Saturday, April 30, 2016

Get to the Toronto Vegetarian Food Bank now

TVFB is once a month. The door's locked. There's usually someone right there to open it for you. So don't have a heart attack if the first thing you encounter is a building with no signs up, but it's the right address, and there's people inside, but the door's locked. It's okay.

This place has no catchment zone. But they're very carefully vetting everyone because they're terrified that someone with a job might come here for vegetables. Those evil working poor people. And they're very careful about excluding meat-eaters. Sort of. They're very careful to make everybody say that they're at least avoiding meat. So consider yourself effectively vetted.

Open from noon to 4pm, they serve amazing soup along with their stuff. Most of what they hand out is beautiful whole vegetables. That's why it's worth it. Some of their stuff isn't ripe and never ripens. Just like grocery store food!

People travel 30km round trip to come to this place. Families from all over the GTA descend on this downtown Toronto spot to tap this rare access to vegetables. Still no nuts, not much fruit, but whatever. It's equivalent to a haul from The Stop's food bank.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

How to go on strike... when you're unemployed

Yeah. Fuck yeah. The unemployed need to strike for better labor conditions. Isn't that insane? Yeah. It's totally insane. So how on earth does an unemployed person go on strike?

Let's examine what our jobs are as unemployed people. It's not really that we have jobs to do, it's more like, we are products, and we have to perform our designed function, or else our market value diminishes. So what is our function as products? Our function is to erode the strength of our labor rights. Or rather, our employed friend's labor rights. As long as we're here to provide an example of what could happen to them if they get picky about how badly they're willing to get fucked by their employers, we're performing our main function. But it goes beyond that, of course. We also have to sell the public on a very simple, phony narrative about what poverty is and where it comes from. We have to line up at soup kitchens so people can point to us and say "look, see that's what'll happen to you if you complain about not getting a raise!"

You can tell because any time you point out a systemic barrier that's reinforcing your poverty, somehow your complaint will be interpreted as "I have given up on trying to do anything to help myself." This often happens to people when they try to advocate on their own behalf, instead of bullying their way through everything. It can happen on any issue. It happens to women when they try to assert their most basic and obvious rights over their own bodies. It happens to black people when they point out that police have a hard-on for their blood.

Our presentation as a commodity subverts our desire to show off our own sense of determination, our positive attitude. It's not good enough to have a positive outlook. It's not good enough to be ashamed of being poor: you're expected to ignore everything that led to your situation, and ram yourself up against the same set of barriers over and over again. And you're expected to find things about yourself that aren't even true, to hold up as the evil personality traits that are holding you back. Your fake laziness, for example. Your imaginary addictions. All the things that your friends and family create in their minds because they don't know you're on benefits. They don't know how inadequate those benefits are. And you can't let them find out because then they'd stop talking to you! So our function also includes keeping the rest of the public in the dark. They must not find out about how little we actually get.

We're also expected to keep the rest of the public in the dark about how much of their money, which they think is going to us, is going to the people who provide the services that we count on, to replace the money we're not getting. The public is very ignorant about how large the poverty industry really is. And of course, anybody who's either employed by or commodified by (treated as a client of) the industry has every reason not to criticise it at all. We have to go along to get along. Kind of like how there's no real point in voicing any criticisms when a soup kitchen gives you dangerous, inedible or unhealthy food: you will be punished by other soup kitchen users, if not by staff. And you'll be punished by your friends for mentioning it.

So what do your employed friends and the rest of the public get out of remaining so ignorant? Do they save money? Nope. They do manage to keep a lot of people employed who'd lose their jobs if a guaranteed living-wage income supplement were introduced, though. But that's not the real reason that their ignorance is so valuable. There's a semi-real reason, and then the real reason. The semi-real reason is that it allows the public to ignore politics on this issue, and the public wants to ignore politics on as many issues as possible. Poverty is an issue that's permanently backburnered. So that's the semi-real reason. The real reason is: without poverty we can't have exploitative labor practices. And without that, and without slavery, and without pollution, big evil international business just isn't profitable enough to compete with mom-and-pop small business operations. It's just a large-scale vs. small-scale thing. It's a way to add unecessary levels of management by increasing the size of an operation. And now we're getting into market and trade and finance territory, but that's the problem: poverty is related to transnational corporate success.

There's gotta be a whole bunch more functions that we're supposed to be filling as products in the poverty industry. This is definitely a beginner list. A start. But let's see what we can find in terms of actionable recommendations for the common peasant looking to turn their life into one continuous culture jam aimed at resetting the economics of our civilization.

  1. No more invisibility. Why pick an inaccurate oversimplification like "not going out much lately" when you can pick an accurate one like "can't, too poor"? Why? You don't have to make excuses for your poverty. And you don't have to identify yourself personally if you don't want to, why not became a citizen journalist aka whistleblower? Recording devices are cheaper than ever. Blogging is easier than ever. Anonymity is easier than ever. Awesome computers are right there at the job search centre waiting for you. When you're in the middle of a serious poverty moment, hit record. YouTube has a "blur all faces" feature. What would the anti-police-violence movement be doing without all those awesome anonymous cellphone videos. It'd be standing around holding its dick like we are. All the time.
  2. No more excuses. They're barriers. They're real. They stopped you before. They'll stop you again unless they're taken down. They can't be taken down 'til they're visible. And who identifies barriers? The people being impeded by them.
  3. No more compromises. You've been eating food that makes you sick, at places that make you scared, to avoid hunger. Well... don't you have the absolute perfect makings of a hunger strike built into your situation? Yes you do. Call it a poverty fast, document it, and show it off. Choose hunger.
  4. Demand political power: you're not telling the people you know what's going on with you so they'll give you stuff or money or personally help you. You're telling them so they'll realize what's going on generally, and write to a politician about it, or comment on an article about it, or write to an editor about it, or do something that demonstrates political solidarity and awareness. Anytime somebody tries to give you something to help, that's what they're trying to avoid. They're trying to avoid becoming politically active on any issue, especially this one. Your sympathetic friends would sooner part with every single object they have than put their necks on the line by posting a link to an article about systemic, self-reinforcing poverty. And you need to indicate to them that what you need isn't a fish, isn't fishing instructions, it's for the river to be cleaned up so the fish can come back. Don't go out telling your sob story for donations. Go out telling your sob story for mobilization. It's the only way to keep friends who aren't living in poverty, but you have to work hard to make them understand that you don't want their resources, you want their political support, not personally and individually but as a privileged person speaking out for a whole class of oppressed persons. This is something that people love to do, in fact, even though they're terrified of doing it.
  5. No more secrets: don't let the people around you think you collect more from ODSP or welfare than you actually do. Don't let them think you get free transportation. Don't let them think you get free food that works for you when really it doesn't. Don't let them think you can afford to accept a job offer when you can't. Don't let them keep on not knowing how that works. Don't let them think somebody can go to work for three weeks without food, without laundry money, and without transportation. Don't let them think you can save for a trip. Don't let them think your benefits package increases when expenses increase. Don't let them think you get a break on rent or utilities or anything. Don't let them think you can just check into a shelter anytime when really you can't. Don't let them think you want them to know all this stuff so you can have their resources. You don't want their resources, you don't want their recommendations, you want them to email their politicians about why your benefits leave you way below the poverty line. You want them to correct their coworkers when they make uninformed statements about poor people. You want them to join you in the real world. You want them to disengage with the fantasy.
  6. Find clarity. Finally. We're not supposed to be clear with ourselves about what our own responsibilities are, because we're not allowed to identify barriers. As long as we can't identify barriers, we have to take responsibility for things that we can't demonstrate we've been responsible for. Without being able to separate out our own failures from the barriers that have messed with us, we can't even address what we ourselves screwed up on. And without acknowledging those barriers, we can't do anything to strategize around them. So if you want to talk about taking control of your life, in any situation, half of that consists of breaking through barriers that other people have set up, and the other half is you working on yourself. When those barriers are hugely profitable and politically entrenched, then your struggle has been politicized and needs to be addressed politically. Fortunately, we're technically living in a democracy, so we all have political power. Unfortunately, people don't really have the power to advocate for their own needs, and the public at large has been sold on a weird version of democracy where we are absolutely terrified of using that power. That fear comes from confusion. Who wants to wield a weapon of tremendous power when the target is unclear? And lack of clarity is the best defence against a politically-empowered public. So what do we have to do to gain clarity? We have to go ahead and identify barriers, and talk about them. We have to talk about where they come from, we have to talk about the malicious intentions behind them, as well as the innocent intentions that lubricated their development. We have to scheme around how we're going to empower ourselves to overcome them. Why re-enter a job market that's based on exploitation? Why pretend to be lazy when you're being excluded by class? Why not just call out the exclusion and demand inclusion? Isn't that you empowering yourself? Why not say hey, here's my two lists: the list of problems that I'm bringing to the table, and what I'm doing about them, and the list of problems that the market and the industry and the government are all bringing to the table, and what I'm doing about them. Instead of just presenting your situation as a big jumbled mess that you'll sort out when you get motivated. There's no way to get motivated if it's an unwinnable fight based on lies and fantasy. The veil of bullshit has to be removed, and then our lives can be detangled. It's just so much easier to solve a real problem than an imaginary one.
This is stuff that applies to basically any social justice movement. So the point of this article is to indoctrinate poor people into activism against their own oppression. Hey, if you don't see it that way, if you really do think it's a matter of bootstraps and addictions and luck and whatever then have fun being on the wrong side of history. You'd have made a great KKK member.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Let's compare notes on budgeting...

Okay so none of us have a chance at making a working budget out of what we get from welfare, ODSP, CPP or any of the other benefits packages, and even if Basic Income supplements show up, they'll probably only bring us a third or halfway to the poverty line. Given how big the gap is between what we get, and what we'd need to have a budget that works in any measurable way, it's easy to just not get around to making a budget. Or as soon as you try, you give up because the daily reality that it describes is so terrible. But it's not worse than the reality that actually happens when you have no planned budget.

So even if your budget is unworkable, it's still worth making a planned budget out of it. We all have our little rules of thumb, tricks and tendencies. And if we can get the courage to face the horrible, painful truth of our budgets, we can expect some benefits from applying a bit of planning to them.

The comments section is open for anonymous comments, so let's share notes on how we do this. Not tips on deals and stuff like that, but ideas for budgeting. Or example budgets.

Here's a two-step idea that's really primitive, but it's something that a lot of people start out with when they're trying to bring some order to the chaos:
  1. Sequestering some essential money and spending it on important items right away, before it disappears, and spreading the rest of the money out over the rest of the month. For example, pay rent and utilities right away, do laundry if you're a laundromat user and have been letting it go 'cause you ran out of quarters... anything that you definitely need to purchase, anything that you can save money on by getting it monthly, do it during that time, and set a maximum for the amount you're going to spend on that, because the rest of your money is gonna become your daily spending money, or your weekly spending money, or however you want to divvy it up.
  2. For many of us, our daily budget is about six bucks, so an easy way to handle that is, you release a twenty dollar bill to yourself every three days. Or do a ten every two days, or a five every day, or whatever works for you. If it's easy to conceptualize, it'll be easier to put into practice. Put 'em in envelopes with dates on them, and those envelopes are also useful for whatever other stuff needs to be divided across the month, like any drugs that you need to have sorted out. A lot of medical cannabis users are living in poverty, and since recently, they've had to pay prohibition prices for their herbs instead of being able to personally grow them at no cost. So for people trying to make $300 a month replace the $5,000 worth they used to produce for themselves every month at no cost, while suffering the effects of a sudden reduction in their medication, being able to divide something like that up into daily supplies, from one chunk purchased once a month, can be a lifesaver. And really, it's the same with daily spending money. Another way to divide the money up is to shift it to your savings account, then set up a automatic transfers, to customize the trickle of money that comes into your account. Wouldn't it be great to get whatever you need to take care of those pressing issues at the beginning of the month, and then just have the rest of it flow into your account evenly, so you never run out? Well with a bit of setup work, you can have that.
It'd be great if we could share some notes on our different setups and experiences. This is just one idea.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Spending money to save money: a few good & bad investment ideas for your personal life

Not like you have money to throw around. But you know how sometimes you can spend an extra few bucks to save more money down the line. So here's some safe and not so safe bets for leveraging the ridiculously insufficient amount of money you do have, if you do have it.

For all the smokers out there: E-Cigarettes aren't bullshit and they are for poor people too. If you're switching from bootleg smokes (DKs, Natives, BBs etc) then it'll take a couple months for it to start paying for itself, but overall, on a month-to-month basis, including replacing your whole kit maybe once a year, it is cheaper. Much cheaper. And it's so much better. So definitely believe the hype: vaping is here to stay, and you can get started for as cheap as $50.

Don't bother with an electric bike. The cheap end of the market is a total consumer trap right now. Anything below $1000 is going to disappoint you. To put it simply, the battery situation is "not there yet" and the fabrication quality is dangerously low. Some of these bikes have such bad controllers that they'll just jump into motion when you least expect it. They're not road worthy. Whether you're talking about a power-assisted bicycle (they want us to call them "ped-elecs," as if that's going to happen), or an electric scooter (they want us to call them that instead of mopeds), you're better with a good bike than a shitty ebike.

TTC passes are only getting more expensive, and there is still no low-income pass in sight. So don't bother with a TTC pass, unless you need to use it at least ten times a week. That's the rule of thumb.

For a transportation upgrade that really pulls its weight, go for an old road bike. Toronto's bike network and roads in general are finally smooth enough that you don't need a mountain bike on them anymore. Switching from a mountain bike to a road bike will make every single trip easier. It just doesn't take nearly as much effort to make the same trips. And of course your range is increased. And your speed is increased. You're looking for a 70s or 80s 10-speed... you know, the ones with the curly handlebars that everybody's avoiding. There's no real reason to avoid them. They're great. Spend your helmet money on lights... they'll have a bigger effect on your safety. Get lights that take standard AA and AAA batteries so they're convenient to replace.

Become a smoothie person. There's no other way to actually enjoy getting beans and veggies into you. You end up having to cook less of them, and cook them less. You end up being able to eat stuff you normally wouldn't eat. Dumpster diving becomes easier. You can blend stuff you'd never throw on a plate. So grab yourself a blender or a magic bullet or something. There are these smoothie blenders that Loblaws and other places are selling for like $15... the trick with the Loblaws ones is, just keep your receipt and you can keep bringing them back for replacement when they break. They will break. With these cheap machines, you have to be all sorts of careful not to overload them and stuff. This is worth getting on top of. Less boiling, less chopping, more eating, more portability... the only problem is, the machines are fucking loud. Put it in a closet or an insulated box while it's blending! They're seriously loud. And hey, don't underestimate a regular blender.

Seems unimportant, but really good containers make a big difference. Upgrade yours to the glass ones with the plastic-and-rubber lids that clip on, and you'll notice yourself using them a lot more, and having more success when you do. Lots of people are paranoid about putting food, especially warm food, in plastic containers, especially stuff from the dollar store or re-used yogurt things and stuff. That paranoia is well-founded: plastics do leech into foods and they are damaging to your health. And having things break open in your bag is the last thing you need. The really good versions of these cost like $6 apiece, but they'll pay for themselves quickly, in terms of you being able to save more food.

Put together a go bag and a bug-out spot, so you can always safety get out of wherever you are. As a poor person, you never know when your place of residence, whether it's an apartment or a parking garage ventilation exhaust, is going to become unavailable to you. And when it does, you probably don't have any emergency options. Having a place to go to, where you can sleep, change, prepare food, and have privacy, and having a few days' worth of clothes and basic essentials, can provide you with a big measure of security. Even if you never have to use this stuff, that security translates into less anxiety when things are going fine, and less disruption in your life when bad things happen. Most of these weird, half-baked campsites you find in the Toronto wilderness are bug-out spots, created by people who are precariously-housed. That's why you rarely find them to be occupied. A bug-out bag contains fresh clothes, underwear, socks, first aid kit... and everything you'd want to have with you if you're suddenly out on the street without anything else. Anything that you regularly use that you'd like to have in this bag as well, don't put it in the bag, but keep it all in one spot in your place, so you can quickly load it into the bag and get the fuck out. You need to be able to pack up and leave while your roommate is flipping out, before he finds the knives. Or while your parents are flipping out, before they call the cops. Or while your landlord is flipping out, before he calls his cousins. People who've suffered domestic abuse know exactly what this is about.

Instead of getting a cheap smartphone, get a good dumb phone. Like a basic phone that's not shitty. And then spend the rest of your money on an ok tablet. So much better to have an ok basic phone, and an ok tablet, than a shitty smartphone for the same price. And that seems to be your options.

Most poor people are still choosing phone over internet, because we can't afford both. For a lot of people, it'd be better to switch to being an internet user, even if it means giving up on having a phone and a phone number. For the same price as a typical cellphone plan, you can get internet and a home phone. It's really a much better option. If you have internet, you basically don't need TV. You can get your sports, gaming, news, all that stuff on the 'net, and you can use it to publish things, learn things, stay in touch... you know, actually develop your life. Canada has the most expensive cellphone service in the world, so it's not even cheap enough for people who aren't poor, but like bank accounts, there is no cellphone plan that's meant for us.