People often accuse me of being angry or negative. It’s a pretty highly charged accusation and I have to admit that sometimes it stings; but more and more I’m used to it.
I’ve thought it over a little bit, you see, and I don’t really have an anger problem in my personal life. Not in my family. Not in my relationship with my boyfriend. Not at my job. But, oh my gosh, a land use issue in Cleveland can really set me off. It raises my blood pressure. I had to stop reading the Plain Dealer because it was so upsetting to me every morning.
I think a lot of the people who feel more positively about Cleveland, a lot of people I’m interacting with every day and on the Internet, didn’t read the Plain Dealer like I did. I was a seven-day-a-week print subscriber.
That was a few years ago when I was fairly new to Cleveland. At the time, the FBI was closing in on a corruption ring that included a large portion of the region’s political elite–and a handful of people from the construction industry. It was a pretty appalling scene as the details came to light.
The top guy–county commissioner, Democratic Party chair–was trading sex for government contracts. The auditor, in the middle of this whole FBI investigation, pursued personal audits on some citizens that demanded an independent review of the county’s books. The same guy, the auditor–it came out that he had literally six of his nieces on payroll at the county. No kidding, six.
One day the PD did a feature where they listed every government official implicated in this scandal, with pictures and titles and everything. This huge spread. They had these suburban officials, a lot of bureaucrats. It was insane. Being new to town, I could not believe it. It was so demoralizing.
The most shocking thing of all to me was that the target of the whole investigation, the county commissioner Jimmy Dimora, was at the time still serving in his position. He refused to step down. The Plain Dealer had figured out who he was and what he was accused of–corruption, racketeering, etc.–but the PBI was still calling him Public Official 3, or something. So he continued voting on government contracts until a new form of county government was mercifully put in place months later.
That was a pretty upsetting thing to witness from a civic standpoint. But I guess Clevelanders are more used to witnessing upsetting things than I am. Because when I see or hear about something like that, I get angry, I get depressed, I can’t freaking stand it. I just feel like I have to do something. But it’s hard to know what.
All my life, I’ve always been sort of outraged by what I perceived to be injustice. I have a compulsion to try to correct it. But this Jimmy Dimora scandal, I obviously couldn’t fix. It was so much bigger than me.
I thought about going to the county commissioners’ meetings and asking to speak as a public citizen and demanding he resign until the investigation was over. I thought maybe if I did it every meeting, it might shame him enough to provide some encouragement. I don’t know why no one else did that. I think in Columbus where I’m from (and I know this comparison will irk some Clevelanders), the community never would have put up with that bullshit. Some of the business leaders would have stepped in and put an end to that foolishness and quietly. You never would have heard about it in the papers.
That story though, the epic corruption ring that was Cuyahoga County politics for decades, for me epitomizes one of the hardest aspects of life in Cleveland for me to accept: a pervasive undercurrent of injustice.
Here we are in one of the poorest large cities in the country: our poverty rate nearly a third of the population, and among children it’s much higher. And we have some fat cat politicians trading bloated government contracts for prostitutes. To get a sense for just how disgusting and outrageous this was, check out this video reenactment with puppets made by a local news station after cameras were barred from the courtroom.
During all this I read a report on government corruption at the national level. The report found that nations with high levels of government corruption had higher levels of infant mortality, higher drop out rates. That money Dimora stole was literally food out of babes’ mouths in Cleveland.
But injustice has always been part of the landscape here, more than in most places. It goes back to the stark historical segregation in the city that erupted in outrage and riots. But that only brought on phase two in Cleveland’s ongoing segregation saga: white flight, the exodus to the suburbs. It left the city full of boarded up houses and the school district insolvent. The Cleveland Public School District has 50,000 students and only half of them graduate.
Inequality is so pronounced and entrenched here that there is a 24-year difference in life expectancy between people living in Cleveland’s Hough neighborhood–the site of the riots–and suburban Lindale, just a few miles away.
And Clevelanders are used to those things. They accept them. Maybe it’s just too hard for people who live here to go around angry all the time.
But it’s hard for me. Anger is a natural human emotion that exists for a reason. Maybe anger is the appropriate response.
I think in modern society anger is looked at as something that is intrinsically bad. But are there times when it could be productive? I have to say it is quite a mind fuck to live in a place where everyday circumstances inspire an emotion in me that I am silently told it is not ok to feel.