Altering the Rhetoric in Bloomsburg

In Friday’s Press Enterprise is a letter to the editor that casts a very critical view on town and University leaders in the days following the Bloomsburg Flood. The letter, written by a Bloomsburg resident titled, “Town’s attitude angers West Ender,” works to explain how it feels to live in the western part of town — to be branded “west enders” perhaps.

“You think we are fools who only have ourselves to blame for getting flooded. We choose to live in the West End so we got exactly what we deserved, right? We are uneducated and obviously not as “intelligent” as you, or we wouldn’t be in this situation…I live here because my home, like others in the flood zone, was passed down through generations of families.”

When I first lived on the Bloomsburg side of the Susquehanna River, I lived at 245 East Street in a pre-civil war house that my Dad bought at a bank auction. It was in the middle of an ever-increasing press from student housing. I am sure at some point prior to moving there in 1977 (from Wonderview) the whole of East Street were families. I loved living there. There were young families along third and fourth streets where we rode our bikes late into the evening year around. I wasn’t aware that I was living a different life than kids on Market Street. My friends weren’t children of doctors, lawyers, or professors (although my parents were). They were children of the town, almost all Bloomsburg natives. It was the best place in the world to grow up. It made me tough, it made me incredulous, and it made me love Bloomsburg.

We moved to East 12th street when I started 10th grade, but I always look back on my days on East Street as the best of my youth. Socio-economics didn’t matter to me and to this day they don’t. When I was a child, I heard people talk about divides in town, but I was too young and oblivious to really understand. I see it now. I am now reading the wedge issues in the Press and it makes me sad. And the sadness deepens when I read this from that same letter:

“Sadly, we are the ones cast aside; they’ll give us a token or two, but in their eyes we’re just idiots who live too close to the water.”

With that said, I now know the same pain those do in the western part of town — that when the water comes, it takes everything with it as it leaves. And in this flood it leaves more questions to engage in for the longer term than any clean up effort ever will.

Can we climb out of our rage and frustration to build a new sense of empathy? One of the things I find interesting about the letter is that it feels like it has been published to further divide the town, instead of bind it. I can completely understand where the author is coming from and I know it is from a position of anger and frustration. I feel both of those. I’ve walked the devastation in Bloomsburg. I am outraged by much of what has gone on, but I would also urge us to work to feel a sense of change happening.

The free trash collection was ended early, but it was brought back with clear instructions on how it would proceed after residents voiced concerns. The Block Party is a disaster, but the way the University came to the aid of the town has been inspiring. This is a chance for positive and restorative messages, ones I would love to see published openly in the Press Enterprise and online so people in and outside of Bloomsburg can engage in a new form of conversation regarding a town that is about one community and not multiples. What will it take for us to alter the rhetoric that has dominated our community for so long? Engaging that question is critical to our relief effort.

Update: This was submitted to the Press Enterprise as a letter to the editor.

3 thoughts on “Altering the Rhetoric in Bloomsburg

  1. I believe you are seeing, at a smaller scale of course, the dynamic that the residents of New Orleans to this day still experience from Hurricane Katrina. You know the argument: “they shouldn’t even HAVE a city there, most of it’s under sea level”. But that position was really nothing more than at thin mask of socioeconomic prejudice. Ironically, the position is economically self-defeating for a community.

    Communities typically rebuild the most ‘affluent’ areas first and then make their way to the less affluent areas. Anyone who has visited New Orleans since Katrina can tell you this. Where communities wonder if it’s worth investing resources in the less affluent areas, they need to consider the overall economic picture of NOT doing so. New Orleans’ dynamic is more severe than Bloomsburg. Bloomsburg’s ‘wrong side of the tracks’ real estate has tremendous value to the community that they need to better come to grips with before this rhetoric gets too far.

    The other thing the community needs to keep in mind; the flood victims, for the most part, aren’t leaving. Even if they wanted to, most couldn’t. Not doing more at this catastrophic time to help them not only deepens the socioeconomic divide, it hurts the growth of the entire community, top to bottom. Big picture thinking required.

  2. I agree with Matt that it’s similar to New Orleans. The one factor I haven’t heard is the economic factor.

    I don’t think people choose to live in a flood zone – rather they choose to live in a place they can afford. Flood zones are often cheaper because (d’uh) they do get flooded, It was true in the 9th Ward and I’m pretty sure it was true in Lewisburg where I had family.

    I haven’t commented before on this before, but the truth is that I’m stunned by the scale of the disaster. Between the earthquake and the tropical storm events, I felt like I was checking in on my entire family all the time for several weeks.

    Fortunately, most of them are able to afford housing outside the main flood zones and little damage occurred. Even so, I had an interesting conversation with a friend in N. Virginia as she was trying to figure out if there was a way home without a bridge washed out. It was a little scary.

    I think we are just beginning to understand the scale of this. It’s a shame that Bloomsburg isn’t “big” enough to get its share of the coverage.

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