/It’s like they’re trying to push us out’ In the Delta, people are concerned about jobs, not politics

It’s like they’re trying to push us out’ In the Delta, people are concerned about jobs, not politics

To the dismay and surprise of many residents, the station was funded by a $500,000 Federal Highway Administration grant. It connects commuters to Chicago or New Orleans. Kenny Stanford (54), asked this question over a game of bone on a Friday afternoon. The clean brick structure of the train station and its black metal benches contrast with the many abandoned factories, shuttered stores, and crumbling homes in Delta Town. Nearly one third of Marks’ 1,600 residents live in poverty. The surrounding Quitman County has a 9 percent unemployment rate, which is well above the state’s 5.3%. Mississippi Today sent reporters all over the state to get citizens’ opinions on the most pressing issues in their communities. Many of the people we spoke to in the Delta were unfamiliar with the candidates and didn’t know that the midterms were near. They do know that the Delta needs to have more high-paying jobs. A recent NBC News/SurveyMonkey survey of 1,152 adults revealed that 32 percent said that the most important issue for them is jobs and the economy. The poll included 985 registered voters and was conducted between September 9-24. The top two most important concerns for voters were the economy and health care. According to the survey, 37% of respondents believed that jobs and economic growth should be the top priority for state government. A poll found that 30% of respondents believed education should be the top priority. 15% said that health care should be the top priority, while 1 percent stated it should be. Chuck Espy (43), mayor of Clarksdale in Delta blues town, “The Crossroads,” is the nephew of Democratic U.S. Senate Candidat Mike Espy. “If the U.S. Senate’s next president could focus on those two issues and actually make a difference, they’ll be in office forever.” “If the next U.S. Senator could focus on these two issues and make a difference, then they’ll stay in office forever.” Mike Espy will face both Republicans U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde Smith, and state senator Chris McDaniel in an unusual election to fill the seat left vacant in April by former Sen. ThadCochran. Voters will also choose between Roger Wicker, the Republican incumbent U.S. Senator, and David Baria, the Democratic state Rep. Stanford and his friends are either retired, employed in the city, or work odd jobs. They sat at a wooden table outside an abandoned auto repair shop on Sept. 7. The backdrop for their game is a collection of old political signs, including those of Bennie Thompson, long-time Democratic U.S. Rep., state senator, tax assessor and county supervisor. Stanford examines the dominoes in hand. Behind him, a standing fan of metal spins in its cage. His peers call out numbers to him and then place colored tiles on the porcelain track. Ulysses Hentz, 40 years old, said that it was like they were trying to push us out of the Delta. Hentz is a handyman who works for his neighbors to earn an income when he isn’t working at seasonal power plants. He said, “Nothing’s reliable.” “My parents have tried to convince me to leave here for years. You know what I mean. I love this small town. Hentz stated that he would like to be a part of bringing it back. Despite the state’s efforts to attract large employers in recent times, none have chosen to locate in the Delta, the notoriously poor area between Memphis and Vicksburg along the Mississippi River. “The state isn’t really aggressive in bringing jobs to Mississippi, and networking it so that the individuals in smaller towns can benefit from those jobs,” Jerome Murff (69), of Tchula. This is one of the most impoverished towns in the state.
Residents said Marks lost its largest factory when Bunge Corporation, a wheat, soybean and corn processing plant, left town. According to the Marks Project (a city-county partnership focused upon solutions in education, economic growth, and recreation), the city purchased the facility and is currently working with state officials and local officials to develop it. Clarksdale’s Hartley Kittle (69), who identified as a Republican, said that although it may not have been written down, it seems there is a master plan in Washington D.C. for completely ignoring the Mississippi Delta. Rev. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. launched the Poor People’s Campaign fifty years ago. This campaign was a caravan from Marks to Washington D.C., which he visited in 1966 to see children without shoes. Residents claim that despite progress, the tight hold of the farm industry on the region and its rich soil has prevented communities from moving forward. These farmers won’t allow you to bring in any business like Nissan to make $25 to $30 an hour. Hentz stated that they don’t want their workers to be taken away. “It’s still Jim Crow days,” Lula Green, 63 has run her small business from her Marks home ever since 2007. Her living room is used as a snack shop that sells chips, skittles, and pop tarts at 65 cents per head or $1. She also prepares lunch plates. Her “to-die for” nacho cheese sauce is a favorite. Green is frustrated that Marks does not have a full-service grocery store. This is just one of many food deserts in the Delta and Mississippi. Green stated, “If we could get jobs, all (services) will follow.” There are 79 churches in Quitman County, but no hospital. Residents like Kathy Burks (57), a disabled woman with neuropathy and fibromyalgia must travel 38 miles to reach the nearest hospital. Burks stated that she was allergic to wasps, and was stung. Her airway was also closed. “It took forever for the ambulance to arrive, but if they had urgent care or a facility that would have treated my condition until I was admitted to a hospital, that would be fine.” Tunica’s casinos are a major employer, but at $8 to $10 an hr, there is no living wage. Locals claim. Burks stated that “there’s money in Mississippi”, referring to Delta’s rich agricultural business. However, for those who need it, it is “really hard” to live. Joe Badger (54), sits in a folding seat on the porch of his shotgun house near Badger Grub, his new restaurant on Martin Luther King Boulevard, Clarksdale, just before darkness falls. The porch is crowded with his friends, who dance and drink under the colorful disco ball that he has attached to his shopfront. Badger, a veteran chef, decided to take a chance and leave his job at the casino five months ago to open the restaurant. The menu includes burgers, catfish and fried bologna as well as fries, chicken wings, spaghetti, and fried spaghetti. He claimed he could have found downtown, where tourists have started investing in Clarksdale’s rich musical history. He chose to stay on MLK Boulevard, where the classic funk music played by his friend’s Bluetooth speaker nearly drowns out 12 gunshots. Badger stated, “This area needs people who are positive.” “My goal is to show that somebody cares about this area,” Badger said. But there was no ribbon cutting when he opened. There was no visit from the chamber of commerce or local politicians. He said it was an example of a community being abandoned. Badger emphasizes the importance of creative solutions to poverty. “If you increase the minimum wage, many people who are walking around here will be able to afford somewhere to live. They are tearing down old homes. Badger suggested that they remodel these places and give them away to people who have no place to go. Jonathan Bays (34), Clarksdale resident, stated that his community would benefit the most from increased job training opportunities. Lee Williams, a 34 year-old drummer, often plays at Clarksdale’s Ground Zero Blues Club. He said that “if it’s not a job it doesn’t make well” and “some people are not motivated to do it.” Rena Lara resident Stephen Wilkinson said that he feels the government rewards those who don’t work hard and complains about a decline in his work ethic. Alligator Land Management’s owner stated that he would prefer to see less government spending. The Delta’s public consciousness is tangled because of the lack of job opportunities and low motivation to work. Alfonso Buford (54-year-old retired officer in the police force) said that the Delta should emphasize recreation for young people to decrease crime. Doll Stanley, an animal rights activist from Winona and director of In Defense of Animals’ Justice for Animals Campaign, looks back at the state of Mississippi as she pulls live chickens, which were drenched by Tropical Storm Gordon out of a damaged 18-wheeler Sept. 6. “The greatest problem in Mississippi is lack of funding and limited resources. Stanley stated that everything is possible. She said that nearly a third of children in poverty are already behind when they start school. Low literacy and incarceration are linked, Stanley says. Stanley is standing on the side of I-55 in Grenada. Here, Stanley looks into the back truck where chickens are kept in cages. It can’t be all about building prisons. It must be about building society. Stanley stated that a healthy society is possible. Mississippi is the poorest state in America. The largest state prison in Mississippi, Parchman Farm, which has historically been a place where farmers have made a profit from inmate labor, is located in central Mississippi. Inmates were killed in Mississippi’s prisons in August. Tasha Tucker, a Clarksdale resident who was a teacher, said that tackling poverty can have a waterfall effect. She is a member of the board for Coahoma Opportunities Incorporated and serves as an employment counselor in her local community. “Poverty is caused by a lack in job opportunities, which will definitely impact your education. If you lower your poverty, you will see an increase in education and performance. She said that your crime will decrease as well. People will have more options, which will reduce crime. They will be more open to alternatives and find a way out._x000D