I was getting ready to ride my bike down to War Memorial Plaza to join Friday’s protest when my neighbor J. texted me. “You’re not going to the protest, are you?” Actually I was, and though I tend to travel solo, I was happy to have company for the ride downtown. I met him on my bike just up from the alley, and he stayed at least six feet behind me as we rolled down the hill.
We started seeing crowds moving toward War Memorial Plaza at Centre Street, all carrying signs and wearing masks. Car traffic was mostly blocked off, or non existent, so I easily made my way to the left hand lane to turn onto Fayette. A Police Athletic League van was pulling up at the blocked-off corner at the same time. We peeked inside: it was full of cops. PAL is one of those good-cop things people talk about when they reminisce about the good old days of policing. Yeah, they’re still cops, and if the problem is policing itself–which, full disclosure, I think it is–then maybe what we want is athletic leagues for kids, not routed through cops.
We walked our bikes to the plaza where so many people were gathered. Activists were painting DEFUND THE POLICE on Gay Street, in front of the memorial. The police were keeping their distance, looking bored on street corners, but surely at the ready. Helicopters spun in the sky, a reminder that we’re always being watched, even if we turn off our cell phones. And then that game started, the one where you try to figure out if you know a person when you can only see their eyes and their outfit. Baltimore’s a small town, so I saw so many people I hadn’t seen in person in awhile, a reminder that the protest is also about building and cementing community for those who are there.
J. peeled off to head home, and I decided to ride a bit more around town. I headed behind the War Memorial to go around to Baltimore Street. It was so, so quiet over there, and I pulled out my camera to take some pictures of what was behind the gates. Turns out, War Memorial is about memorializing war, and this is just one of the old weapons on display, alongside what looks like a smoker in the back. I ride by this place all the time, but it barely registers until I think about it, how much space we’ve given over to celebrating war, when what we really need is less of it. This stuff isn’t history. We only learn that by reading, watching, listening, but there’s so little of that and so much of this war glorification, it’s no wonder it’s hard to imagine a world outside of it. But that’s what we must do.
I continued my ride up Baltimore then down to Lombard, through downtown, and up Paca to check on Lexington Market. It’s going up fast, or at least it seems that way since I don’t ride by every day like ye olden times. When things get built quickly it reminds me that we can build quickly, if we want to. Cranes in the sky, that’s what they said after the levees broke in New Orleans, but the cranes never went up. When the Hard Rock hotel collapsed and buried people in its rubble, the city just left them there. It’s a tomb. It could be otherwise, but it isn’t. And that’s a choice.
That is my mantra in my classrooms. Things could be otherwise. We can make them otherwise. This protest was another reminder of that, and a reminder to be grateful for all the protesters, everywhere, who are changing life for us all. As my dad’s license plate read, NO WAR.
And then I pedaled myself home, grateful for this city and the people who live here.