Friday, September 10, 2010

The Mouth Runneth Over

And here is why the Rev. Jesse Jackson failed to become a force of change in this country, relegated to the sidelines for the most part over the years while the world moved on: He has this tendency to say the very wrong thing at the very wrong time, and he is doing it again, right now, in Detroit.

It's a shame. The guy could be promoting the positives and bringing people together, and instead he is speaking out of turn and fanning the fires of an old division, a sleeping notion that we can't afford to awaken right now.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson sparked the controversy this week when he told Detroit's City Council that the West Michigan battery plant should have been built in the Motor City.

"The governor, a Democrat, brags about Michigan getting a battery plant, built north of Grand Rapids, as opposed to Detroit, the engine that drives the state," Jackson said, according to news reports. "We need industrialization, not farming. Detroit needs the battery plant."

Was he talking about the Muskegon area plant, or the Holland area plant? Holland is actually south of Grand Rapids, and it has taken a pretty big hit over the years with the loss of manufacturing jobs. Muskegon, too. Both areas need the development. And someone needs to clue Jackson in that there are 16 battery plants coming to Michigan, one of which is very near the Detroit area, up and running already in Brownstown Township. The Volt is being built in Hamtramck, Ford is creating small car jobs at Wayne Assembly, GM stayed at the RenCen when it could have left, other companies are moving back to the downtown area - and don't leave out the many other economic projects sprouting in and around the city. In fact, the New York Times has featured numerous stories this year about the revitalization of the Detroit, here, here, and here if you want to get specific about it, highlighting the positive developments in the area. Ignoring all of that over one battery plant is not only disingenuous, it gives the subtle impression that Detroit is trapped in a cycle victimhood - when nothing could be further from the truth. It's a proud city with some really great people, and they are doing the best they can, as fast as they can, at bringing the city back. They should be applauded more often.

Could Detroit use more jobs and development? Of course they could. But to pit different areas of the state against each other like this is total nonsense - unwanted, unneeded, and unnecessary. Maybe Jackson doesn't understand the dynamics here, the division that was created long-ago by west-side Republicans to fuel resentment towards Detroit. It has died down over the years, and it's not something we want to revive in difficult economic times, especially when we are just getting back on our feet. Development anywhere in the state benefits us all, and should be celebrated. Playing up this divide simply reinforces the old stereotypes about Michigan to the rest of the country, and that is a very, very bad thing when we are trying to attract business to settle here. No one wants to walk into a family feud. So, knock it off.

And to dis urban farming is just stupid. "Cute, but foolish" applies to Jackson's criticism of the concept. Urban farming engages the community to care for the land and provides not only economic opportunities, but healthy food as well. Would it be better to just let those lots grow wild, attracting trash, animals and disease, becoming an eyesore that drags down property values and discourages development? Or perhaps another fast food restaurant instead? Urban farming might be the best use that land could hope to get at this particular point in time. Discouraging it is very unproductive.

With all respect to Rev. Jackson, we don't need this sort of rhetoric right now. He is either uninformed about current events and the dynamics of this state - or he is fanning fires on purpose to create controversy and get media attention. If it's the former, he needs to catch up on the times. If it's the latter, well, that would be very disappointing. These off-base criticisms will only hurt Detroit, and in turn, hurt the rest of us as well.

Take a look around at the good that is happening, Rev. Jackson, and help us promote the city of Detroit, as well as the rest of our state. The negative, we don't need. We've had enough of that. It's time to start looking up and striving for more growth in the future, not reliving the battles that should be well in our past.