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Raise the Rates protest on March 22, 2014 in Ontario was all about the fight against poverty. Protesters claimed that the poor majorities or people laid off from work had to rely on a significantly reduced or hard-to-get Employment Insurance. Consequently, people who may be jobless for few months were most likely to fall into poverty while many Canadians survived on Social Assistance. At the same time, both the rates of inflation and poverty have grown to unmatched levels while the government continued to reduce social systems through various austerity approaches. These events sparked the protest in the community with specific messages to Kathleen Wynne.
The main demands
Raise the Rates protest opposed the Government of Ontario’s proposal to merge (Ontario Works) and Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) and bring the delivery system to municipalities. From the campaign posters, protesters clearly outlined their demands with immediate call to actions.
- Increase social assistance rates by 55%
- Increase minimum wage to $14 per hour
- Restore the Special Diet and Community Start Up Benefits
The rally target
The campaign targeted the government and politicians, but with defined claims against Kathleen Wynne and her liberal wars against the poor. Protesters warned the government and all targeted parties that they would not be swayed by fake gestures and empty rhetoric.
Raise the Rates campaign represented various interest groups, which included public workers, people living with disabilities, people on Social Assistance, the poor masses, and the community.
The most vocal sponsoring groups were the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) and the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP). These organizations mobilized resources, including town halls to promote Raise the Rates protest. They also engaged in public education on the relevance of the protest. The groups encouraged communities to resist poverty, inequalities, and austerity measures by the government. They planned and coordinated various meetings in different locations and encouraged communities to attend.
Protesters were mainly community members and members of the OW and OCAP. They represented people in Ontario who live on Social Aid, including children. Majorities live on basic monthly welfare.
There was also a concerned group, which benefits from the Rates for the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP). The ODSP claimed that rates were declining rapidly and did not keep up with the rising inflation.
Protesters also represented the interests of the Community Start-Up and Maintenance Benefit. The program supported individuals who struggled with residential issues, but was eliminated in 2013. Consequently, protesters claimed that they were headed for a bleak future if the government continued to eradicate most social services that supported the vulnerable majorities.
Strategies/actions to draw attention to the issue
Raise the Rates protest involved street protests. It started with a meeting at the Town Hall and proceeded with a mass march. This was a method of expressing viewpoints against poverty, inequalities, and austerity measures perpetuated by the government and politicians. Posters indicated the effects of such public issues in people’s homes.
Prior to the meeting, protesters used social media to inform members and encourage others to attend. For instance, protesters claimed that there were tweets, which encouraged them to forward messages to other people or compose their own messages and encourage members to meet at the Town Hall and join the fight against Wynne’s war on masses. Social media allowed them to reach many people, save costs on training, recruitment, and coordination.
Effectiveness of each strategy
Both strategies used complemented each other. For instance, social media tweets encouraged people to inform others and meet at the Town Hall while people who turned out for the protest participated in the street march.
Social media were effective in raising awareness before the street march. It motivated and inspired protesters to leave their homes and go to the Town Hall and protest against social issues. Hence, social media ensured that there was awareness for street action.
While social media drove awareness among members linked through chats in the Internet, the street protest also created the required awareness among the public. It ensured that communities understood the relevance of the protest. Therefore, the street protest was effective in drawing support from the public.
Street protest attracted media attention because of the need to provide extensive coverage and live updates to audience. On the other hand, social media also received media attention. Protesters claimed that social media have facilitated social reforms and regime changes because they enhance the ease of organizing and executing protests.
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The link between poverty and social policy
Protesters asserted that effective social policies had positive impacts on poverty. For instance, they noted that Social Assistance and the Special Diet and Community Start-Up Benefits offered valuable risk-protection to vulnerable majorities in Ontario. Therefore, any attempts to reduce or eliminate them would expose such persons to deep cycles of poverty.
That is, any cutback or increment on social aid could greatly affect poverty rates in Ontario among the minorities, people living with disabilities, children, and the elderly. Raise the Rates campaign was a social protest that had critical implications for policymakers. Protesters wanted the government to focus on anti-poverty measures and abandon its austerity fight against the poor masses.