“The more you struggle to live, the less you live. Give up the notion that you must be sure that you know what you are doing. Instead, surrender to what is real within you, for that alone is sure.” – Baruch Spinoza
To be honest, I have struggled quite a bit lately with the city I now reside in. It isn’t so much the actual city I struggle with, rather the culture that has been accepted by many who live here. Many of the core values go against every fiber of my being. Values like racism, sexism, hate, bigotry, and hypocrisy are deeply embedded into the fiber of the culture and I find myself dumbfounded by the ignorance and hate that pervades this community. If you hadn’t guessed by now, this city lies in the Deep South. I’ll pause and wait while you gain control of your laughter over the irony….
If you don’t know me, I am a cross-blend of a dirty hippie, with heavily leaning Socialist ideals. Yet, I firmly believe no one in the current government is responsible or reliable enough to be trusted to wisely spend our tax dollars, so we should stop giving them the authority to do so. Juxtapose this with the fact that I like to shower, wear make-up, and flaunt really hot shoes when I go out on Saturday night. In other words, I have no business living in Jacksonville, FL. Admittedly, I was reluctant to move here from the get-go. But, I was sort of out of options after being laid off from my job last year so, after the prompting of my mother and a very dear friend, I made the choice to flee my hometown of Denver, CO in order to recoup my losses and figure out what the next phase of my life would bring.
Let me back up a bit farther, for a moment. My first visit to Jacksonville was about 10 years ago, shortly after my mother had moved here. I distinctly remember the impression that I had stepped out of a time machine, when I stepped off the plane, and into the charm that the Old South is known for. I loved the architecture of the homes that had been preserved from the late 1800s and I adored the big old trees, like Treaty Oak. The metropolitan area is the largest in the country and covers a land mass of 885 square miles, and was recently voted one of the Top 25 cities for art. The downtown area blankets both sides of the St. John’s River and the buildings are beautiful.
It is quite enchanting when the bridges are lit up at night, but there is no real vibrancy to the city. Every major metropolitan area throughout the world has an epicenter where commerce is alive during the day and the culture of today’s youth thrives at night. Downtown Jacksonville is half alive during the day and falls dead at night. In this city, you can actually find city council members who are actively working to BLOCK new business, as well as evict any and all current businesses from the area….I don’t believe I have ever been to or lived in another city that believed this was a logical plan for development, or even a good idea for survival.
There are two state universities here, plus one private, and one of the best jazz schools in the nation. Yet, with over 100,000 students in total, most do not remain here once they graduate, but go on to get jobs in cities elsewhere. Combine that with massive cuts in public school funding, year-over-year, to demonstrate the lack of value placed on the future for the youth in this city. Both the arts and sports programs have been cut back, or cut out entirely. With a 4-hour school day, it is impossible to understand how the children of Duval County will receive a well-balanced education to prepare them to be our leaders of tomorrow.
Along with the youth of Jacksonville, other fundamental needs to build an urban epicenter have been neglected as well. Things like proper roads, built on a grid system, where addresses logically follow the block numbers assigned to each street cannot be found in Jacksonville. For example, the house number on my street address is 1838. In a properly planned urban environment, one would normally reason, by that house number, that I live in between 18th and 19th streets. I don’t. I live between 8th and 9th. (Since the city planners are unable to count, maybe that is an indication the cutbacks in education here have been a bit too extreme??)
Economic growth for the city was further restricted by the actions of the city council who banned, that’s right banned, equal rights for all people based on their sexual orientation. While I still don’t understand why we need to pass laws to give all people the same basic human rights to begin with (I believe we should just automatically have them, since we are all human), the city of Jacksonville chose to deny anyone who isn’t a heterosexual the right to fair and equal employment, education, or housing. Because the Civil Rights Act of 1964 has yet to be amended to include sexual orientation or gender identity groups as those in need of protection from discrimination, many cities across the US have taken it upon themselves to enact their own ordinances to protect their constituents.
For example, Washington DC amended their human rights ordinances in 1977. Miami adopted their ordinance in 1997. Dallas wrote this protection into their city ordinances in 2002. These are just a few cities, and there are hundreds more, who believe in equal opportunity for employment, education and housing for all of their citizens no matter what you look like, where you came from, or whom you choose to love. I realize that many of these cities are still working to amend their ordinances to include the right to marry, but they are still decades ahead of Jacksonville when it comes to protecting basic human rights. It is not just city council that is to blame, but all residents who voted for, and continue to support, their city council members share in the responsibility of hindering progress. They have fear and ignorance fundamental parts of the city’s core beliefs.
The #1 statement I hear, or read, from the residents of Jacksonville is “______ could be so great, if only the city would allow _______ to happen.” Could be is repeated far too often, by too many people in this town. Every vision someone has had for how to change things for the better will remain a dream. People are beginning to give up hope that things can indeed change. Jacksonville has been coined the “abusive spouse” that people keep going back to, or stay with, because they are too afraid to stand up to the powers that be. I have heard whispers at parties that people who make waves are harassed by the First Baptist nut-jobs downtown, that the big business owners will make your life hard and block your business from coming to life in this city.
Seeing as how I don’t own a home here, don’t do business in this city, don’t really give a shit what religion preaches, and my time on this earth is finite, so I would say I really don’t have anything to lose if I piss a few people off……for those of you that hope Jacksonville will ever grow as a city, and join those of us who reside in the 21st century, this is where the lesson in karma comes into play……A simple way to look at karma is that there is no deed, good or bad, that goes “unpunished”, i.e. without consequence.
If you cause others to suffer, you will also suffer. If you bring others joy, you will also receive joy. Just like any great team knows that they are only as good as their weakest player, you must work together to help everyone be better. By denying others their basic human rights, by telling the children of this city that you do not believe in them, or their futures, it is you, the so-called leaders who have caused the citizens of the city to struggle to live. In the Bible, karma can be equated to the passage from Luke 6:31, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Well, if that is the case, then I guess we can assume you desire to have your basic civil rights revoked, your businesses uprooted and shutdown, and your children’s futures sacrificed, all because well, we just don’t like how you look and we sure as shit don’t like how you act.