Nation building can start in Baltimore today - Baltimore Post-ExaminerBaltimore Post-Examiner

Nation building can start in Baltimore today

After losing two civilian chief engineers in two years, President Roosevelt brought in Colonel George Washington Goethels of the US Army Corps of Engineers in 1907 to head the mammoth task of building the Panama Canal.

The Presidents thinking then was simple:  the Army can’t quit and go home.  In seven years, and with the help of another Army officer, Dr. William Gorgas, the Canal was completed in 1914, faster and with less loss of life to disease and accidents than the previous failed French attempts to erect the Canal years earlier.

Maj. Gen. William C. Gorgas at work as the Surgeon General of the Army during World War I. Without Gorgas’ confidence in his science and his determination to implement a thorough program of preventive medicine, disease and death would have imperiled the project in Panama.” (Wikipedia Commons)

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, the United States Corps of Engineers is again at work on behemoth undertakings.  This time, their task is emptying the flooded rail and road tubes that run under the Hudson and East Rivers in New York City.  Having the equipment and skill to undertake what civilian engineering companies are unable to in a time of emergency is exactly what President Obama had in mind when he ordered the military in to our states.

Suffice it to say that no matter what this President says or does, some in this nation will continue to insist he is somehow a communist who is bent on unraveling our American spirit, freedom of religion and work ethic.

Others in this nation worry desperately for our future should President Obama lose the White House.  I, for one, worry should he win.  His achievements of the last four years that will go untested rest largely in the sphere of foreign policy.  Here at home, his administrations efforts to reform health care, the financial system and public education have been hindered both by those in his own party and in the Republican party.  Still, as he has said time and again during this campaign, ‘it’s time to do some nation building here at home’.

With his simple turn of phrase, the President placed the onus of regenerating a still mammoth yet ailing United States economy squarely on his shoulders.  His administrations intuitive efforts to restrain the cost of health care and the financial sector while invigorating training and public education have large upfront costs and long range hopes for future economic success.

Much like Bush 41 and his efforts after President Reagan, Obama’s efforts have been to control inherited debt while setting the table for future.  Though the first President Bush did both, while raising taxes and invoking regulation, he was resisted by many in both parties before losing to Bill Clinton in 1992.  Even so, President Clinton can tag many of his successes to the efforts of his predecessor, who labored in the darkness of massive debt and job losses yet believed in long range policy rather than quick fixes.

Every penny counts for the nation building we do at home.  For the democratic voter, especially in Baltimore, this should mean every citizen too.  This presidents spirit and efforts will be wasted should we continue to focus more effort on demonizing our opponents rather than aiding the suffering and ameliorating the ignorance in our midst.  His administrations efforts may only prove fruitful if all down the line, the efforts of  mayors and governors follow the same linear course in job creation, education and expectations.

An 18-year-old woman was murdered around the corner from my house two weeks ago.  With the police, city council representatives and fellow neighbors, we spent an evening walking through the streets of my Harwood neighborhood as a show of support for the residents who feel ever isolated and worried amid the violence.  In talking with one councilman as we walked, I was shocked to hear them say, when referencing joblessness and addiction, ‘well, drug dealing is the only job available in these neighborhoods’.  I first heard someone use this logic when I was about 13, in 1979 and wondered how it could be still a viable argument when it barely held water then.

Angel Dawson (center)  told police about the drug dealing going on in East Baltimore’s Oliver area. But the killer viewed her as a snitch and firebombed her home twice  in2002. The second time, she and her husband Carnell Davis and their five children died in the fire. Convict Darrell Brooks (right), who on probation at the time of the incident confessed.

My response was to remind the city councilman that half a mile east was a retired United States serviceman, Earl Johnson, standing guard every night on the corner of Preston and Caroline Streets in the hope of bringing peace to the Oliver neighborhood.  In the neighborhood where the Dawson family was murdered with a firebomb thrown into their house by a teenage drug dealer in 2002, there was a veteran of the Iraq war willing to stand up for American citizens as he had for Iraqi’s.

My response shocked the elected official where it shouldn’t have.  It was then I reasoned that the president’s efforts may likely bypass cities like Baltimore if local officials do not undertake the same spirit of nation building on the local level that the president has encouraged from the national.

Earl Johnson, a native of southern Maryland, left the military before setting up in burned out Oliver.  In two years, he has formed a construction company (Come Home Baltimore) and a volunteer organization (The Sixth Branch) for returning veterans and the public.  In both groups, Johnson has sought to infuse a spirit of doing to combat the apathy that has long settled in Oliver along with joblessness, addiction and violence.   While he has garnered media coverage from NBC News and the BBC, some elected officials in Baltimore view his labors as “naïve” in a neighborhood they say is “not that bad”.

I have little doubt that  Barack Obama will still be President.  My doubt and worry begins where his executive reach ends.  His efforts for relief on behalf of New Jersey and New York residents in need has been applauded by each states governor and the public even as many still struggle for shelter, food and warmth.

In emergency circumstances, the connection from his command to the ground has been resolute, unerring and as a result, effective.   From Osama bin Laden’s killing by the Navy Seal Team to the electrical linemen restoring power in storm ravaged New Jersey and New York, his efforts set an example that leaders of cities and states should follow as a matter of course in their everyday labors.

It is my hope that, after this election mayors and governors begin to undertake the same level mix of earnestness, discipline and expectations that drive our leader in the White House.  Only then can we combat generational apathy in families and foster employment, learning and hope.  If leaders in cities like Baltimore continue to think change comes only from outside and not also from within, we will continue to suffer from endemic levels of unemployment, violence, addiction and incarceration.

About the author

Robert Emmet Mara

Robert Emmet Mara has been in Baltimore since 2006. A native New Yorker, Robert came to Baltimore to do three things: work with kids, renovate houses and write a second book of fiction. Since his arrival, he has managed to do all three and more. He has sought better oversight for his still blighted Harwood neighborhood from the city and has been asked to speak to various community association leaders on the subject of city agency relations. Contact the author.