In a cynical and jaded age, it is hard to shock people with stories of misuse of law and power, but I must admit the story concerning the residents of Cottage Villa trailer park shocked me. If I read the story correctly, due to a zoning change in an effort to sell the property to a wealthy developer, current residents of the trailer park will be forced to move their homes or abandon them in favor of much more expensive housing developments.

According to the story, the city council and the mayor apparently wiped their hands of the entire business and said there was nothing they could do. Call me cynical, but I imagine if wealthy homeowners, say from The Bluffs, were in a zoning bind, I am sure the city council and the mayor would be very amenable and discover, miraculously, that there was, in fact, something they could do.

Vermillion has always had a very bad record of dealing with poverty. I know because I grew up in poverty in this community. After my father abandoned my mother and I, we worked cleaning buildings, washing dishes, sacking groceries, delivering papers and gleaning farmers’ fields for cobs to heat our home. I remember leaving high school at 3:10 p.m. (where I had arrived at 7 a.m. for early band practice), driving home, eating supper and racing back to Hy-Vee for my shift, which in those days lasted from 4 until about 11 p.m. This was not for money to go to the movies or to buy comics – it helped my mother pay for rent and food. I can also say that in those years of struggle, no one, not one person in the community ever offered help or assistance to my mom. Some, who are still Vermillion residents, made fun of me at school for the clothes I wore, or for the fact that I had a single parent.

It is certainly easy for well fed, well clothed and well housed members of the local power structure to dismiss the concerns of poor residents in a trailer court as the “price of progress.” Perhaps they should attempt to put themselves in that situation. As a poet noted, “They are slaves who fear to speak for the fallen and the weak…they are slaves who will not be in the right with two or three.”

In the meantime, I would advise the trailer park residents to seek injunctive legal relief based on the 14th amendment, which says (among other things), “nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law” (Section I, 14th amendment) – in other words a legal hearing where they have a chance to present their arguments and defend their rights and property as Americans.

Dr. Aaron Robert Woodard lives in Hartford. He holds degrees from the University of South Dakota and Trinity State College in the United Kingdom. He has taught American history and government and is an author.

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