I was accidentally put on a ‘panel of experts’ discussing homelessness at a recent documentary release. Politicians mingled with professors and service providers in an eatery that neighbours the dry men’s shelter. Concerned citizens arrived early to bounce pleasantries off one another, nibbling on fine sausage and kalamata olives. I showed up late, downed a whiskey to calm the nerves, and shook with anxious rage throughout the entire documentary.
The panel discussion concluded past its allotted time, and the moderator hurriedly spilt the plan, funding model, and hopes for the upcoming year in the industry of homelessness, with no one really understanding what it all meant. The crowd left restless and confused as to how to help, and the panelists left more disgruntled than before, and a month later, mid-October, there are still people sleeping in the alley in Regina.
As a white male, when I speak, people generally listen. They listen for two or three sentences until they realize that I don’t know what I’m saying, then they rightfully daydream about food and sports and sex. On this year’s Blog Action Day, a day where organizers attempt to unite writers under one socially-driven topic (a day that I use the prompt to get off my ass and write something off-topic), people were asked to consider the title Raise Your Voice. Writers, artists, and journalists have the responsibility to tell the stories of those who are unable to do so. But an important part of this is to give people the platform to tell their own stories. Those whose voices need to be heard—the marginalized, the people of colour, the refugees, the LGBTQ2, the Indigenous, the working class—are denounced because a wealth-driven patriarchal society determines whose voices have worth. For completely unjust reasons, I have a voice. Instead of only ever using my voice to amplify the voices of others, I attempt to use my voice and my actions to create a place where others can be heard without need for amplification. When you create a place where people have inherent value, their voices will inevitably be heard.
To Raise Your Voice in the digital era by blogging, sharing, liking, or ranting is as effective as leaving scraps of paper with motivational slogans blowing in the gutters. Divisive and irritating, the internet only further entrenches beliefs and perpetuates ignorance. While speaking on the panel I kept repeating this idea that we can pressure and lobby government until our heads explode, but that this is only one, arguably ineffective, means to creating change. That the only way homelessness and class-divide will end is through a system-wide change, altering how we treat and relate to one another, and changing the wealth and social inequalities that oppress minorities. I left the event feeling empty and sick, for I sounded like a politician—pushing for an idea while offering no tangible examples of how it might work and while participating in no organizing that may lead realization of the idea.
Appealing to the judicial, legislative, or executive branches of government in the hope of reform is as realistic as accepting the offer made by the March Hare during the Mad Tea-Party in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland:
“Have some wine,” the March Hare said in an encouraging tone.
Alice looked all round the table, but there was nothing on it but tea.
“I don’t see any wine,” she remarked.
“There isn’t any,” said the March Hare.
-Hedges, Wages of Rebellion, The Post-Constitutional Era, p 61
On Thanksgiving Monday I biked to the advanced polls to participate in the experiment of democracy. My hands numb in the wind, I waffled left and right each time I saw an election sign posted in a front lawn, truly not knowing who’d get my vote upon arrival. I’d rather waffle left. I voted in a way that reflects my values. I voted in a way that is considered a throwaway. This is because I do not believe in the ability for real reform under the current economic system in which the major parties function, but I simultaneously participate in this economic system and rarely make an effort in being a part of breaking it down. When I raise my voice but drink my sorrows, doing nothing to participate in making true change, I am complicit.
Later on Thanksgiving Monday I lost a game of cribbage to a person who I’ve only known for a few months. It definitely wasn’t the first game of crib I’ve ever lost, and sure, I gave away several pairs of sevens to the crib. After he pegged out and we congratulated ourselves on a game well-played, I laid on the floor and watched him paint while we listened to new Northcote and RahRah. My new friend has been housed for three months, homeless for years before that, and still requires regular and extensive assistance to live a healthy life. I am extremely privileged to be employed by one of the few places that actively works to repair the damages caused by the wealth inequality synonymous to the capitalism, however, continually cleaning up the messes left by a system that purposefully destroys the lives of a particular cultural group is ineffective. Working within the current system is necessary to a point, but a total dismantling of this system is required to ensure real, lasting equality.
There is no morality in words. Morals are behavioural, based in how a person acts. A person can raise their voice to the heavens while sitting in their recliner. If you raise your voice without breaking a few walls, no one outside your already-converted group will hear you. Breaking walls means breaking laws, breaking norms, supporting (verbally and physically) oppressed minorities, and thinking outside of the “cult of the self”* in which we find ourselves.
And I can say with certainty that I’ve never broke down a wall in my life…