Innocent (Tony) Atuanya transcript
Arthur Bull transcript, photo
Alex Campbell introduction, transcript, photo
Cindy Chan Piper introduction, transcript, photo
Sherry Cox introduction, transcript, photo
Joys Dancer introduction, transcript, photo
Sarah Dopp transcript
David Driscoll introduction, transcript, photo
Dianne Fitzgerald transcript, photo
Flo Frank introduction, transcript, photo
Ray Funk introduction, transcript, photo
Charan Gill introduction, transcript
Jim Green introduction, transcript
Colin Hall transcript transcript
Don Kossick introduction, transcript
Janet Larkman transcript, photo
Rankin MacSween transcript, photo
Bill Moore-Kilgannon introduction, transcript, photo
Ed Muttart introduction, transcript, photo
Betty Peterson transcript
Mike Retasket introduction, transcript, photo
Tom Simms transcript, photo
Yvonne Stanford introduction, transcript
Robert Upshaw transcript
Len Usiskin introduction, transcript
Vancouver meeting* introduction, transcript, photo
Robert Williams introduction, transcript
*participants in the Vancouver meeting include:
Monica Hay, Laura Stannard, Patsy George, Ted Kuntz, Ken Lyotier, Seth
Klein, Herb Barbolet, Jennifer Wade, Margaret Mitchell, Murray Dobbin,
Jean Swanson, Mark Haddock
"If I left this job with an organization in the North that can…prioritize their relationships for themselves, prioritize what's important to them, have some decision-making capacity in partnership with government…If I at least leave those three things from this job, I'd be happy."
Alex Campbell grew up in a remote community, Moose Lake, Manitoba. "People were working together harmoniously, there was no differentiation between who is treaty, who is Metis…there wasn't any of that and people really chipped in to help each other…so the community really worked together well in that concept… [but the white bureaucrats] wanted to develop us because we were so unorganized and primitive in our ways…telling us that on this side of the road is the treaty, on this side of the road is the Metis community…that separation started in the community where people started to compete and war against each other as opposed to working together."
Campbell has worked at the local, provincial and federal levels of government in MN, NWT, Nunavut and SK, "trying to make sure the communities are involved in…and do understand what development means." He would periodically return to the north to renew his energy and sense of purpose. "Before I moved to the Northwest Territories, I was a real bureaucrat. I lost my sense of direction there for awhile…[in the NWT] communities were more traditional, time wasn't of any importance…so I started working with the communities. It's their time, it's their lives…so whatever works for them…"
Campbell recently moved with his family to Northern SK, hoping to give his children a sense of belonging in a community. He is teaching them to speak as well as understand Cree. "I have to try to make that connection where they will call something home."
"I have this grass roots experience and I have this aboriginal perspective, so I said to myself, what if I become a senior person in government? So that's what I've been working for…so that I can influence some of these policies…I want to see myself as a community organizer but I also want to see myself as a tool of these community organizations…being used by these people to make change at the policy level."
"One of the things I try to do is listen to what the people are saying…myself [as government] I'm trying promote some compromise…For example, if we listen to Northerners right now, what they're saying is, okay, mining and forestry companies…they're not saying stop, because you can't stop it, but they're saying how can you leave some benefits here…they want to be part of the decision-making. They don't want to take control of the land. They want some influence on deciding how that land is going to be used."
Sustaining Campbell "I'm always hopeful…do something for that day. It's progress."
Question for others "…with the aboriginal communities in other countries, how do they view land? …to me, land ownership is the first inhabitants of this world, the aboriginal people have the right to the land…but who is to say it was their land…they were here first, so they should at least be consulted on how this land is managed."
go to the interview transcript
"[The most important lesson from my activism is] learn to give power away, because that's the real strength in the neighborhoods and it's really easy to organize and be a hero…but that's only one person, that's not a neighborhood…you give them the power to do it for themselves."
Cindy Chan Piper is a self-described "East Side inner city kid" who was spurred to neighborhood activism by street crime (primarily drug dealing and prostitution) that directly affected her school-age son's safety. "First learning about [community organizing and development], it was more a social justice kind of thing. I didn't ever think that it would turn into keeping your children from harm…what I wanted was the fundamental right to walk on the streets and keep our children safe and our seniors safe."
About her neighborhood and her reasons for staying she says, "We've got people, we've got really interesting people…and spirit and imagination. I have a lot of West Side friends but [their neighborhood] is boring."
The wellspring of her activism "I might come by it naturally. My parents fought for our right to vote. My father went to war for our right to vote…all it takes for evil to flourish is for one person to turn the other way."
"I've been involved as a mom, as a neighbor, as an activist. Professionally, I'm an architect and a city planner [but] I've lost my job…[The city thought] you can't be an activist and a city planner at the same time."
Piper's currently the chair of her community center, an organization she helped create in addition to, among others, a nonprofit for prostitutes. "How can I rightfully ask them not to ply their trade in my neighborhood and push them out and not give something to help them?"
In a remarkable action, she undertook to force government and media attention to the neighborhood problems caused by street prostitution by collecting and mailing used condoms found on her block to federal officials in Ottawa.
Questions for other activists strategies for dealing with street crime and "what part government plays in bringing about the decline of a neighborhood…I have a theory that [they] play a big part in making a certain section of the city open to street crime by their policies."
go to the interview transcript
"A key thing is the material, the very information, that’s the beginning. One of the things I want to create at the Green House is a learning center…So much language creates the ins and the outs, the secret words…How to really make [information] available in a way that creates community."
Sherry Cox, a philanthropist in the Kootenay region of British Columbia, is struggling to "put things in motion". Cox, trained as an art therapist, has created "a place of self-discovery" in the Green House while reaching out to the community through SEED (Social Ecological Economic Development), with the goal of exploring "economic systems that would be self-sustaining, take care of people and honor the earth". As well as business creation, SEED is starting an educational program "to bring cutting edge speakers to this region on eco-forestry, eco-tourism".
"The best thing is that we’ve taken time to build relationships" with local business people, civic leaders, political activists. Her favorite example stemmed from an event called Vision 20/20 when a local plumber was inspired with new ideas. "Every community has got to deal with their sh*t and we’ve circled the question in this community forever, what are we going to do about sewage treatment."
Cox cites "an inner sense that somehow I could not NOT be engaged in this" and is sustained by "the learning edge" and the spiritual dimension.
Cox is curious about how other philanthropists "handle some of the issues, power and control and money…what [control] do I need to hold and not give away and what do I need to give away."
go to the interview transcript
"…for such unimportant goals as amassing stuff, the super duper highways so you can get somewhere faster…We’re destroying the earth. I mean you can learn from…the native peoples, but we can also learn from all our relations, all the other species…I learn from that and it’s getting destroyed and that’s my anger."
There is a power in Joys Dancer that belies her small, frail-seeming frame. It is most evident when she sings in her clear, strong voice. She lives in an intentional community in the SK woods north of the prairie, in her house by herself, but with others frequently present – communal family, children, friends from Saskatoon.
Dancer has been an activist for many years, primarily around environmental, particularly forestry, and native rights issues. "I guess education was the first area I started, I started to see all wasn’t well, institutionalized life had huge costs, many injustices, huge costs on the human spirit." She and her partner and friends began living in intentional community. "The Birch Lake community really has informed all my other work…it’s sort of the proving ground…an alternative way of society, an alternative way to be with each other, an alternative way to deal with problems…"
Dancer articulates her motivation in this way "…pushing me to advocate for native rights but also probably for the environmental work that I’ve done, the political work, I came to this understanding of this intense yearning that I have to know how to be human in the way a tree is a tree… the way a coyote is a coyote…to live life in balance and harmony in my relationships, to not make a mess."
Music – composing and singing, accompanying herself on a delicate (but powerful-sounding) banjo -- has been an effective means for Dancer to make a point, to focus a meeting, to empower fellow protesters. While adept at bringing varied groups to a table to hash out differences, she says "I think sort of the role I assumed there or shaped there was sort of as a conscience…it’s not that I’m naïve…somebody has to hold [the ideal] up."
Several things sustain Dancer "When I do work…my spirituality is pretty earth-based so I get really charged by being in nature…gathering with this extended community [including Don Kossick and Flo Frank]…the native community."
Question (and challenge) for others "…what’s your connection with the native community…because there’s where our model is…help them in their struggle in any way that we possibly can."
go to the interview transcript
"Let's make sure that, by community economic development, the community is healthy and then, if the community is healthy, the soil that grows the plant, feeds the man…so we've nourished the soil whereas, typically, marketing doesn't pay attention to nourishing the soil, they nourish the plant."
David Driscoll is a Renaissance man, dealing with money and markets and communities at work, beautifully carving wood in his home studio, reading broadly, canoeing regularly, enthusiastically discussing Monty Python with the children of his guests.
The foundation he directs is committed to CED, "a field that gives you access to some of the levers of change in the economy but its constant presence and requirement is to connect to community." He's proud of a board that has business sense but doesn't lose sight of the community base - "the debate says that both streams of business success and community engagement are continuing to be alive in the organization".
"Being an artist means never averting your eyes…I did a sociology degree and I always tried to stay on the economic side of it, because I found the personal circumstance really depressing… [Now I see that] the very fact of people's continued attempts to create a future for themselves is a testament to their strength and their capacity to overcome the immediate damaging effects that are so destructive personally."
Sustaining him "Living in community is a way of keeping your heart open and not living with your fears but living with your collective hopes."
Advancing organizing and activism "Part of the answer is it might be nothing…everyone who tries change will always, as a front runner, endure injury… It may be that we can't be protective of people having those experiences because what we'll do is blunt the very source of their righteous anger that will cause them to be agents of change… Is it a skills thing? I don't think so…you recruit to passion and you train to skills."
Question "a definition of connectedness in the civil sector [to gain] an appreciation of the methods, values, skills and passion and a strengthening of the knowledge…we need to find out how people connect across sectors…"
go to the interview transcript
"The biggest mistake we can make is to think that we're leading. We're not leading. All we have is a bit of wisdom, a few tools, and we should pass them over there and just do what we can do with the influence we've gained over the years."
Flo Frank lives with her partner, musician Ley Ward, in a town of 90 about an hour east of Saskatoon. Meacham is a vibrant, art-filled town with at least 8 public spaces. Flo and Ley, both warm-hearted and generous, live a commitment to arts, music, culture as a means of uniting and enlivening community.
"What really happened is that I was born into it. On the little island where we lived, we had a very strong central community." Frank was shaped by that early exposure and threats to that community turned a child into an activist. Later, living part of the year with First Nation people where her father worked, she was influenced by "people that had a completely different social structure, completely different cultural structure. Languages were different and values that were very, very different." Frank saw first hand (in fact was mistakenly picked up to be shipped off herself) the impact of the government's residential school policy on the community "I learned a great deal about social justice in the north…several of my friends were taken in trucks to school…they basically gathered them up to do what was a policy of government that perhaps had the right intention, which was to provide an education, but in fact it didn't work out culturally."
"The Sixties came just in time for me to have a platform and a forum to express my anger around poverty and women's rights." Frank married, had a child and worked with street agencies including "Humans on Welfare" in Edmonton, then returned to school to study community development "because there was no course of studies in political activism." She worked for the Trudeau government, including Opportunities for Youth - "I had a chance to be on the inside, not on the outside…and make sure that the people who were activists got money to be activists" - but quit when a new administration favored three month project funding over long-term operating support for community organizations.
Frank and her son moved to the mountains and the private sector. In the early 1980s, she watched as her logging community with a small independent mill was wiped out by a big lumber company. "What we decided to do was reinvent ourselves. And in a very unsophisticated way, we did."
"So at that point, I wound up with a fairly diverse experience background in helping individual people, working with organizations in distress and organizing the networks, and then helping rebuild communities from the inside out."
"For the past eight years, I've been focusing through my own private companies…on community economic development…primarily the organizations and communities that are in decline and making change into what will serve us for the next 50 to 100 years…I can scan environments, form analyses, I can bring people together and help translate, so that there is some kind of common ground…and the third thing is to rally the resources to mobilize the idea…so part of what we've been doing is to help NGOs to become more entrepreneurial and, where possible, generate revenue."
What sustains Frank "I think that this is right and I believe that what we do matters…maybe what goes around comes around and what we're going to be producing in this next generation and in myself and in this next decade are really good, appropriate advocates…"
Frank's appeal to organizers and activists "we have to invest right now in our young people, teach them how to be good community citizens, good community activists…the biggest mistake we can do is to think that we're leading…we need to let go of it."
go to the interview transcript
"[Politics and social change work] in my life have been very closely linked…people on the political map think that community organizing is too micro a solution to really be taken seriously as a central strategy. And there are people in community organizing and in social change that figure politics is way too restricted and contaminated by evil…to have anything other than a peripheral or pragmatic kind of relationship…[but if] politics was really big changes without war…maybe the thing to do is to get maximally involved because, if you can figure out how to solve your problems in the social order, peacefully, then we've accomplished something, you know. This is kind of a goal."
Ray Funk and his wife work from a farm by the Spruce River. They're waiting for their Saskatoon berry patch to mature. Part of their barn has been transformed into a gathering place, welcoming both politicos and organizers. "It's hard when you go into politics to get yourself taken seriously as a professional [in the community organizing world]. So I'm getting myself cleansed of my sins here!"
Funk comes by his organizing honestly, with a grandfather organizing coops in Germany and parents organizing grain coops and Mennonites in SK. His first victory came in the sixth grade when he organized schoolmates to save the sledding hill. He went to college in the U.S. - "I got a little bit versed in the American organizing tradition [of Saul Alinsky]" - and, while working with a community-development driven adult education project through a community college in SK, took a sabbatical to get his Masters in Adult Education for Social Change at Michigan State in the late '70s/early '80s, where he connected with Highlander Research Center in Tennessee.
"The community college job was an organizer's delight. It's the kind of core funding that those of us in the field have always preached would be so valuable if people with those skills didn't use 90% of them chasing money and convincing funders and spent all their energy in the community…There was a peace and disarmament coalition and Citizens for Alternate Energy were the two major organizations…One stopped a uranium refinery right in our backyard here." The education bureaucracy and the government nixed this approach to adult education after about 10 years.
In 1988, Funk was elected as an NDP MP from the Prince Albert area. "In some ways, I was uniquely situated because I was a rural person, I had worked in the Prince Albert area and I had done work in the north." He "came up with something called cooperative and community development" and won the party's nod to become the critic. "It was strategic too because…free trade…was clearly going to win that round so how do you position yourself for the post world…new things will have to be built [because] they've destroyed us at the macro level." After a few years, Funk got "turfed out on my ear", although he's not given up on political office as a way to effect change.
Spruce River Research does "a lot of different stuff [including] a fair bit of applied research". Current projects include reorganizing and mobilizing 26 aboriginal fishing coops in northern SK and cultural tourism development in the SK heartland. "Economic and community infrastructure organizing is just as important to me as schools and hospitals…something that communities need for their health and survival."
"You have the feeling that what you're doing is going for something more than payments. It's something else and it's worth it in itself. People you get to know tend to be a little bit more interesting…so you start to like the company. You look at the options…it always seems to look like the most interesting thing to do next is to keep organizing something or other."
Questions revolve around marrying politics and social change and connecting to the next generation "I look to young people [but] there is a real challenge on the left everywhere to come up with more meaningful responses to the global age. In some ways, a person has to at least stay involved enough to be connected to that discussion and really it's in the discussion and in the connecting that the new vision comes."
go to the interview transcript
Oct. 11, 2000
Progressive Intercultural Community Services Society (PICS)
#109 – 12414 82nd Ave.
Surrey, BC V3W 3E9
fax – 604-596-7721
email – email@example.com
“Basically, that’s part of organizing. You need not only this intellectual understanding, you need emotional attachment, emotional understanding…and then you need stamina and lots of patience to pick yourself up, not only one time, 3 or 4 times.”
Charan Gill has an extensive background organizing around Indo-Canadian social justice issues. He helped form the Canadian Farmworkers Union, the BC anti-racism organization, a “progressive, intellectual community” group called KIDS and his current group doing research and communications on anti-racism.
“[People] were accusing me that I stopped being a social worker and became a politician. So over the years, I became one…I’m never disappointed that I’m not elected because I was using the platform for my issues and to advance single issues…”
Sustenance comes from family and like-minded friends and –“Oh, hard times? Only it’s very exciting then, your small successes…Changes happen in the small ways over a very long time.”
Questions: “How do you find ways to get energy back into the system in the first place. How can you do that if your family really gets jeopardized and sometimes you lose your friends because you don’t have the time for them…I can’t see sometimes past the pressures, financial pressures. But I’m okay through the process, ups and downs. I have not given up yet.”
go to the interview transcript
Oct. 11, 2000
Executive Director for Social Development
Ministry of Community Development, Cooperatives and Volunteers
401 – 750 W. Pender St.
Vancouver, BC V6C 2T7
fax – 604 – 660-3437
“There are thousands of people literally across the country who have been involved in every type of social justice movement you could imagine, and the peace movement in the ‘50s. I mean, good god, these are incredible people. Women organizers, people that are still in it, you know, heroes of this country. So [writing the history of the Canadian Seamen’s Union] was a good way to truly, utterly become a Canadian.”
Jim Green has a formidable history, from poor military kid in the southern U.S., holding two jobs at 16, pursuing higher education, fleeing the draft to Canada, and hitchhiking cross-country with his 4 year old daughter, to working as a longshoreman while fighting to get the kind of education he wanted through UBC. “Holy hell, you learn so much…I think the thing that I learned very early from all this combination of negativity was how the class system worked. I learned a lot about sexism and racism, too.”
While staying involved in academics as a student and teacher, he began organizing for Downtown East Side Residents’ Association (DERA). “I’d never done that before but I had a really strong feeling that the stuff I knew was transferable.” After a visit to Chicago’s South Shore Bank, he helped to create a neighborhood bank.
“The secret to it is human beings have a vast ability to be adaptable. It amazes me what [neighborhood residents] can do, you know, unshackled…” One of his best stories is the power for residents’ sense of self worth and imagination as a result of understanding and attending opera performances through DERA’s Humanities 101 class. “Opera is a peasant art form.”
What sustains Green? “You know, this isn’t hard compared to what my life was supposed to be…blown to shreds in Vietnam or killed in a bar fight or for the rest of my life pumping gas…but also, I think the most uplifting thing is the people.”
Questions: “What are the techniques to ensure that rank and file people are involved? How do we develop those human beings?”
go to the interview transcript
"Build something that is truly reflective of the communities and the people and the environment so that it sustains itself."
Kossick lives in the city of Saskatoon with his partner, Denise Kouri, and their daughters. A formative experience for him and Kouri was working in Mozambique in the early 1980s "…work in solidarity so that you learn and you bring it back…we came back [to SK] very intentionally…"
His current work is providing "an independent base" and "a community to organize from" for "everyone - college students, high school students, old to young". An example is his work with young people addressing globalization issues. The center practices solidarity - "we work along side, we don't impose our agenda" -- and can act as "an independent organizer [who] can step in when others can't do it", which might mean organizing a community demonstration with some bite to complement a service workers' picket line or providing a resource as in producing materials for a local teachers' struggle.
Kossick has a strong commitment to organizing internationally, manifested in his practice of "direct solidarity" where knowledge, skills and resources are exchanged in both directions. For example, the Training for Health Renewal project between the centre and Mozambique shared "the methodology of the community dentistry program in SK as it was being wiped out by the conservative government here". The Mozambicans are transferring the methodology to other areas of health care.
Kossick comes from a background of strong family involvement in the SK cooperative movement, the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (CCF). He worked nationally for the Canadian Union of Students and came to understand the power of solidarity across experiences and the value of "the energy of the young" when the National Farmers Union asked the student union to share their organizing skills in setting up the union nationally. He became the urban-rural coordinator, building alliances among rural communities and between urban and rural and addressing issues of multi-national corporations undermining local communities, sustainable agriculture and the market circle.
Kossick was with the Retail, Wholesale Department Store Union and the credit union movement in the late 1970s before spending several years in Mozambique, working in community development and health. A lesson reinforced "Even if you have a very clear socialist direction from the top, unless you build from the bottom up, you're not going to get there." Clearly, it was a watershed experience for Kossick "It was really hard, but I really thought that it was a privilege in terms of the people that I got to work with."
Kossick returned to Canada and, for about a decade, worked in SK for CUSO on international development through direct solidarity such as collaboration between the grain workers union and Mozambican workers on health and safety issues and services.
In answer to what sustains him, Kossick in part responds "I've been able to link with communities and certain individuals that have a sense that community organizing is a long-term thing…the sustaining energy is there as people build the alternatives…how can we turn SK around…how do we link that up to the rest of Canada, to Ohio, to Australia…that vision, keeping the vision really open and connected, keeps organizers from wiping out…"
Kossick queries other organizers and activists about connecting "front-line organizing" and alternative building - "you're not going to get to set up an alternative food system unless you link with the front line which is taking on cargo" - and connecting old with young - after his experience in Seattle, he says "…you're not going to walk away from globalization, [young organizers] are going to be there…so maybe you should enter into some kind of dialogue…". He's interested in creating alternative media (see www.makingthelinksradio.com ), "community globalization" to counter corporate, avoiding turning organizers into "apparatchiks" through professionalization, and inclusion -"we [need to] be really aware of classism…and encouraging those to come in who may be seen as minorities."
go to the interview transcript
"Parkland was really rooted in community…for me, the membership structure is extremely important because [it] provides an instant base of communications out and communications in…the reality is that we’re taking this very good quality research, peer reviewed, the whole academic 9 yards and then we’re making it available to the public in a way that people can really understand…ideas matter…connect the reality of lives to those ideas and those power centers and then understand how power and communications work…[for instance] the IMF, this ideology means real things…"
Bill Moore-Kilgannon lives with his wife and twin 7 year-old sons in a coop housing development along the river in Edmonton. His sons think his main work is film making as he’s currently editing one of his films on Nicaragua, a country where he and his wife have traveled and worked. "My passion comes from my real experience in countries like Nicaragua and Guatemala."
Parkland focuses on research (and the distribution of that research) on the political economy of Alberta, a province "extremely tied with the global economy, oil issues, resource management and, because Alberta is a petri dish of the neoconservatives in Canada, we’ve been tied in with challenging the whole paradigm of thinking that is neoconservativism and neoliberalism."
Moore-Kilgannon’s mission is clearly ensuring that quality research is relevant and accessible to people and organizations taking real action on social justice issues. Parkland gets 1/3 of its overall budget from its membership, 1/3 from its institutional base (labor unions, some businesses, etc.) and 1/3 from programs and book sales.
Motivation "If my kids grow up thinking they have no say in anything…that they’re actors in history…you can’t just sit back…what is happening, unless it’s challenged, is that the way in which we come to understand the world is going to be so controlled that people won’t have any sense that there’s anything different."
Questions "Just to hear how people are organizing, what’s working and what isn’t. I have hope that this new Parkland Institute will have more opportunity to get connected across Canada…Some people are just doing too much on the national level and are not rooted at all."
go to the interview transcript
"So often, I think, in our world, we’ve got a lot of good-hearted people trying to save the victims and we’re not building a dam to make all that unnecessary…I think [the B’ahai are] more involved in trying to build things for prevention than anybody else on this planet does."
Ed Muttart, vigorous and intense, lives most of the year in Red Deer, AB, caretaking a B’ahai center overlooking Sylvan Lake.
Muttart followed his father into the construction industry but then decided "I’d rather build people than houses". After receiving a Masters in Education, he taught for 12 years. During this time, he "encountered the B’ahai faith [and] so wanted to get out of my cultural blocks, see what the other parts of the world were like…" Instead of leaving the country, he taught for a year on an Indian reserve near Banff.
Muttart grew in the B’ahai faith and was called to serve the national spiritual assembly in Toronto, working there 28 years before retiring and moving to Red Deer, where he’s involved in the local community (including a government initiative called "Healthy Community") as well as in developing the B’ahai center.
His faith and his teaching experience lead him to focus on the very young. "Much of the most important work to do is with a child in those foundational years." He’s on the board of Kinder Care, supports the building of B’ahai schools around the world ["One of our tenets of our faith says that if you have to make a choice between giving a girl child an education and a boy child an education, the girl gets it…the mother is the first trainer of the child…that will be passed on to the child."] and promotes the moral or values education of young children.
Some of the values Muttart takes from his faith are bringing together practical action with a spiritual base and avoiding the destruction of community through the lack of trust created by gossip and "back-biting".
go to the interview transcript
“More and more people are finding out about the injustices that have happened to [First Nations people]. By those people not standing up or just ignoring those things that have happened to us, that’s like accepting it. That’s like saying it’s okay that we were abused sexually, physically, mentally, morally abused. Now that people know that, what are you going to do about it?”
Mike Retasket’s power comes through his gentleness, he and his partner Valerie’s efforts to integrate their spiritual, personal and political lives, and only rarely through the occasional revelations of his anger.
Although born in Canada, Retasket was raised in the northwestern U.S. He returned to Canada 10 years ago when “I couldn’t live in the U.S. anymore…I was so mad that I was ready to take direct action and to commit a crime myself in retribution of my brother” who died from exposure to Agent Orange while in Vietnam. Retasket returned to the Bonaparte Reserve where his family has roots and began his spiritual journey in the Shuswap ways. “I’ve seen easily 60% of the people on this reserve living well below the poverty line…I knew that I had to begin to make change…”
Retasket began making that change with an occupation of the Band office! He was then elected as a Band councilor. “I took the natural resources position and began looking and working with the ministry of forestry and oceans to find out what opportunities they had for people of this community…access resources.” He challenges the unsustainable use of natural resources and the lack of benefit to First Nations people despite the fact that in BC “we haven’t sold or ceded any land and we claim it all”. Retasket is also formally involved with the Thompson Basin Fisheries Council, a cultural education society and the Urban-Rural Mission of the World Council of Churches.
Sustaining him are his belief in the creator, forgiveness, and family in the widest sense of the word, including other activists. “It’s those visions that I know in my heart and I know that the creator knows that we hold aboriginal title to this land.”
“In BC, the natives are restless! So if the natives take direct action…it’s going to take the tribes of the four directions to be standing there in line. And not just the natives.”
go to the interview transcript
"[I came to believe] ultimately that the focus for me had to be in coalitions that were of some breadth…we had to form multi-issue, multi-constituency coalitions. That takes a lot of work, it challenges. For me, it challenged everything I knew about myself, everything I knew about the world, everything I knew about my community, forced me to look at and accept all different ways of working in coalition and finding focus."
Yvonne Stanford grew up in a small mining town near Calgary in a family committed to an extended family and to their community. "To whom much is given, much is expected was really the kind of ethic of our family and, for the most part, our community. A mining town is very egalitarian…What I didn’t get was that you could change things…you looked after people but you kept the system the way it was…"
She credits her children with her role as a change agent. "Watching [my oldest son] and listening to him particularly convinced me that, if we worked together, we could make change and that was like an epiphany…I thought I was fairly courageous for my decade of women but [my daughter] said she thought I had compromised my life away" – which doesn’t do full justice to Stanford’s life of struggling to find a way to make things better.
As an adult, Stanford worked with groups like the Canadian Peace Alliance, the National Action Committee on the Status of Women, anti-poverty and anti-racist groups. "That having to have jobs that pay with long hours of volunteer work has always been my struggle." Sometimes she got lucky in combining the two.
Her commitment to working in broad coalition came through the Coalition on Human Rights as it organized for legislation in Alberta. "Our legislative victories were fairly small, but measurable…everybody felt so good…we talked about trying to sustain [the coalition] but we didn’t have the resources. Somebody came up with the idea of site of engagement and a thread of continuity…primarily a database of people…any member groups could call us together…And that happened about a year and a half later…we did win the legislation…And so that’s a coalition that’s now in its thread of continuity place."
"The last year has been one of retreat, try to rekindle the hope and the belief." Stanford is frustrated by the lack of resources for change work, frightened by environmental degradation and "the sweep of the right", struggling to continue "to believe in goodness and not let the presence of evil overwhelm you". She finds solace in achieving a multi-racial, multi-cultural, multi-income circle to operate in – "I’ve always worked for [poor people] but never with them. Now they are a part of my community of activists" – and their effort to "do our work more jointly and have more fun while we do it."
Stanford says that "finding creative solutions and incremental solutions seems to be more apt for me right now", leading her to her current consulting work in conflict resolution. While acknowledging the value of and need for confrontation, she is pursuing "the transformative theory of conflict resolution…[helping] people find the common values, the common ground, the common vision."
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"I am doing CED as the response to what’s going on in the larger economy where we’re moving towards more global market integration and lack of community control over their own destinies…we need to start to work up power and create economic literacy and skills in marginalized communities and start actually taking control back at the local level."
Len Usiskin comes out of a union organizing background where his exposure to trade issues led him to return to the University of Manitoba to study economics. His commitment to "give people a broader economic and political context for the work we’re doing here" is manifest in the extensive training, education and discussion his organization sponsors for community residents, board members and staff. Community First teams up with local agencies and educational institutions in teaching everything from creating alternative budgets to public speaking. Usiskin uses the university community to support poor and marginalized communities in Saskatoon, both through instruction and through research projects that move CED work forward.
Community First, also called Quint, is a classic nonprofit CED organization, serving the 5 core neighborhoods in Saskatoon with a strong grass roots base. Three quarters of its board are neighborhood residents. "We transgenerate and spin off as much economic benefits out of a housing strategy in terms of training, employment and stabilizing neighborhoods…help people start small businesses or coops or community enterprises…micro-loan plans for start up capital…We’re also helping spin off a few other organizations like Community First Foundation which is going to be a major CED financing arm."
The organization benefits from a SK provincial program for core funding – "…there’s been some very good thinking about how they can facilitate this work but allow communities to drive it." The organization also works in partnership with other action and advocacy groups, aboriginal groups, credit unions, coops, government and schools (for example, housing for high school student mothers).
"Here is a job where you can apply what is my passion. You can do a combination of what is social and political community organizing and combine that and create a lot of really concrete opportunities for community residents."
Some of Usiskin’s concerns are professionalizing CED work – "first and foremost, people have to come at it with some kind of commitment to some social change"; getting the credit union movement to "play a stronger role in tackling some of those larger questions" of community control; and democracy being undermined by globalization.
"I’m really encouraged. It seems to me that the tide seems to be turning in terms of young people taking a real radical response to a lot of this global market agenda." Questions "what is the critical factor that has mobilized young people?" How is the internet used for organizing? "Are there long term organizations being built around this?"
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Vancouver Meeting, October 1, 2000Monica Hay #3 - 1556 W. 13th Ave., Vancouver, BC V6J 2G4 604-685-1734 email - firstname.lastname@example.org Laura Stannard 964 W. 23rd Ave., Vancouver, BC V5Z 2B3 (W) 604-660-9382 (H) 604-732-8685 email - email@example.com Patsy George 867 Hamilton St., #2305 Vancouver, BC V6B 6B7 604-687-7115 email - PatsyGeorge@hotmail.com Ted Kuntz 201-3041 Anson Ave., Coquitlam, BC V3B 2H6 (W) 604-942-7134 (fax) 604-942-3915 (H) 604-942-2899 email - firstname.lastname@example.org Ken Lyotier 302-118 Alexander St., Vancouver, BC V6A 3Y9 (W) 6604-681-0001 (fax) 604-662-7677 (H) 604-681-4250 email - email@example.com Seth Klein 1400 - 207 West Hastings Vancouver, BC V6B 1H7 604-801-5121 fax - 604-801-5122 email firstname.lastname@example.org Herb Barbolet #106-131 Water St. Vancouver, BC V6B 4M3 604-730-0450 fax 604-730-0451 (h) 604-731-7785 email@example.com Jennifer Wade 6061 Highbury St., Vancouver, BC V6N 1Z2 604-263-4727 firstname.lastname@example.org Margaret Mitchell 821 - 525 Wheelhouse Sq. Vancouver, BC V5Z 4L8 604-873-1493 email@example.com Murray Dobbin #803 - 1340 W. 12th Vancouver, BC V6H 1M5 604-739-8560 fax 604-739-8564 email - firstname.lastname@example.org Jean Swanson #211 - 456 W. Broadway Vancouver, BC V5R 1R3 604-879-1209 Mark Haddock 21 Brackenridge Pl., Port Moody, BC V3H 4H8 604-469-6607 fax - 604-469-6638 email email@example.com
David Driscoll of the Van City Community Foundation convened a group of 12 organizers and activists working in or from Vancouver. The group covered a range of age and experience, including provincial government and journalism. Following are some tantalizing tidbits that might encourage you to read the entire interview.
Monica Hay works for the Insurance Corporation of BC (see Bob Williams). She has a bachelor's in urban and economic geography and her primary organizing experience is around housing issues in the downtown east side. "…people telling me I can't, which motivates me to do it…figuring out ways to work with people who don't think they can do it…"
Laura Stannard's background is tenant organizing in the downtown east and south sides. She cites a jobs program with the new downtown sports arena as a great learning experience. "…you learn to fight, to struggle to make your values important to the rest of the world…I can only go to what's outside my door there and the rest of it is just too damn big and I'm real glad somebody else is tackling that."
Patsy George works for the BC Ministry of Multiculturalism on anti-racism and equal rights. Currently she is focusing on aboriginal communities and immigrant women. "It's a matter of really believing in the abilities of people to find solutions for their own issues, provided of course resources are made available." George caught a common desire expressed during the interview "I'd like to have more [roundtable discussions]…it's like going to a stupid conference and not having to sit through the conference."
Ted Kuntz is a private-practice family therapist who serves on the board of various community groups "facilitating where people take responsibility for taking good care of each other and their community…
How do we work from the place that we're all in this together?"
Ken Lyotier manages United We Can, a recycling project in the Downtown East Side, creating jobs for older, chemically dependent people who lack work experience. The project generates a bit more than enough to cover its costs but is struggling with "how to manage growth in a way that keeps us close to our roots". Lyotier revels in "the gales of laughter" produced by the Binners Olympics -- "When I get really tired…I just can't go on, but we do and once in a while, this incredibly beautiful stuff happens, in community like that."
Seth Klein is the BC director of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, "a resource for organizers" and "a bridge between aggressive academics, social community groups and trade unions". "…social activism in a way serves a function similar to a religion…part of your identity, a very important source of community, a definite source of where your values are from…"
Herb Barbolet, with experience in community planning and housing, currently works for Farm Folk/City Folk, "from producer to eater and from locally to globally". "How can we do what we're doing…but at the same time spend more time on root causes, on fundamental change, and turning around the values in society at large?"
Jennifer Wade has a long history of activism on civil rights while in the U.S. and with groups like Amnesty International. "…every noon time, I was out lecturing at the university…and then when [students] made a stand…[they]went into it with a sense of innocence…they came out [of the APEC inquiry]…the blatant lying and bullying…[the students] have seen things that the average citizen in Canada hasn't seen…I felt the tiredness and the sadness."
Margaret Mitchell, an "ancient of community development", helped compile a book, Don't Rest in Peace, Organize, worked in institutional change and served for 14 years as a Member of Parliament from north of Vancouver. "…looking back over things…humor is quite important. There is a real limit to how much groups and individuals can tolerate intensity…" "I really believe the world changed in Seattle and things are going up hill."
Murray Dobbin writes for a living and organizes for fun. He currently concentrates on globalization and moving the Council of Canadians from a campaign base to a social movement. "…what I've been involved with for thirty years, as an activist and a writer, is trying [to write and organize] in such a way that it connects with people…define issues so that they connect with people's daily lives so that they can feel a part of what the struggle is and feel that they can, in fact, have an impact."
Jean Swanson edits a newspaper for a BC coalition called End Legislated Poverty Now. "Poverty is getting deeper…there is real anger out there…It is very hard and we're in a bad stage of figuring out how to organize…how do you organize to meet an immediate need but also fight this incredible race to the bottom that's being caused by globalization and some of the federal policies?"
Mark Haddock is an environmental lawyer and consultant. He attended law school after 9 years of government work, which "supplied me with enough anecdotes to fuel my environmental activism for the next decade". "How do you avoid fundamentalism…I'm seeing it more in our [movement]…it dissipates the energy…"
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"It's taken me a long to move from the traditional left position to realizing that business can be and is a tool, you know, depending on how you play the game…we in this region are now a cheap labor pool, or so it seems, and that's our future and we're a cheap labor region for Hollywood and that's our future…we've got to build a new economic engine…I can think about how we transform those derelict, vacant areas and benefit the poor neighborhoods around them…you treat poor neighbors [adjacent to Vancouver's downtown] as a resource rather than a problem that needs clearing."
Bob Williams grew up in an "old Socialist family", fascinated by a grandfather who was "one of the 6 co-conspirators in that big general strike in 1919". Williams says his primary driver was that he was illegitimate, "to use an old-fashioned term" - "The whole label of illegitimacy is pretty offensive…so much of the system defines legitimacy and illegitimacy in intriguing ways and not just in terms of children but countless things."
While doing post-grad work in city planning at UBC, his friends urged him into politics because "he bitched so much about political issues". He was elected to city council from the East Side and learned coalition building. He got the city charter changed to allow tenants to run for office by allying with representatives of apartment-dwelling rich people.
"I really only came back to the community stuff when we were out of office in the mid-'70s and then we did this caper of taking over the Van City Credit Union…the right wing by then had taken over city hall and I thought, well, they can have city hall and the lefties can take over the bank!"
"Now, in this province, for instance, our resources are public. 94% of our land base is public. If a significant chunk were transferred to the communities, it would be transformation and I think moving up that learning curve that I've moved in my own life would be otherwise impossible for people in the region without having that equity. So that community enterprise is, potentially, an engine if we gave them some of the assets."
Prescription "A lot of it is dreaming dreams and having them on the shelf and waiting for the window of opportunity to open."
Questions "How do you spawn social activism?" "The whole question is how these networks [of activists] are built and grown and evolve and are established…when activists take over an institution like Van City Credit Union it provides whole new layers of opportunity, building or growing or educating."
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