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Patch Portrait: Revolution, Twittervised

Getting real with Revolution MacInnes, Oak Park advocate for the homeless.

When you watch Revolution MacInnes walking through the streets of Oak Park, you get the feeling you’re seeing, if nothing else, someone different.

He has the hulking frame and wardrobe of a pro wrestler, with the gray-white tendrils and big bushy salt-and-pepper goatee to match. Adorned with a scarf around his neck and a kerchief around his wrist, there’s a hint of aging Lothario, too.

And then there’s the searching eyes of man who’s street wisdom and intellectual heft afford him a certain frantic professorial vibe, The Dude plus 30 pounds.

Currently, he’s homeless.

Sort of.

***

Born with the name Rob Sidio, “Rev” is an artist, an employee of a nonprofit and an advocate for the homeless who’s taken his mission of help to social media. Which all sounds sacrosanct and noble and simple.

But spend a few hours with him, or click through his blog entries, and you’ll soon discover nothing’s really that simple.

Now 45, he’s battling bipolar disorder and bouts of depression stemming from his own infidelities. On Feb. 14, 2010, Valentine’s Day, his mistress committed suicide. Five months later he was divorced, and the rift between Rev, his ex-wife and their 8-year-old daughter remains.

The psychological wounds are evident, if not visible. He keeps a fingernail on the ring finger of his left hand, "where a wedding band is traditionally worn," painted black.

The ordeal drove him into a dark period, but Rev corrected course and found new direction online, courtesy of the modern miracle of the Internet — and an iPhone paid for through terms of the divorce.

Slowly, a lost loner began connecting to homeless advocacy organizations, artists and fellow atheists around the globe.

Now, more than 1,600 Twitter followers watch as he tweets about the trouble of securing more SNAP benefits in Illinois, about helping a friend land work as a nurse and about veterans who are mentally ill, in peril and in need of serious help.

The web has connected him to new friends and new inspirations around the world: a woman in Australia, @Pinkelstein, is among his great friends; a lady in Iceland sent him a ten Euro note. He’s developed a working relationship with @MitzvahCircle, a Philadelphia nonprofit which pairs donors and donations with those in need. Just check out the connections.

Of course, there’s a certain novelty about the whole exercise. Oh look, a homeless guy checked in at the YMCA on Foursquare.

Rev acknowledges it, saying he understands any knee jerk reactions and potential disdain for the concept.

But he’s angling to make the technology work for him, and for others. He blogs about the importance of obtaining small important necessities, like eyeglasses, for homeless people and blasts out tweets with blunt reminders about the daily realities of the so-called underclass.

Recently, he’s taken a job and draws a "considerably less than modest" salary as the chief philanthropic officer for Gifted Dreamers, a Chicago nonprofit "empowerment network." He stays at the West Cook YMCA in Oak Park but is trying to secure an apartment soon.

You could argue he's "doing better" than other homeless people on the streets, though Rev might tell you that's a classic straw man argument.

***

We’re walking east on Lake Street at Kenilworth Avenue and Rev is about 3,000 words into his latest sentence, which began as, well, who knows how it started. He speaks quickly but eloquently and his conversation melds from topic to topic.

Regardless, this portion of our talk centers on various deities and Buddha and how he wouldn’t mind getting high with the “historical Jesus.” A man roughly six paces ahead of us pivots around, tells Rev he’s “very wise,” then steps into a black Mercedes Benz and drives away.

The exchange serves as an impromptu boost of confidence, and justifies his mantra of always talking to everyone, all the time. Because you just never know who you’ll connect with.

“Atheist or not, you’ve got to give the universe a little credit, right?”

Revolution MacInnes maintains a blog at imfromnothing.com and the Twitter feed @From_Nothing.

Gene Anderson June 27, 2011 at 03:07 PM
For those of you reading this article, I am one of Rev's twitter followers. I am glad I am. I, too, am a "Rev", Rev_Gene on Twitter and The Reverend Gene Anderson "IRL", a Presbyterian Church (USA) Minister of Word and Sacrament. I also have Bipolar Disorder and know with certainty that while this man suffered through this last year, he took the time to stand with me as I suffered through a similar situation with Bipolar Disorder. When you look at this man, atheist or not, you are looking at an man of God. I pray that one day, I will be half of what he already is and does. Be blessed.
John Harrison June 27, 2011 at 04:17 PM
Rev MacInnes is one of those human beings who drives me to be a better person. I'm honored to be a Twitter follower, and (I hope) a friend. "Gifted Dreamers" is an excellent organization that everyone should enthusiastically support. And if Gene Anderson says a person is "of God," put money on it.
Beth Orchard June 27, 2011 at 04:28 PM
I made a comment but don't see it on here. The work he is doing is amazing and I hope people will follow him on Twitter to find out why. He's looking for ways to help others and this article only just touches on the lives he's touched. Follow his blog, follow him on Twitter and do what you can to help. Thanks for all that you do!
Rose Osumpinkgirl Z June 28, 2011 at 12:38 AM
Wow! This guy continues to get even cooler the longer I know him! I too follow him on Twitter the best part is he follows me too:). He is such an inspiration in so many ways. The first thing I learned is that religion choice or lack there of doesn't mean one's heart can't be in the right place. I mean I have seen him do impossible stuff for other people, that even well known and financed charitable organizations could not do. Words from him are like liquid gold. He is so passionate about who he is helping. I have read some of the heart breaking Tweets. They represent a harsh reality. About what can happen in life. The best part is he, one person at a time is making a true difference out there. I always think of him and hope that one day he will be able to live without worry about where his next meal is coming from. Or where he will lay his head. Someone like him should be embraced and helped accordingly. People need him. He is a hero out there. He understands people's pain. Nothing is more valuable or needed than that.
Pinkelstien June 28, 2011 at 06:08 AM
Hi, I am Pinkelstien, one of the Rev's very happy followers. I become so distressed by the plight of Homeless people both in my home country (Australia) and around the world. Most are mentally ill and because of this, people are afraid to talk to them or help. I challenge all those reading this article to offer a kind word, a few dollars or a meal. By reaching out, you could start a friendship that will last a lifetime and change both of your lives. The Rev is incredibly humble and is often surprised by the kindness of strangers. I will be supporting him for as long as he needs me. I hope we will meet one day...we have a lot to talk about and it takes more than 140 characters. As for the neigh sayers about using social media to seek support and help...You need to walk in the homeless shoes before you can judge. Otherwise, put your hand in your pocket, or get in your car and help these people find their feet and get off the streets. I would and have given my last $20 to a homeless woman, because I had a home and family to go to. Thank you for this article...This is a major issue around the world.
Sophie Tran June 28, 2011 at 11:34 PM
Hello: So glad that I discovered you and your story... through Social Media, coincidentally! :P (Thanks to @SmartGirlsOwn.) There are many great things and issues you have realized and addressed. It would take a whole day + some nights and pages to discuss... so let's keep in touch and see where our paths cross. You have opened me to a whole new world (that I knew was already here, somewhere...I just had to find the entry.) Great work with your organizations and helping move not just yourself forward, but the rest of the world :) - @sophie_tran
Sapient_Ape June 29, 2011 at 12:26 AM
I, too, follow Rev...and like the others I'm humbled by his situation, his passion to help others, and his tweets. I simply cannot begin to imagine what it's like for anyone who's homeless and the plight of these people has broken my heart since being a child. No matter how much or how little is donated, it's always gratefully received and it's mindboggling how anyone can look on the homeless with anything less that sympathy and at least a vague fear this could be any of us with the wrong set of circumstances. Respect and compassion. As humans, we should be morally obliged to help our fellow man regardless of their geographical location. Keep on keeping on Rev. You're in my thoughts. - @Sapient_Ape
dead2god1 June 29, 2011 at 07:25 PM
@Dead2god1 lo' and behold, genuine philanthropy,alturism ;not out paced by -what's in it for me- ... and, an Atheist nodoubt. all love and good to you sir, for your actions exceed prayer. if jesus existed he would be proud... =P @dead2god1
Liana Maiolino June 30, 2011 at 02:54 AM
LIANA.. we all know living without a home,be it on the streets or in shelters is what defines homelessness,It happens to individuals as well as families of all different nationalities and backgrounds.there are 2 prevailing theories on the causes of homelessness,one theory attributes the cause to society based conditions within a individuals circumstances these would include min wage employment,single mothers,lack of public assistance,lack of public mental health services .the other theory views personal problems as the cause not wanting to work,excessive drug- acohol problems,poor money management skills.the solutions needed to eliminate homelessness are the same ones needed to prevent it,more job opportunities,affordable health care, improved educational opportunities. prevention efforts cost less compared to the cost of imprisonment,mataining shelters and distributing food to a growing population.speaking from experience of working in the medical field i myself know the mentally ill are left to roam the cities without help and its left to us the people to help lift these people up when they fall not the government but we are all here for a reason A MAN IS JUDGED BY THE DEEDS HE CONTRIBUTES OR AS I LIKE TO SAY WHAT FOOTPRINTS MAN HAS LEFT ON THIS GREAT PLANET....

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