Quit raking our leaves

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Publicly challenging good intentions is bad form. If someone wants to rake your yard out of sheer kindness, you don’t go kicking around the neat piles of leaves.

What happens, though, when those same kind folks keep coming back to your yard each day — rakes and bags and disgusted looks?

“We just don’t understand,” they say. “We were just here yesterday and we raked every leaf. Why in the world do you have leaves all over the ground again?”

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Because we live in a forest and we have 67 shedding trees in our yard.

Welcome to Alabama’s Black Belt, where the kind folks keep raking and the pesky leaves keep falling.

On Friday, Nov. 12, another nifty-named organization visited our region and hosted a “deliberative forum on rural development.” The Southern Growth Policies Board, based in North Carolina and chaired, this year, by Gov. Bob Riley, doesn’t pretend to be an action agency. Instead, they get people talking. In June, they’ll present a report at the Grand Hotel in Point Clear, Ala., entitled the “2005 Report on the Future of the South.”

We’re quite sure this future-looking report will have some wonderful ideas, especially if the Friday forum was any indication.

In a one-page referendum on change, the SGPB suggested the following for residents of rural Alabama:

Collaborate regionally;

Embrace change;

Level the playing field.

Among specific ideas, the leaders of our latest forum suggested we “… act regionally to combine the strengths of many communities.” They also felt we should “educate for entrepreneurship” and “encourage innovation in businesses and institutions.” Finally, SGPB believes we should “lobby the federal and state governments for more resources for infrastructure improvements,” and “sue for more federal and state funding.”

If those suggestions sound familiar, they should to any person living in the Black Belt region of Alabama. Those ideas for rural development have been so redundantly pummeled into the brains of local leaders that the words no longer make sense.

It’s kind of like telling the nice folks raking the yard that they need to cut down the trees.

In the same sense, we in Alabama’s Black Belt have been told — over and over again — to buy a chainsaw, a bucket truck and a strong piece of rope. The only problem, of course, is that we don’t have time to implement the solution because we have to keep the yard clean and our spare time is filled listening to people who tell us to buy a chainsaw, a bucket truck and a strong piece of rope.

One of these days, groups like the Southern Growth Policies Board and Gov. Riley’s Black Belt Action Commission will quit telling us to visit the hardware store. Instead, they’ll pick us up, take us to the store, and show us how to whittle away at the 67 trees trashing our yard.

Larry Lee, an economic developer who has co-authored studies about this region, offered quite a simple solution: “… [the talk] will last as long as citizens there allow it. You have to demand action.”

It’s time to demand a ride to the hardware store. We’ve seen enough catalogues.