Pushing up the Provincial Payments for Disability Recipients

Vancouver  What a treat spending time with the ACORN Canada staff in the Vancouver area in our New Westminster office!  The organizers in the morning and the leaders in the evening wanted to brainstorm about current campaigns they were conducting to great effect.  Roll up the sleeves and let’s get to work!

Over the weekend the topic was enforcement of penalties assessed to landlords for failing to maintain tenant properties and creating slumlord conditions.  Recently ACORN had almost a $150000 penalty against a notoriously bad landlord and shockingly the provincial government of British Columbia had held the penalty in abeyance for up to 2-years to see if repairs were made trying to delay on the jaws of our victory.   Leaders were mad and coming to a reckoning with the inability of the government to protect them and assure safe and decent housing.

The ACORN Disability Rights group has been pushing against the province in recent months to try and win an increase in benefits and some equity in the standards.  Meetings with top ministers have been held, but no action seems imminent.

The standards also seem subjective.  If they think there are “multi-barriers” to employment then your payment is some $600 per month as opposed to if they think your condition is worse, then $900 per month.  Do doctors determine the level of disability?  Unclear?  If you have more training and education, then you might actually be paid less, even if your level of medical disability was the same as someone in the exact same condition with less training?  Huh?  Yes, you understand, almost arbitrary and capricious, isn’t it?

With the staff I found myself describing the old welfare rights “special needs” campaigns that pressured welfare offices into shifting money into increased payments and ratcheted the pressure on state systems.  May have been over 40 years ago in a different world with welfare as we used to know it, but the same basic system is in play.  There may not be “equal protection” here to assure equivalent benefits, but there is Article 15, the Equality Amendment of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which should work as well.  There may not be emergency payments, as we used to know them, but there are “crisis” payments, which seem the same to me.  Furthermore there is wide discretion, and that means subjective standards, and it is time to make up the forms so that all recipients are handled equally.

With the leaders and staff we had conversations about how to train members and leaders to be “stewards” handling these “grievance committees” to assure eligibility standards are met and that people know their rights.  Maybe it’s another situation where the “more things change, the more they stay the same!”


Just the Facts and Watching our Backs on Wikipedia

Vancouver   There is little argument anymore that Wikipedia, the on-line, crowd built “encyclopedia,” is the first source in the 21st century for innumerable high school and college term papers and much of the information random people get about most of the rest of us.   I can’t count the number of gnarly introductions I’ve gotten in different places around the world that were directly attributable to some mash-up of fact and faction on Wikipedia.  No matter how much all of us use and love it, there can’t be any doubt that no small amount of it continues in computer-speak to be “garbage in, garbage out.”

Derek Blackadder the “Webwork” columnist for the quarterly Canadian labor journal, Our Times, in their fall issue called for a “labor wikipedia initiative” along just these lines.  Not only did he correctly nail the issue that many community and labor organizations are almost constantly under attack from conservatives and corporate shills and web-workers who “manage” their social media presence, but he also pointed out that invariably if you poke around a bit on Wikipedia it’s hard not to stumble over some better rough and pointed edges of bias in the portrayal of progressive institutions.  As Blackadder says in talking about labor:

Sometimes it may be clear, at least to someone in the know, that an entry, or part of an entry, is ideologically anti-union.  Sometimes it is not so clear.  Sometimes the ‘analyses’ look to be genuine, sometimes they look very much like something that is part of an organized effort.

Blackadder for his part calls for a “Wikipedia Labor Initiative” where a dedicated band of volunteers would team-up to scour the Wiki-world to right wrongs and correct inaccuracies.  For labor unions in Canada and perhaps the United States, this might work if they drafted folks from the communications departments of various national and international unions for the project so it was something more than a one-off, when-I-have-a-minute exercise.  The capacity exists for the fix there.  For the rest of the progressive forces less well resourced and staffed, it is likely a harder slog to find some flat ground where only the facts can stand.

Fixing these wiki-problems is not easy, but it’s possible.  Over the last year I with the head organizer of ACORN Canada, Judy Duncan’s help, was able to draft some time from James Wardlaw on the ACORN staff to try and at least deal with our family of organizations and its wiki-footprints.  James had to go through quite a process to get enlisted in the “club” that becomes the “crowd” doing the sourcing for the Wikipedia entries, but at least he prevailed.  Earlier when I had tried to go through the “correction” process for inaccuracies that was a totally fruitless maze.  I even reached out to a colleague who worked for the Wikipedia Foundation looking for a clue or a guide to getting a handle on the process.  He acknowledged that this was a problem, but pretty much could only advise me to “keep trying” and let him know if I had made any progress.  Oh, gee, thanks!  Nonetheless, James kept at it and gradually we were able to clean a good bit of it up, but, wow, what an experience.

The harder job of not just restoring some entries to reality but pushing some of the slants so they are able to stand straight is critical.  I hope our folks have the endurance and take this notion seriously before the fiction becomes so settled in the Wiki-world that there is no longer the prospect for facts or truths in that world.