Baltimore, MD – The historic civil rights organization, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), houseless members of the community and activists, have erected a tent city outside of Baltimore’s City Hall. They are demanding a Racial Equity Benefits Agreement to “structurally address economics, criminal justice, and housing“, pushing a shift in policy making from the city council to grassroots organizations.
This campaign has been compared to the the Poor People’s Campaign of 49 years ago also by SCLC (formerly led by Martin Luther King Jr. and Ralph Abernathy). Both organizers and houseless folks are camping out and plan to stay until their demands are met.
Activists are calling the occupation of the square outside of City Hall, Tent City, and are working closely with the unhoused community, who are the ones who have committed to risk arrest by participating in the camp (legally it is closed after 10 p.m. each night).
The main demand is to create a Racial Equity Benefits Agreement in which grassroots organizations would get to create legislation to address root causes of poverty and violence, that city council could only vote on without making an amendment (demands below).
Decades of neoliberal policies, gentrification, redlining, and disinvestment have caused extreme disparities between races in Baltimore city. “Baltimore apartheid” is what Dr. Lawrence Brown, of the Baltimore Bloc, calls the cause of these divides in a city where Black residents make up 63% of the population. Baltimore Bloc is “a grassroots collective of friends, families & neighborhoods; united to decolonize communities & organize for kujichagulia.”
In a study put together by the Racial Wealth Divide Initiative (PDF), researchers state that the average white household makes nearly two times more income than the average Black household and the unemployment rate of workers of color is three times higher than that of white folks.
Given these massive disparities, one of the demands of Tent City is a $2 billion Racial Equity Social Impact Bond. See the image below for a breakdown of the details of that bond that includes $842 million for lead paint removal and $500 million towards disinvested neighborhoods.
Tent City has been up for a full week as of Sunday, August 20th. In a Periscope video taken by Dr. Lawrence Brown (see below), houseless community members living in Tent City approached different workers from the City Hall within Mayor Catherine Pugh’s Office as they left City Hall and attempted to speak with them about their worries and issues.
This action is seeking systems change from the local level and to create a better living for those facing economic challenges. Kenneth Gwee of the SCLC said that they are hoping to “shift power to the poor people, those that are the least among us will be made first.” Gwee continued, “we’re here to make that justice and make a reality.”