Political Round Table hosts event on the state of St. Louis

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Political Round Table hosts event on the state of St. Louis

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As many were preparing to leave St. Louis for the Thanksgiving holiday last Monday evening, a group of close to 100 gathered at 5:30 in the Sinquefield Room to discuss the condition of the city.

The event, entitled “A City on the Rise: The Cost of Prosperity,” was hosted by Political Round Table, a non-partisan political organization at SLU. It included a free formal dinner and was open to the public.

For the first half of the evening, attendees heard from Michael Allen, founder and director of the Preservation Research Office in St. Louis.

He spoke at length about the successes and signs of growth St. Louis has seen recently and condemned the panic over “urban crisis” in St. Louis and other cities.

“It is harmful ideology to call cities victims of ‘urban crisis,’” Allen said. “These same issues, this same crisis, has been going on for decades. This state of emergency mentality tends to lead to short-term solutions.”

Allen also spoke of the deep divide between St. Louis City and County. He stressed the need for the state to begin to fund its cities equally in relation to its more rural or suburban areas.

“Much of the money and power has been transferred out of the city to the suburbs, yet the city government is blamed for regional problems,” Allen said. “The city must stop being seen as a separate land.”

He emphasized the need for the next generations to become involved in reshaping local politics, and students had a chance to do just that during the second half of the evening.

Once Allen finished his address, the night was opened up for discussion.

Each of the numerous dinner tables set up were designated with a different topic of interest, including politics, homelessness and poverty, start-ups, transportation, media and more. Each table and its topic was assigned at least one expert in the area.

At the politics table, alderman Joseph Roddy of Ward 17 and alderwoman Marlene Davis of Ward 19 talked with students about the complexities of politics and the importance of local involvement.

“Most of the important stuff that’s going on happens in neighborhoods, and college students tend to be a little insulated in their dorms,” Roddy said. “National politics are a lot easier to follow, and so many college students know they’re going to end up moving somewhere else. I think it’s hard to get really interested in local government until you settle down a little bit. When you own your house, you’ll care a little more about your neighborhood.”

Denish Jaswal, president of Political Roundtable, said that this interest in local politics is exactly what the State of St. Louis event is meant to encourage.

“St. Louis is a city that is starkly divided between affluence and poverty, and we feel that continually staying with our bounds of affluence and privilege is a disservice to the city we call our home,” Jaswal said. “[Political Roundtable] works to bridge the gap between these two realities of St. Louis with this event every year.”

Alderwoman Davis spoke of the importance of linking political involvement with serving the community you are a part of. “Being involved in politics is hard work! It’s not just sitting around in a suit, looking important, saying things that make no sense half the time,” Davis said.

“You’ve got to know and understand and be willing to do what is needed to help people. That means spending Saturdays cleaning lots, cleaning alleys, helping paint porches…communities welcome volunteers for their projects.”

This advice comes at a time when student interest in politics is at a high point.

“This past election cycle has definitely amped up interest in politics here at SLU,” Jaswal said. “Hopefully, some of this will lead to more than just isolated talk and translate into action. Given Trump’s upcoming controversial presidency, I think that there is much room for both talk and action from people who previously felt that politics did not affect them or those that they cared about. It has definitely jolted folks to become more aware, so I hope their interest is maintained.”

Davis, too, hopes that young people will continue to be interested in politics. “Older generations have not made an effort to bring young people aboard so that they can get direct information and knowledge,” she said. “We just said ‘we got this,’ and did our own thing. But there’s nothing you can’t learn by educating yourself.”

Roddy encouraged students to read local newspapers like the Post-Dispatch, citing them as more credible than most ideologically driven websites.

He mentioned that all committee meetings are available to watch on YouTube, and all board meetings are on public access cable.