The young woman had been camped out in front of City Hall for over a month. Her hair was straggly, but she had a smile on her face and she was holding a donut.

“Can you tell us why you’re still here?” the local news interviewer asked.

“I’m here because of my deep commitment to equity and fighting the oppression of marginalized communities,” the woman said. Granted, she looked like she wouldn’t recognize a marginalized community if she tripped over it on her way to her local co-op vegan cafe, but I loved her anyway.

I was obsessed with the protests. Every afternoon, as soon as I got home from work, I dropped onto my couch, slipped off my shoes and watched the latest. The campers were opposed to the Mayor’s harsh treatment of the homeless. Their encampment was supposed to be a reminder to him of how those without a home were forced to live. It sprawled out from City Hall into the nearby park, littering it with insulting signs, red flags and communal kitchen pots.

They weren’t going to accomplish anything in the end. And there was no way that I could go sit there with them, not with my job and my mortgage. Despite all of that, I fantasized about the protesters. I fantasized about ordering pizza for them, going to bring them homemade soup. Maybe I could knit scarves for them. I would hand out a scarf to each of them, give them a hug and tell them how special they were. I would be like the Mother Theresa of the City Hall camp. It was the least I could do.

I turned off the TV and went to pour myself a glass of wine. The rice was already cooking. I switched on the radio. The local leftie community station was broadcasting from the camp. I listened and the little butterfly of excitement started fluttering around my belly again.

I could feel a shift in my body and suddenly, another voice drowned out the activist on the radio. The voice was calm and logical, sounding very confident even though it was offering public testimony in front of the city council.

It’s not that we don’t want this development to be built at all. It’s just that it’s too big. It’s going to change the character of the neighborhood…

I shook my head and stared down into the sink. No matter how much I wanted it to turn off, the voice continued.

And is the building going to have sufficient parking? Where are the residents going to park? I’m betting the cars will end up on our street…

I turned off the radio. Mother Theresa. What was I thinking? I walked back to the living room with my wine glass, but the voice followed me.

We all agree that affordable housing is so important, but…

The shift had already happened to me a long time ago. I had turned into the person who testifies against affordable housing projects if they’re being planned for her neighborhood. I could indulge in rebellious nostalgia all I wanted to, but I was not who these anarchist hippie kids wanted to see at their protest, not any more than I wanted to have an actual conversation with someone who was homeless. Not any more than I would have liked to see the City Hall camp in my backyard, if I was going to be honest.

I had shifted far past what I had once believed in, floating off on the stream of comfortable daily habit until I no longer knew where I was. Was I even a progressive? I had no idea.

Well, sitting here and feeling bad for myself certainly wasn’t going to help anyone. I wiped my eyes and turned on the Lifestyle Channel. They always had the best decorating tips.


They’re always around.  When we’re going to get our pastries or our drinks, they’re there.  When we’re out on our Sunday morning stroll, their clothing is scattered on the sidewalks.  A constant presence, even though I only give them a quick glance and rarely say anything to them beyond “Sorry”.

On the weekends, I visit my boyfriend in the Pearl District, one of the pricier neighborhoods in Portland.  It’s the kind of place where you will find boutiques for little dogs and co-op organic grocery stores.  And it’s where you will also find a large population of homeless people.  There are encampments under the bridge and makeshift beds in the grass next to empty gravel lots.  Even when the homeless remain out of view, you can see that much of the neighborhood itself has been constructed to repel them.  Benches are made to be uncomfortable on purpose.  One of the trendy apartment buildings has what I can only describe as a moat of water around it.  The police try to clear out the sleepers, and residents are battling against an entire tent city which is planning to move in next door to them.

I can understand that.  It’s scary walking past the camps.  Many of the people are angry and mentally ill and unpredictable.  They should be receiving care for their illness, but they won’t be, because in an age of government shutdowns, there are no resources for that sort of thing.

The world I currently live in tells me that this is all as it should be, that the homeless and the poor made bad decisions and are now dealing with the consequences.  The people living in the glass homes above are smart, and the people living in the streets below are stupid and lazy.  In fact, the wisdom of our age is that it’s any attempt to fix the causes of homelessness that is the true evil–those horrible do-gooders!–and not poverty and homelessness itself.

As with most of us here, the extent of my involvement is that I’ve occasionally given money, so I can’t pretend to offer some great solution.  What I can say is that I’m unable to look around and believe that this is the good and natural way for human society to work, and that any change to it will ruin this perfect system.  Perhaps I have not yet become adult enough, even in my middle age, to accept things as they are.