Over the past month, the residents, myself, and a variety of other volunteers experienced the transformation of Riverdale from a mobile home community to an Occupy-style encampment and finally to a pile of rubble surrounded by a barbed-wire fence. It remains a sacred space.
Hands Across Riverdale began with a vigil, and progressed into twelve days of relentless protection of the space and the families who were unwilling or unable to relocate. Security shifts were established to prevent Aqua America’s contractors from entering the site. The park was cleaned; gardens, stoves, and toilet facilities were built; barricades evolved. I learned how to use semicolons. (Just kidding… I’m pretty sure that I still don’t use those right). One trailer was transformed into an infirmary and another into a media room that buzzed around the clock with press releases, Twitter updates, Facebook posts, and even a live video stream that kept me riveted to my computer, yet completely distracted from my day job, as state troopers finally arrived on day 12. They cleared the way for Aqua’s construction (destruction?) crew, which leveled the mobile home park immediately.
Victories are imminent but elusive. Thanks to our presence, Aqua’s lawyers finally met with the residents’ representation on day 11, and a deal was negotiated. However, we continue to wait for signatures on paperwork that will solidify the arrangement. It has been several weeks now.
Today, several families, including children, are still inside the park, guarded by two burly men who don’t allow the current residents to have visitors. One former resident was not allowed inside to retrieve her bathtub. She tried to remove everything that was valuable to be sold as scrap before her newly remodeled home was demolished by Aqua’s contractors. As one resident described the 24-hour construction lights, “It doesn’t even get dark around here at night.” The struggle continues.
On a final note, this experience was unlike anything I had ever dreamt of, and it was (and continues to be) the finest part of my summer. United against one opponent, barriers that may have existed between residents, volunteers, and neighbors dissolved immediately and completely. I heard tales of Riverdale as a marvelous place where folks fed one another’s kids, built porches together, and then drank beers together on aforementioned porches.
We continue to meet for potlucks on Sundays to plan our next move. Keep an eye on SaveRiverdale.com for updates.
Kelly Finan is a traveling illustrator/graphic designer looking to fill a specific niche: art to make the world better. You can check out her work at www.kellyfinan.com.