When we get upset with working class people who are fighting for a living wage, when we say they haven’t earned that and don’t deserve that and pummel them for details on Where Will The Money Come From, it is very conveniently forgotten that the Walton heirs (of Walmart fame) have collectively inherited upwards of $163 billion US. No one earns that kind of money – it can only be gained by exploiting people down the production line. A minimum wage that means people can’t afford an apartment, childcare, continued education, or retirement savings is a theft by those controlling the system. These are people worth over a billion dollars taking food from the mouths of children. It would be a laughable caricature if it weren’t the truth of our lives. A system was created and is being upheld to benefit a tiny few at the expense of all the rest of us – and I put ‘all of us’ together because I doubt anyone reading this, regardless of income, has a billionaire on speed-dial. Eight men (of course men) own more money than half the planet. Is it really the minimum wage Wal-Mart staff you’re angry at? Or is it just easier to kick sideways when kicking up never lands?
When we lash out at people addicted to drugs for costing taxpayers money, for not understanding the value of life, for not acting “rationally” in a completely irrational world, we can put aside the fact that almost every addict has experienced trauma, that they feel alienated and cast aside, that they feel grief just as strongly as any of the “rest of us”. We can forget that abuse, trauma, poverty, and existential fear drive addiction and other “anti-social” behaviours. Can we call ourselves a society when we decide who’s in and who’s thrown out? Maybe it’s easier to rail against how much addiction and mental illness cost the province than realize that our medical system and social supports are outdated, stunted, and constantly playing catch up. Canada is an extremely arrogant country, and especially in the arena of social supports. Portugal implanted a radical drug policy: “Portugal’s policy rests on three pillars: one, that there’s no such thing as a soft or hard drug, only healthy and unhealthy relationships with drugs; two, that an individual’s unhealthy relationship with drugs often conceals frayed relationships with loved ones, with the world around them, and with themselves; and three, that the eradication of all drugs is an impossible goal.” We aren’t going to get rid of drugs. We shouldn’t want to get rid of people who are addicted. What else do we have? The attitude I’ve witnessed toward recent overdoses in Muskoka is more akin to ‘they had it coming’ than ‘how can we save the lives of our friends and neighbours?’ Every person has the opportunity to shift from blame and shame to courage and compassion. It’s become too easy to hand wash away the issues we face as a community – but the hard thing and the right thing are often the same.
It’s very easy to pretend to be a preserver of life when it comes to abortions. Who wouldn’t want to be an advocate for literally the most ‘innocent’ and voiceless amongst us? Men who will never need to make such a decision – many who’ve never managed to consider why a woman would consider terminating a pregnancy – make sweeping decisions and punishing laws about women’s bodies all over the world. As soon as that baby is born, however? If it’s poor, it’s no longer worth fighting for. If it’s a person of colour, it can expect racism and oppression. If it’s disabled, the fight for supports will be a lifelong battle. If it’s a girl, she’ll be subjected to misogyny and as long as those men are in charge, they will never work to eradicate that particular form of violence. This isn’t an argument for life, because the people I see in the comments section saying that abortion is murder are the same saying that junkies deserve to OD. It’s about control. Again, how much easier is it to kick a woman who is considering abortion than it is to fight against the poverty forcing her to make that decision, or the abuser who will use that child, if it were born, to control her? Why are the anti-abortion crowd so quick to tell women what to do but nowhere to be found when it comes to fighting for more supports for mothers and children?
Whenever I am on social media, I see the divide between community members stretch out like a chasm, impassable even by the tightrope many of us often try to walk. The living wage, unions, tourists, addiction and mental illness, homelessness, sexism and racism, even dog sledding is at the heart of a rampaging debate. Everyone chooses their side: their own, the government’s, the unborn, the oppressed, the animals, so many even decide to speak on the behalf of money, as if money isn’t the biggest microphone around.
I don’t have a pithy way to tie all these examples together. The thread running through is so obvious to me that I can’t believe I’m going another round on this. Sometimes when I walk outside at night, I look at the stars and scream for an intervention from… someone (aliens, AI, heck I’d even taken heaven at this point), someone or something to make it so glaringly obvious that we are stuck in the same battles, that we are fighting the wrong ‘enemy’, that we are being used as pawns in a machine with greater strategy than we could ever imagine. I don’t even like the militaristic language here because I feel like I’m feeding that machine.
I guess I would just ask that we listen with the intent to understand, that we love with the hope that it helps, that we see each other for who we are and not what we assume or project. That we try on the moccasins – and allow ourselves to wonder why they hurt so much and ask if there’s anything we can do to help. There always is.
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Kathleen May is a writer, speaker, and activist. Her work in our community includes co-founding the long-running Huntsville Women’s Group, being a Survivor Mentor in the pilot survivor-to-survivor program through MPSSAS, co-facilitating instinct-unlocking workshops for women through I Got This, working as a host and community producer of Herstories on YourTV, volunteering with Women’s March Muskoka, and her role as a front-line counsellor at a women’s shelter. Kathleen is a 2018 Woman of Distinction for Social Activism and Community Development and also received the Best Author award for her 2018 submission at the Muskoka Novel Marathon, a fundraiser for literacy services. Her dream is a sustainable women’s land co-operative in Muskoka.