Friday, December 16, 2011

Eat the poor

One of the things I admired about Occupy Wall Street was its effort to exemplify the value it placed on inclusiveness. It made an attempt to represent the entire 99%, including the long-term homeless who, understandably, jumped aboard for the freebies: the donated food, clothing, tents, sleeping bags and so forth. The effort was not entirely successful, because many of the long-term homeless have problems beyond poverty—substance abuse, mental illness, criminal behavior—but it was made in good faith.

I remember hearing from my parents that in 1989, after the last Big One in San Francisco, which caused structural damage to many of the luxury buildings of the Marina neighborhood, the city set up special shelters for the flossy residents. Trouble was, the long-term homeless got wind of the comfier quarters and a whiff of the yummier food and tried to move in on a good thing. So the city was left in the awkward position of trying to weed the truly needy from the not-really-needy and give the goodies to the latter.

I was reminded of that earlier this week, when a new Pret-a-Manger appeared in my neck of the woods. I was chatting with the manager the evening before it opened, and he told me that I should come the next day because Pret would be giving everything away—completely free—as long as the food lasted. I left scratching my head. My neighborhood, the Bowery, is a curious mix of the fabulously wealthy and the destitute. I suspected he was going to be inundated with the destitute, not his desired customer base. I don’t know how it all turned out, because I’ve been at work all week.

But it’s not the first time I’ve noticed the tendency in this country, from the government on down, to give the goodies to the rich and withhold them from the poor. 

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