Category Archives: Uncategorized

Surviving the Storm: Representing the Journey

An exciting new partnership initiative has taken place between Rodman Hall Art Centre and YWCA Niagara Region. Guests of the YWCA Niagara Region were invited to work with artist Leona Skye to create a piece of art that represents their individual journeys. A celebration of the final product took place July 25th, 2018, at the YWCA’s Culp St. Emergency Shelter.

“The painting  was created by an amazing group of women,” says YWCA Skills Development Worker Noella Iradukunda, “They worked together to create a beautiful art piece that promotes the journey that they have been through.”

The piece, titled Surviving the Storm, immediately captures the eye when viewed for the first time. A flurry of colour and shapes, it’s immediately clear to the viewer that a considerable amount of thought and emotion went into the painting. One of the artists describes how they were each given a piece of the canvas to represent the journey that has brought them to where they are today. Words like “Empower”,  “Heal”,  “Freedom” and “Justice” stretch across the canvas, capturing the essence of the women’s emotional journeys and their feelings now that they are at the YWCA.

The guests of the YWCA, along with Elizabeth Chitty, Program Officer of the Rodman Hall Art Centre, and artist Leona Skye, gathered around the painting to sign their names on their work. There was a noticeable sense of pride in the room as the women looked upon what they had created. The artwork can be seen in the front foyer of the Culp St. Shelter.

When Reality Hits – No Fixed Address

In 2016, YW Staff Franziska shared her experience at No Fixed Address with us. Our signature fundraiser is coming up again on June 8/9 at General Motors.

Please consider participating. Please consider donating.

More than 700 women stayed in our shelters last year, and almost 200 children.

Help today!

I can feel raindrops on my face. It could be 2am or 4am – I have no idea and, frankly, I don’t care. What I do know is that it is the middle of the night. The sky is dark and the parking lot is surrounded by an orange glow from the street lights all around. It looks dark and grey and orange all at once outside of my window. It’s raining again. Great. I scramble to find the car keys, turn the ignition and a high “ding ding” sound comes from the car – probably because it picks up on me not being buckled in. Thanks to the turned key, I can finally close the window. I can see my husband stirring in the backseat to do the same. We shoot each other a tired look and share a brief, slightly desperate smile that says “oh well, this night will have to be over eventually.” Mark is not an overly tall guy, but he looks so very uncomfortable rolled up on the backseat like that. I glance over to our other car and notice that the kids still have their windows open. My tired brain tries to decide what would be worse: for them to be woken up by me turning the key to close the windows, or for them to be rained on. With a deep sigh, I decide that it probably wouldn’t be healthy for them to lie in wet sleeping bags, so I grab the keys, get out into the rain and close their windows. As I get back into our car with the intention of going back to sleep, the humidity is already unbearable. But for now, it is raining too hard and the windows will need to stay closed.
It is only one night, morning will come soon enough, and I will just have to suck it up, deal with it.

One thing we all have in common is that we will be going home in the morning.

I wonder what the other 140 participants around me might be doing or thinking right now. There are always those who can’t catch a wink of sleep and those who sleep like a baby all night long. But most of us are somewhere in between. Regardless of which category you fall under, one thing we all have in common is that we will be going home in the morning.
Since 2012, No Fixed Address  has raised more than $300,000 for those women and families for whom not having a home is the harsh reality – every single day. It allows the YW to provide nutritious food, safe shelter and Skills Development programming to hundreds of women and families. Every dollar raised is part of the women’s, men’s and children’s path back to independence and self-sufficiency. We thank all of the participants, the donors who support them, the sponsors and the volunteers who help us to once again raise much needed funds and awareness for hidden homelessness in Niagara.

For my family and I, the uncomfortable night came and went quickly and was soon forgotten after a swim in the pool and a good night’s sleep in our beds. The horror, however, that came over me at the mere thought of what it must be like to truly have to live like this, will stay with me forever. The thought of not having a home but only a car to go back to, or a friend’s couch, or a motel room, the thought of being constantly scared and worried and stressed while still doing the best you can to make your kids feel safe and happy in spite of it all… that thought will fuel me and ignite me because we cannot and must not stop until there is not a single woman, man or child left who has to go through this here in Niagara, in our own backyards.

Sponsor Franziska’s team Nevertheless, She Persisted or find a participant near you!

#VolunteerTalk – Slavica

1) What motivated you to become a volunteer or supporter of YWCA Niagara Region, and what does your involvement look like?

My motivation to become a volunteer at the YWCA came from Kaitlyn who had introduced me to the YW during my first year at Brock. The YW was promoting their annual Women’s Leadership Summit and being in the Women’s and Gender Studies department at Brock, I thought the event was interesting and related to my field of study. When I first started, I only contributed to the blog posts but because one of the credits I needed to graduate was a Practicum course that required me to have 100 hours of volunteering, I decided to become more involved with the YW than I had previously done.

As of right now I help out the ladies upstairs with any jobs they need me to do. Most of the time it tends to be research based, particularly, finding contact information on companies in the local community who might sponsor or participate in events the YW is hosting and any other odd jobs.  I also spend my Saturdays helping the kitchen staff make lunch, I’m usually on baking duty which I have discovered I have a great passion for and look forward to doing every week.

2) This year’s theme for National Volunteer Week is “Celebrate the Value of Volunteering – building confidence, competence, connections, and community”. What value has volunteering brought to your life? Have you experienced any of these “4 Cs”?

I definitely feel like I have developed connections within the organization with all the various people who work at the YW which has reached over into me helping my community, like working on the chili cook-off part of West Niagara’s Coldest Night of the Year Event. I feel like the work I do, however little, is really valuable to them and knowing that I am helping my community, makes me look forward to coming to work each day.

3) How do you make time for volunteering, and do you have any tips for those who are starting their own volunteer journey?

Since I’m a student, I choose the hours and the times I volunteer based on my school schedule and any other responsibilities I may have. I usually volunteer twice a week, a couple hours each day.

I suggest doing something you’re comfortable doing. I wasn’t comfortable working in the front desk because I felt like that was a lot of responsibility and answering phones causes me major anxiety so I decided to do everything except that instead. Helping out in the kitchen, working on the blog, volunteering at events, etc.

4) Are there any misconceptions about volunteering that you would like to debunk?

The biggest misconception I think people have is they don’t understand the long term value of volunteering for themselves and the community. Most people do it for the short term and that’s great but non-profits function largely because they have volunteers. I haven’t done really big jobs in my time here, but I know that the help I provide is valued and that the result is that my small actions have somehow contributed to making the lives of the people who use YWCA’s services better.

5) What experience, memory, or lesson from being part of YWCA Niagara Region has made the most impact on you?

I don’t have one particular lesson or memory that has been impactful to me because I feel like the whole experience in general has changed my life for the better. I feel like a happier person, knowing what I do here matters and is valued.

6) What would you like to see happen over the next 90 years of YWCA Niagara Region?

To represent change and growth for the next 90 years, I think the organization as a whole, not just specifically Niagara, should undergo a name change to represent the diversity of people that they help.

#VolunteerTalk – Catharine

1) What motivated you to become a volunteer or supporter of YWCA Niagara Region, and what does your involvement look like?

I wanted to be part of a team that is on the front lines of helping people here in St. Catharines. I’m a front desk volunteer with the YW and I also help out with an art group.

2) This year’s theme for National Volunteer Week is “Celebrate the Value of Volunteering – building confidence, competence, connections, and community”. What value has volunteering brought to your life? Have you experienced any of these “4 Cs”?

Volunteering has introduced me to the kindest, and also some of the strongest people in my community. The value of volunteering is immeasurable. I feel so blessed!

3) How do you make time for volunteering, and do you have any tips for those who are starting their own volunteer journey?

You can’t always find the time for volunteering, but find what time you can.

You might think that what little time you have isn’t enough, or wonder what you can accomplish in an hour. Every hour or two counts!

 

 

4) Are there any misconceptions about volunteering that you would like to debunk?

That it isn’t worthwhile because you aren’t being paid. As a volunteer, you are paid so thoroughly in gratitude and have the opportunity to meet people who can teach you a lot. When applying for a job, this experience can also help you to understand your strengths!

5) What experience, memory, or lesson from being part of YWCA Niagara Region has made the most impact on you?

There’s a lot of judgement out in the world for adults who need help, whether they are sick, in transitional housing, abused, or living hard on the streets. When you volunteer with an organization like this, what strikes you is how often people in the worst positions are the kindest you’ll ever meet. It’s a very humbling experience to understand that. It makes you want to help others to the extent of your abilities.

6) What would you like to see happen over the next 90 years of YWCA Niagara Region?

I’d love to see the YWCA’s funding increase to be able to house more families, hire more staff, and to possibly create a Niagara Region family shelter that allows single father and two-parent families with a male partner to stay together.

 

My Letter To YOU

This post was written by our client Linda. We changed her name to protect her privacy. Coming to the YW has changed Linda’s life, one step at a time. 

Hello, my name is Linda. I’m an 18 year-old female. I would like to begin my story by giving you a brief overview of the roller coaster that has been my life.

The Early Years. 

From the moment I was born, life was not so easy.

During pregnancy my mother was in active addiction and I was born withdrawing due to my mother’s drug use. My earliest memories as a young child are those of sexual abuse, physical abuse and neglect. As a result of this I developed anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

 

Somewhere In The Middle

I can remember being enrolled in school later than most of the other kids. I believe I only started in grade 1. Never having the chance to attend JK and SK, I was behind. I attended classes that had fewer kids. I began to catch on quickly, and did my best to fit into the box that society classifies as NORMAL. During my elementary school years not much had changed at home and I began to normalize the abuse and neglect. I began to excel in school and took an interest in as many extracurricular activities as I could. I struggled every day with what I am now able to identify as my mental health. As a young child I just wanted to be like the other kids, fit in and be accepted.

I did my best to fit into the box that society classifies as NORMAL

As Time Went On

I excelled in my extracurricular activities at school, gymnastics, wrestling, swimming and track and field. I was popular and well-liked by my peers. I started high school and even attended OFFSA representing my school in many different forms of sports. I received trophies and medals. On the outside looking in no-one would have known all of the daily struggles I was facing just to get up each morning, and show up. I intended on keeping it that way but I felt so alone.

The Overflow

The adolescent years are a strange time for us. All of the pressure to fit in, especially as a female. Always being told we need to look a certain way to maintain our popularity. Having all of the hormones of a typical teenager, all while trying to cope with my mental health, was not easy. I began to self-harm, and developed an eating disorder in order to deal with the constant overwhelming feeling of having no control over anything in my life.

When that didn’t work, I began to experiment with recreational drugs. It worked. I didn’t feel anything. I liked it. Before I knew it, I was relying on these substances just to make it through the day. Before I knew it, I was no longer excelling in sports and was hanging with a whole other group of people.

I began engaging in some very risky behaviors. Some of the things I experienced in the early years of my adolescence are situations that no one ever has to deal with in a lifetime. Overdoses, episodes of drug induced psychosis, physical and sexual assaults. All before the age of 18. I went from school to school, house to couch surfing, what feels like a million different programs, hospital stays. Bouts of sobriety and times of clarity to relapses and more active addiction. I felt that eventually if I pushed hard enough and broke enough rules, I would be evicted, discharged, and referred somewhere else. That was normal for me. So I pushed my supports away. As much as I knew I needed them.

YWCA

Finally, I was referred to a program through the YWCA, called the Off Site Transitional Housing Program. I was accepted and placed on a wait list. I was shown an upcoming available unit within the first few months of being on the wait list. It just wasn’t for me. The Transitional Housing Worker was willing to keep me on the list and offer me the next available unit. I was shocked. No one had ever really cared what I wanted or thought. I had a choice, I was in control of what I wanted for my life, and where I saw myself living.

I began to reconnect with all of my support systems again.

I was then offered another unit two months later. I instantly fell in love with it. It was the cutest little pad. A place to call my own. I began working with my Transitional Support Worker on a monthly basis, I was enrolled back into school. I began to reconnect with all of my support systems again. I have a fixed address. I have been able to have a safe place to call home. I began to work on budgeting skills and rejoined the wrestling team. As amazing as things were for me, I relapsed and began to engage in drug use. I had been down this path before with a similar program.  I was self-sabotaging. I knew I would be discharged from the program, I had broken the rules. This was my way out. As much as I loved the program, this much stability all at once was a bit scary for me. I was in for a surprise though, I was not discharged from the program.

The crazy thing is that my worker never left.

My Transitional Support Worker set firm boundaries and rather than making the choice for me, she continued to let me make my own choices. For the first time in my life, no one was going to force me into sobriety, I would have to make this choice for myself. I rebelled against this for about a week. The crazy thing is my worker; she never left. She was there every time I called, she helped me to access detox, and advocated for me with school. I felt so ashamed that I had relapsed. I was assured that relapse is a part of recovery, and that my worker was here to support me through the process. I set new goals for myself, entered into a contract, which helped to hold me accountable for my choices. I started back at school and was able to pick right back up where I left off.

Ongoing Journey

I am still a participant of the Off Site Transitional Housing Program, I am in grade 12, I will be graduating in June, I have been accepted into College and will start in September. I attended OFFSA this Fall representing my school for wrestling and placed silver overall. I have enrolled to attend a treatment program for the summer. I believe that I am alive today and succeeding due to the ongoing supports that I am receiving through the YWCA. The amount of supports and programs that are offered to the women that this agency serves is phenomenal. This is an organization that truly stands behind their mission statement. They offer 24/7 supports to anyone in need.

I believe that I am alive today and succeeding due to the ongoing supports that I am receiving
through the YWCA.

I have the ability to access the agency anytime, as they are always there to support. I know that I have a really long journey ahead of me and a lot of hard work. The most assuring feeling I have is knowing that as a client of the YWCA I will never have to face this journey alone.

Until Next Time 

I’m very eager and excited to see all that I will have accomplished by this time next year. I know that I have an amazing support system in my corner through the YWCA and I look forward to continuing to share my ongoing successes with you.

Sincerely,

Linda

 

To The Women Of Tomorrow

Dear Women of Tomorrow,

As I write this to you on International Women’s Day, two words keep running through my head, “don’t settle.” Don’t settle for inequality, racism, sexism, bigotry or intolerance. Don’t settle for less than equality. Your opinion and experiences are valid and valued. You are a change-maker. You are our future and I believe in you.
You are strong, brave and capable of anything. You can be the change you want to see in the world. It’s going to be hard but you are resilient. With every one of life’s challenges that has (or has yet to) come your way you grow. You will learn your strengths, to embrace your weaknesses and beauty of seeing new perspectives. You are unique, with each fresh perspective that is seen and voice that is heard society will continue to evolve. Discomfort inspires change. Be intersectional, be inclusive.
You are our future leaders, entrepreneurs, creators, artists, activists and more. You can can create societal and political change for the women who come after you. Know and understand what has happened in humanity’s past and strive to be better. Be better than us and those that came before us. I support you, I believe in you.

“I stand on the sacrifices of a million women before me thinking: what can I do to make this mountain taller so the women after me can see farther?”
Rupi Kaur

Written by Valerie Chalmers

www.ValerieChalmers.com

Activist, Creator & Influencer

Co-Chair of Promotions & Marketing Committee, Niagara Leadership Summit for Women

Podcast Host, Guest & Recording Engineer

Member of Promotions & Marketing Committee, NoFixed Address

Member of St.Catharines Culture Plan Subcommittee

Pathetic Love Songs

Full disclosure, I love a good love song. But every now and then, singers or their writers just get it all wrong. Love is a two-way-street, so please – do not be the first in line, in hopes that when he changes his mind, he can take a chance on you. You’re better than that.

One of my favourites though, when it comes to songs with a protagonist who is utterly lacking self-worth, is hands down “Jolene” by Dolly Parton. Why, you ask? I’ll show you…

JOLENE

Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene
I’m begging of you please don’t take my man

DOLLY! I am begging of YOU! If he makes you feel like you need to beg Jolene not to take him, you are with the wrong man!! It’s not about Jolene, this is about you and your man.

Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene
Please don’t take him just because you can

Again, Dolly, why can she? Why do you think she can just walk up to your man and take him? Something is not right here.

Your beauty is beyond compare
With flaming locks of auburn hair
With ivory skin and eyes of emerald green
Your smile is like a breath of spring
Your voice is soft like summer rain

OK, fine, that part is poetic and Jolene does sound like she’s quite pretty.

And I cannot compete with you, Jolene

No, Dolly, just NO! Never mind that I am sure you could compete with her, but why do you feel like you have to in the first place? Does your man love you – yes or no? Can a few auburn locks be so impressive that he would just walk away from his amazing better half? If he makes you feel like you’re in competition with every pretty woman around you, he is a bad choice.

He talks about you in his sleep
There’s nothing I can do to keep
From crying when he calls your name, Jolene

AHA! Now, we’re getting closer. Just when she has the listener wonder how paranoid and insecure one can be, she’s finally telling us that she is not pulling these suspicions out of thin air. He talks about Jolene is his sleep, Dolly? Darn right, you can’t keep from crying. That is messed up. Have you ever asked him about that? Not something that would go unaddressed where I come from…

And I can easily understand
How you could easily take my man
But you don’t know what he means to me, Jolene

Dear Dolly, you are way too understanding. How can you say that? Let me handle this one for you: Jolene, you don’t take a man that is already taken. It’s as simple as that. So take that smile that is like a breath of spring and smile it at someone else. I should not have to point this out to you, Jolene. When they teach you to share in Kindergarten, that does not apply to significant others. Got it? 

Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene (…)

You could have your choice of men
But I could never love again
He’s the only one for me, Jolene

There she loses me. I get it, this whole thing sucks. Here you are, all in love and here goes your man, talking about Jolene in his sleep but come on, Dolly? He’s the ONLY one? You could NEVER love again? There are plenty of fish in the sea, and there are seven seas, my friend.

I had to have this talk with you
My happiness depends on you
And whatever you decide to do, Jolene

Wrong again. Your happiness depends on YOU and what YOU decide to do, Dolly. This one’s not on Jolene.

Jolene, Jolene, Jolene (…)

On this note, I hope that you felt loved this Valentine’s Day, this February and that you do every day – whether it’s by a partner, a child, a parent, a friend, or your pet rabbit. You’re worth it. You’re not in competition with Jolene or anyone and if he doesn’t make you happy, please, please walk away. Life is short.

 

A Love Song – or is it much more than that?

Oh, the month of February, it’s bitterly cold, snowy and even though the days are getting a little longer, the sun isn’t warm on our faces (the only part exposed as temperatures dip).
Why wouldn’t we welcome the loving month of February, celebrating  Valentine’s Day, Family Day – surely these tender feelings of love will help keep winter’s icy grip at bay – this month of all the months must warm our hearts.
You would think, but think again.  Love, is it over-rated, commercialized beyond recognition, twisted to sell any product, service or celebrity?
This said, we bloggers have been tasked this month of February to deconstruct a love song – open it up, examine it fully and reveal it’s truth.  insert disclaimer right here: This is my interpretation of it’s truth, and not those of the organization.
Here goes mine, and after careful consideration, and strange looks from my daughter as I listened to several love songs consecutively one evening – I chose Love Song, by Sara Bareilles.
I really enjoyed the honesty of the opening stanza ….Head under water, And they tell me to breathe easy for a while.  The breathing gets harder, even I know that.  You made room for me but it’s too soon to see If I’m happy in your hands, I’m, unusually hard to hold on to…
Nice, how she doesn’t go all gooey because someone wants her in their life, this girl is giving herself time to sort through her feelings – good life lesson.
Continuing in the chorus ……I’m not gonna write you a love song ’cause you need one, you see I’m not gonna write you a love song ’cause you tell me it’s make or breaking this, If you’re on your way, I’m not gonna write you to stay, If all you have is leaving I’m gonna need a better reason to write you a love song today….
Okay, standing up to a little pressure here.
She’s a song writer, you’d think it be easy to pop one out, all sappy, but NO.  She is definitely NOT writing a love song if without one, this person would leave!  Really, like no love song…fine, then I’m leaving.  Even if you could pop one out, I wouldn’t either.
Gets a little deeper and interesting now….You are not what I thought you were, Hello to high and dry, Convince me to please you, Made me think that I need this too, I’m trying to let you hear me as I am…..
 I am sensing angst here, clearly the person wants a love song – would that prove to them she loves them?  Flip-side, sure she writes songs, but that isn’t all she is, words aren’t the only thing that defines her, and she wants this person to hear and see who she really is – as a whole human being.
Now my favourite part….promise me that you’ll leave the light on, To help me see with daylight, my guide gone ’cause I believe there’s a way you can love me because I say, I won’t write you a love song….. 

 Who doesn’t want to be understood so well, that you can disagree, in fact, insist a little too much, that you are NOT writing a love song even if asked and still be loved.
Wrapping it up, she then states…..Babe I’ll walk the seven seas when I believe that there’s a reason to Write you a love song today…
The capacity is there, clearly when the relationship gets beyond the damn insistence of her writing that love song.  When the love is unconditional and reciprocated.
Makes you wonder, shouldn’t we all concentrate less on the mechanics of the love “song” and take the time to invest in a deeper connection, feelings that would compel someone to write a song about their love – with no prompting or forceful requests.  That is my take on this one.
May this February find you warm with the love of family, friends and enjoying some good tunes, who’s song writers, have touched you soul through their human expression of perhaps, just maybe a love song.

A New Year And A Not So New Society

By: Slavica Mijakovac

I find it interesting how when we talk about the New Year we speak as if we as people have somehow been reborn into something else, that somehow things aren`t the same anymore. That just because it`s January 1st someone’s able to change their whole behavior, routines and life instantly.

If that were true I wouldn’t be cringing after I read every #MeToo post on the internet or seeing articles upon articles of women and girls being the denied the justice they deserve because they somehow aren’t victim enough or their abuser has the power to shut them down like Harvey Weinstein did for 20 years.

When my parents moved to this country, they envisioned a better life for me than theirs. A life where I could get a post-secondary education, get a well-paying job, live in a house, get married, have some kids and live happily ever after with no worries. Unrealistic in so many ways but that’s all any parent wishes for their child.

When you immigrate to a new country, the dream of a better life is all you care about. I don’t know if my parents are disappointed with how things ended up turning but seeing how my dad thinks just me getting an undergrad will mean a high paying job means he clearly still believes in the dream. Makes me laugh because when my dad was growing up, that’s all he really needed. Now we need connections, experience, volunteer hours, we need anything that makes us unique, special.

Older generation think we spend too much time online and that’s true but what we’re doing is selling our brand, an image of ourselves to the rest of the world. This will help companies and organizations have an understanding of who we are as people, to see if we are the type of person they want to represent them and their organization, really what we’re building are connections but not everyone is an Internet celebrity, most people have practical jobs.

That’s why I find people’s displeasure with Canada’s raised minimum wage ridiculous because it truly means nothing when companies end up raising prices on items while cutting back hours. $14 nowadays is worthless because the cost of living keeps increasing. The time when a quarter meant you were a king is no more. Now it just means that you’re below the poverty line.

Being a woman makes things harder because as much as our former Prime Minister Stephen Harper liked to pretend that equality of the genders had been reached here in Canada, that’s not the case. The reality is when I enter the work force the likelihood that I will be paid the same as my male co-workers is slim to none, the probability of me being sexually harassed or even assaulted is high. Me being a woman, run by a world dominated by men makes anyone who doesn’t fit this pinnacle of idealness; rich, white, heterosexual, cisgender, able bodied, etc., an “Other”. This means that there are obstacles in my way created by our institutions that will make my progress of “success” much harder because I don’t fit the ideal society wants.

What I’m trying to say is that I may have citizenship status now but that will never erase the fact that my parents had to immigrate to Canada. They had to leave their lives in a place they knew to a brand-new country while having to learn not only a new language, but a new culture and history just to prove their “Canadian” enough to live here. It’s not easy. I am not a new me somehow because I’m Canadian. I will forever be both an immigrant and a citizen and that’s okay but as a woman living in this current political climate I wonder how a first world society can still be so backwards in how it views women and people of different races even after 150 years of existence. Clearly, society still has a long way to go before equality is truly achieved, let alone equity.

 

The $14 Minimum Wage, Dystopian fiction, and Amazon HQ2

I’ve had a thing for dystopian fiction ever since I read 1984, back when that date was, well… in the future. Dystopian books have always had a market and they’ve been especially popular in young adult (YA) publishing for some years now. Then there are the television and movie adaptations (everything from The Handmaid’s Tale to The Children of Men, Hunger Games, and The Maze Runner) that visualize dreary survival in a repressive time to come. It’s frightening and compelling to see imagined futures mapping out the world that might be if the present just shifted slightly to the more authoritarian side. Of course, dystopian novels have special resonance in eras of political or social anxiety, like say, today.

“Please Sir, I Want Some More…”

Lately, I’ve been indulging in a bit of my own dystopian imaginings. What would happen if, say, we allowed democracy to be eroded so much that we surrendered our (liberal) human rights and citizenship for the faint hope of economic security (or, you know, a crust of bread)? I have been thinking a lot about this since the Ontario government raised the minimum wage to $14 an hour, and since the Amazon HQ2 shortlist was announced (stay with me…I’ll try to come full circle on these two).

Way to Go on the Solidarity Front…

I was not surprised to hear yelps and complaints about the minimum raise hike from small businesses that are precarious or operate on tight margins. Clearly, wages are where these businesses squeeze their profits from and the few extra dollars per hour will reduce or, in some cases, eliminate them. Or so they say. We’ll have to see. I expect this type of response from business owners. Profit is within their interests. I am however, continually knocked back when I hear people who make a few dollars more than the legal minimum grumbling about others being raised up. Their chief complaint goes something like this: “but I make $17 an hour and it took me years to get here. Now somebody who just starts is going to make $15.” It kind of shows how low the bar is set and how the majority of us really don’t have a say in our worth when selling our labour. Worker can’t bargain (at least not individually) for more if an employer sees them as not worthy. You’d think that fact alone would make some people more receptive to government guidelines such as the lowest possible amount of money you can pay a person to work. You’d also think it would make us all more generous of spirit when it comes to our fellow human beings almost earning a living wage. Of course, there are ways around paying the lowest possible amount. Ask your pizza delivery person about that.  That—the work for hire and gig economy—is also part of my dystopian imaginings. It is, in reality, happening right now, and I reckon it will expand in the future. This is why we need to tackle precarious work on our fairness and equality agenda as well. And this leads me to the other part of my dystopian imagining, which is that the world where we trade our rights for a crust of bread is already here.

Fighting Over a Crust of Bread

Just the other day, OXFAM released a report on inequality that stated 82 percent of the wealth created in the world last year went into the pockets of the richest one percent. The report, released for the suits who gathered at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, called on governments to “ensure our economies work for everyone” by “ensuring all workers receive a minimum ‘living’ wage that would enable them to have a decent quality of life.” The report also asked governments to make sure wealthy pay their “fair share of tax through higher taxes and a crackdown on tax avoidance” while increasing spending on public services such as healthcare and education. You can see Oxfam’s report here: https://www.oxfam.org/en/pressroom/pressreleases/2018-01-22/richest-1-percent-bagged-82-percent-wealth-created-last-year

Paying Tribute to Our Corporate Masters

The thing that frightens me is that while $17 an hour workers are sourly squabbling about their fellow underlings getting a raise, the richest man in the world is unashamedly asking our governments to give his company land and tax breaks and outright graft in order for him to set up shop in their communities and make more money. That’s right, cities across North America brought tributes to the feet of multi-billionaire Jeff Bezos’ empire, begging his corporation to bring jobs their way and shortlist them for a new royal city, erm, corporate headquarters. Amazon had prepared a ransom demand of “what we want from you in return for jobs” and governments all over North American bent over in servile compliance. Atlanta’s incentive bid included over $1 billion in free land, developments, tax breaks and bobbles. Boston waved $100 million in transit infrastructure and tracts of land. Chicago has apparently offered $2 billion in tax breaks. Also a contender, Toronto didn’t offer up any tax or  public treasure box subsidies, but is is already forking out to help build a “smart city” in a deal with Google’s parent company. Yes, of course having Amazon H2Q will bring a (hopefully enduring) economic boost and 50,000 jobs. But bribes and gifts for a monopolistic corporation whose founder has a net worth of $113.5 billion is truly science fiction worthy. While we whinge over whether people who work full time should (should?!) make a living wage, we have lost the plot and lost control. By all accounts, billionaire Bezos is a kind and giving philanthropist, meaning that when he chooses to spend his own money, he plunks it generously into charities and causes he believes in. Causes that he deems worthy. That’s lovely. That’s what emperors do. What’s nicer though, is that he and other uber wealthy citizens like him pay their fair share like the rest of us into the communal pot, so that Oxfam doesn’t have to run a campaign to remind world leaders that inequality is harmful and that living wages (like the $15 one Ontario will soon have) and taxes (not just taken from the $15 or $50-an-hour earners) are necessary for running a healthy, functioning democracy. A healthy, functioning democracy with things like infrastructure, health care, and education. You know…those state-provided things that make running a high-tech corporation possible.