Sunday, September 15, 2013

Musings of a wandering mind ... .

Through the long meeting of public testimony (over 100 spoke from the podium) I found myself fighting boredom by playing a game of searching the faces of those on the dais (councilpersons and staff) and trying to understand their positions as revealed by their occasional questioning of members of the public who spoke from the podium.

One might suppose that the most "progressive" positions would be taken by the African Americans among them since many of those underwater mortgages and threatened homes are owned by people of color.  Not so.  The issues divide along racial lines, but not in the way that one might expect.  The two leaders of the conservative voices belong to two African American men, both of whom have been on the pro-corporate side of most issues that have come before the council in the recent past.  Both claim to be speaking for the black community.  They appear to be consciously re-building the racial barrier that my generation worked so hard to dismantle -- in order to  build a black constituency toward amassing greater political power; an honorable goal at one time. 

I believe that both are sincere in their efforts, but that they haven't noticed that the city, the nation, and the world, have been evolving, and that the city they're defending so stridently is no longer the city of their experience -- but is a far more welcoming and accepting one that has broadened in every way as people of every color, ethnicity, gender, and economic level have joined together in creating something that could only be imagined not so many years ago.

What I wouldn't give to have both pop in some Tuesday or Saturday afternoon during one of my commentaries, and witness what's happening in the visitor's center.  As far as I know, neither has seen "Home Front Heroes," the 15-minute video that tells the story of Richmond of WWII, the Kaiser Permanente and Henry J. Kaiser stories, or participated in the rich discussions that occur in casual groups where no stone is left unturned, or, where no one's history is ignored; no subject taboo, and where those conflicting truths are allowed to co-exist.

The San Francisco Business Times ( Business Times Richmond Supplement ) issued a 24-page beautiful publication on the City of Richmond this week.  It occurred to me that our two constantly warring councilmen are living in a different city from the rest of us, and they simply do not realize it; at least not yet.  Political expediency would suggest that they become familiar with this new Richmond, if their ambitions are to lead it at some future time.

 ...  you, too, will be amazed at our audacity and the astounding progress being made under leadership with a vision of a fairer and more equitable world and the courage to pursue The Dream.

As an aside, my mind was trying to imagine which of those folks on the dais would have made it across the Edmund Pettus bridge in Selma lo those many years ago?

Our two stalwarts,  plus one other, were mainly concerned with the question of risk to the city and the need for insurance before a strategy as bold as Eminent Domain should be attempted.

Dr. King, Andrew Young, John Lewis, Harry Belafonte, Bayard Rustin, James Foreman, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, SNCC, and CORE, could not have assured those brave souls who marched with them that Police Chief Bull Connor, his fire hoses and police dogs would not be waiting on the other side, now could they?

Where would we be had they not dared?

Broke a pledge to myself to not attend council meetings -- or enter into civic matters as long as I'm working for the park service ... .

... that. because (1) I've become a high-profile member of my relatively small community, and (2) because I am limited by being a federal employee subject to the Hatch Act restrictions.  Though my political activity is not constricted as long as I'm not in uniform;  not identified as National Park Service ranger; nor acting in that agency's name.

Our Mayor Gayle McLaughlin is in a continuing struggle to apply Eminent Domain in an effort to bring relief to those either undergoing or threatened by home foreclosures.  The issue has brought Richmond into public scrutiny nationwide as our city challenges the banking industry with a plan that pits their investors against the increasing negative effects of blight and poverty.  This is unbelievably courageous and not without risk, of course.  And maybe I needed to set aside caution and take on some of that risk myself, as a member of my community.

For the first time in my history with the NPS, I would step out of my comfort zone and add my voice to those of others.

Because of the expected overflow crowd on Tuesday evening, the meeting had been moved from council chambers to the Convention Center, and the planners had not over-estimated the numbers who would attend.  The media was well-represented by sound trucks and news photographers in abundance; something I'd forgotten about -- but I'd not let that to deter me.  By the numbers in that room and the fact that I'd not arrived early enough to submit a card that would allow me to testify at the podium until the wee hours, and by the time that would happen the press would be long gone; which proved to be right.

It was 3 hours and 48 minutes before my turn came up, at which point -- at the calling of my name I rose to take my place at the podium, and said:

"I'm a 92 year-old woman who speaks for a segment of the community whose voice has not been heard.  I have a modest condo which was purchased about 12 years ago and that now has a balance of $200,000.00 and a value of $78,000.00.  I'm still working 5 days-a-week in a continuing effort to build an estate to leave for my children.  I've never missed a payment, nor am I in foreclosure.   I will not live long enough for those values to rise. The bank has collected 12 years  of interest on my mortgage.  I will now leave my heirs a worthless gift.  How can that be without any law being broken?
I also remember that the first property we owned was purchased by a white woman because our bank at the time disapproved of where our family was seeking to locate.  Our lot lay outside the ghetto in an otherwise "white" suburban community.

I am sure that the banking industry is fearful of the court cases that will bring "discovery" and exposure of today's discriminatory practices.  By bringing the use of Eminent Domain in as a tool to solve an urgent problem , we will be setting a much-needed precedent as these cases are brought all over the country."
This was a statement that I could defend.  I was not in uniform and stated clearly that I was speaking as a private citizen.

Notified our superintendent early the next morning that I'd done so, and gave him the exact point on the streamed videotape of the proceedings on the public access channel (348.38) which is KCRT-TV.  The statement was limited to 2 minutes, and -- since I'm paraphrasing -- I suspect that there are at least two sentences included here that weren't in my oral statement (only what I wish I'd said!).