Touring America's heartland through the headlines

New Missouri License Plate

Image via Wikipedia

This is the second in an occasional series.

They call Missouri the Show Me state.

Stubborn and cussedly independent folk live here. I know this well. I’ve been married to one for 38 years, and she’s still trying to domesticate me.

President “The Buck Stops Here” Harry Truman was a Missour -uh-an (no self-respecting native of this state pronounces the i as a long e).  And if you can’t stand the heat, well, don’t spend a summer here. I did that once in St. Louis, commuting by bus in a yellow and orange striped shirt and brown pants two sizes too wide from the ‘burbs to the downtown Holiday Inn, where I convinced the head bellman I planned to drive St. Louis Cardinal baseball fans to the park for the rest of my days. (I was actually saving money for the University of Missouri’s graduate Journalism School, which I did, minus the cost of two moving violations for illegal U-turns.)

Missouri  is one of those genuine swing states, which in the 2008 election split nearly down the middle (49.4 percent of voters supported McCain-Palin, 49.3 percent Obama-Biden).  It has a Democratic governor, one senator from each party, and five Republican vs. four Democratic U.S. representatives, with the Democrats clustering around the cities of St. Louis to the East and Kansas City (yes, much of it is in Missouri) to the West.

So it seemed a good place to stop by  on my virtual tour across America’s heartland through its headlines.  I wondered.  How are nuclear disarmament issues, the tea party, the economy and Justice Stevens retirement playing out in this part of the Heartland? Or do Missour-ah-ans have something else on their minds?

I thought I’d start away from the big cities so I stopped in at the Boonville Daily News, which serves a town of nearly 9,000 people living near Interstate 70 pretty close to smack dab in the middle of Missouri.  Things are heating up in Boonville, but not because of politics (nope: 81 degrees, the paper said). The Boonville Pirates had lost to the Columbia Rock Bridge Bruins 4-3 in baseball Monday. The next two top stories after that were the weather (“warm with a mild wind”) and the fact that the council intends to discuss a water agreement and street bids tonight.  (I’m hoping the economy hasn’t gotten so bad that they’re selling the streets, but I’ll look into this.)

Things are definitely testier in some of the more populated parts of the state though. A quick drive through the headlines shows that.

First, I headed southwest to Springfield, Mo., a city I once visited in graduate school to write a about a community of Buddhist monks from Vietnam who’d resettled there during that now-distant war. (Mizzou journalism students loved to leave town, what with 1,000 of us covering a city of  fewer than 100,000 residents.)

Thirty-five years later, the headlines in the Springfield News-Leader are still about Nixon, but not Richard M.  The governor, Jay, a Democrat and no relation, has just signed into law $43 million in mid-year school funding cuts, affecting some 70 percent of the state’s 523 schools, the paper reported.

Clearly the good times are not rolling in this heartland state.

In this most southern corner of the Show Me State, people also were showing their strong political differences.  On Monday night at the Assemblies of God headquarters, a group of 18- to 29-year-old “Equality Riders” stopped by, the paper reported, to advocate  ‘”safe educational settings for all students, including those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer,’  according to a news release from Soulforce, a social justice organization that works to end oppression of LGBT people through nonviolent resistance.'”

In Kansas City, things weren’t so peaceful, and the reason looked more liked hooliganism than protest, the Kansas City Star reported. This city is sort of gateway to the West and things seem to be getting plenty wild.

Began one story:

Kansas City police say they will be ready if hundreds of unruly youths show up again this weekend at the Country Club Plaza.

And they think that could happen.

Well before the summer heat really settles in, it seems, tensions are simmering.  A sign of hard times, perhaps? From the article, it was difficult to tell. But this isn’t the kind of news any downtown commercial district wants to advertise.

A growing number of youths had begun loitering on the Plaza in recent weeks with trouble erupting Easter weekend.

Police estimated 300 to 500 youths gathered April 3, caused fights and displayed gang signs. Police used pepper spray to break up several fights. Officers arrested a 17-year-old in a car with a gun….

Police said they … learned last week that youths were using social media Web sites to organize and encourage friends to gather Saturday night on the Plaza. They heard Saturday morning from some area high school officials that there might be trouble.

I decided to avoid the Plaza and look for more constructive things to do.  Thankfully, an exhibit called “Dinosaurs Unearthed” will soon be opening at Union Station.  At Age 61, that made me feel right at home.

I’m not much good at social media or causing a ruckus. And besides, I figured I could catch a train West from there.


About jerrylanson

I teach, write, coach and sing, though you're not required to listen to the latter. I'm a journalism professor at Emerson College in Boston. My third book, "Writing for Others, Writing for Ourselves," was published in November by Rowman & Littlefield Publishing. You can read a sample chapter at My passions are politics (generally liberal in outlook), music, mountains, golden retrievers and my grandchildren, though not in that order. Please stop by and mix it up with me. I always answer those who post.
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3 Responses to Touring America's heartland through the headlines

  1. Steve Weinberg says:

    Missouri is an unhappy place to live right now in large part because the Republican-dominated state legislature is filled with heartless men and women who refuse to provide adequate help for the needy. (I hasten to say I am not a Democrat–I vote for the most worthy candidate, regardless of political party.)

    The legislative majority in Missouri also seems oblivious to long-term planning for a better future. School (K-12) and higher education funding cannot even maintain the status quo, much less pay for improvements.

    So, is Missouri part of the “heartland,” the term used by Jerry Lanson? Or is it more accurately the “heartlessland” during the hard economic times that began in the George W. Bush administration? I despair that a progressive Democratic governor can accomplish so little given an obstructionist state legislature and a federal government headed by Barack Obama with shockingly little sympathy for the disadvantaged?

  2. Jerry Lanson says:

    Thanks for your thoughts on this Steve. I was pretty stunned by both the depth of your school cuts and the hooliganism in Kansas City. I’m curious whether this presages more problems across the country this summer as states and cities cut jobs’ programs for city kids.

  3. hey i was on the plaza this night i love your sight please check mines out

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