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Adam Fisher: Let’s go ahead and legalize begging

ADAM FISHER
Raven Storm, 30, who lists her address as the streets of Northampton, solicits donations on Main Street last week.

ADAM FISHER Raven Storm, 30, who lists her address as the streets of Northampton, solicits donations on Main Street last week. Purchase photo reprints »

Since, among others, American policymakers to date have made beggars of so many, the least the body politic could do in return would be to make begging a statutory right. As in, life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness ... and begging.

Now, begging may not be universally illegal, but I would argue that it deserves the status of a fully enunciated right.

As an example of a wider attitude towards begging, the Michigan American Civil Liberties Union conducted a yearlong investigation and is suing the Detroit Police Department for scooping up beggars in an entertainment district, busing them miles away and letting them return as best they may. Detroit has one of the highest murder rates in the country, so it is a marvel the police may have found the time and manpower to deal so effectively with begging.

Written into my imaginary statute might be clauses designating some acceptable locations in which to exercise the right to beg: Outside banks, entertainment districts, stock brokerages, conglomerate headquarters, presidential homes, congressional watering holes and venues in which dress-down Fridays were still de rigueur.

Closer to home here in Northampton, the gates of Smith College or the Bank of America or the front door of Yes Computers might be possibilities.

Children attending classes in which teachers were forced to pony up basic supplies like paper, crayons, pencils and glue might be given time off — kind of a field trip in reality — to stand with their signs and begging bowls outside suitably well-heeled organizations. Sorrowful faces would be optional.

Clearly such a proposal is likely to run into opposition. Those with the power to create laws on behalf of the common good are frequently the same people who don’t like their streets littered ... either with grit, grime and plastic water bottles or with the human examples of what their world is most emphatically not.

“Mind you, I care about the poor, but, well ... couldn’t they do it some place else ... some place not quite so obvious ... some place that is not my street?” Yes, it would be an uphill battle even to get the legislation introduced.

But you never know — maybe a hot-blooded tea party politician with insistent religious credentials might take on the task of bringing the statutory right to beg to the attention of his or her important colleagues ... you know, the ones who helped dismantle and demolish regulations aimed at heading off future economic catastrophes (read derivatives) of the kind that struck in 2008.

And even if the legislation were introduced, it is highly unlikely to pass. No one would want to implicitly condone the poverty lawmakers prefer to be seen caring about.

All in all, legislation to legalize begging is a non-starter.

“Oh well,” as Saturday Night Live’s fictional and wacky Emily Litella used to say when her misunderstandings were brought to light “... never mind!” The only problem, of course, is that what is a legislative non-starter has already started.

Adam Fisher of Northampton is the author of “Answer Your Love Letters: Footnotes to a Zen Practice.”

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