There are a hundred unique and compelling stories that make up the transformative magic that is Riverdale. Here’s just one: A young man who lived in the park with his wife and children, who works for a fracking-related company, and who has become one of the most industrious, imaginative, and just plain helpful members of the Riverdale Community. I cannot offer this man’s name–this might jeopardize his job, and he needs the money to pay for the move forced upon him by Aqua America/PVR. But I can tell you about the transformation I have witnessed in him. Let’s call him “Evan.” Evan works in an auxiliary capacity for “the gas.” Doesn’t matter what he does really–he’d rather, I think, be doing almost anything else. But Evan loves his wife and kids–like lots of husbands and fathers do, and he is trying his hardest to take care of them.
Evan came out early in the occupation of Riverdale–angry, frustrated, pained at what had become of his home. Not only had he been forced to evacuate his family, he had lost his community, his friends–and he wasn’t having it. He kept coming back to Riverdale–and pretty soon it became clear that it wasn’t just to retrieve his stuff. He wanted to talk. He wanted to DO something. And Evan thinks pretty big. Indeed, one evening (well, wee hours of the morning) Evan and I, and another community member found ourselves chatting about what could be done with the remaining shambles of his mobile home–about how the roof could be transformed into a really big mural with some text about Riverdale–and he simply came alive with ideas about how this could all be done.
So this morning, 6.8.12–and the eighth day of the occupation–seriously EIGHT DAYS (Yeah, that’s YOU I’m talking to Aqua America), I found Evan, his daughter, and one of our young adult community members working our a plan for a series of brightly painted panels–each of which named a profession of one of the park’s remaining residents. “Mother, ” “truck driver,” “school bus driver,” “veteran”…all painted in sky blue, iris purple, buttercup, and blade-of-grass. These “murals” were a magnet of activity–from young folks painting out the letters, to little kids with their hands all-a-gigglin’ elbow deep in paint buckets–to make sure they got enough to make nice big vibrant handprints.
Under the sun, occupied and laughing, some excellent breakfast in our bellies thanks to the Riverdale cooking team, this morning was simply magical.
And what made it even better was that yesterday many of our barricades were destroyed. We could have become demoralized. We could have become lethargic. After all, living in a deliberate community of conscience is, while awesome, not easy. We could always just give it all the hell up.
But that would just not do. It would not do for Evan–who is now as essential a member of this community as are any of us. And it would not make any sense. Instead of becoming demoralized, we got paint. We made plans. We DID something, and when Evan gets off his shift today, well, I really wish I could just be there to see his face when he sees the handiwork of his own beautiful children on the face of the new barricades. Whoever could deface these–I just couldn’t understand.
And I guess that’s the thing–I said to someone today who had asked me when I needed to head home that I needed to go and spend a little time in my “real life.” But I could not have been more mistaken. Riverdale–like my life with my animals, talking to my mom, Skyping with my kids, teaching my students, or holding hands with my squeeze IS my real life. In fact, it’s becoming painted–just like those handprints–right into my soul.