Inclusive or exclusive?

Anonymous letter is a symptom of heartless, anonymous capitalism in Brattleboro

I was flabbergasted when I read this encouragement to further ostracize, abandon, walk away from, shun, ignore, and NIMBY-off the most vulnerable in our society - an effort by a capitalist society that has been desensitized from caring for our neighbors and brothers as ourselves, and labeling them as somehow toxic or less than and definitely not worthy of a dime, nickel, or quarter of our capitalist gains.

This manifesto assigns the faceless in need with the blame for anonymous business fears as the only (unsubstantiated) obstacle to future profits and gains.

All those human services entities approved for giving are crucial and need our support. But this current situation, a perfect storm of higher poverty and higher addiction numbers today, is not an either-or scenario. It's an all-hands-on-deck scenario, and what might be someone else's problem becomes ours if we do not take responsibility for solving it ourselves.

As someone whose childhood trauma has never left me - trauma that is something I deal with every day I wake up to start all over again - and as someone who in reporting over the years for this newspaper conscientiously sought out and spoke to panhandlers, homeless people, and drug addicts for their stories and how they got there, I heard, and know for myself, that the most any of us really want is to be treated with the respect that every human being deserves. Look me in the eye, for god's sake, and smile.

Encouraging people not to give what is a pittance to many - 10 cents? 25 cents? A whole dollar? What drugs or alcohol can be bought with that? - is just heartless, pointless, and a clarion call to see what is wrong with our society as a whole: We have lost our heart.

* * *

I am someone who struggles to pay the bills because trauma reunions do not have a set schedule and too often directly affect my daily physical or mental health.

I am someone who has interviewed and spoken with many with varying degrees of trauma and varying ways of dealing with it themselves, depending on their resources and their support system.

Because of all this, I know how difficult it is to show up every day. Learning to survive is a crucial skill in such uncertainty.

If you are self-reliant, you will try to help yourself. And that is unfortunate, because business owners will demonize that ingenuity and instinct for self-preservation. You're not down and out enough because you are still in sight of their business. You are just unwashed and unclean.

To people struggling to survive, institutions are places of last resort. They aren't resorts, and they are not the first resort. They can never be that as they exist as a response to homelessness and poverty, not as the solution to it, not as the fix. They are only temporary solutions at best.

If you've ever bothered to look in the eyes of the panhandlers, if you have ever stopped and spoken with one, you will see the humility and shame in their eyes, at being in a situation where they have to ask.

I have spoken with several dozen panhandlers over the years, and I never pass any by without saying hello, smiling, and looking them in the eyes. If I am down to my last dime, they still will get it.

* * *

The real couch potatoes are not these men and women who are out doing for themselves, even if asking for a hand is all they can muster. The lazy ones are the ones who have the money to keep their addictions hidden.

I can guarantee that at least a percentage of the authors of that letter are dealing with the hypocrisy of also dealing with an addiction (alcohol, tobacco, betting, gaming, sex), and or are one or two paychecks away from homelessness themselves. But they can still afford to keep it hidden, for a while longer, anyway.

Panhandlers make us uncomfortable because this is a mirror of our society being held up to us to see. We are ugly as sin in that mirror, no turning away. The biggest fear of the people behind the anonymous letter who are concerned about panhandlers ruining their businesses is that the people on the street could well turn out to be them.

It is fascism to encourage people to go only to pre-approved induction centers and forced into the system, rather than working really hard to help keep them independent and to help them where they are if that is where they wish to be. And many of these organizations do just that.

But also effective is a well-timed cup of coffee, or a hot sandwich, or a bowl of soup, or a ride to do laundry, to take a shower, or to simply watch a movie together.

No money is a substitute for human dignity, or simply passing the time of day pleasantly in company with someone who does not judge you. In a place where respect is automatic.

And respect is something that none of these business have shown the human beings who are the subject of their complaint.

* * *

Panhandling is a capitalist disease and phenomenon. It does not exist where capitalism does not.

It is no irony that this letter is collectively the product of unquestioning capitalist sycophants. But it is really, really sad that the opportunity to actually be human means shunting people off “someplace else” (camps) to get them out of the sight and workings of capitalism, because otherwise - the myth goes - people will just avoid downtown Brattleboro, because of all those poor people begging for money.

And the proof? Where's the proof?

Is this really who we are? Capitalism needs to take a good, hard look at itself if its gains are in opposition to being human, and it needs to reach out to help, instead of discouraging those who otherwise would, with a pittance.

Blaming and shaming the poor is a capitalist tactic that works only on those who do not understand how capitalism works. This anonymous response shames everyone who signed it.

So let's let the real discussion begin, starting with admitting capitalism fails the poor.

And how can we change it to be inclusive, not exclusive?

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