I write this from Ferguson, Missouri, the place where all of the racially charged friction began. I am here for a conference being held in a large convention center, attached to a massive Embassy Hotel, with beautiful inside waterfalls and wishing pools where you can throw coins in, and with well-dressed attendants.
But of course, that’s not why Ferguson is famous. It’s the protests, beginning with the tragic death of Mike Brown after an altercation with a police officer, and the looting and riots following.
I have travelled to 45 states in the nation in my 17 years of life with my preacher father, and in that time I have seen both Americas. I have been with multi-millionaires, and have walked streets where people were begging for food. In California, I once met a man, who was so poor he could not even afford a bar of soap, which he was walking the streets begging for. I recall, as I, after finding one and chasing him down to give it to him, and seeing the joy in his eyes, thinking about how this man, (who was a black gentleman) didn’t care or even probably know about political parties. He had no idea what great economic forces had forced him out work, all he was looking for was a bar of soap so he could take a bath.
In Kansas City, another man was playing a lute and sitting in a park, hoping for a dime. I asked him to play Concerning Hobbits. I then asked him if he had a home. He’d had one until 2008, when, he said, for some reason he didn’t understand, he’d lost it. After that he’d lost his job.
Of course, I knew what had happened in 2008, about the Subprime Mortgage Crises, but all he knew was he had lost his home. It’s hard to rationalize about the rise and fall of markets when the market falls on you.
There really are two Americas. And from Colorado to Main I have seen them well defined. One of rich to middle class that understands what is happening, but since life is basically good, food is on the table, and the kids can go to college, they don’t have to worry too much.
But there is the Other America that is so infamous; those that just barely live from paycheck to paycheck or the ones that don’t even have one.
Riots, like we have seen in Ferguson, and are seeing in Baltimore, although horrible and inexcusable, are understandable some ways, if we look at them through the view of those at the bottom, through the lens of those who don’t know why, only what. They don’t know why the jobs and schooling and safety aren’t there, but they know it’s not, and to their eyes no one is doing anything about it. And when, at least in appearance, and sometimes in fact, the very ones who are supposed to protect them resort to excessive violence, the anger wells up.
As we have seen in Baltimore and Ferguson, protests began peacefully, but like so many movements, it is not far from discontent and anger to violence, and it only takes a few exploitative thugs to set things off.
It’s not a racial issue; it’s an issue of the Other America. The America that is beneath the radar, the ones without special interest groups in Washington, the ones for whom few people stand up.
I’m a high school kid. I don’t have the answers to poverty; I don’t know how we’ll fix all of this. But I do know that the problems are real, we can’t push them aside. And I do know that a house divided against itself cannot stand. America is divided into two parts; and the divide is getting bigger, and often times neither side understands the other. Until we can unite, and make it no longer us and them, but just us, until we realize that it’s just us Americans here and we’re all in this together, that one group’s problems are all of our problems, we can’t fix this. But when we do realize it, we can start to.
Andrew C. Abbott