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Justice Not Charity–for the 10000th time!

These are the reflections of our organizer, Kell, after CBC’s Food Bank Day. We hosted a pop-up rally that day to demand system change. This op-ed went out to several different media sites, and not a single one picked up. Guess it’s too hard to hear the mainstream media is failing justice movements…hmm…

The bright red band-aid shaped banner read “JUSTICE NOT CHARITY”. A dozen of us– activists, advocates, supporters of Raise the Rates– chanted and cheered outside of CBC’s Food Bank day for “justice not charity!” and “Raise the welfare rates now!” A class of grade 6 students, presumably coming for the open house tour of CBC hosted that day in conjunction with their food banks fundraiser, stand on the sidewalk and watch us, interested. I turn to them, and get them chanting with us “justice not charity!” A brave move on the part of their teacher (learning moments around every corner, on every sidewalk), I am asked to tell them a bit about what we are there to do.

   And fair enough–are we some cruel money-hungry conservatives who hate food banks? Not in the slightest. In a short three minutes, I outline that food banks began as a temporary measure….35 years ago. A temporary measure to tide over the increasing number of people in poverty experiencing food insecurity. Yet, it’s 35 years later, and the need for food banks and number of people accessing them every year is on the rise. Why? Because government hasn’t raised welfare rates to anywhere near the poverty line, or built thousands of units of social housing a year like it used to. Because government refuses to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Because, in short, the government continues to be as neglectful as it has. So we are here to push for a broader awareness that we need more than just charity: we need justice. We need a strong, inclusive, cross-ministerial poverty reduction plan. We need welfare rates to be raised significantly, and rent control, and a higher minimum wage. Solutions to poverty that we have been advocating for 35 years.

    The students nodded along, seemingly capable of grasping that if there are people drowning in a river, you need to pull the people out and also fix the hole in the bridge that put them there in the first place. Even while food banks may pull some people out of the river, relying on generosity will not change legislation. Charity, in fact, only increases the cycle of dependency and saviourism that keep people in poverty.

     What we need, on days like CBC’s Food Bank Day, is advocacy. We need a letter writing station to MLAs, we need loud protests and louder conversations that push the mainstream into understanding causes of poverty–and its solutions.

     That afternoon, I was slated for a 3 minute and 30 second interview on CBC’s live show. I figured, hey, if a class of thirty 11 year olds can understand justice not charity, in 3 minutes, surely some of the listeners will have light bulbs go off. Too bad the producer’s notes said “don’t get too political–we don’t have time”. Too bad I was ushered off stage after 2 minutes. Too bad CBC is incapable of truly supporting anti-poverty efforts; believing instead that whiskey-and-cheese donation packages deserve more airtime. I like whiskey as much as the next person, but I like justice (ending homelessness, increasing income assistance/minimum wage/old age pension, creating an affordable childcare plan, implementing and respecting UNDRIP…) infinitely more.

     It is not any more ‘political’ for me to state that you won’t end homelessness unless you raise welfare rates, than it is to say the days get darker in December. It is not a ‘radical’ thought to believe every human deserves a life of dignity, safe and affordable shelter, the ability to purchase culturally relevant food. I don’t know when those ideas became radical.

     I am here for more than generosity. I am here for deep and actual change. CBC–it’s about time you were too.