Tag Archives: Kay Bisnath

Lower Remittance Fees Now!

IMG_0529Ottawa In the final event of the first ACORN Canada Convention members gathered in front of the National Bank of Canada, assembling to raise the demand to lower bank and money transfer fees for remittances.  With Parliament looming over them car after car honked in support of lower bank fees.   Hardly a struggling immigrant driving a cab along the street didn’t lean on their horn, understanding the issue precisely.

A popular radio broadcast on politics on CBC had interviewed Kay Bisnath of ACORN Canada and ACORN International shortly after 8 AM in a national broadcast.  A piece had run in the daily paper, Ottawa Citizen, made the campaign clear.

The nearly 100 protests left the Bank of Canada, responsible for regulations, to make the same demand at the offices of the Finance Minister Michael Horgan.  We didn’t get far.  Police blocked the doors and locked them quickly, as the members chanted below and beat the plastic trash receptacles to a drum beat, calling on the Minister to “come down, meet the people!”

FIMG_0526inally using police as embassaries, Marva Burnett, outgoing president of ACORN Canada and other leaders were able to get their message up and get the answer down.  The deputy finance minister agreed to study the issue and issue a response.  The finance ministry communication director came down and parsed a few words indicating they had read the Citizen and heard the news, and would “study the matter.”

A mild response, but a step forward because truly this is an issue where there is every indication that the government is totally clueless of the issue despite the huge impact.  Back-of-the-envelope figuring had put the cost of excess fees, defined as fees above the G-8 and World Bank target of 5%, sent by immigrant and new Canadians back to families and communities in their home countries as being over $500,000,000 per year!

IMG_0532Members had prepared a “giant invoice” as chant leader, Pascal Apuwa, called it and after the Finance representative slinked away, a chant rose for the giant invoice to be left and collected.  Marva Burnett placed it pointing inside the locked doors of the ministry.  I am categorically clear that a small piece of history was made here, since I am confident that in the history of social movements over thousands of years, these members may have been the first to chant “GIANT INVOICE!”

Nonetheless, the chant makes the point.  This is a huge bill, now past due, that needs to be repaid to the poor and migrant works and immigrant families around the world, being exploited by money transfer organizations and banks on a daily basis at the price of billions.

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ACORN Canada Convention: Happy and They Know It!

ACORN Canada ConventionOttawa Once the members put on their t-shirts, grab their packets, and start struggling to find dorm rooms on campus, classrooms for workshops, and auditoriums for the plenary sessions with maps in one hand and agendas in the other, the smiles come out and I know it’s an ACORN convention.  The weather was picture perfect, warm with a steady, but gentle breeze.  Spirits were good.  Numbers were holding, and the one b

ig bus from Toronto was early…does it get better than this?

Yes in fact it does when the reports were being given during the Saturday evening session from each of the offices in Toronto, British Columbia, and Ottawa.  People were proud of their campaigns, their victories, and their struggles even while still engaged.  They were also just plain personal in a way that as surprising and moving.  A delegate from Toronto introduced his sister who had been the stead force pushing him along and enabling his participation.  She waved to the crowd.  One of the key Toronto leaders thanked everyone for “changing her life.”

This was Natalie Hundt who with her two daughters had visitedIMG_0418with me in the hallway before the meeting once she put together who I was.  She asked me if I wanted to hear a story about the way “this thing you started so long ago saved my life?”  How would I have ever wanted to hear anything else?!?  She was from Kitchner in Ontario and had ended up in Germany with her family.  These things happen.  She fell in love, left school, and had two children.  Almost as quickly, it didn’t work out and she was in Scarborough in a low income high rise apartment raising those same children with precious little money, no prospects, and the entire place literally falling down on her head.  She was angry, frustrated, and didn’t know what to do.  She had thought about a petition, but didn’t know how to go about it.  A young woman knocked on her door and asked her if she knew about ACORN and the fact that it was organizing in her building and others in Scarborough.  Natalie looked at me and laughed, and said she literally grabbed the organizer by the arm and pulled her into the apartment and say, “I’ve been waiting for you!”  I loved this story.  I’ve trained hundreds of organizers that behind every door are “natalies” waiting for them, if they do the work and get there, so to have real live witness ready to testify is always a gift.

Natalie told the rest of the story quickly.  She got involved.  She was forced to speak up at a meeting and survived.  It happened a second time, and it wasn’t so hard.  By the third time she was called on to speak about her issues, she had realized, “I can do this.”  After that it didn’t stop.  She ended up going to help out on an ACORN Canada supported GOTV effort with some New Democratic Party (NDP) campaign, was invited back to help more, and has now run twice as for her riding winning on the NDP line winning 16% the first race and going past 30% several months ago against a 16-year incumbent.  Her work with ACORN and now the NDP, combined to connect her to a job, and you know the rest of the story, her life has changed, and she is comfortable saying so.  At the end of her report on the work ACORN is doing in tenant campaigns in Toronto, she closed by telling everyone how much she appreciated ACORN and everything it had done for her.  Having heard the back story, I knew what she meant, and could clap even harder, knowing how much her story meant to me!

Kay Bisnath lives in Scarborough as

Kay Bisnath

Kay Bisnath

well and closed the reports with greetings from all of the countries in the ACORN International federation.  President Bisnath spoke movingly of solidarity and the “scarlet threads” that held all of us together and united us in fights for justice all over the globe.  After closing to rousing applause she asked the crowd to join her in a song.  She then led people in the classic tune that linked ACORN and how all of us were happy in the organization.

We were happy.  We did show it!

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