Marchers express fear, rage Schmoke delivers impassioned speech

May 17, 1992|By C. Fraser Smith | C. Fraser Smith,Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — A photo caption in yesterday's late editions misidentified Osborne Elliott, one of the organizers of Saturday's "Save Our Cities" march on Washington.

WASHINGTON -- They came out of civic pride, out of anger and out of fear. They came to say that Baltimore and other cities are part of America and must be saved, whatever the cost.

They came to say that cities are people, full of life, capable of dreaming and still willing to believe in brotherhood.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

But they came without illusions. They heard an impassioned Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke say during a speech on Capitol Hill:

"We don't want to have to burn our cities. This is a matter of national security. Love us! Love us as much as we love you!"

As many as 7,000 from the Baltimore area came here yesterday to join thousands of others in the Save Our Cities/Save Our Children march. They came in station wagons, cars, vans and buses.

Their number included artists, state employees, high school teachers, university presidents, clergymen and even a contingent of homeless people. They came, some of them, to affirm a belief in a system and in a lifetime of struggle for social justice.

"I've been marching a long time," said Phyllis Felton, a 41-year-old Presbyterian clergywoman and black community organizer. "I've sat in, stood in, stood on my head. I don't perceive that we will change [President] Bush's heart today. But it is part of the witness.

"A lot of the world is telling us, there's no point. The world needs to see the energy that happens when we come together on a common ground."

Mrs. Felton came with her daughters, Elena, 7, and Nichelle, 16. They drove from their home in Perring Loch to a church parking lot on Hanover Street in South Baltimore, where they climbed onto one of 95 yellow school buses that departed from virtually every neighborhood in the city. Some 3,800 men, women and children came in the buses alone.

"I came to wake the politicians up," said Abdullah Shakir, a 35-year-old Marine veteran and maintenance supervisor.

The politicians could listen to Mary Francis Garland, a South Baltimore resident and neighborhood activist:

"Republican administrations have turned their backs on the cities for 12 years. When are they going to take responsibility? I don't think there's been a dime spent on public housing in years. The neglect has not been so benign."

And to Curtis L. Price, a 35-year-old homeless man, too ill to work and unable to find housing except at missions:

"The homeless have a voice, too," he said. Like many others here yesterday, Mr. Price asked why the federal government was sending money to foreign countries when it cannot provide housing at home. "If you can't make yourself smile," he said, "what can you do for others?"

And hear Irene Callahan, 50, an English teacher at Mercy High School. She marched for housing here two years ago.

What had resulted?

"Nothing," she said.

Yet she was back. "Always hopeful," she said. "We see all the injustice around us. It's hard to know what to do if you're not in a position of power -- except to band together."

In a sense, speakers and marchers said, the rally itself was an important result, whether or not the Congress and the Bush administration produce the $35 billion or $50 billion commitment that various speakers demanded.

"We need to build bridges across our communities so we can get strong enough to deal with the issues. Black, brown, red, white -- they're all here. The diversity here is incredible," said Liz Scott, an official of the Coalition of Peninsula Organizations in South Baltimore.

"We have looked the other way too long," said James W. Rouse, former head of the Rouse Co. and now director of the Enterprise Foundation, a housing program for the poor in Baltimore and other cities. Mr. Rouse spoke to the throng on Capitol Hill as they waited to march on toward the Washington Monument, the central rally site.

"We're all saying the same thing," said Boston Mayor Raymond Flynn, an organizer of the march, who was standing near the Baltimore contingent listening.

"Solutions exist," Mr. Rouse said. "This is a very serious business we're about today, more serious than Desert Storm. Nothing has been proposed that in any way matches the seriousness of the problem."

And listen to Mary Slicher. She can explain the seriousness. As director of People Lacking Ample Shelter and Employment, she has dealt with homeless and jobless men and women like Curtis Price every day for 19 years.

"We've had tremendous cuts in our programs," she says. "Our priorities are just so backwards. We need to put our resources where are needs are -- and I think most Americans feel that way."

She came to the rally yesterday with Claire Overlander, a friend from Newburgh, N.Y. Ms. Slicher was wearing a Save Our Cities T-shirt made in Baltimore. Ms. Overlander's shirt featured a Picasso drawing of Don Quixote, ready for the next challenge.

"This is very empowering," Ms. Slicher said, looking up the hill leading to the base of the Washington Monument. Every inch of ground was covered with marchers.

"It's a statement of civic pride," said Tom Chalkley, a writer for the City Paper in Baltimore and one of the march organizers. "We're saying we believe in cities.

"We're not throwing in the towel."

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