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Oh, USA

by MISSY BEATTIE

Beat-up little seagull
On a marble stair
Tryin’ to find the ocean
Lookin’ everywhere

Hard times in the city
In a hard town by the sea
Ain’t nowhere to run to
There ain’t nothin’ here for free

Hooker on the corner
Waitin’ for a train
Drunk lyin’ on the sidewalk
Sleepin’ in the rain

And they hide their faces
And they hide their eyes
‘Cause the city’s dyin’
And they don’t know why

Oh, Baltimore
Man, it’s hard just to live
Oh, Baltimore
Man, it’s hard just to live, just to live

Get my sister Sandy
And my little brother Ray
Buy a big old wagon
Gonna haul us all away

Livin’ in the country
Where the mountain’s high
Never comin’ back here
‘Til the day I die

Oh, Baltimore
Man, it’s hard just to live
Oh, Baltimore
Man, it’s hard just to live, just to live

~~“Oh, Baltimore” by Randy Newman

As my friend Steve and I headed to Occupy Baltimore, I could hear Nina Simone, singing this mournful song.  I’ve listened to her unique presentation over the years and have lived in this city during two different periods of my life, once for 13 years and, now, since 2007. But I became acquainted with the lyrics prior to meeting Baltimore and before I knew that there are many Baltimores throughout this country, so many cities and towns, diseased and dying, places where “Man, it’s hard just to live, just to live.”

Baltimore’s occupation site, McKeldin Square, is at the Inner Harbor, a tourist area, and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has threatened to end the live-in. Like many mayors, she’s equivocated.  Cunning, they. And in a quandary. Because if they issue an order to shut down, the people will gather in greater numbers.

Rising from the ground not unlike sailboats dotting the Chesapeake, the encampment tents are colorful, assuming an energetic vitality.  The space is clean.

Steve and I walked through, stopping to read signs and talk with people who represent a cross-section of society—from the young to the elderly.

I spoke with a twenty-something-ish man who said an agenda is discussed and changed nightly.  He talked about “local concerns.” For example, a top priority at this site is education inequality.  That there’s money for a huge prison complex but not for the public school system. And another problem, the many empty houses in a city known for homelessness.

When I expressed my aversion to co-opting, he said that a “representative” from MoveOn came but that the group wasn’t interested. Then, I asked if he’d been involved with the antiwar movement.  He replied that his life is a testimony to peace.

An older man and former veteran engaged in a thoughtful dialogue with Steve and me, even inking in his notebook what we agree are the most pressing issues—that the greedy Wall Street bankers (bailed out by tax dollars) who perpetrated the crimes resulting in foreclosures, homelessness, loss of health insurance, and a collapsing economy have not been arrested and charged with fraud, but instead have continued to profit financially with lavish salaries, bonuses, and lifestyles, and the second: corporate personhood. We explained that huge corporations and their donations to political candidates have rendered the voice of individuals meaningless, creating a political dysfunction benefiting only the 1%.

And there’s this:  I’ve said previously and still believe that the protests would be more effective at Wall Street, realizing though that most people can’t afford to travel to New York City.  But donations to the Zuccotti Park group exceed $450,000.  If some of this money were used to bus people (those who’ve lost their livelihoods as well as all the college graduates who can’t secure jobs) from encampment locations to Manhattan, the impact on Wall Street would be enormous. Plus, the contribution shouldn’t be deposited in a bank, where it could be seized by the security state in the post-9/11 reality, one in which those who organize to oppose the ruling class might be labeled anarchists.

Because,“Man, it’s hard just to live, just to live.”

Cities are dyin’.

And we do know why.

Missy Beattie can be reached at missybeat@gmail.com

 

Missy Beattie has written for National Public Radio and Nashville Life Magazine. She was an instructor of memoirs writing at Johns Hopkins’ Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in BaltimoreEmail: missybeat@gmail.com

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