Walking along the Santa Monica Pier at night one witnesses a vast array of light, wealth and excitement. I couldn't help but think that this was the amazing USA I had imagined when I applied to study on an exchange in California many months ago. But this was only a façade that represented just one side of the society of which the United States of America is. Because as soon as I left the pier and walked down onto the beach path, things dramatically changed.
Literally within 70 feet of this glamorous pier I came across a homeless man sitting on a bench, dirty and hunched over, clearly suffering from some sort of mental illness as he began to shout at another homeless man who was walking around flailing his arms. There was then another trying to sleep under a sign in relation to the navy (representing a sad irony considering the correlation between war veterans and homelessness in the US). These 3 guys were all within a couple of metres of each other and so close to the pier. It was a sorry sight. I stood there for a minute looking at these men and then looking back at the light of the pier. It brought a sadness, a sense of pity and an aching reminder of the poverty within our world which I had never witnessed so starkly before. I had seen poverty in Rwanda which was just as bad, and the heroin addicts in a public square in Denmark but this felt clearly different. It was a blatant side by side representation of what is wrong in our 'comfortable' western world, a consumerism that is beneficial to many but cutthroat if not managed and directed effectively, married to the inevitable consequences of a race of which the aim is to maximise profit and pleasure whilst ignoring the possible negative implications of it on others. This is a trait we have all been guilty of.
I'm blessed. I will go onto enjoy this semester abroad and my time here in the USA, the friendships, the travelling and the parties. But these men, many veterans of Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, will not experience anything of the like or of any comparison. They are denied the opportunities I have, purely because of the way the system in this country has been constructed for them. People will continue to walk along that pier, enjoying a good evening. But it is what lies close by that is such a sad consequence of one of the foundations the modern US is built on. It is dismal that the world's foremost economic power is also considered to be one of the highest perpetrators of income inequality with it having the 3rd highest income inequality in the OECD (and this is according to a report done by the OECD itself!). It's a shock that what is perceived as such success can thrive alongside such failure. No one wants to have the life these men live, and neither does anyone deserve to have the life these men have. Alas it is the reality for these 3 men and many forgotten others across the USA and the rest of the west.