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Anti-Poverty Weekend in Kitchener

Grassroots Anti-Poverty Groups Mobilize in the Age of Austerity

by Poverty Makes Us Sick (PMUS)

Anti-Poverty Weekend in Kitchener

Kitchener – On Saturday August 20 and Sunday August 21, 2011, anti-poverty activists in Kitchener-Waterloo sent another strong message to the McGuinty government to stop the cuts to the Special Diet Allowance and to remind Liberal MPP John Milloy and mainstream anti-poverty groups that, in the words of Alliance Against Poverty member Martin Suter, “the goal is not just to raise awareness about poverty, but to eliminate poverty.”

Poverty Makes Us Sick (PMUS), the Alliance Against Poverty (AAP), and Waterloo Public Interest Research Group (WPIRG) joined forces to organize an anti-poverty weekend in Kitchener in support of the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty’s (OCAP) Raise the Rates Campaign and to demand that the Liberal government keep its hands off of the Special Diet Allowance. The Special Diet Allowance raised the ire of the Ontario Liberals after OCAP and concerned doctors counseled recipients of Ontario Works (welfare) and Ontario Disability Support Program (disability) to apply for the Allowance, greatly increasing the number of individuals accessing this much-needed program. In March 2010, the Liberals tried to cut the Special Diet altogether and after community outrage, the Ontario government decided in November 2010 to review the program.

On Saturday August 20, 2011, a rally was held in front of City Hall in downtown Kitchener in conjunction with the weekly community meal provided by allied anti-poverty group Food Not Bombs.  In addition to community education through open mic testimonials and speeches, the rally included the distribution of books, clothing and toys and face-painting. The rally was aimed at both mobilizing resistance and celebrating community resilience in the face of reactionary government policies.

"The massive cuts to the Special Diet mean that the provincial government is cutting the income to the poor," said Sarah Noonan, of Poverty Makes Us Sick. "This ensures that more and more people will have to choose between putting food on the table and having a roof over their heads."

In a message of solidarity sent from OCAP, the organization stated:

“IN A RANGE OF CITIES PEOPLE ARE ORGANIZING BBQS LIKE THE ONE YOU ARE HOLDING TODAY.  THEY ARE DOING SO WITH THE GREAT SUPPORT OF THE CANADIAN UNION OF PUBLIC EMPLOYEES (CUPE) AND OTHER ALLIES.  WE ARE HOLDING THESE GATHERINGS BECAUSE, AS THE SPECIAL DIET IS BEING SLASHED PEOPLE ARE HUNGRY BUT THEY ARE ALSO ANGRY.  WE ARE BUILDING A MOVEMENT TO CHALLENGE POVERTY, TO CONFRONT THE FACT THAT SOCIAL ASSISTANCE RATES IN ONTARIO TODAY ARE 55% BELOW THE LEVEL THEY WERE AT IN 1995 AND TO DEMAND DECENT AND LIVING INCOME FOR ALL AS A BASIC RIGHT.”

The rally was followed by a march to incumbent MPP John Milloy’s campaign headquarters. With slogans such as “we’re tired, we’re hungry, we won’t go away. Stop the war on the poor, make the rich pay”, community members voiced concerns about who bears the brunt of the financial crisis. The marchers then enumerated the Raise the Rates Campaign demands for Milloy staffers and delivered signs with personalized messages for the politician about the realities of poverty in Kitchener-Waterloo, such as “No more words.  Action Now”.

While Milloy was not present at the headquarters, following negotiations with staff, the signs were prominently displayed in the office foyer and demonstrators were given a guarantee that they would remain there until the end of the day on Tuesday to ensure he and his campaign volunteers would have the opportunity to read them.  A follow-up visit is planned for Tuesday afternoon.

On Sunday August 21, 2011, over 100 people attended a free community meal at St. John’s Kitchener in downtown Kitchener, sponsored by AAP, PMUS and WPIRG. The objective of Sunday’s event was two-fold: to fill a gap in access to food servings, as St. John’s Kitchen is unable to provide food services on Sundays; as well as to strengthen relationships within the community and continue to build a local anti-poverty movement rooted in the leadership of those experiencing poverty.  

The response to the invitation to attend the community-building event exceeded expectations and additional food was required to serve all who attended.  This clearly demonstrates the widespread incidence of food insecurity locally as well as the commitment to building more effective resistance to the ongoing attacks on those most victimized by capitalism.  

In an era where the normal channels of party politics are increasingly questioned and viewed as corrupt, the grassroots anti-poverty movement that is mobilizing in Kitchener-Waterloo is demonstrating the importance of inclusive, horizontal community organizing in an age of austerity.   In days to come, soup kitchen lines will likely grow.  If Sunday in any indication, so will the people’s resistance.

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OCAP’s Raise the Rates Campaign demands:

WE DEMAND an immediate increase in OW and ODSP rates to bring them back to pre-Harris levels. 55% NOW– raise the rates to where people can live with health and dignity!

WE DEMAND the minimum wage freeze be lifted immediately and that minimum wage be increased to a living wage for everyone in Ontario.

WE DEMAND the full restoration of the Special Diet to a benefit of up to $250 for food and complete reversal of all intrusive measures.

 


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