Apologies for the delay on this one! And happy winter holidays to all who are celebrating. 🙂
Every year, a group of dear friends and I spend the winter solstice together. I don’t have many reliable rituals in my life, but this is one I really cherish. The party starts large, then dwindles down to a core of us who stay up to greet the dawn. Literally, we bundle up and go outside a little before sunrise and watch to make sure that the sun does in fact come back after its longest absence of the year.
It was during a lull in the festivities at that gathering, in the wee hours this past Sunday morning, that I started writing this week’s column. I was thinking about the spiritual underpinnings of our tradition, the idea that if we stay together during the time of greatest darkness, if we stick it out and stand witness, we’ll see things brighten. Moreover, that our communion itself has a role to play in calling back the light.
I think all of us who care about Baltimore want to believe that our city, like the northern hemisphere this past weekend, is also at its darkest moment. That just as the Earth leans back towards the sun and the days lengthen, so it will be with this place that we love and that’s been struggling so badly. We’ll hit an inevitable turning point just when things seem their worst. The change will be barely perceptible at first, and it may even get colder and harsher for a while, but there will be more and more light day by day, until the depths of darkness in which we currently find ourselves are nothing but a memory. After all, there has to be a point when things are as bad as they’re going to get, right?
Certainly, the night feels especially long right now. The desperation-driven death toll rises, even as our population continues its generations-long decline. The people who are charged with stopping the terror are themselves corrupt and piling onto it. Every week, new news of police atrocities comes to light right alongside new news of that same police state intensifying, of spy planes (https://www.axios.com/baltimore-spy-plane-surveillance-pilot-238bc542-dfc0-40ad-bffd-47a929ef3215.html, why did both Young AND Harrison reverse their position on this??), federal intervention (https://www.justice.gov/usao-md/pr/attorney-general-william-p-barr-announces-launch-operation-relentless-pursuit, did that Hughes guy really say “striking fear in the hearts of evil”? ok, Batman), and the Hopkins private police plan marching forwards.
Speaking of JHU and corruption amongst the powers that be, I gotta share this great observation by a friend-of-a-friend (I’d quote him directly, but I don’t think he saw my message asking for permission, so I’ll just paraphrase) —
The Hopkins private police force bill was introduced by two people — State Delegate Cheryl Glenn and State Senator Joan Carter Conway, with the most vocal support from two others — Mayor Catherine Pugh and BPD Commissioner Darryl DeSousa. Of those four people, three have since been charged with federal crimes, and the fourth (Conway) is now out of office.
But while they’re now gone, we’re still here, stuck with a new police force that isn’t answerable to the public, alongside one of the most criminal police forces in the nation.
(Y’all seen the JHU Sit-In’s new social media campaign, by the way (https://www.facebook.com/TheGarlandSitIn/posts/493452527966365)? I haven’t taken the time to do it yet, but I’ma commit right now to sending in a video before the end of the year.)
Anyway, I don’t think I need to keep going on in this vein, we all get it. The people who rule over us suck, and as long as that’s the case, our collective needs deepen while our collective ability to meet them shrinks. Everybody knows that right now, shit is dark.
On the side of hope, well, the world is still turning and things are always changing, lately more so than ever, it feels like. Electorally, a great deal of turnover is guaranteed, or nearly so, this year — we’re getting a new representative in Congress to replace Elijah Cummings (special primary on Feb 4th!) and a new State Delegate to replace Glenn (though I agree with Represent Maryland that the process by which that happens is a problem, https://www.facebook.com/RepresentMaryland/posts/2496028340665270). The Mayorship and the Comptroller’s position are in play, and the City Council President’s seat will be in new hands (I feel like I’m not hearing nearly enough about that race, considering that our Mayors step up from that seat not infrequently), so we may have an entirely new trio at the top at City Hall. Three Council seats are definitely changing hands, with the departure of Reisinger, Clarke, and Henry, and most of the rest are in contention too.
Of course, a changing of the guard may, in the end, mean little or nothing, and we all know that too. Still, there are other big things afoot, yeah? The (supposedly, hopefully?) independent investigation of BPD is underway, the new Kirwan funding formulas for schools are about to be debated in Annapolis, the game-changing duo of jobs mobilization and climate action promised by the Green New Deal are being pushed at the state and federal levels, plans are being pitched to use the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund for actual long-term housing stability via land trusts and co-ops… there all these initiatives out there that could just maybe make progress on the things driving the darkness.
But maybe, as has been the case so many times in the past with good ideas, all of that will come to naught. Maybe there is no light about to dawn. Just because things are bad, that doesn’t mean they can’t get worse.
I wish I could have the same kind of confidence in which way Baltimore will tilt as I do in the tilt of the sphere on which we live. I can relax, at the solstice party, and simply enjoy the good company. What would it feel like if I truly believed that, unless we gave the celebration everything we had, the winter might never end? That’s a hell of a lot of pressure.
Who knows whether or not we can actually achieve our aims, whether we can play a role in bringing warmth and illumination, prosperity and peace, to our home. If enough of us hold vigil and actively work towards it together, maybe we can. Or maybe we can’t.
I would say that that’s where faith comes in, but I don’t personally have much of a sense of faith. I’m a committed agnostic — inasmuch as I believe anything, I believe that there are many things we simply can’t know. So, for me, continuing to show up isn’t actually about a belief that change is coming… rather, what motivates me is the belief that it’s worth fighting for change, whether or not it’s possible.
And ultimately, what gives me real hope is seeing all the many, many people who are also standing in the dark, lighting candles, singing songs, and believing in the light. Many have been out here in the cold for long years, others are just now stepping forward and figuring out what they can do. But it’s the communion that counts.
That feeling of togetherness in the struggle is what draws me back, over and over, to one of the few other rituals in my life — West Wednesday, Tawanda Jones’ weekly rally/protest/vigil for her brother Tyrone West, slain six and a half years ago by BPD (plus a Morgan State University cop), and for all victims of police violence. Opal has compared West Wednesday to church before, and, despite being an agnostic Jew, I feel that comparison strongly. While I don’t make it out every week, I know that I should, because being there brings me into community with others who believe in the better world that I believe is possible, and renews my commitment to playing a part in bringing it about.
Whether you’ve been out before or not, I hope you’ll join us for the next one. This coming Wednesday, January 1st, is going to be a special West Wednesday Speak-Out Session (https://facebook.com/events/2730155923690115). It’s the day that the new law ending gag orders for victims of police/city misconduct is supposed to take effect, but with the Mayor and the City Solicitor calling it an illegal law, people still aren’t free to speak about their experiences. So, while it should be a day of celebration, instead it’ll be another day of standing together to shame the establishment.
Starting at noon in front of City Hall, victims of police brutality and their families will speak about their experiences, and local leaders and advocates will read anonymous accounts from those who cannot share their own stories. All attendees will also be welcomed to speak during an open mic portion of the event, as they are at every West Wednesday, which is what I consider to be one of the most powerful things about it. Hot cocoa and cookies will be served.
Furthermore, and forever, until the day the travesty of his incarceration ends — free Keith Davis, Jr.!!
Cultural Event of the Week: Sometimes, Baltimore feels small. But any time I get that sense, I remind myself that it means I’m not trying hard enough to branch out, because in truth, Baltimore is much, much bigger than my bubble. Case in point, I love local theater and go out to partake in it not infrequently, but in all of its 15 years in existence, I have never once been to a performance by acclaimed local troupe ArtsCentric. I’m going to fix that this Friday when I go to see their production of The Wiz at @Motor House, which will be entering the second week of its four-week run. The MD Theatre Guide’s review raves about the “jaw-dropping visuals,” “gravity-defying stunt work disguised as dance,” and lavishes praise on the cast. (https://mdtheatreguide.com/2019/12/theatre-review-the-wiz-at-artscentric/). Excited!!
Green Event of the Week: Once a month, bicyclists gather at St. Mary’s Park (tucked away between Mt. Vernon and MLK) for an evening ride en masse. It’s a way to celebrate cycling, to enjoy the streets with a much higher degree of safety than is afforded by biking singly, and to draw public attention to just how many cyclists there are. They call it Baltimore Bike Party, and the next one is this Friday, 12/27. Gathering begins at 6:30, ride begins at 7pm. FYI, at one point, Bike Party operated like a Critical Mass event, where cyclists ignore red lights, but according to the FAQ on their website, they’re now obeying all traffic laws.