American Public Media's segment Marketplace has been running stories on my hometown of San Bernardino and the Inland Empire region all week. Every morning I drive into work listening to NPR and feel my heartstrings ache to hear stories about "Verdugo" (as the thugs call it) and Rialto, where I lived on my own and first organized as a socialist. 17% unemployment, epidemic-level foreclosures, businesses shutting down and boarding up.
Today's article in particular hit me hard because it was an issue my friends and I noticed and discussed a lot in political terms. Why is the area so religious? Why is it so conservative? Along with crime and drugs and alcohol abuse, pollution and traffic and apathy, the religious thing colors the IE with crayons of nihilism. This community seems nigh suicidal.
So I had to write a comment, and I'm reproducing it below:
I spent the first 25 years of my life growing up in San Bernardino. I had to move to Minneapolis, Minnesota with internet friends to get a real job, even after 4 years of college. This was just ~before~ the recession hit - the economy in the Inland Empire is nothing short of abominable. I was always disappointed when members of the community turned towards religion in times of hardship. It's a rather conservative area and voted Republican for as long as I was conscious of politics. Republican strategy seemed to strangle the Inland Empire, and the Democratic Party - disorganized, no message, Republican-lite when it gathered influence at all - hardly bothers with the area.
Having blinded themselves to politics, never banding together in an economic sense, struggling with poisonously high real estate costs ... and then to turn to religion? It never failed to look like escapism to me. The same with the meth epidemic, or the rampant alcoholism. I don't generally have a problem with Christianity, and I especially appreciate it when churches provide services to the poor - services gutted from county, state, and federal levels of government. But the brainwashing makes me uneasy, as do the homophobia and oppression of women and the, yes, racism - not all churches accept blacks and Latinos.
Even as an aid to the poor, these churches only address the symptoms, not the disease. The real disease is an economy that systematically keeps down the poor. Prison rates in the IE are huge. Gangs are a problem because there are no concrete, constructive alternatives. The school system is a wreck. No churches can possibly alleviate all the conditions that cause these problems. The region needs good jobs that pay a living wage and keep cash in the local economy rather than sending it to faraway home offices and Wall Street as profits and investments for the few. Sadly, until then all churches can provide is an sedative for the groaning, pained residents living in this post-industrial wasteland I'm pained to call my home town.