A Better Way for a Struggling Urban America

Late Saturday night and early into Sunday morning, the images of what was taking place in Milwaukee reminded us of the reality we face in America.

From the ruins though, an amazing community response arose. Sunday morning brought pictures of the sun shining down on a Milwaukee community where blacks and whites alike gathered together, some held prayer circles, holding hands with the person next to them. Others just got to work. Brooms, rakes, mops, trash cans, trash bags, whatever made sense. Adults and kids hit the streets to start cleaning up from the aftermath of senseless destruction.

For the despair we could feel Saturday night, the Sunday morning response was the glimmering hope, and the lasting message.

The timing of all this is incredible because of the fact that over the weekend, Wall Street Journal writer Joseph Rago wrote a piece about Ron Johnson, the Republican United States Senator from Wisconsin. But the article was not a puff piece or an abbreviated biography. Instead, the article highlighted the work Senator Johnson has done with a local Milwaukee organization to get the homeless in Milwaukee back on their feet, back to work, and back into society.

The entire story is great. The shortened version is that a local pastor saw people in need of work. He knew there were local employers, mostly manufacturers, who needed laborers, but could not find enough people to employ. He then found a private sector entity that would help offer some training with basic skills, and even with job interviews. The pastor then found a local church that would put their Sunday service vans to use during the week to provide transportation to people without resources. These solutions, are all local. This would not work everywhere, for instance it worked in Milwaukee because of the nearby manufacturers.

Mr. Rago quoted Senator Johnson with the essence of the ultimate point to be made here, “It is a joy, being able to participate in that, seeing people’s lives be turned around. That’s true conservative values and they work. You outsource compassion to the federal government, that doesn’t work so good. You show your compassion here in your community, one person at a time.”

This brings us back to the main point. The Republican party for too long has not been aggressive enough in forming and then putting into practice, an urban agenda. There are many facets to a modern day urban agenda, from criminal justice reform, to improving education standards and requirements, to making work pay more than welfare programs, to reforming poverty programs so that we help more people than we hinder. And this is not a complete list, but it is a place to start.

Our party has put forward some aggressive plans to move in the direction of a Better Way.

The typical attacks that come from those opposed to solving the problems and helping people help themselves, usually involve telling us that our efforts to consolidate duplicate programs means tossing kids to the curb. We suggest that states should have flexibility to customize programs to the needs of their citizens, and we are accused of wanting states to kick people off welfare or housing benefits, when the fact is, we want states to be able to help people with real needs. Getting a winter housing voucher means more in Boston than it does in Austin. Just as the Milwaukee program mentioned before wouldn’t work in every city, the federal government cannot be the sole arbiter on a one-size-fits-all program to save urban communities.

At the local level, community policing makes sense in some places, where we need to create safer neighborhoods. These communities can make decisions for themselves, and they can work with private sector entities to provide for their own policing. This creates an extra layer of accountability, along with a level of trust that is uncommon right now because of the nature of police department hiring, this would be locals deciding who would patrol their streets and neighborhoods.

Look at the criminal justice system. It is a topic we will cover in depth in the near future, but for now it is worth recognizing that prison time should not be the end of ones involvement in society. A crime committed when someone is 19 or 20, should not hinder them for the rest of their years. If that person serves 20 years, why shouldn’t we find ways to reintegrate that person back into society, so that perhaps they will not become recidivists, but quite the opposite, productive members of society paying taxes into the system that supports those who need a lift. For someone who served their time, when they 39 or 40 years old, that is not the time to turn our backs on someone who has grown up and knows there is a better way.

It is time we start talking more about an urban agenda, and start demanding action now, otherwise we will end up with either more of the same, or we will end up with an urban agenda designed by the nanny state, cradle-to-grave support system. The plight of urban American is the plight of young Americans as well. Failing to revitalize these communities now or in the near future, will mean that younger generations will have an even bigger issue to address.

We are the ones offering the Better Way. This urban renewal can begin right now.