Jane and Finch Action Against Poverty (JFAAP) is a grass-roots action group, which consists of community residents and members from different organisations in the Jane-Finch area. The group was formed in October of 2008 following a rally at the intersection of Jane-Finch to commemorate the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. After the rally being positively received by the community, a collective decision was made regarding establishing JFAAP as a resident-led action group, which would meet on a weekly basis in order to discuss and think of solutions regarding ongoing chronic issues in the Jane-Finch community.
The main goals of JFAAP are addressing the issue of poverty and other systemic barriers in Jane-Finch, promoting social economic justice, and community and leadership capacity building. The grass-roots organises public meetings every first and last Thursday of the month wherein community residents, different community-based groups as well as other organisations functioning on broader levels (such as city-wide groups) get together and discuss timely issues in the community and how to take action regarding them. JFAAP also organises community events, rallies, consultations and workshops. The target audience of the initiative is defined as all the community members of broader Jane-Finch area.
JFAAP impacts social cohesion by creating a safe space where residents can come together, make social ties, and discuss issues related to their community. The target audience is very diverse as the community meetings often attract a very diverse group of people, thereby facilitating inter-ethnic, inter-cultural, and inter-generational interactions. A good example of how such interactions are stimulated by JFAAP is a recent initiative launched by the grassroots called Cross-culture and Intergenerational Community Building. The purpose of the project is to bring together community residents from a very wide age group (from teenagers to 80 years old) that have been involved in JFAAP throughout the years, to interview each other about the history of Jane and Finch.
“Young people interviewed the elder, and the elders interviewed the younger people about their struggle and why they got involved with JFAAP. What are the histories? Where do they come from? What are the differences when they came here? Why did they get involved in this kind of a struggle? And all that. All of the interviews are going to be videotaped, and the end result is going to be launched as a new project.”
Thus, while broad long-term goals of JFAAP are geared more towards economic development (buy improving employment, and eradicating poverty), its short-term and more tangible impacts have been more upon social cohesion.
The majority of JFAAP’s members are community residents. JFAAP also receives support from community workers and community organisations such as Jane Finch Community and Family Centre, and some organisations within York University such as the Ontario Public Interest Research Group and York University Faculty Association. There has been a deliberate decision made within the grassroots from the beginning to not have any constitution or by-laws or organisational hierarchy. Therefore, there is no executive board within JFAAP. Moreover, the grass-roots does not have any core funding.
“JFAAP doesn’t apply for funding. It did not register as a non-profit group so that it could stay at a resident led grass-roots group.”
emphasized our respondent. However, the group receives material and non-material support from organisations such as JFCFC such as food and TTC tokens, and childcare services for the meetings.
Perception and use of the concept of diversity
Diversity is a central element to the very existence of JFAAP and all its activities as it resonates in who is involved in the grassroots, what issues it addresses, and what type of activities and programmes it organises. Our respondent identified a fundamental component of JFAAP as
“The cultural diversity of the people and then the experiences that need sharing, the strength that people are bringing, the assets that everyone has”.
JFAAP meetings address a wide array of problems for instance funding security for community-based programmes, newcomer settlement and access to services and information, barriers to employment, advocacy, racism and discrimination, issues surrounding none-status and undocumented immigrants. Even though the primary target of the grassroots is to address negative chronic issues in Jane-Finch, many of its efforts at the same time focus on celebrating the neighbourhood’s diversity. For instance, JFAAP collaborates with local artists to organise exhibitions, cultural events, wherein different individual and group-based diversities are recognized and celebrated. These diversities include gender, ethnicity, culture, age, immigration status, educational and occupational background, sexuality, and even ‘food’ cultures.
Main factors influencing success or failure
One of the most interesting characteristics of JFAAP, and perhaps the most important internal success factor, is the strong mandate and commitment within the action group to stay autonomous. Grass-roots often face a great risk of co-optation once they become financially and organisationally dependent on state authorities. Thus JFAAP continues to refuse funding or support from organisations it does not socially or politically align with. In turn, the grassroots have been successful in mobilizing a strong supportive network in the community that are quintessential to its functioning and success. Our respondent shared the following example accordingly:
“We did an event on minimum wage. A big celebration, it was really a street party. People were actually dancing! We had big numbers of group dancers on the corner of Jane and Finch, loud music, big speakers, everything. But then you needed some donations as well. So, some people said they’d just go Tim Horton’s and ask them to give coffee and all that. But then the collective decision was made that because JFAAP is doing this for the minimum wage campaign, and Tim Horton’s is one of the strongest opponents of minimum wage increase (they are actively organizing against minimum wage increase), we refused that because asking them for donations for that event would have been inappropriate. A group like this is continuously looking at all these factors”.
Our respondent further recognized commitment and readiness to organise as two of the most important internal success factors for JFAAP. Meanwhile, grassroots organisations such as JFAAP are not easy to maintain as they very often get marginalized or co-opted as one of the external factors that create barriers. Moreover, the collaborative network within the community is the backbone of JFAAP, however many of these community-based organisations, which are supporting the grass-roots are facing precarity, cut-backs and challenges of their own, which directly or indirectly influence the current and future state of the grass-roots.
JFAAP deals with poverty and other systemic barriers in Jane-Finch area by promoting social economic justice, and community and leadership capacity building. While as an autonomous resident-led action group, JFAAP, remains very true to its core political values, the group does not refrain from getting involved with other agencies and cooperating with official and non-official community and city-wide organisations in addressing different issues in the community. It thereby provides a unique and interesting case for recognising diverse needs to understand how those needs can be voiced within a neighbourhood via grassroots mobilization. Also, the grassroots addresses redistribution through its over-arching objectives such as eliminating poverty and fighting systemic barriers. It further provides opportunities for encounter by bringing community members together through gathering or rallies. As far as future development is concerned, the main strategy of the group is to remain autonomous and independent while finding new and broader approaches towards reaching out and giving voice to different groups within the community whose voice has been silenced.