Response to Disillusioned Leftists

Today I read this article and felt I needed to address a few things.

I do agree with the author that some folks do become pretentious about their activism. These “allies” seem to only be in it for brownie points.
But I disagree with their assessment of marginalized people they’ve worked with. The author claims:

one of the first things you learn is that they usually do not frame their worldviews in terms of academic theories you learned in gender studies classes in University. For the most part, they tend to not analyze their experiences in terms of systemic power and privilege, concepts such as “the patriarchy”, “white privilege”, or “heteronormativity”.

I’m aware that not all people are cognizant of how these forces affect their lives. However, I’ve been homeless, I’m a victim of abuse and I’m mentally ill. I absolutely think of my oppression in those terms. My social circle, which compromises of people dealing with several forms of oppression, also know their situations are due to patriarchy, power imbalances and such other concepts. We absolutely DO bother with policing our language. Marginalized people are capable of perpetuating bigotry. We absolutely do educate ourselves “on the intricacies of capitalism.” We do “sit around pondering the effects of “problematic behaviours” in radical communities.” We are concerned with checking our privilege. For one example, I have light skin privilege. While I do experience racism, my light skin is seen as non-threatening. I can easily find make up for my skin tone.
Yes, I am extremely busy trying to survive and get my family’s needs met. But I know the reason I have such a battle ahead of me with these things is because of systemic inequality.

Speaking of Fascism, there is also a disturbing trend on the left nowadays that involves rejecting free speech/freedom of expression as a core value, because that speech could possibly be hurtful to someone, somewhere.

Because we’d like oppressors not to have a platform to speak their bigotry is NOT an example of rejecting free speech. One recent example is Richard Dawkins being disinvited to speak at the Northeast Conference on Science & Skepticism. His right to have bigoted beliefs isn’t being taken away. The government isn’t taking away his Twitter account. So, his free speech isn’t being violated. He has a right to his opinions. I have a right not to listen to them.

Freedom of expression and the like does not mean we have to agree with what another person says…in fact, it means that when we do not, we certainly have the right to challenge it. But what myself and many others are seeing is the shutting off of dialogue entirely, for the purpose of “safety”. What could possibly be safe about censorship? What could possibly be safe about a group of people who claim to be freedom fighters dictating who can speak and what can be said, based on whether or not we agree with them? Study any kind of world history and you will find that censorship has never been on the right side of it.

I agree we don’t have to agree with what another person says. However, I do not want to engage with a bigot. And yes, that is entirely for the purpose of safety. My not wanting to speak to a bigot is not censorship. Again, see above for my explanation on free speech.

Now, the ending paragraphs of this article deal with trigger warnings and safe spaces. The author asks that we “stop with the trigger warnings and get serious about changing the world”. I am completely serious about changing the world, and one way to do that is to make it safe and accessible. Asking, for example, that a class syllabus have trigger warnings makes it possible for someone with PTSD to plan around their study time. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities. If a college class is then made inaccessible to someone with a mental illness, how is that not violating that person’s right to an education?

We are fully aware the world isn’t always going to be “fun and pleasant”. I mean, we have PTSD so, yeah we are more than aware. I am always scared but I continue with my activism because, pardon the cliché, I need to be the change I want to see in the world.

Author, you seem to think marginalized folks aren’t activists. Your article comes off as ableist because you’re asking for people not to ask for and use an accessibility tool I.e, trigger warnings.
Your tone comes off as condescending because you’re assuming marginalized folks don’t think about their situations as part of systemic oppression. Which is also classist because you talk about “university educated activists” as if marginalized people don’t also attend university. Or that university is the only way to become enlightened of these issues.

Response to Disillusioned Leftists
{advertisement}

I am not your Teaching Moment

I’ve recently come across two well-meaning but horribly misguided posts concerning homeless people and I’d like to discuss them here. The first deals with a care package and the things it can contain. I’ll explain why some of the things inside aren’t a very good idea.

blessing-bag-contents21

“Blessing Bags” to keep in the car when you pass homeless people. Something special you can do with your children or grandchildren to teach them about caring/giving for those in need!
Gallon Size Ziplock bags
Chap stick
Packages of tissues
Travel size toothbrush and toothpaste
Travel size mouthwash
Comb
Soap
Hotel size shampoos
Trail mix
Granola bars
Fruit cups
Crackers
Pack of gum
Band aids
Coins or predetermined dollar amount, say 5.00 (could be used to make a phone call, or purchase a food item)
Hand wipes
You could also put in a warm pair of socks
A packet rain poncho
Tampons (for women)

The ideas could be endless!

Assemble all the items in the bags, and maybe throw in a note of encouragement. Seal the bags and stow in your car for a moment of providence…or….drop some off at a food shelter place.

The toiletries and socks are a great idea. Those are always needed. Feeling clean and warm is so important in feeling human. The menstrual products are a good idea too, although I would suggest asking the person you intend to give them to if they’d prefer pads. Foods like the ones in this list and shown in the above picture are good to donate to food shelters, but they should be avoided as hand outs because you never know what allergies a person may have. Sure, they could just say no thanks, but unfortunately a lot of people don’t take very kindly to a homeless person refusing help. Even if it could be something that could potentially kill them. Giving money, or if you feel weird about that, offering to buy the person some food is usually a better way to go.

I would rather not be used as a lesson in kindness for your children. I’m a person, not a teaching moment. It feels incredibly condescending to me. “Here’s this person that needs help, let me parade them in front of Jimmy so he can see just how kind I am? Aren’t I kind? Where is my kindness cookie?” It feels like you aren’t helping us because you want to, but rather because of how much you can pat yourself on the back afterwards. Which brings me to this post I found on Facebook. It’s a pretty long post and I’ll be addressing the points that I feel miss the mark, to put it kindly.

I spent Friday on the streets of Portland and learned so much. Here it is:

1. It’s not a big deal to hold a sign asking for money, because everyone ignores you. I found an unoccupied corner right off 405 and stood there for an hour holding a sign saying ‘Local business owner trying to understand our homeless problem. All funds to be donated’. Nobody made eye contact with me. They fiddled with the radio, texted, looked everywhere else. I did make $25.52 in that hour, thanks mostly to one woman that gave me $20. All the people that gave me money were women. I plan on donating $250 to Sisters Of The Road in honor of this experience.

To the people who stand out in whatever weather with their signs, it’s a big deal. Whether they’re ignored or not. Feeling ignored isn’t a very nice feeling especially when you’re in such a vulnerable position like asking for money from complete strangers. 

3. I saw a man washing his clothes in the Saturday Market fountains. He then laid them out to dry in the sun. They looked great! I was impressed.

You’d be surprised how crafty and resourceful homeless people become. 

4. I had some wonderful conversations with complete strangers. I wore my ‘Kindness Matters’ t-shirt and a woman commented that kindness is often mistaken for weakness and we had a deep 5 minute conversation on the philosophy of kindness on a street corner. I now also know everything about poodles, the breakdown of society in Somalia and the different types of immigrants (economic and political). These were deep, smart conversations.People are very lonely and just wanted someone to listen.

So then they’d become bit players in your pat-on-the-back story of kindness. She had a FIVE minute conversation but it was so deep, y’all.

5. It’s exhausting being homeless. My body hurts from walking and carrying a backpack. There’s nowhere comfy to just relax. By 4pm, I was exhausted and took a nap on a park bench. All of these years, I thought that the people sleeping on the sidewalk in the day time were just totally strung out druggies. I’m sure some are, but the people I met told me that they sleep during the day because it’s safer. They can’t rest as deeply at night and they are tired! After one day out there, I was grumpy, tired and dehydrated. It sucks! I can’t imagine the toll that a week out there would take on a body and spirit.

Oppression is not a costume. At the end of your day, you were able to go home and eat well, sleep in your bed and not worry if you’d eat the next day. Homeless people do not get that luxury. How incredibly generous of you to concede that not all homeless are “druggies”. So what, should those particular homeless people with drug addictions not be given the same consideration? This is why I’m wary of this post. When you so flippantly refer to people with an illness as “druggies”, you’re only adding to the stigma. 

7. Nobody tried to sell me drugs but 3 people asked me if I had some for sale.

Explain how and why this is relevant.

8. I fell in love with Portland in a whole new way. This city is alive and I felt alive in it. I saw a TV show taping, dancing in Directors Park, a dude beautifully playing a flute in front of Powells, three different music acts at the Bite, a miniature stonehenge made out of bananas, numerous history plaques, another band and the movie Grease on Pioneer Square. I walked by hundreds of people on their phones missing the whole thing.

 This sounds a lot like a platitude. There is no beauty in homelessness.

10. There are different groups of homeless. There are those interested in drugs down on the waterfront, there are those with mental illness wondering around everywhere, but most of those I met were having a crisis of spirit and trying to find themselves. There was an executive from Seattle whose life fell apart when his wife left him and he is trying to pick up the pieces. There were many people here from other cities because Portland is a great place to be homeless. I understand this after spending a day falling in love with the city too.

Drug addiction is a mental illness, dearie. “Portland is a great place to be homeless”, this is where I would flip my laptop over but I won’t because I can’t afford a new one. Listen, there is NOWHERE ON THIS EARTH where it is great to be homeless. There may be places where there is better access to resources and help, but that does not mean that it’s a great place to be homeless. You spent one day out in the city. You do not know anything about being homeless. You spoke to a few people, but you haven’t spent days starving, wearing the same clothes, hoping someone, just anyone will give you a few bucks for a cup of coffee. You know nothing, Renee Spears. 

11. What can we as a city do? Clearly we need to address the bigger issues of poverty, mental illness and addiction but we can do better right now. We need more public restrooms. There aren’t enough and they are too far apart. We need more water fountains. We need a public laundromat and bathing facility. We need a public place for people to come in from the elements and relax in safety. We need a place for people to store their belongings so they don’t have to carry them around all day, and it litters up our city.

Finally, something we can agree on. I’d also add that we need to talk about sexism, racism, bigotry against LGBT folks, especially LGBT youth who are disproportionately affected by homelessness.

13. I ended up going home in the early morning hours. My intention was to learn from the people there and I did that. I didn’t feel unsafe for one minute. I found the people kind and friendly. I wondered what would change if we all just opened our eyes to what is happening instead of ignoring it.

We are not your teaching moment. We are not your inspiration porn. We are not your feel good moment. We are people. It is incredibly condescending to think that you know anything about what it’s like to be homeless. Your social experiment has a lot in common with the social experiments of the woman who put on a fat suit to see what it was like experiencing fatphobia, John Howard Griffin putting on black face, non-Muslim women wearing hijab to “experience” anti-Muslim bigotry, men wearing skirts and heels to see what is like to be a woman and rich folks going on so-called Food Stamps diets. They’re offensive because however well-intention they may be intent isn’t magic. You all get to take off the fat suit, the hijab, the skirts; you get to go home to a warm bed and a stocked fridge. You don’t know what it’s like to live in the oppression you wear as costume because for you, it’s just that, something you can take off at the end of your experiment. For me and others, it’s our whole life.

I am not your Teaching Moment

Help me end my homelessness! (Update)

Update: We did it! Thank you all so much!

My daughter and I have lived in homeless shelters since she was a year old. She’s now five. I finally found an apartment in a low-income building but in order to actually move in, I need to pay first month’s rent, security deposit and a fee for fire and carbon monoxide alarms. We have until Friday July 24th to come up with the money, if not I’ll lose the apartment.

We became homeless when we lost our apartment because the City cut the housing programs citing a lack of funds. Since then, TJ and I have gone from shelter to shelter. We’re always placed in a tiny room without much space for a kid to play. Each room we’ve been placed in has been smaller than the last.
The room we’re in now isn’t big enough to have a table, so we ate our meals on the floor. A friend was generous enough to send us a bed tray, so my daughter could at least eat and do her homework somewhat comfortably.

 

11026158_889554317771181_392376704879403347_n

The picture above was taken from the front door of the room. The bathroom would be on the left hand side. Our beds are just around that corner on the right.

 

10494662_889554334437846_8238423353419370611_n

This is our “kitchen”. On the left hand side, a box is visible. I use that as a makeshift counter top. The stove has two burners but only one is functioning

 

10426538_889554374437842_3462306437696925980_n

This hole has been there since I was placed and they haven’t fixed it.

 

I’ve already seen the apartment. It’s a one bedroom. So it isn’t huge but it is a mansion compared to this room. If I’m able to move in, I’d have space for a dining table. My daughter would have space to play. I’d have a full size kitchen. I miss having a real oven and fridge. I want to cook a real meal. My daughter and I have shared the same space for long time. My daughter would get her own room and be able to decorate how she wants. We’ll have actual storage spaces for our clothes and belongings. She can have a sleep over if she’d like. She’s grown up in the shelter so she didn’t think this was out of the ordinary. But once she began school, she realized something was different. She wasn’t allowed to have sleep overs. She wasn’t allowed to go to sleep overs. Per shelter rules, visitors aren’t allowed here, and she isn’t allowed to spent the night out. She’s realized that this is not ideal or “normal”. I’d like to be able to celebrate her next birthday and Christmas at home. She’s excited about having her own room because she’d like to decorate it with glow in the dark stars (she’d liked to be an astronaut when she grows up).

I’m disabled and cannot work at the moment, but would love to go back to school. Having a stable home would be a huge first step for me. It would help so much with my mental health to know that I and my daughter are somewhere safe and stable.

If you can donate, please do. If not, please share. Every bit helps! Thank you so much!

*link to campaign used to be here, removed since goal was reached*

Sunflowerpunk <3

Help me end my homelessness! (Update)

Colorado Adventures

For the last month, my friends and I have been trying to rally support for a friend of ours that due to unfortunate circumstances, was left temporarily homeless. In that time we had been working hard to help her find a place to live, preferably somewhere where we could keep her child in the same school.

It can be hard going for single moms who make their money on the internet to find a place to live. Especially in an area that prides itself on being a good school district. Our attempts were met with ridiculous compromises, like having to raise a full year’s rent up front. Or prove that you make three times the rent in an area that charges nearly 15 hundred dollars a month.

If you don’t have a car, the search becomes even more difficult as you have to factor in bus times that it takes to get from one place to the next, and getting home in time for the school bus.

The situation was further complicated however, when in the midst of running errands, her wallet disappeared along with her ID.  It was too much, and suddenly a difficult situation seemed impossible. Unwilling to see my friend and her son struggle more than they already had, and empowered by help from both my friends and our mutual friends, I undertook a sudden trip to Colorado. With my car and ID, I could help her get set up.

Essentially at 3 pm on a Monday I decided to drive down from Ottawa, to Colorado, and by 6pm that evening I was on the road. All spread out, the drive took three days, through Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Nebraska, before reaching Colorado and the Rocky Mountains. All told it came out to about three days of driving, with a stop for each night.

What do you do when you are alone on the road for three days? In my case, I spent a lot of time listening and singing along to music, doing math in my head to figure out how far I am from a location based on my speed using fractions, and thinking about how to develop my blog.

The drive down was a bit frantic, what with this being my first time in this area of the US, not having a lot of money, and trying to race the clock to get to Colorado before my friend’s hotel reservation ran out. Not having access to my meds, meant that I was eating almost nothing thanks to nausea.

The drive was mostly uneventful and I made it to Colorado, where I proceeded to spend the next several days running errands with my friend while her son was at school. We went to the DMV, looked at several different apartments, and more.

No matter how hard you try, there are not many ways to avoid spending money when you don’t have a place of your own. Unless you can afford to stay in a hotel with a suite, most of them don’t have facilities to cook. You are stuck relying on restaurants, though in some cases you might have access to a microwave. Even at weekly rates, the cost of the room is high, putting an added burden on finances stretched to their limit. It adds up, and by the end of that time, both my friend and I were completely out of money, and at least in my case, a little overdrawn as well.

I finally got enough money to start heading back home yesterday. I made it to Council Bluffs, Iowa, where I stopped for the night. It wasn’t until I set up my computer and decided to get some dinner, when I realized that my wallet was gone.

Imagine that: You are in a foreign country and all of your money and bank cards just disappear. You can’t replace your cards easily, it can take weeks to send them to you. In the meantime, you have no way to buy food, and you certainly can’t afford to stay in a hotel that long. In that one moment, I felt for a second just a hint of what my friend must have been feeling for the past month. I spent the night with my Crohn’s punishing me for the stress I was under. I got almost no sleep, and spent more time in the bathroom than in the bed. Even when in bed, I couldn’t sleep, unable to feel warm no matter what I did.

In the wee hours of the morning, I came up with a temporary plan. I would see about extending my stay a day, hoping they had my information on file enough not to require my card, then find a bank. With luck, they would make it possible for someone to wire me some money to get me home.

I was saved when morning came, someone had handed in my wallet to the front desk. A sleepless night however makes me a hazard on the road, and so I am delayed another day.

In the meantime however, my good friend was banned from Facebook for complaining about men after her experience, something which puts her new found stability at risk. If you can, please consider donating to her GoFundMe.

 

Colorado Adventures

The Instability of Poverty

It terrifies me to think I will never get out of poverty. I don’t expect to be wealthy. But I would like to be able to provide for my child and myself without having to sometimes choose between one basic over another. It terrifies me to think Thinking Jr. will grow up still on welfare. I don’t want to be dependant on this system forever.
I don’t want to be in this shelter forever.
While I’m grateful that at least we are not on the streets, I would like some stability for my daughter. It also terrifies me that I’ve never known housing stability and that once I get into my own place, I could lose it at any minute.

That’s a major thought that’s always with me: The instability of poverty.

The Instability of Poverty