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Photos from Two Days of Anti-Poverty and Anti-Colonial Actions in Sudbury

by Scott Neigh

Close to 100 people gathered on Friday afternoon in Memorial Park in downtown Sudbury to demand improvements to social assistance and to voice opposition to cuts to a benefit that helps keep people out of homelessness. (Photo by Scott Neigh)
This photo shows S-CAP organizer Gary Kinsman holding the mic as Anishnabe elder Julia Ozawagosh gives an opening at the Friday afternoon event. Local Idle No More organizer Bruce McComber listens close behind. (Photo by Scott Neigh)
A sign at the Friday afternoon rally opposing potential attacks on disability benefits by the provincial Liberal government, next to the staff of the Indigenous Student Circle of Laurentian University. (Photo by Scott Neigh)
Three signs ready to be taken up for the Friday afternoon march. (Photo by Scott Neigh)
A drumming performance at the Friday afternoon rally. (Photo by Scott Neigh)
The Friday afternoon march begins. (Photo by Treana Campbell)
Protestors assemble on the street outside of the office of Liberal MPP Rick Bartolucci. (Photo by Treana Campbell)
A dummy of Liberal MPP Rick Bartolucci looks on as one of the eleven people arrested last year at his office addresses the crowd. (Photo by Treana Campbell)
The marchers decided to end things off on Friday afternoon by paying a visit to the rotunda of Tom Davies Square, which is Sudbury's city hall. (Photo by Treana Campbell)
The Friday afternoon action was focused on demanding that the Community Start-Up and Maintenance Benefit (CSUMB) be restored by the province. (Photo by Treana Campbell)
People beginning to assemble outside of Tom Davies Square on Friday evening for the candlelight vigil in solidarity with the people of Elsipogtog and against fracking. (Photo by Scott Neigh)
Candles and other supplies used by the demonstrators at the Friday night action. (Photo by Scott Neigh)
People at the Friday night action in solidarity with the people of Elsipogtog listening to some drummers. (Photo by Scott Neigh)
The Friday night action included a brief take-over of the intersection of Brady and Minto Streets in downtown Sudbury, and a rounddance. (Photo by Scott Neigh)
The Friday night event was not only in support of the Mi'kmaq people acting to protect their land, but was also an expression of opposition to fracking. (Photo by Scott Neigh)
The anti-poverty action on Saturday began with an assembly of activist from cities across the province in the auditorium of Sudbury Secondary School. (Photo by Scott Neigh)
One of the many speakers to address the gathering was Sid Ryan, president of the Ontario Federation of Labour. (Photo by Scott Neigh)
Representatives of each of the groups talked about the struggles, the defeates, and the victories in their local communities, including Chantal of the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) in Toronto. (Photo by Scott Neigh)
An important part of the assembly was the reading of a joint statement from the Raise the Rates campaign, here represented by Liisa Schofield (centre), and the North Shore Tribal Council, represented by Julia Ozawagosh (right), declaring support for First Nations control over disability benefits and all other social assistance on reserves, and opposition to the merger of OW and ODSP. As this photo shows, the entire event was translated into American Sign Language. (Photo by Scott Neigh)
After the assembly/rally inside, people headed to the streets and picked up noise-makers and signs. (Photo by Scott Neigh)
Groups were present from many different cities, including these activist from Kingston, Ontario. (Photo by Scott Neigh)
Along with the specific focus on disability benefits, the rally and march continued to present the demand that social assistance rates be restored to the same purchasing power they had in 1995, which would take a 55% increase. (Photo by Scott Neigh)
A young demonstrator demanding housing for the homeless. (Photo by Scott Neigh)
The action was dedicated to the memory of Kimberly Rogers, a Sudbury woman who in the late 1990s was "killed by ... policies that attack the poor and vulnerable," according to Sudbury activist Laurie McGauley. (Photo by Scott Neigh)
The Saturday march was lead by people with disabilities. This shows the march turning onto Elm Street from Elgin Street in downtown Sudbury. (Photo by Scott Neigh)
The march went through downtown Sudbury before heading back to Sudbury Secondary School, where out-of-town activists boarded their buses and cars to return home and continue the struggle. (Photo by Scott Neigh)

This past Friday and Saturday saw three major political mobilizations in Sudbury. This is a brief report and some images from each.

Friday afternoon

On Friday afternoon, the Sudbury Coalition Against Poverty (S-CAP) and other local supporters of the Raise the Rates campaign -- which includes numerous local unions, and groups based at the university and in the broader community -- held a march as part of a week of action against poverty that saw events held in cities across the province. The local Sudbury march, also supported by the North Shore Tribal Council, was particularly focused on challenging cuts and changes made last year to a formerly provincial, now municipal, benefit that helps people on social assistance avoid and escape homelessness and supports women in leaving abusive relationships. Though political pressure both provincially and locally have staved off some of the worst impacts of the cuts and won temporary funding measures, the groups anticipate that further reductions in payment amounts and increased eligibility restrictions will be coming soon, putting more people at risk of homelessness. The march demanded that the province resume responsibility for the benefit and restore funding to its earlier levels, and that in the interim the City of Greater Sudbury maintain the previous provincial benefit levels and eligibility criteria.

The action began with a rally of close to a hundred people at Memorial Park, many of whom then proceeded to march through the downtown. The march included a stop at the constituency office of Liberal MPP Rick Bartolucci. In 2012, eleven members and supporters of S-CAP were arrested at the office while demanding to speak with Bartolucci about their opposition to the cuts that his government had made, described above. On their return on Friday, though Bartolucci continued to refuse to speak with them, they presented questions about the impacts of the benefit cuts and about the decision to arrest them last year. The march culminated with an impromptu entry into the rotunda of Tom Davies Square, Sudbury's city hall.

Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) organizer Liisa Schofield said at the rally, "Poverty puts you into a place of isolation" and makes you feel like it is all your own fault. In contrast, "Fighting back is breaking out of that isolation, is realizing that it's not your fault."

Friday evening

On Friday evening, people gathered outside Tom Davies Square in solidarity with the Mi'kmaq people of Elsipogtog. They and their supporters in New Brunswick have been engaged in a peaceful blockade for months to protect their territory from surveyors whose activities are likely to lead to the environmentally destructive activity of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to extract shale gas. In Sudbury, Idle No More organizers decided on Wednesday to plan a short-notice response to the callout for solidarity actions issued by the Mi'kmaq Warrior Society a few days before. Then, on Thursday morning, a large and militarized force of RCMP -- including snipers and many officers in combat fatigues -- attacked the blockade to enforce a court injunction, and arrested more than 40 people.

In response, and in line with solidarity actions happening across the country, between 100 and 150 people gathered in Sudbury to show their support for the people of Elsipogtog and their opposition to fracking. The action involved a candlelight vigil outside of Tom Davies Square, and a brief take-over of the intersection of Brady and Minto Streets with a rounddance.

Organizer Bruce McComber said, "I think we are in consensus that hydraulic fracturing shouldn't be allowed to happen, and we want to do something to help the people stop it from happening." He called the turnout a "significant gathering."

Saturday afternoon

On Saturday afternoon, people from across Ontario converged in Sudbury for the culmination of the week of anti-poverty action. Upwards of 200 people from Sudbury, Toronto, Kingston, Belleville, Kitchener-Waterloo, and elsewhere gathered in the auditorium of Sudbury Secondary School to share talk of their struggles over the past year and to demand that the provincial government raise the minimum wage to $14 an hour and raise social assistance rates by 55% to bring their purchasing power back up to 1995 levels. They particularly focused on the current discussion in elite public policy circles about the possibility of merging Ontario Works, the province's general social assistance system, with the Ontario Disability Support Program, citing a similar recent measure in the United Kingdom and elsewhere that have had profoundly negative impacts on people with disabilities. The assembly passed a resolution opposing the merger while simultaneously calling for First Nations to have control over all social assistance, including disability benefits, on reserve.

The speakers included Sid Ryan, president of the Ontario Federation of Labour. He said, "It is so important ... that the labour movement step up to the plate and act in solidarity with anti-poverty activists across the province and across the country." He called for building solid alliances between labour, First Nations, and community activists, and said that with those three working together, "We can win governments. We can stop governments. We can bring governments down."

After the assembly, the activists took to the streets of downtown Sudbury, led by people with disabilities. According to Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) organizer Chantal, the provincial government wants to "keep the rich rich, and keep the poor quiet." She continued, "OCAP's motto is 'fight to win,' and we intend to fucking do that."

Scott Neigh is the author of two books of Canadian history told through the stories of activist from Fernwood Publishing, and the producer/host of Talking Radical Radio.

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scott.neigh (Scott Neigh)
Sudbury
Member since September 2012

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I am a writer, parent, and activist living in Sudbury, Ontario. For more of my writing, see my personal blog (at http://scottneigh.blogspot.com) and the site devoted to the work I've done focused on the voices of participants in Canadian social movements (at http://talkingradical.ca) which so far has resulted in two books looking at Canadian history through the stories of activists.

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