the Visionary Report: Superficiality of Peace Practice and Homeless Challenge
Reaching out and getting to know your fellow human beings –over time– can be crucial to evolving from our overwhelm, depression, and general feelings of powerlessness. Such can also be incredibly inspiring for our visions and projects! With that in mind, here are two ways (plus some suggested strategies) which I’ve personally and informally (not being a rep of some institution or ideology) gone out of my way to share with my fellow human beings, both in times of “extreme weather” and “everyday”.
A quick way to love elders
A few winters ago, remember when downtown was full of ice? The whole city was encased. Well, I was curious about it and went walking for miles that day. And along the way I met up with elders who for one reason had to walk around. And they were all finding themselves in a very bad situation. Well, I had some extra rope with me and had this idea to tie strands around their shoes, and give them traction.
Well, several folks were very visibly glad to have something that would help them avoid a fall which might well bring broken limbs! Plus, the *good feelings* I got from doing this for them –me, a total stranger, reaching out to my fellow humans–well, it gave me buoyance for weeks after!
Now imagine if WHOLE COLLECTIVES of peace-loving folks were to go out and do this kind of service to people as a consistent way to reach across gaps?!! It just takes a little imagination, especially if you’re a regular face to such people. Think about it!
Informal outreach in general
The second thing is the practice of reaching out to homeless folks that you find yourself resonating with. I’m not talking about reaching out to “just anyone”; I’m talking about taking your desires for treating humanity as you would like to be treated, and going beyond the confines of normalized interaction that we’ve all been programmed with! Beyond, even, the protest and letter-writing. Beyond the words. Beyond the games we play with ourselves. All to truly seed, and not merely superficially, the kinds of communities we TRULY want to have.
Take for instance my work in getting to know (and sometimes radically intervening with) various homeless individuals over the last few years. If you have a little “street-wise” consciousness and some integrity, you will be surprised how meaningful informal (in alternative to formal, institutional-style) outreach can be. And while I admit (and have openly said) to these folks that they’re often a little “too wild” for me, they are people too, and like you and I will hear you (IF you have a TRACK RECORD for practicing what you preach). You treat them with dignity and respect, and my experience is, over and over, getting that right back.
And it’s a good, rehabilatative feeling!
This rule has held true in various instances:
Awhile back when I intervened between some security guards (at a local grocery) and a man angry at their apparent institutional way of treating him. And it’s been true on the street when I am out sharing my art and various street-folks come by or hang out nearby. It’s also true when just “shooting the shit”–visiting with these fellow human beings (–whom have largely been getting “the shit end of the stick” in their experiences with shelters, organized housing, and the institutionalized mind-sets that come with them, like it or not).
But perhaps for some of you this sounds too simple. Well, I challenge you all to a dialogue! Come over to my blog and let’s “get into it”, how about that?!!
NO ONE EVEN ASKED THEM
Lastnight i got a chance to put my claims and feelings into informal practice yet again when i came upon some homeless folks i’ve been making friends with over about a year now. They consist of a woman and a man, one in a wheel-chair. I soon learned from them that apparently NO ONE HAD EVEN ASKED them about what they were going to do lastnight for safe shelter (as SNOW and weather in the teens was expected –and gotten).
Sitting with them and sharing my concerns, some food, and gifting them an emergency tarp (which had once been gifted to me), they began opening up more, beyond the usual superficial communications which are so “normalized” today; and which all victims of institutions and that alienation cult-ure are so used to. Most of you know what I’m sayin’, I figure: Passerby always seem to be in a hurry and “politely” asks a homeless person, “how they are”, hardly slowing down as they pass. And the game is, you pretty much have to reply “I’m okay,” or whatever, so you don’t “impinge” upon the “happy world” of such Nice People. (And so you don’t get the cops called on you)
Think about this. I’m probably not articulating it very well, but at least i’m TRYING. What are YOU doing?
Most people, including many “radicals”, seem to be so deeply oriented to this kind of “normalized” social superficiality, and accept such superficial “response” face value, that they don’t take the time to put themselves in the shoes of others. That’s what one of these homeless people said to me lastnight. The idea to treat others as they would like to be treated remains like some kind of intellectual thing. They simply don’t see what they do. And their priorities are fucked! (They gotta get to a movie they’re going to, or whatever, and empathy for others takes a back-seat!) And all of this SHOWS HOW MUCH PRACTICE IS NEEDED AND IS NOT BEING DONE (another reason, perhaps, to question politics and the alleged “consciousness” it brings).
FORGOTTEN HOW TO BE HUMAN?
This whole slew of assumptions and habits totally reminds me of that “chain-of-command” mentality that is so prevalent in urban areas; where unless some “official” authority is asking one to give money, write a letter, buy a newspaper, or some other superficial thing, all these “nice” “liberals” just will not go out of their way to even really really be human beings with each other! AS IF THEY DON’T EVEN KNOW HOW TO BE!!
For some reason, I’m continually suprised that in a neighborhood full of “ultra liberals” and “peace-loving” types, where you have signs and other emblems of alleged “care”, these middle-aged folks did not have a place to go to, a warm-enough place to go to other than taking shelter next to a building (outside) where they were talking about going to; (one of their regular sleeping places).
Maybe the lack of informal outreach is because so many of these “nice people” assume that homeless folks will seek help from one of the few institutions in town which have a number of beds and so on. Right?
What these otherwise “nice” neighbors don’t seem to “get” at all, though, is that many homeless people experience various dangers and problems amongst other homeless people in shelters and the authoritarian rules that come with them. Or problems with bed bugs and other similar things. And thus these “falling through the cracks” persons would rather risk frostbite or worse, than to stay in these institutional shelters!
ASSUMPTION #2, 3:
Crazy, eh? You probably just assume they’re batty. And because they drink (often to help ease the chill!!), and have attitudes directly reflecting from the perils of the street, all you “nice” people just walk on like any German in WW2 Nazi Germany.
All of this kind of attitude brings us back to just how meaningful and deep will be/are our current/future efforts to create alternatives amongst each other! Think about THAT ONE!
Are we going to do something qualitively different from the status quo????
I hear and read a lot of claims. But in actual, informal community outreaching–beyond the game of institutional subordination–it’s a damn lie! There I said it! Nothing new is happening here! It’s the same old game of sweeping whole groups of people out of your consciousness, while playing games like you “care”!
Here in the “middle” of the allegedly “most progressive” community in the u.s.a. and we don’t even have a systematic effort to informally reach out to our fellow people in times of extreme weather?
POSSIBLE STRATEGIES OF SOLUTION:
Neighbors communicate as a group with local homeless, seeing them regularly, showing human concern, and over time, offer a shower/bath once in awhile. And in extreme weather, give a couple or individual a night or two in a heated GARAGE (at LEAST!). Other neighbors stepping in with similar!
Local Radio Consciousness
While folks stay with you (in your garage or similar?!), bring them to KBOO for some sharing on a radio show.
Stay in touch regularly
The Street Roots project is one way to drop in and stay in touch; another is to merely give time to folks in listening to them. Not superficial (everyone can pretty much feel when that is!). Another would be to do little zines, asking folks to share their ideas, and encourage places for serious dialogue.
If we can “cut the shit” and speak authentically, while still holding our empathy intact, we could be adding serious depth to our claims of wanting sanity in this society. Until we have such dialogue, the superficiality of our relations will continue to tool us all.
More Alleged Problems:
You experience a lot of that, and of course, it’s easy to reproduce. Workers and homeless folks are similar here. The authoritarian order sucks. Without meaningful community and radical consciousness, we tend to merely continually reflect, reflect, reflect such, and don’t see the value of jujitsuing and playing-through such mind-set.
Always asking for “spare change”
One thing I’ve been telling people is that if they ask all the time for that, they shouldn’t be surprised that most around them will say anything to ignore them. This gets me to think of the problem of OBJECTIFYING each other. On the one hand, someone seen as having extra cash, and on the other, someone seen as forever asking and never becoming known to others in any other way.
My angle is to merely inform folks that they are “too wild” for me. I set my limits. If they value my bridging, they will consider it. I’ve seen this to be true *EVEN FOR* the “hardened drunks” that I know in various capacities. You show some humanity to them, and they will be surprised.
Taking advantage of kindness (in a cynical way)
A lot of non-homeless people ASSUME this kind of thing. But in my experience, it is mostly a belief resulting from our mutual alienation and how the media program us. I have met people who, for example, express their homophobia in my home. Well, I evenly say to them then maybe they should leave. They’re always free to leave.
There are tons of mutual fears that both homeless and non-homeless people harbor about each other. The trick is to liberate each other by moving beyond our prejudices, and listen to our EXPERIENCES with each other!
Okay, this is rather rough, and to be honest, I didn’t *really want* to write this that much. I’m still pretty pissed-off that so few seem to be looking out for others in any RADICAL way.