The Common Good

My Hometown Makes the Front Page of The Washington Post

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At a recent holiday party, I tried to describe my hometown of Warren, Ohio.

"Warren?" I said. "Well, it's a lot like Detroit. With none of the perks."

Now, I might not have to work so hard at the description. My Rust Belt roots made the front page of today's Washington Post in Anne Hull's article "Beyond Repair: In Ohio's Fading Steel Towns, Workers Are Still Waiting for Economic Renewal."

As usual with national news coverage about the Mahoning Valley, it's a story of economic devastation and despair. It's a story about the history of the steel industry collapse in the early '80s, the decades of under-employment, the decaying infrastructure and health effects of long-term industrial pollution.

The Washington Post listed the facts about unemployment, the recession, etc. All of which are true. There's nothing in the piece that's factually wrong. It's just really painful to read about my hometown on the front page of a national newspaper.

Maybe what makes this news story sting is that Congress is -- as I write -- literally down the street debating health-care reform that would make a huge difference in places like Warren.

When I think about those senators fighting over health-care reform, I remember the day last spring when I sat in a Warren hospital with my family. As we gathered around my dying step-mother's bed, my dad told us the hospital had filed for bankruptcy the day before. A few days later, my sisters and I stood in the hallway stunned as the nurse explained that the pharmacy was out of the particular painkiller that was finally managing Linda's symptoms.

I remember thinking this is what it means to live in the abandoned places of America's Empire. Places like Warren, Youngstown, Detroit, and hundreds of others where hospitals close and pharmacies run out of medicine.

But it's also true that faith, courage, and hope are tested and strengthened in those "abandoned places."

So today, I'll pray through my sadness over that front page story by remembering my step-mom who taught for 35 years in Warren's public schools because she believed that education was a way forward.

I'll think about the courage of Youngstown's priests and pastors -- who in the late 1970s stood up to the steel companies by organizing with the steelworkers in an attempt to save the mills.

I'll focus on the heroes of my hometown who are working today in dozens of community, church, and civic organizations to build a new, fair economy for the Steel Valley.

Heidi Thompson is the chief marketing officer for Sojourners. She'll be spending this Christmas with her family in Warren, Ohio.

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