Democracy at work
Citizens organize a meeting with their Member of Parliament to discuss global and national poverty
By Denise Colterman-Fox
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With the advent of the Internet, the means of social activism has somewhat shifted to that medium. In the wake of this, it was refreshing to receive a phone call from Joe Gunn, Campaign Coordinator of Make Poverty History, asking if I would be interested in helping to organize a meeting of local citizens in our riding of Whitby-Oshawa where the Honourable Jim Flaherty, Minister of Finance, is our Member of Parliament. Our intention was to investigate the possibility of small meetings with our MP to dialogue about global and national poverty. After a few phone calls and emails we managed to get a room at St. John the Evangelist Church hall for an initial preparatory meeting and we were on our way.
Make Poverty History emailed the more than 900 people in the riding who had signed up to support the campaign. But would people who agree to send emails to politicians actually agree to meet each other, and then face their MP? Would this next level of organizing succeed?
About 18 people from the riding showed up people of diverse ethnic origins, ages, backgrounds and professions, but with the common commitment and passion for social justice, especially for the poor and most vulnerable. After an animated, informative and encouraging presentation by Heather Harding of Global Citizens for Change, assisted by Christine Campbell of Canadian Crossroads International, we broke into spontaneous groups of three to plan prospective meetings with our MP.
"THERE IS NO DOUBT: POVERTY MUST REMAIN THE TOP PRIORITY ON THE SOCIAL POLICY AGENDA AND NOT ONLY AFTER THE DEBT AND OTHER ILLS HAVE BEEN ADDRESSED"
Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops Social Affairs Commission, The Struggle Against Poverty: A Sign of Hope in our World . Pastoral Letter on the elimination of Poverty October 17, 1996
Our first meeting was with Nancy Shaw, Mr. Flaherty's Executive Assistant. Our group included Glenn Blake, who had worked with Aboriginal peoples in Northern British Columbia through Katimavik, a Canadian government youth volunteer service program; Mark Lacy, principal of Monsignor Pereyma Catholic High School in Oshawa and a member of St. John's parish Development and Peace group; and myself, Chaplain at Archbishop Denis O'Connor Catholic High School in Ajax.
We shared a little of our personal histories and involvement in social justice, then some statistics and information about global and national poverty. We also shared our conviction that this was an ideal time for Canada to take action in some of the specific ways outlined by Make Poverty History.
Ms. Shaw was genuinely attentive, not rushed for time, and assured us that she would make a report to Mr. Flaherty. While I have no illusions about the immediate positive results of this meeting, I am convinced of the cumulative effects such examples of democracy-at-work can have locally, nationally and globally in creating social change for the poor. Our faith inspires us to nothing less than this conviction.
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