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Real Change

A friend of mine who sells Real Change newspapers saw me coming up the steps of the office this morning. He grabbed my shoulder and told me what happened for him recently:

He sold enough papers to get an apartment and sleep indoors.

Then, with the help of a local celebrity (a member of Pearl Jam) he sold enough papers in one day to pay his whole next months rent.

Real Change is a quality newspaper and a pretty incredible idea – help homeless people who want to participate with society’s systems get involved in capitalism. Give them a place to start. A way to participate with the world humans make out of dollars and ownership. No address required.

My own experience with the paper has been inspiring.

Years ago, I used to buy them from the guy who stood out in front of my local Trader Joe’s. In those days I was a Real Change customer. I’d walk up the hill from the house I rented, to get cheap Belgian chocolate bars and affordable French butter. A gregarious, lanky dude was always out front of the store offering papers for $2. The newspaper was full of progressive ideas I liked, and buying them became a habit when I was an indoors-person.

Life eventually exploded, as it sometimes does. I am no longer an indoors-person.

A few months ago, I looked across the street from a shelter in the damp dark of a Seattle morning, and saw an office: “Real Change.” After a moment, the name rang a bell – this must be the office for the papers I had once enjoyed buying and reading.

I returned to the same spot, out front of the TJ’s, this time as a vendor. It turned out that it was still a great place to have conversations about Noam Chomsky. While doing this I also went from zero dollars in my pocket to enough money to buy vitamin D3 and shoes without holes.

This has been a big deal for me over the last few months, because I could purchase comfort for a few dollars a week while doing something I wanted to do anyway – talk about social issues and thinky-things. It was a return to my old neighborhood, where I once stocked my lending library with VHS movies. It was a return to the streetcorner where I once stood and personally asked over 2,000 people to vote. (I’m not sure these left-leaning Seattleites did, based on how that election turned out.)

The streetcorner turned out to be a sort of spiritual nexus in my life – it was also the spot a homeless man once handed me his jacket. The primal simplicity of that moment changed me.

Just recently, another vendor earned that corner, a place that had turned out to be such a crossroads in my life. Kudos to him – he had to sell hundreds of newspapers in a month to reserve it for himself. I wasn’t going to do that.

I’ve noticed that no other streetcorner feels as good to me, and that when I try to sell papers anywhere else the only conversations I have are with the bones in my busted left foot. They keep yapping at me if I stand in one place, yet they seem happy to hike all day carrying nearly 300lbs up Seattle hills. So I’m moving on towards other things.

“Real Change” is something special. They do even more than help outdoor homeless people become successful indoor capitalists. They provide community for people who are ready to sign the social contract, but may never have been handed a pen by their parents.

They organize political and social activism. While I personally have no orientation “left” or “right” (I’m a “forward” guy) – I wholeheartedly support the efforts of people who put their hearts into this sort of change. I feel kinship with anyone who is actively easing suffering, and Real Change does this and more.

Even the “Emerald City Resource Guide” that’s showing me other things I can move toward, is published by them.

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