back to intros
So, the questions are what do you do and why do you do it, what sustains you in your work, what have you learned, what do we need to do to advance organizing, get more of it and make it better? Then at the end Iíll ask you what questions you have for other people. So generally itís good to start with what do you do and why do you do it, wherever you want to start on that.
Okay, yah, I sort of describe myself as a community activist, right now Iím working on a Youth and Corporate Rule project called Operation 2000. Itís a project of the Polaris institute. About 2 and a half, 3 years ago there had been a conference here in Toronto called the global teach in that looked at corporate rule from an international perspective and then zoomed in on what is happening here in Canada, around 40% of the participants at the teach in were young people between like 13 and 30 and so coming out of that teach in, I had been an organizer for the teach in, realizing that there was all of this energy that some people hadnít realized sort of existed among young people around these issues. So, we surveyed a number of students groups or young peopleís groups to get a sense of what issues they were concerned about, what issues relating to globalization they were working on and if they were working on the issues what sort of tools could support the work they were doing. If they werenít working on issues why werenít they and what tools could they use. And coming out of that we had a sense of within Ontario some of the needs and tools that would be helpful, so we established this project not to be sort of an ongoing project or create an organization to replicate what was happening, but to resource organizing and activism. I worked with Tony Clarke, we produced teaching tools, the first ever video, called Beyond McWorld, that looked at young people who are organizers or involved in different issues, interviewed those young people and then interspliced it with footage from this teach in which gave us more in-depth analysis. And then Tony and I wrote a workbook, The Young Activist that looked at corporate rule and globalization in schools, universities, communities, in Canada and the world and it includes discussion starters and activities to get people thinking about the issues a bit more. The last sort of 2 years Iíve worked with community groups, by and large, university students working through the Ontario public interest research groups and increasingly working with groups of high school students through the teachers federation and individual teachers or students, giving lots of workshops on globalization, what it is, how it impacts young people. Itís great, just reading and realizing what youíre doing right now, is sort of spending time in communities and meeting really incredible people and sort of helping them figure out what it is they want to work on, or helping them further define issues so that they can do the work in those communities. And from that I mean lots of things have sort of grown out of that, working locally sort of supporting the organizing thatís happened around Seattle, supporting the solidarity demo in Washington, mobilizing people to go to Washington and Windsor and now leading up to Quebec city. And yah, having lots of fun. Education is another issue that Iíve done a fair bit of research, so itís, I mean I think I have the best of a lot of worlds in terms of getting to do some research, getting to write, actually getting to travel around and meet people and jump and bounce ideas off of people. Over the last few years, weíve organized a sort of large-scale conference in a community, working with community partners to develop something that looks at the issues that through Polaris and operation 2000 we deal with but also looking at the issues that are relevant to the community. And the first year we organized a conference in Waterloo, and worked with university and community groups in Kitchener/Waterloo and then had young people from primarily south western Ontario come to the university for a weekend to talk about the issues. Then last year we organized an ambitious project in Kingston. It ended up, the more we bounced ideas around and the local community groups that I worked with, we formed this committee and the more we talked about it, the more ideas we generated. There was so much enthusiasm that we ended up with 9 events over 3 days that two of us coordinated and then different groups in the community and on campus took responsibility for being the lead organizer, and we brought all the pieces together. So we started out with a dinner and discussion examining globalization and poverty issues, we brought in John Clark from OCAP (Ontario Coalition Against Poverty). We spoke to Oxfam Ontario and brought them in. We did a high school forum where we had a high school student from Toronto who has been involved with Oxfam and Rugmark and had traveled to Nepal and had met with child laborers. She spoke about her experience and then students from a great social justice club at one of the high schools in Kingston organized a sweat shop fashion show. And we did a couple of panels in the afternoon and a big event that evening with spokespeople, or leaders from different sectors talking about the impact of corporate rule on their sector, and then the Saturday we had 10 workshops happening throughout the course of the day. Which was a big hit and part of what weíve tried to do in the last couple of years with the project is work with community groups, provide them with tools or support the work they are doing and with these conferences hope that out of the conference ideas are generated or some of the organizing is rooted in the community. And with Kingston, our success with that was really incredible, that a number of working groups were created out of most of the workshops. For instance we had a workshop that looked at the role of Talisman Energy and the university pension fund. There is a sizable community of Sudanese refugees in Kingston, so we sort of worked with community representatives from Sudan and with some folks from the university to talk about the issues and coming out of the workshop there was a group of people who went to lobby the MP and on campus a bit of a campaign to divest from Talisman. So thatís been some sort of ongoing work. Thereís been a group thatís been working on sweatshop issues on campus. Itís been interesting, and with, through friends and the community, Iíve sort of seen the development and things that are now generating. Thereís a coalition against globalization that formed and is continuing to work on the issues. So itís kind of fun to sort of see things develop and more ideas and makes me want to go back to Kingston and keep trying in Kingston because thereís so much happening now. So, itís sort of fun I guess, help create ideas and then bounce ideas around and let people run with them and come back when we want to do more. Thatís the last 3 years, but Iíve. been involved with social justice issues and organizing 9 years, which feels like a long time. I stumbled upon a global education center when I was in high school in Waterloo where I grew up and suddenly there were all of these resources and all of these people talking about these issues, some of which Iíd thought about and was interested in and other issues that I had no idea if it wasÖ and it sort of became my second home and led me on this path.
Why? What interested you? What tripped your trigger about it?
In part it was my family and my background, my parents, my family, weíve always have always been very involved in the church and through that my mom was always involved with sort of mission work and talking with people in the communities around the world and supporting people doing work in those other communities. So there was always sort of thatÖI didnít always necessarily agree with approaches, I mean there was that sort of influence, both of my parents involved in the church and my dad had been involved in the community on different issues, so we had that sort of, I mean, that was part of our family growing up, we were going to different things in the community. I think it is safe to say, my whole family would agree, that none of it was as radical as what I do, but, there was that sort of sense of community and sense of involvement in the community and we talked about issues, and talking with family, watching the news, and sort of feeling these issues. I in high school had a couple of friends, my two closest friends, had immigrated to the U.S. and then to Canada from Argentina and their families, the discussions at their house were always fascinating talking about issues and I think that was the other piece that really inspired me to read more and to find out more. I started working on a project on apartheid and came across this center, like all of these resources and all of these fascinating people and from there decided I wanted to volunteer and I wanted to do my coop placement there. I spent my co-op term developing a game that looked at food issues from a local and global perspective and created this massive board game,
Yah, itís out at the center which is actually just closing after 27 years, theyíre closing, itís just really sad. I developed it sort of as a monopoly game, so there were squares on the board and I would divide the class into families based on regional population and also sort of wealth based. So thereís the very small families in the United States and Iíd give them lots of peanuts and lots of chocolate, and a larger family from Africa and theyíd get like 2 peanuts or 2 chocolates and then weíd progress through every square together. But on each square there was a scenario, so we had to play out the scenario based on how it would impact people and made our way through the game and then did a debrief at the end. So I sort of traveled that around classes for a year, it was great, and I was in high school, so it was this kid coming in to this classroom to talk about food issues, and that was what really did it for me. From there I was launched into doing lots of stuff in the community, and so when I moved to Toronto, I was still involved in the community, I mean, itís my home, my home community and a lot of friends are there and we still bounce ideas around andÖ so thatís sort of my family.
And then you came to Toronto for work?
I came to Toronto because I had my heart set on living in Toronto from the time I was young. Waterloo is a small community in relative terms and Iíd heard about the community workers program at George Brown College. And it seemed like the best way for me to move to Toronto and sort of transition to Toronto, being able to be in school, but also have a practicum and sort of test the waters and get a sense of what was happening in Toronto in terms of activism. My first placement the first year I was in the program was with the Ontario coalition for social justice, that was the year they sort of got up and running in Ontario and I got to travel around and work in the community and help around Peterborough. At the end of my first year of school I had an opportunity to apply for another job and got the job and thought, I could stay, there was only one more year of the program, or I could pay to do this work thought my tuition, or I could get paid to do the work and pay off my debt, and I opted for taking the job.
And what job was that?
It was a youth, women and literacy project, so itís doing literacy work with women. So I ended up with women from metro youth council, doing political and economic literacy with young people and then doing literacy work. It was a group of 16 young women, and we worked as a collective and we did skill building and it was a 9 month project which was fun, really fun, and opened more doors and more friends and more things in Toronto and that was 3 years ago. So school is sort of looming in the not so distant future.
Really, you think?
Yah, Iím thinking about applying to York for this coming September.
If they ever go back to work?
Yah, if they do, which is a big hang up, because Iíd really like to apply there, Iíd really like to get my application in for January, but I donít want to send stuff across a picket line, so, Iíve been hanging tight from, Iíve been thinking about it and Iíll sort of play things out and see how long it goes on. I may not be going to school, so.
What was the church that your folks were from?
Itís a Baptist church in Kitchener. Itís the church that my dadís family has gone to since my grandma was young, so you know, it was the element of church, it was also every Sunday my family was there, my dadís family was all there, so in elementary seeing my family all the time and having a really strong connection with my family, so.
So, whatís the geographic scope of your work? Is it Ontario wide or?
Itís generally been Ontario wide. The first year we tried to focus in southwestern Ontario, to test the waters, last year we sort of broadened that to eastern Ontario and this year itís sort of all over the place. A lot of it stays here in Ontario, just sort of supporting organizing for Quebec city, which is sort of nice to spend some time in Toronto and actually feel like Iím involved in the community here in Toronto. Through that working with groups in Montreal, a group of us went to Montreal in October for the G-20, meeting with activists and talk about this stuff. Thereís a group in Vancouver doing similar work to the project Iím working on, called Check Your Head; theyíre very fun and quite savvy and great fun. For the last year or so weíve been working together sort of over the internet and Iíve gone to Vancouver and weíve been collaborating a little bit, weíre working on a gathering in the winter, so Iím just, every once in a while I feel like I get to leave the province and go play with others elsewhere which is fun. Get out of Ontario, so.
And what are some of the examples of the community partners you work with?
The PIRG, the Canadian federation of students of Ontario, and have worked with the national office and Iím working with locals on campuses. We worked with the graduate students. Iíve been involved to varying degrees with the Ontario federation of laborís youth committee, working with the union locals on campuses and also in the community like the local labor council, social justice coalitions. In Waterloo we worked with the social justice coalition in the community, the global community center which was the global ed center. And then groups working on trade, local coalitions. We work sort of closely, yet at arms length with the council of Canadians, a lot of which, similar issues that weíre dealing with, and I work fairly closely with the Toronto organizer. In the past couple of years weíve organized corporate bus tours of Toronto, which have been a hit to the point that the bus company wouldnít let us rent buses from them.
The first year we tried it out we did a series of tours that was just thematically based and it was the sense that we wanted to talk about the issues, get people out of a room. Corporations are intricately involved in our lives, and we wanted to take people to the corporations and put a face on these nameless trans-nationals. After the fourth tour the bus company said that they werenít interested in our business because theyíre not politically involved, which is kind of ironic because they tour around the province on the provincial election campaign, so I guess their logo is covered up by the parties logos. So the last couple of years Iíve worked with a group of students through a teacher in Walkerton, Ontario, and Iíve done a workshop there. Iíve done a couple of workshops there, we initially met at the first conference we organized in Waterloo and the last two years, students have come to Toronto for a day. Part of the day is spent with myself and some friends from the council of Canadians doing a corporate tour of Toronto, so we tie in issues that relate to some of the things theyíve talked about, because they come to Toronto. We rented a school bus in November and did a corporate tour for the council of Canadians, and Iíve done walking tours on university campuses. So yah, I mean, we work around the bus company not liking that, walking depending on the weather and the distance, we sort of throw that stuff in.
One of the things you talked about is the age range in this Kingston meeting and actually I think it was before that, 13-30. How young is young and whatís the reach of your work with youth?
Generally the work ahs been like workshops in classes and that sort of thing, high school, although I have done sessions and with a couple of youth conferences where weíve had grade 7 and 8 students who have participated to varying degrees. But I know with the workbook that there has been interest in teachers, elementary school teachers have used it and adapted it to use in their classes, so even younger. Young people are really savvy and I think in a lot of cases understand the connections much more intimately. I mean, Iím not even that old, but sort of putting it into perspective, the business council on national issues, which is the business lobby group here in Canada was formed in 1975, and that was the year I was born, so I mean, theyíve develop in my entire life span, Iíve sort of grown up with all of this, and I think because of that thereís sort of a certain understanding that people of other generations who havenít always been bombarded with this form of corporate culture donít necessarily react to in the same light. Iíve been e-mailing on a list with a group of high school students in London who organize themselves and they meet every week, or every couple of weeks to talk about these issues. I think, you know, young people organizing ourselves, itís happening in pockets all over the place and thereís lots of really amazing stuff that we donít all know about but itís out there and thereís interest and thereís lots of excitement and people using the resources theyíve got to get the ball rolling. So, itís exciting.
Yah, it is. One of the things people ask, the core question about organizing, is what are you building? So what are the structures? You talked about coming out of this conference there were a bunch of working groups, what is it thatís coming with the structure thatís building out of the movement around globalization?
I think thatís a good question, because I think thereís a lot of things coming out of it. I mean I think thereís a sense of people using many responses, people building resistance to the agenda, the corporate agenda, the capitalist agenda however people define it. But itís a resistance and an outward expression that we reject this, but part of that is also building community and building strength within the community and solidarity within the community and redefining or reclaiming that space. I think weíre now moving, itís happening slowly, but I think weíre now starting to, weíre better able to articulate the vision we want and the community we want as opposed to what weíve got now. I think the most important thing that comes out of the conferences weíve organized or other conferences is the sense of community. It can be really isolating and even to go to a rally, you suddenly see all of these other faces that you may never have seen before that have blended in, the sense that thereís other people that really care about these issues. To get the ball rolling, you just need a couple of people to put their heads together and get things going, and it looks really different in every community. Which is the really exciting thing, that weíre all working to change the system, but how that action takes place is entirely different, which sparks other ideas and then strengthens communication and networks between people. I also think weíre building a new heightened level, an increased level of awareness, political, social economic awareness, where people I think are increasingly challenging what we read in the newspaper. Even people who define themselves as non political youíre seeing the news flashed at us through media in terms of protests in different places and government legislation and all of that, I think are increasingly more critical, challenging it, questioning it, and you know, may still define themselves as apolitical, but have a certain level of awareness. I found last year around the holiday time, being with my family and friends some of the sort of talking about the world trade organization. I had been talking about it incessantly for months and my mom picked it up and sheís a neat mom, she totally impressed me by knowing all the stuff, that sheíd actually been listening to me, which I maybe shouldnít be surprised by, but talking about this stuff. And family members and friends saying well, the government wouldnít, how can the government do something like that, thatís not the role of government, how can they, when no one knows about it, thatís wrong. People having really strong reactions to whatís going on, and this on one level that people donít think impacts some of the community. You talk about that abstract concept of international trade and talking about the ways that weíre impacted in the community and people begin to realize that all of this stuff and all of this vision is being made in secret by these un-elected, unaccountable bodies really do impact us in our daily lives. Theyíre starting to put those pieces together and maybe not taking a lot of action on it, but putting the pieces together.
One of the things Iíve always wondered about, for many people in social movements and social justice and community organizing, Seattle sort of exploded on the scene, it sort of snuck up on us. It seemed like there were a lot of people working in the trenches on issues of global trade and then all of a sudden wham, there it was. One of the things that I first remember hearing about the issues of global trade and working conditions and so forth, was this Canadian kid, I forget whether it was sneakers or Nike, or clothes or whatever it was, but some kid, a lot of years ago, do you know who Iím talking about?
Yah, was that what really started this in Canada?
I think it goes back further than that. I do think that Seattle really put the issues on the map for a lot of reasons, but I think going back further. The WTO meeting in Seattle wasnít the first of its kind, but that tactics have changed. If we go back within the Canadian/U.S. context, the free trade agreements going back to the late 80ís, there were a lot of people working on that issue and working on it in different ways. Since that time, more people have begun to become active on those issues, and the tactics have changed. I do think Seattle was the time there were tons of young people and really different forms of organizing, people using different tactics and different strategies, and I think that was a great strength of what was accomplished. But I think the seeds have been sown for a long time and weíre beginning to see the fruition of whatís been thrown in our garden and itís really exciting. I know even in the last year people who were in Seattle, or were in Washington, those experiences have radicalized people very quickly, whether theyíre young or not, being confronted by that kind of state oppression and the tear gas and everything that was part of the celebration. It really puts things into perspective and I think ever since thereís a change in terms of how we approach the issues. Seattle was incredible because it was, like you said, it came out of no where, it was this little explosion and they werenít expecting it and I donít think we were expecting everything that we got in terms of numbers and excitement. I think really quickly people are becoming more effective organizers, just as we experience more and organize more around these issues.
What are some of those changes, what are some of the ways itís growing and maturing?
I think in part itís from people are beginning to recognize that we donít own any patent, that different groups employ different tactics and thatís okay, I mean we havenít perfected that by any means. But I think just in terms of level of support for young people assisting non violent direct action, I think there is more respect to direct action now than there was a year ago from more traditional movements, organizations like NGOís, or like the labor movement before. Perhaps not willing to be on the front line and many people involved with NGOís and labor movement are willing to be on the front line but thereís a certain openness to supporting it even if theyíre not going to be there. I think sort of fine tuning our organizing skills, the numbers of organizers have swelled and people really excited about taking this on, even just in terms of how we outreach and how we get people to forums, I think weíre getting better at that, we have a long way to go, but,
What are some of the things?
How we communicate our message, and how we communicate our message to a variety of different audiences and maybe part of that is the broader public receptiveness in terms of having a clearer sense of what the impacts are.
Thereís that kind of concrete translation, thatís something people are getting better at.
I think so. And I also think you know, slowly but surely maybe sometimes, once in a while, weíre better off working together from different groups and different sectors. A recognition that we donít want this, we want a sustainable just society and that everyone looks at that concretely in different ways but you know, weíre all working towards an end goal of a better society, a more just society and willing to work together and recognizing thereís compromising and we need to work together.
What are some examples of those strange connections or new alliances?
One of the alliances that a number of people have talked about ahs been from Seattle with the teamsters and the environmental activistsÖ you know, young people dressed up as turtles and flowers walking with rank and file Teamster members. Here in Toronto the group thatís been organizing around trade issues, globalization issues has gone through some changes. There was a group that worked on the multilateral agreement on investment campaign and a couple of years later the WTO action coalition and I think in the last year or so lots of new people joined the table, wanted to get involved. That stems from trade unionists and people that are paid by the union to work as organizers getting together with environmental activists, student activists, people who are active in their faith community and bringing people together which is really exciting because you get different perspective and you have people who are willing to work on different aspects of what needs to be done. So people who want to do the education work run with it and are doing a great job, others who want to organize demos run with that, but we come together to support, we come together to share information. I think response to events is important too, people are really hungry for more information, wanting to be involved and more people coming out to events and generally lots of new faces at those meetings, which is really exciting and it strengthens our movement and it strengthens the community. I also think increasingly because of the radicalization that has happened from lots of people, weíre much more articulate, people are much more eager to confront and to talk and debate. Bumping into bureaucrats or trade ministers or whoever on the street, thereís a readiness to engage in the issues. There are more people who are really articulate and know the issues and can debate the issues which I think is exciting. We had a debate here in Toronto where the person who is representing or defending the agenda who canít get a word in because people are shouting at him or on him at the mikes. Thatís kind of exciting too, it makes them realize they canít get away with what theyíve been doing, that people are on to them, and people are attacking it. I think the Internet has played a huge role in terms of how we organize and how we communicate and getting information out really quickly and very broadly. As soon as a press release goes out from DFAIT (The Department of Foreign Affairs & International Trade) or the world trade organization within minutes or hours itís on hundreds of thousands of terminals around the world. People start to deconstruct what theyíre saying and start to move with it in terms of this is coming up, we need to be there, in solidarity with that meeting or whatever it is that theyíre putting out. I think increasingly weíre using technology to our advantage and much more creatively in terms of using video and using theatre and using art and including culture in our activism.
Can you give me some examples of that?
All the videos that have come out of all of these different events and videos that have come out of organizing that has happened in the last couple of years, just the level of creativity at demos now in terms of costumes and glitter and all of that. I can think back to a time when you went to a demo and you stood around and you heard lots of speeches. We still have lots of that but thereís another sort of layer and weíve added element of fun, and we can have fun and reclaim the streets. Here in Toronto last spring, it was the May day celebration I think, you know, people were dancing on the streets, and they blocked the exit to the parking garage at the stock exchange and someone had brought a truck with sod and they carried the sod off the truck and put it down on the road and then had a party on the street. And itís that sort of added element.
Itís a lot more fun then carrying a sign and chanting,
Itís great! Yah! And people drumming and playing music and dancing and just having a really fun time. It wasnít overtly political, it was just this big group of folks dancing at Bay and King in the financial district, but it is political and it is reclaiming that space that is ours that has been taken from us. And just even in music, people writing songs and poetry about activism. Maybe itís because Iím more involved, but it just seems like thereís a lot more of that floating around.
Who are the musicians in politics?
I think everyone can be a musician and a poet!
Is there a clearing house or a couple of good sources, we can talk about it afterwards to get the URLs and the addresses down, but,
Yah, I mean, I see some of it sort of all over the place, posted, thatís a good question. Iíll give an example of some theatre, and Iíve been writing about this for the last few days. I was in Vancouver, a friend of mine has worked with Headlines Theatre, which is a theatre company, based in Vancouver, a community theatre and they put together this production called The Corporate U, which is a phenomenal production. It went through a process of workshopping some of these issues with a group of like 25 people to sort of brain storm ideas and get some of the issues that people are thinking about out on the table. From those workshop sessions they developed this play, 25 minutes, a way to transform the theatre into a corporate university. You go to the theatre, and they thank you for paying your tuition, youíre bar coded on your wrist and as you go into the theatre proper, they scan the bar code. In the lobby thereís corporate images and this huge shrine to Andrew Hamilton, a former student at the university, now a supporter of the university. The play starts in the context of an alternative guerrilla orientation and they march into this play that deals with poverty issues and transnational corporations and jobs from one community moving overseas. Thereís scenes within the sweatshop and scenes on the street where women who have been laid off from the factory and are dealing with the issues on the street as one of them panhandles and itís really incredible. I think itís that level of heightened political savvy. Thereís always been political music and political theatre, but I think more people are involved in it now, more people are engaging in it, and it doesnít need to be the big spiffy production in the theatre, you can have the corporate cheerleaders, people who come and do demos and cheerlead as a little cheerleading squad, people who are engaged in popular theatre. Just trying to build links and trying to build community in really creative ways.
Exciting. So what sustains you, what keeps you at it on the hard days and the long days, after the sad days?
My community sustains me, I feel really fortunate to work with really incredible people. We all have bad days and we all support each other on those bad days and I think itís that sense of community that makes it a lot easier.
Who is that community and how do you connect with them?
My physical community here, my friends in Toronto, my family in Kitchener/Waterloo, and my friends even further away. I have a close friend in Ottawa, who Iíve worked with and in Vancouver and being able to pick up the phone, I just need to rant, then I might be okay!
Why are people like this, or whatever!
I also think that part of why I do this is I canít imagine not doing this, I mean given the kind of government under which we live and the times, the increase of poverty; I feel really fortunate that I have a job, I get paid to do this, and I feel really fortunate that I can do that and I feel real privileged in being able to be paid to be an activist and to be able to work with incredible people. I donít think that we have an excuse not to be involved to a certain degree. Thereís lots of changes that we need to see happen to our communities because itís getting worse out there and thereís a lot of work to be done and I think we need lots of people doing that in their own ways.
How do we find or make or support more people? How do we advance, how do we grow, how do we build?
Good question. I think one of the things that I seen or experienced is, I think that we often are really focused on the organizing and have lost track of friends. Part of supporting of activism and supporting this movement is supporting ourselves, strengthening friendships alongside of working relationships, spending time together socially because that strengthens the bond. Weíre often really driven on what it is weíre working towards which is really important but we need to feed those other components of ourselves. I think that particularly around the young people I hang out with who are activists, thereís a much clearer sense of needing to feed those different components of ourselves. I also see a need for more established organizations and more established movements to be supportive of young people. There are lots of young people who are great organizers who need to be supported in the work theyíre doing, whether thatís resources or just being reminded that theyíre doing really good work. I think that needs to happen more, and then there would be more openings for more people. When I moved to Toronto, I thought I was moving to this massive city that was going to be totally anonymous. I have realized that while Toronto is a really big community, itís not that big, youíre going to be meeting lots of the same people. I think that thereís a number of times that there are new faces at meetings and you talk to them and they come for a little while and then they stop coming and you wonder why that is. I think as organizers or activists we need to create the basis for new people to come up and take on a role or help develop their leadership capacity or help give them the space to get involved. Part of that can happen through the established movement and part of that is just within our communities and how we work in communities and how we engage with one another, yah.
One of the questions that hasnít been raised, actually yesterday, talking with Anna about her work, a number of times youíve talked about poverty and the variety of focuses and issues and approaches and partners. Is there a recognition of trying to build a broader role for poor people in the anti-globalization movement, reach farther in to poor communities? And how is that playing out?
I think it happens in stops and starts. Here in Toronto, poor communities are organizing themselves and linking into other organizing thatís happening, and thereís a cross over,
Iím interested in that, how and where and in what ways, just examples.
One sort of example and I havenít followed it really closely since Iíve been away the last week, but thereís been just in terms of people squatting and the homeless people thereís been that large piece of land down on lake Ontario which had been owned, I think is owned by Home Depot. Home Depot was going to build a super store there but because of environmental reasons, they are not supposed to be allowing this to proceed. Homeless people have set up a community there. A few weeks ago they were told they were going to have to leave, they were going to be evicted from the land, so you know, the community organizations that specifically work with poor communities and poor communities themselves have been organizing events on that land, people saying thatís their home, and theyíre not going to leave. And thereís a certain level of hypocrisy that the city has environmentally, there were tents set up there, yet for ages poor people have been living there and it wasnít an issue until,
Until they made a big deal out of it,
Yah, so itís okay for some people to live on,
Theyíre going to make them sleep under the bridges,
Instead of the homes theyíve created there. Again itís a very localized issue in terms of whatís happening on the East Side of Toronto, but itís happening in communities all across the world, and itís tied into the broader agenda. You look at this, Home depot, who the players are and how has the power who doesnít. I think just another example, in Kingston, the Saturday evening dinner looking at poverty and globalization has been organized by the Low Income Needs Coalition. We worked with them, but they took the initiative to organize that based on who was in the community. Part of what I think we need to do and what is starting to happen is localizing these broad issues, so that the event in Kingston was hosted and organized in the low income community, right in the community, thatís how you get people out, itís on their terms. You canít expect people to travel or to go places. I think thereís a lot of work that needs to be done here in Canada and in the north American context because thereís still a lot of people that feel like they havenít been impacted whereas in a lot of other countries around the world, particularly in the south, people have been impacted really severely irregardless, with the exception of a very small percentage of wealthy people. People have lived with this kind of oppression for years and years and youíre born into the movement. And I think here until people feel that theyíve been impacted, and really dramatically impacted there wonít be the same kind of ground swelling that weíve seen elsewhere. Another sort of fun example was working with communities around the OAS Windsor meeting in June. There was someone who was organizing and mobilizing people to go to Windsor and had worked with the Jane Finch area in Toronto, sort of in the northwest area of Toronto, again, a poor neighborhood in terms of economics. They organized a bus of young people from that community to go to the protest. I think itís our approach to organizing and how we approach the organizing, how we approach people and how we engage with people, and actually going to the communities and working with folks. I think thereís a lot to be said for working with people where they are at. I did a workshop that has stuck with me for a number of years with a group of young people in Regent Park who were involved in a youth project. They produce a newspaper, a community newspaper and they have a radio show and they wanted to do a session talking about globalization. We started off by how are you impacted. And the workshop went on, particularly around sports. Those were the issues they were concerned about and they knew all of the connections, I knew nothing about sports, and I learned so much, hanging out with them. They understand the power dynamics, they live in power dynamics, they live in regent park, there are police who harass young people in that community,
Whatís the community like?
Regent Park is a community in Toronto. Itís a series of complexes, social housing developed and built back before the second world war, when people came back from the war, the soldiers came back and over time has become very multi-cultural, thereís over 100 languages spoken within this area, it is one of the largest developments in north America in terms of population. And itís a fairly small neighborhood. The other interesting aspect to it is it has major streets on all 4 sides, but there are no streets that actually go through. Like thereís a north part and a south part and north and south are divided by a major street but within the north part the streets donít go all the way through, itís just housing and parking lots, grass. Thereís community centers in there, but thereís no stores, so theyíre ghettoized, they have to leave the community,
And how big are we talking about, ballpark?
Like tens of thousands, thousands. A lot of people who are living in the community now who have families, but those people who have grown up there for 2 or 3 generations, itís a real survivor community, but it has sort of been ghettoized and is targeted in the media as a drug haven and all of the bad media images that blame poor people,
So kids in Regent Park when faced with the question how does globalization impact you, they went right to sports?
No, we talked about police, we talked a lot about education and all the ways that theyíre impacted, we talked about food that we eat, we talk about clothes, the obvious. Look at yourself, what are we wearing thatís corporate, what do we eat thatís corporate. Then when we go the next step, how else do corporations impact us, and that was the immediate, was sport, sport industry is a corporate industry. The analogies they were making around sports transcend and are similar to a whole host of other issues, but within the context of being sort of sport oriented there were all these things that I had never thought about and all kinds of sort of corporate trivia that I had no idea about. In terms of salary, you know, well who has the wealth, well this baseball player and that hockey player and then from there looking at well who supports that industry and the workers in that industry and sort of painting a picture around the sports, which is really challenging. It was an incredible workshop and really challenged me, and really forced me to think about the issues outside of my own boxes in terms of how I identify and articulate ideas. That group has gone through transformation, but has been really involved in the community. I also think that thereís a certain recognition that people working on the broader issues are working on local issues and people are working on local issues are staying connected to broader issues, which is really exciting, because we can work together, we can work on the issues that weíre passionate about but support other organizing and other issues, making the links and, yah.
It is exciting.
Yah it is.
Well, in terms of the cycle of my questions Iím sort of left with my two wrap up questions. What have I not asked about or what else would you like to talk about; and then the ending is, what questions or observations or conundrums, or what would you like to put on the table in that conversation. So, either one of those, what have we not talked about that we should andÖ
Good question. Iím thinking here. And Iím skipping over the sort of what havenít we talked about, but, I talk a lot! Questions to put on the table I mean I think, itís a really good question because I think there are lots of questions. How do we more effectively organize ourselves across borders or across regions? When I think of the work thatís happening here in Toronto and the work thatís happening in Saskatoon or Vancouver and thereís lots of similarities and lots of similar approaches, but how can we more effectively work together?
Thatís a good one!
Yah, I mean I think the regional sort of organizing is a big question to put on the table. I donít really have any answers for these, but, another big question that Iíve talked about with other friends you know, is how we organize around issues, how we more effectively articulate the concerns in ways that arenít complex. Thereís lots of intricacies around trade and around some of this stuff, but how do we articulate the issues so weíre describing the issue but also describing why weíre resisting it or why weíre organizing around it in ways that are engaging. Because I think we have a lot of work to do in terms of building broader movement, in terms of engaging more people, you know, how we articulate the message I think is a really key point. How we strengthen connections with other communities, even other communities within our own larger communities, because in every community there are smaller pockets and smaller established communities. Particularly I think thereís a lot of work to be done in terms of supporting organizing that young people are engaged in, supporting organizing that communities of color are engaged in and how do we create space for that activism. I think thatís, I mean, thereís lots of questions around dealing with racism and dealing with gender issues and I think that falls into all of those bigger questions. I think increasingly these are questions that we need to start dealing with and you donít need to solve those issues, but I think you need to you know, have those dialogues. I also think that itsí really important, I had this conversation with a few folks about a month ago, sort of talking about, the need to allow the activism to come from the ground, the grassroots. There needs to be, with organizations that are more established and campaigns that exist from all over the place and are generated from all over, there needs to be flexibility within those campaigns and within organizations to allow the grassroots and the sort of bottom up to develop. The campaign needs to develop ideas and organizing based on their needs and the issues that are important to them. And the effectiveness of our organizing I think comes from the ground up, because it resonates with people, because itís the reality, and how can we more effectively create that space, not in ways that are token, but in genuinely creating real space. This inevitably means the campaign alters in some way, but you know, coming to a point where thatís okay. If weíre real honest about it, whether itís a really local issue or itís a global issue, change happens on the ground and you know, if weíre going to sustain the energy that exists on the ground and exists in really large, exciting models, there needs to be the space for, issues to grow up. I think a lot of the ways we organize, right across the board is from the top down, and this is how weíre going to approach this and lets run with it. Well you know, coming from the top down doesnít always work and itís not community, itís not cookie cutters and you canít just fit campaigns, generic campaigns, there needs to be the flexibility to play with it and make it real and make it take a sense of ownership. I think we have work to do, but how we go about sort of shifting into that mode is another question.
Okay, good question, did you think of anything you havenít talked about? Questions I havenít asked?