Vol. 12    No. 9
May 1, 2017
Reflections/Jonathan Gramling
                                               Local to National Concerns
Fabric of the Hood
Celebrating Women Who Create Community
in Challenged Neighborhoods
For what has become most of my entire life — it’s funny how when you can suddenly stop for a moment and realize how long you have done
something — I have been connected on some level with some of Madison’s challenged neighborhoods. It all started back in 1982 after my
wife, children and I moved to Beld Street in South Madison and then I did a lot of work, volunteer and paid, with the South Madison
Neighborhood Center and South Madison Community Development Corporation. And through my work at the Urban League, we provided a lot of
services to the South Madison area. And after I left the Urban League in 1994, I stayed connected managing a T-ball team for the Neighborhood
Intervention Project for youth in the Summerset complex and did project evaluation, proposal development and journalistic work in many of
the challenged neighborhoods ever since. In my heart, I’ve always been a grassroots kind of guy.

And so my view of local to national policies and politics has always been influenced by this grassroots perspective. I have never stopped
thinking about the issues that impact vulnerable people.

Federal discussions about the funding of anti-poverty programs have always concerned me. Whether through work at the Urban League or as
an accountant with some neighborhood centers, the conservative agenda to eliminate many domestic programs — which always seemed to
lead to some cuts through the art of compromise — has always concerned me. It almost seemed to be an annual ritual of push against and
push for and if we were lucky, the funding would remain the same.

Now the federal programs that the conservatives always wanted to cut the deepest — and eliminate — were always the ones that impacted
poor people. Rarely would you hear about attempts to make severe cuts to the Department of Commerce programs. The programs for the well-to-
do and the influential always seemed to be off limits. But the programs that impacted poor people and the politically disaffected were always on
the chopping block. Whether it was affordable housing initiatives of the Community Development Block Grant, conservatives — mainly
Republicans — were determined to eliminate anything that helped improve the quality of life for poor people or gave them a chance at self-
improvement, socially, educationally and economically. They were to be thrown into the fires of unbridled free market and pull themselves up
by their bootstraps, something that the second and third generation old money folks never had to do themselves.

Fortunately there was always a balance of power in Washington where the political party in power always had to seek some votes from the
other political party in order to push their legislation through. And so the uncaring initiatives of the conservatives would be tempered by
liberals and moderates. Life would go on and the programs that truly impacted poor people’s lives would continue on — or at least limp along.

But things have been changing drastically in Washington, especially since the U.S. Supreme Court allowed big money into our elections
through the Citizens United ruling. At the present time, conservatives are in control of the Supreme Court and the House of Representatives
through tons of money being spent on conservative candidates and the gerrymandering of districts to create more “safe” conservative seats.
The U.S. Senate is Republican too, but the conservatives do not have the control of a working majority.

And then we have Donald Trump, whose tweets and rhetoric are all over the map, but whose policies and actions are decidedly conservative
and pro-business and pro-wealthy. I am starting to get the feeling that if it isn’t funding a business directive or isn’t directly supporting
business, then the funding has to go. I read a report the other day that stated that it is big business that is in control of policy development in
Trump’s White House. In Mussolini’s Italy, that was Corporatism. It’s no longer We the People. It’s now We the Corporations.

And so now, as I hear the not-so-distant clamoring for the elimination of many federal programs, I am truly worried about the most vulnerable
amongst us. I must add that even though there are some of us who would not be directly hit by these budget cuts, even our suburbs are
economically interdependent with our urban centers. And if our urban centers begin to decline, the suburbs will at some point feel the decline
themselves.

It is difficult for me to imagine the city of Madison maintaining its high quality of life without CDBG and HOMES Funding. Where would Madison
be if it’s neighborhood centers became semi-empty buildings unable to operate their own programs or stay open to provide space to needed
public and private services? If the city of Madison didn’t have HUD funding for affordable and subsidized housing, where would that leave poor
families who already have trouble finding decent, affordable housing in a tight housing market? By how much would the ranks of the homeless
grow fueled by those who find it impossible to continue to just hold on?

We must always be compassionate for the poor and the vulnerable in an empowering kind of way. And I always worry about the people who
live in our most challenged neighborhoods. Through the years, I have cross paths with many grassroots activists who live and work in these
neighborhoods. And I think it is important that we remember the humanity of the people who live in these neighborhoods as federal policies
that would gut programs that directly impacted their lives are slated for elimination.

That is why we are running our cover story this issue, The Fabric of the Hood, dedicated to those who live in and do awesome work in our
challenged neighborhoods. I wish the conservatives would spend a day with them and see life through their eyes. Unless they are cold-
hearted, they wouldn’t stay ultra-conservative for long.