Taking advantage of a Legal Services Society training forum in Vancouver, and with a special grant from the Law Foundation of BC, anti-poverty advocates who were in town from around British Columbia converged last week at a forum/dinner to talk about PovNet: past, present and future.
We had posters on the wall including poems from PovNet’s “poetry bashes” at previous training conferences, photographs and articles old and new. What the walls told us: the PovNet web site has been voted “best activist site” in the Georgia Straight’s “best of Vancouver” competition twice now. It was interesting for me to see that what I said in an article in LSS’s “Community Law Matters” 10 years ago was still very relevant — that PovNet is not about computers and technology, but about the advocates who are helping poor people access their rights and about getting information out to them.
We had journals scattered on the tables, so people could talk about how they see PovNet 10 years from now. Some of their thoughts:
“I grew up with activist parents. Fighting causes and promoting social equality has always been part of who I was and who my family was. In spite of this … I knew little about how poverty advocacy worked and how advocates organized in BC. I got a job helping with the PovNet web site one summer. Working at PovNet taught me so many different things… about how people apply for assistance, changes to government legislation that affect people living in poverty, how many individuals and groups are working to help Canadians living in poverty. And how important PovNet is in connecting them…”
“What is the possibility of establishing a political component? We all have clients whose real problems arise because of the current state of the law. For example, injured workers whose access to WCB benefits have been severely curtailed . It is hard to persure them to write or call their MLA. But what if we had a blog or something wher they could comment briefly and easily? Could this be a mechanism for conveying comments to government?”
“PovNet needs to be shared with marginalized people. It would be great to see and meet people at the workship who live lives of poverty. People living in poverty are very misrepresented and misunderstood. To bring our communities together and gain a better understanding of people living in poverty, we as advocates need to be educated by those living and hoping every day for a better future. … by empowering people, they become their own advocates.”
“In 2020 I hope Canada has made changes to its programs and services that eliminate all the procedures and policies that discriminate against women and contribute to entrenching poverty”
“I hope that in 10 years’ time we’re getting together to celebrate the fact that there is a decent wage for everyone, housing for all and that maybe, just maybe, we can all retire because our phones stop ringing once in a while.”
“I look forward to the day that we are all out of work because we run out of clients.”
We had people talking: Michael Clague from the Carold Institute described the fellowship (and announced that next year’s application would soon be available). Diane Brennan, our former PovNetU training co-ordinator talked about her six years at PovNet and how much she continued to learn from the advocates. I talked about how I wanted to engage the advocacy community in being part of what I was creating while on my fellowship. And I read a message from Alayne, a founding member of PovNet who couldn’t be at the event because she is ill. She spoke about the past:
“It just seems it was so long ago that most advocates didn’t have computers never mind internet access and would spend hours on the telephone to get information needed to help people. Sometimes it would take days to get the necessary information. Although there were anti-poverty communities back then and provincial organizations such as End Legislated Poverty and federated anti-poverty groups of bc, dialogue and information sharing among individual advocates and activists was cumbersome. PovNet facilitated those connections, enriching what some would call a virtual community.
PovNet has become more than a virtual community, in my view it is flesh and bones with a real heart, it is organic and if the internet failed tomorrow, connections that have been made provincially and nation-wide would endure.”
And because this was a group of people who are always working, there was an announcement about a provincial housing initiative and contact information. And the inevitable refrain: “watch the PovNet housing list for more information.”
There were no computers invited to this party — only all of us — the people who use them.