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Thank the Occupy Movement for Reminding You About Living in Poverty

I used to think we were a little more tolerant of our protesters here in DC than in other places. We are, after all, ground zero for political speech. But then, the media started rumbling about cracking down here. Stay tuned. Most of the time, though, the media coverage I come across tends to report that the federal government is holding strong on their willingness to not infringe on protestor’s right to protest. They emphasize that there is a first amendment issue at play here, and decades of case law support the Occupy protestors actions. However, the same stories can’t help but also quote District officials who keep reminding us that the camps have rats! That there’s arguing in the camps! That there’s unsanitary conditions in the camps! I can’t think of one argument being advanced in favor of shutting down the camps that’s unique to the Occupy movement.

It’s called living in a city, folks.

Are there rats? You bet there are! Just like the ones Jonathan Kozol documented so sharply in his 1996 book Amazing Grace. I still remember his description of a rat crawling into bed with a baby and chewing on the baby’s ear. And that this was not a particularly unusual event. I’m sure the same thing happens in low-income neighborhoods in DC. I even see rats in Adams Morgan and my own relatively posh piece of Arlington. It’s a fact of urban living. Rather than use it to make a case in favor of shutting down the camps, start thinking creatively about solutions. Or, admit that this is a red herring.

Tempers run high? I don’t doubt it. Living in close quarters can be stressful. Low-income people do it all the time. Relieve some of that stress by distributing resources in a more just way, so that there are fewer arguments that arise over scarcity – a scarcity that many may have forgotten exists, but the Occupy Movement highlights daily.

As far as unsanitary conditions – these are, again, a chronic problem of low-income neighborhoods. Provide better services to clean-up.

Rather than getting down on the Occupy movement, consider that outside of the long-term benefits the Movement may seek, there are also some immediate positive things happening on the ground. For starters, they’re reminding us all that living in poverty is hard work. It’s not a reason to shut the camps down, it’s a reason to be inspired to act!


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About Elaine Marie