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I am currently working with a group of low-wage workers in Baltimore whose goal is to secure the economic human rights of everyone.  The UN's Declaration of Universal Human Rights includes the rights to housing, education, health care, just wages, labor organizing and to freedom from poverty.

This summer we are planning a series of Freedom from Poverty events and programs as we continue our campaign to organize the day laborers who clean Camden Yards after Orioles games there.  The summer, Summer of Justice, follows last year's Summer of Honor and the Summer of Hope the year before.

Baltimore is a city engulfed with poverty.  There are entire neighborhoods almost totally abandoned.  Rows of houses are boarded up, emtpy, some falling apart.  Parts of the city are in ruins.  Tens of thousands of the city's residents are paid below minimum wage.  Thousands more are homeless, without medical care and working two or three jobs just to survive.

The city is a virtual police state.  There are police cameras high atop pools with flashing blue lights in the city's poorest neighborhoods.  Being a white man who works with many African Americans, I am very aware of the police presence.  While I little to worry about in terms of serious police harassment, I am always prepared to be pulled over just for being white in a Black part of town, or for having non-white passengers in my car.  I can't imagine what it must feel like to be a young Black man in this town, given that my rights will most likely be restored once I've been pulled over, threatened and then warned about the right place and the wrong place to be.

Despite the poverty and the police cameras and helicopters, I love Baltimore.  Not all of Baltimore is in poverty.  Much remains either poor or working class.  Unlike my native Seattle, or nearby Washington DC, Baltimore retains a working class feel.  The stores and homes are for people making $7 an hour, not $700,000 a year.  There is a great buzz to the city, especially in parts of the city not emptied out, which makes it a wonderful place to live and be.  

It is in this reality that the UWA organizes the day laborers that clean Camden Yards.  The Summer of Justice is our campaign to get folks from the suburbs to stand up with the poverty-wage workers to demand economic justice for all.  We are organizing a series of events to bring people together for this cause, culminating in an all-night vigil, morning faith service and large march from the office of the Orioles owner to Camden Yards.

John Edwards talked about two Americas in his campaign for the nomination and then for Vice President.  His was a lonesome voice in American politics these days.  Somehow our leaders - from both parties - don't talk much about the poor.  The goals of a "new deal," "fair deal," and "great society" have been lost to middle class tax breaks, welfare reform, and getting tougher and tougher on crime.

There should be no poverty in the United States.  We are the richest country in the history of the world, with great technical riches making it possible to end poverty.  But we cannot even start to make this end possible until we start down the path.  And that requires leadership.  

It's time for progressives to start talking about class politics again.  To start talking about the values of economic justice.  Because if we fail to do this, we risk seeing the end to the remaining poor and working neighborhoods not only in Baltimore, but also in Philadelphia, Cincinnati Detroit, Pittsburgh, New Orleans and in the rest of America.  We must take on poverty, take on criminal economic neglect and injustice, or we risk losing our democracy, our national soul and causing great pain suffering for millions more of future Americans.

Visit the UWA's website for more information.

Originally posted to Tom Kertes on Wed Apr 05, 2006 at 01:08 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  I live down the street from Camden Yards (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Carnacki, condoleaser

    Just past Pickles Pub, almost down to MLK Blvd.
    I walk past Camden Yards on my way to the train every morning and back home by it every evening.
    Anything I can do to help?

    "People seem not to see that their opinion of the world is also a confession of their character."--Ralph Waldo Emerson

    by rioduran on Wed Apr 05, 2006 at 01:17:17 PM PDT

  •  Right fucking on (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Carnacki, BurnetO

    I love this concept:  Summer of Justice.

    Sing it loud, sing it clear.  It's about time for a summer of justice.

    You go, Brother.  Bring it to the streets, take it downtown, make the media pay attention.

    I support you 100 fucking per cent.  What a great idea!

    Education? Teaching? NCLB? Read my book _Becoming Mr. Henry_

    by Mi Corazon on Wed Apr 05, 2006 at 01:17:21 PM PDT

  •  Tom a question (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I'm moving to the B-more area soon for my wife's work.  We looked into buying in Baltimore City and as part of that, got involved with Techbalt, a group that buys up houses and rehabs them to live in, not for resale.

    They are heavily critical of the City of Baltimore and the Council Members.  Apparently the City owns a lot of houses they won't sell, as do a number of City Council members who will not sell until the prices go way up.

    This kind of land banking is hurting the city, according to techbalt, because no one (city or council member) holding these houses will rehab them until everyone else on the block has done so and driven the price up.  Since no one wants to go first, they sit and rot.

    Do you see this, and do you think this is a significant obstacle to redevelopment of Baltimore and the elimination of poverty therein?

    RULE OF LAW. That's all the reason you need to oppose Republicans.

    by nightsweat on Wed Apr 05, 2006 at 01:27:09 PM PDT

    •  I don't know jack about techbalt (0+ / 0-)

      but there are many parts of the city where you can still buy affordable and decent homes.  The 'housing bubble' is different here in baltimore because many areas rife with crime a few years ago have rebounded as more homeowners moved into these neighborhoods and bought affordable houses.

      Neighborhoods you might want to check out are Waverly and Pen Lucy, which are still relatively affordable.  I don't know what kind of requirements techbalt puts in, though.

      Get your Free Mac Mini, you know you want one.

      by Bush B Gone on Wed Apr 05, 2006 at 02:29:37 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  We won't be in Baltimore (0+ / 0-)

        My wife will split her time between Baltimore and Bethesda, and work ridiculous hours (like 25 hour shifts), so we're looking in-between both sites in Howard county, most likely.  I want her on the road while tired as little as possible.

        I'm more curious about the land banking situations from a "how the hell do you break that up?" standpoint.  I believe in our cities and think they should all come back to surpass their glory days.

        Lord knows there are enough beautiful buildings in Baltimore to make that a possibility.

        RULE OF LAW. That's all the reason you need to oppose Republicans.

        by nightsweat on Wed Apr 05, 2006 at 02:35:20 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Charm City (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          I really do like Baltimore City, and think it lives up to its moniker Charm City.  The cool thing about Balto was that it was a thriving port city until partway into the 20th century, when it declined.  It's finally making a comeback!

          But the neat thing is that Balto happened to miss out on much of the awful architecture of the 50's, 60's, 70's, 80's that are in general pretty damn ugly, and preserves many of the funky intricate architecture styles of the late 1800's and early 1900's.  One of my friends said "Baltimore has more style per square mile than any other city."  For the most part Baltimore missed out on much of the 'concrete period' more prevalent in other cities (although there are a few of these ugly concrete monstrosities, not nearly as many as other places).

          Regarding the grandparent about city council sitting on large blocks of houses, I don't really know about that, any links?  I mean, some places have done it, but the city council?  O'Malley has had a plan to greatly reduce number of abandoned properties, and he's made decent headway, and this goes against having his own city council just sitting on boarded-up properties.

          Get your Free Mac Mini, you know you want one.

          by Bush B Gone on Wed Apr 05, 2006 at 05:12:54 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  I'll see if I can find a link (0+ / 0-)

            It was in a discussion thread on techbalt's e-mail group a few months ago but was pretty detailed.

            RULE OF LAW. That's all the reason you need to oppose Republicans.

            by nightsweat on Wed Apr 05, 2006 at 06:07:33 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

          •  I thought it was now (0+ / 0-)

            "America's Greatest City" after they realized "The City that Reads" was not too compatible with their literacy rates?  And don't forget that it has the World Trade Center in the Inner Harbor is the world's tallest hexagonal building.

            Now that I am reminiscing, maybe I will drive down there for Homecoming in a couple weeks after all.

            Not sure of what price range you are looking at, but Columbia and Ellicott City are nice.  Laurel isn't too bad either although it is a bit too urban/crowded for my taste.  Feels a bit too much like NJ for me.  

            •  Nope (0+ / 0-)

              And don't forget that it has the World Trade Center in the Inner Harbor is the world's tallest hexagonal building.

              Firstly, it's a pentagon.  Secondly, it's not the World's tallest pentagon, but the world's tallest regular pentagon.  There's a taller pentagon somewhere, but it doesn't have five equal sides with five equal angles.

              Don't know prices outside, expect they're higher.  But you can easily get a house for $50k here, and even in a somewhat nicer area for $100k.

              Anyway, that whole "Greatest City in America" is a bunch of crap.  I mean, sure you may think it, but why look like a bunch of conceited assholes to visiting tourists?  And don't get me started on "City that Reads", that's the kind of thing that would get your ass kicked in the locker room if you said it to anyone.

              I thought "Charm City" is the best nickname for the city.  It's positive, it's catchy, and fairly well descriptive of the city.

              Get your Free Mac Mini, you know you want one.

              by Bush B Gone on Thu Apr 06, 2006 at 07:44:29 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

        •  Howard is absurdly expensive (0+ / 0-)

          and that county has had big fights in the past over trying to limit the amount of housing built below a certain price, if I'm remembering right... I live in the city on the west side and it's quite nice but if I was driving to Bethesda I would do like you're doing and look further out.

          •  Housing in Howard (0+ / 0-)

            Housing is absurdly expensive in Howard. I live here and prices in my neighborhood have gone up over 100% in the past few years.  The average sales price in the county has more than doubled to $442,500 in the last six years.

            Most of the big fights in the past were over limiting development.  

            Now the prices have gotten so out of hand that the arguments are over which income groups the government should try to protect.  Should it be income groups 20-40,000, 40-80,000 or up to 110,000 per year?

            I just don't know how people can afford housing around here anymore.

            But, it is a nice place to live.

    •  Tens of thousands of vacant properties (0+ / 0-)

      in Baltimore City. Most are abandoned so the city acquired them through tax foreclosure. In general, these properties are in such badly run-down areas of town that the goal is not to sell the houses when they are 'worth more,' but to have complete areas for redevelopment rather than doing it piecemeal.

      While there may be some properties the city owns in more desirable areas that are being held for various reasons, I would suspect that holding out for rising values is a small component of this. Housing problems in Baltimore are very complex, especially as the city has long been under court order to disaggregate its public housing. There is also an ongoing debate about mass redevelopment (which, by the way, is favored by some of the progressive groups in the city) versus a house-by-house approach.

      AS for the members of the city council holding properties, being effectively 'slum lords,' I'd like to know more details but it wouldn't surprise me. The city council in Baltimore is remarkably and notoriously corrupt. A recent redistricting plan and change to single-member districts was supposed to increase 'accountability' but all that happened was the retrenchment of long-standing corrupt power.

  •  Buy the house next to mine (0+ / 0-)

    i live across the street from this

    there is another house up the street that burned, but it is currently being rehabbed. the belvedere market is close to my house as is Notre Dame, Loyola, Johns Hopkins and Towson Univeristy.

    The address for the house next to me is 5819 Bellona Ave. It may still be on the Coldwell Banker site. Has a new roof, new hot water heater and furnace. It even has the ducts for central air. 3 bedrooms and two baths.. and a basement that can be finished off. also has off street parking and a huge back yard if you have a dog.

    also, the area over by Lake Montebello is the next up and coming area. Great place to exercise. Very close to Hopkins campus

    With a big ol' lie And a flag and a pie And a mom and a bible Most folks are just liable To buy any line Any place, any time ~ FZ

    by f furney on Wed Apr 05, 2006 at 01:43:10 PM PDT

    •  Belvedere Market new? (0+ / 0-)

      I have never heard of it before, but I have not lived in B-More for 10 years.

      •  It was closed (0+ / 0-)

        for a number of years. It's been reopened for about three years now and it does incredible buiness. Greg's Bagels was the only business that remained from its first incarnation. He claims to have the widest array of smoked salmon on the east coast.

        Oh, I forgot that I live near the Senator Theater as well.

        With a big ol' lie And a flag and a pie And a mom and a bible Most folks are just liable To buy any line Any place, any time ~ FZ

        by f furney on Thu Apr 06, 2006 at 05:03:13 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Tom (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    DCDemocrat, condoleaser
    Excellent work.

    BTW, I'm organizing a meetup of people from DailyKos, Booman Tribune, Street Prophets, etc., in Baltimore on Saturday, May 27. It'll be like the Harpers Ferry meetup last year when about 40 people came together. We're going to Fells Point if you're interested.

    What object is served by this circle of misery and violence and fear? It must tend to some end, or else our universe is ruled by chance, which is unthinkable.

    by Carnacki on Wed Apr 05, 2006 at 02:02:01 PM PDT

  •  confusing title (0+ / 0-)

    Great diary, wonderful plan.  But I started reading expecting something about poor planning being done by Baltimore.  I'd have been much more likely to read it with a title like
    Summer of Justice Coming to Baltimore.

    Burnet O (-8.31,-6.31)
    Impeach Cheney First

    by BurnetO on Wed Apr 05, 2006 at 02:20:37 PM PDT

    •  Baltimore is a funny town (0+ / 0-)

      They have poor planning and
      Poe Housing
      also, I found that if you're white
      you're probably a tourist.

      Baltimore is no stranger to the NOLA treatment.

      I am looking for a link
      I am sure I found somewhere that one of the first urban renewal projects was called the Poe projects.  Built surrounding Edgar Allen Poe's house in Baltimore.  

  •  I've been in Baltimore almost 14 years (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    f furney

    and have lived in the city the whole time. I believe that, overall, things are improving; the place is a much better place to be in so many ways than when I moved here, although I do agree that driving through areas with blue light cameras gives me serious pause.

    But, you know, I got the newsletter from Healthcare for the Homeless today, and it starts out like this:

    Alfred, a construction worker in downtown Baltimore, wants very much to "live where he works" [the tag line for LiveBaltimore]. Unable to afford the $2000+ monthly rents of the apartment units he constructs, he instead lives in the City's winter emergency shelter along with 300 people seeking refuge there on the coldest nights.

    I think that pretty well sums up the need for an effective organizing effort and expansion of the city's living wage law, which technically applies only to city workers. And it also underlines the need for effective inclusionary zoning and affordable housing laws in the city.

    The boom in the city is great to see in many ways, but we cannot and must not forget the people that you are working with, Tom, who are doing the hard work to make the city a great place to live but are getting left behind in the process.

    Thanks for all your hard work. I plan to keep an eye on your website for updates.

    •  What the hell (0+ / 0-)

      is up with those blue-light cameras anyway?  My GF is convinced they'll just push crime right around the corner but not cut it down really.

      And not to mention that I'd be pissed as hell if I had that bright-ass blue light blinking outside my bedroom window.  Or if I bought a house, for the city to install that damn light right in front.  Luckily they only seem to be in a few select spots with higher-than-average crime rates.

      Get your Free Mac Mini, you know you want one.

      by Bush B Gone on Wed Apr 05, 2006 at 05:17:43 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I drove across North Ave (0+ / 0-)

        Saturday for the first time in a couple of years and there was one almost every block west of the JFX.  I guess it's intended to keep watch on places that have had high crime statistics?  She's probably right, people with intention to commit a crime will just go to the side streets...

  •  let me know (0+ / 0-)

    I'm in Reisterstown

    I don't like country music, but I don't mean to denigrate those who do. And for the people who like country music, denigrate means 'put down.'- Bob Newhart

    by condoleaser on Wed Apr 05, 2006 at 03:31:18 PM PDT

  •  What do you think of 'The Wire'? (0+ / 0-)

    I live in another city and I think the series "The Wire" is a great story about the urban situation.  I've heard inner city cops say that is the most true portrayal of what it is like to be a cop.  I read an article in a Baltimore paper saying that many of the characters in the show are based upon real people in Baltimore.

    How do Baltimore residents feel about it?  

  •  I'm a Simon fan... (0+ / 0-)

    so I always take a special, some might say, obsessive interest, in all things Bodymore, Murderland. Thanks for this and I'll be rooting for Summer of Justice.
    City That Reads always becomes "City That Bleeds" because that is a Homicide episode.

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