How do you reduce income inequality and repair the damage it’s done? It’s simple, but not easy: convince Canadians to re-engage with politics and politicians and use their voices and their votes to encourage policies and laws that are fundamentally fair.
To reach so many people, you generally turn to the mass media. But if catchy advertising slogans and captivating billboard images were enough to get people involved with politics, our voting rates wouldn’t continue to fall with each passing election.
The best way—perhaps the only way—to convince people of something is to have a conversation with them. An honest-to-goodness, face-to-face talk. It gives them the opportunity to air their concerns, express their hopes and fears, and feel valued and heard. And it gives you the chance to see if they understand what you’re saying and to address any misunderstanding they might have. That's the thinking behind The Fairness Express, a year-long road trip in a big green bus to promote the All Together Now! campaign from one end of the country to the other.
For participants, The Fairness Express wasn’t like any union activity they’d been involved with before: they didn't go to rallies or a picket lines to shout slogans or wave placards. Instead, they headed for farmers' markets, music festivals, community parades and sporting events to give out popcorn, apples, and cotton candy and try to engage in as many conversations as many people as possible.
The tour started in Dartmouth, NS, in September 2013 and wrapped up in Wapella, SK, in October 2014. In between, The Fairness Express travelled more than 40,000 kilometres, carrying 120 trade unionists to 200 events in 130 different communities. The end result: more than 8,000 individual conversations about what we can do to make Canada a better and fairer place to live.
From coast to coast, the response was overwhelmingly positive. Encouraged to open up about their own experiences, heartfelt and often painful stories of struggle poured out of people: expensive child care, crushing tuition, grim job prospects, stagnant wages, precarious work, rising food and housing costs, diminishing pensions and public service cuts.
People felt powerless and defeated, but many of them seemed to come alive as the engagers talked to them about the importance of tax fairness, public services, a modern industrial strategy, and labour rights. Over and over, the engagers saw “the lights come on” with the people they were talking to as they lifted the veil on the dogma of tax cuts and austerity that have come to dominate our public discourse. Over and over, the engagers felt that they were able to instill hope that we actually can make Canada a fairer place.
Of course, conversations are two-way streets, and The Fairness Express engagers often found themselves as inspired as the people they were inspiring.
Throughout the year-long tour, the engagers kept a diary of the people they met and the stories of grit and perseverance they heard. You’ll find some of those stories in the blog posts, and get a taste of some of the injustice that drives trade unionists to campaigns like The Fairness Express.