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News brief: Anti-poverty organizers get organized

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – Earlier this week members of the Benefits Reform Action Group (BRAG), anti-poverty activists with a focus on Nova Scotia’s heartless welfare regime, spent an entire day talking about strategy and big pictures.

BRAG members spent an entire day talking strategy at the Bridge, on Bloomfield Street in Halifax.

Founded in 2011, as a response to severe cuts to the special needs program under the NDP, BRAG has grown into a force to be reckoned with, while its mandate has expanded to include all social assistance programs offered by Community Services.

Much of BRAG’s energy comes from the many first voice activists among its membership, people who are or have been on welfare not too long ago. These folks speak with authority, because for them being on welfare is a lived experience.

Over the last year the group has rallied at Province House and marched through Dartmouth North prior to the provincial election reminding people on social assistance not to vote for Community Services minister Joanne Bernard. Chair Kendall Worth presented to MLAs at a Community Services Standing Committee last year, and members organized a very successful screening of My week on welfare at the North End library.

With the help of facilitator Erica Fraser, about 15 BRAG members spent a full day talking about where BRAG should focus over the next year, and how it can become both more efficient and more democratic as an organization. And do all this, while never losing sight of the group’s many strengths.     

“I like BRAG, we support one another, if somebody has an issue you can join and have your issues heard,” said one member. “I like its diversity, it’s fun to work with BRAG, but maybe we need a bit more structure for this energy, and become a bit more collaborative,” said another.

Being ready to respond quickly to the Department of Community Services when it begins to announce the changes resulting from its so called transformation initiative will be one of BRAG’s priorities. The department’s welfare transformation plans are nearing completion, but people on social assistance have not been consulted by Community Services, and many advocates are worried. The group wants welfare rates and special needs allowances raised, claw backs of child supports ended, and much more.

Building connections with other anti-poverty and progressive organizations is also high on the list.

And the group wants to continue to grow. Outreach was high on the wishlist of all participants. A particularly exciting idea is the notion of peer support events, where people on welfare can socialize and talk to BRAG members for mutual support. After all, activists meetings and agendas aren’t everybody’s cup of tea.

Like BRAG on Facebook, and find out about their meetings and other news. Or come to another screening of My Week on Welfare, and meet BRAG members, on October 4 at the Dartmouth North Community Centre. 

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