Where there is no vision, the people perish. -- Proverbs 29:18
A Tale of Two Cities
MY NEIGHBORHOOD OF Columbia Heights runs along 14th Street, a scene of Washington, D.C.'s much-publicized, so-called "riots" following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in the bitter spring of 1968. The now infamous "riot corridor," as the area is still called, even today bears the scars of the frustrated and angry violence that erupted when people's hopes were suddenly and brutally cut down. Burned-out buildings and vacant lots remain after more than 20 years.
Several years ago, my sister Barbara was walking through the neighborhood with her 5-year-old son, Michael. They were on their way to the Sojourners day-care center. Michael surveyed the scene on the block and, looking up at his mother with puzzlement, asked, "Mommy, was there a war here?"
Indeed, the empty shells of buildings, piles of rubble, and general devastation all around could easily give that impression. Perhaps the eyes of a child can see what jaded adult vision quickly passes over or too easily accepts -- there was and is a war here. It goes on every day, and the casualties are everywhere.
The people who inhabit this and similar neighborhoods are not only neglected and ignored by political decision makers, they are war victims. They are the dead and wounded of a system that has ravaged their lives and their communities. It is no wonder that those who make it through refer to themselves as "survivors." But many are not surviving. The forces that have declared war on them are global and impersonal, but the consequences for the people here are very personal indeed.