Occupy,  politics

Protesting is only the beginning

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A young child holding a sign at a protest.

Yesterday was a rally that I had some involvement in organizing. The adorable picture to the left is of my son as he marched up and down by himself while most people were eating. He was chanting as he marched. “Stop the war on the poor, make the rich pay.”

I was disappointed more people didn’t show up. I wanted more people to be there. Yet I was glad about the people who were there.

A few things came up as we organized. First was a question of whether we should obtain permits both for the rally itself and for serving food. We didn’t do either. Nor did we obtain permits for the signs we put up around town. We need to claim the right and ability to organize a protest without permission. No one should be able to say no to us protesting. Protesting, like gardening, is about making something from nothing – or at least, trying to.

So what are we trying to make? We’re trying to create community. We’re trying to create political will. We’re trying to create a list of people who will act as a solidarity network defending people when they come into conflict with landlords, employers, and government officials. (Something like the Seattle Solidarity Network or OCAP.)

I talked to someone afterwards who said we shouldn’t have advertised the event as an anti-poverty rally. She said that people won’t come out to something about poverty because they don’t want to be lumped in with the poor and they tend to think that the poor deserve their poverty. (I suppose thinking that allows them to think that they deserve their wealth.) She suggested next time we focus more on the austerity measures which will affect everyone.

I can see some validity to what she said. Even just looking at the online comments to the newspaper article about our event, I can see people who really did take it that this was just about “those poor people” instead of being about everyone. I missed noticing that because to me it seems so blatantly obvious that poverty affects everyone. Poverty means that we have hungry and stressed children in our schools. It means we pay more for health care to deal with poverty-related illnesses, and more for police services to deal with poverty-related crimes. That we do not care for our unemployed properly means that those who are working have to accept worse working conditions, because they have no other alternatives. Slowly working conditions for everyone declines.

Raising social assistance rates and raising minimum wage makes sense financially. Every dollar that goes towards helping low income families and the unemployed gives back to the economy 1.70, because those on a low income are going to spend the money, and the money continues to circulate for a while. On the other hand McGuinty’s corporate tax cuts are projected to give only .30 per dollar.

But even besides the ways in which helping the poor benefits everyone, it is just the right thing to do, because people are people, and everyone deserves to be able to live with dignity. To treat others like they are disposable members of society is to define oneself as disposable.

I think if I look at yesterday’s action as a stand-alone thing, I would probably feel pretty sad about it. Sure we had a decent turnout, but not great. Things went well, but not great. We need to do more. So I find myself even now starting to look ahead. My goal has to be next year. How many people can we get to turn out to an event next year? Can we persuade people to look beyond their own biases towards those living in poverty? Can we make connections with those who feel they have no place in the political world? Can we encourage and protect those who feel that speaking out for their own rights is useless or dangerous? Can we bridge the divide between “us” and “them” attitudes?

Protesting is only the beginning. We need to move on from there. We need to educate people. We need to shape our own actions to reduce poverty in our community. We need to support community gardens. We need to plant community orchards. We need to share resources. We need to reclaim political power. There is so much to do.

A great list of ideas for what to do can be found at: http://www.pprn.ca/help.php

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One Comment

  • Liz

    I admire you and your family for what you are doing. When the occupy Buffalo movement was downtown in the fall, we stopped to talk to them so my kids could learn about what they were doing.

    The person that said marketing it as anti-poverty was probably right but unfortunately so. I am sick of all the poor bashing and complaining about taxes. I hope all those upper middle class people out there understand that it can happen to anyone. Most of these high flyers are one job loss or chronic illness away from dropping 2 or three socioeconomic classes.

    That said, to those with lower incomes or at risk of lower incomes, some of it can be mitigated by getting rid of vehicles and using public transportation. If you don’t live on a public transit line, consider moving near one. I think that people with poverty level or working class incomes can live almost middle class if they get rid of the high taxlike cost of car ownership. It doesn’t fix all problems, but it is a big help.

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