This is the seventh in a series of posts considering Amy Goldstein’s Janesville: An American Story. In this post, I’ll cover five chapters from Part Three (2010) of Janesville (Labor Fest 2010, Project 16:49, Figuring It Out, and Bags of Hope).
Goldstein describes the year’s Labor Day parade in Janesville through three politicians’ public personas:
Since this is an election year, political candidates are out marching in full force. In his trademark Kelly green polo shirt, with his wife and blond kids in tow, Paul Ryan is a familiar figure, running for a seventh term as his hometown’s congressman….
If Paul’s conservatism, his distaste for Obama’s ideas, is cloaked back home in Janesville in a genial demeanor, Scott Walker is emerging as a firebrand. His campaign issues a statement today that derides, with stinging rhetoric, what the president is saying in Milwaukee: “Obama’s spend-o-rama stimulus-fueled $810 million boondoggle train . . . It seems like every time the president opens his mouth, he spends another $50 billion of our money to ‘create jobs’ but instead we continue to see spiraling unemployment….
In this gathering political storm, on this sunniest of days along Main Street, another figure marches in the parade, too. He is wearing a white polo shirt and khakis, a baseball cap over his gray hair. And he is being trailed by two guys holding up each side of a large campaign sign whose slogan is devoid of pizzazz: “Tim Cullen. Effective for Us.”
Poverty produces homelessness, and homeless adults mean homeless children. Janesville develops a program to address growing dislocation affecting young people:
some well-meaning people in town and in Beloit formed a Homeless Education Action Team. And the team thought up Project 16:49. The name comes from Beloit, where 16:49 is the number of hours and minutes between the end of one school day and the start of the next. The point is that these hours and minutes can feel like an eternity to kids without a safe, steady place to do homework, eat supper, or go to sleep. Sixteen Forty-Nine is also the name of a documentary that has just been finished by an aspiring local filmmaker. It is a work of art and advocacy. Its purpose is to smash through the community’s denial about the homeless kids in their midst. And on a Thursday evening in mid-September, the documentary is having its premiere….
The school system has more than four hundred homeless kids this year, many more than before GM closed. The hardest cases are the “unaccompanied youth,” the government’s polite term for homeless kids trying to fend somehow for themselves.
(More information about the Project 16:49 documentary may be found online.)
For a successful tech school graduate, placed into a job in corrections, there are second thoughts:
Some days during those six weeks, Barb had to tamp down a question in her mind: “Is this really what I want to do?” Still, rough as some of it was, the academy was school. The academy classes were even held at Blackhawk. And Barb knows by now how to be in school. She came out the far side of the criminal justice academy with a state certificate that made her a full-fledged correctional officer….
one day, with Christmas coming soon, she suddenly sees her life in a new way. She sees that she spent fifteen years at Lear playing the game, staying somewhere she wasn’t happy, just because the money was too good to leave. Maybe she is too intelligent, too educated now, to play the same game again. Maybe toughness is recognizing what isn’t working in your life and fixing it. Scared though she is, Barb does something she has never done at any job since her very first job as a teenager. Without any work in sight or a clue what will happen next, she decides to leave. Barb turns in her Sheriff’s Department badge.
Toward the end of 2010, a family that had not previously received charity, but formerly had offered it, finds that necessity alters one’s outlook when the charity program Bags of Hope delivers food to their door:
Tammy doesn’t know who put her family’s name on the school system’s food drive list. But on this December morning, gazing upon her twelve Bags of Hope, she decides that any day when groceries show up at their house is a good day.
Tomorrow: Considering Janesville: An American Story (Part 8 of 14).