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Between rain showers this weekend, Sara and I took a quick walk around the neighborhood. We live in Echo Park, a neighborhood now defined as often by its gentrification as by its connection to Los Angeles' Latino history. We saw a "for sale" sign on a 1,000 square foot, 2 bedroom, 1 bathroom, house. It's price tag was seven hundred thousand dollars. Both Sara and I work. But we can't afford to pay that much. We still both have student loan and credit card debt that it would be irresponsible to compound with another $700,000. As we headed home, we passed a makeshift tent erected by a homeless gentleman desperate to carve out a tiny private space to rest in the middle of the second largest city in the US.

It's really hard sometimes to have meaningful conversations about privilege with folks because we're obsessed with this Horatio Alger "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" narrative. There isn't a single politician who runs for office who doesn't tout how poor he or she was, or how poor his or her father was. We keep feeding this ghastly narrative, this fiction, that hard work, and/or education is all it takes to make it in this country. But there's not a single decent paying job I know of that doesn't require me to produce a passport, or driver's license and Social Security card, and a checking account routing number, and a home address to process my day one paperwork. And now with E-Verify, even the crap paying jobs require this degree of scrutiny. To be homeless therefore means to be unemployable. And what's worse it means disenfranchisement. It nullifies citizenship since you can't register to vote without an address. And now that the Voting Rights Act has been gutted, even folks who might show up in search of same-day registration or a voice through the provisional ballot will find themselves turned away because they lack a photo ID and proof of home address.

It is an incredibly painful and sobering moment to realize that this country was founded on the premise that only property owners could vote, and that the humanity of human beings kept in bondage could be assigned a Census-specific fraction, and that today these two realities persist. If you are homeless today you are a disenfranchised citizen. If you are in prison, you count toward the apportionment of local, state, and federal elected officials. But they do not represent you any more than the beneficiaries of the 3/5 Compromise represented the human beings kept in bondage. It disgusts me that we live in a country where human beings are killed by neighborhood watch vigilantes, arresting police officers, border patroling predators, and spineless politicians who are unwilling to take the heat.

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It doesn't matter if the wealthy and powerful are well intentioned. The only thing that matters is that those who are not wealthy and those who are not powerful are worse off than they should be.

It doesn't matter if the wealthy and powerful are well intentioned. The only thing that matters is that those who are not wealthy and those who are not powerful are worse off than they should be. For too long we have allowed our rhetoric to absolve us from the responsibility of doing what needs to be done. It's not about "makers" and "takers." It's not about the "greedy" paying their "fair share." It's not about equal opportunity, because there can be no equal opportunity when Blackness means outcomes marked by every measure of inequity. Browness means an open and unapologetic denial of Dignity. It means living under perpetual accusation and demand for apology from those who denounce Islam and/or immigrants who lack documentation. If one is not Muslim, if one possesses status, these are irrelevant to those who see skin color and thus, suspect. If one is Muslim, if one lacks status, these are invitations to hate because no apology or disavowal is strong enough.

It doesn't matter how hard you work, or how educated you are if you live in a place where men, women, and children sleep on the street. If that place also happens to have $700,000, 2 bedroom houses, your stomach should sink. If that place is home to a police department that deploys multiple officers to hunt down, corner, physically take down, and then gun down a homeless man "suspected" of a robbery, your head should explode. If that place is currently being bathed in sufficient rain to wash that man's blood off of the streets as though his life and brutal death could all be washed away in less than one day's time, your heart should break.

Intentions are irrelevant. Outcomes are all that matter for those already sleeping on the streets, already locked behind bars; already living in places where hard work and education afford one the privilege to perpetuate the Horatio Alger "pull yourself up by your own bootstraps" lie.


Unai Montes-Irueste