Friday, September 08, 2006

Low Rent District: Spending the night at the Berkeley Public Library

What did I do last night? I spent the night at the south branch of the Berkeley Public Library. Why? To see what it was like to be homeless in America.

In June, I took a trip to Afghanistan with Global Exchange. Afghanistan is the fourth poorest nation in the entire world but in all the time I was there, I NEVER saw anyone sleeping on the street. Or in doorways. Or in front of public buildings. If you were homeless in Afghanistan, you could always find SOMEONE kind enough to take you in.

Is that true in America? No.

I was driving through the streets of south Berkeley one night last week when I got a really big shock. Right there, on the front porch of the south branch of the Berkeley Public Library, I saw about 30 or 40 lumps. Lumps? In Berkeley? I took a closer look. They were sleeping bags! With sleeping bodies inside. I was shocked.

I went home. I thought about this. I decided to join them.

Last night I dragged my ratty old sleeping bag down to the corner of MLK and Russell Street and spent the night. How did it go? It was cold!

It was hard.

It was scary.

There were freaking FAMILIES camped out in front of the library. Little kids played on the grass in front of the library. They were normal little kids, playing tag. "I gotta go to the bathroom, Mommie," one little kid said. Mother and child then took a walk down the street. At 10 o'clock at night.

The light is on for you all night long at the Berkeley Public Library. The man next to me snored. The woman on the other side of me had nightmares. How do they do it? Night after night? Under these conditions, who could sleep?

In the morning, I got up after a very restless night. The sprinklers came on at 2 am. At 4 am, the cops cruised by and shined their spotlight on me. At 5 am the garbage truck made an incredible amount of noise and at 6 am, "I gotta go to the bathroom, Mommie," started up again. At 8 am some of the working poor started combing their hair, changing their clothes and getting ready to go off to their jobs.

You try sleeping on cold, hard concrete. With twenty or thirty other bodies huddled up close to you. With no bathing facilities. And no TV! As more and more jobs disappear and more and more people in this formerly-great country become homeless, these impromptu camp-outs appear to be the wave of the future for America under the leadership of the Bush bureaucracy. Hey, that makes me a fashion diva. I'm a trend-setter! I'm getting in on the ground floor!

At 8 am, I said goodbye to my new roommates and toddled on home, back to my safe warm sweet little bed. With the down comforter. And the bathroom nearby. It was a great social experiment, my night at the Berkeley Public Library. The people there were kind to me, protected me from the dangers of the night and even offered to share a bag of Cheetos with me. Nevertheless, I hope that I never have to do it again.

Neo-cons such as Bush and Cheney and Schwarzenegger seem to be working on the theory that they can do ANYTHING to Americans and get away with it. And Americans keep proving the neo-cons' theory is right -- time after time after time. The neo-cons take away our healthcare, our schools, our Constitution, our good-guy image with the rest of the world, our jobs, our housing, our wages, our money, our CHILDREN -- and what do Americans do? They keep voting for neo-cons! "George Bush is MY President! I LOVE George Bush," says my friend Jean. "Why do you keep saying such bad things about him?" And she'll probably still be saying good things about George when it is HER turn to spend her golden years spending her nights at the Berkeley Public Library.

PS: Did I ever tell you about the time I served an eviciton notice on President [sic] Bush? For violating his lease, the U.S. Constitution? "You gotta be ELECTED to live there," my eviction notice read. But did the sheriff show up, evict George and Laura from the Lincoln bedroom, throw their stuff in the street and change all the locks? Sadly, no. But I still have hopes!