It took me a while to figure out what I could possibly write about that would fit into The Harry Potter Alliance’s current campaign. When have I ever faced economic hardship of any kind? I’ve been able to graduate debt-free from university, travel the world, work for good wages without any abuse, not have to worry about where my next meal was coming from, etc. etc. etc.
It wasn’t until I had thought of the people around me, until I had expanded my personal bubble to include other members of society, that I realized that I did have a Hunger Games Story to tell. It just wasn’t mine.
I used to work for a legal aid company. I would be the one answering the phone and determining if callers qualified or not. A lot of the time, I’d be the one saying, “no.” And a lot of these people would be working, living pay cheque to pay cheque, often with other mouths to feed. But at legal aid, paying for groceries and electricity doesn’t factor in whether you qualify or not. These people would be struggling to survive, and once you throw legal fees on top of that mountain of stress, once you have to decide the future of your children once a relationship breaks down, or start to think about what will happen if you end up in jail, or get deported, well… it just fucking sucks.
Mind you, I wasn’t as empathetic at the time. I was “simply doing my job,” as one would say. I was too focused on my own ordeal of sitting on my butt down all day, chained to my phone and desk, and commuting for around 3 hours. I don’t think I realized at the time just how much insight I was getting into other people’s lives, and how broken the system is (or how top notch it is if you’re looking at maintaining inequality).
I remember single dads breaking down crying because they’re still recovering from a divorce and have to figure out how to makes ends meet for their children while trying to get a lawyer. I remember having to tell victims of domestic violence that they make “too much money” to qualify for legal aid. I remember talking to an inmate and asking if I could do anything else to help, and him replying, “Can you be my pen pal?” I remember refugees explaining that their lives are threatened if they were to return to their home country.
There have been good moments, though. Happy tears when somebody finds out that they qualify and won’t have to pay for a lawyer. Cracking jokes about the weather. Getting a sincere thank you and actually hearing the person’s smile. It’s an experience that I shouldn’t forget, and I’ll try my best to remember as much as I can. Because it’s not about me. It’s about getting other people’s Hunger Games stories out – because you may just be the one to help put the odds back in their favour.