Heidi Thompson: Love Song of the Mahoning Valley

Youngstown, Ohio
Youngstown, Ohio

My friend Heidi has a great blog post up over at Sojourners. My Hometown Makes The Front Page of The Washington Post is a poignant reflection on the “abandoned places of American Empire.” In this case it is Warren, Ohio, in the Mahoning Valley — the Steel Belt.

Heidi’s description and the Post article remind me of something that Russian poet Anna Akhamatova wrote when she spent months in the prison lines in Leningrad trying to visit her husband.

“Once, someone recognized me., ” wrote Akhamatova. “Then a woman with bluish lips standing behind me, who had of course, never heard me called by name before, woke up from the stupor to which everyone had succumber and whispered in my ear (everyone spoke in whispers there): ‘Can you describe this?’ And I answered, ‘Yes, I can.’ Then something that looked like a smile passed over what had once been her face.” (April 1, 1957, Leningrad)

Here’s an excerpt, but read Heidi’s whole post:

At a recent holiday party, I tried to describe my hometown of Warren, Ohio.

“Warren?” I said. “Well, it’s a lot like Detroit. With none of the perks.”

Now, I might not have to work so hard at the description. My Rust Belt roots made the front page of today’s Washington Post in Anne Hull’s article “Beyond Repair: In Ohio’s Fading Steel Towns, Workers Are Still Waiting for Economic Renewal.”

As usual with national news coverage about the Mahoning Valley, it’s a story of economic devastation and despair. It’s a story about the history of the steel industry collapse in the early ‘80s, the decades of under-employment, the decaying infrastructure and health effects of long-term industrial pollution.

The Washington Post listed the facts about unemployment, the recession, etc. All of which are true. There’s nothing in the piece that’s factually wrong. It’s just really painful to read about my hometown on the front page of a national newspaper.

Maybe what makes this news story sting is that Congress is – as I write – literally down the street debating healthcare reform that would make a huge difference in places like Warren.

Read the whole post here.

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