March 31, 2006

Mass Hunger Clinic grabs $3M from Queens Park

by Sam Kuhn
Organizer & Caseworker - Tenant Action Group, Belleville, Ontario
On October 3rd OCAP organized a "Mass Hunger Clinic" at Queen's Park where individuals and entire families where assessed for their "special diet" allowance. For instance, a single mom with three kids nets $1,000 extra above and beyond her normal welfare cheque if she gets assessed by a healthcare provider!

This direct action event - whereby healthcare professionals assess over a thousand social assistance recipients en masse for the bonus - is a godsend for anarchist organizers working with low income people. This little known and well kept secret provincial benefit is being exploited or its exploitation advocated by a wide array of anti-poverty groups, tenant associations, social assistance recipients, healthcare professionals and community healthcare centres, unions, foodbanks, Municipal Health Units and others. This acceptability of this tactic by the wider community speaks to the utter misery poor face.

Things have gotten so insane with this direct action tactic that even welfare workers openly distribute OCAP propanda at their front desk in Trenton!

The Tenant Action Group attended with a bus load of single moms, their kids and others for the two hour drive from Belleville to get their forms signed.

Food was served, childcare was provided, TTC tokens provided, tarps on hand for the possibility of rain...OCAP thought of everything including outstanding propanganda!

Photo: Graeme Bacque

TAG is a collective of low income tenants in Belleville engaging in direct action advocacy for poor people against slumlords, cops, welfare bureaucrats, bad bosses and the like. What struck me about the "Mass Hunger Clinic" was how how anarchist the whole action was (at least in my mind):

Mutual Aid

October 3rd saw over 1,200 people assemble at Queen's Park to literally grab 3 million dollars from the provincial government. Prior to this campaign TAG was floundering; we had been around for five years and despite some impressive victories we were getting worn down with squat takedowns and arrests, welfare office occupations and Ontario Rental Housing Tribunal battles.

Then when we were at our lowest ebb in March OCAP came up with this brilliant and meaningful action. OCAP then paid for TAG to rent a bus for a day, fill it with poor people, and then get our special diet forms signed at Regent Park Community Health Centre by nurses. When the money poured into the housing projects the people immediately got active organizing fund raising so that the masses could be fed and entertained while they waited at "their" own Hunger Clinic. The people got incenced when the County threatened to "dismantle" our clinics and we threatened back by stating our intention to march, en masse, to the welfare office and confront their bureaucracy. The County blinked and now our welfare cheques are "streamlined" in three days! TAG could only have gotten a bus to attend OCAP's "Mass Hunger Clinic" via Ontario Common Front comrades in Kingston and Ottawa.

This is an example of mutual aid because if OCAP hadn't set aside their own healthcare professionals and their desperately needed money for TAG way back in March to assess our first batch of needy - we would not now be to the point where we've processed well over 500 people on social assistance in Belleville and Trenton.

Direct Action

What the "special diet" action has done is show the ability of anti-poverty groups not only to squat empty buildings, but legislation too. This is a great example of "direct action gets the goods"; we've found a loophole and we're exploiting it to the max! The government is left with only two choices; cut-off poor people from something they now feel entitled to and endure their wrath, or, let it slip by and endure the anquished screams of the Municipalities and the right wing SUN while all the while losing millions. Talk about agitation!

Working Class

In Belleville we have tenants organizing our "Hunger Clinics" themselves. For the first time the people in the housing projects are openly organizing themselves around something the local Liberal MPP and media have deemed "illegal". These people learn the benefits and power of numbers and they learn it is good and right to resist and defy authority. When we say that "honesty is a prvilege" or that "every mother is a working mother" it resonates.

TAG gives them a place to be honest about things and name the class enemy. Decisions are made by consensus and sometimes things seem to break down to the point of collapse until somebody somewhere in the group comes up with a solution.

The title "comrade" is becoming popular again; not just with university professors but single moms and alcoholics - with the prospect of sitting in jail together one day being a distinct probability. Kids are everywhere! Selena got $1,750 bucks extra a month because she has six kids! And the talk of food is ever present: where are the best buys, how they use to survive, what crap the food bank gives out. People whose voices had never been heard are now doing OCAP radio interviews or reading about the local Director of Social Services throwing his arms up in surrender to TAG when questioned by a reporter what he intends to do about the "Hunger Clinic".

OCAP's special diet clinic stategy has brought meaningful victory in mass numbers. Most importantly the people are taking ownership of OCAP's brilliant political heist.


Blogger Jim91 said...

If you check their website you will see the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty does much more than just protest.

I especially like their housing affiliate site Ontario Tenants Rights.

Monday, July 03, 2006  

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