Fight to Win: Inside Poor People’s Organizing

My book about homelessness organizing and what we can learn about the government, homelessness policy and how power works is out!

Working from inside the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP), drawing on interviews with OCAP members, over 5,000 pages of freedom of information request documents and many other City documents, I interrogate homelessness policy in Toronto.

This book shows that poor people’s organizing can be effective even in periods of neoliberal retrenchment.

Fight to Win tells the stories of four key OCAP homelessness campaigns: stopping the criminalization of homeless people in a public park; the fight for poor people’s access to the Housing Stabilization Fund; a campaign to improve the emergency shelter system and the City’s overarching, but inadequate, Housing First policy; and the attempt by the City of Toronto to drive homeless people from encampments during the COVID pandemic.

This book shows how power works at the municipal level, including the use of a multitude of demobilization tactics, devaluing poor people as sources of knowledge about their own lives, and gaslighting poor people and anti-poverty activists. I also detail OCAP’s dual activist strategy — direct-action casework coupled with mass mobilization — for both immediate need and long-term change. These campaigns demonstrate the validity of OCAP’s longstanding critiques of dominant homelessness policies and practices. Each campaign was fully or partially successful: these victories were secured by anti-poverty activists through the use of, and the threat of, direct disruptive action tactics.

Click here to watch the book launch with Desmond Cole, John Clarke, Jennifer Jewell and Azeezah Kanji.

Click here for the book trailer.

Victory – ODSP Safe (For Now)

Kathleen Wynne has announced that the Liberals won’t be getting rid of ODSP. I’ve written previously about how this threat and how devastating it would be. This is a really important victory. People organized against it and we won!

Sadly, this doesn’t mean that ODSP is in the clear. The Tories plan to eliminate ODSP and push most of the people on it onto welfare. They could be elected very soon.

Also, the Liberals haven’t said that they won’t reassess people on ODSP – another thing that the report that calls for the merger of ODSP and welfare calls for. This was done in British Columbia where 14,000 people were forced to reapply for disability. This process, according to one report, found that “The level of fear and anxiety that the 2002 reassessment created was unprecedented and severely damaged the physical and mental health of many, many people.”

Even if everything stays the same, there people on social assistance are losing every day because the rates do not keep step with inflation. This is why the Raise the Rates Campaign is calling for a raise of 55% for social assistance just to restore welfare to 1995 levels (inflation + 21.6% cut the Tories made). The Liberals have also slashed really important benefits like the special diet allowance and community start-up meaning that folks are worse off today than they were a few years ago.

This is a really important victory but only one step in a very important struggle.


You should be afraid: How cuts to ODSP will hurt us all

OCAP:Wynne Government Backs Away From Plans To Merge ODSP and OW

Who Benefits: How disability benefits are failing British Columbians

But Disability is Different…

School Schmool is a great day-timer that is put together by QPIRG McGill and QPIRG Concordia.I wrote this for this year’s planner. A lot of the stuff in it is really interesting and there is always beautiful art. You can check it out by clicking here.

Time and time again, people make the argument that disabled people don’t have to be included in social justice movements because disabled people are ‘different.’ Disabled people, they say, are different from other subordinated groups because we have an ‘intrinsic hardship.’ Disabled people, they say, are different because there is something wrong with us. Disabled people, they say, aren’t entitled to the same kinds of social inclusion and social justice because we simply can’t do certain things – our exclusion is justified.

Maybe you’ve even said this. I know I certainly have – before I dealt with my internalized disablism and educated myself about disability politics. This is one way that disablism works. It convinces us that disabled people are separate and different so there is no need to fight back, no need to be an ally. Indeed widely respected feminists, anti-racists, anti-capitalists, queer liberationists/gay rights activists and trans liberationists/trans rights activists have all said it. To a certain extent, every identity-based movement has worked to distance itself from disability and disabled people – screwing over their own otherwise-disabled members in the process. Indeed women, people of colour, poor and working class people, queer and trans people have all been widely (if not entirely) considered disabled at some point in history.

The argument that those groups were different and simply not a capable as rich-straight-white-men was seen as incontrovertible truth.

Now, we know otherwise. It is important to question: why it is okay to make disabled people an exception? Why it is okay to justify the continued oppression of disabled people – even in social justice movements? Why, when biology is now widely understood to be a social construction and not an acceptable justification for the oppression of other groups, is biology deemed to be neutral in the case of disabled people? Why is it okay to pay lip service to ending only certain kinds of marginalization and oppression for disabled people and leave others intact?

Do we really want to allow entitlement to social justice based on how closely people adhere to arbitrary views of normal?  Is it okay to continue to hold to ideas that justice is only for some, not all? Dig deep. Do you have an answer to these questions that is actually valid or do you just rely on your problematic assumptions about disability to justify disabled people’s oppression? Let’s stop building a world where some people just can’t fit and excluding those people for being who they are. Let’s build a better world.