Shall leave Daphne to report what she said when at the microphone (if she's so inclined). Here's what I said to a room which had suddenly fallen silent.
My name is Chrystal Ocean and my household income is less than $8,000 per year. I founded and coordinated a group managed by and for low-income women. Now defunct due to changes to Status of Women Canada, the group grew into a national movement. Now Daphne and I use social media to keep our activism alive.
We do not ASK to be at the table, we INSIST on it. We insist that at least 50% of those making the decisions about poverty be people like us, those living on very low income, because WE are the experts of our own lives. Not YOU.
I would also like to see an event like this turned upside down, where WE are the keynote speakers, WE are the plenary speakers, WE are the presenters - WE, who live on the streets or who fear each day we soon will be; and YOU (pointing at the podium and around the room) sit in the audience, SHUT UP and LISTEN to US.
My message: that poor people are only without money; as a group, we are no more without strength or ability or leaders as people of higher income groups are.
Over the course of the previous two days, I'd got so thoroughly sick of hearing about the work and ideas of the various "stakeholders" - namely, "community leaders from social development, public health, environment, community safety and recreation." Slides presented during the event indicated the partners to be government, nonprofit organizations and business.
WHERE were members of the target population? Yes, some of us had been funded to attend the event and a token few actually participated in presentations. But the target group was excluded in the list of stakeholders. Tokenism just doesn't cut it.
The event seemed entirely focused on what the do-gooders could do for us and what their vision was of a new Canada without poverty. But we want to do for ourselves and we want to craft our own solutions. For those who like to trot out the word 'empowerment' that, at least, should be easy to grasp.
Even the initiative launched and press-released from the CSF, Dignity for All, may well not have been so ill-named had 50% of the target population been included in the process from start to finish. My life is no less dignified without than with a decent income.
Part 3 - Of voices.
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