Ending Poverty Requires Many Hands

*By CWP Intern Laura-Lee MacDonald

Every morning when I hop off the bus or walk my bike up the sidewalk to the lock-up, I pass panhandlers and homeless men and women. If I have change I offer it, and say ‘Good morning’, with guilt behind my smile. I am working for an anti-poverty organization, working to promote policies that will ensure a better life, a life with dignity, for these people and countless others who live in less visible poverty. Seeing how my report-writing at a desk, in clothes that I bought new (though on sale), in the course of obtaining a rather expensive education, helps secure their right to a home and adequate food is hard on some days.  I have learned that sometimes, the fight against injustice is slow, methodical, and involves writing reports. Research and publishing may not be the most exciting ways to eliminate poverty, but they are part of the solution, and there are many other ways that you, the reader, can take part as well.

Of the many valuable things I have learned in my few months with Canada Without Poverty, the lesson that has affected me the most has been managing the delicate balance between charity through giving to the needy, and justice through working for social change. Upsetting the status quo is not an easy task, especially in the neo-liberal environment we live in, where capitalism and individualism reigns. People need to mobilize for the basic human rights to shelter, food, and education, but finding time is hard when everyone is busy struggling to keep their own lives together.

Persistence and patience are the keywords to hold on to when working for social justice and the end of poverty. One of the keys to the environmental movement’s success in mobilizing people has been the sense of empowerment people get from doing individual acts, no matter how small, that help the goal of a cleaner environment.

The eradication of poverty does not have that level of public action right now. Volunteers are stretched, workers burn out, and advocates become exhausted. Bridging the disconnect from policy pursuit to the marginalized citizens it is intended to empower takes time and energy, so the more people we have working to that aim, the better. More voices will make our message easier to hear. The clearer and louder we become, the faster our goal of dignity for all can be realized.

Reading about the state of social policy in Canada can incite anger. That anger needs to be turned into conviction. Here at Canada Without Poverty we often hear that writing letters and speaking to local politicians is an effective way to share the message that positive change is necessary. You can also treat panhandlers you pass with respect, and recognize that this person represents visible poverty. When you buy your coffee, or go to the grocery store, consider the workers earning minimum wage that are struggling (invisible poverty). Learn what your MLA or MPP is doing about poverty in your riding. Take part in a rally. There are many campaigns that are championing causes that can use your support, including Dignity for All: the campaign for a poverty-free Canada. Get involved in a way that suits you.

Doing nothing will allow poverty to deepen and continue to hurt all of us. Doing something, exciting or boring, once or repeatedly, helps. Choose what you will do and let us know on Facebook what it was. Loud and clear will see the end of poverty, whether with a bullhorn or a quietly typed report.