It was bitterly cold today but I joined with others in handing out candy canes and holiday themed postcards in support of the campaign to raise the minimum wage in Ontario. There were six others from my anti-poverty group and we took turns warming up inside the mall and standing outside fumbling with our gloves trying to give things out. I did the interview with CTV. We gave out about a 100 candy canes and had some supportive feedback yet with weather this cold no one wants to stand and talk.
Inside the mall feels like such a different world. The food court was packed. The security guards were lingering and people need permission to talk to strangers or hand things out there. Knowing that there was a warm and comfortable place but that we cannot speak there, only out in the cold outside, felt really weird. The disconnect was stunning.
I’m reading the book In Search of Paul: How Jesus’ Apostle Opposed Rome’s Empire with God’s Kingdom by John Dominic Crossan and Jonathan Reed and came across the following quote:
As always, many of the benefits that came from allegiance to Caesar were in the form of urban amenities. City life, so to speak, was the blessing of that covenant, which included entertainments, spectacles, and above all, abundant water flowing securely through aqueducts for public bathing.
Somehow those two lines seem connected to the shift of being outside the mall handing stuff out or being inside keeping warm. Allegiance to capitalism, to the status quo, brings warmth and an abundance of goods. At least for those who can afford them. But at what cost? What does it look like outside? Who cannot participate in the benefits of that allegiance?
I think of those who struggle to pay their rent, or have to take two jobs to be able to do it. I think of those who live in unstable housing situations, couch surfing or renting a room in less than desirable circumstances, or those woman who will take an unwanted sexual partner in order to find a place to stay. I think of people who are worried that the Ontario government’s potential changes to disability services will leave them on welfare.
Capitalism is like the Roman Empire was. It makes some amenities available to all or most, but it leaves too many behind in the dust. Capitalism exploits and it encourages others to exploit. We can participate in the exploitation of others by making use of the amenities, of shopping at the malls headless of where the products are made or under what condition, but simply rejoining in capitalism’s ability to bring them here to us. Yet its so much more comfortable to just be a part, accepting its limits as inevitable, than to struggle outside in the cold.