Guest Editorial by Sura Faraj, Chair Riverwest Neighborhood Association

Neighbor. The word has a sweet sound. Our neighbors are people we see and know and share concerns with. Or are they?

Recently, my mother fell in her backyard, twisting her ankle. She called out for help. Fifteen minutes later, a young man, one whom my mother described as “a guy with a lot of metal in his face,” came over and helped her up and into her house.

I think of the “Good Samaritan” story, and the correlation to today’s culture. 2000 years ago, the Samaritans were considered less than equal, an underclass or underculture. The same is true today, though different people play that part. We still have racial, class and culture divides right here in Riverwest.

It’s heartening to me to see my elderly mother being treated with respect and dignity by a neighbor whom others might dismiss as a punk or a menace.

Also heartening is that many of you came out on a cold January night to have a voice in your neighborhood by voting in the first contested election for leadership of the Riverwest Neighborhood Association (RNA). I am privileged to have been elected chair at a meeting that drew a record 250 people. And I’m proud of my neighborhood, who rose to prove that we are still active and caring, and will show up to defend and engage in our community. Whichever way you voted, you came out for that core reason. You have Riverwest pride!

And the vote brought us something else. People outside our neighborhood took note – we had citywide candidates campaigning at the meeting, media attention in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and the Mayor’s office showing interest. It reinforced that we still have an undying commitment to participating when it counts, and others know it.

Now the difficult work begins. How do we keep the energy going? It’s easy to get people out for one big issue. But for RNA to be representative of the neighborhood, we need many people to be involved.

And here you are.

Over the last weeks, many of you have called me, emailed me or stopped me somewhere in the neighborhood with your ideas. You’ve talked to me about volunteering, about helping with mailings, fundraising, rummage sales, Spanish translation, gardening and other projects.

Keep those ideas coming. If you have a skill and you want to share it with your neighbors, show up and tell us. If you need help with a project, ask. Get involved to preserve our green space, join your block club, donate money or go for a walk with the Riverwest Walkers. First and foremost, we are a neighborhood of individual people who can enrich each other’s lives, sometimes simply, sometimes deeply.

When you came out last month, you did it to ensure a vital, people-powered organization and to affirm a strong neighborhood voice in shaping our future.

You came out to say, “We are Riverwest,” and not just a low-rent option for those who wish they could live elsewhere.

You came out to preserve our neighborhood culture, to confirm our Riverwest traditions and progressive and inclusive values.

Young people came out to say, “This is our neighborhood too.” Some of you have been actively engaged in the Cream City Collectives or the Riverwest Food Co-op (thank you!) and some are still waiting to be engaged. We need you to continue to lead us with a fresh vision of justice and action. Riverwest should be a trailblazer in intergenerational organizing.

Now here’s a reality check. Many of us boast about living in an integrated neighborhood. Let’s make sure our organizational structures, our work, our play time and our block clubs reflect it. We clearly have work to do to be more inclusive on both class and race lines. I’m inviting discourse and action on this.

The RNA is a people-powered organization, and aside from a few details, you all have the same power that the board does. So I encourage you to step up, have your say, and come to meetings. The people who show up really do make the decisions. Let’s be those people!

Let’s be neighbors in the sense that the young Riverwester who helped my mother is, seeing the concerns of people who aren’t just like us. Let’s act in concert for the good of all of us, not just a select few. To be a real progressive neighborhood, we have to love all our neighbors.

And you know, we have that kind of power when we come together.

The next general meeting of the RNA is Tuesday, February 13, 7 pm at La Escuela Fratney, Fratney Street School, 3255 N. Fratney St. Enter on Pierce St. just north of Auer St.

Riverwest Currents online edition – February, 2007