A look at one of the lessons being learned from the Occupy movement. From Barbara Ehrenreich at Mother Jones:
What the Occupy Wall Streeters are beginning to discover, and homeless people have known all along, is that most ordinary, biologically necessary activities are illegal when performed in American streets—not just peeing, but sitting, lying down, and sleeping.
It is essentially illegal to be homeless, especially in public.
What occupiers from all walks of life are discovering, at least every time they contemplate taking a leak, is that to be homeless in America is to live like a fugitive. The destitute are our own native-born "illegals," facing prohibitions on the most basic activities of survival. They are not supposed to soil public space with their urine, their feces, or their exhausted bodies. Nor are they supposed to spoil the landscape with their unusual wardrobe choices or body odors. They are, in fact, supposed to die, and preferably to do so without leaving a corpse for the dwindling public sector to transport, process, and burn.
Society acknowledges a "homeless problem," but fails to recognize that the problem is growing, and that more and more folks who were once middle class are joining the "problem." Homeless people are supposed to stay out of sight, and stop reminding the lucky ones that they could be next. The lack of awareness is also attributable to a level of shame that prevents those formerly middle class folks from admitting to their homelessness.
In Portland, Austin, and Philadelphia, the Occupy Wall Street movement is taking up the cause of the homeless as its own, which of course it is. Homelessness is not a side issue unconnected to plutocracy and greed. It's where we're all eventually headed—the 99 percent, or at least the 70 percent, of us, every debt-loaded college grad, out-of-work school teacher, and impoverished senior—unless this revolution succeeds.
Amen. Let us hope that more and more people begin to talk about it, own up to it, and make it a mainstream issue.
cross-posted at MainSt/workingamerica.org