The speech I delivered at The People Phone Ford Rally, with notes on care, rage, disposability, & solidarity

The following is a speech I delivered at The People Phone Ford rally on May 14th, 2019, organized by No One Is Illegal (@nooneisillegal) and co-sponsored by OCAP (Ontario Coalition Against Poverty) (@OCAPtoronto). This was the first time I’ve spoken in public for a long while – it was a deeply emotional experience for me, not just because I hadn’t spoken in public for a few years, but because I was present to speak on some of the issues that have the utmost urgency and significance to my own life, and that of my friends, co-conspirators, and readers. It’s rare that people on social assistance are invited to speak on our own experiences, and I was very grateful to take part with a handful of others, who were speaking on the impact of cuts to legal aid and social assistance on refugees and migrants, including their families, and on poor, disabled, and mad / mentally ill folks, especially those impacted by other forms of oppression, such as racism, anti-Blackness, Islamophobia, etc.

{image description: A photo of me taken after the protest, crouched on my knees to converse with the pinky-purple tulips in bloom. Taken in profile, my long hair ruby-violet, right hand on a tulip and left hand holding onto my cane. I’m wearing my purple SPK (Socialist Patients Collective) t-shirt, which reads, TURN ILLNESS INTO A WEAPON. Behind me, the greenhouse at Allan Gardens is visible.}

With a special thanks to my pals and fellow OCAP organizer, Cat Chhina, for holding the mic for me while I used one hand for my cane, the other for my speech!

{content note: mentions of suicide}

*

My name is Maranda Elizabeth. I’ve been writing about poverty and disability for half my life, and it can be tough not to feel like I am repeating myself into a void. That I’m able to have an audience today is not something I take for granted.

I’ve spent twelve years on ODSP, welfare before that, and countless depressing minimum wage jobs before that. I dropped out of school at age fourteen, got my first job at age fifteen, and paid my mom rent and groceries until I moved out on my own and started paying greedy, neglectful landlords for their own profit, which is what I’m still doing today. In my early-teens, I was in and out of juvenile detention centres and group homes, a shy and quiet troublemaker hiding behind books and coping unskillfully with the violent impulses I developed growing up in a chronically chaotic, poor, and invalidating environment. When I left school, I began self-publishing. I come from a family of depressives, alcoholics, and traumatized women, raised with my twin by our single mom in low-income public housing.

I say this to note that I’m speaking from experience, and not from a professional or academic background. I’m an anti-capitalist and a prison abolitionist, a writer and an artist, and an organizer with OCAP. I’m someone who’s trying to survive in a city, province, and world where poor people are always under attack, and where place, home, and community become less and less accessible.

I’m wary of asking the government for protection and care when their job is to hoard and wield power and wealth, to surveil and punish. The state will never save us – that’s not its purpose, not what it was built for, despite the way public relations and mainstream media skew language to profess otherwise. Poverty is not a personal failure, but a political tool of violence. To rely on the government for care, for compassion, is misguided at best, disastrous and deadly at worst.

Rather than reiterate the confusing and frightening numbers, as many speakers have done and will continue to do, I want to focus on what poverty looks and feels like, on the necessity of caring for one another in our daily lives, and envisioning what solidarity could – and must – look like for those of us who are on social assistance.

These cuts not only harm our day-to-day lives in the here and now, but they are certain to have long-term consequences as well – to our bodies, our minds, our homes, and our relationships. I’m still sick and alienated from being raised by a single mom with underpaid and undervalued jobs in the era of Mike Harris, someone who couldn’t afford childcare, decent, healthy food, new clothes, vacations, or to have us or herself participate in any form of social activity.

I remember the feeling of hearing the election results last year, nearly a year ago now. Telling myself I’d get a good sleep, read the news and see the results in the morning, but then staying up late, laying on the edge of my bed, scrolling through Twitter all night. I felt rage and despair, I felt a desire to be out in the streets, and I felt especially afraid that, for those of us on social assistance, no one would have our backs. Not friends, not workers, not students, not teachers, not health care professionals, not artists – and that due to the isolation of this particular form of enforced poverty, we’d never be able to find one another and keep each other safe, fed, and loved. I want to be proven wrong. I want to be surprised.

In that moment, I sent texts to friends of mine on ODSP. I promised we’d get through this alive. I wondered who’d remain in my life during the next four years, and who’d be gone.

Until recently, I wasn’t able to come out to protests and rallies, to memorials or actions or marches or die-ins. I became too sick, I lost my ability to walk, and in the worst days of my illness, I lost most of the friends I had. They stopped calling, or they were pushed out of the city when they could no longer afford rent, or they discarded me when my presence was no longer useful to them. I needed a wheelchair but couldn’t afford one, nor could I afford a physically accessible home. I became housebound, underfed and malnourished, and suicidal. I became further isolated and deeply embittered.

I think a lot about how poverty, gentrification, illness, and disability affect our day-to-day lives and interpersonal relationships, and how these things affect our friendships and romantic relationships, our ability and wherewithal to fight, and how we show up for one another, how these things affect our ability to be visible and noisy and present.

I can only speak for myself, but I do so with a true need to acknowledge those on social assistance, and everyone who’s poor, disabled and/or mad, who can’t attend actions like this: because they’re sick, they’re having or will have a panic attack or an asthma attack, WheelTrans is late again, they can’t afford the TTC, they’re busy earning under-the-table cash in underground economies such as sex work, they’re having a flare-up, experiencing too much pain, they’re vomiting with chemical and environmental sensitivities again, they’re stuck in a waiting room or an appointment, exhausted and overwhelmed, they’ve got kids or parents or grandparents to care for, they can’t risk injury or arrest, they’re intimidated by activist spaces or by the presence and therefore threat of authorities of the state, they feel unsafe or anxious coming alone, sick of their mobility aids being touched or tripped on in crowds, they woke up with another migraine, they’re too depressed and despondent and despairing to care, they couldn’t get a pass from the psych ward, or they are rightfully too angry and bitter about every time nobody showed up for them in the past.

Or they don’t even know that this action is happening.

I’ve been thinking about crisis prevention and management, suicide prevention and management, about building networks of care. According to stats on the website for the government of Ontario, people on social assistance have a suicide rate of 18% higher than the general population. These numbers rise even higher during times of especial distress and uncertainty, such as when cuts are announced, when housing situations become unstable and unreliable, and when we’re held in perpetual limbo as to the specifics of the cuts and when they’re scheduled to take effect.

The more marginalized someone is by their experience of systemic oppression as upheld by White supremacy and capitalism – such as racism, anti-Blackness, anti-Indigenaeity, Islamophobia, homophobia, transphobia, transmisogyny, and whorephobia, to name only a few, including the ways these oppressions intersect – the deeper these cuts will be, the greater the damage.

To my knowledge, a list of those who’ve died by suicide while on social assistance, or while waiting to be accepted onto social assistance, has never been kept, but those mostly untold stories are on my mind everyday. I’ve survived multiple suicide attempts, and so have most of my friends. Each time I’ve tried to kill myself, the feeling that I was unable to afford to stay alive has been at the core of my crisis. I am sometimes not sure how I’m still alive, except that I refuse to leave my apartment empty so the landlord can double rent for the next tenant, and I refuse to save the government $13,000 a year by ceasing to exist.

I support calls for a general strike. I do believe that care and compassion, reclaimed by those of us on the margins and fringes, and those of us who love us, can be radical tools of resistance when cultivated intentionally and consistently, with shared goals of disability justice, liberation, revolution, and decolonization. I invite you to imagine a city, province, and world where people on social assistance are loved, valued, well-fed, cared for, and listened to – even when we’re at our worst, even when we’re angry and ugly and incoherent.

I invite you to envision a world where each of us who are disabled, sick, mad, and poor, live in comfort and pleasure in homes that are accessible and affordable to us, where we don’t have to constantly decide between one basic necessity or another, where we aren’t left behind when we become inconvenient, where we are seen as indispensable rather than disposable, and where we are offered not charity, but solidarity.

Thank you.

{image description: I took this photo amongst the series of art on the wall over the staircase at the Queen West location of BMV, but couldn’t find the artist’s name. Illustration shows a small body dressed in shades of blue and grey, curled up in a napping position, hands by their face. Their resting body is held within an enormous pair of hands, shaded yellowish-brow. Springs and petals of lavender surround the tiny body held within the set of hands.}

Related to this, I also recommend readings these previous pieces by me:

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

Disability, Freaking Out, & Marilyn Manson

Poverty and Isolation are Killing Us: (More, Unending) Thoughts and Conversations on Suicide, Criticism, Responsibility, Purpose, Care, and Love

I also recommend reading:

8 Steps Toward Building Indispensability (Instead of Disposability) Culture by Kai Cheng Thom

Legal Aid Budget Cuts Will Hurt Ontario Tenants

Visibly 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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