I recently attended a meeting of the Interfaith Social Assistance Reform Coalition to consider strategy on how to get government action on poverty in Ontario. We heard presentations from two very different politicians. In one corner was Joe Mihevic, municipal Toronto Councillor and in the other, John Milloy, former Minister of Community and Social Services. They were invited to give strategic advice from their own experience that would inform our advocacy efforts to reduce poverty in Ontario. Let's consider what both men had to share with us as we move forward and strategize how to advance the social justice agenda in Ontario.
Councillor Mihevic spoke from his experience on both ends of the advocacy spectrum, both as an advocate and as a municipal representative. Councillor Mihevic encouraged advocates and faith leaders to find their voice. To be courageous and recognize the necessity to speak out with and for marginalized groups if we want social change to happen.
Minister Milloy lectured us on the difficult choices that come with his position, reminded us of the isolation of feeling unappreciated and misunderstood, and offered up that being shown appreciation was the key to moving him, and politicians like him, on our concerns.
Minister Milloy told us that when advocating for change it is critical to lead with recognition of the great gains elected officials have already made, respect the difficult challenges that come with the job, speak to our "aspirations", listen with respect and meet the politicians' half way.
Personally I was left with the impression that the legitimacy of the issues would fall on deaf ears if Mr. Milloy wasn't "feeling the love" from anti-poverty advocates.
Who knew this kind of etiquette - defined as 'the customary code of polite behavior in society or among members of a particular profession or group' - has anything to do with advocating for social change?
Milloy's comments beg the following questions: Who is this really all about anyway? Is Liberal cabinet minister John Milloy offering advice for lobbyists or advocates? Are we being given strategic direction on advocating for critical change and policy development in order to improve the quality of life for the most economically marginalized Ontarians or are we being fed tips on how to best apply for a government job?
I was left wondering what the success rate is for advocates who lead with Thank you and Please, in exactly that order, as prescribed by the esteemed Minister.
I'm sorry but if I'm going to cut anyone some slack for getting angry and defensive when advocating for measures to reduce poverty, it will be the person with lived experience of chronic poverty or the unwaged volunteer advocate who is growing weary of their tireless and unrewarded and unappreciated efforts to reduce abject and inexcusable poverty in this province. I will not worry about the overly sensitive politician who needs to feel appreciated for the bread crumbs that have been offered up on the poverty profile when what people really need is some actual loaves!
I think we all learned a great deal from our guests that day on what advocacy is all about and NOT about. Advocacy is about truth, courage, finding your voice, strategy, timing and seizing the moment. Advocacy is not about good manners and knowing when "not" to ask for "too" much.
So please excuse me in advance, Mr. Milloy, for being courageous, finding my voice and speaking truth to power because it is the only strategy that I know of that has ever created impetus for real change in the evolution of human rights.