Social justice in the wake of the pandemic

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Susan Campbell and Angie Lynch are both social workers who work for community legal clinics in Ontario. Scott Neigh interviews them about Just Recovery Ontario, a campaign pushing for a recovery from the pandemic that would fix the many injustices and shortfalls in our social safety net that COVID-19 has made so evident.

By this point, most of us are well aware of at least the broad outlines of the many and varied impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. There are of course the health impacts of the virus itself. There are the job losses. There are all of the ways it has reshaped work, education, socializing, and innumerable other aspects of everyday life. And there are the big-picture impacts on politics and the economy. How much any one of us has been touched by all of this varies a lot, often in ways that correspond to the major inequities and injustices that already shape our lives and communities, but overall the impacts have been profound. And what it will look like to recover from those impacts remains to be determined.

Susan Campbell works as a community legal worker, public educator and community organizer for the Lake Country Community Legal Clinic in Bracebridge, Ontario. Community legal clinics in Ontario are non-profit organizations that offer a wide range of legal support to low-income people, and many also engage in related community-based organizing and law-reform advocacy. Much of Campbell's grassroots work over the last four decades has been related to the many ways in which the social safety net in Canada has holes and gaps and barriers -- all too often, it fails to support people who need it and has other kinds of unjust impacts on people.

Early on in the pandemic, Campbell was listening to a media conference by Dr. Theresa Tam, the chief public health officer of Canada. Dr. Tam talked about how the pandemic was uncovering the inadequacies of the social safety net. It struck Campbell as an important marker of our political moment that the most important public health official in the country was openly acknowledging this problem. As the pandemic developed, more and more people had to depend on the social safety net, and more and more people came face to face with its limitations. As well, related issues started getting more mainstream media attention. It was, Campbell decided, a perfect time to start a campaign for a recovery from the pandemic that fixes the shortfalls of the social safety net -- that is, for a just recovery.

She got a lot of interest in the idea from other legal clinic workers as well as people involved in labour groups, women's organizations, housing advocacy groups, and so on. It was at this stage that Angie Lynch got involved. She works for the Kinna-aweya Legal Clinic in Thunder Bay, Ontario, as their ID services coordinator.

As the Just Recovery Ontario campaign took shape, they decided to focus on five areas. They want the province to make the social assistance system adequate and accessible, which it currently is not. They are calling for a $15 minimum wage and improved basic employment standards, including access to employer-funded sick days. They are demanding major new government investment in building affordable housing, as well as real rent control. They want improved and more stable funding for affordable, accessible, quality basic services like child care, elder care and transit. And they are demanding more just and equitable tax policies to stop corporations and the richest individuals from paying less than their fair share.

As many groups have observed over the last six months, pandemic-related restrictions have made organizing more challenging. Many of the ways that the Just Recovery Ontario campaign is calling on people to take action involve making use of online tools. They encourage people to sign up for their regular email updates and calls to action, which allow them to mobilize public responses to issues related to their core demands as circumstances evolve. They also hope people make use of the tools they provide on their website that make it easier to share information, put pressure on politicians, and engage with the media. And they are asking for individuals and groups to endorse the campaign.

Talking Radical Radio brings you grassroots voices from across Canada, giving you the chance to hear many different people that are facing many different struggles talk about what they do, why they do it, and how they do it, in the belief that such listening is a crucial step in strengthening all of our efforts to change the world. To learn more about the show check out their website here. You can also follow them on Facebook or Twitter, or contact [email protected] to join our weekly email update list.

Talking Radical Radio is brought to you by Scott Neigh, a writer, media producer and activist based in Hamilton, Ontario, and the author of two books examining Canadian history through the stories of activists.

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