Standing Up for Respect in Porter Square

Anthony Thames
Spare Change News

Sunday, November 26, was a beautiful day in Porter Square, Cambridge and I was soon to find that it was a memorable and inspiring one. The sun shone brightly and temperatures were in the 60’s (a pleasant surprise for the month of November). Smiles and pleasantries were present in abundance. I felt it would be the perfect day to sell my copies of Spare Change News.

I decided I would set up shop in front of Dunkin’ Donuts on Massachusetts Avenue. My first customer approached with a wide smile and handed me a five-dollar bill for a newspaper. He asked that I give him three dollars in change. I shuffled through my pockets, suddenly realizing I had no money. I had just arrived and was absolutely broke. I explained that I didn’t have change but that I was willing to go into Dunkin’ Donuts to get change. The gentleman said, “Awww, forget it, keep it.” For me, this was a very pleasant surprise and usually a good sign. I thanked him and wished him well.

Four gentlemen approached my “turf” with a table, pamphlets, and big signs depicting President Obama as Hitler. I respect the rights of people to disagree, show discontent and/or protest what they consider wrong or not in line with their political/religious beliefs, but I felt that it was blatantly disrespectful to myself and others, to equate President Obama to Adolph Hitler. Hitler was probably the most prolific mass murderer of our time. I’m sure that for Jews, this man has earned a spot in history all his own. There are very few monsters that can be compared to him.

Two of these four gentlemen were African-American, and it was obvious that they were uncomfortable with the role they were asked to play. Again, I respect a person’s right to protest, but I had to ask one young man, “Do you really feel comfortable with equating our first African-American president to Hitler?”

For most Americans, our president represents a beacon of hope and exemplifies our dream for a better America. Well, this man’s response was nonsensical, and immediately I knew; he probably had a brain the size of a mustard seed and I truly felt sorry for him. Then the other African-American young man asked me if I had an extra cigarette. I gave him one and left him with this: “Brother, if you don’t like the way things are going, go back to school and strive to become president, then change it.” Ten years ago, I would have sounded extremely naive saying that.

The overwhelming majority of people in Porter Square showed either disregard or outright contempt for these “rabble-rousers.” I truly felt a sense of solidarity with these people; that we were all in it together, good or bad. I voted for President Obama and I admire the fact that he is an African-American. But I feel it would be an insult to my ability to make a thoughtful and informative decision to say that that was the sole reason for my vote . I wouldn’t even have considered voting for Herman Cain.

I receive a very moderate income from the state and I’m barely able to keep up with my bills. I sell Spare Change newspapers to supplement my income and I’m constantly astonished by the generosity and goodwill of the people in Porter Square. I have to say, though, that I feel the most rewarded when I refer others who might be homeless and/or struggling to Spare Change. Then, they might get out and see the goodness in ordinary people, and be able to improve their social skills and earn a few dollars to help them along. I’ve experienced a great deal of pain in my life and I have to admit, most of it was self- inflicted. I’ve self-medicated for the pain with drugs and alcohol. However, I am now free of drugs and alcohol and unlike the traditional addict/alcoholic, I don’t keep tabs on my clean days, months or years. I just don’t do it anymore.

Anthony Thames is a Spare Change News writer and vendor.

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