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Coming Home to Detroit for Netroots Nation

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A Detroit house (Photo by Andrew Jameson)

 

I wasn’t sure what to expect when arriving in Detroit, Michigan Wednesday. The city is heavy with symbolism in the American imagination – everything from Motor City and Motown to Broken Dreams and Bankruptcy. A recent article called Detroit “a mixed picture of hope and desolation.” Which side would reveal itself to me?

I craned my neck as the taxi cab sped along a highway. At first, I saw nothing special: clouds low and gray in the sky, SUVs on the road, overpasses and underpasses, and the occasional warehouse or big-box store.

And then I saw them: large, four- or five-bedroom, brick or wood houses alongside the highway. Every house was boarded up, caving in, spray-painted, overgrown with vines, or blackened with fire scars. The cab driver spoke angrily. “See those homes? It’s not safe there — looting and shooting. Do you see those homes?”

I did see them. And hours later, I still felt the deep ache of sadness and heard the taxi driver’s words ring in my ears. “See those homes?”

They were homes – emotional loci of families, human beings. Not “houses” or “buildings” – dehumanized physical architecture. Home is where the heart is. Home Sweet Home. Homeward bound.

The shock of seeing Detroit’s devastated homes reminded me why I’m here. I’m attending Netroots Nation 2014, a giant family reunion for the left…this country’s largest progressive gathering… an incubator for ideas that challenge the status quo and ultimately affect change.”

A big progressive family, coming home to Detroit.

I’m at Netroots Nation proudly representing the Jobs to Move America campaign — a nationwide effort to redirect billions of public dollars pocketed by global manufacturing companies  towards good jobs for disadvantaged Americans building buses and trains.

In a sense, Jobs to Move America aims to bring our economy “home,” remaking it to match our shared values and vision of the American Dream. Coming home means supporting thousands of good American factory jobs with family-supporting pay, benefits, safety and security for workers. Coming home means hiring and training thousands of women, people of color, veterans and residents of low-income neighborhoods to work those good jobs. And coming home means giving ordinary Americans a say in how our tax dollars are spent.

I believe that we can come home to a just economy — and that we must. While the terribly sad, shattered Detroit homes remind us of the damage that’s been done, the taxi driver reminded me that many Americans still believe in homes, families, communities and good jobs. Working together, I think we can achieve these priorities, for all.

I’ll be sharing Jobs to Move America’s vision at Netroots Nation until Sunday. If readers are here in Detroit, please stop by the AFL-CIO booth to see me.

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