Walking through downtown at dusk, making my way towards home, I’m struck by a quieter scene on the street. Block by block, corner by corner, I see solitary figures, some with luggage or bedrolls by their sides, settling in to the evening, nowhere to go, nothing to do but remain where they are.
Meanwhile, others like me are also on the street, mostly walking by, some noticing or acknowledging, most just walking, getting into taxis, perhaps traveling to suburban homes. Those who are remaining sit on curbs, benches, or walk along themselves; some ask for spare change, some explain they are hungry. One man simply dives into the garbage, eating scraps of food discarded there by others.
I wonder how I can walk by, even though I am among those who acknowledge, sometimes offer spare change. The reception I’ve just left is to benefit work for a progressive America, and I believe in that so much. Every day at the Law Center that’s what we work for. But this walk tonight is still tough.
Growing up in New York City, every night over dinner I heard my parents talk about terrible suffering during the Nazi occupation of their native Greece. People were starving in Athens: even though there was plenty of food in the countryside, it was blocked by the Nazis from reaching the city. Every morning streets would be swept and the night’s emaciated corpses carted off. Decades after they experienced these horrors, they felt the need to keep recounting them.
We’re not in a war now, not here at home. Our country is not occupied and the Nazis are long since vanquished. Widespread, extreme suffering is not evident: there are no daily sweeps of corpses. Instead, there’s a quiet desperation on the streets in the evening when the sun goes down and the crowds go home. And people go hungry—even though there’s plenty of food to go around.
Decisions being made right now, just a few blocks away from this downtown Washington scene, are driving that the suffering evident here and around the country. Decisions being made in Congress and the White House to cut funds housing programs, health care, and jobs programs are affecting people’s lives. They are literally spilling out onto the street. And for each of those lives there are many others: people sleeping on others’ floors, in their cars, lives on the brink.
Everyone has a story that can make a connection to this suffering. Every single one of us has at some time been vulnerable, alone, in need. In some way or another, we have all experienced the need for help, the need to depend on one another. Any one of us could be that lone figure, if all our supports were taken away.
Those of us who can find those stories in our own lives, connect to that suffering, those of us who see it—we have a responsibility to make our voices heard. Our country has the resources to end this needless suffering. What it lacks is the political will.
By speaking out, taking action, bringing pressure to bear in the halls of power, we build the will. That’s what we do every day at the Law Center. And that’s how we keep walking forward.
– Maria Foscarinis, Founder & Executive Director