The Light of Fair Development Shines On!
The March to Occupy GGP was a glorious demonstration of determination, hope, and solidarity. Low-wage workers, faith leaders, students, community organizers, and activists gathered at an elementary school in West Baltimore to prepare for the four-mile march to occupy the Inner Harbor mall. We were joined by many of our allies from Baltimore and beyond, Media Mobilizing Project, Poverty Initiative, Picture the Homeless, Community Farmworkers Alliance, Good Jobs Better Baltimore, Another BDC is Possible, Unite HERE!, and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers traveling all the way from Florida.
We could not have asked for a better day, clear and bright, like the message we were sending to General Growth Properties: two years of ignoring the problem of rampant human rights abuses at your malls is unacceptable, it’s time to put your house in order and ensure workers’ human rights to work with dignity, healthcare, and education.
With that message in mind, we set off from the elementary school. Just blocks from the school, we approached Mondawmin Mall, one of six GGP malls in Maryland. Harbor workers and families led the march right into the mall singing “This Little Light of Mine, I Am Gonna Let it Shine!” We disrupted this temple of consumerism charging it with the energy of the beloved community. And just like a flash of light, we went in one door and out the other bound for the Inner Harbor.
Our march route connected us with a Baltimore much different from the Baltimore showcased to tourists in the heart of our city. But as the heart of our city, the Inner Harbor does not act like most hearts, pumping blood throughout the body down to the last fingers and toes, rejuvenating the entire body with necessary nutrients. No, this heart is a heart that only pumps one way, to the top.
As we marched down historic Pennsylvania Avenue, Baltimore’s African-American entertainment midway where Billie Holiday used to perform at the Royal Theater, we saw a city that had seen better days, but we were greeted with overwhelming expressions of solidarity from people on the street. One woman who used to work at the Inner Harbor making less than minimum wage, told us to ‘go get’em.’ One driver rolled down the window saying thank you repeatedly as she drove past the march. Marchers passing out fliers got into great conversations with bystanders who related with the message of freedom from poverty and Fair Development. In a city that has been devastated by poverty, we were not simply shining a light on the problem, but letting the light that exists within to shine through.
We kept marching, across Martin Luther King Boulevard, down Eutaw Street and past another historic and thriving Baltimore landmark, Lexington Market. In contrast to the branded space of the Inner Harbor, Lexington Market is the original festival marketplace, a commercial, social, entertainment, and transportation hub for the city. Once again, bystanders demonstrated overwhelming support for the march as we got closer and closer to our final destination, the Inner Harbor.
We arrived at last at the Inner Harbor. While tourists and consumers were surprised and entertained by our energetic spirit and music, Harborplace management were very prepared and not at all entertained. Instead of allowing the peaceful march to flow through their mall carrying the message of Fair Development, they decided instead to shut-down the mall. They locked and barred all the doors, trapping consumers inside the mall and locking consumers out, save one heavily guarded door. Ironically by shutting down their own mall, their actions were more disruptive to business than our actions. It is telling that they would rather shut-down the mall rather than engage workers and the community. Instead of coming to the table with workers, they send security to monitor and shadow our actions.
However, what their actions do reveal is that workers and allies are being heard. We wrapped up the March to Occupy GGP with words of solidarity and a recommitment to the fight for Fair Development. As Luis Larin, United Workers Leadership Organizer, stated, “the march might be over, but the fight goes on until human rights are respected.”