Friday, April 13, 2007

Money For Nothing

This post is going to convey a large amount of bafflement, so I hope you will excuse the somewhat confused tone. I am still not sure whether to laugh, cry, or just shake my head cynically and say "The hell with it." Someone I know wheedled me into coming along with her for this SDS thing she and her friends are doing. Apparently, they're having some East Coast SDS conference love-fest type thing down here in Virginia, and as part of the lead-up to the conference they were going to panhandle in Colonial Williamsburg as some sort protest. On the way over to CW, I asked her exactly what they were protesting. Apparently, the City--via the Police Department--gives bus tickets the homeless people that beg for money from the tourists that are constantly milling through the Historic Area--tickets to another town that is as far away as possible. This infuriated my friend. "That's just WRONG," she said vehemently. "The city should be appropriating funds to give them food and shelter, not paying them to go away."

"I don't know," I said. "If I were a retiree that came here to enjoy the tourist traps, I wouldn't want to be accosted by homeless people."

She assumed that air of appalled amazement that left-leaning people are so good at. "WHAT??! How can you say that?!"

I didn't understand. Regardless of whether you think using public funds to pay the homeless to leave town is wrong, or unjust, or unfair, or whatever--no one wants to be buttonholed by a gentleman smelling of Wild Irish Rose and bugged to give up their spare change. I mean, maybe that's mean and callous of me, but if I were coming to a town to spend some hard-earned vacation time, confronting the homeless population is not how I would want to spend my time.

I said as much, and my friend said "Well, as someone more fortunate than they are, maybe you're in a position to help." As adequate an example of "Because you can, you should" as I've ever heard. It's the justification that gave us welfare, affirmative action, and those damn low-flow toilets.

But that's not the end of the story. Naive idealist that I am, I assumed that the panhandled money she would be receiving would go towards some sort of program or activity to help the homeless, or at least towards a conference during the SDS convention focused specifically on homelessness. Not so. They were going to use the money to feed and house the SDS kids coming to Virginia from other states for the convention here in town.

I was puzzled. "So let me get this straight. You're panhandling money to 'raise awareness about homelessness' but your convention doesn't actually deal with homelessness?"

"Oh, no," she responded. "We're going to help. Our convention is going to get people more active in the community."

"That's a lot of vague boilerplate. 'Get them active in the community.' Get them active doing what?"

By now, she was clearly exasperated with my lack of comprehension of the grand things SDS stands for. "Teach them how to communicate with local government, that sort of thing. We'll be helping the homeless in the big scheme of things."

At that point I went a bit ballistic, I will admit. I may or may not have used the words "disingenuous" and "hypocritical." I do remember saying that she and her friends were taking from society without giving anything of meaning back--just holding more meetings to discuss "communicating with local government" when any idiot knows just by picking up a newspaper that you communicate with any sort of government--from Gene Nichol to George Bush--by raising as much of an unholy stink as you can. The Wren Cross didn't get put back in the Wren Chapel because the College Republicans and Knights of Columbus held meetings about how to communicate with Gene Nichol. The Wren Cross got put back in the Chapel because a bunch of angry and upset people made their voices heard and forced that Chris Farley look-alike to retreat as fast as he could.

If SDS--or rather, the people associated with SDS who are doing this--were being honest and true to their stated principles, they would hold some sort of fundraiser that promoted SDS and was straightforward about what they were trying to do (i.e., feed and house their cohorts). If they were honestly concerned about the homeless situation in anything more than just a vague neoliberal "Let's help the poor unfortunates and stick it to The Man" way, they would do some sort of food or clothing drive to directly benefit those who need it. Instead, they choose to make a jejune and cliched statement by panhandling money from retirees in Colonial Williamsburg and use the pittance they will no doubt make to buy vegan sandwiches and soy lattes for the other ungrateful, middle-class, suburbanite pseudo-rebels who make the trek down here. Not only that, but they're being intentionally misleading--she told me that they're claiming the money is going to some fund called "Food, Not Bombs," but apparently SDS reserves the right to use money for FNB to feed a bunch of college kids who could easily raise the money themselves via legal means.

In a way, this eerily reflects the larger, governmental approach to handling public funds. Bullyrag the American people for their money and, through Federal alchemy, translate that money into bureaucracy, meetings, commissions, and reports detailing how to better use the money that has been spent on bureaucracy, commissions, meetings, and reports. Or perhaps people like my friend just learned from the pros--the political hacks and timeservers who have turned robbing the public into a legal form of governmental activity. Either way, it's just another example of the "What can society do for ME today?" mindset that has come to pervade the American psyche.





(I'm still flying.)



UPDATE (4/23/07): The eminent Baron Bodissey reports, with assistance from The Adventurer, on SDS's amusing display of contempt for bourgeois mentality and capitalist exploitation during Earth Day Weekend.

3 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

If these do-gooders wanted to really make some change, they would *organize* and figure out a way to get the city or county to fund a homeless shelter.

And the churches should be involved with a rotating soup kitchen.

In our nearby town, there's the Salvation Army at night, a dayhouse -- in fact, two of them -- where these guys can store their valuables, get their daily meds, and take a shower. Plus they can hang out together.

The city library is also a good place to sleep on a very cold or very hot day. Lots of nice corners with soft chairs.

This chick oughta try being in a 12x14 room with three homeless people --just for a day or two. The smell would drive her middle class sensibilities nuts.

She could also volunteer to help them get their government checks (they all have them:they're homeless because they're *mentally ill* -- is she from Mars or just the suburbs?), or bring them grocery shoppiing, or even offer to raise money for Wmsburg for all that it costs the city to take care of these people.

And while she's at it, she can thank John Kennedy and his studpidly short-sighted program to empty the mental institutions back into the communities wihout funding the communities to care for them.

This is prima-facie evidence of twit-thinking. Have her intern at a city Salvation Army housing unit for a summer. Girl needs to get her mind right.

7:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your name calling of President Nichol shows your Oh-So-Mature side.

1:45 PM  
Blogger Gryffilion said...

...I claimed I was mature?

2:37 PM  

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