I spent two days last week at a conference at the University of Winnipeg called “Two Faces of Poverty: Making the Law Work for Indigenous Peoples and Women”. The conference was based on a report called “Making the Law Work for Everyone” –described as a “framework for legal empowerment focusing on indigenous peoples, women and vulnerable groups, with four mutually reinforcing pillars: access to justice and the rule of law, property rights, labour rights and business rights.”
As always at these events, the conversations in the halls and the connections I made with allies were the high points of the conference.
But I want to highlight one workshop called “The Inner City and I” — a session about a local community in Winnipeg, where A… got up and talked about her life — how she had ended up on welfare and how she was treated by people once they knew she was on social assistance. In a powerful and moving narrative, she spoke of how it had affected her and her family.
Her story precipitated another woman to speak. L… said that she was no longer on welfare, that she hadn’t been for ten years, but that A…’s story had brought back the anger she didn’t know was still in her when she thought about struggling to live while she was on welfare and having to cope with the daily poor bashing that people (even friends) often unthinkingly engage in.
Both women were in tears at some points as they told their stories. Around them in the audience, perched on couches and sitting on the floor, were high school students, there for the conference, who had probably come to hear stories about poverty in “far off places”. But they too were moved and silent as they listened. We all listened.
Someone recently in Vancouver in response to the municipal government’s “civil city” initiative, said that they didn’t want a civil city, they wanted a just city. It may be time to redefine our terminology; I, for one, am not inclined to be civil these days.