This past Saturday, June 24, I biked to Baltimore and back, ultimately biking 72 miles round trip. But, what is a weekend privilege for me, is far different for day laborers who work at Camden Yards, home of the Baltimore Orioles major league baseball team.
Earlier this month, I was in San Francisco and met up with old friends originally from the DC/Baltimore area. Among them is the folk singer Ryan Harvey of the Riot Folk collective. He urged us to come out and support the day laborers at Camden Yards. Without a second thought, I committed myself to getting some of my friends up to Baltimore, something DC activists very rarely do.
Day laborers at Camden Yards, organizing in a worker co-operative called the United Workers Association, have been in a struggle for human rights and visibility. When the struggle began, they made $5.25 an hour, paid by the stadium authority. A living wage in Baltimore is estimated at no less than $8.85 an hour. The owner of the Baltimore Orioles, Peter Angelos, promised the workers to make up the difference. Though wages were subsequently raised to $7.00 an hour, Angelos reneged on his promise. What's more, workers at Camden Yards are forced to take a one to two block bus ride at a cost of $6.00, driving their average pay to $5.80 an hour. Day laborers at Camden Yards are told to keep out of sight and have been told that when eating, to eat in the bathrooms. While the players union looks out for their own, they have shown no interest in joining the workers struggle, though any pay increase for the workers would have virtually no effect on their own already bloated salaries.
The United Workers are not a formal union, as I understand it, but they are truly a union in the deeper sense that it belongs to the workers themselves. The day laborers themselves organized the march last Saturday, and we all joined them in solidarity.
The action consisted of an overnight vigil in front of Angelos's offices in a large downtown Baltimore office tower, followed by a pancake breakfast, and then a long, slow moving march back to Angelos's office. Unfortunately, more day laborers could not join us because although the originally scheduled 1:30 PM start time for the Orioles game had been pushed back until 4:30 PM (already a setback for the action), the Orioles forced the day laborers to show up at 11:00 AM, the same time they would show up for a 1:30 PM game. They are not paid for time that they are waiting to work, and so the workers had to wait presumably for hours before being put to work. This kept the protest not only away from Camden Yards (due to the delay in the start time) but kept more workers from joining their own action.
Many of the Baltimore activists and workers seemed to appreciate the 10 or so of us who came from Washington to join them. We really appreciated being there to listen, learn, and join in solidarity.
There is audio from the action; I can't tell you who the voices are due to the fact it appears on pirate radio, but maybe you can figure it out. If you do, maybe you can let me know.
Let me finish by saying that the action was supported in solidarity by the Weekly Action Group of the DC Anti-War Network (DAWN). I mention that because just two nights before, DAWN had organized another home demonstration at the home of John Negroponte. Some would say we no longer have a focus, but tell me what the point of focus is if we lose sight of people who ask us to support them and are working themselves on a just cause. It seems to me that the witness of Carlos Mauricio in Negroponte's driveway talking about torture that he holds Negroponte accountable for is directly relevant to the injustice that day laborers suffer due to our thirst for the expensive entertainment that is major league baseball. It's not that baseball doesn't provide jobs; it's that it at the same time caters to an image of the good wholesome America, one that simply does not and should not exist. As a result, those deemed unworthy are marginalized, and they no longer matter. If they are forced to eat in bathrooms, if they are tortured in El Salvador or Honduras, what does it matter? Having opportunities like we had in Baltimore, besides great networking opportunities, gives us the hope to shine a light on a new focus -- that focus is that war and other injustices arise from mostly the same sets of causes. We give those causes names like capitalism, hierarchy, patriarchy, but we see vividly how they play out so similarly whether locally or across the globe.
Anyhow, I want to thank the United Workers for all that they do and thank my friends here in Washington for joining me in supporting their action.