On a crisp fall morning full of promise, about 250 residents of Baltimore took the first steps today toward what they hope will become a national movement to rescue cities from federal neglect.
After a rally at Carroll Park in southwest Baltimore, the activists began what for 30 to 40 of them will be a three-day, 38-mile walk to Washington.
The rest, including Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and former Rep. Parren J. Mitchell, walked shorter distances today. They will join up to 10,000 people Saturday for a Save Our Cities rally at the U.S. Capitol.
At Carroll Park, Schmoke became emotional during his speech and had to step away from the microphone. He took off his glasses and wiped his eyes as others on stage put their arms around him.
He had just said that, in looking out over the crowd, he saw people who were in the coalition in the 1950s. Then he stepped back. After several seconds he returned to the microphone and said he meant the coalition of the 1950s that had fought for civil rights.
People were in the crowd, Schmoke continued, who were in coalitions in the 1960s and 1970s. And now these people were part of the diverse coalition involved in the growing movement to save the nation's desperate cities.
Schmoke, Mitchell, City Council President Mary Pat Clarke, Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, D-3rd, Rabbi Ira Schiffler and others spoke about misplaced priorities among the leaders in Washington.
Their message, and the overall message of the Baltimore-based Save Our Cities campaign, is clear: Restore federal money for education, housing, health care, environmental protection, community development and job training in the cities.
Local officials say that federal aid to Baltimore declined by 75 percent, if adjusted for inflation, between 1980 and 1990.
The entire crowd at Carroll Park, estimated at 250 by police, marched across Monroe Street onto the sidewalk of Washington Boulevard and south toward Washington shortly after 9 a.m. Schmoke, Clarke and Mitchell helped carry a banner that proclaimed: "Save Our Cities, Baltimore March on Washington."
The 30 to 40 marchers who planned to walk all the way were to continue along U.S. 1 to Savage. Tomorrow, they will walk to College Park, and then to Washington on Friday. They will spend the nights in halls and churches.
In Washington on Saturday, they are to walk to the west side of the Capitol for a three-hour rally of speeches and entertainment beginning at 11 a.m. They figure to be joined by thousands of people who will drive or take buses from Baltimore, and by delegations from cities throughout the United States.
About 40 buses will take people from Baltimore to the rally. Most buses will leave Memorial Stadium at 9 a.m. Saturday. People can call 342-7404 to reserve a seat on a bus for $5.
Saturday's rally, which will feature Schmoke and Mitchell, among others, will be a prelude to a national Save Our Cities march on Washington in April sponsored by the U.S. Conference of Mayors.
The march on Washington from Baltimore was the brainchild of Mitchell, a Baltimore Democrat who retired in 1986 after 16 years in Congress. He and Sister Katherine Corr, director of Baltimore Jobs with Peace, are co-chairs of the march.
About 125 churches, community organizations, agencies, colleges, unions, boards, business associations, public officials and groups of all kinds endorsed the march and contributed money to help pull it off.
Sandee Lippman was one of the walkers who planned to trek all the way to Washington. She is an editor for an educational software company dedicated to improving literacy.
Asked today why she decided to walk, she said she couldn't answer without crying. And she did cry as she said that people out there have no opportunity to improve their lives, that some working families are homeless and raising children on the street, that people with AIDS are not getting help, that people are not being taught how not to get AIDS, that drug addicts aren't getting treatment, that unemployed people aren't getting jobs.
But basically, she said, summing up everyone's message today: "I just can't stand the suffering any more."