January 03, 2007


El Cabrero lives in what can safely be called the middle of nowhere, as in so far out there ain't no cable, fast internet, or newspaper delivery. But if I walk a mile from the head of the holler to the "main" road (main being strictly relative out here), there's a reminder of the kinds of things this country once did and could do again.

There, just below a country church is a stone wall that keeps the hillside from sliding into the road. On that wall is chiseled the following message: "WPA 1938."

The WPA of course stands for the Works Progress Administration, a landmark of FDR's New Deal. It provided work at decent wages for over 3 million unemployed Americans during the Great Depression and built a great deal of the infrastructure not only for El Cabrero's beloved state of West Virginia but for the country at large.

Several years ago, I interviewed some relatives who worked on the WPA in rural West Virginia. One woman recalled that "We lived and lived happy on it." Her husband, who build roads and bridges for the program said "It wasn't like it is now. They didn't just take people who were down and out and try to stomp them down deeper--they tried to help the people."

And they got a lot of work done. Here's a partial list of WPA accomplishments as reported in the Nov. 2006 issue of The Hightower Lowdown:

78,000 bridges

700 miles of airport runways

116,000 public buildings

24 million trees planted

650,000 miles of road

8,000 parks

4,383 new schools

9,000 miles of sewer lines

Not too shabby. And these accomplishments are important to remember today after we've been bombarded for over 25 years with right wing propaganda about the inability of government to act constructively. The disastrous aftermath of Hurricane Katrina shows what happens when we allow the government to be run by people who don't believe government can do anything and act accordingly.

We can do better. We have done better.


1 comment:

Real History Lisa said...

Great post. I was in San Antonio once, enjoying the lovely "Riverwalk" area, and saw a plaque indicating the whole 'river' there was also a product of the WPA.

I agree. Katrina cries out for WPA level action. But President Nero is not listening. He's thinking how to convince the public to let him drop nuclear weapons on Iran...