In the last couple of months, ISIS has beheaded two Americans, Ebola has claimed one life in Texas and infected a second person, and police officers in and around St. Louis have killed two black teenagers. Every one is a tragedy. But only two of the three have become headliners on the national political debate circuit. Guess which one hasn’t? We have effectively declared war on ISIS, getting ready to deploy troops to Turkish bases, and we are scrambling to set up a defensive perimeter against Ebola amid rising demands that we secure our borders against both. But 52 years after Michael Harrington described the “invisible land” of the poor in The Other America, 50 years after Lyndon Johnson declared “unconditional war on poverty in America,” and 46 years after the Kerner Commission described a nation “moving toward two societies, one black, one white – separate and unequal,” we turn our backs on St. Louis.
It’s not fashionable on any part of the political spectrum these days to return to the rhetoric of the 1960s, and much has changed radically since then. But on the persistent pockets of poverty and despair in our cities, where unemployment rates are unconscionably high and educational opportunities are almost non-existent, we continue to turn our backs.
I have little doubt we will contain ISIS and quarantine Ebola, but containment and quarantine are not strategies for revitalizing our cities, and this country's future really depends on whether we have the will to address the injustices at home.