Halifax marked the United Nations International Day for the Eradication of Poverty Oct. 17 with a rally at Victoria Park and a panel discussion at Saint Matthew's United Church.
This year's official theme was the lack of security, as it manifests in income, housing and food.
Community activist Wayne MacNaughton touched upon two less formal themes that characterized the event. First, he said poor people must lead the battle against poverty, although others are welcome to help. Second, he highlighted the overall lack of progress in eradicating poverty in Nova Scotia. He stressed the absence of any significant political movement on the issue since the NDP took power. “We haven't seen an increase in the special diet allowance since the days of John Hamm," he exclaimed, referring to the former premier who left office in 2006.
A similar feeling was expressed by Sharon Murphy, the second speaker at the rally, when she quoted Martin Luther King: “We will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends."
Rene Ross, executive director of Stepping Stone, a local organization that fights for sex worker rights and safety, also chimed in that the provincial NDP has not met the expectations of the poor: “We need a poverty elimination strategy, not a poverty reduction strategy. Little things do not break the cycle of poverty."
“We should ask the government why they stood with us for years while in opposition, and now when in power they are nowhere to be found,” Ross continued.
Joan Jessome, president of the Nova Scotia Government & General Employees Union (NSGEU), talked about the days when she was poor herself. “I will never forget the scent of it. As labour unions we have a responsibility towards the poor. Labour unions need to step up, and not just the NSGEU.”
A riveting performance by Halifax spoken word artist El Jones completed the first part of the event.
The group of 150 attendees then walked together along Spring Garden Road. That the poor will articulate their own case and fight against poverty was brought home by the people who spoke about their experiences of poverty at Saint Matthew's United Church.
A panel made up of three members of the event's organizing group, Community Advocates Network — Ann Duffy, Lori Willis and the Halifax Media Co-op's very own Kendall Worth — discussed in heart wrenching detail what it is like to be poor.
Again, what was emphasized was the tremendous feelings of frustration because life simply doesn't seem to get any better. Whether it was Worth describing his 10-year effort to find affordable shelter in a more peaceful neighbourhood, or Willis and Duffy talking about the daily challenges of having to choose between buying food or medication for the kids, the despair was tangible. Impressive was the quiet determination never to give in to that sense of hopelessness.
The same coalition that put together the Oct. 17 event has organized a photo exhibit, "Images of Poverty," on view for the remainder of the month at Megan Leslie's Community Office (2207 Gottingen Street).