By A. G. Moore November 1, 2011
News reports are appearing which suggest that Occupy Wall Street is being preempted by “the homeless”. I pause at that characterization of the poor people who come to eat and rest at Occupy Wall Street sites.Which homeless people are the reports referring to, I wonder. Is it the newly dispossessed, who through foreclosure have been driven to the shelter circuit? Or is it those others, the long-term homeless, who have fallen so far in their fortunes that they are no longer recognizable as “us” but have instead become “them”?Many of the news reports describe mentally ill people among the homeless who show up at Occupy Wall Street encampments. These people, whose behavior and aspect set them apart in any environment, are seeking food and a crime-free place to sleep. Their presence, the reports suggest, dilutes the political message of Occupy Wall Street.The writers of these reports miss the point of Occupy Wall Street.The rallies are about economic and social displacement precipitated by an unjust distribution of resources. Who better to demonstrate that than a mentally ill person who is not receiving essential services?Thirty years ago, in the Reagan Administration, there was a deliberate slowing of the Social Security Disability application process. The backlog which resulted was so egregious that the courts stepped in and demanded the application requirements be eased. The disfunctional Social Security Disability Program was just one aspect of the Reagan Revolution. The revolution also included reducing funding of Medicaid–the chief source of support for many mental health facilities.Today the talk in political circles is about cutting back on “entitlement” expenditures: the country, the theory goes, can no longer afford to provide the middle class with an economic safety net. Talk has turned to action. People who used to feel secure are losing their homes, are threatened with losing unemployment insurance, are faced with living lives without the reassuring umbrella of health insurance.Economic despair has become a distinct possibility for many in the middle class, and it is that prospect which provides the impetus for Occupy Wall Street. The chronic homeless–and the mentally ill– just got there first. To draw distinctions between the different kinds of endangered people is to weaken the argument for economic justice.Today the mentally ill homeless are part of every urban tableau. The rest of us are resigned to their presence and have come to view their situation as, in most cases, inevitable. Maybe, from way up in a Wall Street office suite, or the penthouse of an Upper East Side apartment building, that’s how the middle class looks. The 99% is part of the scenery, irrelevant to the lives of the other 1%.Unless there is an awareness that common cause exists for everyone who does not hold the reigns of power, the goals of Occupy Wall Street will not be realized. There will be no adjustments to economic imbalance. There will be no modification of political and economic stratification. Lacking a united front against the hegemony of the 1%, the fate of the 99 is sealed. If the 99 wish to see their future, absent change, all they need do is look with open eyes at the homeless in their midst.