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Day of Action Against Poverty hits Kitchener

Kitchener-Waterloo Anti-Poverty Activists Shut Down Downtown Core

by April 1ST Coalition (A1C)

Banner drop Duke St. at Ontario St.
Banner drop Duke St. at Ontario St.
9:00am Milloy office occupation
9:00am Milloy office occupation
Food Hamper for a Diabetic
Food Hamper for a Diabetic
March at 3:00pm in downtown Kitchener
March at 3:00pm in downtown Kitchener
Free Community Meal at 5:00pm at City Hall provided by A1C
Free Community Meal at 5:00pm at City Hall provided by A1C

Anti-poverty activists occupy John Milloy's (MPP-Kitchener Centre) office, shut down the downtown core with All Out Against Austerity and Gentrification March, and Raise the Rates Rally at City Hall.

Kitchener – On Friday, 75 to 100 anti-poverty activists mobilized in downtown Kitchener for the province-wide Raise the Rates Day of Action to demand an end to the Ontario government’s war on the poor by raising the OW and ODSP rates, protecting the Special Diet Allowance and taking further action to raise the minimum wage to provide a decent living standard. April 1st coincided with the implementation of the Ontario government’s 2011 budget which only raised social assistance programs by a mere 1 percent.

The Kitchener community is still reeling from ongoing attack on the Special Diet Allowance. The Ontario government’s austerity agenda disproportionately affects the poor in an age where the gap between rich and poor continues to grow. The effects of the Mike Harris-era cuts to Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program and the McGuinty government’s attack on the Special Diet Allowance have left Ontarians using these programs in a worse situation. The current phase of this attack on the Special Diet Allowance has been ongoing since March 2010 when the Finance Minister announced the Diet would be cut altogether. After bowing to pressure from anti-poverty groups, the Ontario government announced on November 30, 2010 that the Special Diet would not be eliminated, but the program would be reassessed (see: http://update.ocap.ca/rtr and   http://www.rabble.ca/blogs/bloggers/johnbon/2010/03/timeline-ontario-eli...).
 

9:00am     MPP Office Occupation

In the morning at 9:00am, five anti-poverty activists with the April 1ST Coalition occupied John Milloy’s (MPP – Kitchener Centre) office and demanded a meeting with him.  Two groups – Poverty Makes Us Sick and the Alliance Against Poverty – met with Milloy in the impromptu meeting at 11:20am and demanded that Milloy change his position and stop the ongoing attack on the Special Diet Allowance, raise OW and ODSP rates 54% to match their pre-Harris cuts, and raise the minimum wage to eliminate the pervasiveness of working part-time jobs. Both groups have been meeting with Milloy since 2009-2010, and sought to take a different approach with more creative forms of protest.

Martin Suter, a member for the Alliance Against Poverty, shared the reality of being on ODSP in the impromptu meeting. In a statement Suter stated that the lifestyle forced upon him from the woefully inadequate Special Diet Allowance and ODSP rates is “criminal.” Suter also brought his food hamper and demonstrated, due to his diabetes, the fact he could not eat 7/8ths of the hamper due to the foods high in starch, sugar, and salt. Suter went on to express his disbelief and anger over the Ontario government’s proposed changes to the Special Diet, “If my kidneys fail and I have congestive heart failure, a diet won’t help me. The damage is already done.” Suter stressed the fact that his ability to access healthy foods through the Special Diet means the difference between life and death.

After an hour-long meeting with Milloy, it was clear that there was a complete disconnect from the realities of structural poverty and the flowery rhetoric of Milloy and other politicians at Queen’s Park. Milloy declined to accept OCAP’s Raise the Rates demands and was unable to attend the 5:00pm rally to announce his position.

3:00pm     All Out Against Austerity and Gentrification March

At 3:00 p.m., the All Out Against Austerity and Gentrification march snaked throughout Kitchener and forced police to shut down sections of the downtown core. The march began at Speaker’s Corner and moved to Division 1 of the Waterloo Region Police, to the Immigration Office, to the downtown private security headquarters, and ended with a sit-in at the future City Centre Condominiums.

At Division 1, representatives from the A1C attempted to deliver an open letter to the Waterloo Region Police that condemned the most recent criminalization of panhandling in downtown Kitchener. The open letter stated:

“There are far fewer folks pan-handling today, in downtown Kitchener, than at this time last year.  It would be misguided to suggest that this is the result of a positive turn of events and we don’t expect that you believe it is, either.  This is not the result of an improved local economy allowing for upward mobility.  Rather, the truth is that you, our Police, have displaced human beings who once called Downtown their home.  By doing so, you have robbed them of their access to sustenance.  We have regularly witnessed threats of violence and arrest.  We have seen forced mental health hospitalizations. As gentrification continues at a staggering pace, we’re left wondering where our friends who were forcefully evicted, en masse, from the old Mayfair Hotel/apartments now live. Do they live in a community of their peers in proximity to free food programs, as they did when they were welcome to live in Downtown Kitchener?”

 Instead of receiving the letter, the officers at Division 1 locked its doors and refused to let the A1Cers deliver the letter (See video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J09mYuKuJoI). Subsequently, a police sergeant took the letter outside the station.

5:00pm     Raise the Rates Rally

At 5:00 p.m., a rally was held at City Hall where Poverty Makes Us Sick set-up a free community dinner, gave away clothing, books, established a kids’ corner, and heard from a variety of speakers, musicians, and many empowering testimonials from Kitchener residents who have already been cut off the Special Diet Allowance before the 31 July 2011 deadline. At the sit-in at John Milloy’s office in the morning, the MPP refused to believe that Kitchener residents have already been cut off of the Special Diet Allowance before the prescribed 31 July 2011 deadline. The rally put the lie to Milloy’s disbeliefs through a variety of statements by those who have been criminally cut off the Special Diet.

At both the 3:00pm march and the 5:00pm rally, there was a wide spectrum of participants. The day of action was instrumental at bringing anti-poverty activists from K-W together, provided a forum for testimonials from those directly affected by structural poverty, and demonstrated the organizing capacity for food and economic justice through the PMUS model of free community meals as well as clothing and book giveaways at City Hall in the heart of downtown Kitchener.

Organizers with the April 1ST Coalition have vowed to step up the pressure to reverse the dangerous war on the poor in Kitchener-Waterloo. Exciting discussions are occurring between food justice and economic justice organizers in town on how to better serve the community with healthy foods during the current damage inflicted by the Ontario government’s austerity agenda. Furthermore, Poverty Makes Us Sick has started the Special Diet Mobile – a ride service that was established in March – that can drive Special Diet Allowance recipients to the doctor in order to submit the new applications by the 31 July 2011 deadline. The Special Diet Mobile can be contacted at 519-498-2332 or email special.diet.mobile@gmail.com

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The April 1ST Coalition was formed in late-March 2011 in anticipation of the province-wide day of action. Groups from Poverty Makes Us Sick, the Alliance Against Poverty, AW@L, and the Spot Collective endorsed OCAP’s Raise the Rates Campaign, see: http://update.ocap.ca/node/947

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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