Come the revolution

CAMBRIDGE, MASS —A disorientedly cheerful middleaged man squats on the brick around a tree, holds out a red plastic cup out and says “I don’t drink.” A woman, with multiple facial piercings and cropped dayglo orange hair, sits on a stoop, holds another red plastic cup and calls plaintively, “can you spare a little change?” Another woman, older, heavy, too worn to talk sits on the curb in front of the old burial ground a block from Harvard Square behind a cardboard sign that says “Have some humanity help me.”

Once again a walk on a city street means averting my gaze muttering, “No, sorry.”  I am, once again, saying no to people who need more help than I or most of the individuals who cross their paths can give them. In Lusaka, Zambia I was saying no to children who held out open hands and rubbed their bellies saying they were hungry. Here in Cambridge I am saying no to bleary-eyed adults squatting on steps holding plastic cups. Both cities off the same ratio of about five people asking for money on one crowded intersection.

I learned to say no a long time ago when traveling after I was told giving to people who begged for money was counter-revolutionary. I have been stepping out of the way of insurgency, more often than not, for nearly half a century, but the revolution has yet to come.


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