Boxcar Books has criticized the owners of Nick’s English Hut for their letter to fellow businesses expressing a desire to “find solutions to decrease” illegal activities linked to members of the growing homeless community. The blame in this conflict, however, falls on both sides — and the homeless are not one of them.
The rhetoric of the letter signed by Nick’s co-owner Susan Bright is well-intentioned and not as oppressive and nefarious as Boxcar Books’ incendiary Facebook protest would imply. She chooses in her letter to not “accentuate the issues” by lingering on bemoaning the difficulties introduced by panhandlers.
However, to discuss the issue of homelessness in Bloomington is to walk into the maelstrom of one of this town’s most sensitive issues. As one of the most financially disparate locations in the country, the class struggle is a raw nerve demanding surgical precision to breach.
The co-owners of Nick’s are not social surgeons.
It is not the place of the Editorial Board to decide what kind of values the co-owner’s of Nick’s possess. Boxcar Books seem confident to have that under control. We hope to look at their rhetoric to address how their language may make them appear to some.
Despite friendly intent, the language of the letter does render an us-and-them mentality. Bright concludes her letter by saying she and co-owner and husband Gregg Rags “honestly believe that if we ALL address this ‘Bum Commerce on Kirkwood’ by having the same knowledge and work towards the same common goal we will prevail at pushing this type of activity away from our front doors and revive OUR commerce in a positive, healthy direction.”
First of all, “Bum Commerce” is not the most tactful name. Perhaps it was a stab at ending a serious letter with levity. Even then, such levity at the expense of those without the comforts of a job or home is going to draw criticism from many who aren’t nearly as far left as Boxcar Books.
The fact that the primary concern is collectivistic but still exclusive to the property-holding businesses is also troubling. Hopefully, Bright would want the common good — serving everyone — rather than the greater good — serving those with power.
There’s perhaps a reason Bright was the draftsperson for the letter instead of co-owner Rags. In a statement describing the difficulties police have had with panhandling, Rags said, “It’s like herding cats — you make a move, they’re just going to come back.” His rhetoric yields an ?outright dehumanization of the homeless.
The owners of Nick’s could hit the books and learn how to talk about their concerns without making it sound like they aren’t considering the factors which brought panhandlers to their curbs — factors in which they doubtlessly had a hand.
But shame on Boxcar Books as well. Their Facebook post, beginning with “We reject the disgusting, classist language used,” doesn’t communicate an interest in starting a dialogue.
As an organization expressing staunch support for civic engagement and empowerment, it would have been positive for their staff to refrain from creating their own “us-and-them” separation between businesses and the homeless and their allies.
It is clear that Boxcar and Nick’s have different stances on issues, especially when it comes to partnering with local law enforcement (the Boxcar website invites civilians to park for free in their lot rather than use meters to fund “additional police patrols and surveillance”).
Whether Boxcar Books likes it or not, businesses are a part of the community. The store has a knowledge and vocabulary that many businesses lack. Boxcar could be the oil to help the gears turn or the petroleum to make the fire burn worse.