Ignoring disadvantaged won’t make problems go away
WellandTribune.ca – news/columnists
November 17, 2011. By Community Voices
Oscar Wilde once told a fairy tale about a giant so overly concerned with his own property that he erected enormous Trespassers Will Be Prosecuted signs on his lawn.
The children, who loved playing in his garden, took the hint as they didn’t want to suffer the giant’s wrath. Months later, the giant wakens to the sound of laughter, only to find that the same children have ignored his orders, and have moved in, occupying his garden.
Instead of anger, the giant’s heart melted at the sight of a little child unable to reach the branches of the tree. He abandons his vain self-preservation and ventures into the garden, with his eyes opened to the realities of his world.
I must gratefully thank Derek Coté for writing the article Time for Occupy protesters to go home, printed in The Tribune, for providing me grist for my own article. In his article, Mr. Coté attacked the then still entrenched Occupiers camped around places like St. James Park in Toronto, Wall Street in New York, and outside of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. These Occupiers are hoping to inspire sweeping economic reform to the world system that seemingly rewards bad banking behavior and awards bonuses using bank bailouts.
There are many points on which Mr. Coté and I agree. But whether he admits it or not, there is a growing divide between the rich and poor in our society. While in the U.S. 1% of the people control 99% of the wealth, Canada fares marginally better at 4% owning 70%.
This divide threatens to widen as in recent articles in CBC, Forbes and even the Occupy movement, highlight the disappearing middle class. We are moving ever closer to the black-and-white reality of haves and have-nots.
At our most recent Tribune community editorial board meeting, when discussing these protestors, much vitriol around the table was directed at labeling this group as a bunch of elitist entitled Occupiers. We have it good in Canada, so why should we complain? Clearly our banking system didn’t allow the kind of injustices that took place in other places of the world, so what’s our problem? And these Occupiers were mostly well educated, entitled folk that expected to get a job after exiting post secondary education.
Silently I sat and listened and wondered to myself, when did entitlement become a bad thing?
I’m sure entitlement was at the forefront of Tommy Douglas’ mind when national health care was introduced to ensure that every person, regardless of wealth, would be treated the same in our hospitals. Our education system, which each and every child is entitled to, still ranks us in the top 10 in the world.
Why is it wrong to fight for the entitlement of a job for those willing to work? Or safe and affordable housing? Or food? Where do we stop the line of entitlement? And who gets to draw that line between what is a right and what is a privilege?
Clearly the protesters are in the wrong place. Much like their message, which at times seems convoluted and unclear, they seem to be protesting in the wrong place. Much like Mr. Coté’s sentiments, they belong better at Congress, on the steps of city hall or Parliament. But no matter where they are located, this sweaty, dishevelled, disorganized mass of people is pointing to a problem.
Something is wrong in our society that creates systems in which 60% of people working today live paycheque to paycheque, and personal debt is skyrocketing. Something is wrong in our society that sees the necessity of The Tribune printing article after article highlighting the problem of poverty in our area. Something is wrong in our society when we have to have a townwide food drive to ensure people in our midst have enough food.
The Occupiers might be in the wrong spot, but they’re pointing to a problem which we too easily ignore because we’re too busy getting to work and paying our bills.
I’m sorry that people have had to cross lines of protestors and move around the makeshift camps that have sprung up around places of business, but if they were not in our way, would we even care? Thank goodness we’re not tripping over protestors to get to work here in the Niagara region, because that might slow us down.
For that matter, we are so lucky around here to not be accosted on the street by those in poverty — at least they have the decency to be the invisible poor in our area.
Maybe we should go as far as the giant in the Oscar Wilde story and put up signs to ensure none of those wandering children ever walk on our grass.
On the other hand, maybe we need to see those hiding in the corners of our gardens, unable to reach up or even aspire to touch the top of the tree. Much like the children’s laughter in the garden, my ears perked up when I heard the words of pastor Martin Niemöller this way:
First they came for the Occupiers,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t camped outside of Bay Street.
Then they came for the unemployed,
and I didn’t speak out because I had a good job.
Then they came for the poor,
and I didn’t speak out because I was middle class.
Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me.
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