Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Freedom is Truth, Truth Freedom by Alison Ross

Freedom is Truth, Truth Freedom: Serving the Homeless is an Inalienable Right
by Alison Ross

For about 12 years now, I have been active in the realm of homeless advocacy, helping to prepare soup and rice that we serve in the parks to our less fortunate friends on alternating Saturdays. The group I serve with is Food Not Bombs. Throughout our 12-year run, we have encountered a couple of obstacles here and there, but we were always able to transcend them with legal assistance as well as our through own steadfastedness. About ten years ago, the City of Atlanta tried to block us from feeding in public places, but the ACLU represented us in court and we won back our right to share food with friends. And then again a few years later, the mayor actually gave an executive order to ban public feedings, and several downtown groups tried to push all homeless help groups out, but nothing ever came of any of it. We continued to exercise our civil right to share food in public parks.

And now, it's starting all over again, as we knew it would. Atlanta, an ever-gentrifying city, is immersed in trying to polish its image as a burgeoning international cosmopolitan hub, and so naturally the presence of unkempt odoriferous bums interferes with that aim. Never mind that the city itself is at fault for causing the scourge of homelessness and has the means within its grasp to solve the problem, or at the very least diminish it. Indeed, I address the causes of homelessness in a polemic from a few issues ago:

Compassion for the Homeless NOW!

I also address the homeless problem in this recently published letter in Creative Loafing:

Stop Caricaturing the Homeless

Published 08.20.08

Stop caricaturing the homeless

When are you going to do a real story on homelessness and poverty rather than half-baked articles about the city criminalizing the actions of desperate people ("Fewer homeless in the city," News & Views, Aug. 6)?

My friends and I serve free food in Woodruff Park. Yet, are you aware that the city has brutally cracked down on groups like ours, which are merely exercising the ACLU-supported right to share a basic need with friends? And by the way, the homeless people we encounter are usually lovely, humble people.

Homelessness and persistent poverty are largely due to a dearth of affordable housing and jobs, cyclical poverty, institutionalized racism and mental health issues. Indeed, mental health funding is severely slashed, dumping the mentally ill on the streets.

As we watch Atlanta become ever more gentrified and as more jobs are shipped overseas or just disappear altogether, you will see the swelling of the homeless and poor ranks – it's already happening.

The Gateway Center is hardly the panacea. Our oppressive economic system is the core of the problem.

Please stop crassly caricaturing the homeless and poor. Any of us could be in that boat, and really, you should know better. I continue to be outraged at your "coverage" of these issues.

– Alison Ross, Atlanta

So no need to delve into it all again.

The point of this brief polemic, instead, is to discuss the rights of groups like ours to serve food in public parks, and to protest government actions which are antithetical to civil rights issues.

You'd never know that we had such a right, of course, given how cities all over the nation have brutally cracked down on homeless feeding groups, as well as homeless encampments. And, of course, horrific pre-emptive raids such as the ones that took place during the Republican National Convention, only serve as sort of hallmark proof that something is seriously awry in this country regarding the honoring of human rights and helping those in need.

America is on the verge of economic collapse, which will force more and more people into the streets. It’s already happening – we see more homeless in the parks, and under bridges, and so on. It’s the vicious third world-ization of the richest country in the world – and of course, the leaders want it this way, so that we’re more ripe for manipulation. Make no mistake about that; to think otherwise is to cravenly suppress tangible reality.

Right to food and shelter is an innate part of us. And when those who fear the awesome power of human compassion try to circumvent those rights in the most tyrannical of ways, it’s time to fight back, in the most potently peaceful way possible: by serving food to the needy, and refusing to back down. It’s what we at Food Not Bombs have been doing now for the past few months, in the face of audacious hostility toward our efforts. The City of Atlanta is trying to subvert our endeavors to extend care and concern toward our less fortunate friends, but we will not let them.

The truth will liberate us all.

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