Jewish Currents is a progressive, secular Jewish magazine that has been a proud voice for labor, civil rights and the promotion of Yiddish culture. Founded in 1946 as Jewish Life, the magazine was reorganized and re-launched in 1958 as Jewish Currents, with Morris U. Schappes (1907-2004) as its editor, a post he held for four decades.
Rosalind Franklin, who made key contributions to Crick and Watson’s formulation of the double-helix structure of DNA but received little credit for her work, died on this date in 1958 at age 37. Franklin was born in Notting Hill, London to a family involved in banking, government, trade union organizing and women’s suffrage. The family also took in two Jewish child refugees from Nazi Germany; Rosalind shared her room with a girl whose father had been sent to Buchenwald. Franklin’s own father disapproved of university education for women and refused to pay her tuition at Cambridge until her mother and aunt stepped in and insisted. Franklin’s work on X-ray diffraction images of DNA supplied “the data we actually used” to formulate the double-helix hypothesis in 1953, admitted Francis Crick, yet Franklin received only a footnote in their paper. “I’m afraid we always used to adopt — let’s say, a patronizing attitude towards her,” Crick later acknowledged. J.D. Bernal called her X-ray photographs of DNA “the most beautiful X-ray photographs of any substance ever taken.”
“In my view, all that is necessary for faith is the belief that by doing our best we shall come nearer to success and that success in our aims (the improvement of the lot of mankind, present and future) is worth attaining.” —Rosalind Franklin, letter to her father, 1940
Among those who perished when the ocean liner Titanic sank on this date in 1912 were Ida and Isidor Straus, co-owners with Nathan Straus of Macy’s and Abraham & Straus department stores. Ida (born 1849) was offered a place on a lifeboat but refused it, saying to her husband, “We have lived together for many years. Where you go, I go.” Isidor (born 1845) also refused a lifeboat seat, giving it instead to Ida’s maid, Ellen Bird. Isidor was a founder of the American Jewish Committee, and his philanthropy was also key to sustaining the Educational Alliance of New York and numerous projects in the yishuv in Palestine. Several other prominent German- Jewish families lost members on the Titanic, including the Guggenheims and the Seligmans. Jewish survivors included Edith Louise Rosenbaum, who became the first female war correspondent during World War I. Ida Straus’s valor was widely praised in the Jewish community, with articles in the Yiddish and German-language press extolling her courage and devotion.
“Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it.” —Straus monument in Woodlawn Cemetery, Bronx, NY
Marvin Miller, who directed the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) from 1966 to 1983, was born on this date in 1917 in the Bronx. He was the leading economist and negotiator for the United Steelworkers when he was elected head of the MLBPA in 1966, and within two years had negotiated its first collective bargaining agreement with the teams’ owners. Miller’s accomplishments included the establishment of arbitration in labor disputes, the establishment of free agency for baseball players, and the increase of player salaries from an average of $19,000 to $241,000 per year. Broadcaster Red Barber said that Marvin Miller, “along with Babe Ruth and Jackie Robinson, is one of the two or three most important men in baseball history.” Still, Miller has three times been denied admission to the Baseball Hall of Fame, thanks to management control over the admission process. “Marvin Miller should be in the Hall of Fame if the players have to break down the doors to get him in,” said Hank Aaron.
“Marvin’s exclusion from the Hall of Fame is a national disgrace.” —Tom Seaver
Radical journalist Amy Goodman, the co-creator and host of Democracy Now!, was born on this date in 1957. Democracy Now! has been broadcasting on Pacifica radio and other networks since 1996, giving in-depth coverage to peace and human rights struggles, corporate malfeasance, and numerous other pressing international issues of our time. Goodman was the first journalist to win the Right Livelihood Award of the Swedish Parliament (2008), an “alternative” Nobel Prize, and was also the first recipient of Ithaca College’s Izzy Awards (2009), named for I.F. Stone. A graduate of Harvard, a granddaughter of an Orthodox rabbi, Goodman identifies as a secular Jew and keynoted the 2008 Jews Organizing Against the Iraq War conference in New York, cosponsored by The Shalom Center, the Workmen’s Circle and Jewish Currentsmagazine. Her books include Breaking the Sound Barrier, an anthology of her syndicated columns (2009), and Standing Up to the Madness: Ordinary Heroes in Extraordinary Times (2008), written with her brother, David Goodman.
“Journalism is the only profession explicitly protected by the U.S. Constitution, because journalists are supposed to be the check and balance on government. We’re supposed to be holding those in power accountable. We’re not supposed to be their megaphone.” — Amy Goodman
Watch Amy Goodman deliver a 2013 commencement address at Hampshire College here.
An Interview with Nathaniel Stinnett, Founder of the Environmental Voter Project
by Aaron Dorman
THE ENVIRONMENTAL Voter Project was founded in 2015 by Boston-based political campaign adviser Nathaniel Stinnett, with the aim of identifying citizens for whom environmental issues are high-priority and increasing their turnout in national, state, and local elections. “[P]olls also show that tens of millions of Americans strongly prioritize progressive environmental policies,” says the organization’s website. “[T]he real problem is that these people do not vote. Indeed, even in recent nationwide elections, over 15 million individually identifiable environmentalists have stayed at home on Election Day.” The organization is now active in Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Massachusetts, Nevada and Pennsylvania — states likely to be important battlegrounds in the 2018 midterm elections.
Jewish Currents’ Aaron Dorman sat down with Stinnett for this conversation in March.
AARON DORMAN: I’ve gone to so many environmental gatherings at which people are trying to figure out what to do with the Trump Administration in charge, when every advance we’ve made seems to be hitting a brick wall. Your idea that there are people who care about the environment who need to be organized to register and vote points to a positive campaign that people can actually pursue.
NATHANIEL STINNETT: That’s right! It is an objectively great opportunity — it’s like showing up to a basketball game and realizing you have a whole team of superstars just sitting in the stands, and all you need to do is throw a uniform on them and get them in the game, and you’ll win! We’ve already won the battle for people’s hearts and minds. The problem is we’re just not showing up when it counts, which is on Election Day.
I do honestly believe that this is really, really good news. Changing people’s minds is so hard and so expensive, but we’ve already changed enough minds. That doesn’t mean we stop trying to change people’s minds, that’s absolutely an important endeavor, but there are enough already persuaded climate activists and potential climate voters that if we just fix our turnout problem and start showing up to votey, politicians will follow, because one thing you can depend on politicians wanting to do is win elections. They will go where the votes are.
AD: But if environmentalists do vote, why won’t Democrats or Republicans say: “Okay, these guys are in the bag, I don’t have to campaign on this any more.” What will hold the candidates’ feet to the fire? How can we be confident that politicians will take environmental issues more seriously?
NS: That’s a great question. I think it’s really important to answer it by explaining the process that pretty much every campaign goes through. The first decision any campaign makes is who are we going to talk to and who are we not going to talk to. They make that decision by looking at public voter files.
In the U.S., as we all learn, growing up, that our ballot is secret. But whether we vote or not is public information. I could go to your city hall and pull your voter file and see which elections you voted in and which elections you didn’t. So let’s say someone is running for governor. The first thing their campaign is going to do is look at all the registered voters in the state and figure out, from their previous voting histories, who is likely to vote in a gubernatorial election and who isn’t. And they are only going to then poll the people who are likely to vote. They are only going to communicate with the people who are likely to vote. They are only going to spend their money trying to appeal to the people who are likely to vote.
This shouldn’t surprise us, right? We wouldn’t expect Starbucks to care about us if we don’t drink coffee. Why the hell would politicians care about us if we don’t vote? So if we get more and more environmentalists into that small population that politicians actually care about, they definitely will not be take for granted, because they are the only people who determine whether a politicians wins or loses.
Right now, voters do not prioritize climate change and other environmental issues, and so Donald Trump didn’t feel like he had to mention climate change even once in his State of the Union address — but you know what? Joe Kennedy didn’t mention climate change once in the Democratic response that he delivered, either.
And it’s not because Kennedy doesn’t care about climate change, it’s because every politician has a limited amount of political capital to spend, and even when we elect the right people, it’s really hard to expect them to spend their political capital on an issue that voters don’t prioritize. So I would try to flip your question on its head, I would say, yes its important that we elect the right people, but no matter whom we elect, they are not going to lead on environmental issues unless environmentalists start voting.
AD: Who are the environmental non-voters you’re targeting? My impression from going over the EVP’s work is that a lot of them poor, or minority members. Are you worried that in certain states they will face voter suppression issues?
NS: The typical stereotype — that people who care about climate change and the environment are white, wealthy yuppies — no longer applies, at least not to the extent that it used to. Research shows that African Americans and Latinos in pretty much every state across the country tend to care more about climate change and environmental issues than Caucasians do. And our target group is not uniformly young, although certainly, young people tend to care about these issues more than old people. And you’re right that this population tends to be poorer than the average voter. So, yes! Voter suppression laws absolutely are a worry, and I think voter access issues are environmental issues. Our constituency tend to be affected most by climate change, affected most by clean air and water pollution issues — and they also tend to be the populations who have laws that keep them from voting in certain states. Voter suppression is absolutely something that the environmental community needs to take seriously, because in order for our constituency to show up at the polls in force, they need to usually jump more barriers to get into the polling place than most people do.
There are a lot of great groups working very hard on voter access laws. We don’t have the resources to do that. We have a very specific focus on identifying environmentalists who don’t vote and then trying to increase their likelihood of voting. We have to fight voter suppression, but even with those obstacles, we can still flood the polls, still dramatically increase turnout across the board in every state.
I mean, most people, when they sit and think about the enormity of climate change, or the enormity of plastic pollution in our oceans, or other huge problems, they feel overwhelmed. But voting? Voting is a very simple thing that each of us can do, even in states that try to make it really hard. Voting is a more valuable tool to put in your arsenal than recycling or riding your bike to work or changing your eating habits, largely because it takes the average American twenty minutes to vote from the time they leave their door to the time they cast their ballot.
AD: Do environmentally motivated people vote for environmentally good candidates?
NS: My answer might be somewhat unsatisfying, but at least it will be honest. The truth is we don’t know. Nobody knows. Even with exit polling, voting remains secret. But what we can tell you is this: The people we are mobilizing to go to the polls list climate change and other environmental issues as their number one or number two priority.
The second thing I want to mention is this: Yes, elections matter, deeply and profoundly, but policy is not made on Election Day. Policies are made in the intervening weeks and months and years between elections. And what drives policy is the polling of likely voters. As you and I are having this conversation right now, there are probably a hundred polls being conducted all around the country, asking people what issues they care about so that everybody who is running for Congress or governor in November can figure out how to direct their messages to likely voters.
They are not polling all American adults. They are not polling all registered voters. They are not even polling everybody who voted in the 2016 presidential election. They are ONLY polling the people whose public voting histories show that they are likely to vote in this November’s midterm election. So it’s so important to get these environmentalists to vote simply because it puts them into that small group of people that drives policy every single day of the year.
Simply by voting, these people become first-class citizens. They become part of this really small group that gets polled and analyzed and helps to drive policy at the local state and federal level. Even if you go into the polling place and write your dog’s name on the ballot, it’s still important, because you would become part of this small select population that drives policy. So if we get millions of environmentalists to become part of this small group of “super-voters,” believe me, politicians will start being environmental leaders, or they won’t get reelected. It’s that simple.
Local elections are very important. I’d go so far as to say big-city mayors could save our planet, if there were real voter demand for environmental leadership. With little tweaks to the zoning codes and building codes and parking regulations, mayors could save the planet. But at best, in some mayoral elections, you have 10 to 15 percent voter turnout, and those are mostly voters who care primarily about potholes and school budgets. If environmentalists just nudged their turnout levels a little higher, we could flood the electorate and make a real difference.
AD: Is there a way to get people who already vote to give higher priority to environmental issues, or do you feel it to be a more useful strategy to target non-voters who are environmentally committed?
NS: We don’t try to persuade people to care more about the environment, but I’m not saying that’s unimportant or not worthwhile — a lot of very talented organizations are working at persuading people to care more about climate change and care more about environmental issues. But it is hard and expensive, especially in an increasingly “post-fact” society, to persuade anybody of anything. So we think it’s much more efficient to find people who are already persuaded but aren’t voting, and focus on changing their habits. We’re in the habit-changing business, not mind- changing business.
There are an enormous number of non-voting environmentalists. We’ve identified 15.78 million already registered to vote — environmentalists who stayed at home and did not vote during the 2014 midterms. Only 83 million people voted in that election, so 15.78 million could make a huge difference.
Our hope is that after four or five years of work in any given state, we can make climate change and other environmental issues a top-three priority for voters. We think we can absolutely achieve that in the states where we are mobilizing voters: Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Massachuetts, Nevada, and Pennsylvania. The average voter will actually have between three and five elections in which he or she can vote each year, so over the course of four years, we might contact someone twenty times for twenty different elections. We can really change the landscape.
We also offer a service to people in all fifty states: If they go to our website and sign a pledge to vote in every election and always prioritize environmental issue, we will send them email reminders and texts before every election. It’s just a free service: You may live in Alaska, but we will remind you of your city council races.
We ran a year-long test of our concept from the fall of 2015 to the fall of 2016 in Massachusetts, and we got such amazing results, which enabled us to expand into Georgia in the spring of 2017 and into Colorado, Florida, Nevada and Pennsylvania in the fall of 2017. We learned that the tools that we are using are really effective in getting environmentalists to vote. We also learned that we are much better at getting already-registered non voters to start voting than at finding not yet registered environmentalists and getting them to register.
AD: What got you interested in environmental issues? Or in politics, for that matter?
NS: For about ten years, I worked as a lawyer and as a chief strategist and campaign manager for a whole bunch of campaigns, big and small, from gubernatorial all the way down to city council and state rep races. And I always cared very deeply about climate change and environmental issues, but I was frustrated to find that when you poll likely voters in any election, climate change and other environmental issues are almost always at the bottom of that list. I’ve always worked with really great environmental candidates, and we were always really frustrated, because we looked at our polling, and saw, gosh, these voters just don’t prioritize these issues. It would be suicidal to spend all of our time talking about something that voters don’t care about.
At the very end of 2013, after I had finished working on a mayoral campaign, I was looking at some polling data with a friend of mine, who’s a pollster, and I realized something that totally blew my mind: that the reason so few voters prioritize climate change and the environment is NOT because too few Americans prioritize climate change and the environment, but because too few environmentalists vote. We have less of a persuasion problem than a turnout problem.
I’m not going to claim it was an easy decision to not go back to my law firm or to stop running political campaigns. My wife and I had our first child on the way, and like any new parents, we were reassessing what was important in our lives. But we never looked back, and I’m so glad to be doing this, not just because we’re succeeding, but because we live in some really scary times. It’s really wonderful to be able to fight every day for something that’s so important. If I weren’t doing this work, I’d be in the closet crying every day. Everybody is looking for opportunities to have an impact. So I’m very glad that we’re doing the work we’re doing.
Aaron Dorman is a freelance writer/reporter focusing on environmental and science communication. He recently appeared here with an article, “#Me, Too, Said Mother Earth.”
Discussed in this essay: The Landmark Julius Caesar, edited and translated by Kurt A. Raaflaub. Pantheon, 2017, 793 pages.
AS I WAS READING the magnificent new Landmark edition of Julius Caesar’s works, my initial instinct was to relate the Roman leader to the anti-democrats of today, starting — of course — with our own president. This seemed particularly apt, given the kerfuffle over the Shakespearian Julius Caesar performed in Central Park with a Caesar resembling Trump meeting his preordained fate.
But having finished my reading of this book, which contains The Gallic War, The CivilWar, and a handful of outside accounts of Caesar’s campaigns, I abandoned that tack. For what I came away with from my reading of this translation, by the volume’s brilliant editor, Kurt A. Raafalub, was a reminder that Caesar’s writings are not merely classics; they are thoroughly enjoyable classics. Caesar destroyed the Roman Republic, but it’s all but impossible to complete a reading of his work without developing a sneaking admiration for the man. All the person in the White House has in common with a great man like Caesar is genus and species. Though Trump has colonized our minds today, let him at least be banished from our contemplation of ancient days.
The Gallic Wars, for example, Caesar’s account of his eight years of campaigns in Gaul (with side excursions to Germania and Britain), is filled with insightful and fair portraits of even his enemies, starting with the ruler of the Arverns, Vercingetorix, who French historians centuries later would turn into a foundational hero of the French nation. Caesar’s enemies are not cardboard figures: He engaged in accurate and colorful ethnography, delineating clear difference among the barbarians outside Rome. His writings are also filled with reflections on the soldier’s mentality, the mastery of which played a key role in Caesar’s becoming one of history’s greatest military generals. When describing the people he combats, Caesar has his preferences, to be sure — finding the Germans a tad too savage for his tastes compared to the Gauls — but none are ever treated condescendingly. We take from The Gallic Wars the sentiment that Rome’s enemies were people, which is something one doesn’t always find in the work of politicians or generals, even less in men who were both. But what other imperial conqueror provides set pieces in which opponents explain their desire for freedom from the conqueror’s yoke? This doesn’t excuse Caesar from imposing that very yoke, but it makes Caesar’s writings all the more readable and compelling.
To be sure, these books are entirely partial affairs. It is estimated that a million of the four million residents of Gaul perished in the Gallic Wars, and though Caesar is not shy of speaking of mass killings, one gets little feel for the Romans’ barbarity. He can massacre entire populations, drive them from their homes, and sell them into slavery with barely a pause. The entirely personal nature of his conquests, in contravention of Roman law, is not made much of, either. And in his other major work, The Civil War, his characterization of the events leading up to the struggle against Pompey is summary at best, while the death of his opponent, whom he pursued around the world, is disposed of in a sentence.
HOWEVER MUCH the classics in general have fallen into disfavor, viewed, in the phrase of the classicist Bernard Knox, as the work of the oldest dead white men, any open-minded reading of this thrilling edition of Caesar’s works repays the time invested many times over. The Gallic Wars and TheCivil War were written as propaganda, but that only makes their accomplishment all the more impressive: Propaganda that can survive millennia is no longer propaganda, but literature.
There are many editions of the works contained in this volume, but there is no edition that even vaguely equals this for comprehensiveness and readability. It is the first Latin translation in the magnificent Landmark series (which includes Xenophon, Herodotus, Arrian, and Thucydides), and augurs well for the future.
The translation, by Kurt A. Raaflaub, is fluid without being overly colloquial. The hefty but manageable volume includes brilliant and essential maps, both of the areas covered in the text and of battles, allowing the reader to easily follow the steps of Caesar’s many encounters with his enemies. After a lengthy introduction, which lays out the general history into which Caesar’s works were inserted and explains the books contained, there is a section containing a list of the individual chapters, the years events occurred, their location, and a very brief summary of the information contained in each chapter. The book is also generously illustrated, the images clearly reproduced and well explained. The paragraphs are summarized in the margins, and the copious but unobtrusive footnotes are thorough and assume no specialist’s knowledge of the history. Also included in the volume are the non-Caesar elements of the canon: accounts by other participants in the Gallic Spanish, Alexandrian, and African Wars, about which Caesar did not himself write. Finally, there are forty-seven essays of commentary, four of which are included in the published book, the rest available online.
The Landmark Julius Caesar is a model publication, one far more suited to our time than the classic Loeb bilingual editions, which appeal mainly to the few among us still possessing mastery of classical Greek and Latin. How odd and wonderful that the most thrilling book to cross my desk in 2018 was one written two millennia ago.
Mitchell Abidor, our contributing writer, is a writer and translator living in Brooklyn. His May Made Me: An Oral History of 1968 in France, has just been published. His latest translation is Daniel Guérin’s For a Libertarian Communism. Two of his translations, about the Paris Commune and French anarchists of the 1890s, are available at our Pushcart.
IN EDWARD ALBEE’S play, The Zoo Story, Peter, an executive in a small publishing house who lives in a comfortable apartment on the Upper East Side with his wife, two daughters and two parakeets, meets Jerry, a self-described “permanent transient,” in Central Park. When Jerry suddenly declares that he wants the bench he is sharing with Peter to himself, Peter refuses to move, responding ironically, “People can’t have everything they want. You should know that; it’s a rule; people can have some of the things they want, but they can’t have everything.” After Jerry calls Peter a “vegetable,” Peter loses his composure and angrily warns Jerry that he has put up with him “LONG ENOUGH.” He instructs Jerry to “Go away” and threatens to call the police. Brazenly, Jerry responds, “(You have) everything in the world you want . . . you have everything, and now you want this bench . . . are these the things men fight for . . . is this your honor? . . . Don’t you have any idea, not even the slightest, what other people need?”
Actually, we don’t have the “slightest idea” what the homeless need. Peter’s sense of entitlement, together with his disparagement of Jerry, underscore the scorn the homeless suffer as they struggle to create homes for themselves from within their deprived circumstances. The homeless are treated as the real “deplorables” of our society, suffering our indignation. We express concern for their well-being — as long as they don’t occupy a space on the sidewalk. We advocate more money for building shelters — as long as they’re not to be built in our neighborhood.
The reaction of a resident of Manhattan’s “Billionaires Row” neighborhood to New York City’s plan to convert the former Park Savoy Hotel on West 58th street into a shelter for 150 homeless men typifies the stigmatization directed towards the homeless. The Savoy sits in the shadow of One57, a 75-story super-luxury residential skyscraper where the top-floor penthouse sold for $100.5 million in 2011. The resident told the Guardian: “The people here are uppity, they don’t like it. I’m for helping the homeless people, but I think they could have placed the shelter elsewhere.”
Far worse, the estimated 193,000 homeless people typically on the streets each night across the country face frequent dangers, some of which are life-threatening. As part of an ongoing project this past year highlighting “peoples and places that are grappling with the homeless crisis,” the Guardian has uncovered at least fifty cases of dumpster-related deaths as well as serious injuries to homeless people who depend on the garbage tossed into dumpsters to sustain themselves. In San Diego, in response to the city’s overwhelming homeless crisis, they reported that clean-up crews swept up a tent with a person still inside, who was almost compacted in a garbage truck. This was not a unique incident — similar examples were found in other places. To deter a homeless encampment on a stretch of pavement underneath highway 99, the city of Seattle, another city dealing with a burgeoning homeless population, installed bike racks along the pavement. These “anti-homeless spikes” are not dissimilar to the anti-homeless seating deterrents found on New York City’s sidewalks or at Penn Station.
THE U.S. DEPARTMENT of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) point-in-time estimates published in their Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress — an annual survey conducted on one night of the year to provide an estimate of the number of sheltered and unsheltered homeless — are the most readily available and consistent data on the extent of homelessness. The estimates suggest homelessness has been declining, although in 2017 it increased slightly. The 2017 counts estimated 553,742 homeless people, slightly above the 2016 number of 549,928 homeless but lower than the 647,784 counts for 2007.
The slight growth in 2017 occurred because America’s 50 largest cities are dealing with a growing homeless population. The increase in their “unsheltered” homeless population — people whose “primary nighttime location was a public or private space that is not designated for, or ordinarily used as, a regular sleeping accommodation for people (e.g., the streets, vehicles, or parks)” — is most visible in Los Angeles where four-fifths of the homeless population are unsheltered. Like New York City, which plans to open ninety shelters over the next five years, Los Angeles has faced resistance to its plan to open an initial 10 shelters from “neighborhood groups anxious about having people with addiction and mental health problems move in next door.”
New York City’s homeless population grew by 4.1 percent in 2017 according to HUD’s point-in-time estimates, reaching 76,501 people, in total. Of these, almost 4,000 individuals were living “on the street.” The number of homeless in New York City far outnumbers those in any other city; the next largest is Los Angeles with 55,188 people and then Seattle with 11,643 people in 2017.
The full extent of the pervasiveness of homelessness, however, is concealed from our daily lives. It is, in fact, far more prevalent than we are led to believe from the data published by official government sources.
The point-in-time estimates significantly undercount the number of homeless, depreciating the magnitude of homelessness in this country. First, the count is conducted on a single day only. Homelessness is transitory, however. Annual data do a better job capturing the flow of individuals moving in and out of homelessness during the course of the year. For example, in January 2018, New York City homeless shelters housed 63,101 men, women, and children each night, slightly less than the new all-time high of 63,485 in December 2017. Yet over the course of fiscal year 2017, a record 129,803 unique individuals — twice as many — spent some time in a shelter in New York City. A 2001 study using data collected from administrative records of homeless services providers in nine US jurisdictions found that the annual homeless population ranged from 2.5 times greater than the point-in-time estimates in Spokane, Washington, to 10.2 times greater in Rhode Island.
Second, there is no common definition of who counts as homeless. HUD excludes people who are “doubled up” (living in someone else’s home) or “couch surfing” in its number of homeless. HUD also discounts homeless individuals who may be in hospital or in jail on the day of the count.
Counts of homeless children and youth enrolled in public schools conducted by the U.S. Department of Education have gone up every year since data was first collected in 2003. Their count for homeless children alone is almost 2.5 times as large as HUD’s point-in-time estimates for the entire homeless population. In contrast to HUD, the Department of Education includes children who are homeless at any time during the year, including those who are living “doubled up,” staying in hotels/motels, abandoned in hospitals, or awaiting foster care placement.
Even, the Department of Education’s counts may be low. A recent national survey of homeless youth undertaken by Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago suggests that the number of homeless is probably higher. They estimated that approximately one in ten young adults ages 18 to 25 — an outrageous 3.5 million young adults — and at least one in thirty adolescents ages 13-17 — about 700,000 — undergo some form of homelessness over a 12-month period. These counts include out-of-school youth, not included in the Department of Education’s counts.
Third, because homelessness is criminalized in some places, the homeless may intentionally hide from public view, causing them not to be seen on the day of the count. In Houston, for example, a recent ruling enforcing an ordinance that prohibits the setting up of tents and temporary living quarters in public spaces effectively makes homelessness a crime.
AMELIORATING the homeless crisis requires a substantial amount of money and the outlay of abundant resources. But these actions do not go far enough. They don’t meet the needs of the homeless. Resolving the homeless crisis will require three transformative changes:
First, we need to end the dehumanization of homeless people — who share our human desire to make a home. As Susan Fraiman writes: “In fact, being homeless brings out the very things that make us human: our creation of domestic rituals, care for others, ingenuity in shaping our environment.”
The humanity of the homeless, as Fraiman describes, are skillfully portrayed in Marc Singer’s 2000 documentary movie Dark Days, which illustrates how the homeless seek to create homes for themselves. It follows a community of homeless people living in an abandoned Amtrak tunnel on the west side of Manhattan in the late 1990s. Some of the residents had lived there for as many as twenty-five years before Amtrak reclaimed the tunnel and dispersed the inhabitants. An unapologetic portrayal of the residents’ daily lives, it shows how they take pride in their living quarters, maintain their homes, and organize living among the rats and darkness below ground while touring Manhattan’s streets during the day searching through garbage bins for plastics and other resalable items that will earn them enough money to ensure their survival.
Dark Days (2000) full movie HD 720p - YouTube
Second, we need to safeguard the civil and human rights of the homeless. Enactment of a homeless bill of rights would affirm that homeless people have equal rights to medical care, free speech, free movement, voting, opportunities for employment and privacy. Four states — California, Connecticut, Illinois, and Rhode Island — have enacted a homeless bill of rights.
Recognizing the rights of the homeless would mean ending their criminalization. The Obama administration had warned that local laws criminalizing homelessness could violate the Constitution’s protections against cruel and unusual punishment. Nevertheless, half of all American cities have some kind of anti-camping law. The growing homeless crisis facing many cities, however, has prompted a reconsideration of urban homeless policies.
Third, we need to recognize that housing is a fundamental human right. Everyone should be provided with housing security. As Peter Marcuse and David Madden have written, housing policy needs to undergo radical transformative changes in order to realize the right to housing. The housing crisis, they write: “is not a result of the system breaking down but of the system working as it is intended.” The system works to produce homelessness rather than to resolve the crisis of homelessness.
there is a conflict between housing as lived, social space and housing as an instrument for profitmaking—a conflict between housing as home and as real estate . . . housing is not produced and distributed for the purposes of dwelling for all; it is produced and distributed as a commodity to enrich the few. . . . . What needs defending is the use of housing as home, not as real estate. We are interested in the defense of housing as a resource that should be available to all.
As we recall Martin Luther King on the 50th anniversary of his death, we can do well to recall his radical views on the changes our society needs to undertake to eradicate poverty, and by extension, homelessness:
True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth…and say “This is not just.” —Martin Luther King, Jr., “A Time to Break Silence,” Riverside Church, New York City, April 4, 1967
Allan Lichtenstein, our contributing writer, has a Ph.D. in urban planning from Rutgers University and has been working in the field of poverty research for many years. He writes a regular blog for us about economic justice statistics, most recently, “Guess How Much Museum Guards Are Earning?”
The clown prince of the New Left, Abbie Hoffman died by his own hand on this date in 1989 at the age of 52. Using ridicule and audacity against the political, military, and judicial systems that were helping to prosecute the Vietnam War, Hoffman worked to transform the anti-authoritarian sentiments of many young people of the 1960s counterculture into political consciousness. Active in Mississippi during the civil rights movement’s 1964 Freedom Summer, Hoffman became best known for throwing dollar bills from the visitors’ gallery to the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (April, 1967); for his “Exorcism of the Pentagon” in October of that year; and for founding, with Jerry Rubin and others, the Youth International Party, or Yippies, who led protests at the 1968 Democratic Party Convention in Chicago, provoking a police riot that led to the Chicago Eight Conspiracy Trial. Hoffman lived underground from 1974 to 1980 after being arrested for selling cocaine, but nevertheless worked as a very public environmental activist in upstate New York under the name “Barry Freed.” His books include Revolution for the Hell of It, Woodstock Nation, Steal This Book, and Soon To Be a Major Motion Picture.
“Jews have to make a big choice very quickly in life whether to go for the money or to go for broke. Wiseguys who go around saying things like `Workers of the world unite’ or . . . `E=mc2’ obviously choose to go for broke. It’s the greatest Jewish tradition.” –Abbie Hoffman
Today is the 65th anniversary of the liberation of the Buchenwald concentration camp by U.S. troops in 1945. When the Americans arrived, the camp had just been seized by prisoners, some of whom had been forcibly marched there from Auschwitz and Gross-Rosen (a sub-camp of Sachsenhausen) in January as Soviet forces were sweeping through Poland. The Americans found 21,000 people left in Buchenwald, out of some 250,000 who had been confined there since 1937. The camp was built five miles northwest of Weimar, the home of Goethe and the birthplace of the Weimar Republic. It first served as a forced labor camp for political prisoners and Jews, and then for Jehovah’s Witnesses, Roma and Sinti (Gypsies), resistance fighters, prisoners of war, criminals, and German military deserters. Women were not confined in Buchenwald before late 1943. Medical experimentation was carried out there, including hormonal transplants to “cure” homosexuality. According to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, Buchenwald administered at least 88 subcamps across Germany and provided significant slave labor to the Nazi war effort. At least 56,000 male prisoners were murdered there, including 11,000 Jews. Among the liberators were African American soldiers in the 183rd Engineer Combat Battalion, part of the segregated U.S. Army.
“It made me see clearly what can happen when racism is left unchallenged . . . that the pain of racism is not relegated just to me and mine. . . your pain is my pain, and my pain is yours.” —Leon Bass, 183rd Combat Engineer Battalion
Cornell Capa (Kornél Friedmann), founder of the International Center of Photography in New York, was born on this date in Budapest in 1918. He was a Life magazine and Magnum photographer who covered the Soviet Union, Israel’s Six-Day War, and the first hundred days of the Kennedy presidency, among other subjects. In the 1970s, Capra produced a series of exhibitions and books under the title “The Concerned Photographer,” who has the power and duty, he said, “to comment, describe, provoke discussion, awaken conscience, evoke sympathy, spotlight human misery and joy which otherwise would pass unseen, un-understood and unnoticed.” Capa himself chronicled the decimation of indigenous cultures in Latin America and the oppressive regime of Juan Peron in Argentina; he also created collections of photos to advocate for dignity for the elderly and for mentally disabled children in the U.S. His older brother and mentor was Robert Capa, the photo-journalist best known for his wartime photography, who founded Magnum Photos with Henry Cartier-Bresson, among others, and died from a land mine in Indochina in 1954. Cornell Capa died at age 90 in 2008.
“I wanted to show the things that needed to be corrected. And I wanted to show the thing that needed to be appreciated.” —Cornell Capa