Have you ever walked by a homeless person without even looking?
I do, multiple times a day. I live in a city filled with them and I go downtown on a regular basis. Unless you live in a rural area and have never been outside your village, you know what I’m talking about.
There is this moment when you make the conscious decision to ignore. After all, there is too many of them and barely any change in my wallet.
It’s easy to forget about them after a while, you just get used to seeing people sleeping on the waiting benches in the metro (what we call the subway in Montreal).
Homeless people are usually sitting down somewhere, they may hold a sign but that’s it. No voice to be heard.
Their protest is a silent one, if it even exists.
That’s how it usually is. I say usually because something amazing happened today.
I heard a voice. Loud and clear.
During rush hour, the metro full of people, minding their own business.
A voice emerged, there was no way people could ignore it.
Yet they all did. Everyone pretended not to hear.
“I have something very important to say”.
That’s how he started his speech.
I thought great, another day, another crazy on the metro.
“I want to wish you all a great afternoon and a beautiful day”.
Ok, he’s crazy. Who wishes strangers a beautiful day? Obviously he’s on drugs or something.
The rest of his monologue went like this:
“Look at my eyes. Look at my eyes. I’m clean. I’m sober. I’m not drunk. I’ve slept outside the past two nights. My hands are burned from the cold. It hurts. I haven’t had a shower in days. I need 15$ to eat two meals and have a bed to sleep in tonight and a good shower. That’s all I’m asking you. Have a good day”
During his speech nobody moved at first. The words seemed to hang over our heads, forcing their way into our consciousness. Everyone was half-frozen, daring to look at his face in a side way glance than quickly looking away. Subtly trying to gauge what others were doing.
Was it ok to actually pay attention?
Someone made the first move, walked proudly towards him and handed him money.
Most of the people did give him cash.
The metro stopped, the homeless man left with a warm thank you, on to the next train.
I looked around, seeing some laugh quietly to themselves, others remaining as passive as ever.
I realized, that homeless man had more dignity than all of us combined, even more than those who silently handed him money.
How many of you, in his situation, would stand up and state the facts, make your voice heard loud and clear?
I never thought about it before today. If I was homeless, I’d be those kinds of people who hope silently for better days, of being seen by generous souls.
How sad is it that?
I don’t want to be like that. Too ashamed of using my own voice in a situation of life and death? Literally (it’s cold enough to die of hypothermia in Montreal).
The truth is as humans we have a unique tool that no other specie on the planet has, our voice. Our ability to speak up. To get heard.
Both literally and figuratively. Eyes reading words or ears picking up sound. A brain to put it together.
I take this gift for granted.
There will sadly always be more reasons to speak up than to be silent. Yet, we have the indecency of forgetting all too often that we not only have a voice, but can use our voice.
Of all the -isms waiting to be talked about, there is one that is particularly important to me. One that should be important to all of us.
Why should we care about non-human animals when our own specie is plagued with all forms of oppression?
Because while our voices may be oppressed, we still have them.
They don’t have any.
Speaking up about them, speaking up for them is looked down upon, even by vegans.
Being a *gasp* militant vegan is supposedly bad for the cause. No one will want to join us if we tell them what they’re doing is wrong.
“Good vegans” should be content with just being vegan. Stay on the sidelines, your sole existence is a silent protest. That is enough.
Good vegans are like the homeless sitting on the sidewalk. People walk past them fast, avoiding them as much as possible. Once in a while, they glance at their sign out of the corner of their eye.
Militant vegans are like the homeless man in this story. They look for an audience, state the facts. They make people uncomfortable, make them giggle nervously.
In the end, which gets the results they need?
Do you use your voice?