Legacy or Vanity?
As a native-born Brit, I am naturally brimming with pride over the London Olympics, not just at our medal count, but also at our success in staging an international event of such moment, at a time when money is tight in our country.
But my attention is not only riveted by viewing locations I knew growing up as a child, and which are now draped with the proud livery of the Olympics. I find myself thinking about the legacy these Olympics will leave, in terms of revitalizing a run-down part of our capital city.
And once again, all I can find is an inventory of corporate capital building projects. Why is it that our leaders, at the national and the local level, persist with this sterile view that it is bricks and mortar that empower communities at risk?
Do the leaders of Chapel Hill really believe that the historic African-American neighborhoods north of Franklin Street have been miraculously liberated by the multi-million-dollar monstrosity at 140?
That Northside is now going to undergo rapid renaissance because of the still half-empty grounded cruise ship, otherwise known as Greenbridge?
Do the leaders of Carrboro truly believe that 300 Main Street will bring affordable housing and rental property to those we invite from foreign shores and who labor as service personnel in our shops and local businesses?
When local companies, wedded only to their financial reports, and the vision of building a legacy of corporate empire, contract out those same services, do they stop to think of the effect on the labor they are having to let go?
When our local food co-op gleefully declares that it is going $10 million into debt, so that it can build a permanent legacy of commissary and chain store, is it thinking merely of personal legacy, while forgetting that it is the sweat of its workers which is having to pay the annual bank interest of half a million dollars, in return for its corporatist vainglory?
It is not buildings and projects and empires that empower, nor even money generously handed out. It is creating the opportunities to allow folks to grab a hold of their own destinies and shape them for themselves.
It takes leaders of enormous restraint and vision to put in place programs that give them no credit, but rather insist that the credit goes to those liberating themselves.
It is a sign of bold political courage for a leader to step aside into the shadows, precisely so that he or she does not overshadow those who would otherwise be nervous to step forward and claim what is theirs by right.
But such boldness and grace is a required necessity of genuine empowerment. Otherwise we run the risk of confusing legacy with vanity.