Tag Archives: march

An Inflammatory Comparison; A Call for Action

28 Feb

Quick – name a place that’s endured 50 years of stagnation and decline; a place from which people flee on a daily basis; a place where the economy is in shambles, and people are ridiculously cynical.

If you guessed Cuba, you’d be right.

I am loath to compare Western New York to an overbaked Leninist-Stalinist basket case, but in many ways it’s apt. So you’ll forgive me this plunge into a sort of reductio ad Stalinum, but reading through this particular article about the younger generation’s frustration with the indignities of everyday Cuban life, I was struck by the many comparisons to WNY.

Now, of course, we don’t have a brutal self-important dictator, nor do we have a completely planned economy, and we do allow freedom of speech, assembly, religion, press, and other basic human rights that Stalinists loath. Naturally, the analogy is, therefore, fatally flawed.

But, consider this quote:

“Our defining characteristic is cynicism. But that’s a double-edged sword. It protects you from crushing disappointment, but it paralyzes you from doing anything.”

Cynicism is rampant throughout Western New York, and I readily admit that I have become one of the cynics. Frankly, people are too busy working to create the kind of mass movement needed to really change anything here in WNY or in Albany. In Cuba, they have time. They also have gulags.

While the children of Buffalo, Cheektowaga, and Wheatfield chase jobs and a better existence in places like Charlotte, Orlando, Phoenix, Boston, and New York, the children of Cuba flee, as well:

…millions of young Cubans want the regime to cut the rhetoric and make tangible improvements in their lives. Many have given up hope: from October 2005 through September 2007, an estimated 77,000 Cubans fled to the United States, the biggest exodus since the Mariel boatlift of 1980, when 125,000 Cubans escaped to Florida in six months. “Young people are very fed up with the situation,” says Julia Núñez Pacheco, the wife of jailed independent journalist Adolfo Fernández Sainz. “Many are escaping, either by hurling themselves into the sea on a raft or arranging a marriage of convenience with foreigners.”

(Lack of hope + lack of opportunity + opportunity elsewhere + frustration)(political stasis + baby steps + out of touch leaders and legislatures) = exodus.

Except in Buffalo, you need only fill up a U-Haul. In Cuba, you need to find a boat and leave secretly, risking your life.

Oh, we’ve tried to change. We’ve (perhaps misguidedly) supported politicians, with our fingers firmly crossed, who promised fundamental change which would help lift upstate and western New York out of a decades-long doldrums. But consider this quote:

Raúl Castro has only himself to blame for their undisguised impatience. Within weeks of stepping in for his bedridden older brother, he urged Cubans to blow the whistle on government corruption and to find new solutions for the country’s many problems. Cuba’s young could hardly have agreed more: sweeping changes were overdue. And what happened next? Nothing.

Sounds painfully familiar.

The answer? I don’t think it lies with more government “job creation” programs, nor does it lie with the opposite end of the spectrum, with some sort of unyielding extreme libertarian ideological theorizing. It lies with victories big and small. It starts with people impressing upon their political leaders that they expect and demand fundamental change. While I often mock the SimCity-style “planning” that many espouse when it comes to Buffalo’s physical development, SimCity frankly teaches one some very basic lessons. There is a threshold at which taxation and regulation create decline. When your light industrial zones start to crumble, and property values plummet in your dense residential districts, you have to take some drastic measures. Ultimately, your city grows when you find a decent mix of taxation and spending, neither of which can be too extreme.

Yet after half a century, we still haven’t learned the lessons that a silly computer game can teach.

This region stumbles along on handouts and hope, living like it’s still 1958. Efforts to reduce the size of government, or to create regional government run headlong into political fiefdoms, and other forms of turf-protection. Yes, we’re all for it in the abstract, so long as it doesn’t affect ______ in any meaningful way.

Perhaps it’s time to take a page from the Senecas’ playbook. We don’t have to block the Thruway and burn tires on it, but we upstate New York holdout taxpayers really ought to consider some sort of mass movement to wake up New York governments and entities that hold us back economically.

The Unshackle Upstate effort is all well and good, but it’s a top-down approach supported by business entities like the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, which is very good at lecturing people about good governance, while happily collecting IDA and Empire Zone welfare handouts.

In Cuba,

No one took to the streets last week to test the limits of the regime’s forbearance. “You’re starting to see more and more examples of dissidence, but they are still not very organized or united,” says prominent human-rights activist Laura Pollán, 60, whose husband has been jailed since 2003. Still, change is coming…

Is change coming? Is anyone hearing the vast, silent majority of upstate citizens who love their homes and their hometowns, but are frustrated with continuing, rapid decline of this post-industrial region?

I’ve toyed with the idea of a million-taxpayer march on Albany before, but I’ve been too preoccupied with life to do anything about it. Imagine thousands of people (maybe a million is over-reaching) traveling to Albany to demand that Albany enact a five or ten-point action plan to help guide upstate out of its economic doldrums and lay the foundation for growth.

What would you include on that list? Would you go?