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The Royal “They”

December 14, 2009

I spent this evening with a bunch of angry Antioch residents about the proposed WIC clinic in Hickory Hollow Mall, which is being considered by the Metro Council tomorrow night. The meeting had all the elements of community meetings that I fear (and that keep my from running for office) – long winded speeches long on anecdotes but short of facts, talking back to those who are trying to give information, and expressions of fear about what “they” are trying to do to our community.

Let me get this out of the way: I support a WIC clinic in Antioch but think that locating it in the mall is a symbol that implies further decline to the larger community. Antioch’s central problem these days is related to perception, and for many locating a service center for impoverished folks in what is supposed to be the shining light of community commerce undermines the goals of that retail establishment. Perception IS reality after all, and the perception is for many is that locating this clinic in the mall is simply another step in the ghettoization of our community. Locating the center in a strip center lessens this because the expectations of those properties is much lower.

Having said that, I walked out of the meeting frustrated for a variety of reasons. Part of this was due to a belief that adequate preparation on the proposal by the Health Department and the Finance Office may have eased fears on the front end rather than letting them build to where they are now. However my greater frustration is with the royal “they” mentioned again and again by residents tonight.

You of course know the royal “they”:

  • "They are out to get us…”
  • They are moving those undesirables in here…”
  • “They are causing businesses to leave the mall…”
  • They never support our community…”

Look, I understand as well as the next guy systems and powers that conspire together to keep people in their place, and I have little doubt that past decisions and practices by people in power have contributed to the struggles of our community. But what I seem to hear again and again is people falling into the victim mode without recognizing that much of what we face isn’t their problem. No, much of the decline in our community is due to US.

The facts are these:

  1. Businesses are leaving Antioch because no one is shopping there. Again and again we heard people talk about the problem of “they” only to admit that their own shopping habits didn’t include Hickory Hollow.
  2. The factors leading to the decline in the customer base are too many to go into any details, but they include the perception of Antioch as a high crime area, as well as the increasing diversity of the community, segmenting the market; and the building of shopping spaces in Mt. Juliet, Brentwood, and Smyrna that siphon the previously established customer base away.
  3. Zoning in past years has led to a community with a high apartment density, leading to a transient population. Additionally, changes in the philosophy of providing public housing in Nashville has led to an increase of impoverished persons in the community through the Section Eight program.

All of these factors can be addressed by working together in the community to bring about change and to support those in need. Rather than talking about what “they” aren’t doing, WE can commit ourselves to shopping locally whenever possible. Rather than assuming that crime is on the rise (it isn’t) WE can involve ourselves in supporting our police and participating in local crime watch programs. WE also can get the truth out on the table and admit that the perception of high crime is often more about fears of community diversity, identifying crime with those newcomers who aren’t like us. WE can pay attention to residential zoning issues, for these often have multiple implications on the community that go far beyond the immediate neighborhoods they involve. And, last but not least, WE can provide programs for education, job training, and other services to help bring folks out of poverty.

You see, we have very little control over what THEY do.

But working together, WE can indeed make a difference in what happens here.

So complain away if you like. It’s always easier to sit on the sidelines and be a Monday morning quarterback.

Or, take some time to get in the game. If WE do so, then we just might be able to see great things happen here in Antioch.

The sermon’s over. Get to work.

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