Awaken, Los Angeles
The trip had been one of disillusionment. Thirteen Jewish schools paid for us to meet in Los Angeles for five days of service learning, yet I soon discovered that most of the participants had signed-up chiefly to enhance their own college résumés, returning from Skid Row each day to an ostentatious hotel. Thus, I had trouble finding a group of genuine activists.
I rose at four o’clock on the last morning while the envoys of suburbanites lay still and asleep. Careful not to awaken my roommates, I shuffled through a suitcase for warm clothes, headed downstairs, and embarked alongside the abandoned winter roads. It was likely dangerous for me to be exploring the city alone, but I was on a quest to truly encounter what we had traveled so far to study.
In the far-off distance, a saxophonist crooned the melodies of Paul Desmond, capturing appropriately the draped blankets which existed on nearly every block, each blanket a nightly womb for the man, woman, or even child who lie underneath. My camera echoed a quiet snap as it captured each portrait in the dusk.
A certain still frame caught my eye. One particular shelter of blankets was encased in an apathetic, concrete overpass. The overpass itself rested below a picturesque landscape of a well-shave, corporate, and distinctly masculine sunrise. Snap! In that moment, everything was clearly illustrated through a simple Polaroid! It occurred to me that we are living still in the “Gilded Age,” as Mark Twain coined, a society where we feel golden for the prosperity of our elite but are horribly blind to the social qualms that lay beneath. And what better focus than Los Angeles – admired for its Hollywood dreams while 91,000 of its citizens sleep in shelters and along its streets.
The streets of Los Angeles awakened in me an acute awareness of the class divide, a wall more oppressive than even the one that once stood in Berlin. This early-morning stroll in Los Angeles had completed my transformation into a lifelong activist, one with a tenacious drive to awaken humanity to her injustices wherever they may be found.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.