“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead
I have always considered myself lucky and blessed to have been born in a first world country. That is a somewhat loaded statement for me, as I am currently wondering what that truly means and if it still holds true. The term originally came to be known after the Cold War Era in the 1950s and referred to the Allied Parties that made up capitalist and democratic countries that opposed communism and the USSR. The more modern definition now considers first world countries to be ones with higher GDPs that are industrialized. My view on this term is now evolving personally.
To me, living in a first world country allows me a ton of privilege. It allows me to put food on my table, be a female that is capable of similar rights as men, and one in which law and government provide safety for its citizens and the most vulnerable. I live in Alberta Canada. For quite some time, I have been viscerally upset at what is going on politically, and as a result in relationship to human rights, with our southern neighbors. I could write a thesis on this topic and how consuming it has become to me. I made the mistake of thinking “At least I live in Canada and things are different here.” That in itself is a statement based on my own privilege. I don’t want this to be an overly political post, as I think it tends to shut people down and stop people from reading. I am going to write this in terms of what to me is right and wrong and what it should truly mean to live in a first world country regardless of which political party you vote for.
We recently had a provincial election in Alberta. Our population overwhelmingly voted for the United Conservative Party. That in itself is not hugely upsetting to me as the province has a long history of voting that way. A new budget just came out and it has many people reeling from what sort of cuts were made. I am not even going to touch on oil and whether that ship should have sailed or not. What I am going to discuss is what it says about our government in regards to where they chose to cut money from to make up for the deficit we are in. I run a few support groups for people living with an illness. Many of them are on a government program called AISH (Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped). They live below the poverty line with the amount they earn already and struggle to make ends meet. Before the election, the UCP said they would not touch AISH. However, a month in they are already cutting the funds by $30 a month and getting rid of indexing based on general inflation. This is where my anger comes from when I ask “Do we really live in a first world country if we are treating our most vulnerable population this way?” In my opinion, the reason why this is an easy cut for the newly elected government is that people with disabilities usually won’t, or more accurately, can’t voice an argument. To me this feels like nothing more than bullying. What bothers me more is where is the outrage over this reduction from the people of Alberta? I will fully disclose that I do not live on or rely on AISH funding. However, many people I know and are friends with, do.
Another area of cuts has come from public education. Special needs programs are being reduced or cut entirely. Teachers and supports are being laid off. Class sizes will get bigger. Funding for post secondary education is being increase by 21% over the next three year. That is a huge unexpected amount that a lot of families cannot afford. It says to me that children and education are not being valued in our province. Another area of cuts is medical care. A nursing practitioner that was hired two years ago to provide care for patients with MS who do not deal with a neurologist in the MS Clinic, is losing her job in March of next year. Such a short sighted cut. This position allowed patients to rely less on their neurologist when they have issues that arise with their health. Now, they will lose that support.
What does it say about our culture when nurses, teachers and people with disabilities are the first to pay the price of overspending in our province? I can guarantee you, AISH recipients living below the poverty line did not create the deficit we are living in. This is not how a first world province should be defined. I believe people at their core are good. They are trying to protect their families as best as they can. What bothers me, is that until things affect people personally, they seem to be able to look the other way. Why does it have to be this way? To me, it says we are disconnected. What a first world country should be to me is where all citizens look after everyone. In my opinion, we should all be outraged at how this is rolling out. It should not take having your children in a hospital where there is not enough nursing staff to tend to your child before it affects you.
So, how can we change things? Create awareness. Post yours and friends and families plights on social media rather than pictures of the trips you are taking. Write letters to your MLAs and government officials. Be loud. If you can’t be, find someone who can advocate for you. If you operate an organization to support and advocate for people, change your role on what that advocacy looks like. Be vocal about injustices that you are seeing. The world and the people in it are good. Let’s earn the title of first world nation.
I am fully aware that the very fact that I can write this article and not end up in jail, are examples of the privilege bestowed on me living where I do. I plan to start to be more aware of injustices happening around the world. We can all make a difference. The goal for me with this post is not to come across as judgy. I also need to change what I am doing. We can all work together to make this world better for everyone.
Be loud in any way you can. We can all create the world we want.