Eastern Promises: A Discussion with the Halifax Coalition Against Poverty

The Halifax Coalition Against Poverty (HCAP) is a grassroots, direct-action, anti-poverty organization active in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The largest city in Atlantic Canada, Halifax (and Nova Scotia more generally) is nevertheless part of the Canadian state’s periphery. It is a province whose population is still significantly rural, and where resource extraction industries are in decline. As a result, migration to Alberta’s tar sands, a flexible and casualized service economy, and a new initiative aimed at creating a northeastern free-trade gateway dependent on low labour and environmental standards (Atlantica: The International Northeast Economic Region) have come to represent the cutting edge of neoliberal projects in the province. Complex histories of racial segregation, environmental racism, and an extremely insular and densely-connected network of political and economic elites lend further complexity to this political landscape. Since HCAP is one of the only grassroots anti-capitalist organizations working on the ground in Halifax, the experiences of its organizers shed valuable light on issues of movement-building and radical struggle in smaller urban centres. In September 2007, Alex Khasnabish sat down with HCAP organizers Jill Ratcliffe, Capp Larsen, Angela Weal, Susan Lefort, and Cole Webber, and with HCAP advocate James Babbitt, to discuss organizing against poverty, tactics, direct action, spectacular versus everyday resistance, and the challenges and opportunities of building grassroots power against capitalism.

How do you describe HCAP?

Capp Larsen: HCAP grew out of another group called the Halifax Anti-Poverty Initiative (HAPI), which held political meetings about poverty issues and organized several squats to highlight the lack of affordable housing in Halifax. When HAPI was starting to lose steam discussion began about how to transform the group into something that had more of a connection to people living in low-income communities and about doing some direct advocacy work. It was in this shift that the move towards getting an office occurred, and the approach of doing advocacy work coupled with campaign work was born in 2004. Now, HCAP does a lot of individual advocacy that includes working with people one-on-one in order to support them in their struggles around social assistance, with their landlord, around being targeted by police, or whatever it is that people are encountering because they are living in poverty. The important aspect of having such a strong advocacy component to HCAP’s work is that it really helps to inform our broader campaign work. You can’t attempt to challenge systems that create poverty unless you have a rooted understanding of what is actually going on in people’s lives and have built a strong connection with them based on trust and mutual support. Also, HCAP operates on the basis that we are anti-capitalist and the belief that direct action is necessary to challenge the power structures that keep people poor.

Angela Weal: I think the idea of tying campaigns to advocacy really works for HCAP because it connects directly to the things that people are experiencing. You can bring the issues to a broader audience by taking a micro issue and tying it to broader patterns, and then bring it to the public so that they’re aware of what’s going on.

Cole Webber: I agree. The decision to start doing advocacy work came out of the question of how to build a radical political organization in low-income communities. Through the advocacy work that we do, we’ve been able to expand our membership and, like Capp and Angela have said, make more relevant links to our campaign work and our direct action work.

Susan Lefort: Advocacy work also provides people with the opportunity to see that we’re not just grabbing political notions out of the air, but we’re actually working around on-the-ground issues. People feel more inclined to connect with our work because it really is rooted in what’s happening in low-income people’s lives.

What are HCAP’s primary demands?

Cole Webber: The platform that we organize around includes five demands: first, doubling income assistance rates for welfare recipients in Nova Scotia; second, bringing back rent control, which was scrapped in 1993; third, demanding that the provincial government build more affordable housing, especially in the Halifax Regional Municipality; fourth, making post-secondary education free for all students; and fifth, raising the minimum wage to at least $9 an hour.

Capp Larsen: We are also working on what we are calling the Special Needs Campaign. We are setting up temporary clinics with doctors and people who are receiving welfare in order to help them access a special provision in Nova Scotia welfare legislation. The provision states that if a doctor signs a note that says that you need a special diet, or transportation, or child care for health-related reasons, you can receive an extra $150 per month for food and even more for transportation and child care. Welfare workers rarely tell people about this provision, and, even if you know about it, there are many hoops to jump through before you can actually access the money. Our clinics streamline this process and give more people access to the money to which they’re entitled to. The clinics are also a step towards realizing our first demand, which is an increase in income assistance rates.

What are some of the things that characterize the “political ecology” of Halifax or Nova Scotia (the history, political culture, opportunities, and barriers to organizing)? What makes this context unique in terms of your work as grassroots organizers?

Capp Larsen: Organizing in Halifax and in Nova Scotia is unique because they’re small. I guess the obvious result of this is that there are not the same numbers of people to support certain events or campaigns. On the other hand, it’s really easy for a small group of people like HCAP to have a significant influence on the political landscape. Also, there is a personal connection and personal history that people have with political figures that might not exist in larger cities. This closeness can lead to a lot of nepotism and favouritism in the political system, and I think people can see right through it. The political landscape is characterized more by personal relationships than by political platforms. Politics in Nova Scotia feels more like feuding cliques than a system that people can respect.

There is a lot of unhealthy romanticizing of the work that happens in larger cities like Toronto, Montréal, or Vancouver, and some people attempt to mimic certain actions or campaigns that originate in those places. We don’t have the same numbers in Halifax, though, and the campaigns that people can most relate to and passionately engage in are rooted in a really long history that is specific to Halifax or Nova Scotia.

For example, our push for rent control is a response to the gentrification of the North End of Halifax, a historically working-class Black neighbourhood. Gentrification has an extremely long history, however, which is exemplified by the displacement of Africville and the demolition of poor communities in the sweep of “urban renewal” in the 1960s and 1970s. It can also be traced back even further to the racist mistreatment of Black Loyalists in the late 1700s, to slavery before that, and even further back to the colonization of the Mi’kmaq, which began with the founding of Halifax in the mid-1700s.

I hear people saying that HCAP is one of the only radical organizations in Halifax. This may be true given that most of the anti-poverty movement consists of funded NGOs. But there are many other groups, especially in the African-Nova Scotian community, that are tackling really serious issues that have a long history in Halifax, like racism in the education system. These struggles are intensely linked, regardless of whether or not they are specifically anti-poverty struggles. It is important to recognize how poverty is a multi-faceted issue and that people experience poverty not only because of capitalism but because of deep-seated oppressions that are linked to race, gender, sexuality, and ability, for example. There is a lot of effective and radical work happening in Halifax and Nova Scotia and I think that HCAP can learn from and be strengthened by building better alliances with these other groups and struggles.

James Babbitt: Within Halifax, there is a small number of radical activists and organizations, and HCAP is the most visible and probably the most effective. Other organizations with an anti-capitalist/anti-oppressive focus include Food Not Bombs, Books Beyond Bars, an anarchist theatre collective, and a nascent anti-2010 Olympics group. All these groups, however, are likely to have members who are also involved with HCAP on some level. This is probably due to Halifax being a small city in a conservative province. Connections with labour and NGOs in Nova Scotia are tenuous at best, leaving HCAP largely isolated and marginalized. This isolation may be further cultivated by the subcultural and lifestylist leanings of many activists in the city. While Nova Scotia has a vibrant history of anti-capitalist struggle, this history is largely disconnected from the struggle that exists today. For example, the United Mine Workers of America Local 26 strike against British Empire Steel Corporation in the Sydney Coal Fields in 1925 is probably less known and less reflected on than the romanticized struggles of the Black Panthers or the Zapatistas.

Let’s return to the question that came out of what several of you said with respect to grounding your political action, your analysis, and your hope for a radical social movement in day-to-day work around how people are living in poverty in a system of gross social inequality. Some people might say that doing casework isn’t opposing the system; it plays into it, and reinforces the structures of power and authority that exist to perpetuate inequality. How do you respond to that?

Susan Lefort: As advocacy coordinator for HCAP, my personal philosophy in advocacy is education. Some people think of advocacy in terms of how a lot of community service organizations and religious organizations and health organizations operate. We don’t operate like that. It’s not like “Hi, just drop your issue off,” which I call the MLA [Member of the Legislative Assembly] style of advocacy. Don’t drop your issue off and walk away and think we’re going to take care of it because that’s not how it works. We work in partnership, we support, we back people up, we provide solidarity, we provide information. So it’s more about facilitating and empowering people and providing resources and information so that they can resolve their own issue. It’s also about taking an individual issue and connecting it to the larger context of what’s happening in the world, and we try to do that on a regular basis. I think that makes our advocacy work unique.

Jill Ratcliffe: You have to be able to meet basic needs before you can organize broader campaigns. If we can actually get $150 more every month for everyone who accesses our Special Needs Clinics, we will not only be directly addressing an immediate need, but we will also be fostering feelings of entitlement among welfare recipients. This will ultimately allow us to mobilize and achieve broader political demands.

Angela Weal: I think the Special Needs Campaign has a lot to do with pointing out how messed up the system is, how it doesn’t work for people, and how it’s just ridiculous all the hoops you have to jump through. I think that was one of the bigger goals of advocacy: look, here it is, it’s fucked, you know? And that’s another reason for combining advocacy and campaigning.

Capp Larsen: The link between campaigns work and advocacy work is really important. If you’re doing a lot of advocacy work, it’s just one battle after another. Fighting the same battle over and over again alongside every individual on welfare, is not going to change the way the system works. That’s why it’s so important to have the campaign work there to challenge the underlying root of what is actually happening with Community Services or with landlord-tenant law or whatever else.

How would you describe HCAP’s political analysis, structure, and approach to organizing?

Susan Lefort: One of the things about HCAP is that the people involved have very diverse ideas about political structure. We have some common principles of support and solidarity for each other, but we’re coming from very different places. I’m an activist and a feminist, and I know that other people work from different frameworks, but we come together around a shared goal of fighting poverty and respecting each other’s philosophies and approaches.

Capp Larsen: A lot of our meetings and discussions are about the day-to-day work. Very rarely does it ever come down to long theoretical political discussions and I think that’s both an asset and a detriment to the organization. It’s an asset because we don’t get bogged down; you can really drain yourself by having those kinds of discussions over and over again with people you’re just never going to see eye-to-eye with in those terms, even though you’re still going to be able to organize effectively with them regardless of what political label each person is going to wear. It’s also detrimental, though, because then we’re not really envisioning what it is we want to be overall or where we want to go or what kinds of strategies we want to use.

Susan Lefort: Sometimes we steer away from very broad theoretical discussions and try not to be very academic about what we do because we want to be really grounded in people’s reality, and we don’t want to make the discussion inaccessible.

Cole Webber: I think it’s pretty safe to say, though, that in terms of our organization’s political identity we’re an anti-poverty organization, we’re an anti-capitalist organization, and we’re a very small political organization that organizes in low-income communities. It’s important to note that we’re not a representative organization of all poor people. Our political analysis is not shared by the majority of poor people living in our community, that’s for sure. We don’t claim to represent Halifax’s poor, but at the same time our organization is made up of people from those communities. We try to maintain a mandate of doing direct action, coming from an anti-capitalist framework of analysis, and fighting against the poverty that people experience. Beyond that, I don’t think we tout any more grandiose political ideals.

Why is your analysis not necessarily shared by the majority of poor people living in your communities? What are the differing or competing analyses amongst people living in poverty? How do you aim to extend your analysis to a broader section of your community?

Jill Ratcliffe: We are at a kind of historic low point in terms of political mobilization. The achievement ideology, which claims equal opportunity for all, plagues our society and worms its way into the psyches of many people, including poor people. Although many people we work with are very critical of the government or their relationship with production, they do not necessarily share the idea that poor communities need to unite to bring about revolutionary change. Instead, people internalize the idea that they can overcome adversity and achieve social mobility just by pulling up their bootstraps.

There is immense shame and disempowerment felt as a result of being poor. Poverty is understood to be the fault of the individual rather then a necessary product of our society. We aim to extend an analysis of the systemic roots of poverty in order to overcome these individualized notions of blame and to build pride and solidarity within poor communities.

Cole Webber: My experience tells me that poor people, like all people, have varying perspectives on issues of poverty, capitalism, social change, and revolution. At worst, some adopt the analysis of the dominant institutions that translates into self-loathing and self-pity. Most believe to one degree or another that the government simply needs to engage in more social spending to provide for people’s needs, and they do not question the liberal democratic capitalist state. A minority of the poor, many members of HCAP included, feel that only a complete transformation of society’s institutions from below, one that does away with capitalist social relations, can eradicate poverty and economic oppression.

I attribute the fact that radicals are so few and far between among the poor to the general circumstance that movements today are at a very low historical point of struggle. Although the lot of poor and working class people is not improving in Nova Scotia – and is in fact worsening – there is a lack of political organizations challenging the system.

In my view, HCAP extends its analysis to communities by bringing a big picture analysis to the daily struggles of poor people. Once these struggles are framed as symptoms of larger political and structural problems in society, broader campaigns and political projects can develop around them. For instance, a lone tenant facing deplorable housing conditions who comes to HCAP may request assistance in taking her landlord to the Tenancy Board to fight for repairs. This may lead to a meeting with other tenants in the same building to discuss common problems. Here, HCAP organizers would highlight the fact that the residential tenancy legislation doesn’t provide strong enforcement provisions requiring landlords to do repairs and that in this way, the government lets slumlords off the hook and facilitates their profit-making. Discussion of these issues may lead to extra-legal actions being taken by tenants against the landlord. The tenants learn new skills and develop new capacities doing this work. Once this new confidence is built, the tenants’ association may choose to tackle other issues in their community that are not directly related to their tenancy, and so on.

Capp Larsen: Part of the reason may be because some poor people are alienated by HCAP’s tactics, which are most often represented as solely confrontational. Many people who are struggling economically or face barriers due to discrimination and targeting are not necessarily in a place to put themselves at risk using confrontational tactics, whether they agree with those politics or not. HCAP’s confrontational tactics are only one aspect of how the organization conducts itself, but it is the part that the public most often sees. Only when a campaign has been sufficiently built using a variety of tactics will confrontation be effective. I think this approach is somewhat absent from our public political stance and may be one reason why we don’t have as much support from the broader community.

Is it fair to say, in this context, that HCAP finds itself somewhat isolated and without many committed, organized allies?

Cole Webber: Yes. I think sometimes more mainstream groups or service-oriented organizations feel threatened by us because we are able to mobilize people and engage people in political action, whereas other organizations exist only as a couple of staff people and an office and a couple hundred thousand dollars a year to work with. Not much tangible work gets done by them that I can see. I think we are threatening to certain service-providing organizations in two ways: one, because we’re challenging the systems that fund their organizations; and two, because of the elements within HCAP that might, and in fact do, act very assertively in the context of a political action or a demonstration. I think people are very scared off by the fact that there is the capacity within the community to do things like mix it up with the police or physically put themselves on the line. I think that it troubles them because they don’t like to see that kind of conflict generally, but also because the fact that people are engaging in this really intense sort of resistance shows that there’s something fundamentally wrong with the system.

Jill Ratcliffe: Very few of the organizations that do anti-poverty work in Halifax can support HCAP publicly. There are, however, a lot individuals working within mainstream organizations who are able to channel resources and support HCAP in indirect ways. These relationships are really necessary for the work that HCAP does. With the Special Needs Campaign, we’ve done all of our outreach through single-parent resource centres around the city. Resources for single parents are pretty limited, and a lot of the people who work in these centres have experience being single parents. The organizations also face sustained cuts to their program funding and really struggle to stay afloat. So I feel like they can relate somewhat to the work that HCAP is doing and also see the very direct need that the populations they serve have to access more money through their welfare payments and to defend their general rights. We’ve received a lot of positive support for this campaign from those organizations, and I think that’s really interesting to note.

Susan Lefort: We don’t have a very strong union movement here. We certainly don’t have a radical union movement that makes money available to grassroots organizations to do overtly political organizing. That kind of support would allow you to be out there and not to be afraid that you’re going to lose all your resources when you participate in something. Instead, we have what I call secret partnerships with people who are supporters and will say “we’ll provide bus tickets,” or “we’ll fund this,” or “we’ll pay for a van,” but are afraid to be more visible in connection with the work that we do.

Capp Larsen: The individuals who are on-side within those kinds of limited NGOs really appreciate that HCAP is around because they’re also frustrated with the way that the system is fucking people over, and they’re happy that HCAP is there to push it one step further. An example, which is brought up often, comes from the struggle to win an emergency winter shelter. A lot of the service-provider NGOs were really pushing for one because the need was just so evident and nothing was happening. HCAP did an occupation visit to City Council and took over its agenda until that issue was addressed. Out of that action came a big meeting with HCAP and 24 other NGO service provider groups in the city, and then out of that came the winter shelter that we were all pushing for. This probably wouldn’t have happened had HCAP not taken it that one step further. I heard that a lot of service providers were glad that HCAP pushed harder for it. They saw that it needed to happen but weren’t able to do it themselves because of things like funding issues, fear of losing their jobs, or other reservations.

Why do you think people can be clandestinely supportive of HCAP through off-the-record partnerships but are reluctant to get openly involved with the work you do?

Jill Ratcliffe: There are a number of reasons, both personal and political. The political reluctance stems from the legislative and funding restrictions many organizations face. People employed in the non-profit sector face a constant crisis of funding and often feel that rocking the boat by incorporating radical analysis could have detrimental effects in terms of their funding and employment. Those folks who do support HCAP do so with small financial contributions, and sometimes by involving themselves in the more reformist elements of HCAP’s work.

James Babbitt: People are willing to be clandestinely supportive of HCAP via off-the-books partnerships because it does not put their name on the line. HCAP is regularly criticized in the mainstream press and described as a bunch of misguided youth or Bolsheviks. Most of the criticism is aimed at HCAP’s choice of tactics: disruption instead of polite political discourse that tends to remain unheard. Even if individuals within organizations agree with HCAP’s tactical decisions, it’s highly unlikely that the organizations they belong to will. Thus, people within mainstream organizations may provide whatever unwaged time they can to HCAP or help out when it comes to rent, office supplies, or other resources.

What are some of the links between what HCAP works on, or is concerned with, and different kinds of struggles? You live in a place that obviously has a history of segregation, a history of issues with First Nations peoples, with queer people, with immigrants, and with women, for example. How do you approach these issues?

Susan Lefort: You have to be mindful of the power dynamics and of your own personal position and power, specifically if you’re white or you’re middle class but even if you’re not. In doing advocacy work, I often find that people are looking for someone to be their saviour. They look at you as a person with authority, so you always have to be really aware of those power dynamics. Having been involved in a variety of different social movements, I believe that it’s really about the people who are in leadership positions understanding that their role is to be a supporter, to be in solidarity, and to let people who are directly impacted by the issues be the leaders in addressing those issues.

Jill Ratcliffe: I think that’s a very important question to raise and I think it is something that we often talk about as organizers. Take, for example, the question of working with communities of colour. I don’t think you can just involve communities of colour in your organization. It’s more about solidarity work, so HCAP has recently been committed to working with the Campaign to Save Lincolnville. Lincolnville is a historic Black Nova Scotian community. They were a Loyalist community, so they have strong roots in Nova Scotia. Many of the landfills in Nova Scotia are within a one-kilometre radius of either a historic Black Nova Scotian community or a reserve community. Lincolnville happens to be one where the dump is basically in everybody’s backyard, and it is causing serious environmental and health problems, as well as an uproar in the community. HCAP has attempted to take on a support role. We are an organization with some resources and some experience in political struggle and direct action that we can offer when it is needed. It’s been going well but it’s definitely a slow process. It has taken some restructuring of the way we work and think about political organizing. Doing solidarity work is a very touchy thing depending on people’s motivations and analysis of anti-oppression. HCAP is a primarily white organization, and I don’t think that benefits us at all. Living in a city that’s so segregated, however, I think what we can do effectively is to work in solidarity with other groups and to try to promote an anti-oppression analysis within our membership.

Cole Webber: It’s not overly useful, as activists, to go into a community and try to involve yourself in that community when you don’t really understand it or haven’t developed relationships within it. I think that’s what HCAP tries to take to heart in terms of our work with the Lincolnville campaign. We are part of a coalition of groups in Halifax that do support work for the campaign. So we use our resources to support it, and we educate and mobilize our own membership to act in solidarity with the actions that they undertake, but we don’t see ourselves as missionaries. We don’t go to the community and tell them how it should be done.

Capp Larsen: As a group that has a lot of young, privileged, white organizers, it is not our place to direct other people’s struggles. There is a history of groups in the anti-racist and anti-poverty movements wherein more privileged organizers go into other communities to organize people, and the idea is that these organizers don’t actually lead or make decisions but facilitate other people’s leadership. Although that might sound alright at first, I think it’s highly problematic because it implies that these more privileged activists think that people need to be organized and cannot do it themselves, and this immediately sets up a separation between the organized and the organizers.

You have said that as an organization HCAP is anti-capitalist. How do you describe your anti-capitalism? What characterizes it? What specific role does poverty play in capitalism that makes the struggle against poverty anti-capitalist?

Jill Ratcliffe: Capitalism requires poverty. Cheap labour is necessary to make a profit from production. Inherent to capitalism are the experiences of unemployed workers living on the edge of poverty, desperate for jobs. Struggling for fair wages and livable welfare rates challenges this system.

James Babbitt: HCAP’s struggle against poverty is anti-capitalist because we believe that poverty is an essential part of the capitalist system – you cannot have one without the other. HCAP advocates that those who are negatively impacted by the current socio-economic order organize themselves, challenge the system, and advance their needs. This means that, as an organization, we support the organizing of workers, tenants, poor people, and others victimized by this system. Being anti-capitalist also means we support the disruption of the capitalist system, be it through strikes, occupations, blockades, or other direct actions. Sadly, these types of actions are largely absent in Halifax.

Cole Webber: Being anti-poverty doesn’t mean you’re anti-capitalist. In fact, the vast majority of groups, organizations and campaigns that get lumped under the term anti-poverty do not share an anti-capitalist perspective. HCAP’s anti-capitalism holds that poor people need to organize themselves to fight back effectively on a mass scale. Poor people, whether unemployed or low-income workers, are members of the working class. Their labour is exploited by their employer and their unemployment is exploited by employers to drive down the value of labour. The state allies itself with employers by making social assistance so unlivable that people are driven back to selling their labour – attacking families, communities, and people’s dignity in the process.

HCAP’s task is to help in the organization of this segment of working class people. We advocate that one of the most effective means that poor people have to assert their political demands in the context of a liberal democratic capitalist state is disruption of “business as usual” in dominant political and economic institutions.

HCAP seems to think that the possibilities for the changes you want to see occurring within government and/or state structures are relatively limited. HCAP also tends to use rhetoric that is more revolutionary than reformist. In spite of this, all of HCAP’s goals seem oriented towards winning changes in government policy and regulation (higher welfare rates, higher minimum wages, investment in affordable housing, rent control, and so on). How do you reconcile this?

Cole Webber: HCAP’s demands reflect reforms we believe will help to meet poor people’s needs. We know these reforms alone won’t change the system. My opinion, though, is that it is the organization and politics that are developed through struggle for reforms that contribute to a revolutionary process. For instance, HCAP is involved with tenant organizing by helping people get together to win improved housing conditions and the like. We encourage tenants to demand rent control from the provincial government because that is a piece of legislation which would benefit them. We also encourage tenants to fight rent increases with rent strikes and other actions that challenge and confront the landlord. We talk about the landlord/tenant relationship as being inherently exploitative and explore how tenants’ associations could conceivably be set up so that tenants could self-manage their building or neighbourhood without a landlord. The revolutionary content of the work is in people taking control over their lives and communities. If HCAP can facilitate this kind of thing while winning some needed reforms along the way, we’re doing what we set out to do.

Capp Larsen: I do think that, to a certain extent, our rhetoric and our demands are contradictory. If we were to have purely revolutionary rhetoric and demands which seemed unachievable, I think it would be really hard to build a base of support for our organization and our actions. That said, I think that, if we were purely reformist in our rhetoric and demands, we would fail to address the root causes of why those reforms are necessary in the first place. I think the reformist demands and the radical political ideology behind those demands can actually support each other. We have very concrete demands that produce very concrete improvements in people’s lives, but we also recognize that to fully eradicate poverty and other forms of oppression we must call for a radical restructuring of society.

I think this dynamic is also relevant to the coupling of advocacy work and campaign work. The advocacy work addresses immediate, specific, individual issues, which can produce very concrete and positive results. The campaign work addresses the same issues but from a broader angle, attempting to secure reforms that address why that advocacy work is necessary in the first place. I guess the revolutionary perspective is really the third layer on top of all of this. I would also like to see HCAP take on actions or campaigns that are not so government-focused, but that are increasingly oriented to alternative structures. Supporting the co-op or non-profit housing movement is one example. Unfortunately, HCAP is a relatively small organization and does not have the capacity to sustain projects that build alternative structures, as much as we would like to see that happen.

Jill Ratcliffe: I don’t feel that these are necessarily contradictory aims. We are working to build a culture of resistance within poor communities in Nova Scotia. This requires a variety of approaches. Our demands centre on the day-to-day realities that people face living in poverty in this province. Our revolutionary rhetoric articulates our hopes for building a new society which is not structured around capitalist exploitation and neoliberal models of development and expansion.We are not at a point where we’re able to take over the means of production and provide for ourselves and others. We can, however, fight the real injustice that people face at the hands of this system, while building a movement that we hope can create more revolutionary change in the future.

James Babbitt: HCAP’s aim is to combat poverty. HCAP’s rhetoric reflects its analysis of how poverty is created and maintained by capitalism. Our demands, however, are reformist because they are oriented around improving the lives of poor people in Halifax. I don’t believe this is contradictory. The current economic order keeps people in poverty and this order must be challenged. Concessions from the state can influence people’s lives in positive ways, though. Welfare itself is a safety valve in a capitalist society, but the actual rates may make the difference between whether or not someone gets enough food to eat. As long as people are hungry, to debate whether increasing the welfare rates is right or wrong is worst kind of intellectual masturbation. Social change occurs on a spectrum that includes both reform and revolution. Reform may only provide a temporary shelter from the worst excesses of the capitalist system, but sometimes that shelter is needed. Welfare pacifies people, but so does homelessness and malnutrition.