November’s midterm elections were a drubbing for Democrats, sure, but here in solid-blue California it was easy enough to feel insulated from the Tea Party sentiments; our state ticket went solidly Democrat, and governor-elect Jerry Brown can make claim to some real progressive credentials. But even in the city most belovedly reviled by the right, conservatism made gains: not by party affiliation of any elected official, but in the passage of San Francisco’s new sit-lie law, which makes it illegal to sit or lie on city sidewalks during the day.
The stated purpose of the law is to discourage begging. Begging, it can be said, is not the most effective mechanism for pulling oneself out of poverty — true enough, but without alternative opportunities, where are the beggars to go now? Sweeping them from the streets may sweep them off our consciences, but the criminalization of poverty is hardly a viable solution, unless we as a society anticipate a return to Dickensian debtors’ prisons.
The criminalization of poverty often begins with the stigmatization of poverty, followed by the stripping away of vital support resources. Although a sit-lie law seems innocuous enough, many powerful interests see profit potential in desperation; for further examples look to the banks, which lured lower-income customers with promises of free checking and then scored billions of dollars off the backs of the marginalized through overdraft fees. We largely accept this manipulation, somehow willing to live with income redistribution so long as the redistribution is directed towards the wealthy, and the political system only supports the status quo of inequality (even where the injustice is obviously manifest and lives are on the line).
…and, yes, this post was (at least partially) inspired by Bernie Sanders. What can I say? I’ve voted for Dennis Kucinich. Unrepentant championing of the voiceless gets me every time.