You Have A Better Idea?

February 19, 2013

It seems there are certain ways not to protest homelessness and poverty, judging from some of the reactions to OCAP’s sit-in outside Mayor Ford’s office last Friday while he played with cars at the Auto Show.  MayorinarollsWhy are they doing it?” he asked a reporter when told about the demonstration. “The shelter beds aren’t even full.

Mayor Ford’s bewilderment reflected a wider unease with OCAP’s presence in City Hall. The group’s more confrontational approach to political engagement is controversial regardless of your political orientation, dating back to the June 2000 demonstration at Queen’s Park in reaction to the Mike Harris government’s austerity agenda that targeted tenants, the homeless and featured a 21.5% reduction in welfare payments. Violence ensued and the group’s pugnacious reputation was sealed.

Their view of ‘direct action’ does not sit well even with some who generally share the aim of fighting all aspects of poverty that afflict our society. The argument goes something like: handinhandConfrontation only serves to entrench already strongly held positions, forcing discussion into opposing camps and making consensus or even basic understanding much more difficult. Then names like Martin Luther King and Gandhi are evoked as way of proving that only peaceable means of protest are the way to ensure change.

I don’t know.

That seems to be a selective reading of history, as if more forceful forms of struggle never served to accomplish, or at least, complement societal transformation.

It may be the adolescent teenage boy in me but in the face of continued neglect and intransigence from those in power I think sometimes shit’s just got to be torn up.

And let’s face it, in terms of poverty and homelessness not much has changed over the course of the last 25 years or so. At every level of government, we’ve long since given up on the notion of a Just Society. protestfistIt’s pretty much been an everybody-for-themselves free-for-all, where those most deserving rightly earn comfort and security and those who don’t? Well, that’s on them.

It’s hard to believe that in 2013 those touting the same crackpot theories your crazy uncle used to espouse over Christmas dinner back in 1973 are actually taken seriously and have been given prominent space in prominent media outlets to spout such nonsense. Did you know there’s a ‘Poverty Industry’ made up of those not wanting to eradicate it but to profit from it? A cabal of left-wing politicians and lazy-assed do-gooders who would never make it in the shark infested waters of the private sector perpetuate the cycle of poverty and all its attendant ills for their own selfish benefit.

And you know what else?

There is a cure for cancer but doctors and scientists have collaborated to keep it from going public. Why? So they can keep their jobs.

That’s right.

Perhaps the most pernicious point of view that’s gained mainstream traction is that poverty and homelessness come about as a result of personal choice. stoptalkingpoliticisThat some people are so lazy and shiftless that they would rather live a life of deprivation on the streets and shelters. It’s preferable to toiling away at some minimum wage entry level job and climb out of the self-inflicted cycle of poverty.

A point inevitably followed by some variation on the n of 1 theme of personal perseverance and the pulling of oneself up by one’s bootstraps.  Heroic individualism is all that’s required to overcome obstacles not government handouts. Weaklings depend on others. Poverty is a personal failure. Blaming others is a cop out.

At about which time I want to use the bootstraps to string a few of these motherfuckers up from a lamppost. How did such patently absurd bullshit gain any sort of credibility outside of small circles of cranks and self-satisfied misanthropes? Obviously, there’s no simple answer to that question but allow me to not absolve myself of blame. Maybe there’s been too much emphasis on conducting a reasonable debate, to hearing a diversity of opinions, to thinking change and improvement can be achieved by engaging with those who have no interest in either change or improvement.

I’ve grown complacent (and worse) hoping the proper, acceptable channels will actually deliver the fair and equitable outcome that’s needed. I’ve grown accustomed to sidestepping outstretched hands and clearly distressed people living on our streets, rationalizing that the system is somehow working – however slowly and ponderously – to fix the problem. stillhereIf we just work together a little harder, if we can just figure out a way to agree on the best way forward, if we can just talk this thing through, the right solutions will emerge. If… if… if…

Until we come up with an approach that actually tackles the problem of homelessness, I think it’s a little presumptuous to chastise others who choose different tactics that we’re all not comfortable with. Certainly homelessness has been exacerbated by the withdrawal from and neglect of the issue by both federal and provincial governments, so setting up shop outside the mayor’s office could be seen as letting those truly responsible for the situation off the hook. But since our municipal administration and its supporters are crowing about flat lining the city’s operating budget while claiming services and programs remain robust, I see nothing wrong in letting them know, along with a swath of the broader public a demonstration like OCAP’s might alert, that there remains gaping cracks in which far too many people continue to fall through.

And if it takes making people uncomfortable and indignant even, well, why not? Nothing else seems to be working.

submitted by Cityslikr