Thoughts on poverty and homelessness in the U.S.A.

Posts tagged ‘chris gardner’

Homeless Heroes…

Thought I’d give some credit to today’s inspiration.  On a Scroogle search today I came across Djelloul Marbrook’s article, “The Homeless as Prophets and Heroines.”  As a self-professed, mad, bag lady, I was,needless to say, intrigued.

Here’s a link:

http://newsblaze.com/story/20100612112133delm.nb/topstory.html

Madness is often defined as “abnormal” or unusual behavior.  That means, anyone who is different might be considered mad.  As many of us know, homosexuality was once listed in the DSM (Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) as a mental illness.  Today, that is no longer the case.

And so, with the swiftness of a pen across paper, or perhaps a finger tapping upon a computer keyboard, thousands of people were suddenly “cured” of their madness.  Someone decided they weren’t crazy after all, and so they were cured.  Just like that.  Madness, thou art a fickle disorder…

With this thought in mind, I came across another web site:  www(dot)PaulaJCaplan(dot)net.  Caplan wrote a book entitled, “They Say You’re Crazy: How the World’s Most Powerful Psychiatrists Decide Who’s Normal.”  She writes about how a tiny minority of our population decide what constitutes sanity or insanity.  Why are we allowing a small number of “experts” decide what is “normal”?

Mental illness does exist, and I’m not trying to suggest that those who really do suffer from it shouldn’t get help.  I’m simply stating that in our society we are moving toward accusing those who are different or who just don’t fit in of being mentally ill.  We are moving toward enforced conformity.  Part of the reason for this is our fast-paced society.  We just don’t want to take the time anymore to understand someone else or to learn how to interact better with people who are different from ourselves. We’d rather force them to conform than allow them to continue to challenge us and our status quo with their eccentric and unusual behavior and lifestyle.

Some homeless people are mad-crazy.  Others are just mad-angry or mad-nonconformist.  Some people live in poverty because their talents and skills are just not appreciated in a financial way by our society.  This is often true of artists.  It is heartbreaking, but I’ve seen some very talented musicians who were homeless.  They strum their guitars and sing their songs on the street still believing that someday, someone will discover their great talent…  And it just doesn’t happen.

Sorry, but it doesn’t happen that way anymore, not for most of us.  Perhaps it never really did work that way.

You could be the next Rembrandt or the next da Vinci, and no one will ever know.  Our society just doesn’t reward creativity.  We need artists.  We watch television, go to see movies, read books, gaze at pretty paintings, but we rarely consider the lives of the artists who wrote, painted or filmed that project.  We take artists for granted.  We take what they create but don’t feel the need to reciprocate.

Okay, I’m going off on another tangent here.

Suffice it to say, artists are only one type of homeless hero/oine.  Artists create whether or not we are paid for it.  We write, paint, sing, strum, even though no one is listening, watching or paying us for it.  Our society understands this and continues to just not pay us for it.

There are other homeless heroes–the “battered woman” who flees abuse and ends up in a shelter with her children, the runaway teen, also fleeing abuse and sleeping on the street, the Chris Gardners who refuse to work at minimum wage jobs and accept a life of poverty who’d rather be “free” living on the street than be controlled by the system.  They think their “ship” will one day come in.  It never does.  Their spirit breaks.  And they give up.  (And once they do give up, they become the “crazy” homeless people we often see on the street.)

And then there’s the artist who keeps creating–today’s Jean-Michel Basquiats who are never discovered.  Their art and the joy it could give us will never be known.

Because we’ve created a classist (as opposed to a classless) society.  One must have an agent, a manager, connections, a cool outfit, a cell phone, and the “right look.”  One must be “18- to-look-younger” and have a product that “sells.” Da Vinci and Rembrandt wouldn’t “make it” today.  Neither would Jimi Hendrix, Charlie Chaplin, or Charles Dickens.

We’re missing out on a lot by relegating the poorest among us to permanent destitution, by refusing to help those in need.  What we fail to see (as a society) are the richest that lie hidden within each and every human being, no matter how lost and forlorn one might appear on the surface–the hidden talents, wisdom, and intellect–contributions that each and every one of us is capable of making to society, once we are allowed to thrive, to pursue our own happiness and rise up to our fullest potential.

Life, Liberty, and…

Oh yeah, some people once thought we (Americans) should all have the right to pursue our own happiness.  But do we?

Unfortunately, we have a system here in the U.S. that is making it hard for people to “pick themselves up by their bootstraps.”  Chris Gardner (‘Pursuit of Happyness’) turned down minimum wage jobs so that he could pursue his dream of having a better life.  He then chose to work for free (as an intern) in order to “pay his dues” so that he could become a stockbroker.  That is why he became homeless.

If he’d given up on his dream and just taken a minimum wage job he wouldn’t have become homeless, but he, most likely, would have remained poor for the rest of his life.
We hear the Chris Gardner stories, but we don’t hear the stories of the thousands of people who, like Gardner, turned down the minimum wage jobs only to find themselves painfully unemployed and, in some cases, homeless. Yes, lots of other people have done what Gardner did but they didn’t get accepted into the internship program, didn’t get their big chance, so they ended up just staying poor.  So, of course, nobody makes a movie about them…

(Well, actually, I did.  It’s called ‘Rocky Mountain Homelessness,’ and it’s airing at independent theaters and cable access stations across the country. Right now, it’s airing at the Screening Room in Amherst, NY and on SCC-TV in White Bear Lake, MN.)
Current statistics show that economic mobility is not as common in the U.S. as many Americans assume.  Most Americans stay in the same economic class into which they were born.  Few people are able to work their way up the ladder.   We’re taught to blame the victim, blame the homeless for being in their situation, so that we are distracted away from the real cause–our faulty system.  As long as we continue to blame the victim, we’ll never look at the real cause–ourselves and the changes we refuse to make in our own system!
Look, I love Michael Moore dearly.  In fact, I believe he deserves a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to inform Americans (in a way our corporate media hasn’t) of the flaws in our system.  But I disagree with him on this point:  that capitalism is our biggest problem.  It’s not capitalism, socialism or communism we need to worry about.  It’s us–we, the people.  We have egos, and we act in our own self-interest.  We have trouble seeing the big picture.  We try to work for the common good, but it takes effort for us to put others above ourselves.  And when we’re given power, we are, therefore, prone to corruption.  Power corrupts.  Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

But we all know this, don’t we?  Yet we naively allow ourselves to be manipulated by propaganda that claims we are somehow “hurting” big businesses by making them obey the same laws the rest of us must obey.

Capitalism is a fine system–if it is regulated properly.  That means “checks and balances” over power.  Regulation over big business and big money provides accountability that prevents a take-over and ensures that resources are more fairly distributed.  It’s disturbing that so many Americans fail to understand this concept.  Accountability over power is necessary because power corrupts.  This is Political Science 101, folks.  Don’t ever let anyone get too much power over your society or they will take over.  We humans have egos.  We see the world through our own narrow lens.  It is naive, to say the least, to suggest we should just allow big business to do whatever it wants.  There is no “free marketplace.”  Big business unfettered will take over and stomp out the competition.  That’s just what a successful business does.  One doesn’t open up a business with the notion that “I will discourage customers from shopping in my store because I don’t want to hurt my competitors.” Ironically, capitalism fails for the same reason as does communism.  If not properly regulated, capitalism works against itself, becoming self-destructive, creating a system in which capitalism no longer is possible.

That is why socialism and capitalism co-exist together so well.  They work together and provide accountability over each other.  We have libraries and privately-owned book stores.  We have public and private schools.  We have public parks and private resorts.  Yes, socialism (government controlled industry) and capitalism (privately owned industry) exist together.  Each provides an alternative to and therefore a “check” over the other.

Sadly, the “free marketplace” is being destroyed by the very people who defend it so ardently.  If I want to stand on the street selling my hand-made widgets then I am doing no harm (provided the widgets aren’t dangerous to the public good.)  But if I become big and powerful, ala Walmart and Target, then I can stomp out the competition–if there is no regulation forbidding it.  That means that other people who want to participate in capitalism by selling their own hand-made widgets cannot because I have monopolized the market (if there are no laws against monopolies.)  Of course, when I decide I can increase my profits even more by outsourcing labor to third world countries, I do even more damage by eliminating jobs in my own country,  thus increasing the number of unemployed and the number of people who no longer can afford to participate in capitalism (if there are no tariffs charged on companies that outsource.)

And so, capitalism ends up destroying itself, in a sense.  There needs to be oversight.  One way of providing that oversight is to impose a tax on companies who outsource labor.  (Our government has been doing the opposite–giving tax breaks to encourage big businesses to outsource labor!)

Whenever I hear the “free marketplace” propaganda I am reminded of how hard it is for ordinary middle class or poor people to start their own businesses in this country.  Regulations have been put into place that make it nearly impossible for anyone who isn’t wealthy, or at least upper middle class, to start their own business.  For example, it is against the law in most cities to stand on a public sidewalk to sell your hand-made jewelry (or anything else.)  You’ll need to get together thousands of dollars and take the risk of renting out (or buying) a storefront.  If you want to sell your hand-made chocolate, you need to rent a separate kitchen and use “professional” grade equipment in order to manufacture and sell that product legally.  Yes, some of those laws make sense in terms of public safety, but some just exist to prevent ordinary people from participating in the capitalist process.

My point is, one is not “free” to market his/her product.  The process is regulated, supposedly, for public safety.  But in reality, adequate regulations don’t seem to be in place over large corporations.

We hear stories of large corporations dumping toxins in our air, food and water and they seem to get away with it.  And when anyone points out the need for laws regulating those activities they get accused of being “communist” or “socialist.”  Yet we all live with regulation–why should corporate America be any different?

Do you see my point?  There is no “free marketplace,” at least not for the rest of us.  The only “free marketplace” is the one that exists for corporate America. Because they have the money to lobby and put pressure on politicians to pass laws that favor them.  Most of us don’t have thousands of dollars to donate to political campaigns, but corporate America does.  They have literally bought our government.

Please, people, face reality.  There is no free marketplace.

There is no free marketplace.  There is no free marketplace.  There is no free marketplace.  There is no freemarketplace.  There is no free marketplace.

Unless, of course, you are Walmart.

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