It’s not often you can use sidewalk chalk on the middle of a major street; yet in the sleepy beach town of Carpentaria, this was exactly what happened. When I popped off the Amtrak Surfliner Saturday afternoon, I was surprised to see Linden Blvd. shut down in an effort to create a public park for the day.
The worldwide initiative 'Open Streets' was started three decades ago in Colombia. It aimed to transform major streets in local communities to public parks for a day. From SBOpenStreets.org “ [Open Streets] has now become a growing international movement to allow communities to temporarily transform our streets and use them as a public space for all sorts of exercise and social interaction, making communities stronger and healthier!”
I kept walking off the train and stumbled onto Chalk4Peace. Since I am a man who feels very comfortable using sidewalk chalk at 27, I began drawing. I should clarify, I didn’t draw. I’m probably one of the most artistically challenged individuals you’ll ever meet. Because of that, I just wrote the word empathy. I feel like I’m a good writer, so I went with words. If you had chalk in your hand, what would you have drawn? Anyway, Chalk4Peace aims to ‘draw the world together,’ inviting anyone to create pictures of whatever they want on the asphalt. It is primarily aimed towards young artists; this is crucial to nurturing peaceful mindsets from a young age. After talking to the local organizer John Aaron, he informed me that they used this platform at the United Nations in Washington D.C. last year as well as Ferguson, Missouri two years ago. The activity is simplistic, yet powerful.
From there I passed large chalkboards with the phrase ‘Before I die I want to’ on them. There you stand, in front of a large chalkboard. What would you write? I had a lot of ideas, but the space was pretty tight. I found a small space and wrote ‘get published.’ Not my best idea, but it's from the heart. Hospice of Santa Barbara put on the initiative as a way to talk about death; however they weren’t the ones to create this idea. The idea belongs to Candy Chang of New Orleans who created this initiative after she lost someone she loved.
To round out the afternoon I went over to KCRW’s tent- a local NPR affiliate. They have a new wrinkle to their news program called 'Curious Questions' which focuses on questions related to Ventura and Santa Barbara county. I couldn't resist asking about homelessness. I approached the microphone and asked them about the growing homelessness epidemic. I focused on adequate access to mental health care and how the cities are addressing the growing homeless issue that plagues Southern California. The complexity of homelessness was too much for me to fit in a simple question, but the idea is now out there. Hopefully they'll look into it.
I asked one of the producers at KCRW how Trump’s proposed budget cuts will impact their product. He was optimistic: “Our fingers are always crossed for funding, but now they’re a little tighter.” His positive outlook reflected the atmosphere of the event, and at a time where our country is still starkly divided, this event brought everyone that much closer.