Precarious Work

When an employer won’t allow a worker more than 25 hours a week but requires that worker to be available for work 7 days a week, people become little more than commodities on the open market of Precarious Employment.

Lately I have made an effort to talk with folks that work at places like Shopper’s Drug Mart, Home Depot, and Save-on Foods and none of the workers I have talked to get an eight hour shift. My partner’s son just landed a job at 30 hours per week, no benefits of any kind.

Efforts like the Living Wage movement are gaining traction but large corporations seem slower on the uptake than do small business owners. When will the incessant desire to keep wages low by major businesses end up hurting the economy on which these low wage employers depend? There is a tipping point somewhere down the road – for everyone.

The Living Wage movement is a welcome Pan-Canadian effort to ensure that people have a “livable” income. We also need to collectively address the commodification of human beings who are put to work without any consideration for what happens when a worker or her child is sick, for the need to have a day off to rest and revitalize, not to mention deal with life’s practicalities.

Imagine being fired for being sick and missing a couple of days of work. Imagine working for $12.00 per hour in unsafe conditions and suffering from a workplace injury that could have been avoided. Imagine no health and dental care, no vacation time, nada.

Imagine being a part-time worker and not being able to seek other part-time work because your employer wants access to your entire work week to schedule you.

For too many Canadian workers there is no need to imagine. This is their reality.

In Ontario, there is a movement to get the minimum wage to $15 per hour and to bring in legislation and regulations that would address the unsavory trend of precarious work. Led by Fight for 15 and Fairness, the good folks there launched A Better Way Alliance and features videos of business leaders who also believe in the importance of decent work. Click here watch the videos.

Take a look at some great employers who do care and who do value their employers. They tend to be small employers and I have to wonder if they can treat their employees like human beings that matter, why can’t large businesses?

better alliance

IF WE WANT TO CHANGE THE WORLD

As some of you may know, I often open and close Tamarack gatherings with original music. Some years ago I wrote The Truth We Find in All that We Deny and since then have performed it numerous times around the country. You can listen to a version of it HERE. That simple song is about how often the truth is found in what we turn away from, found in what we step around or deny.

I was going to perform it again this year at Tamarack’s Poverty Reduction Summit in Hamilton, which took place April 4 to 6, but a few weeks before the gathering I told myself I should write a new song for the closing. Telling myself I should write a new song was easy. Actually writing one was a tad harder. In fact, by the weekend just prior to the Summit, I had yet to even attempt a new song.

In addition to being quite pre-occupied with getting everything done for the Summit, I had picked up a book I had read sometime ago by Adam Kahane called Power and Love: A Theory and Practice of Social Change. Inspired by the work of Martin Luther King Jr., the gist of Kahane’s book is that love is not enough to change the world and the power on its own is a dangerous creature. The quote from Martin Luther King Jr. that I heard Kahane quote during a talk I was present for provides the thesis for the book:

“Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.”

I had been mulling over that quote, thinking about how power and love can and should relate to the work I am doing with Vibrant Communities Canada. I was also thinking about Truth and Reconciliation and how the opportunities it provides will only stand a chance of coming to fruition if power and love are married together to produce the justice referred to by King. I wasn’t connecting all of this to a song by the way.

Because my mind meanders, in the midst of all of this, I recalled listening to a gentleman on a video somewhere talk about empathy — in particular how it is over-rated and often is an expression that accomplishes little or nothing. When someone clicks LIKE on a Face Book posting about a hungry child or about homeless people, that action is often the entirety of the person’s action on the matter. It’s like saying, “Oh, that’s a shame” or “I feel for him or her or you.” I am not saying people who express empathy this way are not genuine in their expression, but if empathy’s stature is limited to a simple click of the mouse or words that we leave behind as we move on to the next thing, what has such empathy accomplished? It becomes little more than a vicarious experience of feeling what someone else is feeling – or what we think that person is feeling and going through.

Empathy should mean more than that, shouldn’t it? Feeling the suffering of others and then moving on ends up having empathy being more self-serving, I think.

So on Saturday, three days before the Summit, I was sitting in my living room strumming on my dulcitar and playing around with a new melody. This is how I write music. I search for a melody and then I start humming or even mumbling words as I play. It’s kind of like free writing, which is a tool writers use to find a way through writer’s block.

While I could say my process has to do with creating lyrics for the melody, in reality I think the lyrics are already there, waiting for me to recognize them. It took about an hour for that to happen. The lyrics were rough, not yet complete enough for a song, but the foundation was there and on Sunday I returned to the sketch of a song that had found me and the song happened.

All of the thinking I had been doing about power and love, Truth and Reconciliation, and empathy had converged and then tapped me on the shoulder, as if to say, “Hey Mark, here you go. Here is your closing song.”

I don’t have a recording to share of this new song, but I do have the lyrics. Amazingly as I was singing this song before a couple of hundred people, the lyrics kept changing right there as I was performing.  For what it’s worth, here are the (current) final lyrics.

IF WE WANT TO CHANGE THE WORLD

Do you ever think about tomorrow?
Ever wonder what is waiting over there?
Will there just be more suffering and sorrow
Or will love show up and really care?

We need to do more than empathize and then walk away
if we want to change the world.

How can we do what really matters?
How can we move through what’s in our way?
And when we discover we are the obstacle
Will we help one another change?

We need to do more than empathize  and then walk away
if we want to change the world.

Change requires love and power together.
Each one is not sufficient on their own
To carry truth and reconciliation
Into every heart and every home.

We need to do more than empathize  and then close the door
if we want to change the world.

Power without love is self-serving.
Love without power: It’s just a Hallmark card.
We need both of them to marry
So their child Justice can be born.

We need to do more than empathize
And then walk away.
We need to do more than empathize
And then close the door
If we want to change the world.

Do you ever think about tomorrow
And what we should be creating over there?
copyright 2017 Mark Holmgren

Movement Building and Collective Impact

In an article written for Fast Company, Kaihan Krisppendorff, identifies four steps to building an effective social movement, which I have adapted below:

1. A community forms around a common goal or aspiration.
2. The community mobilizes its resources to act on the goal/aspiration.
3. The community crafts solutions and acts to deliver them.
4. The movement is accepted by (or actually replaces) the establishment or established regime of laws and policies (Source).

If you are involved in a collective impact initiative, these steps should resonate with you, in particular with the five conditions of collective impact.  Krisppendorff doesn’t address shared measurement in his post about social movements, but successful movements are always about moving the needle and bringing about systems change to do so.

Consider the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. in 1964; the Civil Rights Act rendered discrimination/segregation illegal, especially with respect to jobs and workplace advancement, and termination because of colour. States that did nothing to address discrimination lost federal funding. There were other impacts but you get the gist. Big change for sure.

As is often the case, the big changes that get made fuel additional change. In 1965, the Voting Rights Act, addressed the legal obstacles (e.g. literacy tests and poll taxes) that state and local governments had set up to stop African Americans from exercising their constitutional right to vote.

Passed in August of 1965, by the end of the year 250,000 African Americans had registered to vote. The impact of such systemic and legal change was likely felt the most in the hearts and minds of African Americans, but from strictly a numbers perspective, here is one stat that exemplifies the impact: “In Mississippi alone, voter turnout among blacks increased from 6 percent in 1964 to 59 percent in 1969” (Source). Continue reading

The Music of Collaboration

 

At the Cities Reducing Poverty: When Mayor’s Lead gathering that Tamarack’s Vibrant Communities hosted in Edmonton April 5 to 7, one of my many roles and privileges was to be an MC at a reception at City Hall for summit participants. At this event, the trio Asani performed their version of our national anthem and two other incredible songs, sung in their native language. (At the end of this posting is a video of them singing O Canada.)

What I heard and saw and felt were received by me (and I imagine many others) as joyful revelation of the human spirit of these three women.

I watched these beautiful singers, the expressions on their faces, the look in their eyes, as their harmonies washed over us, weaved through us, and became a part of the air we breathed. Everyone there felt that and everyone felt the magic of their music each in their own way. Art is always experienced personally.

As a singer-songwriter, I look for more than the music or voices intertwined. I watch the human beings making the music. Watch how they breathe, how they sense one another, how they embrace their individual roles in the “we” of their creation. As I watched them, there were times I saw in their faces those moments of joy as they folded their voices into harmonies that I sensed not only brought chills to my body, but to theirs as well.

There are times when one is creating with others that such magic happens. New discoveries reveal themselves in the moment. Perfect blending of voice and rhythm reveals itself. What is created is bigger than, and beyond, the artists’ expression or expectations.

Asani’s performance was the epitome of collaboration. What they created far exceeded what they could create on their own. But even more so, what they gave to us exceeded the incredible voice they created together. Their impact went beyond their own unified expression of their music because as soon as it reached us, it was more than when their voices left their bodies. They became us. Singer and audience made their songs even bigger and more profound than what the three of them created. Their gift became the gift we gave to one another.

Artists understand this or at least intuit this phenomenon. The eloquent, well crafted story is not as powerful on its own. It finds its power in the reception of the reader. The sculptor, the painter, the weaver, all artists are unable to reach the promise of their talent without those watching, viewing, engaging in the art. Don’t get me wrong. To engage this way requires stellar artistic expression. All I am saying is that such expression is not fully realized without those of us who engage in their art.

Art’s power and grace are revealed not only in those who receive it but also because of those who embrace it.

Those of us working to end poverty or homelessness; those of us advocating for human rights; those of us who believe in the sanctity of being human – the work we are doing is the same work as the artist. We must engage others for our work to have its full meaning. In fact, the meaning of our work is to be found in the response and embrace of others. Like the work of the artist, our work must be stellar work, but the impact we seek must be embraced by our “audience.”

Our collaborative efforts, as powerful as they may be, fall short if they do not touch others in ways that inspire, motivate, and cause the engagement we hope to instill in others.

The  Asani singers are such consummate singers not just because of natural talent. Their beauty is precision that emerges from practice, long hours, struggle, debate about which way to turn a voice, up or down, softer or louder, and when to shake a rattle or beat the drum. It is mutual orchestration and no doubt the sharing of leadership required to attain their connection with us, their audience. And if they do it right, which they did, their music becomes ours to celebrate, to cherish, and to uphold as beautiful, amazing, joyous expressions of our  humanity. And once that happens, we carry that with us.

Imagine if our collaborative efforts to end poverty could achieve such harmony. Imagine how it would feel to see the impact of our songs on those we wish to engage and inspire. Getting there would be no different than the work of the artists, the work of the Asani women. I am sure they had their times of disagreement. I am sure there were times when egos may have stalled their collective commitment to their craft. I am sure they had times of being weary or lost or wondering if what they had created would be good enough. And I am sure there are some who may not appreciate their gifts. Some who might not be open to hearing, much less celebrating, an Indigenous version of O Canada.

Thankfully, they moved through such obstacles and resistance. Thankfully they did not allow themselves to be dissuaded by the naysayers or those who prefer different music. I am thankful they kept their focus and chose to be present for whomever was open to their embrace and to worry far less about those who might turn away.

This, too, is a lesson for us in collaborative work. We must focus on those who will walk with us to a better place, who despite differences of  opinion or talents still want to walk together. Should we remain open to the naysayers? Should we listen to their objections? Yes, but only to make ourselves better, never to stop us from creating the beauty we must create to make communities rich with harmony and peace and joy.

Oh and one more thing. I have no doubt, the Asani trio does not ever reach that point where they say to themselves, we cannot do better. The reason why they are so good at their art is because they never tell each other, “We are done. There is nothing more we can do.” No matter how incredible the collaboration, our work together can always get better, do more, reach further, and have more impact.

Thank you Asani for your inspiration and your art.

___

 

 

 

 

Trickle-Down Community Engagement

Cross posted at www.vibrantcommunities.ca

I waspreparing for the community engagement learning event Tamarack was doing in Ottawa last month called Community Engagement: The Next Generation. One of the workshops I wanted to do was on engagement of marginalized populations, in particular those living in poverty. My exploration of this topic led me to some provocative writing by Vu Le, who is a writer, speaker, and executive director of Rainier Valley Corps, a capacity building organization with a focus on leveling the playing field for people of colour as well as small, grass roots organizations.

I was particularly drawn to a piece he wrote on his blog about “Trickle-Down Community Engagement,” and his writing became the catalyst for one of the workshops I am doing, aptly called “Avoiding Trickle-Down Community Engagement of the Marginalized.”

With minor paraphrasing here is what Vu Le wrote:

Trickle-Down Community Engagement is when professionals bypass the people who are most affected by issues and instead engage and fund large organizations and systems to tackle these issues, and hope that miraculously the people most affected will help out in the effort, usually for free and on our timelines, within our rules of engagement and end up grateful for our largesse.

aace4It’s hard-hitting criticism but also too often the truth. I encourage you to read his postings on the topic. I did some thinking on the topic and I asked myself what causes trickle-down community engagement; why does it happen? I reflected on my own varied experiences of engaging people who are poor, homeless, and further marginalized by an illness or disability, lack of education, or by racism. Here are some of the reasons I came up with: Continue reading