Play-by-play of November 2nd action: a humble offering for broader tactical analysis

Friday November 2, 2012.  Poverty Makes Us Sick facilitated a community mobilization at Minister of Community and Social Services John Milloy’s office.  PMUS was joined by a number of folks who attended the Kitchener Town Hall to Save the CSUMB, with OCAP and CUPE, last week.  It was satisfyingly disruptive and there were even some good laughs.

The office was evidently still weary from our last encounter, this past Tuesday, when PMUS and allies set up an emergency storm shelter.  The door was locked when we arrived, which hadn’t been the norm here.  We were later informed that this was a new ‘security feature’.

As some of his staff mocked us through the window from behind the locked door, another staff member appeared beside us.  You see, Milloy’s office doesn’t have its own washrooms.  We came just at the right time, as one of his staffers needed to get back in after a washroom break. Imagine that!  So we entered along with them.

Upon our entry, Debbie, a member of the Alliance Against Poverty, gave an articulate overview of the troubling realities relating to the proposed cancellation of the CSUMB: “…and to do this in January as the cold of winter sets in.  It’s just so unreasonable and cruel”.

Next, Bella, whom we met at the town hall, told the staff how it is!  She spoke with the passion expected of a savvy activist, whose life is also situated in the reality offered by social assistance.

Our friend Shereen shared some of her story and day-to-day struggles.  She rightly challenged the staff’s willingness to participate in this government’s anti-poor agenda. Shereen wanted answers, but staff responded with paternalism.

Then we sang everyone’s favorite protest anthem: “We’re not going to take it! No we ain’t gonna take it!” We did this primarily as an icebreaker, as many of us didn’t know one another.  At this point some went outside to picket on the busy street.

Those inside took to disruption.  We asked staff questions, even as they were on the phone.  We had  loud conversations amongst ourselves.  No one was able to work.

We inquired about the locked door and became aware of a ‘buzzer thing’ that let one of the staff open the locked door from their desk.  So, we unplugged it.  Then we thought, ‘why stop there?’ so, we unplugged an entire workstation – computer, photocopier, gadgets.  When the staffer came back to their desk they got mad at their colleague, saying:  “what did they do?  Were you here the whole time?!?”  The co-worker hadn’t seen us do it, but nevertheless, actually apologized.  They then struggled for some time to figure out how to get everything back up and running.

Disruptions continued.  We were told that police were called, but we didn’t believe them and it turns out that we were right.  The police weren’t actually called until later.

At this point a desk again became available and PMUS member Ian Stumpf took the receptionist chair.  Then the phone rang.  “Hello, Minister of Misery’s office” answered Ian.  The caller laughed and laughed saying, “it really is that bad isn’t it?!?”

“Hello, Ministry of Misery….”

Ian continued on: “I don’t think anyone here can take your call – too many cuts.  Oh, wait are you poor?  Then no, they don’t want to speak with you.” Ian tried to pass the phone to the overwhelmed staff but they just kept yelling: “hang up!” So, he did.  The laughter never stopped on the other end.

Then, a senior Milloy staffer came in.  She had been called in specifically to deal with us.  She scolded the group and grabbed Ian by the arm, shaking him while she yelled (she also pushed and grabbed Ian at the emergency storm shelter). Oddly, moments later the staff started making contrived statements about them feeling threatened. They even did so in a tone that made clear that they were ‘acting’. We sat there with our florescent posters in hand. She then slammed a door in rage –angrier now that we weren’t doing anything.  We took this opportunity to point out that we are demanding that the CSUMB not be cut so that people can flee genuinely threatening conditions.

Pierre, also with our action team, calmly went about presenting a more thorough explanation of how these cuts will prevent people from fleeing actual danger.  He was cut off with Shelly reappearing to yell: “We don’t care!”

Police were actually called at this point and the team went over how folks were feeling.  Several people wanted to stay and we communicated our situations to one another.  Some of us decided to position ourselves right in front of the office of the staffer who made the call.  We wanted them to see us being brutalized.  We wanted them to rethink why they would have us taken away from our loved ones just because we are saying not to cut a vital benefit.

The police arrived with the tactical unit.  Only one rep from the tact unit accompanied the three cops to enter the office.  Bella, our police liaison, met them outside and laughed when she saw the tact unit.  We held our ground for sometime, until Ian was left as the last protester in the office.  The cops finally forced the conversation to a close with Ian suggesting that it was silly for them to believe that they wouldn’t have to “talk politics” with him as this was a political action at a constituency office.  Ian stated that he couldn’t in good conscience leave the office and was ready to let police do their thing.  They descended on him and three officers had him stand.  They told him to walk forward towards the fourth officer.  The cops followed him, guiding him with their hands.  Then they opened the door and pushed him out.  Then they came out and said: “we appreciate what you’re doing.  We see the effects of what you’re speaking to everyday.  Having to do that (throw you out) doesn’t mean that we have a particular stance on the important issues that you’re acting out on. Keep up the good work.”  We took some pictures of them with our placards, leaning a cardboard Poverty Makes Us Sick banner against their cruiser.

Out of the office and into the streets!!!

Next time we will have even more female-identified people there.  We believe that the staffers declared ‘anxiety’ may be alleviated by this.  Today our action team’s ratio was 3 women to four cis-males.  **All names of non-PMUS members have been changed.

P.S.  Thanks to Julian Ichim for introducing us to the term “Minister of Misery”.

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