Bread and Roses

by Ipsa Liberalis

I work downtown, and within a few hundred yards from my office door, there is a homeless shelter. Thus, there are a multitude of panhandlers in my life.

Now, I'm a socialist. I live an incredibly blessed life, with the comforts of royalty at my very fingertips (the amount of hot water I enjoy is beyond belief.) I'm by no means wealthy, far from it, but I know that I have more than I need and much more than many. As a socialist, I know that easing the suffering of others raises up my own life. It floats my boat, if you will.

Of course, I also live in the United States. In the U.S., we don't have the social safety nets that other countries employ, so our poor suffer more than theirs do. And I have been told that directly donating my change to someone circumvents what little social welfare support people can get (one can't drink my donation to a food bank, for example, where as two dollars into someone's cup can easily buy a tiny bottle of booze).

Still, practice what you preach. Sometimes the people near my job get my dollars. I don't always have dollars, though and today, I honestly didn't have it when a guy asked me if I could help him out. "Sorry :-/ ."

But then I thought, I could bring him a coffee. It was cold as fuck out—single digits.  I could do that for him. Medium. Cream and sugar. I had almost decided to do it, when I remembered the last time I helped a guy out. 

I was just getting off a longer train ride. I was hungry. I got in line for a McDinner. And I was going to bring something home for my other half. And this guy asked me, and I said, "Hey. Yeah. Want a burger? Sure. Coffee?"

So he says, "Yeah. Two hamburgers and a large coffee. Hazelnut. Cream and five Splenda."

Well, okay! It was a few days before Christmas and I offered, and, well, there we are. So, I get up to the counter and the guy working the register took my order and he saw that I was helping that guy and he knew... Large coffee. Hazelnut. Cream and five Splenda. Must be a regular.

And we got the goods and parted ways.

So, between that guy before Christmas and this guy this morning, I decided, nah, no coffee today, since I couldn't guess how he liked it and I didn't really care to make a new friend. Besides, I needed a bite to eat myself and to get to my cubicle.

But it made me smile, and it made me think of this great moment in the history of the working class in the U.S. Factory workers in a town north of Boston were on strike in 1911. A woman, Rose Schneiderman, got up and gave a speech wherein she said, "The worker must have bread, but she must have roses, too."

You can read all about it here.

And here's an audio track, which tells the story much better than I ever could:  

I hear a lot of people talk about entitlements and the poor and benefits and begging and choosing. And it always bothers me. That's for another day, since I don't like to be too long-winded with these entries, but, just like each of us, that person panhandling is entitled to that little bit of delight in a hard world, a world much harder than mine. I think, even in this day and age, a man who might be looking for something hot to drink on a cold night should get coffee, but he should also get a shot of hazelnut, cream and five Splenda, too.