In the weeds of the old swamp
A Childhood Remembered à Rose
I love Chicago, but in twenty-eight years I’ve come to understand that what I love about the city whose orbit I’ve grown up in and around relates to the shiny surface things. My love is tunnel vision, that of a tourists. The architecture, the lake, the shopping, the museums, zoos and restaurants. And of course the pink building! I dreamed of living there when I grew up. But you see these are all surface things, when you scratch the surface and get into the weeds of history on these places, you find out they are very sad and downtrodden, like the pink building for example.
I’ve compartmentalized the bad and the sad things because like at least half of Cook County residents I feel like I can’t change those things about Chicago.
The Shadow Effect
In Illinois, all roads lead to Chicago, and that ultimately is not good for the state because when the center holds too much, the house of cards falls. The irony about Chicago is that the bad and sad things overshadow everything else that’s beautiful and fresh, which would explain why much of the world still remembers Chicago for its mobster days; or why Hollywood and the movie industry stopped making as many movies as they had done for much of the 1980s, but the latter has changed since Rahm Emmanuel took office as Mayor of Chicago. Tourism has always been good, as well as the job opportunities, but we’re no longer the #2 most populated metropolis of the United States, we’re now #3. What’s worse is that our #3 rank is at threat of going even lower because Chicago leads the U.S. in population loss now for the second year in a row and Illinois is now the most in debt state too.
Are we becoming Eastern European?
How did Chicago and Illinois become the new most messed up city and state? God forbid we go down the way Detroit and Michigan did in 2013 when the state filed for bankruptcy, or Indiana for that matter. We don’t resemble Serbia or parts of Eastern Europe that were devastated by wars and political corruption that bled vitality and economic viability, but we may be on track to be like St. Petersburg. By that I mean a sharp divide between rich and poor, no middle class. The city has been going through gentrification steadily for over a decade and many from Chicago’s neighborhoods can’t afford to stay in those neighborhoods because of rising costs, so they are moving to the suburbs for salvation, but native suburbanites are unhappy about this change, as if they were being invaded. So you see there is discord even among citizens, when there should be a banding together for a movement for change and improvement all around.
John Feffer, writer and the director of Foreign Policy in Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies is an expert in Eastern European politics. Eastern Europe has an issue with having a very centralized government and ultimately it has been a lynchpin influence on Eastern Europe’s falling behind and systemic political corruption hegemony. Being Serbian, this hits terribly true. ( I was actually an American citizen born abroad though).
“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold.”
– W.B. Yeats
Feffer argues that the problem with centralized governments is “that this system is designed to exclude citizens from decision-making” and when that is the case, the country is at threat of collapse, which is what happened during the Kosovo War.
Guilty By Passivity
Feffer wrote about how Serbia was doing post 2000- Milosevic a little while ago and how by letting the center (Serbia’s Chicago would be Belgrade) have the bulk of decision making power, the rest of the country suffered. Serbia is still struggling in large part due to a bad reputation from a man who left most of his country to be ignorant of what was going on.
Many Serbs did not know about the atrocities that took place in Kosovo, but time will tell if history gives the people of Serbia their dignity back. Serbia has a rich and beautiful history and country, but its been overshadowed and forgotten due to what happened in the early 1990s. You see, by not asking questions, challenging their leadership or trying to change the way their government and society worked, Serbs became culpable by association. Their passivity, or by having their power taken away from them, they were labeled atrocious too.
For a time I remember in grade-school I was told to be quieter because I was Serbian, though an American citizen because of my parents. My parents wanted my paternal grandmother to see me, and she couldn’t leave the country because of her health. So they decided to bring me over to her and so I became an American citizen born abroad.
So I’m hoping that people of Illinois wake up and start getting more active in the decision-making process of local and state government. We’re too beautiful of a state in history and natural beauty to let ourselves go down because we’re scared or feel powerless. We’re only as powerful as we are united after all. Blaming our politicians is easy, blaming our selves and doing something to change things is the real solution.