Jean Bottari has the type of face that lets you know what life is about. It reflects toughness, determination and pain. It's in his eyes. He's seen it all. And the handsome vigour of his face that younger men would envy, cannot mask what his eyes have seen and what they say. Bottari has spent much of his working life in the healthcare system. Specifically taking care of elderly patients in chronic care facilities. And he was revolted by the treatment of our seniors in our CHSLDs. He confronted authorities and organized and gave hope to his colleagues. But this kind of work takes its toll. He left his work pained in heart but not broken in spirit. Bottari decided to do something about it.
This past weekend he organized a public demonstration of concern for seniors. Specifically, the march he led was for more dignity, respect and proper treatment for seniors living in CHSLDs. More broadly, the concerns of the marchers covered the gamut of issues confronting seniors from the need for higher pensions to more money for caregivers.
The participants were a cross-section of our society. From working men and women, to people in public life, entertainers to members of the health system itself. The heart-wrenching story of healthcare administrative assistant Chantal Gagnon and what she went through with her mother's tragic story made it clear that no person, no senior and no family is immune from the damage our systems do to our seniors even if one works in the system.
Sunday's first march was just the start. This is a growing coalition. For us seniors rights are the leading issue on the agenda of social justice. People who have contributed all their lives are not only being deprived of the money they put into the system for their retirement, but are being neglected in their most fundamental needs.
We don't just cover this issue, we participate in it. More than any aspect of our advocacy, we devote ourselves to this. And we will continue. For over a month we helped lead the fight to keep the Réné-Cassin Seniors Centre open. And helped in assuring that not only that centre but others as well stayed open.
This victory ranked with the most important we have achieved. In some respects it may have even been more important. Because we fought for the most vulnerable. Seniors have given their lives to building the wonders around us, yet are abandoned when they need society's help most. It is time to roll back the tide and "gentle the condition" for seniors. Let us not forget that by 2020 30% of our population will be seniors. Close to 40% of those will have neither private pensions, nor RRSPs nor anywhere near the full value of the money they have paid into government pension plans over their working lives.
Just as we gave a platform for citizens like Myra Rappaport and Sharon Freedman who were among those affected in the seniors centres issue, so we will stand behind this new coalition on the broader issues affecting seniors. Just as we badgered and cajoled and pled and tried to reason with authorities on the Cassin issue, we involved ourselves with the Bottari coalition. I was proud to not only cover the march but to have participated, spoken and opened our pages to the individual stories of those affected. You will be reading about them in English and French as they are written. We will not let benign neglect degrade the dignity of our seniors.
We truly believe that engaged advocacy journalism not only validates the role of the fourth estate of government which media is, but as importantly It gives hope to members of our communities - hope to our neighbours - to carry on with their lives and with the important struggles they pursue. Supporting communities of conscience brings redemptive change. Caring matters.
Several hours after the march Bottari was kind enough to post the following on social media:"Je tiens a remercier le SEUL média présent à notre Marche pour le dignité des personnes vivant en CHSLD. qui était représenté par son éditeur, Beryl Wajsman qui a marché avec nous. Je n'ai par contre aucunes félicitations à faire aux ''grands'' médias. Il semble que la cause des aînés leur tient à cœur uniquement lorsque se produisent des incidents plus tragiques et plus ''vendeurs'' qu'une marche citoyenne." This message received remarkable response even from other members of the media.
Our task is to guard against what Bottari wrote in his last line that "It seems there is interest in the cause of seniors only when there has been a tragedy that is more "sellable" than a citizens march. Let us make this a clarion call. Let us commit to giving the cause of seniors' dignity, justice and equality the urgency it deserves before we have a demographic explosion that will inevitably produce tragedies that will affect us all.