Silver Oaks and the Power of Predatory Capitalism

Last month eviction notices to residents of Silver Oaks Place on the east side of Kent destroyed, in one swift blow, a 30-year old community of 250 senior citizens in their late 50s to early 90s. Though residents were given two months to get out, and offered some limited help with relocating, the evictions have wiped out trust, hope and peace of mind for the residents, their families, their neighbors and the community at large.

The apartment complex is being acquired by Capstone Development, a corporation headquartered in Birmingham AL, who plan to convert it into student housing. Capstone is gambling that they will prevail in a market already glutted with student housing after Kent State University, under president Lester Lefton (paid $520,000 a year, plus bonus, benefits, housing, automobile, deferred annuity) adopted a policy of phasing out on-campus dormitories for junior & senior students, and opened the door to private sector off-campus housing.

Some residents think a legal challenge may persuade the developer to back off, and have hired a civil rights attorney from Cleveland to explore age discrimination issues. After the management locked residents out of their large, accessible community room evenings and weekends, residents have started filing complaints of retaliation with the Ohio Attorney General. Either action might work to delay the evictions, but the damage is already done -- some residents are already moving out, most are seeking individual resolutions to their problems, and the community and its conviviality is severely damaged.

Kent - and all of Portage County - is facing new challenges. In the past year farmers have been tempted - or threatened - by gas drillers hoping to harvest natural gas by "fracking" the Marcellus shale deep below their property. Many feel there are inadequate safeguards for water supplies, soil, and livestock, and against fires and explosions.

This summer the Portage County Solid Waste District has announced plans to save money by ending its sorting operation and make the recycling center into a transfer station, terminating a dozen jobs. This week the officials of our county hospital, Robinson Memorial (the second largest employer in the county) have asked to become a private not-for-profit hospital to avoid cuts in Medicare and Medicaid and to save on employee costs: i.e. jobs and benefits.

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I'm feeling hopeless at the failure of the structures of our society and polity of our democracy - particularly the extent to which money, celebrity and media now drive public opinion and policy-making at every level. The rich and powerful demand cruelties to those who are old, sick, poor, jobless, homeless, students, indebted, unstable or unconnected in the name of "fiscal responsibility". Our ability to help others is constantly circumscribed as, one by one, our tools for agency are being taken away from us.

We see efforts to disenfranchise voters with voter ID, to disempower public servants by taking away their ability to form organizations around shared interests and their right to bargain collectively for common goals. We see local communities stripped of the power to regulate land use, water pollution and mineral rights. We see attempts to hand Social Security and Medicare over to private insurers, pressure to privatize schools, highways, and prisons, and court decisions preprogrammed by campaign contributions.

Republicans and the MSM continuously maneuver people into feeling powerless and hopeless, teaching them to trust no party, no public servant, no neighbor. They constantly work to discredit the weak and blame the poor, whenever possible throwing them off the bus to fend for themselves.

Poor blacks were driven out of New Orleans after Katrina so developers could have their land. People poisoned by BP's oil spill don't get medical care. Large corporations paid off politicians to deny health coverage to NYC's 911 responders dying of cancers.

This week Obama agreed that it is more important to cut Medicare than cut spending for foreign wars. We are targeting poor peasants in Afghanistan with drones purchased with our tax dollars and operated by professional killers. We provide arms to Israel to keep 1.6 million Palestinians imprisoned in 140 sq.mi. of the Gaza Strip.

We are betrayed by Obama, who has handed economic, environmental and educational policy over to Big Money and is contributing to the disempowerment of people and communities all over our nation.

"Fiscal responsibility" should be called by its real name: terrorism. It's not terrorism by foreigners or madmen - it's terrorism by our own President and Congress and their national "reality show" over saving money (the money of the rich and powerful) as they make profits from every natural resource, from every transaction, from every human need.

What chance have we to build the trusting and compassionate communities when people lose their homes to speculations of developers, or manipulations of loans by bankers?

What chance have we to build sustainable local economies when Big Energy/Agribusiness can sell our gas, oil, coal, corn, timber, water or other resources on global markets? What chance have we for good health for all when Big Insurance creams 30 cents off every dollar spent for medical care and lets 123 humans die each day for lack of medical care? What chance do young people have, whose parents can't afford private schools and who have to borrow to buy their own educations ?

Over the past 20 years the Kent community has successfully fought off efforts by several outsider corporations to "develop" for commercial use a site adjacent to the Kent Bog. Foolishly, I assumed that even if big money and corporations took over our national politics, we in Kent and Portage County could at least maintain the kind of community we cherish and need.

I was wrong. Now it seems that predatory capitalism can reach in and take anything they want and sell it to the highest bidder.

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