Coffee Not Cops, intended to counter the increased police presence around the 16th Street Plaza in San Francisco’s Mission, and corresponding increased criminalization of poor people, people of color, folks without homes, and others deemed “garbage” in the effort to “cleanse” this neighborhood for the newly arrived rich, has become a space for what one friend today dubbed in general “dare to care.” Or what seems to me to be the necessary complement to mutual aid eviction-defense efforts: mutual aid emotional defense.
The psychological burden of being seen as less than human — in fact, not human at all — and thoroughly expendable, able to be tossed out on a whim by the wealthy, is heavy indeed. It manifests in palpable collective anxiety, with people turning inward toward self-blame and sorrow, self-harm or thoughts of suicide, or outward, to argue with, hurt, or abandon those in a similar situation. It appears in urban legends/paranoia (truths?) of police intentionally killing homeless folks to sweep them off the streets, or arrest them so as then to whisk them quietly away to new psych-ward-warehouses far from the light of visibility.
So doing Coffee Not Cops can feel like Lucy setting up her 5 cents psychiatric stand in the Peanuts‘ cartoon, but for free, and freely offered, even when the sadness goes so deep it’s hard not to cry on the spot.
Like this morning, when a woman dropped $1 in our donation jar and took a handful of free literature, then lingered to share her tale. Years ago, two well-off lawyers in a big fancy SF Victorian hired her as a nanny. She raised their kids for them, from birth through school and church to wedding and adulthood. She has been cleaning house for the lawyers since their children moved out a while back.
Her white female employer, unable to look her in the eye, said last week, “We don’t need you anymore.” That was it. They’d hired two young Latino men, so gone was their longtime Latina “family member,” who told me, tears in her eyes, “I don’t blame the men she hired. They need work. But I’m really depressed. I love their kids. I raised them myself. Now I’m like garbage, thrown out.”
I listened, helpless, asking her questions to draw her out, and staying with her until she was done speaking, hugged me, and wiped away her tears. This always feels too little, a drop in the bucket of the grief of this world, but also, increasingly, seems the safety valve people so desperately need. To be heard. To be seen. To connect with others. To not be alone in it.
To, when all else is failing us as a society, at least retain our inherent worth as humans, our ability to practice care in all we do, and not serve as mere compost for this present phase of capitalism.
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(Photo by Harmony Chapman, 16th Street Plaza, Mission, SF, June 8, 2014.)