August 10, 2012 - Baltimore, MD
We left the Peace house for Baltimore, MD a little after 9 am expecting to protest from one of the fire stations that were on the chopping blocking in one of the poorer communities, to a Recreation Center that was also on the Chopping block, then to occupy the Recreation center in order to prevent its closing.
The reasoning for the closing of the particular Recreation center that we intended to occupy was a series of budget cuts to the parks and recreations budget and to build a new Juvenile Detention center, a common euphemism for child prisons.
However; when we arrived we found that the situation had changed drastically and not for the better.
The night before there had been a series of meetings with the so called community leaders in the target community, where their true colors where displayed.
The political games of so called leaders came out into the open, when they backed out of the long planned demonstration at the literal last second. Citing fears of police retaliation, in which according to sources inside the community they had apparently engendered and fueled the entire time the plans were being developed.
“The city has so divided up the city that each community Recreation center has its own march, we tried to organize a unified march, but the City Council played communities off of one another, said 62 yr. old Sharon Black, a community organizer and resident of Baltimore.
In an effort to mitigate the protest that the city knew would come out of the closings councilperson Jack Young called attention to the fact that closing of the fire stations may not be legal due to a technical glitch in the procedures used in the decision making process.
The issue pointed out was a lack of public hearings on the subject.
He ignored the consequences of such closings on the communities they were to take place in because for him and people like him the consequences to those communities do really matter, otherwise he would have brought them up as opposed to what the minor problem that was cited, which would only delay the inevitable and take away peoples reason to protest or at least give him an out, come election time.
However; the organizers had already planned for this possibility and had an alternative route and site planned for, as this was not even close to the only fire stations and Rec. Centers to be closed.
After the news had been laid on us and we had decided to use the alternate Rec. Center, which as it turned out was in far greater need of occupation and attention, because it was closing at the end of the day.
There was the added convenience of a fire station set to be closed immediately across the street from the plan rally point to begin the march.
The fire station to be closed was fire station number 10, the station in which one of the first African Americans was promoted in the city, thus historically important, in addition to the many valuable services it provides the community it serves.
It turns out that the closing of fire station 10 was postponed until sometime in October a mere symbolic stay of execution for that community, especially in the face of the closing of their Rec. Center.
The closing of the Crispus Attucks Rec. Center which also serves as the community’s elementary schools gym and the route in which the children go to their lunch room, means that children not only have no place for gym class, but also that a lot of after school programs will be missing from the community it served.
Leaving a lot of young people without productive activities and adult supervision when their parents are at work during the day.
“The kids need this rec. Center to take their minds off the troubles they face in their daily life in the community,” Said Byron Cottingham a 21 yr. old unemployed community member. “Kids need this place to keep them out of trouble, the center does a lot for the community, a lot of community activities are held there.”
The Rally Began in front of Station 10 a little after noon with speeches given by organizers and community members.
We’re standing in solidarity with the community, we’re tired of being sick and tired of working class and poor communities bearing the brunt of city cuts, where they can’t fund fire houses and community centers, but can build more jails and pay for frivolous things such as an eight hundred thousand phone system for city hall,” said Reverend Witherspoon 30, chair of the southern Christian Leadership conference.
Many of the small contingent who had gathered had been jailed earlier in the week, but vowed to go back if necessary.
“We will go back to jail if that’s what it takes in larger and larger numbers,” said Black, “we think the people have the power to stop these closings if they are aroused, the people can do almost anything. We may not have the money but we have the numbers.”
The protesters started marching down Lafayette St. Crying aloud for justice for the people in a city where corruption has run rampant and the people’s needs and desires for the places they live in have been ignored as in so many other cities across the country.
As the small crowd marched down the side walk chanting, the doorways to nearly every residence filled with faces many of them coming out to shake hands with Rev. Witherspoon and other protesters, but not to join.
Every car that passed honked and cheered out their window including fire trucks and sanitation truck drivers all declaring their support for their cause, all of them protesting without having to stop what they were doing to take their streets back from the politicians and their thugs the police.
The power and example of the small contingent was felt in the bones and marrow of the neighborhood, bringing back visions of the Civil Rights movement and other people’s movements, when previous generations had stood for themselves in bygone days to take back their neighborhoods.
It demanded the attention of the people, reminding them that it only takes a few good people to stand in order to change the world, and they desperately needed their world to change from that day forward.
They needed the change then candidate Obama had promised, but failed to deliver, because he was too busy increasing the changes brought in by Pres. Bush and pandering to his corporate globalist buddies.
Chanting “aint no power like the power of the people because the power of the people don’t stop,” the protesters marched on, turning down Pennsylvania St. for the last leg of their journey to the Rec. Center as the shouts of support and chants from the doorways grew louder.
You could feel the angst in the air, the neighborhoods anger at their imposed suffering at the hands of those who have seldom suffered a day in their life. Of course I’m making assumptions, but I feel that I’m giving those in power the benefit of the doubt, as their crimes against the people would be so much more heinous had they actually endured a bit of poverty and knew what these wonderful people were going through and still chose to make their live all the more difficult.
While on Pennsylvania a few members of the community actually joined the march, but still there was a sense of hopelessness about, that went with the mustard seed that had formed there since the arrival of the freedom fighters seeking to liberate their communities Recreation center, a small thing that could impact the lives of so many children.
“We’ve tried marching and it doesn’t work,” said Lakta Srtand, 33.
Still you could feel the anger and resentment the community felt toward the city’s politicos about the closings.
“The city isn’t doing anything for the community except creating more hardened criminals,” said Renard, 40.
As the protest passed the intersection of Wilson and Division St. you could hear a pin drop at a hundred yards. The street was home to the community’s mosque and afternoon prayers were in progress.
As soon as the group was off the street, the chants filled the air once more and with even greater vigor until they arrived at the Rec. Center.
Community and protest leaders spoke for the first half hour before turning the microphone over to the young people, which was the focus of the rest of the day.
Several of the children who use the Rec. Center spoke out about the closing and how it would affect them; they spoke on what would happen to them if it closed. What they wanted to do when they grew up. They stood strong for their parents who couldn’t be there because they were working just to put food on the table, make the rent, and get back to work in order to slave way another day and make someone else money while their souls slowly died, going nowhere.
“We used to come out here to play basketball, I want to be a basketball player when I grow up, but if I don’t have team to play for that will never happen,” said one young man.
Many young basketball players have been discovered on the courts of Rec. centers.
“It’s happening in my neighborhood because it’s in the hood and no other reason,” said one of the children on why they thought the Rec. Center was being closed.
The reactions of the children while they were speaking was gut retching, they loved what it provided their community, a safe place for them to play, mentorship, and supervision while their parents had to work to make sure they had the bare essentials.
They called the Mayor and the city out on its racist and classist policies, on 3yr old girl called the Mayor a bully and shouted into the microphone “the building is closed,” several times to make sure everyone in the neighborhood knew, that her cries were the cries of her community.
“This is a death sentence for our children, Capitalism is a sinking ship and they don’t care who it kills along the way,” Said Sharon, “Jails are concentration camps for the poor. I don’t want to see the community I’m from continue to be labeled as dysfunctional.”
“The decadence of capitalism offers only slavery in their jails for us,” said one community organizer.
At around 2pm the protesters sent out word to ask the community to ask if they wanted us to occupy the building and continued to let the children talk about the Rec. Center and how they felt about it closing.
At the end of the day when the center closed for the day and the children came out, we noticed a few of the children crying, then more children crying, then a steady stream of children crying with their parents.
After seeing all the children I wanted to go and occupy the building myself, I was enraged at the inhumanity of taking this little refuge from this neighborhood, while it struggled just to survive from day to day, constantly wondering whether they were going to be able to pay the bills and which ones they were going to have to sacrifice in order to make the more important ones.
The group held a miniature general assembly to try and decide how they were going to proceed. After much discussion they felt that an occupation should comprise of community members in addition to outside support.
They felt that the best course of action was to come back and build community support for the occupation and set a date for the near future.
However; the difficult part is finding a weekend day in the next couple of weeks with occupy the Grand Prix, the RNC, and DNC coming up in the next few weeks.
Ramona Africa told me once that there is no savior but yourself, I feel that this is true in our current situation. If we are to save ourselves and our communities we have to stand up ourselves and fight back against the power structure that has set its self against us, in order to keep us enslaved and making them money so long as they don’t have to give any of it back.