The cost of the first 25 Tomehawk Missiles launched in the first hour of the first day in the war with Iraq was more than fifty times the annual HUD budget to End Homelessness in America. [CNN- March 20, 2003]
Thankfully, 2002 is over. If you were poor, or disabled, or disenfranchised, it was a rotten year. If you were darkskinned, of a suspicious religion, or from a politically suspect country or culture, it was a rotten year. If you were homeless, it was worse than most years. And if you are homeless, all years are pretty bad.
Nationally, we saw the passage of the Homeland Security and USA-PATRIOT Acts. These give our government broad, sweeping powers that will purportedly save our country from terrorists. The only thing certain about these measures is that most of the civil rights that our leaders claim as the hallmark of our “free and democratic” nation have been extinguished.
In California, we saw the passage of a bill that will purportedly keep people who have psychiatric illnesses from killing people by locking them into a civil straightjacket known as Laura’s Law. This law decrees that anyone deemed dangerous to themselves or others can be committed by their families into psychiatric incarceration. When released, if they aren’t compliant with outpatient treatment, they can be court-ordered to comply under threat of further confinement.
In San Francisco, we saw the passage of Prop N, a ballot measure that replaces homeless CAAP recipient’s meager welfare checks with nothing. These savings are supposed to fund services for poor folks losing 85% of their cash benefits, but there is absolutely no guarantee that these services will exist when their funds are cut off.
The services we have now are already ridiculously overburdened, and San Francisco is now preparing to decimate homeless services in the 2003-04 budget. So what will change?
What do these things have in common? The social control of civilians through legislative measures which criminalize entire classes of people deemed unworthy of constitutional protections — and do this while blaming them for the very condition that they live in, suffer from, or were born into.
2002 also revealed the blatant face of corporate greed with the scandals of Enron and World Telecom. The only good news here is that the American people, unlike the “good Germans” of another generation, can no longer honestly say that they didn’t know. And everyone who lost their shirts will now question the corporations that control 90% of this country’s wealth by addicting our political leaders with soft money.
So, will Americans do anything different, or will we all just lay down and take it?
We have yet to see.
We enter 2003 with staggering deficits in both the State and City budgets; the American government has invaded another country in total disregard for United Nations Charter agreements signed right here in San Francisco; and all of this relentless injustice will take place in the name of the American people.
These unjust actions will take place not only in the Persian Gulf, but here, in our own country.
All of the money currently devoted to the “war on terror” could house every man, woman, and child in this country for 50 years. What’s currently spent on the U.S. defense budget in ONE DAY could permanently house every person on American soil who is currently homeless.
If this is not a war on Americans, then what is?
All of the corporations now circling Iraq, waiting for it to bleed oil when it dies, aren’t in the least concerned with the money taken from our pockets to fight their war for them, or with the countless civilians who will die on the streets of Baghdad.
Pharmaceutical corporations funding campaigns to place involuntary outpatient commitment laws on the books of every American state aren’t in the least concerned with people who will die from lack of care as California prepares to gut funding for voluntary mental health treatment.
Or worse, those who become so desperately ill that they die at the hands of police who buy the corporate media myth that these disabled people are all violent and dangerous. The most profitable industry on the planet invests in such lobbying efforts to ensure future captive markets.
Downtown corporations that funded a million- dollar public relations campaign to sell Prop N to San Francisco’s voters aren’t concerned that care-not-cash will certainly increase the numbers of homeless people dying on the streets of San Francisco. San Francisco health authorities stopped counting homeless deaths last year, so the public will probably never know.
City bureaucrats determining where to direct the projected $14 million in “new” funds Prop N creates by stealing survival income from our poorest civilians seem oblivious that the 2003-04 City Budget demands $17 million in baseline cuts to homeless services. Or that an additional $54 million in homeless and health services will be lost if contingency cuts go into effect.
And as for those of us who are poor, disabled, dark-skinned, or homeless, we know that the war has been here at home for a long time.
We wish all of this was political ranting and rhetoric, but the facts tell a different story.
People often shy away from political action.
Confrontation is scary, and it is frightening to be exposed publicly for being angry. It is too easy to discredit poor and disenfranchised people, as well as middle-class and organized people, for their political beliefs and actions by citing their circumstances, cultures, disabilities, ideologies etc. as the reason that they are angry.
Homeless service providers and treatment professionals are trained to be neutral. They are also trained to help change the individual, not change the system that harms and circumscribes that individual. They frequently won’t take sides in conflict because it might discredit them in the eyes of their peers, place their continued funding at risk, or because they do not believe that the issue or issues affect them.
People witness the meteoric rise of privileged, politically-annointed, corporately-funded politicians like George W. Bush or Gavin Newsom and often feel powerless as a result — that their voices and their votes can have no real impact on who our leaders will be, and what priorities and prerogatives they will uphold.
Often people do not see how the political reality affects their day-to-day life, which, for many of us, is difficult enough to begin with.
When someone is struggling with poverty, disability, mental illness, addiction, and homelessness, just getting through the day is like going to war.
But the political is personal, and affects each of us daily. From unfilled potholes to school programs and health clinics closing, most of us will feel the reach of budget realities. What we might not see, or even care to contemplate, is its connection to the other political realities that are occurring and affecting us as well.
This is a scary time, but it is also a time for people to put aside their personal differences and come together in creative ways to fight the wars at home. Whether the issue is the budget, the war in Iraq, violations of civil and human rights, involuntary outpatient commitment, immigration policy, or the way homeless people are treated, it is a war.
All of these issues are connected, and all of us suffer as a result.
What we know is this: If we cannot stand together, soon we will be on our knees together.
If we do not fight together, we will die alone.
If we‘re strong together, we’ll win together.
We must value each other, and each other’s needs.
Political activism is very healing. It will help you feel sane in crazy times.
Do it. You will not be alone. 2003 will be better for all of us if you do.