This week’s Time Magazine is all about money. On the cover two piles of banknotes: a high pile of dollar bills and a much smaller one of the same green bills. The supporting text ‘the richest 20% of households own 85% of the wealth’ is almost superfluous. The ideal of the American Dream that everyone who is willing to work hard will eventually reach the top doesn’t seem to count anymore. Although achieving the American Dream was not the reason that brought me to New York, it’s impossible to ignore the current economic changes.
Three weeks ago, on September 17th, I walked into the beginning of NYC’s ‘Protest for American Revolution.’ This revolution named Occupy Wall Street aims to return the United States back into the hands of it's individual citizens and is still going on today. Inspired by the Arab uprisings and announced on the Internet, the people participating in this occupation are united by ‘the opposition to the principle that has come to dominate not only our economic lives but our entire lives: profit over and above all else.’ As we all know this caused a damaging financial crisis and the corrupt elites and politicians now want the working class to pay the bill.
Where America was once the great middle-class society, the gap between the rich and poor is widening. The first days of my stay in New York the number of people living on the streets surprised me. On every street corner you find a homeless man or woman. Although comparing the situation in New York with the situation in Amsterdam may not be fair because of the difference in social services, these people living on the street made me think. New York is called the city of endless possibilities. And what the billboard for the new season of the TV series How to make it in America says, ‘Dream big or go home,’ seems to be true. New York is definitely the place where you can make it; it’s a city full of successful and wealthy people. But when, despite your dreams, you didn’t make it here, it’s not an easy place to survive. The costs of living are high and when you can’t find a job, nobody will take care of you. And that’s the case for the hundreds or even thousands of people sleeping in between the concrete skyscrapers of the city every night.
In the middle of all the anonymous homeless I pass by every day, there is one woman who draws my attention every time. She stays near the place I live and has collected a lot of stuff, which she keeps in plastic bags and boxes at a fixed spot on the street. Sometimes I see her rummaging through the trash, looking for more thrown away, useful things. Every morning she sets her stuff out on an improvised table and supported by a paper with the text ‘please take any item and make a donation’ she tries to sell some things. When it starts to rain, she covers all her treasures with pieces of cardboard boxes and prepares a spot for herself as well. On a rainy night I saw her going through the trash looking for something to eat. I felt in my pocket and found a one-dollar bill. I gave it to hear, she was so grateful and asked me to pass by her shop the next day, to see if she had something I liked. I promised to come, but I didn’t. A few days later I saw this woman again and this time I had to stop by to see her collection of books, key chains, bracelets, clothes and so on. Some things seemed to be quite new and she told me that people donate things for her shop sometimes. I asked her how she came into this situation, but she didn’t really give an answer. It seemed like she didn’t want to admit that she had no home or place to go. The only thing this woman seemed worried about was the winter cold, because of her arthritic hands. I asked if I could make some pictures of her shop, but instead of posing in front of the table herself, she wanted me to go on the picture. This homeless woman seemed to be very serious about her business and is proud of her own small market place.
I bought a pair of fleece mittens and a hat for a baby, the label was still on there, so this cute winter set has never been used before. Wherever it comes from, one day I hope to give it to a baby who can achieve the American Dream in a society where the gap between the rich and the poor has narrowed, and where the protesters on Wall Streets who are calling for real democracy, social justice and anti-corruption made a difference.