I grew up in a simpler time in the Midwest, or at least it felt that way. It was probably always complex, but I didn’t know it at the time. I began to see the world was more complex when on my first day in college there was a racial riot in the local high school where my Alma mater is located. It was the time when civil rights was becoming full blown.
I didn’t make any sense of this change in the air even in 1978 when I became the Human Resource Director of my Alma mater in the city of Anderson, Indiana. Anderson was an automotive powerhouse location in central Indiana. Guide Division and Delco Remy had multiple plants across the city with over 20,000 people working for them. There were also other industries like Howe Fire, Anaconda Wire, and Nicholson File. I was young in my new assignment and didn’t know that within 5 years it would all gradually begin to change.
I participated in a number of local civic organizations at the time. They were well attended and well financed. One that I would eventually lead was the International Management Council of the YMCA. When I first started participating in it the average attendance was over 250 for monthly dinner meetings. The companies paid the way for anyone who wanted to be a part. The money flowed and the sponsors like GM and its executives made the organization hum. But gradually, it changed. The membership started to drop off the two years before I became the local president. It dropped by about 100 members, but still enough to maintain the roles and pay our way. The drop came because the big companies stopped paying the memberships and meals; if someone else was not paying the way, there was no personal commitment to continuing to be a part of this educational program.
I should have known it was more complex than just tight budgets. It was related to the changes in our Midwest world. Globalization was coming already. GM began moving manufacturing to places like Texas and the Southeast region. It also began moving overseas. During these five years, the other hard manufacturing plants either closed or moved as well. The unemployment jumped to over 22% giving Anderson the reputation of being the “Unemployment Capital of the United States.” It was so bad that ABC’s “Nightline” and Ted Koppel came to learn of and air our woes for the nation to see. During these years, my office became a revolving door of people filling out applications in hope they could find employment, which never came.
I was young then and had not started really thinking about these changes and the implications. It wasn’t until 1987 that I began to take responsibility for my own understanding of the world.
Two decades later, I come as a seasoned researcher and writer to this task. I have experienced a lot, read a lot, written a lot, and reflected on what this all means. And that is where I want to start this series of writings….asking the Midwest to begin thinking as individual citizens, communities and regions about these global changes and take responsibility for what has been and will continue to unfold in this part of the United States.
What I now realize is that most of the people I encounter either don’t know where to start, or more often than not, do not think any of this matters to them nor (which is more sad) don’t care. Many I encounter think it some other people should fix it, not considering that they, too, are responsible to learn and engage the world around them.
So the first order of business in understanding and applying the possibilities of globalization is to: 1. accept and acknowledge that it matters; 2. realize that you as an individual–a citizen–are responsible to get involved and understand what globalization is; 3. as a citizen, become informed in the areas of economics, politics, community development, leadership, education, religion, and on and on (I will share more of these in upcoming writings).
It can be a daunting task, but we are all responsible to get involved at some level. It might be in your local school, with your kids athletics, with your local church, or maybe in politics or other big ticket investments of time and energy. I don’t know what is right for you, but IF the Midwest is to become a participant in the world, you must make some personal choices. If not you, then who? And if not you, then why? I hope it is because you don’t know where to start and not because you don’t care.
I have spent the last 35 years living and working in the Midwest. I have listened regularly to complaining and whining about the future, and praising the ‘good ole’ days’ as if they will save us. I have chosen to find ways to become aware and engaged in the future and help find ways to implement the good of globalization in the Midwest. My challenge to you….get informed; this region and its children are dependent on your taking responsibility now for what you think and how you understand the complexity of globalization.
The trends were in the air in 1978, but I was uninformed and not paying attention. I subconsciously thought “what is will always be.” The past should teach us if we are paying attention; the trends are already in the air….will you take responsibility along with me to become informed?
Dec. 27, 2011