May 27: Christine Wilson-Furlonger and panhandling; Tasha French and street newspapers

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Welcome to The ShakeUp for Friday May 27. In Windsor an ugly little battle is brewing over panhandlers in the streets of downtown. Local business owners don’t want people begging in front of their establishments and people in general are often uncomfortable being approached for money. Councillor Valentinis, Joyce Zuk (Citizen Advocacy of Windsor), and some BIA members recently met to figure out a solution. It seems that one part of the solution is to get business owners to call social services when they see a panhandler. In a conversation with Joyce Zuk, who heads the Homelessness Coalition in Windsor, she said we all have to see that it is the downturn in the economy coupled with tax cuts and resulting decrease in social services that are the root causes of poverty. Zuk has convinced downtown business owners that neither bylaws prohibiting panhandling nor aggressive policing will solve the issue. Indeed it would simply move it somewhere else, or have the problem manifest itself in different ways.

She will coordinate with such organizations as Canadian Mental Health and the Salvation Army to have professional staff respond to business owners when they report panhandling.

The worker will come and engage in a discussion with the panhandler to assess their needs and refer them to an appropriate agency, including Unit 7 Street Help. As well, they will have vouchers provided by business owners for food. Zuk is hopeful this effort is the beginning of a dialogue with business owners, and indeed all of us, on the root cause of panhandling – poverty. Zuk added that this is a people centred effort and not a full solution, and that she has an obligation to help since business owners have identified a problem of people in need. There needs to be engagement among all involved so that panhandlers are not scapegoated.

Many would agree that the lack of social housing, adequate numbers of hospital beds, and the downloading of services to cities with no corresponding increase in funding for those services have created a society of haves and have nots, a gap widening and likely to get worse with a federal government intent on cutting taxes while spending like gangsters on weapons and wars.

It’s all connected, right down to the streets of Windsor. Who’s responsible? We all are, and we have to do the right thing in the short term while we struggle to recognize that taxes are what enable an egalitarian society to exist. Tax cuts, especially the billions for corporations, kill both people and businesses.

On Friday’s program I talked to Christine Wilson-Furlonger who helps run the Unit 7 Street Help Centre on Wyandotte St, in the first half hour.

After the break, I talked to Tasha French in Nashville Tennessee. According to the NASNA website, “Tasha French is the Board president of the NASNA, and founder and director of The Contributor street paper in Nashville. She brings to the NASNA board a degree in photojournalism and more than 15 years experience working with at least ten publications in various capacities.

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She has experience as a homeless outreach worker and has spent years photographing and interviewing individuals living on the street.” (Comments expressed are those of Paul Chislett and do not necessarily reflect those of OPIRG Windsor or CJAM).

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May 20: City Council vs. The Neighbourhoods: Crisis of democracy in Windsor.

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Community resistance. Photo: Paul Chislett

For the last few weeks, the city has been preparing some neighbourhoods for a new aquatics centre to be built west of downtown. The idea so far is that it will feature a 50m pool and a library. Likely to close are the pool at Glengarry Housing and Adie Knox pools, and the main library branch on Ouellette. These will be amalgamated into the new aquatic centre. Public consultations have occurred for all three neighbourhoods and were well attended.

                                                           Photo: Paul Chislett

 The first two meetings were designed by city staff with four questions citizens were supposed to consider in small breakout groups. The questions were similar, and for the May 18th meeting they were:

• If WPL were to relocate its downtown branch, what services and programs would you like to see go with it to a new location?

• If the downtown branch is relocated, what new types of services and programming would you like to see included?

• Is there anything we could explore to facilitate you using the relocated facility?

• Information from this consultation will be forwarded to assist with the formation of a Business Plan which will be presented to City Council for review and discussion. Do you have anything to add which hasn’t already been covered?

The people at the library meeting demanded that they remain in the larger group and have a public discussion about the possibility of the library being moved. They did so because they could see how the other discussions denied people full expression of their views. People want to talk and have their say about decisions that will radically alter their neighbourhoods. The process to change the meeting was certainly a little messy but everyone figured it out. Library staff took care of the flip charts to record views, and the microphone was placed in the centre of the aisle to allow people to line up and have their say. And guess what? The meeting was accomplished and ended on time without any blood on the floor.

People have their say. Photo: Paul Chislett

The real issue isn’t just the aquatic centre. The real issue is the growing rift between elected officials and city bureaucracy, and citizens. Instead of, ‘here’s what we’d like to do and I wonder what people think of it and how do they think it can be achieved’, we get ‘here’s what I will do and how do I make people go along with it.’

People were passionate and perhaps somewhat angry. Anger is a valid emotion, despite what Councillor Valentinis had to say. People were attempting to grapple with a crucial issue affecting them personally. They had little information and clearly sensed they were being manipulated into providing a false consensus. The refusal to simply go along with the meeting format was a significant victory for participatory democracy in Windsor.

Researcher Daniel Schugurensky provides some insight on how we can build towards a more participatory local government and by eliminating the “democratic deficit”. He highlights two themes in a 2004 talk: “[t]he first is the discontinuity of representative democracy. What becomes of citizen engagement in-between elections? Not much, because we are only called to participate in democracy every four years, when we go to the ballot box. In the interim we are asked to go home, watch the show on TV and become political couch potatoes until the next election.” “The second cause of the democratic deficit”, he said, “is that most educational systems (from elementary schools to universities) pay little attention to the development of an active, critical and engaged citizenship. Educational institutions are increasingly expected to focus on economic competitiveness…”

We have a long way to go to tackle this reality so we have to start wherever opportunities arise, and the city plan to disrupt neighbourhoods, specifically less well-off ones, is such a starting point. Hopefully citizens will continue to mobilize. City council has yet to review the business plan being worked out. There is little doubt the city will go ahead with its plans. Citizens would do well to be ready to appear before council in force with numerous delegations to show why it is the city which must prove the worthiness of the plan, contrary to what Councilor Valentinis said. He maintains that it is the citizens who must show why the existing facilities need to be maintained, even in the face of an ill-defined plan with few details for citizens to make an informed decision.

Former library board member Andrew McAvoy. Photo: Paul Chislett

I should note that meeting chair, Al Maghnieh, as quoted in the Windsor Star, implied that only malcontents showed up at the meeting on Wednesday but that most people in Windsor were satisfied. No one at the public meetings opposed the aquatic centre in principle. They simply do not want it to be an excuse to uproot their neighbourhoods.

(The opinions expressed are those of Paul Chislett, and do no not necessarily reflect those of CJAM or OPIRG Windsor)

Music featured on the program:

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May 13: David Camfield and reinventing the Canadian labour movement; Tewodros Asfaw on Structural Adjustment Programs

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‘Structural Adjustment Program’ (SAP) is one of those high-sounding phrases lacking humanity and full meaning. It could even be mistaken for a chiropractic maneuver, but that would be an insult to chiropractors. However, it is an adjustment, especially if you are a worker in the global south. According to Walden Bello, a professor of sociology at the University of the Philippines, SAPs in the Mulroney, Reagan, and Thatcher era were intended to “further integrate southern countries into the North-dominated world economy.”

To do this the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) provided “compliant Third World debtors with billions of dollars in quick-disbursing [structural adjustment loans] which would then be transferred as interest payments to the private banks. But, to receive such loans, the government had to agree to undergo a structural adjustment program (SAP) which was [supposedly] designed to make its economy more efficient and better capable of sustained growth.”

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The World Bank and International Monetary Fund said they were interested in stimulating growth in countries of the global south because in their view growth had stagnated. However, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) economist Lance Taylor and his associates have shown that the economies of the global south were hit hard by the OPEC oil shock of 1970s and the global debt crisis in the 1980s. (A scholarly article is available here.)

What such countries needed most were their existing import substitution programs, eliminated by SAP, which guaranteed local production for local markets. SAPs destroyed local economies to make them subservient to the emerging global economy we know so well today.

In the second half hour we talked to Tewodros Asfaw, an Ethiopian born Windsor activist and researcher who filled us in on SAPs and how the current so-called age of austerity is in fact structural adjustment for the working class of Canada.

Tewodros Asfaw. Photo: Ameen Hassan

In the first half hour we discussed with Dr David Camfield, associate professor of Labour Studies at the University of Manitoba, his book, Canadian Labour in Crisis: Reinventing the Workers’ Movement.

David Camfield. Photo: Ameen Hassan

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Camfield later appeared Friday evening at 7PM at the Windsor Workers’ Action Centre before an audience of approximately 20.  His book is available at  The Bookroom at 2161 Wyandotte W. near the university.

Music featured on the program: 

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May 6, 2011: Wayne Smith, Fair Vote Canada and the election; Victoria Cross and the Supreme Court decision for farm workers

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According to a media release by Fair Vote Canada, Canada has suffered through an election that is “…one of the least legitimate majorities in Canadian history”, with   , the Conservatives winning 54.22% of the seats with only 39.62% of the vote.  Vote splitting is a curse imposed by an electoral system designed for a two-party system. In the name of stability (did anyone count the number of times Harper used that word in the campaign?), the corporate elites would love to see Canada with only two parties so they could manipulate them as one. Stability is just a code word for allowing the elites to do what they want, whenever they want. Another name for that kind of “stability” is totalitarianism.

We can see what such stability means in the US with no difference today between the Democrats and Republicans, save perhaps the marketing companies they each use. What is the solution for this country if we are to save representative democracy? Proportional representation allows for all votes to count in a multi party landscape. If we are talking about real equality in a representative democracy we need to agitate for change all the more. Today, we’ll talk to Wayne Smith of Fair Vote Canada about electoral change, why we need it, how we can get it, and what other countries do to elect politicians.

 Also on the injustice front, last week saw the long-awaited Supreme Court of Canada judgement on the appeal launched by the Ontario government that, in short, ends up denying farm workers the right to unionize. We’ll talk to Windsor lawyer Victoria Cross about the decision, including ramifications for labour in general in Canada.

Mexican workers on farm near Chatham 2008 (Photo: Jennifer Luckhart)

According to the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, “ … the decision by the highest court in the land is the latest chapter in a decades-long battle to provide statutory labour rights protection and collective bargaining for Ontario’s 80,000 domestic and migrant agriculture workers.”

Music on the program: 

Tara Watts

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David Newberry 

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April 29: Susan Gold Smith and MayWorks 2011; Ameen Hassan: the election and social networking; Abayomi Azikiwe: view from Detroit

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My opening remarks for the program were as follows:

The election campaign is in the final stretch and polls suggest a so-called orange tide as the NDP is, as they say, surging in the polls. This could mean a Harper majority as the liberals and NDP split the vote or that the NDP will be so close to power as to have a defining role. The spectre of not only Bob Rae but of Obama’s call for change throws a shadow over any idea of real change in this country even with an NDP majority or head of a minority government. The austerity agenda will come to Canada as surely as elsewhere and the NDP will not challenge it anymore than Obama did in the US.

We let the election be on this program with the exception of an interview with Cara Zwibel of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association on open governance and freedom of information – concepts not embraced by Stephen Harper. His government fell because it refused to provide parliament with proper information on spending – it fell because it is a criminal enterprise, whether it is handing over Afghans to certain torture, denying climate change, and allowing the Tar Sands project to function are all matters that are harming people directly. Party platforms are superfluous in the face of Harper’s flagrant disregard for the people, yet the election campaign got underway, and as always, has had little regard for substance. After Monday, we will continue to struggle over the real issue facing the working class: a global economic system in collapse and the trend toward authoritarianism to keep populations disempowered and cowed. The struggle to confront and transform this dismal state of affairs will be continue to be the focus of this program after May 2, and even a Jack Layton majority will not change the challenges before the working class.

Today, in the first half hour, Professor Susan Gold Smith, professor in the Visual Arts program at UWindsor will take us through the itinerary of Mayworks 2011 which got underway yesterday, actually, with the Workers’ day of Mourning, and continues this weekend with a Mayday parade and rally. And Ameen will take us through his thoughts on the election campaign and social media.

Susan Gold Smith and Mayworks 2011

Later in the program we’ll hear from Abayomi Azikiwe in Detroit and catch up on what has been happening across the river.

Music featured on the program:

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Opening night of the Abilene Paradox:

Susan Gold Smith and opening night. Click on image for more info.

Abilene Paradox opening night at Artcite