Opinion

Meet the street paper seller who predicted Trump and toured the White House

Jeffery McNeil: "This administration opened a world to me that was closed by other presidents"

Donald Trump is giving the Washington establishment hell and they don’t like it. He has woken the sleeping giant and Washington has been put on notice, no more business as usual.

These words were written in August 2015, months – years even – before anyone else started taking Donald Trump seriously as a presidential candidate. But one political commentator predicted his surprise victory in an article called ‘Don’t measure the drapes Hillary, here comes The Donald’. It was not written by a hotshot at some big TV network or analyst at an Ivy League university, but Jeffery McNeil, a vendor of Street Sense, a magazine produced in Washington DC, which – like The Big Issue – is sold by homeless or vulnerably housed people so they can work their way out of poverty.

Selling papers on the streets of the US capital, McNeil had detected a change in the air that the media and so-called establishment didn’t. Three years later the world is still trying to adjust, and McNeil has continued to track Trump’s ups and downs, attracting (mostly) criticism and (a little) praise from Street Sense readers. But his view from the street reached the highest office after one reader, who was especially impressed by his columns, invited McNeil for a tour of the White House.

Here’s what happened next, in Jeffery’s own words.

Jeffery McNeil
jeffery-mcneil
Jeffery with a his copy of Street Scene signed by President Trump

“In the last two editions of Street Sense, I have been criticised by a former customer and a fellow vendor for writing so much about Trump. And the paper has been criticised for publishing me. Some say what I write is offensive. Well, homelessness is offensive! I’ve lived an offensive life. Homelessness is grotesque, putrid and ugly. I slept outside. I was robbed and assaulted. I’ve seen people die on the street.

“But today I can honestly say my columns are read from the White House to the crack house.

“Although I have passed by the White House several times, it may as well have been in China. It was something I knew of, but it was distant. Over the years I’ve written about, and to, several politicians. No one has had the decency to respond to anything I said, until now. Recently a White House communications staffer, Cliff Sims, read one of my columns and invited me to that distant seat of power. He wanted to hear more about my life and accomplishments and said he would pass on the columns I brought with me to President Donald Trump. I toured the West Wing, the press area and residences.

In the words of Baseball Hall of Famer Dizzy Dean, “If you done it, it isn’t bragging.”

“Something changes you when you get invited to the White House. Our democracy is founded on putting aside your differences for the common good. Results mean more to me than promises, and this administration opened a world to me that was closed by other presidents. For that, I will always be indebted and grateful. I don’t want to be partisan or divisive. I want to listen, help and teach people to see multiple sides of the story.

“But I want to be honest. Regressives don’t like dissent, opposition, dialogue and debate. Homelessness is the sole realm of social justice warriors.

“According to this group of elitists, politics is too sophisticated and complicated for me to digest. I need to defer social policy to academics and experts.

“I don’t aim to offend, but I don’t care if I do, as long as I get them out of their bunker and break through the echo chamber.

“I’m open-minded. I research my columns, and I get along with many Republicans and Democrats. Some people say I forgot where I came from. Quite the opposite, I’m not trying to go back to where I once was. I battled addiction, I was homeless, but I did not blame others. I took advantage of my opportunities. You have rights and freedoms in America. No one owes you anything.

“Yet it seems to disturb people that I’m not interested in inclusion, nor do I want to be a global citizen. I’m a man, I love the flag and I honour our laws. We all have our own views, I don’t have to conform to yours and you don’t have to read mine.

“As a writer I wish I could get 100 per cent adulation and applause. But some things need to be said, even if it makes people uncomfortable.

“Sometimes you need a sledgehammer as opposed to a feather to wake people up.”

You can read more of Jeffery’s columns at streetsensemedia.org

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