Province-wide Week of Action to Save the CSUMB – Kitchener report back

December 7-14th:  The Ontario Coalition Against Poverty called for a province-wide Week of Action. The week saw 40 + actions take place across the province. Kitchener’s Week of Action to Save the CSUMB was full and received excellent community participation, with daily happenings facilitated by Poverty Makes Us Sick (PMUS), the SPOT Collective, Alliance Against Poverty (AAP), the We Remember Ashley Smith campaign and Occupy Kitchener.  We employed a diverse range of approaches, including protests, meetings, sign-up clinics, leafleting, radical cheerleading and even ‘prophetic manifestations’! We had events at Minister of Community and Social Services, MPP John Milloy’s office, Regional Council, OW offices, Grand Valley Institution for Women, a youth shelter, Out of the Cold, TD Bank and Town squares.

Friday December 7th, PMUS hosted the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) and the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), to launch the Week of Action, with ‘The People’s Open House’ outside of Minister of Community and Social Services’s Kitchener constituency office.  Millloy had scheduled his own Holiday Open House for that day, but decided to cancel it when he found out that the poor were coming saying: “I didn’t want to subject my staff or constituents to that.” PMUS members are his constituents – he’d rather subject us to homelessness.

125 people (plus 6 van loads of bored tactical officers), attended with two buses coming in from Toronto.  There were speeches, music with the Blackwood Two, hot food, a street theatre production involving throwing pies in Milloy’s face (well, a life-sized photo) and, of course, hot cider and egg nog.  The People’s Open House was a celebration of resistance!

Also on December 7th, while the Peoples Open House was happening, the TD Bank in downtown Kitchener was put on controlled entrance, with a heavy police presence.  Why is this you ask?  Just for fun, on the evening of December 6th, PMUS and the SPOT postered the hydro polls in front of the bank, advertising a December 7th occupation of the bank in protest of former executive Don Drummond.  It wasn’t real and not one protester showed up, but the bank was disrupted all the same… something to think about.

The heavy police deployment at Milloy’s and the TD bank seemed to offer greater freedom to the SPOT’s Julian Ichim and his band of merry pranksters who ran amuck throughout town, never once encountering any police.  They dropped a banner inside the atrium of the OW building and disrupted the offices with speeches.  They then dropped in to see NDP Catherine Fife about the CSUMB and since Conservative MP Peter Braid’s office is next door they disrupted him for a bit too.

Saturday December 8th, PMUS and AAP attended the Common Front – We Are Ontario General Assembly in Toronto.  PMUS attended two workshops.  One workshop was a discussion about the disproportionate effect that austerity has on women and the other, led by OCAP and CUPE, was on the fight to save the CSUMB.

Monday December 10th was to be AAP’s Nativity scene action at Milloy’s.  The wonderful happening, seen by some as street theatre and by others as prophetic action, instead happened the following Monday.   Members of PMUS and the SPOT also took on roles, wearing costumes and acting out the Nativity (the traditional depiction of the night of Jesus’ birth).  And in keeping with the anti-imperial narrative, there was no room at the shelter (Milloy’s office) – they locked us out.  The angel Gabriel led Mary and Joseph to the streets for Jesus’ birth.  The wise women followed a star – the Zapatista flag – to the site and brought three gifts: Full restoration of CSUMB, full restoration of the Special Diet allowance, and full restoration of OW and ODSP (including inflation) to pre-Harris rates.  A great AAP action!

Tuesday December 11th, AAP distributed leaflets and picketed in Uptown Waterloo in the morning and earlier afternoon, before some members joined PMUS for our Radical Cheerleading action at the Regional Council Chambers.

The province is downloading the responsibility of the housing benefits onto the Regions.  While we continue to fight the Province to restore and increase the CSUMB, we must educate and push our Regional Council to do the right thing and fully fund an exact replacement in the interim.  The Regions should be at the front line of the protests to the cuts.  Some Regions have taken steps to resist the cuts and look out for their communities (Niagara, Hamilton, Sudbury and many others).  So, we cheered on the region and encouraged them with pom-poms and chants.

In the evening PMUS hosted the last of our weekly Tuesday evening CSUMB sign-up clinics at the Queen Street Commons Café.  Thanks to the Café and the Working Centre for all the great support!

Wednesday December 12th, The We Remember Ashley Smith campaign hosted a rush hour protest in front of  Grand Valley Institute for Women declaring: Prison is not a Housing Program!  Poverty is Violence Against Women! Save the CSUMB! Speeches highlighted the fact that the planned cancellation of the Community Start-Up and Maintenance Benefit on January 1st, 2013 will throw poor people further into cycles of violence, isolation, criminalization, institutionalization and incarceration:

“In particular, women who are experiencing violence in the home will have fewer options to leave safely. Women who have been incarcerated, overwhelmingly for issues related to poverty and exploitation, will face yet another barrier to transitioning back into the community without the necessary economic supports. More women will end up on the streets, facing violence in the community and at the hands of police. More women labeled or identifying as struggling with mental health will be forced into hospitals and prisons.

Being homeless, under-housed or precariously housed puts already vulnerable social assistance recipients at risk of increased police interaction. We live in a racist, misogynist, classist and ‘mad’-hating world. The police exist to protect this system.  Homelessness is linked with criminalized behaviours and homeless people are often members of criminalized communities.

Provincial funding to our Regional Police is among the highest in the Province. We also see the Grand River Hospital’s Psychiatric Unit expansion as a foreboding sign. This expansion was desired by psych consumers for sometime, but only with the cuts to OW and ODSP food and housing benefits do we see the provincial dollars, expanding the options for warehousing the nouveau-homeless.

On the other end of criminalization in a punitive system, folks absolutely require the CSUMB to re-establish themselves once being released from prison and psych units. Most people are thrown out of prison with no money and are not assisted with re-integration. OW is the primary resource for a majority of people leaving prisons. Social Assistance rates are so disgustingly low that one cannot afford to pay the mandatory last month’s rent required to gain housing. People leaving prison will be living on the streets. They will experience violence in many forms, only to again experience it at the hands of police and state, as they are rearrested and thrown into jail.”

During the protest, there was great support from passersby in the busy traffic.  Angry screws (prison guards) threatened us twice – once approaching in uniform threatening to break our cameras, but were chased away by the power of reason.  A second encounter was with a mini-van/clowncar backed with screws (prison guards) on their way home from work.  They were fully planning to kick our ass.  Do they get paid enough for this extra commitment or is Correction Service Canada just that efficient in finding violent assholes?

Thursday December 13th, Members of PMUS were honoured to be welcomed into a local youth shelter.  We spent time with a wonderful group of folks in an employment program.  The young people and the staff member held really sharp analysis!  We all shared ideas about undoing systems of power, oppressions, capitalism and poverty.  PMUS presented about the cancellation of the CSUMB and introduced a variety of protest techniques.  Then we all talked about the role of unions in society, especially their role in solidarity with the poor and never-to-be-employed.  If the world changes tomorrow, it’s our guess that these young folks played a large role!  Thanks for having us!

Friday December 14th, Occupy Kitchener hosted a protest outside of a TD Bank in Downtown Kitchener.  Occupy was continuing to highlight the ills of the Drummond Report, with its elitist power structure.  PMUS provided flyers and did some video support before a PMUS member and a friend entered the bank with a banner and did some chanting.

The banksters manufactured this economic meltdown, not overspending in social services.  PMUS did work around resisting the Drummond report, but really this is about naming and resisting the fullness of this corrupt and oppressive machine.  Then the bank (also a pillar of gentrification in the downtown core) was shut down for the day.

In the evening PMUS members offered a CSUMB sign up clinic at the Out of the Cold church.  Many filled in applications and many new connections were made. There has been a whole new energy around resistance since that night. It was our final sign-up clinic for the CSUMB and a lovely way to finish off the week of action.

The successful Week of Action came on the heels of a series of actions in Kitchener.  Since the ‘State of Emergency’ storm shelter on October 30, Milloy’s office has been shut down five times, with participants halting the function of the office, taking over phone answering, unplugging entire workstations, confronting Milloy on video and disrupting business as usual.  We also took over the foyer and front offices of Waterloo Regional Police Division One on November 24th to expose the police’s brutal role in criminalizing the poor and homeless.  The media has been largely supportive.

In addition to ongoing resistance on the streets, PMUS is engaged in considerable public education, network building, and organizing accessible forms of dissent. We’ve organized call-in days and promoted email campaigns. We’ve held weekly sign-up clinics and offered advocacy. AAP and PMUS also presented about the CSUMB to Regional Council at two separate budget hearings, on November 21st and December 5th.

We’re looking forward to the Liberal Leadership Convention on Saturday January 26th. Hundreds of buses are traveling there filled with folks ready to express their dissent.  Anti-poverty activists, unions, health care advocates, and lovers, unite in one voice: We Demand Economic Justice For All!

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