Thursday, June 19, 2003

A tale of two countries. 

There are protests in Baghdad, and riots in Michigan. I see a painful relationship between the two. The most recent protest in Baghdad occurred on Wednesday, and resulted in a "nervous" soldier shooting into the crowd and killing two people. What were they protesting?

They were unemployed soldiers who haven't been payed since March. One unemployed soldier said bluntly, "The Americans are going to get hurt if the situation remains as it is."

What is the unemployment level in the 92% black Benton, Michigan, site of the recent riots? The unemployment level in Benton, Michigan is 25%. That's right. 25%. Contrast it with 90% white city of St. Joseph just across the river, with an unemployment rate of 2%.

The two cities were chronicled by Alex Kotlowitz in this 1999 book, The Other Side of the River: A Story of Two Towns, a Death, and America's Dilemma, an account of a mysterious drowning of a black teenager from St. Joseph.

The 25% unemployed on Benton must see St. Joseph just across the river as a constant reminder of what they don't have,and may never have: jobs and a secure future. The Iraqi protesters marching to the Republican Palace, site of the U.S. headquarters and round-the-clock meetings behind heavy barbed wire, must see the off-limits U.S. officials behind the barbed wire as holding the key to the end of their suffering, and refusing to share it.

Is Michigan a sign of things to come in this country? Will we follow the path of civil unrest in Iraq? People hungry become desperate people. People with no hope become desperate people. Is this an administration that can offer hope to the unemployed people of Iraq, and the unemployed people of America?

Their record holds no promise for this.