Tuesday, August 10, 2010

and there ain't no place in this world for our children to go

Camden's libraries are closing. This may seem like just a drop in the bucket, just another indignity in an ongoing list. After all, when you're the poorest, most dangerous city in the country, why should the libraries closing matter? I think they do. You see, when you're a kid, and you're a kid who likes to read but can't afford books, where are you going to go? The library, of course. And where do you go when your city decides that literacy isn't important, where do you go? The bookstore? Got none of those in Camden, at least as far as I know.

There are parts of Camden that have experienced a revival of sorts, like the downtown/waterfront area. But venture out into the neighborhoods and this is what you'll see:

These are from my old neighborhood in South Camden. I get worked up about this city, partially because it's a symbol of failure on the part of the Big People to help the little people, but also because I know people there, and I know children there, and most of them are wonderful, beautiful people who should live in better places. And even the ones who are not, by any account, beautiful, wonderful people, I wonder how different they'd be if they lived in a different place.

There are, of course, good people doing good things there, like my old community (the Camden Houses). Like the Center for Transformation, and Heart of Camden, and Sacred Heart Church in my old neighborhood. Like the Romero Center and Urban Promise. And CCOP, the primary community organizers in the city.

The systemic problems that plague Camden are many and go way, way back (if you want to read more on it, Camden After the Fall is a good start). They have to do with jobs being outsourced and middle-class flight to the suburbs, leaving Camden a post-industrial city. Whitman called Camden "The City Invincible" once, and the man has probably been rolling over in his grave (he's buried in Camden) since the mid-20th-century.

Camden is surrounded by some of the wealthiest towns in the state of New Jersey, and many of those towns have the attitude that they shouldn't have to carry Camden's burden. Well, you know what? Camden's been carrying your burden for a long time, Moorestown and Haddonfield and Collingswood (etc, etc, etc). They've got your sewage and your drug addicts and your criminals--because 1) all of the sewage in the county goes to the waste treatment plant in South Camden and 2) a lot of the people buy drugs in Camden--and who come in for drug recovery--are from the suburbs and 3) until last summer, Riverfront State Prison held 800 people, and there are plans to re-open it at some point.

Deep breaths. So my righteous indignation gets out of hand sometimes, but I think, really, the problem is, as Mother Teresa once said, "We have forgotten that we belong to each other."

P.S. If you want a look at Camden on the inside, my friends Cassie Haw and Andrea Ferich live there.


  1. When will rich people learn that the poor are not the problem? Not having is not a sin. Having and not giving is. Having and taking from those that don't is worse.

    If you haven't heard Arcade Fire's new album, The Suburbs, you must. I can probably hook you up with a copy, if you can't find one.

  2. Yes, you've put it nicely (and very succinctly). It's a bit of Lazarus-and-the-rich-man here...

    Have not heard Arcade Fire's new album. I'll check it out.

    (Hope the wedding-planning's going okay. I just got your invitation. It's hanging on the fridge.)

  3. P.S. That book, Camden After the Fall, looks amazing. I am going to have to hunt down a copy.

  4. Excellent post - reposted it on Facebook for others to read.

    I can't believe it's come to this.

  5. Hey Sarah, you've got a lot of good points in this entry.

    Just wanted to let you know I'm your newest blog follower (though I haven't listed my name on my blog yet).

    Eunice (from the arts retreat) =)