Last week, social media was abuzz with the Facebook release of a video titled We don’t need coins, we need change. Produced by two high school students for a school project, the video begins with footage of blighted buildings in the City of Amsterdam. Over that imagery, the opening narration says “Welcome to our hometown, Amsterdam, NY where the government has turned a blind eye to our increasing poverty rate.”
As of this writing, the video has surpassed 20,000 views. It’s spurred hundred of comments, many of them lauding the video for it’s “accurate” portrayal of the city and holding it up as a rebuttal to a recently released slideshow video by Mayor Ann Thane which showed the city in a more positive light.
I’m pretty sure that most of the commenters probably didn’t watch the students’ video all the way through. I say that because most of the comments completely miss the point of the video. Here’s three big reasons why:
#1 The video was not about the city’s local government.
According to Tom Foster, father of one of the students, the video was made in order to submit it to C-Span’s StudentCam contest. The theme of this year’s competition is “The Three Branches and You”. The instructions to students are:
Tell a story that demonstrates how a policy, law, or action by either the executive, legislative, or judicial branch has affected you or your community.
*Your topic should pertain to a branch of the Federal Government
Nowhere in the video does it mention the city’s government specifically. The opening sequence of Amsterdam’s blighted properties certainly makes a dramatic impression, but I hardly think the students realized that it would open the door for people to co-opt the video to suit their particular political viewpoint about the city government.
Even if the video was about our local government, the discussion wouldn’t be complete without mentioning that the city’s homeless shelter, which was featured prominently in the video, received pledges of $30,000 in funding from Montgomery County, and $15,000 from the city last year. Without those pledges, the shelter would not have opened for the winter.
#2 The video was not a response to the mayor’s video
Only a few weeks ago, Mayor Thane released a slideshow-style video which showed many of the beautiful areas of the city. It also showed some run down areas of the city, along with subsequent efforts to clean them up. Of course, this positive depiction infuriated some people and others dismissed it as a campaign promotion.
According to Foster, the video was “in no way politically motivated against the mayor or her video.” He said the timing of the video was coincidental and corresponded to the due date for the project which is listed on C-Span’s website at January 21, 2015.
#3 The subject of the video was poverty not blight
If a person watches the entire video from beginning to end without jumping to conclusions, it’s not hard to understand the video was about people not buildings. Even though the city’s poverty rate was incorrectly stated (it’s about 23%, not two-thirds), it is still correct in pointing out that poverty is a problem in the city and the rate is above the state average. The video includes an interview with Tyler Rush, who runs the city’s homeless shelter. Toward the end of the video, we see several clips of people talking about the problem of poverty including a C-Span clip of Democratic Representative Barbara Lee extolling the success of emergency unemployment programs in keeping people out of poverty.
But the majority of comments boil down to “look how bad our city looks” and miss the mark as far as any real discussion as to how to reduce poverty.
It’s unfortunate how this video seems to have brought out the worst in some people. While I have yet to meet anyone who denies that the city has problems with poverty or blight, I’ve encountered many who seem to think that the entire city is a dump with no redeeming qualities. Sadly, they are the ones trumpeting this video as the “true” Amsterdam.
Anyone who thinks that the entire city is a blighted mess is not really dealing with reality. In fact, saying such a thing is an insult to the many city residents who take pride in their homes and neighborhoods and work hard to keep them up. The truth is, as many others have said, the city has both beautiful areas and blighted areas, much like every other city in Upstate NY.
Furthermore, if the conversation gets into actual ideas and initiatives that address either the problem of poverty or blight, the issue gets even more contentious. If I point out that one of Mayor Thane’s goals for her second term was to see the creation of a land bank, and that goal has not only been achieved, but has received over a half million dollars in funding to help rehab or tear down blighted buildings, I’m met with blatant inconsistency. The mayor is on one hand, responsible for all the ills of the city, but when she is part of the solution, opponents say “you didn’t build that.” Meanwhile, critics offer absolutely no viable solutions of their own.
The problem of poverty has yet to be solved by any government anywhere in the world. But we do know that economic opportunities and education are two important ways to fight the problem. To that goal, the city has made great strides in the past few years with the expansion of the city’s youth recreation program and the opening of the Creative Connections arts center. These programs bring supervision, structure, homework assistance, and low-cost or free enrichment classes to kids who need it the most. But yet even this program has come under fire in the past year because **gasp** it uses a small amount of tax payer money.
And plans to improve the city’s economy by utilizing state funding, such as the two Brownfield Opportunity Act programs that are in progress, plans to increase traffic to our downtown sections via the pedestrian bridge and by moving the train station, are characterized as “madness” and “pie-in-the-sky” ideas. Our city’s Common Council hasn’t presented one single idea about economic development this past year and only one member even showed up at the public BOA meeting last month. Instead, we saw endless attempts to micromanage and relentlessly audit city department heads, searching for some sort of pot of gold that would somehow net us financial windfall. And what became of any of that?
So do you notice a pattern here? The release of this video shows all too clearly that there is a faction of this city that does nothing but wring their hands about our problems while trying to shoot down anyone who tries to fix them, all the while offering no sensible vision of their own. On the other hand you have dedicated people willing to endure the criticism while working toward small but tangible goals to develop the city’s economy, attract outside developers, and increase the quality of life for our residents. We all need to think long and hard about what vision for the city’s future we want to embrace.