When I left my brother’s place after our New Year’s dinner, I was tired, the temperature was dropping, and the wait for the bus seemed long. I stared at the Transit app on my phone, but the 71B was not moving on the map, the driver probably on his short break, the bus sitting a few blocks away, up near the Highland Park Reservoir. I had to fight my sleepiness, my desire to relax into my phone, Twitter, Facebook, the never-ending possibilities of passive consumption of news, editorials, commentary, retweeting other people’s thoughts and work rather than staying alert, paying attention to what was happening around me, at this bus stop, this street, these people passing down Bryant toward the interactions at the little restaurants and bars and corner stores and homes that helped make this neighborhood a good place for my brother to live.
When Brian gave me the Lyft to my brother’s home earlier in the day, he had asked me what this blog was about. I told him how in November of 2013 the newly elected Mayor, Bill Peduto, had invited our fellow Pittsburghers to apply to join eight different Transition Teams to consider the various challenges of City communities and government.
“Consistent with my long-held vision to open up city government to the public, I invite all city residents to apply to join our transition teams and become a direct part of building a new Pittsburgh,” said Mayor-Elect Peduto.
Almost 1100 Pittsburghers had applied to join the Transition Teams, the Mayor had accepted them all, and they had divided themselves into 47 subcommittees. In one month, those hundreds of people had produced many hundreds of pages of recommendations that the Mayor called his “blueprint” for change after the transfer of power from the administration of Luke Ravenstahl to his own. Weenta Girmay and I had started the Buses Are Bridges blog to map that transition, to track the progress of change, to engage Pittsburgh residents who would be affected by those changes – or lack thereof – and to record voices that had been left out of the Transition Team deliberations.
Now, I had told Brian, the Mayor is running again. And I’ve been part of his administration. He appointed me to the Pittsburgh Commission on Human Relations, which upholds civil rights law in the City, educates Pittsburghers about their rights, addresses intergroup tensions, and attempts to build intercultural understanding. I share responsibility for how things have gone. I’m really concerned about how they’ve gone. Seems like a good time to start trying to understand how we’ve gotten to where we are, and where we’re going.
But also, I told him, as an activist, so much of my life is spent fighting against injustice. I want to focus more attention on what I’m fighting for, the people and everyday life of Pittsburgh, all the stories that I hear and see on the bus, at bus stops, and yes, on Lyft and jitney rides – all those “in-betweens” as well as the destinations, our movements and waitings together on the way from here to there that embody so many of the critical concerns, differences, conflicts, compromises, and struggles to live together with some sort of fairness and caring as we transfer between geographies, neighborhoods, cultures, classes, and identities.
I did not tell Brian that I had let the blog lapse two years ago partly because telling true stories had become so much more difficult and complicated after my appointment to government. Or that I had been impelled to start trying to do so again after the recent revelations of our Mayor’s dealings with Uber in the figurative back rooms of exclusive email communications that had shut out his fellow Pittsburghers from the government he had promised would be transparent, accountable, inclusive.
It seemed to me, it seems to me as I now think about the latest news from Rich Lord regarding the active solicitation of campaign contributions from developers by the Mayor’s Chief of Staff and Chair of the URA board, that along with many sincere efforts and hard work, the Peduto Administration has echoed the patterns of the national Democratic Party in adopting the rhetoric of inclusivity and visual appearances of identity diversity even as it has colluded with the powerful, wealthy corporate forces and capitalistic systems that throw their weight to overbear the scales of all power relations, as we continue to carry forward grossly disparate impacts on the most vulnerable of the “protected” classes, as the most basic human needs and rights are often swept aside in the rush for profit under cover of technocratically polite language, as technological innovation, market forces, big development, and neoliberal “efficiency” are valued over the most basic fairness and compassion.
As I got off the 71B at Fifth Avenue and waited to transfer to the 64, as I reflected on my New Years Day, it seemed to me that my silence over the past two years has most surely contributed to that set of choices in this city. I now serve as part of a government that I can no longer claim is democratic.
As we wait for the transfer of power to our new President who far more impolitely and openly tramples forward the neoliberal agenda, as the glaciers melt, as tornadoes and hurricanes and drought and wildfires sweep across many thousands of communities across nation and globe, as our polluted water and air poisons us, all stakes for silence seem far higher. It seems more important to look closely and say openly what we have left in the dark: our own participation in the erosion of our rights and liberties and abilities to survive on this planet as a social species.
It seems more important to me to value each other and the daily texture of our lives together, no matter what happens in the future, to value this now that may soon be gone.
So, this blog won’t be polished. It will be an imperfect, fragmented record and a celebration and a mourning for what I see and hear and care for with my fellow Pittsburghers as we travel across and express what this city is and what we are.
When I got off the 64 on Shady Avenue and walked up toward the home where I rent a room, I was once more struck by the beauty of the big old sycamore trees that line the street, these trees that breathe so hard each spring and summer. The trees are bare now, but they are the bones that hold up our world – each future leaf one tiny engine of life for us all.