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On Dreams of Sleep and Linda Lemaster: A Short Essay
by Steve Pleich
Sunday Nov 18th, 2012 3:41 PM
A Short Essay on Sleep
The Bard of Avon once mused “to sleep, to sleep, perchance to dream” but in our community today that sweet dream of sleep has been shattered and all but forsaken. With respect to the simple and seemingly basic right to sleep, we have taken a step down the moral evolutionary ladder to a place where privation is the new rule of the day. And in a community that is so educated and so enlightened in so many ways, this step downward is both bewildering and troublesome.

These thoughts came particularly to mind during the recent superior court trial of long time homeless activist Linda Lemaster. It was my hope that Linda’s passion and dedication to the right to a restful, undisturbed night’s sleep might resonate with a jury of her peers. But whatever small ray of understanding that may have shone in their eyes was effectively extinguished by a judicial system that reflects the narrowest of views and seems to recognize not at all that most basic of human rights. And the result is that a courageous woman stands convicted in a court of law.

So the question becomes: do our local courts and the decisions they render accurately reflect the values and views of our community with regard to the right to sleep? My dream is that they do not.

Now there are many among us who will say in light of the seemingly endless court cases that grew out of the Peace Camp sleeping ban protests in the summer of 2010: “enough already”, or “we get the point” or simply “let’s move on” and that would allow our community to put this issue aside, if only for a moment’s time. However, masking our collective inability to understand a most basic right, that of sleep, does both our community and ourselves a disservice on both moral and intellectual grounds. So what truly divides us so intractably on this issue?

I think we might all agree that our moral sense compels us to extend our hearts and hands to the less fortunate among us and to, perhaps, allow them some latitude in their struggle to sustain themselves day-to-day. Intellectually, it is difficult to dispute that the quantity and quality of our sleep bears a direct and empirically verifiable relationship to our ability to live productive and fulfilling lives. Even the staunchest supporters of our city’s sleeping ban and the harshest critics of our local sleep activists should not find fault with that logic. On the other hand, it is easy for the advocates of the right to sleep to point to the paucity of available options for our houseless residents and say “of course they should be allowed to sleep wherever they can find suitable shelter”. This fundamental disagreement may render irreconcilable the intellectual argument.

So as we reflect on the issue of “sleep” let us each look into ourselves and ask “where is our moral compass of this issue”? And perhaps while we work to create places to sleep for our unsheltered residents, we can find places for them in our hearts as well. That, it seems to me, is a dream worth sleeping about.

Steve Pleich is a member of Occupy Santa Cruz and the director of the Homeless Persons Legal Assistance Project.