The transition from one year to the next calls many of us to review the year (just ended) and set intentions for the new one.
As we reflect, we see how we faced challenges with the help of others. We also see how we were there for others. This connection is core to our essence as human beings. It is also core to community, where we share in the giving and receiving.
And it is core to solidarity, a value Neighbor to Neighbor (N2N) defines as “we are well if you are well.”
Yet our current economic and political systems are sorely lacking in solidarity and are deeply contradictory. On one hand, we are left to fend for ourselves in the face of many economic problems — jobs, affordable housing, health care and higher education.
On the other hand, the public discourse blames groups of people for our economic angst: immigrants, people of color, people of different faiths.
Holding individuals exclusively responsible for their economic well-being masks the reality that our political economy serves the very wealthy. Blaming groups of people is a red herring that is detrimental to our hearts and souls. It frays the bonds that connect us in a sense of shared destiny. It erodes our sense of belonging. It denies our fundamental need to love and be loved.
It was not always this way. There was a time when a well-paid union job could afford a family a home, college education for their children, and even a pension. There was a time when government ensured that we all paid our fair share of taxes so it could provide us with public goods that benefit us all, plus a strong safety net to tide us over during bad times. But times have changed. Now, more of our lives are determined by private industry seeking nothing more than bigger profits.
Take Lynn, for example. Last Fall, N2N conducted 200 surveys at the doors. The top issue people are anxious about: Rising rents and the specter of displacement.
At N2N we wish to see a revitalized Lynn with more green spaces and a vibrant local economy fueled by small businesses that provide jobs and a wider diversity of goods and services. We also want everyone who has called Lynn their home, often for generations, to remain and be part of building and enjoying the benefits of such revitalization.
Left solely in the hands of profit-making private developers, Lynn stands to lose its unique flavor as a gateway community and become little more than a string of gated luxury apartment buildings that displace, shut out and erode a sense of community and belonging. This is unfortunate and unwise policy making.
At Neighbor to Neighbor, we are making solidarity our New Year’s resolution. We believe it is a value worth embracing as a cornerstone for the kind of development policy in Lynn that will bring prosperity and a strengthened sense of community for all.
Elena Letona is the executive director of Neighbor to Neighbor, a statewide membership organization of working-class, low-income people of color and immigrants dedicated to building political power to achieve racial, economic and environmental justice.
A native of El Salvador, Letona holds a doctorate in public policy from the University of Massachusetts Boston. She has 30 years experience working for nonprofit organizations.