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Friday, May 15, 2009

We have the city we want

The CP had a story the other day and a follow up editorial today (posted in my sidebar) about the fact that the City of Camden is ineligible for some federal funding for police through the President's stimulus money. What??? How can Camden, the most dangerous city in the world, be ineligible for federal $ for public safety? Easy. Camden is on a 10 year probation because the last time they got federal police $ they were horribly misspent, unaccounted for, and we owe the feds money for that which we can't account for AND we didn't even spend all the money we had. We owe $565,000. We did not spend $195,000. This is not chump change. This is real money. The city of Camden has not had a clean or verifiable audit in the last 3 years.

Right now our Senator and Congressman are trying to get an exception for Camden from the US Dept. of Justice. The public discourse is revolving around the fact that Camden citizens need more police. I say, let's focus on the real issue, not the issue du jour.

We have exactly the city we want in Camden. If we wanted something else, we would have it. What have you done to change the way the city operates? Have you voted? Have you attended a public meeting? Have you enlisted your co-workers or neighbors? Has your neighborhood group held a public candidate forum? Have you lobbied your state reps for accountability? Have you sought to build community? Do you work with other groups or do you compete for attention? This city is like many others. Groups and neighborhoods are divided into silos. Easier to manage politically that way. Each group and neighborhood fixates on itself and competes for scraps with the others, ensuring that cooperation and good will are always thwarted. People outside blame those who live inside, usually invoking racial epithets as if that will change anything. People inside blame people outside who left and won't help the city. It's a vicious circle that won't end if we continue to do the same things we do now.

The state, the residents, the elected officials, the civic leaders, the corporations, the business people, the people who work here and don't live here are all responsible for the sad state this city is in. Again, if we truly wanted something different, we would have it. I'm not suggesting that people aren't doing good things in Camden; they are. There are wonderful nonprofits that build and renovate houses, grow gardens, work with kids, train people for jobs, operate preschools and charter schools, and feed the poor and homeless. Yet nothing changes in this city? We have new development, a lovely waterfront, new market rate housing, new hospital buildings, new University buildings. And yet the city doesn't change. While we each toil at the margins, we each ignore the cancer that eats this city daily. We have no accountability of our leaders, our city workers, the outcomes of our tax dollars, nor expectations for improvement. We have all collectively thrown up our hands and said, the city will not change, so let me work over here in this little corner and do something.

What am I doing? I teach students by having them examine the city and think about solutions to these vexing issues. I am trying to work with local high school and community college students to blog about the issues they see every day around them in order to be a catalyst for community conversation. I write this blog in the same spirit of community conversation. I patronize local businesses. I read the CP. I seek every day to engage my employer, RU, in the lifeblood of this city. What I do is the same as what you do. I toil on the margins in my little venues and hope it makes a difference. Meanwhile, I too ignore the cancer in this city and I teach this stuff.

I challenge everyone who reads this blog, whether you live in Camden or not, to think about how you contribute to the ongoing problems of this city, what talents you are not sharing with this city, and what you could do contribute to a better Camden. Will you run for office? Will you demand accountability from the city? Will you work with others to create an effective, not a siloed community? I don't have all the answers. But I do know that what we are doing is not working. If we continue to do the same, we will have the same results. And we must expect, demand, and experience a different Camden.


1 comment:

MsEdufuture said...

My sentiments exactly, Camden is exactly the way citizens want it. But the underlying fact is that most of its residents fall short of the energy it takes to do affect change, of they feel inadequate to do so, so the end result is poverty,crime,illiteracy,and city government theft. If everyone person in Camden knew how much the city was given to be protected, then there would be a difference in how people lived here. Since all of this kept quiet, no one knows, no one cares. This is the same way I feel about Philadelphia and the mayor wanting to close schools. Not only is he taking money from the children, but he is potentially heighten the murder rates. I am like u, I don't have an answer, but I believe that I can create a small dent it making a solution forseeable.