Is Using Public Spaces A Privilege?

Yesterday, I read a comment on Instagram about the homeless people gathering in the Main Branch of the Chicago Public Library. The past several weeks had been extremely hot. During the most scorching days, I would walk out of the office with a big water bottle and a stack of paper cups, so that if I saw somebody on the street, I would be able to give them a drink of water before urging to go inside.

Thankfully, I barely saw anybody – people were smart to find refuge in multiple public spaces, and I am so glad they did. Fortunately, public libraries in the big cities have always been dubbed as day shelters, both in extreme cold and extreme heat. And after seeing a movie Cooked , I could not be more thankful for that.

I am struggling to write anything else on the subject. I can’t wrap my head around this cruel comment about homeless people “contaminating” the beautiful building. Why do some people think that if they are “more presentable”, or pay more taxes, they are “more valuable” for society and thus are entitled to access public spaces more than others? When I commented that I am glad that people are in the library, not outside, I’ve got a reply that there are shelters. This statement sounded for me no better than segregation, when some people “deserve” to be at certain places, while others don’t.

Later the same day I was at the Open Door Shelter of the Night Ministry, where I volunteer regularly cooking with the youth. And after the meal was washed away (everybody loved my baked salmon), we had a great conversation. There were some young people whom I met previously, and also one more young man with whom I never talked before. I was so impressed by his intelligence and the dignity he carried himself. It just happened that we got into discussing racial profiling and stereotypes. I do not start this type of conversation by myself when I am in the ODS, but funny enough he said something to which I’ve reacted – this is a generalization! He laughed, and we continued talking.

As an immigrant, I did have my share of prejudgements towards me, and I learned half – not to pay attention, half – to accept it as a fact of life. And I have tremendous respect for people who do not become upset or bitter when they are faced with prejudgement and maintain the sense of their worth and self-respect.

I was walking back to the CTA station with the sense that this day was worth living:)

Cooked: Survival By ZIP Code

In these super-hot July days, when the temperature climbs to the 100s, I’ve attended the screening of the documentary Cooked: Survival By The ZIP Code. I watched it on Monday, unfortunately almost the only screening without any public discussion as a follow-up. That was my only option to see it, and I am happy I went, but boy, how much you want to discuss this movie after the final acknowledgments appear on the screen!

From the Siskel center website:

Inspired by Eric Klineberg’s book, Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago, Peabody Award-winning filmmaker Helfand (BLUE VINYL) takes a hard, personal, and often quirky look at the inequity of natural disaster, beginning with her family’s own experience of Hurricane Sandy. She ultimately zeroes in on Chicago’s shockingly inadequate response to the deadly July 1995 heatwave, during which the city morgue overflowed with the sudden deaths of 726 citizens, largely the elderly and people of color from the city’s impoverished South and West Side. This audacious look at natural disaster American-style starts with the stark premise that a zip code can be an accurate predictor of life or death when nature unleashes its worst. With increasing frequency and force, climate change sets the agenda for hurricanes, floods, heat waves, and such, but systemic neglect, deep poverty, and political expediency have already drawn the line between the survivors and the doomed, even before disaster strikes.

Cooked: Survival by Zip Code (2018) | Official Trailer from Kartemquin Films on Vimeo.

I do not even know how to describe this movie. It could very well become trivial – who does not talk about the predominantly black impoverished neighborhoods. Yet the evidence is striking. The footage of the news coverage back from 1995. Mayor Daley statement: “That’s why we love Chicago.” The refrigerator trucks storing the bodies awaiting autopsy outside the city hospitals. The life expectancy numbers – sixteen years difference between the North and the South.

The director takes a broader approach and poses very pointed questions to the officials: why we can’t address the issue preventively, before a disaster strikes? She also links the heatwave casualties with the overall state of the neighborhoods: the absence of affordable health care, inability to pay electric bills, the food deserts. If fact, one of the most striking episodes is the one in the mobile grocery store when the workers on the bus are trying to convince a teen to eat an apple – for the first time in his life!

The movie calls for action, and I can’t imagine anybody dismissing it’ s message.