Messy November: we’ve got a lotta care work protest conversations dreams to do together, let’s go

November is never my favourite month, but this one’s gonna get more fucked up than Novembers past. On November 8th, the recently elected conservative (read: fascist) government in ontario is expected to announce changes to social assistance: ODSP (Ontario Disability Support Program, ie disability) and OW (Ontario Works, ie welfare). While initial cuts were made in early-Autumn, with the scheduled 3% increase to our monthly income canceled and replaced with the usual 1.5% increase, more cuts are expected to be announced.

[EDITED TO ADD: On November 7th, the government postponed their announcement of what the changes and cuts to social assistance will be until November 22nd, adding to our stress, anxiety, fear, and uncertainty.

Read the official statement (and try not to have a total rage-attack) here.

See also: Ontario welfare reforms to be unveiled Nov. 22, and Flashing danger signs all over Ford’s social assistance review.

On a personal note, yes, my mental health has been much more precarious and fragile these days. During yesterday’s New Moon in Scorpio, I devoted much of my evening to crying at the doctor’s office, crying in the waiting room, re-assessing my mental health with the realization that I’m not doing as well as I thought I was, and I began the process of obtaining another diagnosis and another prescription. The delay of the announcement throws me and many others into a dangerous state of limbo.]

The government has yet to comment with any specificity on what these cuts will look like, what the “overhaul” will look like, and when they’ll happen, but I’m expecting – and preparing for – the worst. A short article on CBC News, Widespread uncertainty ahead of Ontario’s social assistance revamp, remarks upon this more-than-justified anxiety and fear, noting that multiple changes that would’ve been beneficial to those of us on social assistance have already been canceled, and that politicians are reluctant at best to talk about more impending changes in the near future.

Yes, there are lots of rumours. The feelings of anxiety and fear can be vague, underlying each of our moves, or specific, as we contemplate our worries and see tangible and intangible evidence that we, as disabled and poor and unemployed or underemployed, are loathed by many. I have some very specific fears about particular changes and cuts, and while I’ve discussed them with a few friends, haven’t wanted to make them public for fear of appearing paranoid or catastrophizing (or, hell, giving them ideas for more disastrous decisions). If you’ve been in similar situations, or witnessed your friends and community members through this kinda stuff, you know that self-harming thoughts and suicidality are common.

{image description: A wide, concrete set of stairs leading to church doors, traditional architecture of large wooden doors with a bolt lock. The stairs are cracked, broken, with weeds growing through them, rendered useless. Falling apart and crumbling. To the right of the church doors is a small white sign with white script on a bold black arrow. In allcaps letters, it reads: “MAIN ENTRANCE AT RAMP.” I’ve been taking a lot of pictures of staircases over the last few years, and have developed a particular fascination with those that are falling apart and deteriorating in some way. It felt like a political and poetic comment on in/accessibility. Often, it’s ramps that are hidden around the corner, not at the main entrance, if they are present at all.}

For the last year and a half, I’ve been writing a column on LittleRedTarot.com, See the Cripple Dance. In this column, I explore Tarot cards through a lens of madness, disability, and poverty. A few weeks ago, I published When the Four of Cups reminds us to resist apathy & cynicism even as we’re being attacked, using the imagery from four different imaginings of the card to discuss attending anti-poverty marches and protests. Small ones. The kinds you wanna see thousands and thousands of people at, protesting injustice, being part of us or in solidarity with us, screaming, but instead, find a handful or two, stand around unsure of what to do or how to feel, who to connect with.

I wrote:

“The 3% increase initially scheduled to happen in September was scaled back to 1.5% – a mere $18 per month [ODSP]. What intrigued me about this particular march was that the call to action on the fliers demanded not a 1.5% increase, nor a 3% increase, but a 100% increase. 100%! That’s the kind of brazen audacity I’m into! And of course I don’t expect such a request to ever ever ever be taken seriously, but this kind of bold, unabashed shamelessness in demanding what we actually need is totally my style. The thing is, it’s not really that absurd: a 100% increase in social assistance rates for disabled people would only raise us to the poverty line. Knowing that, consider how ridiculous the 1.5% increase is after all. Despite changes being made to the provincial social assistance program after a 15-year review (how many recipients and those who’d been denied do you think died, or got sick sicker sickest during that time?) just beginning to happen over the last year or two, the newly elected conservative government is now overhauling the program again, holding a 100-day review in which no welfare or disability recipients are being consulted, and on November 8th, we’ll find out what’s next. Realistically (oh, how I loathe that boring but necessary word!), more cuts. We just don’t know exactly how much yet.”

I wrote:

“Yeah, I’m tired of this question, but: How are we gonna care for one another?”

{image description: A stack of notebooks on my pillow, purple frilly purple case, with dusty rose lace curtains visible and a lavender wall. The notebook at the top of the stack is thin, with a cardboard cover and orange spine. On the cover, I’ve written the word “PLANS” four times, in different fonts and shades of purple.}

{image description: Illustration of a cutesie femme with floofy hair and wide eyes and a heart-shaped barrette drawn in black ink onto a United States Postal Service Priority Mail sticker, pasted to a grey mailbox. Below the image is written, allcaps, “SAFE ENOUGH.”}

And then I wrote in my planner again and again to get to work answering this question, but I was so busy (poverty is time-consuming) and so tired (poverty is tiring), that I didn’t start until November had begun.

Actually, no. I started. I’ve been having conversations with friends. Those on social assistance, others not. Some who are organizing, others who are not. Writers, artists, students.

But I haven’t been writing it down. Because it’s exhausting to need to do this again and again. And as you know, I’ve been let down many, many times when asking for care and support.

This time feels different, though. Maybe because I’m not having a nervous breakdown, because I’m not being personally let down and left behind. Maybe I can feel the collective rage (or the potential of collective rage) now that I’m not bedbound and despairing – even if, for so many crip mad broke struggling working reasons, our bodies aren’t (yet) visible in the streets.

A Cope Ahead Plan is a strategy that employs multiple DBT (Dialectical Behaviour Therapy) skills, and guides us through exactly what the name suggests: When a stressful or potentially triggering event is on the horizon (a party, a difficult conversation, etc…), we strategize ahead of time for how we will take care of ourselves before said event happens, and throughout. We do our best to stay alive, and mitigate harm to ourselves and to others.

I’ve used Cope Ahead plans to cope ahead (ha) with tough interactions with family members, break-ups and (fear of) abandonment, stressful medical appointments, socializing at art/lit/zine events, etc. It’s much more helpful to write it down and keep it with you than it is only to think about it. As November 8th looms, I worry about responding to the news with despair, rage, self-injurious behaviours, and isolation. Since I know those are my tendencies, I can plan beforehand to Do the Opposite (another DBT-ism).

{image description: Close-up of the bottom half of a page from Marsha Linehan’s DBT Skills Training Handouts and Worksheets spiralbound book. My left hand is visible holding the page, thumbnail painted a shade of red called Red From Cover to Cover.

Text reads:

Cope Ahead of Time with Difficult Situations

1. Describe the situation that is likely to prompt problem behaviour.
– Check the facts. Be specific in describing the situation.
– Name the emotions and actions likely to interfere with using your skills.
2. Decide what coping or problem-solving skills you want to use in the situation.
– Be specific. Write out in detail how you will cope with the situation and with your emotions and action urges.
3. Imagine the situation in your mind as vividly as possible.
– Imagine yourself IN the situation NOW, not watching the situation.
4. Rehearse in your mind coping effectively.
– Rehearse in your mind exactly what you can do to cope effectively.
– Rehearse your actions, your thoughts, what you say, and how you say it.
– Rehearse coping effectively with new problems that come up.
– Rehearse coping effectively with your most feared catastrophe.
5. Practice relaxation after rehearsing.}

Here’s a short list of recommended reading on the subject of social assistance:

From OCAP (Ontario Coalition Against Poverty)

Response To The Ford Government’s Changes To Social Assistance

“The scheduled 3% increase passed by the Liberals was woefully inadequate, but it would have marked the second time in almost a quarter century [italics mine] that social assistance income would have risen above the rate of inflation. Instead, the 1.5% cut will yet again plunge social assistance below the rate of inflation, making social assistance recipients even poorer.”

Fight the Doug Ford Tories

“A creature like Ford will not be stopped by moral arguments or token protest. A movement that creates serious economic disruption and a political crisis is what is needed. The Tory agenda must be blocked by a struggle that makes the Province ungovernable… Ontario is about to became a key site of struggle… [W]e must be ready to fight to win and bring together a movement that can empty the workplaces and fill the streets.”

Op-eds:

Social Murder and the Doug Ford Government

Contributor Dennis Raphael uses a quote from Friedrich Engels’ 1945 work, Condition of the Working Class in England, to make connections to today’s current austerity regime.

“When one individual inflicts bodily injury upon another such that death results, we call the deed manslaughter; when the assailant knew in advance that the injury would be fatal, we call his deed murder. But when society places hundreds of proletarians in such a position that they inevitably meet a too early and an unnatural death, one which is quite as much a death by violence as that by the sword or bullet; when it deprives thousands of the necessaries of life, places them under conditions in which they cannot live — forces them, through the strong arm of the law, to remain in such conditions until that death ensues which is the inevitable consequence — knows that these thousands of victims must perish, and yet permits these conditions to remain, its deed is murder just as surely as the deed of the single individual; disguised, malicious murder, murder against which none can defend himself, which does not seem what it is, because no man sees the murderer, because the death of the victim seems a natural one, since the offence is more one of omission than of commission. But murder it remains.”

In No One is Coming to Save Us, journalist and activist Desmond Cole, writes:

“Historically in Toronto, small but powerful groups of people have disrupted business as usual in response to government injustices. In recent years, Black Lives Matter Toronto, Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, and No One is Illegal, and Idle No More, and their many respective supporters have fought for marginalized Torontonians by blocking city streets, interrupting public meetings, occupying government buildings and challenging the notion that on balance, our political institutions are doing more good than harm.

For their bold actions, these groups have been met with overwhelming scorn. Ironically, many who condemn public disruptions and dogmatically call for resolutions within the political system are now recognizing the limitations of reasoning with unreasonable people and institutions. Welcome, we’ve been trying to tell you. But even we troublemakers cannot save you from the system you’ve been rationalizing to us, nor should we have to.”

Referenced: Black Lives Matter Toronto, Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, No One Is Illegal Toronto, and Idle No More.

From ISAC (Income Security Advocacy Centre)

100 Days: Take Action Before November 8!

This page includes helpful information and documents on Five Principles for an Effective and Compassionate Social Assistance System, Myths and Realities of Social Assistance in Ontario, rates sheets, and more.

According to this article in Digital Journal, the Five Principles are:

Income Adequacy: Providing enough money in basic benefits to cover the true costs of regular living expenses, which would allow people to stabilize their lives and act as a springboard to participation in the economy and community.

Economic and Social Inclusion: Prioritizing practical, individualized, trauma-informed supports and services that allow people to participate in community life as well as the economy, ensuring strong employment standards to encourage good quality employment opportunities, and improving employment supports.

Access and Dignity: Ensuring anyone in need can access the benefits they require and are entitled to, providing supports and services that respond to immediate and longer-term individual needs, and treating people who are in need with respect.

Reconciliation: Prioritizing better social and economic outcomes for Indigenous peoples in Ontario and recognizing the right of First Nations to design and deliver their own services.

Human rights, Equity and Fairness: Respecting internationally recognized rights and recognizing that systemic disadvantage and structural racism prevent some people from equally accessing life opportunities.

There is nothing compassionate about Minister MacLeod’s announcement: Ontario’s cuts to social assistance will hurt the most vulnerable in Ontario

““The way forward for social assistance reform is already comprehensively mapped out and low-income people in Ontario have been through enough reviews about reform,” says Jennefer Laidley, Research and Policy Analyst at ISAC. “Community members and advocates fought for these changes for many years and Minister MacLeod’s announcement betrays their hard work and their expectations for a better future.””

Referenced: Income Security: A Roadmap for Change

{image description: Akin to previous image, my left hand is visible holding onto an earlier page of my DBT workbook. This page includes more DBT-isms, the acronyms ABC PLEASE. Text reads:

“Emotion Regulation Handout 14
Overview:
Reducing Vulnerability to Emotion Mind –
Building A Life Worth Living

A way to remember these skills is to remember the term ABC PLEASE.

A: ACCUMULATE POSITIVE EMOTIONS
Short Term: Do pleasant things that are possible now.
Long Term: Make changes in your life so that positive events will happen more often in the future. Build a “life worth living.”
B: BUILD MASTERY
Do things that make you feel competent and effective to combat helplessness and hopelessness.
C: COPE AHEAD OF TIME WITH EMOTIONAL SITUATIONS
Rehearse a plan ahead of time so that you are prepared to cope skillfully with emotional situations.

PLEASE: TAKE CARE OF YOUR MIND BY TAKING CARE OF YOUR BODY
Treat PhysicaL illness, balance Eating, avoid mood-Altering substances, balance Sleep, and get Exercise.”

Yeah, the PLEASE acronym is all over the fucking place, but useful if you can remember it.}

There are multiple dates to plan for and look forward to throughout November:

Thursday, November 8th

The end of the 100-day review. If you’re worried not only about the cuts, but about where you’ll be and who you’ll be with when the news comes in, there’s still time to come up with Cope Ahead strategies, and talk to your friends online and off.

Sick Theories: A Trans-Disciplinary Conference On Sickness & Sexuality, with a keynote by Johanna Hedva, in conversation with Margeaux Feldman.

I’m disappointed not to be attending this, although they’re hosting a livestream for those who can’t make it (I’m not sure if the videos will be available afterward, or if they must be watched live). I’d signed up for the waitlist to attend after the free tickets were gone quicker than expected, and a larger space couldn’t be found and booked on time. But then I realized that, for many reasons, despite (hopefully) being surrounded by sick and disabled queers, it was unlikely to be a space where I’d feel “okay” to receive more bad news about my disability income. I’m a high school dropout who was already alienated from academic conversations and spaces (I’ve written much more about this in Telegram #’s 40, 41, and 42, and throughout my body of work), and then became moreso after being abandoned during the worst of my fibromyalgia years (see: a whole bunch of my previous work). I do, however, hope that those in attendance will be talking-&-doing-something-about the significance of the date, whether or not they’re (you’re?!) also on social assistance. All this stuff is interconnected.

Potentially attending Sick Theories began as part of my Cope Ahead plan, but like many plans, it’s changed. Right now, beyond where I’ll wake up (my bed, alone), I’m not sure where I’ll be. I know I need to leave my apartment and avoid endless scrolling through social media feeds, of course. The friend I’d feel safest being with that day will be working, so I need to move on to other strategies for place. I’m considering watching the livestream, but I’m worried that holing up in my apartment on a shitty day to listen to a bunch of folks talk about sickness & sexuality might be too depressing for me. It could be inspiring, too, yeah, but you know. Maybe I should invite some pals over to watch with me???

Friday, November 9th

Toronto ACORN are organizing a gathering, Save Social Assistance! No More Cuts
11AM – 12PM.

The Facebook event page reads:

“The Ontario Government is wrapping up it’s 100 day review of ODSP and OW on November 8th. They already cut the 3% increase in half, we can’t take any more cuts!

ACORN members across Ontario are coming out to fight to save social assistance!”

Wednesday, November 14th

Townhall on Cuts to OW & ODSP hosted by OCAP Toronto
6PM – 8PM

Facebook description reads:

“[Dinner Provided. Wheelchair Accessible Venue]

The Ford government is getting ready to announce a series of changes to social assistance. The announcement, due by November 8, is widely expected to introduce sweeping cuts to OW and ODSP.

Since coming to power, Doug Ford has already cut the rate increase to OW and ODSP in half and suspended a series of beneficial changes that were scheduled to come in this fall.

When the announcement comes, it will likely be designed to create confusion and sow division. So join us to make sense of the proposed cuts, to break the isolation, and to talk about how we’re going to fight back.”

Thursday, November 15th

Book launch!

CARE WORK: Dreaming Disability Justice by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha
with disability justice arts / activism / futures conversation with Leah, Syrus Marcus Ware, and Wy-Joung Kou.

Event info on Another Story bookstore’s calendar.

Also, Bani Amor recently wrote a review of Care Work on Autostraddle: “Care Work: Dreaming Disability Justice” Draws Real-as-F*ck Maps of Justice and Care.

They write:

“Disability justice acknowledges that civil rights for disabled folks is important, but that relying solely on the state to care for us doesn’t always work because care is not really what the medical industrial complex is good at or what any nation state is designed to do [italics mine]. It’s also aware that working within overwhelmingly white cishet disability rights groups is not cute, at the very least, and impossible at worst. The book is a capsule of Piepzna-Samarasinha’s experiences in disability justice work and care collectives in a handful of cities across Turtle Island, as well as online. Through these memories, she gives us an honest look at the circumstances that led up to folks naming and claiming this work, the stumbles and struggles of pulling it off, and introduces (some of) us to crip-positive care models that can — and must — shift to shape the conditions in which Deaf, chronically ill, and disabled folks are trying to live in.”

Italics mine because, as we protest cuts to social assistance, we must also remind one another that the system is not built to care for us, and that’s why we need to continue developing models for care for ourselves and one another, to remain critical and supportive and imaginative and engaged. The cuts will happen, poor and disabled people will die / are dying, and we have shit to do.

Saturday, November 17th

Stick it to Ford: Defend Our Communities organized by OCAP Toronto
1PM – 2PM

From the Facebook event description:

“[Lunch Provided. Register for Buses: https://goo.gl/forms/LnkYOMDpCqYgsNzq1%5D

On November 17, the Ford Conservatives will further their gruesome vision for Ontario at their party convention. Their government “for the (rich) people” has already attacked social assistance, job protections, minimum wage, healthcare, education, and environmental safeguards. They’re not finished. In two weeks, they’ll announce a series of sweeping cuts to Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support Program.

Ford’s vision for Ontario is a grim one for ordinary people: where we are paid less but must pay more for services; where business executives and owners get richer by forcing the rest of us to work with fewer job and unemployment protections; where the rich unite in their quest to exploit and pit the rest of us against each other in a struggle to survive.

On November 17, we will demonstrate that attempts to “open Ontario for business” on this basis will be blocked. To make sure Ford gets the message, we’ll start with an action at Ford’s own business: Deco Labels and Tags.

It’s time to defend our communities. Join us.”

In my column quoted earlier, I wrote:

“When I see what’s happening to social assistance, what’s already been happening and what’s looming, I want strikes and protests and riots. I want real, consistent, dependable alternatives to the system, new ways to survive and care and love. I want enough of us to show up that we cannot be denied, and I want us to get so much more skilled, consistent, and trustworthy at building alternatives to the system… I want every political candidate, elected or otherwise, every landlord, boss, techie start-up bro, every rich and famous actor, to live in our so-called homes on our incomes, no savings, no safety net, no rich family, no inheritance, and see what happens to their bodies and minds, see what happens to their social lives, their imaginations, their sense of self.”

My wishes feel absurd – not in that they’re “too much.” They really aren’t. More in that if they happened, we wouldn’t get the changes we wish for anyway. Wishing for insensitive, cruel, harmful, unimaginative people to change their minds, to change at all, is an absurd waste of time and energy. I’ve spoken to people who felt comfortable enough with me to say, “I don’t care [about x, y, z] because it doesn’t affect me.” Those aren’t the kind of people I’m trying to reach. If it happens inadvertently, cool, but what I do isn’t for them and never has been.

Many disabled, mad, and chronically ill folks cannot show up for marches and protests. Who will show up on our behalfs? For each individual attending in spirit, I want dozens more attending in body.

{image description: My left hand holding onto a Tarot card, the Seven of Wands, from the Spolia Tarot, but Jessa Crispin and Jen May Description of the card is below.}

On the first of November, I drew the Seven of Swords. Jessa Crispin writes: “This is a card about figuring out what you want by having to fight for it. We don’t really see the enemy here, because the enemy is unimportant… When things come easily to us, do we ever really value them? Sometimes we need to see someone else desiring something before our desire awakens…”

This, here, feels like the aforementioned attack(s). The fight, the struggle, the mess, the rage. The colours in this card are bold and sharp – our figure is in flight, dressed in skirt and boots, weapons in hand,a starburst corona alight around their head. They’re being attacked from multiple sides, and they’re not backing away.

For those readers who’re also on social assistance, what are you doing to cope ahead? What are your self-care and collective-care strategies for the day the news arrives? And for the season ahead? For those readers not on social assistance, same questions. What are your plans for November 8th? Do you have friends on social assistance? Have you been talking to them/us? Do you know what they want, what they need? Have you asked?

Maddeningly yours,

P.S.: If you’ve benefited from my writing in any way – if my words have inspired you, helped you feel less alone, or sparked some weird feeling within you; if you’ve felt encouraged, or curious, or comforted – please consider compensating me by offering a donation of any amount. Whether you’ve been reading my writing for years, or just stumbled into me this afternoon, I invite you to help me sustain the process!

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