When Being Nice Is A Vice

on April 29th (my late father's 83rd birthday) Street Sense did a screening of three short films it made about DC homelessness. There will be a second screening on August 26th (my living mother's 78th birthday). I was in the third film giving my critical view of DC Government's ostensible efforts to end homelessness in the nation's capital. I mentioned the failed 10-year plan as well as the reluctance of mayors Fenty and Gray to assist able-bodied homeless people at acquiring living-wage jobs – the latter point having also been reiterated by others in the film.

During the Q & A that followed, I gave a slightly wordy lead-in before asking my question. I told people that I like to ask the hard, challenging questions and that I have a little bit of a mean streak. Some indiscernible mumbles followed. I'm guessing some people disagreed with my use of the phrase “a little bit”. If so, they have a point. I referenced a DC preacher who quoted Frederick Douglass in the film when he said, “Power concedes nothing without a demand; it never has and it never will”. I went on to juxtapose the April 27th riot in Baltimore with that night's screening of social justice films. With the executive director of Street Sense having stated his desire to work himself out of a job and to put Street Sense out of business by ending homelessness, I asked how long it would take to do that. I then asked people, “What do you think is a more effective way of ending homelessness and addressing other social ills – showing this type of film or what just happened in Baltimore or some type of happy medium? I didn't receive a satisfactory response. I didn't expect one. My question was actually for the purpose of making a statement to all who were present about the need to be mean and aggressive in order to effect real and lasting change – the change that neither Barack Obama nor Loretta Lynch will bring – than it was about getting an answer from the panel.

That said, I often feel imprisoned by rules that require me to be kind in the face of government's ineffectiveness at stabilizing or decreasing the number of homeless people, let alone ending homelessness. Films that feature the late Mitch Snyder as well as my conversations with those who knew him have led me to believe that he too had a mean streak. Mitch and company got President Reagan to establish the Federal City Shelter which is still in existence almost 30 years later. His mean streak worked. He's been dead for 25 years but people are still benefiting from it.

On March 30th, 2006 I was barred indefinitely by a local non-profit that feeds the homeless because I had a loud argument with a now-former employee who was widely disliked by the homeless community. People have tried repeatedly to have that decision reversed. The non-profit has said that their insurance doesn't allow that. About three months ago an associate of a woman whose husband began working for that non-profit in 2012 told me that he'd heard about me being barred. This leaves me to wonder why the non-profit is still discussing the matter so many years later.

I've also heard from multiple sources that people have had fist fights and even put their fists in the faces of staff members but been allowed to return sometime thereafter. These people believe that it is my outspoken manner coupled with my intelligence which serves as the main reason for them not allowing me to return in spite of the essential non-violent manner of my nine-year old dispute. This non-profit is also a leader in the city's effort to address homelessness for the physically and/or mentally disabled. While supporting this effort, I've been an outspoken critic of the city's failure to effectively connect A-bods to living-wage jobs. I am co-leading efforts to get DC Government to do more for A-bods. Non-profits that make the bulk of their money by housing the disabled while feeding A-bods don't like my employment focus for the obvious reason and they fear my ability to express my views in speeches and in writings.

That said, I believe that it is impossible to achieve a just society while pleading kindly with oppressive forces. Martin Luther King, Jr. began his fight in 1955. Sixty years later the state of Black Americans hasn't improved much. As a matter of fact, many Whites have joined their ranks among the destitute. King and Gandhi both preached non-violence. Both were shot and killed. Go figure. In lieu of these facts, being nice is an idiotic vice when it hasn't effected true social justice for over 50 years and folk continue to employ kindness.


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