All of the great movements in history--and especially the unsung, small ones--start with an idea.
Like I said in an earlier post, the idea came to me while I was
staring out my window watching the neighborhood over a cigarette and a glass of wine. People of all walks of life walked past the window. And somehow the idea of starting a neighborhood group to tend the block popped into my head. I felt in my gut that it was the right thing, so I thought about how to design it.
The scope had to be limited enough that we knew we had achieved something but big enough that it seemed worth the time. We had to be proud of ourselves at the end of our workday. So, I decided to set the scope to this: one hour, one block. We would work for one hour every Sunday at 3PM. We would clean and tend the block of Second Avenue between Blanchard and Bell. When we were done, we would have a beer.
Another key component of the idea was that no one is in charge. We are a collective and we work together as volunteers. We let each other share our gifts. Also, anyone who wants to help would be welcome. If you couldn't show up one week, that was okay, too. We would give ourselves permission to be human and work as much as we were able or willing.
I will admit, I was a bit nervous to share the idea. I had no clue as to whether the idea would resonate with anyone else but myself. I took courage and started sharing it. To my surprise, people liked the idea and started talking to other people. I originally wanted to name the group People's Republic of Belltown, but someone else said it should be People's Belltown Republic (or PBR in honor of Pabst Blue Ribbon). Since we would have a beer afterwards, it seemed like a good name to me.
Eventually, I seemed to have a core of folks who were interested. Each person had unique backgrounds and gifts: computer guys, a carpenter, a handyman/espresso/neighborhoodperson, an environmental scientist, a college student, and a consultant were interested. That was enough for me. I set a date and got everyone's contact info.
We would start next Sunday. I made a commitment to myself to be there rain or shine, cleaning and tending the block. Although I was resolute, I was still nervous. Would anyone show up? Would it actually work? Was I crazy?
The day of our first meeting came. The minutes counted down and I went outside to see if a crew showed up. To my surprise, people did!
We decided as a group that we would walk the block and pick up trash. Then, we would work on a project. We chose the flowerbed at Second and Blanchard in front of the closed Crocodile Cafe as our first project.
After filling two large leaf and garden bags with trash, we began to work on the Croc's flower bed. We started by raking the trash out of the bed. Note that we raked all of the leaves out before we touched them--needle sticks are a definite possibility in an urban garden.
While we were cleaning the bed, we made up a game to see who could find the best trash. I forget who won, but on the first day we carried out a total of five bags of trash, including:
* Two crack pipes
* A syringe
* Six lenses from broken sunglasses (now you know where those hide).
* Many broken lighters.
* A bunch of beer cans, particularly Ice House and Joose.
* A crapload of plastic wrappers from cigarette packs.
Our hour was up. We spent way more time gathering trash from the bed than we thought it would take, and there seemed to still be more layers. We dusted off our hands, washed them carefully, and grabbed a barstool at Shorty's.
People's Belltown Republic was born.
- B. Wonder Jones