A St. Louis Beyond Fear and Hope

Two main levers exist in politics: fear and hope. The prior presidential administration ran on hope. The current administration ran on fear. No doubt, each used both. Running on fear psychologically stifles turnout but creates the conditions for persuasion. Campaigning on hope boosts participation but polarizes supporters and the opposition. That’s the ‘secret’ science of politics.

The art is knowing when to pull each lever and by how much.

In campaigns, it is easy to unearth the main strategy by dusting away coded language. Campaigning for public safety is a positive veil for running on fear. Campaigning for economic opportunity infuses the present with future hopes.

Running on fear forces voters to look backward and seek to protect what they have. Running on hope forces voters to look forward and strive for an elusive ideal. Most folks do not run on keeping things the same—when they do it is on promising that voters will not lose what they have and that things will continue to get better—it’s still fear and hope.

In St. Louis, we’re locked into an easily exploited scarcity mindset. If x happens then you will lose what you love about your neighborhood and your personal identity. If y happens you will actualize your full potential and live happily ever after.

Yet, in-between the duality of hope and fear rests a paradox. Beyond hope and fear is acceptance.

Acceptance is not resignation. By reacquainting ourselves with the present moment—and understanding but not lingering on the facts of our past and possibilities of our future—we discover with clarity what is right under our nose. With the clarity of what is (and not what was, could have been, or should be) we take actions and make decisions that are based in reality—not in fantasies or nightmares.

By paying attention to the present, statistics and facts of our region, the health of our residents, the structures of our systems, and strength of our infrastructure in the here and now, truth stares back at us. It might be an ugly truth that throws us into fight or flight mode. We may fly back to the nostalgic past or fight ardently for a dream—or delusion—of a better future.

However, if we restrain ourselves from assigning judgments, we can recognize our common and shared experience. By opening to the present St. Louis, we notice the little details of both the good and bad—discovering a deeper appreciation for our environment, neighbors, and selves. We begin to understand that these interconnected relationships ultimately drive meaning and the underlying reality of our lives. By nurturing relationships in the clarity of the present, we finally discover the potential we’ve been seeking from false prophets.

We are not the stories we tell ourselves. We are what lays beneath them. Our organization seeks to ‘reunite’ the City and County of St. Louis.

But, St. Louis and its 2 counties, 684 elected officials, 573 taxing districts, 91 municipalities, 81 municipal courts 57 police departments, 43 fire protection districts, are already united. Our fates are bound together whether we choose to recognize that truth or not.

The mission of St. Louis Strong, is to create a healthier sense of community and promote a stronger economy for the region. In erasing a few invisible barriers, we begin deconstructing the delusions that blind us from the fact that the well-being of our neighbor affects our own personal well-being.

Facts back that up. Urban crime rates affect suburban home values. The economy would experience a $14 billion-dollar boost with the elimination of racial wage gaps. A 36-year life expectancy gap within St. Louis County means higher health care costs for the region. Disparities in education rob the region of its potential and talent.

Joining the City and County together does not automatically solve a lagging economy, fix racial inequity, bridge health and education disparities. Telling you so would serve only to exploit your hopes and fears. Still, crime, diseases, opioids, and jobs don’t care about borders, so, why do we?

Joining the City and County together is an act of accepting reality, which in the end allows us to build relationships to address these deeper issues.

In the next decade or so, folks will seek to exploit your hopes and fears to get you to oppose or support joining the City and County together. Take a moment to breathe, think, and see the underlying truth for yourself. Don’t flinch.