Sunday, December 18, 2011

Go Away

Where did you go to shower this morning?  Whose toilet did you use the last time you needed to urinate?  Do you know where to find a stove or oven or do you have permission to build a fire where you are so you can prepare your next hot meal?  Do you have a permit for that?  Is there someplace you can sit without being asked to leave while you eat that meal?  A bed to lay down in when you've finished and would like to rest?

In response to the Occupy movement, laws that prohibit activities like sleeping in public, sitting in one space without moving for too long, laying down on a bench, and cooking or serving food have all been the justification for police state tactics at the hands of riot geared officers swarming into camps in order to evict protesters.  Even standing, as opposed to walking, on a public sidewalk has resulted in arrest.  What gets missed in reporting these incidents is the fact that homeless people were already subject to this sort of harassment and violence on a daily basis before the first Occupy tent was ever pitched. 

 Clothes drying yesterday in the sun on the plaza.

Estimates on the number of homeless people in the United States start at three million plus and go up from there, depending on methodology and what's defined as homeless.  No matter whose numbers you use, the unavoidable truth is that there are millions of Americans in this country who are neither fed nor sheltered on a regular basis.  The fact that many of them have shown up at Occupy encampments, including Occupy Nashville, that have sprung up in the past three months in support of the Occupy Wall Street movement should surprise nobody.  Why wouldn't they?  Occupiers have food and there is some perceived safety in numbers.  If I was living on the street, I think I'd surely consider it an option.

Practical considerations aren't the only reason, of course, that a homeless person would be attracted to an Occupy encampment; many of them are homeless because of the simple fact they are part of the 99% for whom our system hasn't worked.  We share an affinity in that we acknowledge the system is broken and that it needs to be changed.  We're in this together.  Proof of this is to be found in Occupy Nashville on Legislative Plaza, where the encampment shelters both some who have no other place to call home and those who choose to occupy as a statement of protest although they have a warm and comfortable bed elsewhere to go to.  ON is as strong as it is in no small part because some people are not only homeless, but are also highly respected and hard working members of this movement.

Yet, the issue of homeless people has been used in attempts to dismiss this movement.  Hardly a day passes in which I don't hear someone say something about Occupy along the lines of, "It's just a bunch of homeless people."  The clear implication,  of course, is that if you're "just" a homeless person, you have neither grievance nor right to redress.  Nobody is "just" anything, of course, but if you can marginalize what you don't like or feel threatened by, you've a much better chance of making it go away.  That's what's really going on when people imply that there's something wrong with the fact that there are homeless people who are part of the Occupy movement.

Community sign at Occupy Nashville.