It has never felt real to me over the last two years when we have been told repeatedly that everything is getting better. So much better, in fact, that the Federal Reserve decides, while corporate profits have never been higher, it needs to trigger a recession to bring down wages. Now if you’ve been in contact with poor and working people as much as I have, you know it has been a struggle this whole time. We live in abundance, but it matters how it is distributed. Food deserts such as those that exist in North County don’t persist because there is a shortage of food, as much of it is wasted every day. We need only to redirect our misallocated abundance so that people can live the lives they deserve.
Insufficient healthy food is a constant struggle for people in North County. We’re thankful for the contribution Bill 110 sponsored by Councilwoman Webb will make in turning this around, which needs to be made into a model for the investments St. Louis County needs to make for people to build the communities they deserve. St. Louis County suffers from too much vacant land and too little to do with it. Investments in agriculture have great potential to address both. Building a local food system will allow local growers to produce volume that would secure the business of institutional buyers such as hospitals and universities. This would mean that wealth stays here in our own communities, shared between the families that live here, instead of being extracted by corporations outside of them. This would also have significant benefits for the environment. We can transform food deserts into food producers that reduce food waste, save energy expended on transportation, and avoid the harms of agriculture corporations that poison the land with excessive use of fertilizer and pesticides.
Contrast these kinds of investments in good jobs for people in control of their productive capacity, with the alternatives of short-term deficit reduction and continued exploitation of the poor and marginalized. Sinking funds into the deficit hole would not solve structural revenue shortfalls that would demand savage cuts to basic services. To have the kind of tax revenue the County needs, we need to invest in an economy that puts our local resources to use instead of languishing under the control of absentee landlords that don’t even pay the taxes they owe.
Currently, lack of investment in the potential of County residents could not be more obvious. Seven years after the murder of Michael Brown, St. Louis County spends 47 percent of its personnel budget on police, prisons, and courts: institutions that constituted an operation to systematically oppress and exploit its poorest residents as documented in the Ferguson Commission report.
As we enter a likely depression in the next couple of years, St. Louis County has a unique opportunity in ARPA to choose whether to double down on a failed strategy that has not delivered for the safety and well-being of its people, or to put the land to use for the direct benefit of residents for housing and jobs that will not disappear at the end of the next business cycle. It’s never too late for the government to start doing right by its people. Those of us who have fought tirelessly to see that it does are here to stay.