SINCE THE 1950s I've participated in most of the civil rights and anti-war marches on Washington, as well as a few anti-poverty, labor solidarity, women's rights and gay rights marches.
I did not, however, join the May 16th "Save Our Cities -- Save Our Children" March on Washington. I didn't have the heart to.
It was not because I don't agree whole-heartedly and unreservedly with its message: demanding that our "representatives" in Congress and the White House revise spending priorities from the military to the civilian sector, especially to the needs of inner-city youth. As a matter of fact, I labored quite diligently on the October 12, 1991 "Save Our Cities" march, the inspiration for which was an article columnist Tom Chalkley published in the City Paper in June 1990.
The vision Chalkley expounded was that our cities are being starved of federal funds that have been wasted on fabulously expensive armaments to defend ourselves against an enemy that no longer exists. Instead of impotently shrugging their shoulders while dutifully overseeing the steady deterioration of our city, Chalkley called on our mayor and City Council to mobilize the entire city to march on Washington to demand a reversal of priorities.
This did not happen in either the October 12 or May 16 march. In both instances, the demonstrations were organized by a few dozen very hard-working, dedicated volunteers. At most, the city government was "helpful" as the politicians modestly accepted yet another opportunity to be "honored" guests. Both marches were bastardizations of Chalkley's vision.
The SOC committee had the moral authority to demand that our mayor and City Council show some real leadership and commit the entire resources of our city to educate, organize and mobilize our citizens to march on Washington.
The politicians who "supported" the march should have had to actually do things to make it happen. (Besides the mayor, who had to be there to speak, whatever happened to the rest of our elected "leaders" -- city or state?)
The march should have been more than a last minute media blitz by folks who found temporary religion after the L.A. uprising. Here is what such a commitment would look like:
The mayor would direct his board of education to send a memo to every city school to form SOC committees composed of students, teachers, parents and community people. These local SOC committees would be supplied with factual literature already developed by the Baltimore City Development Commission as to who pays what taxes and how the rich get away with paying so little compared to Canada and Western Europe and Japan -- as well as how our tax money is being diverted from schools and communities to armaments, the S&L; and banking bail-outs and to pay the national debt.
School assemblies, forums, debates, book reports, etc. would bring the vital information to our children for the better part of two semesters. Similar letters would be sent to local private and parochial schools.
The mayor and City Council would send a similar letter to every community, religious, fraternal, lodge and youth organization, as well as to every trade union in metropolitan Baltimore, urging them to join SOC committees to educate, organize and mobilize their constituencies.
Those of us who have worked on SOC marches would be recruited as forum or assembly participants and advisers.
With the mayor and City Council cutting public service announcements, TV and radio sound bites, with press releases, newspaper feature articles, interviews and talk radio going out in a steady, unfolding stream, the entire city could be mobilized for a common cause when it is needed most.
Mayor Schmoke is on record as demanding that Democratic leaders "become more aggressive and positive" and "display a sense of urgency" in reacting to the plight of our cities.
Such a spring '93 march would mobilize 50,000 to 100,000 or more Baltimoreans and neighbors, carrying such signs as "P.S. 64," "Coppin State," "Steelworkers Local 2609" -- all demanding to "Save Our Cities -- Save Our Children."
Then I might have a real problem trying to decide what contingent to march with -- probably the City Wide Insurance Coalition's.
A. Robert Kaufman is a longtime Baltimore community activist.