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American communities are putting themselves back together

Jim Fallows and his wife Deb Fallows have been touring the United States by plane for the past three years. They have been stopping in small towns to learn how communities are coming together. It’s a collaboration between Marketplace and The Atlantic called American Futures. Their project is the cover story of The Atlantic’s March issue, “How America Is Putting Itself Back Together.”

On the community in San Bernardino:

San Bernardino…is one that really stuck with us, because objectively it’s about as difficult a situation as any city in the country. Economically, all their bases of sustenance have been removed in the last ten or fifteen years. Politically, it has a unique logjam that has put the city in bankruptcy. We had spent over this past year, a lot of time in San Bernardino, talking to people who had some idea about whether there was any hope for the place.

There’s this wonderful group called Generation Now. It’s a group of people, very diverse in race. You know, San Bernardino is a majority minority city, and mainly in their 20s and early 30s, who decided a couple years ago that they were sick and tired of being called the losers of California and the losers of America and the losers of their generation. So they decided that they would try to figure out what it would take to make a city work, so they’re registering people to vote. They’re restoring parks. They’re painting murals on abandoned buildings, picking up things around town, trying to set an example of the city they’d like to see. Obviously by itself, that doesn’t bring jobs to a community, but it was impressive for us to see that they had put so much of their own effort into turning around a place they loved and wanted to make viable again.

On the difference between local and national discourse:

I think anybody would admit or agree that this is a time of real trouble at national level politics and national level discourse in the United States. The parties don’t agree on anything. Whatever you stand for nationally, you’re likely to feel disappointed. At the same time…most of the places we saw had figured out ways to engineer practical solutions to their disagreements and invest in their future and find ways to reinvent their schools to teach people new skills and do all the other things we wish the country could do. It would be better if this were an area in our national politics where we could do that on some sort of national scale but for various reasons that seems not feasible, so as a second best option, at least we have a counter narrative of parts of America that are functioning and are finding ways to put their own regions back together. 

Produced by Mukta Mohan

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