Keeping Prosperity Out

If you think that community organizers are always looking out for the best interests of the community, consider the Trader Joe’s story which was reported about two weeks ago. The Trader Joe’s grocery chain had to pull out of a planned expansion to a poor area in Portland, Ore., after a community organizing group objected. The group said on Feb. 3 that opening a Trader Joe’s in the historically black neighborhood would “increase the desirability of the neighborhood for non-oppressed populations and risk gentrifying the neighborhood.” In other words, let’s not make the neighborhood better; let’s keep it a crappy ghetto.

Wishing to avoid a controversy, Trader Joe’s said in a statement, “We run neighborhood stores, and our approach is simple, if a neighborhood does not want a Trader Joe’s, we understand, and we won’t open the store in question.” The company told The Oregonian that it wouldn’t press its plans for the store, given community resistance. Nice going, community organizers. The vacant lot in a run-down part of northeast Portland which could have been a brand new Trader Joe’s will now remain a vacant lot.

Opening a new Trader Joe’s store in the area would have brought much needed jobs to the community. It would have introduced good, healthy food into the impoverished neighborhood. Isn’t that what first lady Michelle Obama keeps harping on, healthier food for poor families? A Trader Joe’s would be a good step toward that goal. Certainly better than another 7-11 selling candy bars and potato chips or another corner liquor store.

Not only that, but opening a new Trader Joe’s would have cleaned up a distressed section and would have been part of an $8 million mall which would have included 10 additional retailers. But wait! That’s exactly why the community organizers were against it. They DON’T WANT good stores in that area. The foundation-funded group called the Portland African American Leadership Forum is made up of self-serving activists who traffic in poverty and justify their existence by keeping poor black neighborhoods poor and telling the residents what is good for them.

So what do the residents want? They want a Trader Joe’s in their neighborhood, that’s what. The organizers held their press conference on the vacant lot attempting to explain to the community why Trader Joe’s is bad for them, but the people who actually live in that neighborhood weren’t convinced. “This is not what the neighborhood people want,” resident Kymberly Jeka told The Oregonian. Another disgusted resident, Tran Nghi said: “They [the community organizers] don’t [even] live here anymore. They don’t come to neighborhood cleanups.”

I remember when community activists used to protest because the poor neighborhoods didn’t have the better stores and were losing out on the jobs those stores would bring to the neighborhood. They used to scream that the people who lived in those areas were forced to travel miles to get to a good store to shop. They complained that nobody was willing to invest in the bad areas. Well, here comes Trader Joe’s willing to invest $2.4 million to build a beautiful store in the area and they tell them to get lost.

In the end the community organizers won. They chased Trader Joe’s out. Thanks to these activists the vacant lot will remain vacant, housing occupancy will remain depressingly low, unemployment will stay high, and the nearest grocery store will still be 12 blocks away. Wow, thank you community organizers! You’ve done it again. You’ve managed to hold the line on prosperity by maintaining a distressed neighborhood. Well done, guys! Let’s not, by any means, try to improve the place. Just keep it dirty and crappy for the poor people and keep telling them that you are only looking out for their welfare.

People in poverty will never get out as long as there are those who wish to keep the poor down. It isn’t Trader Joe’s who is the enemy of the poor. It is the race-hustlers and poverty merchants who line their own pockets while screaming into microphones and television cameras about how bad things are in the inner city. The people who supposedly speak for all the oppressed neighborhoods who in all likelihood don’t themselves live within 30 miles of those neighborhoods.

If you really want to find out what the people in the neighborhood want, ask the man on the street, not the man in front of the TV cameras.

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