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Occupy Wall Street and marginalised voices

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Summary of story from The Huffington Post, November 3, 2011

Sparro Kennedy is waging a fight within the Occupy Wall Street movement on behalf of the most vulnerable participants – the chronically homeless and the mentally or emotionally unstable.

Kennedy, herself currently homeless, said: “There’s a push to drive out the homeless and those with special needs. Our responsibility as a community is to make sure that everyone has a voice and that nobody is left behind. I’m here to make sure of that.”

As Occupy Wall Street has grown (see WVoN coverage), it has attracted the chronically homeless who want to take part in the protests or who crave the food and camaraderie that hundreds of occupiers have brought to Zuccotti Park in New York.

Among that number are also many with special psychiatric, emotional or medical needs, Kennedy said.

These people, who have been marginalized in mainstream life, are being marginalized again here, Kennedy and others claim, as some within the movement view them as troublemakers.

This, she quipped, in a movement that purports to represent the 99 percent who have been victimized by American greed and all manner of corporate meanness.

“I’m here to make sure that this movement does not leave behind the people really dealing with reality out here,” Kennedy said. “Some people have lived in a bubble all of their lives. Well, now that bubble has been popped.”

As a coordinator with the Comfort Community,  which provides housing, bedding, clothes, shoes, and other resources, she helps to order supplies, field donations and make the occasional clothing run with donated money.

“We have people who are coming from everywhere, from all different types of backgrounds, all different types of educational experiences, and they are coming together, but there are still vestiges of the system that we are trying to break and a culture that we are trying to evict from our psyches,” she said.

“Those aspects are still present in the movement. They are using these preconceived notions and ideas to express how they feel things should be done. And that doesn’t always mean what’s right for everyone.”

As she sat on a bench a few blocks from Zuccotti, eating the rare treat of a Chipotle steak burrito, her phone rang, signaling another fire to put out.

It was about a young man she suspects has Asperger’s syndrome or schizophrenia, mixed with a serious case of immaturity.

He had taken a bag of clothes from a volunteer at Comfort Community and a few days earlier had stolen cash from the donation jar.

The group wanted to vote him out of the community of comforters.

Kennedy made her way through the camp and behind the big Comfort supply tent.

“How many vote to have him leave the community?” Kennedy asked. Every hand went up.

“We love you, but you have to leave our tent. We love you. But it’s time for you to go,” she then explained to the young man.

“It’s not your group, Sparro,” he blurted out.

“You’re right. It’s his and his and hers, and mine,” she said, pointing around to each person in the circle.

As she turned to walk away, he grabbed her by the collar and threw her to the ground. No one seemed surprised.

WVoN comment: Although I find Sparro’s experience disturbing, the ray of hope is that the 99 percent movement will begin to address the marginalised within its ranks, hopefully by recognising that their existence is precisely the point of the protest.

Perhaps this could also include recognising that throwing a woman to the ground – homeless or not – is also not acceptable?

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