A common question on Sesame Street is often asked through song. “Who are the people in your neighborhood?” jovially asks everyone from Telly to Ben Stiller, Ralph Nader to the blue faced grocer, named, well, The Grocer. It’s a song I ponder while riding to work each day, a morning commute that I can’t believe I waited so long to get back into.
I cycle up my street, feel the rush of the morning wind as I zoom downhill, and listen to the gurgling sound of the Jones Falls. Birds sing happily as I inch closer to downtown. You can feel the sound of a new day unfold right before your eyes, an invigorating hum of motivity. Construction workers in orange vests begin to create from the hard work of their own hands and tools. I see a runner getting in a morning workout, and we both nod heads at each other. “Good morning!” I call out, as he gives me a peace sign. I instantly smile at the connection, one that wouldn’t have happened had I commuted by car this morning.
I head into the heart of the city and hear the clanging engines of the MARC train, filled with government workers, students, lawyers, businessmen and businesswomen, some folks still half asleep drooling over their morning coffee, and some news junkies catching clips of NPR on their iPods.
I pass by local coffee shops with owners who probably dreamed about brewing java and greeting customers by name several years ago, and probably still feel a twinge of nostalgia as they remember the journey of opening their store.
I pass by an elementary school that’s relatively quiet and wonder who those kids might become one day.
I pass by the city jail, but my biking path is blocked by a city truck with a dumpster attached behind it. That’s unusual, I thought, and that’s when I discover news crews surrounding the 83 encampment. Turns out, the city had posted fliers surrounding the encampment stating, “No sleeping, camping or storage of belongings is permitted in this area. Any property remaining in this area will be removed or discarded at 8:00 a.m. March 8, 2013.”
It was 8:35 AM on March 8th. That dumpster blocking the bike path contained the discarded belongings of the homeless people living under Camp 83. And I was witnessing the aftermath.
In mid-February, Baltimore City gave homeless men and women living in tents under the 83 expressway an eviction edict. Since then, activists and advocates from all walks of life have been speaking out. I thought back to an article I read just yesterday in which readers were asked what should be done about this situation. Many comments about “they just need to find a job” and “stop using drugs” were thrown in, amidst comments such as “provide affordable housing.” But those comments seem too simplistic, and don’t take into account the stories of women and men who have been sexually molested at homeless shelters or those who have had bed bugs from sleeping in shelter beds.
Tears rush to my eyes as I watch advocates holding brightly colored placards stating things such as, “housing is a human right.” These tears have become a familiar part of my bike commute, as just last week, I was touched by people standing outside the city jail protesting the death penalty.
Who are the people in our neighborhood?
We are activists.
We are dreamers.
We are peacemakers.
We are people who believe in justice for ALL, not just some.
We have stories- the woman under the bridge, the man in jail, the biker you wave to, the mail carrier, the coffee shop owner, each of us.
We are a city of people with stories.
We are a city of people with voices.
Who are the people in your neighborhood?
You get to decide.
You get to decide how you will use your voice in this neighborhood. If you will speak up, or if you will turn a blind eye while our brothers and sisters struggle to find a place to lay their head tonight.
You get to decide, shape, impact, and meld our city.
Let’s be neighbors.
Let’s join hands.
Melissa Otterbein is an research assistant and blogs at melissaotterbein.wordpress.com.