By Maria Wallstam
For our issue on the BC Liberal legacy, Volcano editors turned to our Community Spotlight on a legacy of our own to highlight her over 40 years of anti-poverty work. Jean Swanson is an editor with The Volcano alongside her work with the Carnegie Community Action Project. She previously worked with the Downtown Eastside Residents’ Association (DERA) and is the author of a book titled Poorbashing: The Politics of Exclusion.
You’ve been active in anti-poverty work for a long time. What has been the biggest realization that you have had with regards to poverty in this province? Has your understanding or approach to government changed over time and through experience?
My approach to government has definitely changed. Back in 1979, I actually ran as an NDP MLA candidate because I thought being involved in electoral politics was a way of implementing the things you’ve been fighting for in the community. I ran with COPE for city council too, along with my co-workers Bruce Eriksen and Libby Davies, who were elected. In those days it seemed possible to get city council to do some good things for the Downtown Eastside if we worked hard at it: fund the Carnegie Centre, pass a Standards of Maintenance bylaw, put sprinklers in the hotels.
In the early 90s, after the NDP cut welfare and brought in a whole poorbashing framework to justify it, I couldn’t bring myself to vote at all, let alone run for office.