Two recent articles on the criminalisation of the poor in the recent Pambazuka News have intrigued me.
Bronwen Dyke in 'Where being poor could become a criminal offence' shares with us a law passed in Cape Town to criminalise people who continue to beg after somebody has said no.
Jacques Depelchin's In solidarity with Cité Soleil in Haiti (Pambazuka News (2007-03-22) shows how France with the help of the US, Canada and the Vatican forced the Haitian government that defeated their slavery of the Africans to agree to pay compensation to the slave and plantation owners, in exchange for being accepted as a nation state.
Sadly, the poor are criminalised everywhere. In the time I have lived in the United States, I have been perplexed by how the poor and vulnerable are criminalised amidst plenty. Here, poor people without a home are chased away from sleeping inside the train station in the night even during the freezing winters.
The other day I was walking down the street in my neighborhood and met this lady, scrounging from the dumpster. I guess she was collecting empty bottles and glass containers for sale. She reached out for a yoghurt container, which somebody else had half-eaten and she started scooping the left-overs from it. When I told this story to my mother in Uganda, she responded: 'even there (in the US) there are beggars?'
Indeed there are beggars in this country and that's what really scares me. It scares me to imagine that in this country where food is thrown away every second, there are people who eat from the dumpster. There is also another group of poor people or the less well-to-do who are scolded for being very materialist by the kings and queens of materialism.
Oprah Winfrey, while justifying why she spent money on building a school in South Africa instead of improving inner city schools in the United States responded tha, all the kids care about here are iPods.
Surely, why would she be surprised, when all these kids see is Oprah giving away cars and diamonds on TV? This is not toattack Oprah or her gestures but to show the contradiction of the materialists who scold the 'have-nots' for being their reflections.
What is not recognised is the psychological humiliation of people who beg on the streets, or trains or take showers on the roadside. I've watched how people who beg on the New York trains have to prepare themselves before they open their mouths.
Both Dyke and Depelchin call upon our social solidarity to stand against these established regimes that impoverish, dehumanise and criminalise the struggles of the unemployed and freedom fighters.
* Doreen Lwanga is from Uganda and currently lives and works in New York.