by Robert C. Koehler
"The status quo in
"We can't live with a status quo like that," Willis said. "We know things are breaking down . . ."
The event was called "A Remedy for Violence" and announcements for it proclaimed: "This will be a joyous and hopeful event as we aim to eliminate all violence in our community in 10 years! Zero in Ten."
No way! They're not serious, or they're incredibly naive. But I knew they weren't, and as my cynicism gave way -- this was about a week before the event was to take place -- I felt an enormous sense of empowerment rising. I thought about the words of the Earth Charter, which begins: "We stand at a critical moment in Earth's history, a time when humanity must choose its future."
Yes, now is the time to choose our future, so let us choose one that transcends the insanity and sheer stupidity of violent behavior. This requires personal empowerment. It also requires collective empowerment. And this is what I felt in the audacious declaration: "We aim to eliminate all violence in our community in 10 years."
This is how ideas ignite. If a group of transportation professionals can take on the root causes of traffic accidents, why, she asked, can't we wrestle with the root causes of violence? What would it look like? And so a Remedy for Violence began, with the disturbing realization that "We are the people we've been waiting for."
And the first event in the process was held, in English and Spanish, at
And this is how we change the world.
But first we have to look at the world with clear eyes. Our "leaders," elected and otherwise, have their agendas -- the mayor of
Crowder, speaking at the event, pointed out an obvious starting place, unaddressed by the mayor, seldom addressed or even acknowledged by government officials: There are way too many "disconnected youth" in the neighborhood and the city and the country. These are teenagers who are neither in school nor have a job -- some 800 of them in
They've left, or been ejected by, the struggling and underfunded educational system and they can't find work because there is no work. There's a 40 percent dropout rate in
"They're on the streets," she said. "They become victims or perpetrators of crime, or both. They show up in prisons, jails, hospitals. These youth -- our youth -- need us to do better."
Youth, poverty, education, militarism . . . these were the primary focal points in this initial conversation. They're not abstract topics. They're an unavoidable part of life in the neighborhood, in all the forgotten neighborhoods of America. Much of the effort to create change has to involve putting unrelenting pressure on the politicians in our alleged democracy to see and embrace the same problems the people do -- not deliver solutions from on high, but sit in the same chaos, joy and despair of community life and work together, starting from scratch in the thought process, looking at things from the bottom up.
Mass school closings are a brutally vivid example of the disconnected politics of
This is the status quo that is no longer tolerable.