From the May-June 2022 issue of News & Letters
On April 29 one of our Urban Alchemy practitioners was shot on the street. It brought some attention to street realities. Urban Alchemy mostly employs former prisoners as monitors/caretakers/mediators between the homeless, including the alleged “criminal element,” and the rest of the city’s population.
‘ACTING AS A “REAL CITIZEN”’
Being employed by Urban Alchemy allows me to act as if I were a “real citizen.” I can have a car and put gas in it. I can have health insurance, etc. But we are in the middle of a sense of danger and uncertainty that people from both sides face. I hear daily, “Thank you for what you are doing.” Some come down to the Tenderloin to see if it’s true that you can safely walk down the street. They are amazed to find it is true.
The shooting, however, revealed the prison outside. We are trying to survive and not be swept up in the river of lives that have been discarded. Having a job after prison gives a false hope. Where and how do we find the courage to be human, not reduced to the basics of subsistence? We witness life being totally precarious. Many homeless are people who have been rejected, lost their jobs, and all but a few have lost hope of having a human life.
We see it every day. Those who are a notch above homelessness and have a “lifestyle,” supposedly have a new level in the quality of their life now that they’ve made it out of the hood. That is a trap. It creates divisions and resentment. All people need the resources to build a life.
“Lifestyle” means nothing but a program to moderate the vicissitudes of life, which under capitalism just means death. Even nurses, who are better paid, are committing suicide—two in the last week in the San Francisco Bay Area—because their work-life is unlivable. Nurses and teachers are both striking repeatedly over their inability to actually provide adequate care, or teach.
Capital eats up all disposable income. Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JP Morgan, was asked what it means to earn $15/hour. He had no clue how little it actually is. It is not enough to feed a mother with two or three children.
You see a lot of people using drugs to help them cope. I saw an older woman, being helped across the street, looking for pain meds. She is spending money she needs for rent and food to try to ameliorate her pain. When you are hurting, you feel there is no escape, you have to suffer, and the powers-that-be enforce it. You feel that you have no opportunities. All these people are capital’s “collateral damage.” People are left to fend for themselves, no one is helping them.
HISTORY IS ‘THE CRY FOR A NEW HUMANITY’
History is not about a collection of facts, the numbers of homeless, of unemployed, etc. It is a cry for a new humanity trying to overcome the complete breakdown of social cohesion. Urban Alchemy is put in the middle as mediators, a band-aid on the crises capitalism causes. The city can do nothing more than to throw some money at the problem. It can’t solve it. But amelioration is not a solution.
The situation is urgent. Our lives are in peril every day from climate chaos, from economic chaos, from impending wars. We can’t continue to believe that the world is OK, just because we can go to McDonald’s and get an egg McMuffin.
Human beings are by nature productive creatures. When you can’t be productive, you can’t be “normal.” Normal should be being among friends, creating, living up to your potential.