As I was becoming involved with my local Coalition Against Poverty, I found myself surfing the webpages of other poverty reduction groups. The Peterborough Poverty Network has a wonderful poster listing 101 Ways to Reduce Poverty. Many of their suggestions are local to Peterborough, but some of them are relevant anywhere. Some of them are not so much reducing poverty as helping to reduce the effects of poverty. I want to share a few of their suggestions, and a few of my own:
A couple of their suggestions:
- Lobby your sports teams, clubs, etc to provide a few free memberships each year.
- Exchange babysitting with other families.
- Contribute to charities in place of giving gifts, when appropriate, to family and friends.
- Build and maintain relationships within families and support children in violence-prone homes.
- Buy local.
A few of my suggestions:
- Spend some time downtown. Visit with people on the streets. Watch for situations where people are being told to move away for loitering and intervene if the security guards get out of line. Defend people’s right to panhandle.
- Organize free entertainment. Boardgame nights, birthday parties without gifts, and other activities that people can participate in free of charge.
- Change how you talk about taxes. Paying taxes is a way of purchasing things like roads, schools, hospitals, etc that are less expensive to purchase collectively than individually.
- Change how you talk about social services, welfare, etc. These are not government forms of charity, they are not enforced giving. They are a collective insurance policy that means if something surprising happens to you or your loved ones, you will (hopefully) not be left to starve. Be proud of supporting them.
- Support public infostructure. Use public libraries! Use public parks! Get involved in community gardens. Make sure your municipal councilors know you value public infostructure.
- Smile at strangers. Talk to them. (Note: do not attempt to give parenting advice to strangers. I ran into 27 year old today with a new baby and we got talking about how frusturated he is with people telling him that he should dress his baby warmer. He said someone on the bus threatened to call CPS on him, because his precious little baby didn’t have a warm hat on. Now it hasn’t been all that cold here recently, and I’m guessing the people’s real problem with him is that he looks 16 and has tattoos running all up his arms. So my advice is don’t give parenting advice to strangers. Do compliment their children.)
- Write hand written letters to politicians urging them to increase social assistance rates.
- Read. Read about poverty. Read Linda McQuiag’s books, and Jean Swanson. Read Persistant Poverty.
- Do not believe the story that the poor are taken care of. We try here in Canada, but the offerings from the food bank are insufficient, the amounts offered via social assistance are insufficient and the poor are too frequently being lied to and pushed to the side. I’m a reasonably trusting person. It took me by surprise when I start working with my local antipoverty group and I hear story after story about people being denied funding that they are supposed to be able to get (and sometimes can get if someone else goes in and argues for them).
- Work for First Nations Rights. In Canada here we are all a “treaty people.” We need to push our government to abide by the treaties and provide adequate health care, education and assistance to First Nations.
- Challenge the assumptions that other people’s time is worth less than your own. Support campaigns for living wages.
- Support efforts for affordable housing like inclusionary zoning laws.
Of course as I write this I think about how crazy the list is. None of this will get rid of poverty, right? Yet there’s so many “ways to green your life” lists that give equally tiny little steps, why not have ones towards creating a more equitable world? Take little steps. As individuals we can make a difference.