I am a lucky girl. I feel blessed, fortunate, and totally present.
Because I survived cancer? Sure. Because I found love after two divorces? Why not. Because I learned so much through participating in the Welfare Food Challenge? Absolutely. Just not about food.
I learned about people.
I discovered that people are afraid of poverty. The Welfare Food Challenge saw the participants eating on a mere three dollars a day, and like my fellow participants, I blogged about it through my social media pages. I took pictures of my dinner, and tried to create a positive space for people to leave messages and share. And they did!
Many people, living on welfare here in B.C. themselves, came forward and shared their own stories, of survival and struggle, and allowed themselves to be honest and vulnerable. It was beautiful, and I felt very honoured that they would feel safe enough to share on my page. But then, like a lightening strike in a thunderstorm, the onslaught of comments came with deafening shock. Other people began to dismiss, accuse, put them down for their stories, and deliberately shame them.
I was crestfallen.
I felt compelled to write about this on my facebook page, and I tried to find a way to gently ask people why they were so afraid of poverty that they had to outright blame The Poor for being, well, POOR?
I wrote, “I encourage everyone to examine their own feelings, as they rise for you. 'Poor Bashing' is a very revealing action and it is utterly oppressive! (Please examine why you would be doing that, and investigate your feelings and why that is triggering for you).”
In hindsight, I realized that this is a reflection on our society and on our culture. People are defensive and reactionary surrounding poverty. People are resentful and, I’m guessing, that is subconsciously fear-based. But, the truth is, any one of us can find themselves in crisis, and in desperate need of assistance. Even me.
I was on welfare as a young person, when I first moved to B.C. from the Prairies, and I was not happy about it. I didn’t want to be “on welfare” and could not find a job, despite trying very earnestly, along with my bandmates. Eventually, after a few long months, we found employment and were able to get off of social assistance. But, what if I wasn’t able to? What if circumstances went from bad to worse?
Or what if I had been diagnosed with cancer back then? Would I ever have been able to transcend poverty? Or what if I was fleeing abuse? Or what if I’d been in a car accident and could not work and lost my home at the same time? Or what if these things happened to you? These scenarios are very familiar to many people on welfare.
In British Columbia, the welfare rates have not been raised in almost a decade yet the cost of living continues to rise. Welfare rates are over $900 a month below the poverty line for people living in Vancouver. The high cost of living is something many of us can relate to. More and more, most of us, regardless of our tax bracket, live cheque-to-cheque. What if the cheque never came? What would that look like for most families?
Each of us has the potential to find ourselves in a crisis, and each of us would have to cope and survive that in our own way. If someone has barriers on top of barriers, such as mental illness and no family and no job? What if it was your elderly parent?
These questions I raise to try to wake us all up to the truth about people on welfare: they are starving. Not just for food, but for someone to stand up for them, care about how they live and survive, and take action to motivate our community leaders through our efforts.
Can the people of B.C. and our government, in all conscience, look someone in the eyes and say I want you to live in deep poverty because you have had a string of misfortunes?
The Welfare Food Challenge 2014 may be over but it isn’t an end, rather, a beginning. The challenge is for us to help and stand up for each other, get involved with Raise the Rates, sign their petition, write to our MLAs, and open our hearts to our neighbours.