As she walked to school Belle Fraser heard rumbling sounds.
”It’s all over bar the shouting”, commented a passerby.
Catching his eye Belle shook her head exclaiming “Not if I can help it.”
“Yeah right kid.”, the man chuckled.
the rumbling was being caused by heavy earthmoving equipment. Contractors were starting demolition work at the top end of Grace Street. City Hall called it gentrification.
To the local community it was corporate invasion.
Belle’s family had been involved in the Save Grace Street campaign. Yet to her annoyance they’d insisted she go to school.
It was the same for her friends. They all agreed that it wasn’t fair. Especially when the adults had organised a protest.
This part of town had long been earmarked for development. That gentrification word again. It would mean saying goodbye to some special people. Like old Mr Scarrow who kept pigeons, He’d been awarded The Congressional Medal Of Honour for saving fellow soldiers during the war. it wasn’t right for a Congressional Medal holder to end up getting bulldozed out of his home. She wondered how the President would feel if The White House got bulldozed. The First Lady would probably cry. Still, it was awfully big for just one guy and his wife, even if he was the president. Perhaps they should consider developing that instead.
Her best friend Tracey was waiting at the corner, They could see Mr Scarrow up on the roof. He was releasing his favourite homing pigeon Anzio.
Across the street Miss Masie who ran a homeless shelter sent another of her boys on his way, As usual he left a new man, tidied up, wearing clean clothes, with a note for the Job Centre and a cut lunch. Miss Masie‘s sandwiches were to die for.
After this demolition where would her boys go and what about Mr Scarrow’s pigeons?
In place of these quaint old buildings City Hall planned to erect office blocks and fancy apartments. Place where homeless men and pigeons didn’t belong. Even if the pigeons belonged to a war hero.
Being bundled off to school wasn’t right. Her parents had dragged her along to all the campaign meetings, and claimed to be progressive.
By now they’d been joined by other kids who felt the same.
”Denying kids a voice isn’t progressive.”, she exclaimed.
Tracey nodded. “We should be allowed to protest too. This affects us too.”
The others agreed. As one girl put it “They’re always saying how we’re the future generation.”
Their deliberations became a quick meeting, after which they adjourned to Belle’s house.
By now the rumbling had ceased, giving way to a chorus of raised voices. As Belle rummaged around in a storage cupboard the others talked among themselves.
”Our parents sound angry.”a girl exclaimed.
“It’ll be all on when the cops arrive.”, one of the boys ventured. “We should make a move Belle. Otherwise we’ll miss all the action.”
At which point Belle had her brainwave. Turning to them she exclaimed. “Never mind wasting our time tussling with cops. I propose we march to City Hall.”
To further emphasise this she pulled a familiar banner from the cupboard.
”I can’t believe the adults didn’t take this, but now we can use it.”
Emblazoned across it were the words
SAVE GRACE STREET
HANDS OFF OUR NEIGHBOURHOOD
It’d seen action in earlier stages of the Save Grace Street campaign. Mr Scarrow had donated the material. Real parachute material he reckoned, in memory of the fellers who didn’t make it back,
“Do you mean Vietnam?”, a boy asked,
Tracey rolled her eyes. “No silly The Second World War.”
“That’s where he won The Congressional Medal Of Honour for saving all these soldiers.”
The boy looked impressed. “Cool, just like on Forrest Gump.”
Tracey gave a sniffle. “That’s just a made up story. Mr Scarrow got his medal in real life.”
Not to be outdone the boy retorted.
”That’s still like Forrest Gump.” He was a war movie buff.
”Who cares”, Tracey exclaimed. “I agree with Belle about marching to City Hall.”
All but a couple of doubters agreed. In their opinion marching on a bunch of boring city officials couldn’t be as exciting as a protest where cops‘d be involved.
”It’s not meant to be exciting.”, Tracey expounded “We’re trying to make a point.”
”We could kidnap the Mayor for ransom.”, one of the boys suggested. “Except the ransom can be leaving our neighbourhood alone.”
Belle humoured him saying she’d keep that one in mind,
They set off chanting and singing. A few adults joined in, having peeled off from their protest.
Up on the roof Mr Scarrow watched the banner approaching. It’s bold letters stood out in defiance of injustice. Like his fallen comrades who’d died fighting for what was right. They would’ve been proud of young Belle. She called up to him now.
”Come and march with us Mr Scarrow.”
”Please Mr”, added the war movie buff. “Belle says you got a real Congressional Medal Of Honour.”
”Oh yes” Tracey pleaded “and could you please wear your medal.”
It’d make a great story to tell her children when she grew up.
Mr Scarrow had to smile. Young Tracey Stewart was a hard case alright. He called down.
”Now how can I turn down an invitation like that? Give me a second and we’re in business.”
The Mayor and Councillors were engaged in a heated debate. Police had been called to a rowdy demonstration uptown. Meanwhile an equally rowdy lobby group had turned up. Their spokesperson exclaimed.“We demand that work in the Grace Street area be put on hold until we have time to petition the U.S. Supreme Court.”
They’d already failed in their bid for a Federal Court injunction.
No one paid much attention to what began as almost a whisper in the background.
Then a clerk happened to glance out the window.
”Excuse me Mr Mayor” he mumbled ”but I think you need to take a look out here.”
From the street below came the unmistakeable sound of chanting.
“Hands Off Grace Street. Save our homes.”
Nevertheless the Mayor asked. “Is that really necessary.”
”I think so, begging your pardon sir.”, the harried clerk replied.
With a sigh the Mayor rose from his seat. Several councillors followed him to a window facing the street. Below them a body of marchers converged upon the building. In the lead two teenage girls carried a banner. Between them marched an elderly man. The sun reflected off a distinctive medal pinned to his chest.
”The Congressional Medal Of Honour.” The Mayor felt his heart miss a beat as a fresh round of chanting floated up.
”Hand off Grace Street,”
”Stop the demolitions.”
”Re- develop The Whitehouse.” , shouted ransom boy.
”Can it nerd.”, hissed one of the girls. ”You’ll have us locked up for un-American Activity. This guy McCarthy did that to heaps of people.”
”Yeah”another boy added. “I read about that kind of thing. You get blacklisted and stuff.”
A knot of journalists were gathered at the entrance to City Hall.
”We’re going in.”, Belle announced.
Two deputies were swept aside as the group surged into the foyer.
Mr Scarrow reckoned it was just like going into battle. While ransom boy asked if they were really going to kidnap the Mayor. He pictured himself on Death Row.
”We could get the chair for this.”
”They stopped using that ages ago dumbo.”Tracey hissed.
”Well we could get what they use instead.”
As they reached the Council chamber doors Belle exclaimed.
”Look, no one’s getting kidnapped and no one’s getting executed. OK.”
Then she pushed the doors open.
”Now stop right there.”, gasped the Mayor. “We’re in the middle of a meeting. You can’t just barge in here.”
”We’ve had our meeting”, Belle replied“and we voted to come here.”
Deputies hurried to intervene, but were rendered helpless at the sight of Mr Scarrow’s distinctive medal.
”Grace Street’s our home”, Tracey added, drawing herself up to full height. “None of us want to move and why should we?”
”Yeah”, piped up ransom boy. “Tell them not to knock down our houses. Then we won’t kidnap you for ransom.”
“Shut up nerd.” hissed another boy “Or they’ll arrested us for un-American Activity. Then we really will be executed.”
Even the Mayor had to laugh at this exchange. Meanwhile the press converged upon Belle the obvious ring leader.
”Grace Street’s our home”, she replied knowing this was also going out live on TV. “All we want is to stay together in our neighbourhood. We’re a community. Mr Scarrow’s a Congressional Medal Of Honour winner. Where will he find another place that lets him keep pigeons?”
’Where indeed’, mused a young journalists as camera bulbs went off and attention shifted to the Mayor.
”Well sir, in the face of such public concern what does City Hall intend to do?”
The mayor thought for a moment. Mindful of the upcoming elections he couldn’t afford bad press. Veterans’ groups would demand his resignation if he allowed a holder of The Congressional Medal to be displaced,
”Er.....yes”, he muttered loosening his collar. “We were in the middle of debating that very question.”
As several councillors indicated a willingness to change their votes he went on to say that given such widespread opposition demolition work would be put on hold pending further discussions.
”There are other sites we could consider......”
Meanwhile observers had left the public gallery to join the throng surrounding Belle. Already journalists phoning stories in were referring to The Girl Who Took On City Hall, and the TV contingent were referring to a teenaged community activist.
While a child asked wide eyed? “Have we won?”
”I think so dear.”, one of the journalists replied.
“Neat”, came the whispered reply. Then turning to Belle “don’t you think Belle?
By way of reply a smiling Belle lifted the child into her arms, swinging her around as onlookers including some councilors clapped and cheered.
”I second that”,Tracey exclaimed. She was already picturing herself as mum telling her children about the day they saved Grace Street and her best friend Belle took on City Hall.
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