form of attraction and retention for the chain big box stores that locate in our area. That’s money that could go to starting local businesses.
We need to think about localization as we are getting more environmentally concerned about where our food is coming from. Access to local produce and other area goods makes for a safer and more financially secure community. Our area could also work at being a recycling and green community that could be a role model for others. We already have in place Youngstown and Warren FreeCycle websites that keep products out of landfills by people posting items they want to give away free. Another community people-to-people organization is the Mahoning Watershed TimeBank which offers free labor that is paid in the form of time dollars that the laborer can spend for a service he needs. These are organizations providing goods and services that build relationships because they are community based.
Education is at the heart of every community and something we need to work on. We need to make sure every student graduates from high school. We don’t need more mandated tests and talk about raising standards. We need to raise our expectations, which means raising our belief in students’ ability to succeed and insuring that they have the resources to be a success. The number one thing students need to learn is how to use their brain to think independently and how to express their ideas. We also need parent follow through at home on the importance of education.
To make a better community we need to stress community service. Our children should see us doing it in our daily lives but it should also make up a part of education. I’m not talking about just planting flowers or participating in student government but in working in food pantries, homeless missions and nursing homes. It’s a good way for students to learn about social justice and what a community is. Students need to learn they can grow up to be anything they want but they should also learn they need to be an activist through out their lives. Pupils are taught history but are never truly taught about the history that they have the chance to make.
If our valley citizens along with doctors, clinics and area hospitals established a health care plan covering all our residents we could be a role model for cities of the future. If we had valley people of every color and race sit down and dialogue together we could go a long way towards ending racism.
So while the outside media may throw sticks and stones and call us names they can’t hurt us because we are survivors. If God judge’s people by their scars Mahoning Valley residents are heaven bound. As for now we need to pull together to make our valley a heaven on Earth. That would truly be an image the countries media could not ignore. ~ The Elecpencil
David Rovics: What if You Knew
We the people are constantly told to look to politicians and officials as the force for change. We are encouraged to be passive consumers, not informed actors shaping society. But to make real change, we must look to each other and ourselves as the source of political power. ~ Nelson D, Schwartz