Help­ing dis­ad­van­taged to vote a step to­ward re­duc­ing poverty

The poor are nu­mer­ous and can af­fect out­comes, writes

Calgary Herald - - EDITORIAL - Franco Savoia Franco Savoia is ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of Vi­brant Com­mu­ni­ties Calgary, a non-profit or­ga­ni­za­tion seek­ing to en­gage Cal­gar­i­ans in ad­vo­cat­ing long-term strate­gies that ad­dress the root causes of poverty. franco@ vi­brant­cal­gary.com

Last Satur­day, with many other fel­low Cal­gar­i­ans, I went to my lo­cal li­brary and voted in our mu­nic­i­pal elec­tion ad­vance poll.

I have al­ways felt that this is a fun­da­men­tal re­spon­si­bil­ity for each of us as cit­i­zens. And yet we know that in re­cent mem­ory, 39 to 53 per cent of Cal­gar­i­ans ex­er­cised this vi­tal act as cit­i­zens — so at our best, only half of our city’s el­i­gi­ble vot­ers both­ered to vote.

Per­i­cles, a states­man, or­a­tor and gen­eral in Athens, more than 2,500 years ago, said, “We do not say that a man who takes no in­ter­est in pub­lic af­fairs is a man who minds his own busi­ness. We say he has no busi­ness be­ing here at all.”

Even in those early days in the evo­lu­tion of demo­cratic prin­ci­ples, there was a recog­ni­tion that we need to be in­formed and en­gaged in our gov­ern­ment. One im­por­tant ac­tion is to vote. In the act of cast­ing our bal­lot, we af­firm our cit­i­zen­ship, our com­mit­ment to our com­mu­nity and to our neigh­bours.

The open­ing words of Enough for All — Calgary’s poverty re­duc­tion strat­egy — are “our neigh­bour’s strength is our strength.” Con­versely, our neigh­bour’s weak­ness and omis­sions are my weak­ness and omis­sions. When we vote, we af­firm our com­mit­ment to our­selves and to our com­mu­nity. The very act strength­ens and helps to in­crease our con­nec­tion to our neigh­bour. Our fail­ure to get out and vote weak­ens our en­tire com­mu­nity.

We know that one in 10 Cal­gar­i­ans is liv­ing in scarcity: they don’t have enough in­come to meet their ba­sic needs. We es­ti­mate that at least one in four are work­ing poor: they are earn­ing less than a liv­ing wage and thus also strug­gle each day to meet their hous­ing, food and trans­porta­tion needs.

Calgary’s down­turn in the econ­omy, with an unem­ploy­ment rate of more than eight per cent, is plac­ing greater pres­sure on our so­cial safety net.

Poverty Talks — a group of folks at Vi­brant Com­mu­ni­ties Calgary liv­ing in poverty on a fixed in­come — keeps re­mind­ing us of the marginal­iza­tion and pow­er­less­ness that they ex­pe­ri­ence on a daily ba­sis. They worry about whether they will have hous­ing, food, trans­porta­tion and other ba­sic needs.

It is not much bet­ter for the work­ing poor who are earn­ing the min­i­mum wage. They too have to con­tin­u­ally make trade­offs be­tween whether they pay their rent or buy food or other ba­sic needs. They are our fel­low Cal­gar­i­ans.

There is data that demon­strates that for our poor, faced with the pri­or­i­ties of daily sur­vival, vot­ing is a “nice-to-do,” rather than a “need to do.”

Iron­i­cally, given their large num­ber, if the poor got out and cast their vote, they could de­cide who will gov­ern our city and in­flu­ence poli­cies to re­duce poverty in Calgary. And at the same time, it would reaf­firm their cit­i­zen­ship and be­gin to lessen their marginal­iza­tion and pow­er­less­ness.

So what can be done in these fi­nal days of the 2017 mu­nic­i­pal cam­paign? First and fore­most, we en­cour­age each mem­ber of the Enough for All com­mu­nity to get out and vote on Mon­day. We are also ask­ing the hun­dreds of front-line vol­un­teers and staff who are daily sup­port­ing the poor in our com­mu­nity to re­mind the peo­ple they serve to get out to vote.

Elec­tions Calgary pro­vides a wealth of in­for­ma­tion. Share that in­for­ma­tion with the peo­ple you are serv­ing: the lo­ca­tion of their polls and times for vot­ing. When pos­si­ble, of­fer to as­sist to get them to their polling sta­tion.

It seems so sim­ple, yet we are not do­ing it. It is not too late. Start to­day. By as­sist­ing peo­ple get out to vote, you will be help­ing to re­duce poverty.

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