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Campaign donations just enable them

Shawn Vestal

Just stop giving them money. I know you like to. I know it makes you feel good. I get it – when you give them money, you feel like a better person, the kind of person who is contributing to making the world a better place.

But the truth is, when you give them money, you’re only making the problem worse. For one thing, they’re not using the money for anything useful or wholesome, you can bet on that. They’re using it to support their bad habits. Their addictions. And these addictions – these destructive behaviors – hurt not only the people you give the money to, but they are costly and aggravating and simply bad for everyone else. You think you’re helping them when you give them money, but in truth you’re hurting all of us.

So stop it. If you’re tempted to give one of them money, do this instead: Think of something, anything, else you might do with that money that might help them and everyone else. Give to the Vanessa Behan Crisis Nursery. Or the Second Harvest Food Bank. Or the Women and Children’s Free Restaurant. Heck, you probably have a family member somewhere – a recently paroled uncle or a recently graduated nephew – that could put a few bucks to good use without hurting their character and eroding the social fabric.

So please. Just stop.

Stop giving money to politicians.

Whom did you think I meant? Panhandlers?

I can see why. The city and the Downtown Spokane Partnership have teamed up on a new campaign to stop downtown panhandling, called “Give Real Change.” This push encourages people to stop giving money to panhandlers, and to give instead to charities. Like the Union Gospel Mission or Catholic Charities. Like Project Hope or the United Way. When you give to panhandlers, the campaign says, you’re simply supporting some of the bad habits of those who are asking for the money.

“In reality, when we give money to panhandlers we are actually doing a disservice,” Rob McCann, executive director at Catholic Charities, told the S-R recently. “Each dollar handed out a car window marches the recipient closer to a life of chaos, addiction, suffering and even death.”

I’m sure McCann knows whereof he speaks. And Mayor David Condon has said that this effort is focused in part on getting people to direct their charity toward real, long-term help for people who need it – rather than helping them get a 40-ouncer.

I’m not so sure about all this, myself. I’ve always had a difficult time begrudging a person with a horrible life a 40. All the city’s “go-away initiatives” come couched in friendly language these days, but the language can’t dispel the vivid sense that “go away” is still the central motivation. And “go away” doesn’t get at the problems. Still, it’s hard to argue with the premise: Giving panhandlers money might be making their problems worse.

Which brings us back to politics. Having just made it through the primary, with its relatively mild ads and campaign speech, we’ll now be diving into the deep, filthy end of the political pool through November. That pool is only filled by money – those TV ads don’t pay for themselves, whether they are the anodyne type of flags-and-children ads or the gloom-and-doom pastiche of lies and half-truths that are so certain to arrive just in time for Halloween, if not sooner.

I prefer not to demonize all politicians or all politics. That’s a kind of giving up, to declare all members of a given enterprise equally heroic or equally awful, and for all the problems in the system, politics is the only way to try and accomplish certain big things, and politicians are the only ones, in the end, who can carry that ball. They are not all evil, heart-dead scumbags any more than, say, Internet commenters are all evil, heart-dead scumbags.

But the money game, and the dynamic it produces, encourages us to believe the worst of everyone. The annual rise in the money-flood – the growing personhood of corporations, the increasing difficulties of tracking just whose money pays for what when the flaming innuendo begins flying, and the noxious tax abuse of highly political organizations pretending to be charities – is buying something else, in addition to all the ads and fliers and yard signs. It’s purchasing cynicism, one gram at a time. It’s buying a product whose guaranteed outcome is that the very people who are most important to the enterprise – citizens – come to view the whole damn thing as a dirty midnight bathhouse, a seedy, disease-ridden den of unholy alliances and false fronts and hidden motives and a willingness to do just about anything if the price is right.

If only we could simply wash it all away by encouraging people to stop throwing money into this wishing well. If only all people – mainly corporate-people, really – would just recognize that they’re just enabling the worst tendencies of the people they’re trying to help.

A foolish, naive dream. But as unlikely as it is, that would be real change.

Shawn Vestal can be reached at (509) 459-5431 or shawnv@spokesman .com. Follow him on Twitter at@vestal13.