First, a crowdfunder update: the new crowdfunding site should be up and running either tomorrow (Wednesday) or Thursday at the latest. I'll be sure to send an email when it's live -- thanks again so much for your patience and support through this unexpected hurdle. Onward!
So, this past Friday, I left Chicago and started the trek back to the East Coast. I was sad to leave Chicago -- it is one of those special places where many people I care about now live -- people from back home in Boston, college, my days in California. And the city of Chicago embodies working class values, which strongly resonates with me growing up in an old industrial suburb north of Boston.
But it was time to move on to the next stop.
My dad and the vast majority of my dad's side of the family is from Cleveland (where I am heading to later today) and I wanted to take a 'lil time to absorb as much as possible about the once booming Factory Belt, now termed Rust Belt.
An overlooked part of America
When I left Chicago on Friday, I decided to take the following route towards MA: Indianapolis, Louisville, Cincinnati, Dayton, Toledo, Detroit, Cleveland.
First, I love this part of the country. It again feels like larger replicas of my hometown of Lowell in a more metropolitan form.
I have a lot of pride in my hometown of Lowell -- and it's no secret that I can get pretty defensive when someone tries to insult my city.
I felt that same visceral, defensive feeling as I've been traveling through the Rust Belt. Nearly all of the above cities that I either drove through/spent a little more time in seemed to have a fraction of the population and the working class energy that it once had during the manufacturing boom in this country. As I wandered around some of the Rust Belt streets, I tried to imagine how life must have been a hundred or so years ago when industry here was really taking off.
I also saw a number of Trump signs in this part of the country. Billboards, signs on storefronts, hats, t-shirts -- I pretty much saw it all. In fact, I am writing this post from Detroit, where I just crossed paths in the street with someone wearing a Trump t-shirt.
And in my self-identified progressive circles, I think the one question that keeps getting bounced around is: How can anyone support Trump? How could that happen?
I think there are many reasons for it. My short answer is: there are a lot of people in this country who are angry that the political/capitalist system isn't working for them. They feel the political system is run by a bunch of elites who are out of touch. They think that Trump and "building the wall" will allow them to have their rightful piece of the pie -- when it is really the 1% oligarchy that is running the US and world.
(Also, for an interesting analysis on this populist moment and the upcoming election, check this article out.)
With struggle comes the opportunity for change
The last couple days I have been staying with a couple friends in Detroit. I have driven through Detroit before, but this was the first time I have spent significant time here. And I love this town.
Detroit could easily be the poster city for the highs and lows of American capitalism: at its peak, the Motor City was one of the wealthiest cities in America -- only to be the largest US city to declare bankruptcy in 2013.
I was driving through sections of East Detroit when I first arrived, and I haven't seen anything like it in the United States: entire neighborhoods of abandoned homes, boarded up windows, homes razed to the ground -- entire blocks of quiet and emptiness. The level of urban blight was unlike anything I had ever seen.
But downtown Detroit and its immediate neighborhoods are now the source of a boom of new development -- "New Detroit" as I heard my friends refer to it as.
But this new development doesn't come without its issues. There are many out-of-staters looking to capitalize on the current situation in Detroit, which has understandably created some tension between long-time residents and newcomers.
But where does the opportunity lie?
A new friend I made here told me that she wouldn't want to live anywhere else in the world right now besides Detroit. She said that there was nowhere else in America that had the potential to be so innovative and truly groundbreaking with its community supported structures and what it has the potential to be.
Sometimes when something has been eradicated -- it is an opportunity to rethink, reframe, and rebuild for a more community sustainable and inclusive future.
Let's build it together
One thing remains clear to me throughout all of these learnings and discoveries: we need to build what lies ahead together. When people feel left out of a certain articulated vision, it creates isolation and fear (again, this feeling of elitism). But the question I continue to think about is: how do we create an all-inclusive narrative of America moving forward?
I think that is something that our brothers and sisters in the Rust Belt very much want to hear and believe in. We all want to believe and live in an America that is full of opportunity and promise -- and I think that vision can be highly inclusive in nature versus rooted in scarcity. We need effective leadership and movement building to get us there. How will we as a country step up to the plate over these next few months and beyond? Let's build it together.