State of Emergency Declared at Office of MPP John Milloy – action recap

October 30th, 2012   Local KW anti-poverty organizers from Poverty Makes Us Sick (PMUS), along with allies from the Alliance Against Poverty (AAP), and other community activists set up an emergency storm shelter at the office of Kitchener MPP and Minister of Community and Social Services John Milloy.  The action was a direct community response to the crisis that cuts to the CSUMB will mean for those struggling to survive on OW and ODSP in this province.  The austerity agenda of the current government is pushing our communities further into a ‘state of emergency’. PMUS was sending a message to Milloy that Hurricane Sandy may have passed but as the poor in Ontario and their allies rise up to fight these cuts, the real storm is just beginning.

“So we can mobilize energies and resources to fight a storm, but doing anything real to address poverty is out of our hands?” asked the AAP’s Rev. Oz Cole-Arnal. “John [Milloy] keeps talking about difficult decisions that have to be made.  Difficult for whom? It seems to me that, when you get down to it, it only ever really means difficult for the poor.”

With beds, emergency supplies, and signs, activists quickly got to work setting up a shelter in the office, preparing to welcome the many people being failed by current government policies. The lack of affordable housing options, devastatingly low OW and ODSP rates, and cuts to the Special Diet, CSUMB and other ‘discretionary benefits’, make life on social assistance increasingly unbearable.

“This government is clearly not interested in taking real steps to address the needs of our communities.  So we’ll just have to find creative ways to take care of ourselves and others.  We have already paid first and last month’s rent on this place – a thousand times over”, argued Poverty Makes Us Sick’s Ian Stumpf.  “So, in the face of these cuts, we’ll have to move in.  With the cuts to the CSUMB, we sure won’t be able to afford anywhere else.”  Alison Murray, also of PMUS added “At least we know they’ll never cut off the hydro here, no matter how much misspending this government does on its various scandals and tax cuts for the rich”.

Milloy’s staff tried to force the group into the typical ‘cat and mouse’ narrative of politicians and activists, with the staple “ok, we’ve heard your point, we’ve received your letter, isn’t democracy wonderful?, now please go away”, to which Stumpf responded “We’re not making a point, we’re making a shelter. This is not a photo op” (although tv and print media did, in fact, show up to cover the action).

When staff offered to organize yet another meeting with Milloy, Alison Murray responded, “We’ve talked to John, we’ve met with John, he’s heard what we have to say.  This is a line in the sand, we won’t let the government’s cuts to the CSUMB go forward.”

John Milloy made a brief appearance, just long enough for his own photo op with local news and to re-state his ‘satisfaction’ with the ‘regrettable-but-necessary’ cuts, again using the language of austerity to cloak the anti-poor agenda of his government.  Milloy tried to explain that he is not so much cutting the CSUMB as he is infusing cash into the discretionary funds of municipalities.  These lazy, transparent talking points were easily dispensed with by members of PMUS.  It did seem that this interaction peaked the curiosity of office staff, however, who later appeared much less confident in their assurances of the compassion of their boss’ agenda.

Milloy was clearly shocked to be called out for his lies, and that his “I feel your pain” rhetoric did not win over the crowd, but, looking like a well-dressed deer in headlights, did not offer any retort. Remember, this is the same guy who called the cuts to the CSUMB ‘quite exciting’ in a recent interview with the Record.

After Milloy fled the scene, staff learned more about the realities of the cuts.  After being walked through the points, silence befell them.  Stumpf asked: “So you see just how easy it will be for us to demonstrate this to the public?” and was again met with a knowing silence.

Ultimately, the police were called and the occupiers were forced to leave.  Just in time, in fact, for other important work to begin – facilitating a CSUMB sign- up clinic in downtown Kitchener this evening to ensure that everyone who needs this vital benefit gets it before it is stolen away.  Mattresses and other supplies were left behind for future ‘guests’ – no reservation required.

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