We all need work — to survive, to have worth and dignity. The question: what to do when the place where we live (and often love) no longer provides work we know (and want). Families from Appalachia migrated to Baltimore and Detroit; small farms in the Midwest consolidated into industrialized farms; factories in mill towns in New England shut down; coal mines closed, unable to compete financially with natural gas, coal’s pollution threatening our health and earth. People buying online harms small local businesses and many leave for larger cities. Change. Towns (and cities) are challenged to find ways of surviving and thriving.
Two small towns in Kansas illustrate different choices. One, Cawker City, is now a ghost town, small farms have disappeared, young adults have left. Garden City in the 1970s chose to welcome immigrants from Burma, Vietnam, Northern Africa, Mexico, other Central American countries. The town now thrives, unemployment hovering at 3 percent, an economics system of irrigated corn to feed cattle, and an immigrant labor force to work in the meatpacking plants. Workers produce food for export, pay taxes and rents. Restaurants, shops, schools, homes are built.
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The choice for Garden City, and for us, was whether to keep out or welcome “them” into an established community. Immigration became a blessing. But it’s one now endangered by Trump’s immigration policy and by outside “crusaders” inspired by hateful rhetoric, plotting attacks on mosques and apartments, creating terror.
The choices are ours: the illusion of safety by banning refugees and deporting immigrants, building walls, harming our farms and businesses dependent on those workers, or the reality of a vibrant diverse community, welcoming changes promoting life — sustainable energy creating local jobs, a learning of new skills, building mass transportation, supporting local farms/businesses, and “welcoming the stranger who was ourselves.”
Bernice Mennis, West Fort Ann