What an extraordinary weekend! It ended Sunday with a picnic in Collier Park where some of us personally remembered and we all celebrated a watershed event in Ocean Beach’s history. That event of course was the people’s victory over the planned development of the last remaining acres of open space out of the sixty acres which David Collier had originally deeded to the children of San Diego in Ocean Beach.
There were children in Collier Park on Sunday—seven year old Mackenzie climbing trees and jumping with boundless energy from trees and Haley providing a thoughtful synopsis of Carl Hiaasen’s book Hoot. I doubt that the circumstances that created the park were much on their minds, yet their very presence today was a testimony to Collier’s intent and the stubborn visionary spirit that existed among the young people of OB in 1971.
The celebration in Collier Park was a testimony to the meaning and impact of the people’s history, as the late Howard Zinn described and revered it. We were lucky to have among us a number of those individuals– Frank, Pat, Doug, Colleen—who helped write that history. For the remainder of us who weren’t living in San Diego at the time, or too young, or not yet born, this particular chapter in the people’s history of Ocean Beach has now become part of our communal memory.
The people’s history and communal memory are inseparable. This was an extraordinary weekend because it began for me on Friday with a poetic tribute on the centennial of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. None of the fifty people in the Central Library downtown was alive at the time of the fire, yet we sat and we listened to Jerome and Diane Rothenberg, Eleanor and David Antin, and David Matlin as they read about and ruminated upon this event. We were drawn into an intimate space where we could contemplate the necessity of action in the face of injustice; we were reminded of the fragility of a human life that can be extinguished within minutes and the human resiliency and courage which can change the course of history; and we were challenged to think about the provenance of ordinary objects.
I was not alive when the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire broke out. I was not living in Ocean Beach when my coevals were shaping the future of their community in astounding ways. But I was a friend of Jihmye Collins, activist artist poet, who died unexpectedly recently. The City Heights Performance Annex—a unique facility within our library system—provided an opportunity to celebrate Jihyme’s life and accomplishments this weekend.
Over a hundred of us sat together to bear testimony to the people’s history and the great stature of one of its leaders. I was surrounded by men and women dressed in sumptuous African fabrics, and listened as members of the African American Writers & Artists, friends, students and community members spoke, danced and sang tributes to Jihmye’s bright spirit. I particularly remember the words of fifteen year old Marsella Alvarez. Her parents had enrolled her in a program which Jihmye taught and over time he told her, to her great joy, that she was a writer. Marsella’s voice caught and paused before she continued that Jihyme had taught her poetry–a five year old Mexican girl who could neither speak nor write English—and how that had made all the difference in her life.
The people’s history. Communal memory. We continue to stitch together the story of our lives in this glorious and too often ignored undertaking. For most of us, it’s simply our ordinary life. This weekend has reminded me that it is more than simply our ordinary life. The words of Howard Zinn hover around me, reminding me that it’s the people’s history, it’s my history, and it’s your history. It’s our history. And we are still making it.