Monday, March 30, 2009

City from Below

*Interior of St. John's Church at 2640 St. Paul.*

Whew- what a weekend! Not only did yours truly have a logo to design for the imaginary "Museum of Transportation", plus work and class on Saturday, it was City from Below this weekend!

Update A live blog of the event was created here:

I only managed to attend for an hour on Saturday, but on Sunday I headed over to breakfast, ended up getting sucked in to the energy of the event, and didn't come out of there until 6 pm! I was a little disappointed that the breakfast at Participation Park community garden got rained out (o.k., misted and fogged out), but I was glad for the chance to see the Cork Gallery for the first time, and I'll admit that the yogurt, granola, coffee, and bagels tasted much better in the cozy warmth of the rehabbed warehouse, with our beautiful city spread out below.

2640 was an incredible venue as usual, and there was a hive of activities going on all throughout that beautiful bombed-out church, from panel discussions in the huge Clark room to smaller talks and break-out sessions in the Sunday room, plus events were being held up the street at the Village Learning Place in Charles Village. (I didn't even manage to make it out to the VLP!) Thanks of course to the dedicated volunteer staff from 2640 and Red Emma's who set up the event, worked sound, set up concessions of food, and in general GOT IT DONE! (Yours truly did her own part and helped sweep and mop the floor on Sunday evening :) ).

I forced myself to break out of the shy shell, and introduced myself to a lot of really interesting folks (one of whom went to the same elementary school as me for a bit! Ah Smalltimore..) I talked to university students, urban gardeners from out of town, city workers, local artists and activists, and hip-hop kids just interested in getting involved... There were even people from Vancouver there, which was amazing to me, but they seemed to take their far travels in stride. I was so proud that they would travel all this way to this event! More observations on the general crowd are below...

Posting all of my thoughts would take hours (and I'm sneaking these words in while I'm on the clock!), so I am planning on breaking my observations up into groups. For anyone interested in more articles about the event, there was a ton of video and sound being recorded, and I know Indymedia is planning on making a national issue about the event, so there is definitely a lot more information out there!

Before delving into the specifics of the events I attended, I'd love to outline some general thoughts...

* As usual, there was definitely a dearth of participation from minority, poor, disabled, elderly, and other forgotten segments of the population. This happens at a lot of social justice events, as was pointed out by person or two. I don't think this is anyone's fault. I think that this lack of participation is likely caused by a lack of outreach and connections between the activist community and these minority populations.

I think that's why I like working with 2640 so much, where political liberals, the homeless, and church-going folk can all come together in the same building. We don't all have to work on the same issues together all the time, but we're all connected in some way. It's actually quite metaphorically represented in the way the church building is spatially divided and shared between all of the groups.

* One presenter from "Take Back the Land" (in Miami, I think?) mentioned the divide between "college educated community organizers" and grassroots leaders from within the community. I was captivated by the many tangles of this. Of course I don't think it's a negative thing for people to want to get involved in social justice, but I do think it is important to be aware of the weight of someone coming from any outside community to "solve" the problems of a community.

Of course, getting involved isn't just about reaching out to struggling communities. Driving to my parent's house in the suburbs on Sunday night, I thought about myself in my high school days, and how easy it is for people in relatively safe, well-off communities to get trapped in a bubble. (Whether this is from having basic hunger and shelter needs met, or from living in areas where there is relatively little community interaction, or a combination of factors, I don't know).

But in any case, I'd love to see more outreach in general beyond the usual social justice crowd. I would have loved a breakout session where we could discuss this issue in small groups!

*On another introspective note, I reacted most strongly towards presentations about specific examples of enacting change. It's really easy to talk about the housing crisis, or inequalities in our social structure. Thanks, we all know that, it's why we're here. The crowd will cheer you, because it's what they want to hear, but you're not really helping the movement. Talk to me about real examples of problem-solving!

I want to know about exactly HOW you reached out to the the workers at Camden Yards, or the people having their homes foreclosed on, or the art community in your area. I think that's why I love permaculture so much, because it isn't just about the idea of sustainability, it's about the tangible objects, the rainbarrels, the compost, the solar ovens, the native species, etc.

And let's celebrate the successes that we've made, as much as we talk about the failures of society. Just the fact that an event like City from Below can happen shows that we live in a pretty great world. (Sorry if that sounds like Polly Anna, but that's the way I see it.)

So, hi to all of the great people I met who are involved in everything from housing struggles to urban farming to grassroots labor struggles to university theses on policy and theoretical power struggles. Thanks to the volunteers, and to everyone who came out on a rainy weekend to GET INVOLVED.

Even if most of the discussions basically told me what I already know, I came out of the sessions with new friends and a renewed faith in doing simple actions to create change.

My plan now? Help everyone I know to buy a commuter cup instead of using disposable. Reach out in a positive way to others in my community, from calling my grandma just to say hi to picking up a piece of trash on someone's else's curb. Water my lettuce and compost my tea bags and banana peels (and hopefully get some people in my office to compost?! Maybe?!) And, I'll try not to get to preachy. Because I know that even a puppy mill owner who is proud of what they do is somehow less annoying than a self-righteous activist.

Stay tuned for future posts about some of the conference discussions:

*If we controlled the future, what would it look like?

*Report on the forum with United Workers (uniting the Camden Yark workers for a fair wage), Take Back the Land (a group struggling to take back foreclosed homes in Florida), and Picture the Homeless (from NYC)

*Notes from a discussion among urban gardeners about various issues like land ownership and toxic soil (I really want to visit Landslide in PA now!)

*I'd love to do some research in connection to a talk that referenced moveable carts! They are mobile, which means they are perfect for connecting to tons of people within a community, and can be modified to be anything from portable art to fresh produce carts to solar energy modules! I have a new fascination...

Were you at the conference or want to know more about it? Post a comment or send me an email!

1 comment:

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