On the backs of the poor

root - Posted on 31 December 1969

Newsom and the hotel council spends millions of dollars to criminalize more poor folks in the form of proposition M

by Lisa Gray-Garcia aka Tiny


"He’s comin’" one sliver of 9:00 am morning shone on the pavement beneath our feet – it was cold… too cold for a morning in April, "Officer Gold is on his way" My partner in underground economic survival, Richard X, an African-American Union Square panhandler, and I took turns looking out for each other– you see we were both guilty of a quite serious crime, I for selling hand-painted t-shirts without a license and he, for selling his misery to anyone who needed a shot of guilt, but to my way of thinking, we were only doing what comes naturally in a capitalist culture, we were working, or perhaps more specifically, we were engaged in our own form of micro-entrepreneurship.

The funny thing is, in this society where the land you stand on is worth more than the people standing on it – we were both violating the law, or as Rudy Giuliani put it so aptly, "peddlers, panhandlers and prostitutes… they all need to be cleaned up"

I had been selling art on the street since I was 13 years old and knew well the ins and outs of street navigation- there was always a cop, security guard or landlord that was after you and the only way you could prevent endless arrests is by relying on your fellow workers – As my co-editor at POOR so aptly documented in her investigative series; (Is Panhandling Work?) we both had hours- Richard’s being even more rigorous than mine – his day starting at 7:00 am – he took lunch at 12:30 and dinner at 8:00pm –and then continued working all the way til 11:00 pm – Yes, I said it again,working, I mean let’s face it what is work anyway?, isn’t it showing up at a designated location, on time and regularily and performing some kind of task.

The efficacy or purpose of several jobs could be argued – i.e., a politician who sells you his ideas and hopes that you will support him or her with hundreds of dollars of contributions, or an insurance salesman who sells you on the possibility of your death or destruction. And one could also argue a much more honest job than setting up fake energy scandals (Enron Executives) or negotiating large contracts that pollute the ground water of third world countries (chairman of the board at Dow)

So then there’s that issue about the substance abuse – well yes, Richard did have a substance abuse problem, but is that really your business? so does half of the work force in the western world (including several crack addicted graphic designers and software engineers I know) but they don’t have to get your approval before they smoke a joint and noone holds their paychecks hostage until they prove to you or their boss what they spend their money on.

But now in cities from Los Angeles to New York, the issue of "panhandling" is being dealt with ( translation; criminalized) and they all seem to look to Giuliani’s racist classist "clean-up campaign" of the late 90’s as the example of civic perfection. In San Francisco, Mayoral Candidate, and Getty financial benefactor Gavin Newsome has built his entire campaign on the backs of us poor folk with the most recent attack being in the form of a so-called anti-panhandling legislation - Proposition M which was proceeded by a costly billboard campaign which featured overly happy white tourists proclaiming all the great sites that they saw today and ending with the fact that they supported a panhandlers’ drug habit. And one with an intentionally dizzy raver girl, head happily tilted to the side, proclaiming her pride at adopting a puppy, giving spare change, etc….in the tradition of truth in advertising- I wondered where the sentences in both of their lists were that indicated which bars they frequented and from who and where they scored their "party drugs"

And then it was five years ago all over again, Richard was still focused intently on the sidewalk vista beyond me. The sun sliver was moving slowly through the wall of buildings. Richard raised his eyelids once to indicate that the police officer was right behind me, ready to strike. It was only 9:00 am and our workday was already over.


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