The Alliance Against Poverty: Birth & Journey
Two years after I retired from my teaching post at the Lutheran seminary on Wilfrid Laurier's campus, I ran in the federal election of 2008 in Kitchener Centre's riding for the NDP. Although happy to have made the effort, I sensed that grass-roots action and networking had became more necessary than ever to kick-start our increasingly moribund political institutions.
During the election campaign I met Communist candidate Mart Suter and felt an almost instant affinity with his ideas and and visions. So, after the electoral dust had settled we ruminated over coffee at the Queen Street Commons, run by Kitchener's Working Centre. I shared with him an idea that had been brewing in my head throughout the campaign-- an idea based on the notion of Jubilee in Jewish-Christian Holy Writ spiced with ideas from Latin American liberation theology. Though a classical Marxist (which involves atheism) Marty was intrigued by the idea. Hence, over a post-election cup of coffee the Alliance Against Poverty (AAP) was born. For the next handful of months, until roughly the beginning of 2009, we sought members, made a few efforts that went nowhere and staggered into the new year not sure whether we had a future or not.
There were at least four principles that we held as non-negotiable: 1). we would not let our actions or integrity be compromised by any official funding; 2). we were committed to helping build a broad anti-poverty coalition defined by grass-roots participation; 3). we included within the new movement a strong component of direct action; and 4). perhaps most uniquely, we added a wealth-sharing component to our monthly meetings. We decided that this notion of JUBILEE from Leviticus 25 (Jewish Scriptural tradition) would be integral to our commitment within the new movement. Hence we sought an equal number of middle-income people and people who lived below the poverty line. Then, at the close of every meeting, we passed a hat into which those middle income folk would deposit $50.00 which they could afford but would still miss while those living in poverty would each take $50.00 which each needed yet was still not enough to live humanely. This was not charity but rather a token wealth re-distribution based on justice whereby we solemnly committed to fighting for broad-based wealth re-distribution in the broader society. At first, we adopted the name "Jubilee Wedge," but given its rather obscure meaning we adopted roughly a year later the name Alliance Against Poverty.
Since the winter of 2009 we have met regularly, studied, trained, wrote, networked, recruited members and engaged in direct action. As well, since January of that year we have sustained a core membership including university professor Richard Walsh, retired chaplain and pastor Paul Bosch, Eleanor Grant (an activist I have known since the protests of the Harris years), Tony Tassi and Colin Plant a film-maker and computer expert whom I met during the 2008 federal election campaign. Others, once active, have left the movement due to changing life circumstances while new faces such as Nadine Quehl have brought new life and vision to the group. Sadly we will be saying "Bon Voyage" to Shannon Balla, who joined us toward the end of our Social work studies and formed a vital link with another anti-poverty movement called Poverty Makes Us Sick (PMUS). Indeed, largely through this link both the AAP and PMUS managed some highly creative study opportunities and actions. Shannon is moving to Ottawa where she will continue her creative struggles for justice.
I hope this very brief introduction whets your appetite to learn more. If I took the time to write all the events of which we were a part from January, 2009 to the present I would be producing an exceedingly long piece of work. Instead, I call on the membership, as each is able and willing, to introduce themselves briefly and tell one or two stories about your AAP experience. Let me close with two in which I was involved just to start the ball rolling:
1). OCCUPY TORONTO: During the Occupy Wall Street I went three times to the Occupy Toronto cite in the park by the Anglican Cathedral, both times officially representing the AAP. The final occasion was the night when the courts demanded that the park be vacated, In that situation I joined with other clergy where I was asked to lead a liturgy of solidarity using food, and Occupy general assembly values (direct democracy). Thereafter a woman United Church pastor and I trained with non-violent leaders in anticipation of police arrest which did not happen the night we were there.
2). Nativity Scene:Both our AAP and our PMUS allies have had a stormy relationship with former Community and Social Services minister MPP John Milloy, having occupied his office a number of times, to the point where his once open office became a locked-down locus. Hence, shorty after last Christmas, the AAP and PMUS, with help from the SPOT collective created a Nativity scene in contemporary style, i.e., the holy couple with baby Jesus were, like the originals, living below the poverty line, and yes, our baby Jesus was, in fact, their several month old daughter. We had shepherds, wise folk, the angel Gabriel and a narrator who read the text. By the end of our short play we barely got away before a police car came--- to me reminiscent of the escape of the Holy family to Egypt.
I hope this piece has given all and sundry a taste of our AAP. Brothers and Sisters, please add your own morsels to the feast.