Inauguration Fever: Martin Luther King/National Day of Service

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Moving in a Straight Line ©2009 Liz Hager

We brave Massachusetts Avenue and the traffic jams at Union Station (hoards of people arriving today), then head SE down Pennsylvania Avenue and cross the Anacostia River. It’s a part of town none of us have ever been in. From the elevated overpass, we can see a small part of Anacostia Park below us. Anacostia is a very large park, which hugs the river for miles upriver. The park looks bleary in the hazy low-slung sunshine of the afternoon. The Pennsylvania Avenue overpass bisects the park, creating a no man’s land underneath it.  A collection of shabby buildings huddles together at one end of the park  and a sorry playground sits forlornly on the downriver side. With some trees standing along the river, this part of the park seems to be holding on to a last shred of dignity.  The river, industrial structures lining its shores here and there, chunks of ice bobbing along, definitely gives this area an aura of bleakness. It’s the dead of winter on the Eastern Seaboard.

We turn into the park and head towards the parking lot. 

Anacostia borders one of the poorest districts in Washington, DC.  The Anacostia River was once referred to as “DC’s forgotten river,” because of its state of severe pollution, caused by the dumping of raw sewage and industrial waste. Since 2004 a coalition of the willing—including No Child Left Inside, the National Park Service, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, and a number of Senators and Congresspeople—have banded together to spearhead clean up efforts. It seems that the Park too has its share of the audacity of hope.

A lot of us have come for speeches and a tree planting on this National Day of Service.  Senators Steny Hoyer and Ben Cardin are here. (Hoyer gives a truly impressive speech linking Martin Luther King’s legacy to all of us.) The formidable Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC’s representative without a vote) is here. Even former Mayor Marion Barry is here, his drug-related problems apparently behind him.  There has been a rumor that Obama might show up. That would be truly exciting, but we’re content to support No Child Left Inside and the Park Service, even if he doesn’t come. And, as big fans of Friends of the Urban Forest back in San Francisco, the idea of participating in a tree planting feels like a way to be a good national neighbor on this National Day of Service. 

A local gospel choir kicks off the event; their undulating sea of rhythm is infectious. Speeches follow—most are

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