The past couple of weeks we have been working hard to get our message out to the people in the Koppers-effected area and to East Gainesville. Of course, Koppers effects a very large area, but as you get away from it, people have different concerns. Of course, GRU electric bills are the transcendent issue that hits every household. Yet, in East Gainesville there are burdens that predate high electric rates and the 1983 designation of Koppers as a Superfund site.
As growth and prosperity came to Gainesville, it seems to have passed the East side by. The East side is much more African-American in population, and it relies on the cohesive communities formed by its many churches much more than commerce. And there are not only churches, but many smaller ministries that specialize in teaching values to their youth and assisting the needy in learning how to add value to society by improving themselves. During this campaign we have only scratched the surface of a body of people who work tirelessly after hours to serve those who are less fortunate than themselves.
I had a conversation yesterday with a minister who runs a small business in East Gainesville. His real passion is teaching the values of marriage and pre-marital abstinence to young people and ministering to HIV/Aids patients. His business is successful, but he lights up when he talks about his vision of creating a community of shared values. You cannot listen to him and not want to buy into his work. It is just one of the great things that is happening in Gainesville.
So, why do people look down on the East side? Is it because of race? Is it a perception of crime? Or is it that working class people are looked down on in general? I know that I have been belittled for my job during this campaign, and I am a white man who works for many white professionals on the West side of town. So race isn’t a part of what gets me a lot of grief. No, it seems that I have just enough lower-class credentials to make some people wrinkle their noses at me.
In some ways, I think we have all played into this condescension of the East side. Is it possible to stop calling it East Gainesville? Aren’t they Gainesville as much as the rest of us? Am I not running for Mayor of Gainesville? The heroic people I am meeting are my fellow citizens, my brothers and sisters, of Gainesville. And they are putting me in a very inclusive frame of mind.