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Change Happens, So What Do You Want to Do About It?

Axis4 Group

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Angela Conte, Owner Axis4 Group

Sustainable Building, Construction and Design; Community Development ;.

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The advice “Don’t shoot the messenger” was first expressed by Shakespeare in Henry IV, part 2 (1598).  A related sentiment was expressed in Antigone by Sophocles as “No one loves the messenger who brings bad news”. A modern version of attacking the messenger is when people blame the media for presenting bad news that causes fear and unrest. And when you feel like an oppressed person, the government can become the messenger of death in your eyes, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t listen to what they have to say, because when it comes to fending off negative reality: If you continually shoot the messenger, your not going to stay well-informed to make the best decisions later on.

I once got a $10 jay walking ticket that I ignored and it turned into an $80 fine. I was in college at the time and didn’t want to put out the $80 on something so non important to my life. I mean, what was I going to learn from spending my college funds on learning to walk inside the white lines? So I took the anarchist’s way out and didn’t bother to pay the fine until I went in to renew my driver’s license and I was told that a warrant had been issued for my arrest, (Thankfully the police had more important things to do than track down jay walkers.)  I had to appear in court and the judge gave me the option of community service which I took and turned it into an opportunity to explore my political stirrings by volunteering at a local “peace center”. I learned two very important life lessons from my thirty hours of social incarceration: one was something a wise volunteer told me about those guys on TV who are always asking for your money to save poor children around the world and how they will use most of your donation to pay for their TV advertising and marketing campaigns. And the second thing I learned was:  just because you call yourself a peace center doesn’t mean you’re housing peaceful people with peaceful intentions. What I saw looked nothing like peaceful activities. These were hardcore peace mongers who wanted to change the world fast and furiously because they were very angry people.  I believed that the world needed to change too but I knew that I could never fight for peace with an angry heart. It would be too hypocritical. There are a lot of things to be angry about in the world but the need to create more peace is not helped by attacking a perceived enemy, instead of making sure your going after the real one.  Real change happens when you can stop and acknowledge that there are many sides to every situation and it takes time and hard work to find a solution to problems in a complicated world. Positive change will always take continual effort to maintain the balance of all the oncoming separate parts to every issue.  And, once you take one step forward, there is always another that has to be made to keep the positive forward momentum. Anger is just going to tire you out faster.

At one time I was working with the ACLU who was taking over the coordination of a community group that was being forced by a city to move out of their inner city housing project homes, circa 1950. These high towered structures were unsound, dirty and crime infested but it was the only home most of these people  knew and the promise of a better home was not being heard over their fear and anger over what they saw as the enemie’s attempts to destroy their social roots because they were poor and powerless. As dirty and violent and full of drugs as their neighborhood was, they were also full of their families and friends that they were afraid they would be disconnected from if they allowed the city to relocate them. And they simply didn’t trust the city to not leave them hanging without homes built before they drove them out of their current ones.  Now I was working for the ACLU who expected me to help these people organize protests against the relocation demands but after looking into the situation further, I came to the conclusion that these people were shooting themselves in the foot over an inability to trust “The Man” who they saw as anyone working for the government.  To them the man would never have their best interest at heart because as they saw it they never cared much about them before. True or not, before they didn’t have a plan with mutual benefit to them and the government, and they couldn’t see this through their anger and mistrust. I agree that the main purpose for the city’s desire to tear down the archaic housing complex was financially motivated in that cleaning up this part of the city would mean a higher quality of life for everyone and more economic incentives for companies to move to town and create more jobs, but I believed that these people didn’t see themselves as valued members of the community that also had a right to benefit from this gentrification. It wasn’t a situation that a neighborhood was being taken over to be improved and lived in by wealthy people, it was one where the city was trying to expand the quality of the area to create more safe and healthy affordable housing. After two years of the housing associations organizing street closing protests against the redevelopment efforts, I came in and saw what these people could not, that the city, for whatever selfish reasons was going to tear down their blighted multi-family security lock down buildings and replace them with nicer new buildings that were also mixed-use and this meant jobs.  The urbanism of the past was to locate lower income populations into designated poor communities which isolated them from higher income populations and shared economic resources.  Now they were trying something different, to bring quality housing and business resources to people who needed it.  I truly believed that what these people were leaving behind was far worse than what lay ahead of them, if they just embraced the concept of change. Yes this became my one and only ACLU assignment, given that I helped both sides get their way by showing the home owners what to demand in writing before they agreed to anything. I wanted them to learn to compromise by negotiating their wants and needs, rather than fighting just to fight. I realized I was more the mediator than the fighter. I don’t know how things turned out for these people in the ten years since I convinced them to put down their signs and consider the city’s offer at face value and start making their own demands. The thing is, change happens and without it stagnation takes over and eats a community like an economic cancer and all anyone should ever fight for is the right to participate in the discussion and find compromise that make sure it’s the kind of change that works for everyone.

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