Can it be a happy anniversary, if it was twenty years ago today that police in Philadelphia dropped from a state police helicopter a satchel of explosives on a house on Osage Avenue?
And killed 11 people, destroyed 60+ homes, and left 250 people homeless?
If mayor W. Wilson Goode was "saddened" by reports of the fire's spread, beyond the bunker that was supposed to be the target?
As Alice Walker wrote from Paris in response to the bombing of the MOVE house, "Every bomb ever made falls on all of us."
It was what has become a classic case: MOVE members disliked the norms of society, chose to live another way, and brought down on themselves the anger and frustration of those around them. They wore their hair in dreadlocks (which other residents of their middle-class neighborhood thought odd and unclean). They espoused a back-to-nature lifestyle (which other residents thought dirty and smelly). They argued against the way children were taught and kept them out of schools (which made them truants). They rescued stray dogs (who barked at night, disturbing their neighbors). They broadcast their arguments over a bullhorn (which drove their neighbors insane). They did not pay utility bills and breached housing codes (which merited arrest warrants and later the bombing of their house).
Do you remember what Police Commissioner Gregore J. Sambor said from his bullhorn on the morning of the bombing?
Attention, MOVE. This is America. You have to abide by the laws of the United States.
Or what one of the neighbors of MOVE said afterwards?
It was well worth it, because they're out. We'll be back and we'll be a community again, without MOVE.
Or do you remember the event at all?
Well, at least some people in Philadelphia are still talking about it, trying to make sense of the events, the media coverage, the memories and their lack. And Democracy Now featured an interview with the only adult survivor of the incident, back on the 15th anniversary. And there is a protest in Philadelphia tomorrow commemorating this anniversary.
If you go back and read some of the newspaper accounts of the event, you will be struck by how they present MOVE. There is no attempt to understand the group’s aims: they seem loony, radical. And if the event had happened today, they would no doubt be called terrorists.
For starters, check this one out from the Washington Post on 15 May 1985:
Members of MOVE live by a bizarre medley of philosophies that translates to the outside world as foul-smelling, unsanitary and violent.
Difficult to label, they have been described variously as a radical primitivist or back-to-nature sect and as armed anarchists and revolutionaries.
The little group was founded in 1972 by handyman Vincent Leaphart, a black third-grade dropout, and Donald Glassey, a white college teacher with a master's degree in social work. Their first home was a ramshackle Victorian mansion in Powelton Village, a university bedroom community of west Philadelphia known for its tolerance of counterculture movements.
For counter balance you might read Marpessa Kupendua and Alice Walker.
And as Laurie Anderson might say, "In our country you're free, and so you're born, and so, they say, you're free. So happy anniversary."