be poor in the United States today is to be always at risk,
the object of scorn and shame. Without mass-based empathy for
the poor, it is possible for ruling class groups to mask class
terrorism and genocidal acts.
is cranking out talkies. Tired of hearing that silent films were
finished, Charles Chaplin said—okay! Fine!
the first scene of Chaplin’s silent film, City Lights,
politicians and wealthy philanthropists, in their finery,
stand at a podium before a crowd of citizens (and the film’s viewing
audience). It is 1928. The politicians, philanthropist, and the
citizens have gathered for the unveiling of a monument donated
to the city for the people. The monument is entitled “Peace
and Prosperity”! The philanthropists and the mayor begin their
announcement. Itis a series of kazoo sounds, non-sense
sounds emanating from their mouths.
Talking is done and the mayor motions for the covering on
the monument behind them to be lifted. The covering comes off,
and there’s the black jacket, pants, and derby hat of Charlie,
The Tramp, lying across one of three white statues of figures
resembling Roman gods.
monument has been a useful place for the homeless man to sleep.
But the politicians, philanthropists, and their audience are appalled!
A tramp, a bum, a homeless man, on their valued property!
The Tramp, not without registering his mockery of the good
society in stride, climbs down and disappears from the scene.
U.S. society’s hypocrisy became a hallmark of The Tramp’s experiences
on the streets. In turn, the FBI identified Charles Chaplin,
an English citizen, as a menace to U.S. society, and the media
hissed: communist! In 1952, Chaplin was denied permission to
return to the U.S. Centralizing the humanity of Charlie, the homeless,
was a Leftist interest during the McCarthy era.
Hollywood has no use for The Tramp or any such incidental human
being except as a victim of a seemingly incidental but
predetermined death in a production that introduces its audience
to another slick, glamorous or all-powerful super hero.
an event was classified as so significant that it warranted 24/7
network and cable coverage by a predominantly right-winged
was the case with the death of the “Lion of the Senate.”
man born into wealth with a prestigious family name, Senator Edward
M. Kennedy, it was noted repeatedly by family members, friends,
Democratic and Republican colleagues, loved the sea. He loved
to sail. In return, both the sea and sailing offered him a philosophy
for living on Earth.
not on the sea, Kennedy championed the poor and the working class.
be a champion for the poor and the working class is not only a
liberal’s interest, but it seems to be a grand experience
in itself, thanks to crafty spin masters and to innovative technicians
of images. The marginalized are the liberal champion of
the poor, it would seem. In death, Kennedy, the Democratic liberal,
is championed as a hero, monumental, in and of himself.
Left is no longer in the equation.
the social realm, the experience of being penniless, homeless,
jobless, undereducated, in poor mental and physical health in
a country that proclaims itself the world’s riches nation, receives
little attention. In this consumer-driven society, the homeless
are far from heroic.
the Christianized capitalists have packaged an image of
America that sanctions the throwing of stones toward an
ever expanding list of flawed groups of humanity. Jesus loves
Homeland Security, Wall Street, the IMF, and the World Bank.
New age spirituality, writes hooks, undermines “traditional biblical
condemnation of the greedy rich by insisting that those who prosper
are the chosen, the spiritual elect.” Even some among the least
of those populations scramble to appear at least members of
the petty bourgeoisie, leaving the them to Judgment
many in good society believed judgment day came on a day
in August 2005.
the news coverage in the aftermath of Katrina. U.S. citizens (fellow
neighbors, fellow brothers and sisters) and the world were shocked
and horrified to discover—again—poor people in their midst! And
they are floating—dead—in the city’s precious waterways! Corporate
moguls panicked. Orders were given to news producers to repress
the shock and shift to fear and the more familiar narrative of
criminals in New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward. Four years later,
large parts of the Ninth Ward in New Orleans still looks as if
the flood waters just receded yesterday. Thousands of “disabilities,
poor, elderly, minority and immigrant communities” of East Biloxi
or the Lower Ninth Ward, according to Jeffery Buchanan (“Ending
the Human Rights Crisis in KatrinaRitaVille),” still live in “toxic
government-issued trailers” while affordable housing construction
has come to a halt. In New Orleans, homelessness has doubled
to 12,000. “Tens of thousands of internally displaced survivors
lack the resources to return and reunite with family and many
more are unable to access proper training and living wage work
to lift their families out of poverty. The result is a domestic
human rights crisis,” Buchanan writes.
And the real criminals responsible for this human-made
disaster are among good society, enjoying the American
If politicians, civic and religious leaders had been
truly concerned about the plight of the poor and working class,
would they have continued the poor people’s campaign begun by
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.?
The McCarthy trials are still underway, complements
to the corporate productions of entertainment and infotainment
from Murdock, Walt Disney, Time Warner, Inc., and Viacom subsidiaries
and affiliates. There is no room in good society for the
Under what monuments are we now burying the poor?
not bother to ask the U.S. Left. The Left here is MIA.
a bright and sunny day in Philadelphia, PA., I passed two police
men, one white and one Black, standing over a group of elderly
Black men who were sitting on a stoop, at a distance from the
entrance to a Midas repair shop. I have seen these men sitting
there before, among a constant stream of shoppers and merchants
passing by on Chelten Avenue. One of the officers had a ticket
book in his hands, and from what I gathered, the homeless men
would have to move.
maybe I was mistaken and assumed the worse.
those guys drink and urinate. They’ve been complaints against
them, said a woman who answered the phone at the Germantown Police
Department. I told her I never saw the men drinking or urinating.
It is a very open space. She repeated—they drink and urinate…
ran into a Black police further down Chelten Avenue, the next
week. I asked to speak to him and he agreed. I told him what
I observed the week before: the police ticketing or warning elderly
Black men about sitting on the stoop in front of Midas.
drink and urinate there. And the Midas shop complained.
I said, as I smiled and walked away.
elderly homeless men are not without flaws. Their flaws reflect
the tragedy of maintaining the flawed system of capitalism.
in another America, Goldman Sachs second-quarter earnings was
$3.4 billion, according to Adam Turl and Alan Maass, Socialist
Worker, August 13, 2009, and “its executives are looking forward
to the return of their mega-bonuses to pre-crisis levels.” It
was $2.7 billion for JP Morgan Chase, “a 36 percent increase over
the year before.” Citigroup received $45 billion in government
bailout money and “booked $4.3 billion in second-quarter earnings,”
according to Turl and Maass. One of Citigroup’s “top oil traders…is
owed a cool $100 million in bonuses under his contract.”
the display of citizen anger against these corporate executives
and the functionaries of profit—these men and women are heroes.
Those who shout the loudest against the excessive profits of these
individuals are likely to be among the majority of U.S. citizens
who want to be those individuals! Today, the monuments in honor
of hypocrisy Chaplin critiqued will not be marred by the presence
of a menacing population that might threaten by mere presence
or challenge by activism the corporate state.
New York, Mayor Bloomberg welcomes these hard-working financial
workers. But the homeless must go! The city has paid some 550
families since 2007 to leave the city “as a way of keeping them
out of the expensive shelter system, reports the New York Times,
July 28, 2009. The homeless can receive a one-way ticket to anywhere
in the world! The “Department of Homeless Services employees do
all the planning for international travel.” This is not the synopsis
of a Charlie Chaplin film!
are carting Haitian and Mexican poor back to their native lands
while planes are flying the domestic poor anywhere—away—just not
here. Where are the poor to go when society clings to an economic
system whose very existence produces more homeless people?
the pervasive nonsensical chatter today, the talkies have silenced
the questions: Where will the poor go? Who is responsible for
this mass of humanity?
the homeless men on Chelten come to spend the bulk of their days
sitting on a sidewalk stoop in front of a Midas repair shop I
don’t know. I have never witnessed anything other than men sitting
and talking among themselves. The homeless men may be an eyesore
since they are not walking or sitting billboards for Nike or the
Philadelphia Eagles. Maybe a bathroom with a tub and shower is
hard to come, too. To clean oneself requires the proper identification
papers, employment with sufficient income, or at least some lost
of dignity, independence.
talking with long-time residents in the neighborhood, it comes
down to this: the shelter opens its doors in the morning and the
men are sent out until night fall. In the interim, they drink
and, of course, they urinate. The washroom doors of both Kentucky
Fried Chicken and Burger King near the Midas shop are locked.
Customers must ask for the keys. These homeless men are not exactly
customers of either place of business, so the washrooms
are not available for their use. As one older Black man told
me, these men end up urinating on the street, and often, these
men fall asleep along the sidewalk in the evenings.
tramps, they are not. But they were once someone’s son,
maybe someone’s husband, someone’s father. And in another time
and place, these elderly Black men would have had honored positions
among their tribes, communities. Hunters, gathers, warriors would
have sought their advice, and they would have shared their wisdom.
the shop keepers have had enough of these figures lingering about
on their monumentsto business and corporate ingenuity.
it all comes down to the bottle for the day and urinating in public.
It does not have to be if we all had enough of what creates this
will take responsibility for this reality Charles Chaplin tried
to uncover and capture in an image so many years ago?
the inherent injustice of capitalism would inherently entail challenging
the right/liberal illusion of its monuments to “peace and prosperity.”
But the U.S. Left has allowed this corporate driven government
to legitimize torture at all levels against an increasingly larger
portion of humanity.
do not have to invent the wheel; we just have to be sincere.
are the socialists, the environmentalist? Saving nature is more
than just saving trees. Are the elderly Black men and the increasing
numbers of Black, Red, Latina women housed in prison moved right
off the Left’s agenda?
is the Left—channeling Marx?
BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board member, Lenore Jean Daniels, PhD,
has been a writer, for over thirty years of commentary, resistance
criticism and cultural theory, and short stories with a Marxist
sensibility to the impact of cultural narrative violence and its
antithesis, resistance narratives. With entrenched dedication
to justice and equality, she has served as a coordinator of student
and community resistance projects that encourage the Black Feminist
idea of an equalitarian community and facilitator of student-teacher
communities behind the walls of academia for the last twenty years.
Dr. Daniels holds a PhD in Modern American Literatures, with a
specialty in Cultural Theory (race, gender, class narratives)
from Loyola University,
Chicago. Click here
to contact Dr. Daniels.
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Bill Fletcher, Jr.
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