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Wednesday, June 08, 2005 | By NEIL SENTURIA

I had the occasion this past Saturday at 6:30 a.m., along with 1,200 other concerned volunteer citizens, to participate in the 14th annual Operation Clean Sweep. There were several locations being worked on, and our particular venue was Chollas Creek near 32nd and Main Street.

The creek was filled with litter, trash, mattresses, food wrappers, clothing and tires. The quality of the stuff was not as remarkable as the amount. Chollas Creek was clearly being used as a universal dumping ground.

There is nothing like bending over to pick up trash with your hands to awaken one’s zeal for environmental care and relief. It makes it real personal when you are doing the picking up yourself. It is different than writing a check to the Sierra Club. It is different than being intellectually in favor of the environment. There is nothing cerebral about gathering trash one garbage bag at a time.

I was struck by the various and varied constituencies. I worked alongside people of all colors and ages. Sure, we all felt good doing the right thing but there was a darker side to this. Under the bridge, we could see multiple homeless housing developments. People live under the bridge in their own San Diego cardboard or grocery cart version of two bedrooms and a den, and Chollas Creek is their personal dumpster. But the amount of trash was so great that it could not have come only from those homeless. It came from all over, and dumping the trash in the creek seemed like a statement, an angry cry perhaps, from many of the disenfranchised in our city.

There is an organic inter-related nature to something big like a city – jobs, affordable housing, food and health care. The list is legion, and we have all heard it ad nauseam. But to create meaningful solutions, I suggest to our leaders in the city government: Come on down next time, and pick up some trash. It gives one a real good perspective and makes issues very real – not in a political way – but in a visceral way.

At 6:30 a.m., bending over is really good exercise for the brain and the soul.

Neil Senturia is married to Barbara Bry, Voice of San Diego editor in chief.

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