What Happened to This Place?

Last week, I joined a partner to get out the vote by going door-to-door. We knocked on over 120 doors and talked with about 30 people in the Wendell Phillips and Key Coalition neighborhoods of Kansas City, MO. We dropped door knockers on every home, reminded folks about the election date, 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). Passed busted out windows, lots strewn with garbage. Dead cats in the gutters, roofs and porches caving 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 gobsmacked, 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 playing the rubble of half torn down houses with eyes aged like old people. 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 we were created to empower. The kinds of neighborhoods that made me so angry I first turned from this city and then turned to this work. And if we don’t even know these neighborhoods — don’t walk their streets and knock their doors — we aren’t deep enough in the roots of our home to do anything about fixing them.

We have 12 days until the election, and a lot of people have been left behind — a lot of doors to knock. A lot of voters whose voices are so often ignored, they’ve 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.”

Picture: Molly Fleming-PierreMolly 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


1 Response to “What Happened to This Place?”

  1. 1 Marta Williamson November 6, 2012 at 2:57 pm

    Molly…your efforts are amazing! Ash read this to us a few weeks ago and I was hoping you would post it! Keep up the good work!

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