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Archive for November, 2014

THE HUNGER GAMES & CANADA 2014

Posted by strattof on November 28, 2014

Mockingjay‒Part I, the third installment of The Hunger Games series of films, just opened in theatres. Based on Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games trilogy, the movies, like the novels, have been enormously successful. Set in the near future, the story takes place in a country known as Panem, a post-apocalyptic totalitarian society established in North America following the destruction of our civilization.

At the centre of the story is Katniss Everdeen, a mere 16 years old at the beginning of the series. We learn of her struggles, first to provide for her mother and beloved younger sister after their father’s death, and then to survive the Hunger Games, a nationally televised event in which children between the ages of 12 and 18 are required to fight to the death until there is only one remaining.

The Hunger Games trilogy is categorized as “young adult fiction.” However, its multitude of fans represents a broad demographic, extending from pre-teens to senior citizens. As many of us know, it tackles serious issues and offers a critique of contemporary society.

What can The Hunger Games tell us about present-day Canadian society?

CLIMATE CHANGE

In The Hunger Games, climate change is responsible for the demise of North America. As the Hunger Games contestants are about to be selected in District 12, the mayor “tells the history of Panem, the country that rose up out of the ashes of a place that was once called North America. He lists the disasters, the droughts, the storms, the fires, the encroaching seas that swallowed up so much of the land, the brutal war for what little sustenance remained.”

On the 2014 Climate Change Performance Index, Canada ranks 58th out of 61. We are one of the top 10 CO2 emitters in the world. To protect tar sands development, the Harper government has gutted environmental regulations and blocked progress at international climate conferences. 76% of Canadians believe Canada should sign on to an international climate agreement.

ECONOMIC INEQUALITY

Panem is an extremely unequal society, with a disposable periphery where Katniss and her family struggle to survive, being exploited to feed the glittering capital where people live in unimaginable luxury. It is a classic case of what the Occupy Movement calls the 1% and the 99%.

Since the 1980s, inequality has been rapidly increasing in Canada, reversing the trend since the 1930s that saw increasing equality.

Today in Canada

  • The richest 1% earn 13.3% of income, up sharply from 7% in 1982.
  • The highest paid 100 CEOs earn 171 times more than the average worker, up from a ratio of 105 to 1 in 1998.
  • 900,000 people use food banks every month.
  • 1 in 5 children live in poverty.

Reducing Income Inequality: 5 Measures Governments Can Take 

  1. Increase tax rates on high incomes. In 1948, the top income tax rate for Canadians was 80%. Today it is only 43%.
  2. Reverse corporate tax cuts. The federal corporate tax rate has been slashed from 48% in 1984 to its current 15%, a 69%% tax rate cut.
  3. Raise the minimum wage to $17 an hour and then index it to inflation.
  4. Invest in social housing.
  5. Introduce high quality universal early childhood education.

BREAD AND CIRCUSES

Panem, the name of Katniss’s country, refers to the phrase “Bread and Circuses.” Coined by a first century Roman writer, it describes how ruling classes pacify commoners by providing entertainment that serves as a distraction from their exploitation and subjugation.

In ancient Rome, it was gladiatorial contests that provided the deadly distraction. In Panem, it is the Hunger Games. What is it in our society?

Collins has said that her main model for the Hunger Games was Reality TV. Her portrayal of the Panem games suggests that Reality TV not only diverts our attention away from the REAL issues; it also hardens viewers to violence, suffering, and cruelty.

WAR AND PEACE

The Hunger Games are a metaphor for war. We too send our young people off to kill other young people–in our case in other countries, such as Afghanistan and Iraq. As Collins indicates, even the most brutal of the young fighters in her novels are creations of the adult world which programs them, almost from birth, to fight and kill.

The anti-war stance of The Hunger Games is also evident in the portrayal of the impact of violence on the young characters. Like many soldiers who fought in Afghanistan, Katniss suffers from PTSD, experiencing flashbacks, nightmares, anxiety, and guilt.

Spoiler alert: Another indication of the novels’ attitude to war is the resolution of the Gale-Katniss-Peeta love triangle in favour of Peeta, “the boy with the bread,” and not Gale, Katniss’s childhood hunting partner. A man so consumed with “rage and hatred,” Gale sees violence, no matter the cost, as the only way forward.

The ultimate futility of armed resistance is, however, most clearly apparent when Coin, the president of District 13, the centre of the armed rebellion, begins to replicate the power plays of the Capital, dropping bombs on children and planning to reinstate the Hunger Games. Violence begets violence is Collins’s message.

If armed resistance is not the way to respond to brutal, unjust power, what is? Collins’s answer seems to be a fostering of certain values – community, resourcefulness, self-sacrifice, love – combined with a strategy of revolutionary non-violence.

THREE-FINGERED SALUTE

In The Hunger Games, the three-fingered salute is a symbol of resistance to unjust and corrupt power. Let’s do the three-fingered salute in Regina!

  • ENERGY EAST PIPELINE: This pipeline will cut right through Regina in the Harbour Landing area, thus expanding Canadian tar sands production and driving dangerous climate change. ►Let Premier Brad Wall know we want him to join the premiers of Ontario and Quebec and demand an assessment of Energy East’s climate impact.   
  • MILITARY TRAINING IN REGINA HIGH SCHOOLS: Starting in February, Regina high schools, public and Catholic, will offer a military training program to grade 11 and 12 students. Students will earn 2 credits for taking the course. They will also be paid $2,000. ►Sign the petition, No Military Training in Regina High Schools. We have copies with us. Petitions can also be downloaded from facebook.com/PeaceQuestRegina ►Let Premier Brad Wall know we do not want our schools used to program young people to accept war as normal.
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NATIONAL HOUSING DAY, NOVEMBER 22 2014

Posted by strattof on November 22, 2014

WHAT’S CHANGED IN REGINA SINCE LAST YEAR’S NATIONAL HOUSING DAY? 

The short answer to this question is VERY LITTLE!

 THE GOOD NEWS

  • Regina’s rental vacancy rate has improved, rising from 1.8% to 5% over the last year. (A 3% rate is considered normal.)

THE BAD NEWS

  • Rents too have increased. For example, rent for a two- bedroom apartment increased by 7% between 2012 and 2013 and by 3.2% between 2013 and 2014. As a result, most rental housing is still unaffordable.
  • Many Regina families still have to choose between paying the rent and buying food.
  • Many people are still living in unsafe, overcrowded, and unsanitary

HOUSING IN REGINA: 10 KEY FACTS

  1. In 2009, the average monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Regina was $636. Today, it is $888, an increase of $252 or 39%.
  2.  Over the same period, the minimum wage went up by 10%.
  3.  Today, a full-time minimum wage worker in Regina earns $21,542 a year or $1,795 a month.
  4. A minimum wage earner cannot afford a one-bedroom apartment. “Affordable housing” as it is defined by Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation costs 30% or less of household income.
  5. 20% of Regina households live in “core housing need,” meaning they can’t find a home that costs less than 30% of their household income, that has enough room for its occupants, or that doesn’t need major repairs.
  6. Between April 2013 and 2014, the number of one-bedroom apartments in Regina decreased by 91. In the meantime, Regina’s population increased by more than 4,000.
  7. In 2014, Regina also lost 88 units of affordable rental housing. First, the provincial government sold 40 units of affordable rental housing to help fund another affordable housing project. Then, rather than make an investment of an additional $200,000, the provincial government allowed the developer of that project, Deveraux Developments, to walk away from its commitment to build 48 units of affordable rental housing.
  8. In 2010, the last year for which figures are available, over 3,400 people used Regina’s shelter services.
  9. Many others double bunked, couch surfed, or lived in over-crowded unhealthy conditions. Some even lived in cars or garages. These latter groups could easily double the number of homeless people in Regina.
  10. Today, Regina’s shelters are filled to capacity.

MAKING CHANGE: SOLVING REGINA’S AFFORDABLE RENTAL HOUSING CRISIS

The biggest causes of homelessness are

  1. Financial: loss of a job, rent increases, a low or fixed income;
  2. Lack of affordable housing.

The private sector is not going to solve the rental housing crisis. To make real change, we need leadership from and intervention in the housing market by all levels of government. 

CITY COUNCIL

  • In September, City Council changed the definition of affordability as it applies to its housing incentives policy under which the city offers developers of rental housing a capital incentive of $15,000 per unit. Now, affordability is defined as “30% of gross income” ‒ the conventional definition of affordability. Kudos to Regina City Council for taking a step in the right direction. Developers are used to receiving a $15,000 per door subsidy for putting up market rate rental housing. What will motivate them to build truly affordable housing?
  • City Council can require developers to include truly affordable housing in their plans or, alternatively, pay a fee into an affordable housing account.
  • City Council should develop a program to build 100 new units of affordable rental housing a year, with matching funding from the province.
  • Safe, secure, and decent housing is a human right. To meet this obligation, the city must implement rental unit licensing.

THE PROVINCIAL GOVERNMENT

  • The provincial government must build 88 affordable rental housing units to make up for the units lost in 2014.
  • It should also commit to working with the city to provide 100 new units of affordable rental housing a year.
  • The province should also introduce rent control legislation.

THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT

  • The federal government must develop a long-term national affordable housing program, involving all levels of government.

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