by Tarah Hodgkinson
We are often asked why we focus our crime prevention work so intensely on small-is-beautiful versus large scale transformation. We have learned that small scale neighbourhoods, particularly disadvantaged or high crime neighbourhoods, offer the greatest potential for creating safe, cohesive, and liveable places that show how to rebuild cities in the future.
That doesn’t mean large scale transformation isn’t possible. It just means it can be far more difficult, turbulent, and unproductive.
Consider the political, social, and cultural upheaval of the last few years in the United States. Over 400,000 people are dead due to coronavirus. Children are in cages. Domestic terrorists attacked and entered the capitol building and five people were killed. Muslims from certain countries have been banned. Rights for all kinds of groups have been reeled back.
It has been a few weeks since America inaugurated a new leader. A subdued celebration ensued in order to keep people COVID-safe and the world went wild over a pair of handmade mittens.
And, by most accounts, Americans let out a sigh of relief. Within hours, policy after racist policy was rolled back, with 17 executive actions signed in the first day and over 40 as of this week.
AS DIVIDED AS EVER
Nonetheless, America is as divided now as ever. This division is not new. Read back only a few decades and you will find the exact same sentiment.
In fact, those exact words, have been written again and again over the last century. But what does this mean for America? And how do people move forward?
We have discovered through many years of our SafeGrowth project work that progress only happens when people truly listen to each other.
There are thousands of books, articles, and critiques on the rise of “populism.” However, these accounts often ignore the original tenets of populism: real democracy for all people. Real democracy is messy. It doesn’t involve scapegoating or hatred, but a recognition of the rights of all people.
It seems obvious that Americans also need to take a hard look at themselves. There is an excellent scene in the HBO Series, The Newsroom when Jeff Daniels' news anchor character, Will McAvoy, is on a public stage and is asked: “Why is America the greatest country in the world?” He stuns the audience when he replies, “It isn’t! But it sure used to be”.
McAvoy cites a myriad of statistics on how America fails to compete with other countries on literacy, life expectancy, infant mortality, health care, economic equality, and more (all of which - while spoken by an actor in a fictional show - are true).
What this scene suggests is that the warnings of a crumbling American empire are also true, sentiments found in Niall Ferguson's book Colossus: The Rise and Fall of the American Empire and Chris Hedges’ Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle.
But that doesn’t mean there isn’t hope.
HOPE FOR 2021
America has always been one of the most innovative and entrepreneurial countries in the world and it can innovate again. As famed American historian, Howard Zinn suggested in his book Passionate Declarations Americans need to see themselves the way much of the world does. Self-reflection is the first step in the journey of self-improvement.
Finally, Americans need to take that reflection and get to work. This starts with the demands coming from the populists: health and education reform, economic reform, policing reform, and others.
This will require that neighbourhood residents and leaders, like the incredible people we have met in our SafeGrowth network, continue their hard work and demand better for themselves and their communities.
A new leader might mean new hope. But unlike the world of Star Wars, we can’t put that new hope on one Jedi’s shoulders or the magic of The Force. This must be done by people themselves. A new hope for America comes from the voices of all Americans being heard. And that starts with a small-is-beautiful approach in local neighbourhoods in the cities and towns all over the nation.