Lunch in Yorkville

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Alex Levant, vice president, Canadian Union of Public Employees, local 3903

My first action with the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) was a trip to a poshrestaurant in Yorkville to meet the lunch crowd. This was in the spring of2000. We gathered at a church for a meal and an introduction to theaction, and boarded a school bus. We got out in Yorkville and began to marchthrough the streets carrying signs in response to a new round of taxcuts announced by the fedral government. The shoppers threw looks ofshock and disgust at us.

After a few twists and turns through the streets, we reached our target. Itwas a restaurant on the second floor of a hotel. John Clarke and StefanPilipa held the doors open and we marched in, went up the escalator andentered the restaurant. If the Yorkville shoppers were shocked anddisgusted, then the lunch crowd at the restaurant appeared absolutely mortified. Some got out of ther seats and moved away from us; a few still pretended that wedid not exist.

As we walked in and assembled in the middle of the restaurant, several homeless peoplebegan to eat some of the food on the abandoned tables. A few of them gavepassionate speeches through our megaphone, explaining what life was like for them.

Some of the staff objected to our presence, but could dolittle aside from issuing threats. I remember feeling a rush of empowerment. This was a place where rich folks felt “safe” from the rabble that they kept out of sight, and herewe were disturbing their lunch, eating food off their plates and taking over their space. I must admit being scared that the police would walk through the door at any moment and arrest us all, but this did not happen.

After about fifthteen minutes, we left the restaurant and marched back to our bus feeling victorious. At that moment, I knew what OCAP meant to so many poorpeople in Toronto.

Since those days, OCAP has grown into a serious force on the Left in the province, bringing together unions, students, social justice organizations, and many of the groups among the fragmented Left.

It has inspired the formation of the Common Front against the Harris government, which will begin on October 16, 2001 with a shutdown of the financial district in Toronto, and will continue with a campaign of economic disruption across the province. OCAP has moved us to start fighting to win, and labour to start striking to win.

This fall, we will be doing both.

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