SCN teams up with Student Journalists

Back in 1992, the founders of Spare Change spoke earnestly of “Building a Bridge between the Haves and Have Nots.” This social justice newspaper was conceived of as more than an economic opportunity for vendors to have an alternative to panhandling for a living. The original purpose was to create a space for dialogue to occur that would provide solutions to seemingly unsolvable social inequities.

The world in 2016 is vastly different than the world of 1992 and, for that matter, of 1974. Print newspapers are quickly becoming a prop from a bygone era. News happens in 24 hour cycles or less. Politicians get stuck reacting to sound bites and are no longer asked to articulate the ins and outs of policy positions. Rather, the politician who is quickest to draw the first blood verbally is the one who prevails.

Yet the human beings who populate this new landscape are not terribly different than the generations that preceded them. Decades later, thoughtful individuals still struggle with the same basic questions about what it means to honor basic human dignity. Social class and race still define the basic realities of human experience in America.

Spare Change News was born into a world where commuters read the morning news on the train. Today, Spare Change News vendors sell papers to individuals who mostly use smartphones and stay current with breaking news by the vibration of those same phones in their pockets.

Constructive dialogue between talking heads was instrumental in policy formation in the 20th century. Today, talking heads still talk, but Twitter delivers 140 characters of conclusions before reasoned consensus has been reached. The most compelling tweet serves as an anchor for future dialogue, and nuance is relegated to the academic world.

How can the voices of the have nots be heard in a world where the loudest megaphone, irrespective of medium, drowns out all other voices?

Napoleon Bonaparte famously said, “History is written by the winners.” While I understand the reasoning, the idealist in me is saddened by this. Understanding all too well that beautiful souls without resources often lack the ability to make a lasting impact, I accept that the history I studied in school is but a version of what actually happened.

Human behavior is complicated. As a race, we are driven by self interest and a desire for transcendence. These conflicting impulses often lead to discord when we face opposition from parties who see reality differently than the “facts” that seem so obvious to us.

Individuals who are born into circumstances that are only limited by their own decision to exercise initiative or not see the world differently than individuals who live in circumstances that social scientists would agree are undesirable.

How can Spare Change News hope to bridge this sort of gap? How can this paper exist as more than just a physical testament to the kindness of the souls who purchase it to support its vendors? Speaking frankly, there’s nothing glamorous about the perspectives of the have nots. Why do they matter at all?

In my mind, they matter because, while history may be written by those fortunate enough to have dominated it, reality is littered with the forgotten truths that could have provided more elegant solutions to social problems.

As an individual who has jokingly described herself as “a refugee from the south” after migrating north over 20 years ago, stories about the ugliness surrounding the forced busing in Boston have always troubled me. It perplexes me that even though Massachusetts favors far more socially liberal politicians than I encountered south of the Mason Dixon line, Massachusetts towns still feel more segregated than the suburban sprawl I came of age in.

There is no moral judgment implicit in that statement, simply an acknowledgment that even in the less (if not non) discriminatory environment of Cambridge, Massachusetts, I perceive that some citizens experience less social mobility than others. For this reason, I have come to view the classifications of “have” and “have not” primarily in terms of the capacity for social mobility that is experienced.

It would be a supreme act of arrogance to try to break down the drivers of social inequality in a single column, so I will simply ask that you read each issue of Spare Change News with a mind open to the idea that America is both a meritocracy and a stacked deck.

My hope is that you will consider this issue’s careful analysis of a painful segment of Boston’s not-too-distant history as an attempt to distill wisdom that will create further dialogue between those considered privileged and those who feel themselves to be marginalized. To study a wound is not intended to reopen it. Rather, there is a desire to learn from why it happened.

In most of our minds, ugly flare ups related to racial discrimination have been relocated to red states, and I do not doubt that the vast majority of Spare Change readers feel no sense of racial superiority. Yet, we cannot help but acknowledge that the forced-busing controversies of the ‘70s do not belong to red states. They belong to all of us who identify as Bostonians just as surely as we claim our heritage as tea-party patriots.

Based on the most recent Brookings report, which placed Boston first in the nation for economic (if not racial) inequality, Boston also faces the incontrovertible evidence that it is a city populated with both haves and have nots. For this reason, questions about how we treat the “have not” citizens of our commonwealth resonate today even as we might cringe at the political incorrectness of our not-too-distant past.

Spare Change News seeks to provide a safe space for dialogue between the haves and have nots in 2016. As the presidential race fills our airwaves with polarizing statements that seek to provide one mindset with preeminence over the hearts and minds of our shared nation, we’d like to call time out.

We want to give those who are politically disenfranchised a chance to tell their stories and allow those accounts to be carefully considered by our readers. We’d also like to give students and teachers the chance to examine social justice issues in depth for the purpose of gaining insight that might lead to constructive solutions for political stalemates that our state and federal lawmakers are stymied by.

Are you interested in having your academic institution examine a social justice issue in a public forum? Contact us and perhaps we can help provide you with that opportunity.

Spare Change News seeks to make our shared nation a better place by giving the general public the ability to hear voices that the mainstream media does not have the bandwidth to share.

Harry Truman once stated, “The only thing new in the world is the history you do not know.”

Thank you for taking the time to consider realities that go beyond sound bites. We value your readership.

Katherine Bennett is executive director of the Homeless Empowerment Project, publisher of Spare Change News. She can be reached at director@sparechangenews.net and welcomes all questions, concerns, and feedback.

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