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Joel John Roberts

Joel John Roberts

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Is Homelessness the Seeds of a Future American Uprising?

Posted: 01/31/11 01:59 PM ET

The images coming out of North Africa appear to be so far away, so many oceans and multiple time zones away from our American reality. The flicker of CNN and YouTube videos of torched buildings and angry young people standing on tanks and swarming the streets of Egypt and Tunisia are the only evidence of insurrection that catches our attention.

Those of us who worship democracy, our political version of American Idol, eagerly see these furious mobs as the beginning of a democratic movement in the Islamic world. The shut down of the Internet was the final straw, the ultimate sign of a government that oppresses its people.

Could you imagine the Obama administration shutting down Twitter, Facebook, and the Internet -- denying Americans access to their favorite pastime? Never. Democracy is our demagogy.

Many people see those brave men and women storming the streets and government buildings in North Africa as rightfully rising up against their country's rampant poverty, unemployment and oppression.

Poverty, unemployment and oppression. Sound familiar?

Sounds like an American problem as well. Sometimes we forget about such human issues since some television shows mask our societal problems. We crave for shows that idealize wealth -- MTV's Cribs or Real Housewives of some wealthy neighborhood in America -- just so that we don't have to think about the struggles of poverty in our country.

But poverty in America is real.

If you talk to any American local law enforcement or political leader, they can tell you where impoverished Americans live. And I do not mean the rundown neighborhood on the other side of the tracks. I am referring to homeless Americans living along the river just west of downtown, in the alleys of that dangerous neighborhood, or in the hills just north of town.

Last week, I was talking to a City Council member of a well known West Coast city, and he had no difficulty identifying where his homeless population resided in his district. Homelessness has become integrated in America's landscape, like the prevalence of strip malls on every corner.

More than a million Americans have been homeless for some period of time in the past year.

I wonder what would happen if a million fed up homeless Americans finally said enough is enough. Could they become angry enough over the lack of employment, the dearth of affordable housing, and the violent treatment many receive on the streets, to start an uprising?

Many homeless Americans are already turning to social media as an outlet for their rage and disgust for a society that allows humans to live on the streets. Kevin Barbieux, The Homeless Guy, has been blogging for years. Most recently Eric Sheptock, known for using Facebook to advocate for homeless persons, and the website We Are Visible, created by Mark Horvath, are doing the same. Could homeless social media activists stir up the rage among homeless Americans?

Oppression, unemployment and poverty are not just Northern African struggles. They are also prevalent in America. Ironically, homeless Americans are already on the streets, just not yet transitioning their poverty into rage.

Most of us who are housed see homelessness as a nuisance, a blight on America's landscape. But for those who struggle on the streets battling freezing weather, empty stomachs, and young bullies who beat up on homeless persons, homelessness is not a nuisance. It is oppression.

I wonder if the tipping point for rage against homelessness will occur when homeless Americans use their large numbers to object to this country's policies against poverty?

Or, will it occur when housed Americans join them?

 
 
 

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