Fight to Win

Inside Poor People’s Organizing

By A.J.  Withers  

AJ Withers draws on their own experiences as an organizer, extensive interviews with OCAP activists and Toronto bureaucrats, and freedom of information requests to provide a detailed account of the work of the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP). This book shows that poor people’s organizing can be effective even in periods of neoliberal retrenchment.

Fight to Win tells the stories of four key OCAP homelessness campaigns: stopping the criminalization of homeless people in a public park; the fight for poor people’s access to the Housing Shelter Fund; a campaign to improve the emergency shelter system and the City’s overarching, but inadequate, Housing First policy; and the attempt by the City of Toronto to drive homeless people from encampments during the COVID pandemic.

This book shows how power works at the municipal level, including the use of a multitude of demobilization tactics, devaluing poor people as sources of knowledge about their own lives, and gaslighting poor people and anti-poverty activists. AJ Withers also details OCAP’s dual activist strategy — direct-action casework coupled with mass mobilization — for both immediate need and long-term change. These campaigns demonstrate the validity of OCAP’s longstanding critiques of dominant homelessness policies and practices. Each campaign was fully or partially successful: these victories were secured by anti-poverty activists through the use of, and the threat of, direct disruptive action tactics.

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Contents

  • Introduction
  • Privately Policing Public Space: St. James Park
  • Stay Tight: OCAP’s Direct Action Casework
  • Fighting for Roofs and Beds: The Housing Stabilization Fund Campaign
  • When is a Bed Not A Bed? Epistemic Injustice and Shelter Occupancy
  • The Struggle for Shelter: The Campaign, Mobilization and Demobilization
  • Homelessness, Organizing and the Pandemic
  • The Struggle Continues

Authors

  • A.J.  Withers

    AJ Withers has been an OCAP activist for twenty years, is a former paid organizer and is currently a member of the Executive Committee. They are the author of Disability Politics and Theory and co-author (with Chris Chapman) of A Violent History of Benevolence: Interlocking Oppression__ and the Moral Economies of Social Working, as well as numerous other chapters and articles. AJ recently completed a PhD in social work at York University.

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