The following is an excerpt from a speech I read at the annual reception for vendors of Spare Change News, America’s first street newspaper focused on homelessness and homeless empowerment, last weekend in Cambridge. When you see their vendors on the corner, please consider picking up an issue.
I think a lot about why we live in such a cruel society. In America, it hurts to say, people are basically raised and taught to hate the poor. To hobble those who are in need, to shit on them, to spit on them, to assault and even burn and murder fellow humans who are already in the most dangerous and vulnerable positions imaginable.
Why do they do this? I’m not totally sure, but I do know a few things. I know the president of the United States, who recently expressed an interest in wiping people who are homeless off the face of the Earth, or at least the places he lives and visits, is a menace to society. He isn’t helping, but he’s also just a symbol of extreme wealth disparity. As I’m sure the people in this room all know, our country has problems that will outlast this presidency.
I’m not certain if it’s actually good news, but from what I’ve seen in my time as a reporter, interviewing people from all sides and crevices of the wealth gap, very few people are born with silver spoons in their mouth like Trump. And whereas I believe that there are enough despicable monsters like him in the world to do demonstrable damage, they are nonetheless a minority who at best hope to exploit and at worst want to eradicate those who are much less fortunate than them.
Most other people—even many in the McMansion suburban set with their Trump bumper stickers and bigoted politics—I don’t believe they truly hate those who are on their last penny. I know this has been said a million times before, but what they are is scared. Scared that it can be a situation they one day find themselves and their kids in, and, albeit to a lesser degree, scared as a result of feeling powerless because they believe that there is nothing they can do to truly help those who they pass on their way to the train, or the grocery store. Or who they see on the corner asking for change when they make their way into Boston on the commuter rail for a Red Sox game.
As a journalist, I have always specialized in stories that are unbelievable. The kind that, if you heard about them at a bar, you would say, No way, the city couldn’t have done something that awful. Or, Get outta here—that landlord can’t be that evil. But they often are, and when it comes to homelessness, the inhumanity of the scenario is often beyond the realm of acceptable behavior. Take, for example, throwing someone’s wheelchair in the back of a garbage truck while bulldozing the only home that they know. Or the transit police beating someone senseless on sight, for absolutely no reason at all. The people in this room know those kinds of horrors unfold daily; still, the average person barely believes it when it’s printed by a reputable news source on a page or screen in front of them. Why? Again, I believe that it’s because they are afraid of living in a society that abhorrent.
Which is all the more reason that Spare Change and outlets like it need to keep putting these articles out there. Not necessarily in a way that makes people feel uncomfortable, though that may be inevitable, but just in a way that says, This is who we are, these are our stories, and nobody is going to act like we have no voice around here.
As the skyscrapers downtown get taller, and the people in power who occupy them build literal and metaphorical walls to protect their privilege, this role is increasingly important. They may not always want our two cents, but as long as we can get Spare Change into the hands of people around here from time to time, at least there is a chance these stories will be heard.
CHRIS FARAONE, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
A Queens, NY native who came to New England in 2004 to earn his MA in journalism at Boston University, Chris Faraone is the editor and co-publisher of DigBoston and a co-founder of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. He has published several books including 99 Nights with the 99 Percent, and has written liner notes for hip-hop gods including Cypress Hill, Pete Rock, Nas, and various members of the Wu-Tang Clan.