Building a global organizing movement: A conversation with ACORN's Wade Rathke and Judy Duncan

3 August 2017 - 7:07pm
Maya Bhullar

In June, I had the amazing good fortune to interview Wade Rathke of ACORN International and Judy Duncan of Canada in a small café outside of Paris. I grew up admiring the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or ACORN as most of us knew it, and had seen Wade speak quite a few times. I must admit to being very awed by having the opportunity to speak with Wade in person and in depth, and I fear I talked too much and our conversation meandered.

If you imagined that ACORN had been destroyed by the machinations of the right wing and the "scam artist James O'Keefe," you were wrong. Our conversation didn't dwell on the past, we talked about the global campaigns ACORN International is now building and laughed at how interconnected the community of global organizers is. Seated near us were ACORN organizers from across North America, talking about the campaigns they were building and the work being done in Paris.

This article continues rabble.ca's reporting on global organizing. Please send articles about community organizing and global organizing efforts we should be profiling to toolkit@rabble.ca.

The origins of ACORN International

Wade Rathke: When it first began ACORN was a United States-based organization. However, our members were often immigrants and often asked if we could help build campaigns in their home countries. That was how, in 2004, we started a Community Organizations International, ACORN Peru and launched ACORN International. Within three years our membership had grown to 3,000 and our members helped to stop a national plan to privatize water in Peru and built an initiative to make city streets safer. Since 2004, our efforts have grown to include Argentina, Canada, Czech Republic, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, England, France, Honduras, India, Italy, Kenya, Mexico, Scotland, South Korea, South Africa and continues to have affiliates in the United States. Generally, we start campaigns at the invitation of organizers in the country. 

What seems a long time ago, in 1973, I wrote what I called the ACORN Organizing Model. It is not a recipe book, and should not be used as such, but is a tool for organizers and has been a guide for many of our international campaigners. However, it is important to note ACORN International is a federation and each country builds in its own way, based upon what is necessary locally. 

Building off opportunities

Wade Rathke: In 2011, the Cameron government in the United Kingdom introduced a neoliberal austerity program called "Big Society" to attack state-run programs. It was meant to be a Band-Aid offsetting the austerity measures and supposedly train 500 community organizers.  

As with many good people who end up participating in institutionalized forays into community organizing, participants who wanted to do good things sometimes found themselves not doing as much to make change as they may have wanted. So we reached out to some of them and talked to them about organizing ACORN groups here. They got very excited about that in Bristol and evangelized among their cohort.  There are some strong organizers there doing tenant-based, door-to-door organizing. And, for a while, the government was paying as we helped to develop real community organizers. 

The Community Organiser Programme has now imploded, but we ran as fast as we could to build a base and get things up and running. We now have ACORN groups in Bristol, Brixton, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Newcastle, Sheffield, and around London, mostly doing tenant-based organizing. So much of social housing has collapsed across the United Kingdom. You now have a huge increase in the percentage of people in private housing but the standard rights you would have as a tenant don't exist. Therefore, tenants are organizing to get security of tenure, stop evictions, fighting letting agencies and getting a letting bill of rights. The campaigns are building and during the 2017 election, The Guardian published this great article to help tenants demand that the candidates take on tenants' rights. In Edinburgh, the city council just moved towards rent controls, but there is a lot more to do.

Anyway, some may say that it was odd that we took advantage of a Conservative program, but this is what being in the field looks like, you take opportunities where you can. However, your work should not be opportunistic and instead you must build with integrity based on local issues.

Registering a union India

Wade Rathke: When we first started our organizing in India, it was to organize against Walmart's entry into the Indian market. Due to the concerted efforts of allies and ourselves, Walmart has had a difficult time operating in India and we are proud to take credit for our part in that. We continue to work in India through our affiliate India FDI Watch, which works to prevent the take-over of India's retail sector by corporations. We are building Joint Action Committees (JAC) led by those who will be most affected, mainly; trade associations, unions, hawkers' organizations, farmers' groups and small-scale industries. We are currently working in New Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru,and Chennai. ACORN India now is a registered union with 5,000 street hawkers in Chennai and more members in Bengalaru. In Mumbai, we have a waste pickers' co-operative and recycling centre. (Note: Here is a blog by Wade with some of what was learned while organizing in Dharavi in Mumbai). When we say we have 35,000 members through grassroots organizing in our unions in India, it sounds like a lot to North American ears, but in terms of the numbers in India it really is a pimple on the elephant's butt.

The work of our federation of allies organizing around the world has been a mixed bag. We have learned a lot about how NGOs and institutions operate in different environments. For example, in Kenya, there is some good work happening but institutions sometimes inadvertently create a dependency that makes grassroots organizing we believe in difficult. However, the organizing continues in communities around Nairobi and Kisumu.

So why Paris?

Wade Rathke:  Our affiliate in France is an organization called Alliance Citoyenne. The Alliance was initially trying to build through churches in very secular France and eventually found that did not work. So then Adrien Roux, one of the organizers, reached out to me on Facebook, as so many of us now do, explaining what she was trying to do. I said OK, well I'll Skype with you and it turned out they had an exciting project growing in Grenoble. So then one of her organizers trained with ACORN Canada's Judy Duncan and Jill O'Reilly, for nearly two months, and Adrien came and trained with me in New Orleans. Then they came back to France, and now they have six groups across France. Here in Paris, they are organizing in Aubervilliers -- one of the poorest areas in France. Most of the area is social housing. Do you remember where there was violence in the area around Chinese people? That was Aubervilliers. We had a lot of conversations for a while and they wanted us to train the Chinese organizers there. It is where Veolia built their big corporate headquarters right in this poorest district in France during the Communist government recently. It was a big gentrification project. The Alliance has been in Aubervilliers for a year and has about 800 provisional members and 200 dues-paying members in Aubervillers. 

What are some of the campaigns in Canada?

Judy Duncan: We have been fighting on issues that matter to our members who are mostly low- and moderate-income people in 20 communities across Canada. A few months ago we had our fourth National Convention in Ottawa, and our members took over the Finance Building in downtown Ottawa to demand fair banking. We are tired of the high fees charged for insufficient funds in bank accounts and other predatory lending practices that gouge users. We put out a report at the end of last year about how expensive it is to be poor in Canada because of these predatory lending practices but too many of these practices remain in place. We have also been fighting to lower the fees people pay to send money abroad (remittances), and to get federal and provincial regulations of payday lenders, and are nearing wins on both issues. Visit our website to find out more.

Another important campaign is for wireless affordability and access. We have been trying to get the government to declare internet as a vital public service. We have forced some companies to make changes and now are in discussions with the federal government.

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Pearson strike highlights 'underbelly' of airport work

3 August 2017 - 4:43pm
Meagan Gillmore

An ongoing strike at Toronto's Pearson International Airport has revealed the harsh working conditions of the airport's baggage handlers and grounds crew.

Approximately 700 Swissport employees walked off the job on July 28, after rejecting the company's latest offer. The vote to strike was overwhelming -- 95 per cent.

These workers include those who load and unload baggage, make sure a plane's weight is balanced, clean and tow planes and assist passengers with mobility needs. More than 40 airlines operating out of Canada's busiest airport use Swissport. This includes commercial airlines like Air Transat, Sunwing, British Airways and KLM Royal Dutch, and cargo carriers like UPS.

The company is using temporary workers to replace striking employees.

Picket lines have been set up outside of the airport's Terminal 3 and the Vista Cargo terminal. Trucks delivering cargo to Vista Cargo have faced delays of up to three hours.

Workers want fair wages and benefits and some control of their schedules.

There's a lot of turnover in the job, partly because of low wages. That was something the company said it wanted to address, said Harjinder Badial, vice-president of Teamsters Local 419, the union representing the workers. But Swissport's offer -- raising wages to $14 an hour, which could be Ontario's new minimum wage come January -- wasn't enough to fix this problem.

"It's not a minimum-wage job," said John Giannone, the local chief steward. Airport grounds crew work outside in extreme weather, carrying heavy bags for hours. They load baggage from their knees, or hunched over in the bottom of a plane. Repetitive stress, causing back and knee pain, become a regular part of the job. Unlike some jobs in the aviation industry, like flight attendants, grounds crew workers don't get perks like discounts on flights, Giannone said.

When passengers come to the terminal, it "looks splendid up top," said Levi Davis, a Swissport baggage handler for 10 years. "But there's an underbelly where everything goes on."

Baggage carriers have a painstaking, sometimes dangerous, job, he said. They constantly have to judge how to lift each bag without injuring themselves, especially because not all overweight baggage is properly labelled.

But the union isn't just concerned about the workers holding signs and stopping vehicles. They're also concerned about the temporary workers who have been brought in to replace them.

"Everything is calculated," Badial said. Crew need to know how to correctly read load sheets and floor plans so the plane is balanced properly. If the plane's centre of gravity isn't right, everyone's safety is at risk. The plane could fail during takeoff and crash.

Badial said he's seen people who normally work in offices working on airplane ramps. He and other striking employees say these replacement workers are not getting enough preparation, some only receiving a few days of training.

"We're hoping everybody's safe on the inside," Giannone said from the picket line at Vista Cargo. "But you can't walk around a big aircraft not being aware of everything."

The union has received photos of luggage strewn across floors, and heard stories of bags being placed on wrong planes, said Badial. Some flights have been delayed.

Swissport maintains the strike is not interfering with flights and that replacement workers have been properly trained. In an email to rabble.ca, Pierre Payette, Swissport's vice-president of operations in Toronto, said the company's "management team is actively engaged in the safety and job specific training that is mandatory for anyone working for or on behalf of the company. Certified staff as well as airline specialists are performing specific roles that require specialized training and certification by the airlines and the regulators."

Further clarification was not given.

In the same statement, Payette called delays that occurred shortly after the strike began "an initial hiccup" and said any delays since then have been within the range of what would be expected during a strike.

But the union was concerned about the company using temporary workers before the strike.

In May, the union filed a complaint of unfair labour practices with the labour board about the company hiring temporary workers. According to the complaint, the company said it needed to do this because there weren't enough workers. In a May 2 letter sent to union members, Local 419 representatives said they've been working with the company to resolve this issue for years.

The union also wants workers to receive more respect at work. Some are not getting meal breaks until the end of their shifts, or, in some cases, not at all.

"Respect is gone," said Badial, who has been involved with the union for a decade.

Work schedules are unpredictable. Right now, the company needs to give employees 96 hours' notice before they change their schedule, said Badial. But now it says it wants total control for schedules.

Flight schedules "change all the time," he said, noting that's a reality of the aviation industry, "but we certainly don't want to give up that much control to (the company)."

Employees don't always receive consistent amounts of work, and if they don't work enough hours, they may not qualify for company benefits.

Meagan Gillmore is rabble.ca's labour reporter.

Photo: Alexander Else/flickr

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Slot machine workers at Woodbine set to vote on new contract

3 August 2017 - 10:56am
Meagan Gillmore

Regular service at slot machines at Woodbine racetrack in Toronto could resume in the next few days.

More than 400 slot machine workers have been off the job at Ontario's largest gaming floor since July 14 after the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), the union representing the workers, and the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG) could not agree to a new contract.

This has meant the electronic poker room has been closed, the onsite shuttle hasn't been running, and services at the coat check have been reduced. Temporary workers have been running the slot machines during the dispute.

Members are expected to vote on the new contract on Thursday.

Key for workers have been concerns about fair scheduling, especially for part-time workers, Sharon DeSousa, PSAC's executive vice-president for Ontario told rabble.ca last month. Unpredictable schedules make it hard for them to plan for child care or support elderly parents.

Wages and benefits were also topics of disagreement during the negotiations.

Workers were also frustrated by how the government seemed to ignore their concerns, especially as Ontario considers changing employment laws to help combat precarious work.

OLG is in the midst of a years-long plan to hire outside companies to run operations at its gaming facilities. Private companies run operations at slot machines and casinos in southwestern and northern Ontario and in Belleville, Gananoque and Fraserville.

A new operator for the slots at Woodbine has not been named. Workers have been concerned about how a new operator could impact their pensions. On July 23, the Globe and Mail reported three companies were potential candidates. Liberal Member of Provincial Parliament for Etobicoke North Shafiq Qaadri, whose riding includes Woodbine, told the newspaper he was looking forward to the increased entertainment that could come to the riding, comparing it to Las Vegas.

In response, PSAC questioned why the politician had time to speak to the media, but not to address workers' concerns. "Do we need to call this lockout a fundraiser before a Liberal shows up?" DeSousa asked in a statement the union released on July 26, in advance of a workers' visit to Qaadri's office.

Meagan Gillmore is rabble.ca's labour reporter.

Photo: 水野 航平/Wikimedia Commons

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Bridging Identities when you're both settler and Indigenous

3 August 2017 - 9:20am
August 3, 2017Who am I? Bridging identities for people of both settler and Indigenous heritageThe issue of identity can be difficult for people of mixed Indigenous and settler heritage. With Braden Alexander, Heather Majaury, Myrriah Gomez-Majaury about integrating those two solitudes.

We wrote this clickbait headline and you won't believe what happened next!

2 August 2017 - 9:30pm
Kim Elliott

Let me tell you, when I saw the list of rabble.ca benefits (especially #2)  for supporting monthly donors my jaw dropped. With one simple trick (or was it click?) I was able to support independent media. When you see what happens when everyone pulls together you will be shocked!

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Committee hearings on changes to Ontario's employment law end

2 August 2017 - 10:39am
Meagan Gillmore

Beth Bedore wants to own a pair of shoes without holes.

If she earned more money, that's one of the first things she would buy. Bedore relies on her bicycle or public transit for transportation in Belleville, Ontario. Unsuitable footwear can be harmful for her health. But right now, she can't afford anything else.

She wasn't worrying about this when she was logging more than 60 hours a week preparing for product launches at Research in Motion in Waterloo where she used to be a technical writer.

That stress was nothing like what she faces now: what she calls the "looming possibility" of having to use a food bank.

Bedore was among dozens of people who addressed committee hearings held in July about Ontario's proposed changes to the Employment Standards Act (ESA) and Labour Relations Act (LRA). The government introduced Bill 148, The Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, in June. The proposed changes to the ESA and LRA include raising the general minimum wage from the current $11.40 an hour to $14 an hour in January and then to $15 an hour in January 2019. The proposed changes would also give all employees 10 days of emergency leave, two of which are paid. Right now, only employees at businesses that have more than 50 employees get emergency leave -- all unpaid.

The bill was referred to committee after first reading in June. It's expected to be debated, and potentially passed, once the legislature resumes.

Alaina King has worked at a thrift store in Parry Sound for more than a year. It's a full-time job, but she still struggles to provide for her and her three children. She knows the difficulties of working many part-time jobs, having had multiple restaurant jobs at the same time when she was living in Thunder Bay. She told rabble.ca that she's concerned about food or hydro costs that already can be "unbearable." The money for any benefit an employer gives -- even more personal leave days -- has to come from somewhere, she said. She hopes an increased minimum wage wouldn't cause her grocery bill to spike.

Bedore spoke at the hearing in Kingston, on behalf of the Poverty Roundtable Hastings Prince Edward. She supports the proposed increases to minimum wage, although she said it is still below a living wage. She knows the stress of precarious work. She's spent much of the past few years working in retail or at jobs found through temporary help agencies, until she was laid off. A few months ago, Bedore began receiving Ontario Works (OW) after her employment insurance ended.

The experience has "really pounded home that any of us are one layoff or family catastrophe away from this sort of predicament," the 51-year-old said.

But creating stable and sustainable work requires more than just raising minimum wage, labour activists say.

The government needs to make sure all workers can join unions. This means expanding card-based union certification to workers in all industries. The proposed legislation only expands card-based certification to workers at temporary help agencies, the construction industry and the home-care industry.

Allowing everyone access to card-based certification is the best thing the government can do to create fair workplaces, said Chris Buckley, president of the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL). This makes it easier for all workers to receive the protections of a union.

Employers "want full control over workers in their workplaces, and they want to be able to dictate the terms and conditions of employment," he said, and this makes unions "more significant today than they have ever been."

Buckley presented at a committee hearing in Toronto. He said he felt the government's two weeks of consultations, with locations ranging from North Bay to London to Ottawa before wrapping up in Toronto, provided all political parties with good feedback on the bill. But he thinks the government needs to do more.

Buckley would like a separate job-protected leave for survivors of domestic and sexual violence. He'd also like collective bargaining to be changed so all employees at a franchise are covered by the same contract, regardless of the location where they work.

Bedore agrees more people need access to card-based certification, but she's not optimistic that will change much for workers at temporary help agencies. In her experience, she said, workers can sometimes be put on a blacklist or moved around from location to location if employers think they'll cause trouble.

Many businesses object to the increased minimum wage, saying that the change is coming too quickly.

Meagan Gillmore is rabble.ca's labour reporter.

Photo: Premier of Ontario Photography/flickr

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Workers say WestJet doesn't do enough to protect them

2 August 2017 - 9:13am
August 2, 2017Multiple union drives reflect turbulence at WestJet WestJet employees are working in crowded environments -- and not just airplanes. Several campaigns are underway to organize workers, including customer service representatives and flight attendants.

Multiple union drives reflect turbulence at WestJet

2 August 2017 - 9:07am
Meagan Gillmore

WestJet employees are working in crowded environments -- and not just airports or airplanes.

Several campaigns are underway to organize company employees, including customer service representatives and flight attendants.

The efforts come at a crucial time for Canada's second-largest airline. WestJet plans to expand what they call ultra-low cost services in 2018. But workers say the company that prides itself on its fun and caring environment, with Disney-themed flights and Christmas-miracle, viral-sensation commercials, doesn't do enough to protect them.

According to figures posted on the company's website, revenue has increased every year since 2010. WestJet credits much of this success to its employees, the majority of whom have ownership stakes in the company. "We work hard -- really hard -- on making our employees feel valued, cared for and empowered," the company said in a June 29 blog post in response to being named an iconic Canadian brand. The post credits the success, in part, to helping employees succeed in their jobs.

But the growing number of organizing drives speaks to disconnect between the image of happy WestJet employees seen on commercials and the reality of their working lives. The airline declined an interview with rabble.ca for this article. But in an email sent to employees last month, company president and CEO Gregg Saretsky spoke out against union drives, claiming unions were misleading employees and only concerned about making money.

The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) began organizing customer service representatives and aircraft maintenance engineers this year. Unifor wants to represent WestJet's customer service representatives and call centre workers.

Organizers are optimistic, a sentiment likely boosted by the pilots' vote earlier this year to join the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), the world's largest pilot union. Sixty-two per cent of pilots voted in favour. With more than 1,400 members, WestJet pilots became the union's largest Canadian pilot group.

They're not the largest employee group seeking unionization. Organizing efforts have ramped up among WestJet's more than 3,000 flight attendants. Two groups are vying for their votes: the WestJet Professional Flight Attendants Association (WJPFAA), and the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE). This will be CUPE's third try at organizing the cabin crew. Organizing drives in 2006 and 2013-2014 were unsuccessful.

Employees' concerns are consistent across positions: unpredictable schedules, few benefits related to seniority, a growing sense the company ignores them and employee associations can't effectively represent them. But flight attendants face unique pressures. They manage workplace stress under passengers' watchful, and often critical, eyes. For WestJet customers, they are the face of the organization.

Working in 'hell' while taking passengers to paradise

A union could increase workers' health and safety protections, address problems with scheduling and seniority and ensure better wages and benefits. One of CUPE's health and safety specialists is an expert in onboard airline health and safety. According to information posted on a CUPE website dedicated to the WestJet organizing, Air Canada flight attendants with 10 years' experience earn $7.40 an hour more than WestJet flight attendants with the same experience. Air Canada's flight attendants also have a defined benefit pension plan.

"Image is everything at the company," said Daniel Kufuor, the interim treasurer at the WJPFAA. Kufuor was a WestJet flight attendant for 15 years, until January 2016.

Flight attendants must maintain the image of a company that values customers above all else -- even while working in unsafe conditions.

rabble.ca spoke with two current WestJet flight attendants. One has worked for the company for more than five years, one for less than two. Both are based in different regions of Canada. Both spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of losing their jobs.

It's "hell," said one, describing the occupation's physical and mental toll. They compared working on an airplane to living in a jail cell, except planes have nicer views. Sicknesses can spread quickly. A flight attendant's office, in many respects, is a chair, only a few centimetres away from a washroom.

Exhaustion is common. Fatigue means flight attendants may be less alert to respond in emergencies. Depending on flight schedules, flight attendants may switch from a night shift to a day shift in less than 24 hours. Employees have been concerned about problems with scheduling for years, but many say the company has done little to address this. One flight attendant said those who call to say they're too exhausted to work face numerous questions.

Past and present flight attendants mentioned concerns about a task crucial for passenger and employer safety: cleaning the airplanes. Flight attendants groom planes before and after flights, but aren't paid for it. (Flight attendants are only paid for work done once plane doors are closed.) Their health and safety equipment consists of gloves, said Kufuor. There's little, if any, training about this. The company provides great technical training, said Kufuor, but not for routine tasks like properly cleaning planes

No 'red carpet' for unions

But unions may be unable to change WestJet's company culture -- the very thing that makes the unionization drives necessary, and difficult.

Few deny the company's unique atmosphere, based largely on many employees' being part-owners of the company. In a letter on the WestJet organizing site, CUPE national president Mark Hancock described the culture as something "special" that contributes to the company being a "standout in the industry."

WestJet is "not a company that we would call union-friendly in any stretch of the imagination," Hancock said. "They're not going to roll out the red carpet for us."

On July 6, company president and CEO Gregg Saretsky sent an email to employees addressing the unionization efforts. He said other unions were targeting WestJet employees to "opportunistically" increase their business because of the pilots' successful unionization. He reminded employees of their status as owners of the company. "Isn't it better," he asked, referring to union dues, "to get a cheque than a bill?"

Unions remove direct access between employees and the company, he said. That access, he wrote, is necessary for the company to succeed.

But past and current employees, as well as union organizers at other airlines, say this culture of corporate collaboration between employees and the airline has been in descent for a long time.

Kufuor said he believes changes became more apparent in the fall of 2006. "It was almost like a culture flush of the toilet," he said. "The old WestJet, the WestJet people see in the commercials, it ceased to exist."

Workers became "disposable," he said. "We went from being owners to renters."

During this time, WestJet was consistently ranked as having one of the most admired corporate cultures in Canada, the history page on the company's website says.

In a statement online, Sam Jabbar, who is working with the organizing effort at IAM, said employees have told the union the family atmosphere has been "replaced by a corporate attitude that's interested only in making a profit."

WestJet employees have differing opinions about the company. One flight attendant who supports CUPE told rabble.ca that most cabin crew aren't truly unhappy, they just want to keep the good things they have and make it better.

Airline workers from outside WestJet also question whether employees are receiving proper treatment from the company.

Caroline Haddad has been organizing WestJet customer service representatives and call-centre agents for Unifor. An Air Canada customer service representative for decades, she said WestJet has a "wonderful airline with this great culture of independence." But many workers feel their voices aren't heard. Many WestJet customer service representatives are part-time employees, some work multiple jobs. At Air Canada, she said, unionization has allowed guarantees about how many positions are part time or full time. She's built a career, bought a house -- things WestJet's workers may never be able to do.

WestJet employees have built an "awesome" company and culture, she said, "but are they really being rewarded fairly for their contributions?"

Meagan Gillmore is rabble.ca's labour reporter.

Creative Commons licensed photo: Cara Grimshaw Photography/flickr

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Political game between former Eastern Bloc nations and EU affects asylum seekers

1 August 2017 - 9:22am
August 1, 2017Challenging the East versus the EU in the refugee relocation gameLast week, Advocate General Yves Bot dismissed the claims of Hungary and Slovakia against the EU refugee relocation scheme.

Homeless people have been studied to death. We need action now

31 July 2017 - 8:47am
July 31, 2017We don't need more studies on homelessness and health -- we need actionDespite decades of research showing homelessness is bad for your health, the gap between research and action has only widened.

We don't need more studies on homelessness and health -- we need action

30 July 2017 - 12:21pm
Cathy Crowe

Over the years big money, at least according to my standards, has gone to academics and health researchers who examine the social determinants of health. For 30 years, I’ve studied their work and quoted from their articles and reports. I believe them. Poverty, lack of housing or shelter, racism, unemployment or low wages negatively impact on health and increase the chance of an early death.

The first piece of research I was ever involved in was the 1992 Street Health Report. It was a qualitative piece of work that was acknowledged as solid nursing research by the World Health Organization. It was the first Canadian snapshot of the impact of homelessness on health. It was published before the widespread use of the Internet however it is scanned and on my website.

What’s significant about the 1992 Street Health Report is that the experts were not the researchers; it was the participants who were homeless.

They said:

"The right to healthy and secure rest should be guaranteed to every being on the planet, just like food and air."
- A young man in his 30s, interviewed in a hostel.

"If you don’t have a foundation, you have a house that tumbles. You have homelessness and fear. You have fear that the law will pick you up as a vagrant." 
- A woman in her forties, interviewed in a hostel.

"I got frostbite this year because I had no place to go and I was walking all night." 
- A young man in his 30s, interviewed in a hostel.

"The hardest part of being on the street (not in a shelter) is that it takes away your self respect and confidence. You're constantly lining up for a meal, sleeping with your clothes on, trying to look decent." 
- A man in his 30s, interviewed in a soup kitchen.

"Living on the streets you learn there is lots of prejudice in the medical world against you. You don't have the same rights as everyone else." 
- A man in his 40s, interviewed at a meal place.

"The hardest part is maintaining your emotional stability, because you're not getting anywhere. Your self esteem goes down the tubes." 
- A young man in his 30s, interviewed in a shelter.

"Sexual harassment happens almost every day."
- A young woman, interviewed in a shelter.

Today, twenty-five years after the Street Health Report was published, amidst a worsening homelessness crisis that was declared a disaster in 1998, the gap between research and action could not be greater. In fact, the 30 and 40-somethings from the interviews, if they did not find affordable housing are probably dead, their name inscribed on the Toronto Homeless Memorial.

Here is my snapshot for today:

There is no "Declaration on the Right to Shelter in Toronto," or perhaps anywhere in Canada. In Toronto no right to shelter means that anywhere from 500-1,000 people remain shelterless, relying on volunteer Out of the Cold programs or overnight drop-ins that are really warming centres not real shelters.

The City allows or applies these bandaid measures in the winter only, essentially saying, "Spring, summer, fall -- you’re on your own," and people are. They are forced to sleep and live outside on sidewalks, in parks and ravines, under bridges, in abandoned buildings or cars. To make matters worse, they are ticketed, fined or evicted from those locations by city workers, including police.

Toronto shelters remain well beyond the recommended 90% capacity leading to disease, violence and undue stress. Case in point: Seaton House, Canada’s largest men’s shelter, is now entering its 18th month of a Group A Strep outbreak that included an invasive strain that can cause meningitis, pneumonia or worse.

Toronto's mayor, John Tory, has ignored the 16,000-person petition calling for an armoury or a similar facility to open as an emergency, low-barrier emergency shelter. The Mayor and city staff has similarly ignored pleas from respected leaders from organizations that work with homeless people for help on the shelter capacity front. These include Haven Toronto, Sanctuary, Out of the Cold, West Neighbourhood House, Salvation Army, Social Planning Toronto and 30 more.

To add insult to injury, in the midst of an opiate overdose crisis that has crossed the nation, both the fire department and police department of Canada's largest city do not carry Naloxone, the anti-opiate that if used within seconds of arrival can save a life. In a 36-hour period Toronto recently saw 24 overdoses and four deaths.

With Toronto's new Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Eileen de Villa, one could be hopeful. This week Toronto Public Health released a glimpse of the homeless death data they are collecting. The numbers are shocking: 46 people died while homeless between January and June of this year. That number now surpasses Toronto stats for death by homicide or in traffic accidents. The average age of a homeless person's death is 50. That’s 30 years younger than the Canadian average. Shocking, but it confirms all the social determinants of health research.  

What's more alarming is what we're not being told, what is being contemptibly held back by Toronto Public Health until the one year mark of the research in 2018. This includes: What was the gender breakdown of deaths, how many were youth, what were the medical causes of death, how many were suicides, how many were overdoses, how many were traumatic deaths such as hypothermia, how many occurred outside or in a shelter or hospital? So much information collected by the city that could guide solutions today but no, the gap between research and action just widens.

One has to wonder if it’s ethical to not release data when there is such widespread concern but perhaps more frightening, who is influencing the decision to stay silent and why?

As we wrote in the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee’s State of Emergency Declaration in 1998, "homeless people have been studied to death."

It's now time for action. 

Image: Ontario Coalition Against Poverty

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rabble was one of the first independent journalism sites in the world

28 July 2017 - 5:23pm
July 28, 2017One of the first independent journalism sites in the world can thrive with your helpNot enough people know that rabble was one of the first independent journalism sites in the world. You can help rabble take it to the next level in amplifying the voices of social movements.

Will Ontario let landlords and condominiums ban smoking recreational marijuana?

28 July 2017 - 10:43am
Civil Liberties WatchFood & Health

The federal government's proposed Cannabis Act, if passed, will legalize and regulate the production, sale and possession of recreational marijuana across Canada by July 2018. However, each of the provinces have decisions to make about how cannabis will be used, sold and regulated in their province. Until July 31, 2017, Ontarians can share feedback through a survey asking how the government should approach legalizing marijuana in Ontario.

The survey asks for input in five areas: (1) the minimum age someone can use, keep and buy cannabis, (2) where cannabis can be used, (3) road safety, (4) regulating sales of cannabis, and (5) planning public education.

One important question is where cannabis can be used: where will individuals be allowed to smoke marijuana and who gets to decide that? As marijuana is legalized by the federal government, it will be up to the Province to regulate how it can be used in some spheres. For instance, the Province could restrict the ability of landlords and condominium boards to prohibit vaping and/or smoking within units. Provincial regulations could also determine whether condo boards will be able to restrict vaping and smoking marijuana recreationally in common spaces like rooftops and courtyards.

When it comes to vaping and smoking of recreational marijuana in individual units or common spaces in condo buildings, a regime that allows landlords and property managers to set their own rules and practices has important implications. Like with tobacco, landlords and condominiums may be inclined to ban residential use of recreational marijuana on account of health and safety risks and to head off complaints from residents.

A related issue is whether the Province will prohibit vaping and smoking in the public sphere -- and the mechanisms used to enforce such prohibition.

In Colorado, which legalized marijuana in 2014, public smoking remained prohibited. Parks and businesses such as hotels became go-to places for recreational use for those who could not smoke in their unit, resulting in an enormous 471 per cent  increase in public consumption tickets (the mechanism used to enforce the prohibition). Though there do not yet seem to be comprehensive stats on exactly who was most affected by the ticketing, it is unlikely that single‑dwelling homeowners were affected and there are some indications that Black people have been disproportionately targeted.

Assuming Ontario follows a similar path allowing landlords and condominiums to set bans on smoking recreational marijuana while also banning public consumption, we can expect the same trials and tribulations experienced in Colarado. This solution would effectively re‑criminalize the public consumption of recreational marijuana, affecting most severely those who are unable to afford single-dwelling homes. It also creates the potential for abuses by landlords or condominiums who may discriminate against tenants or owners they dislike or towards whom they feel prejudice. This approach favours wealthy homeowners, while low‑income residents will lose out.

At this stage, the Province seems to still be grappling with whether to ban smoking and vaping in public and is seeking feedback from the public at large.

One of the solutions on the table is to designate certain private spaces for recreational marijuana smoking, such as cannabis lounges. After its challenges with ticketing a growing number of pot smokers in parks and on the street, Denver passed a resolution in November 2016 to allow select businesses like cafes and yoga studios to have designated smoking areas for recreational marijuana and, this summer, the city opened its first private cannabis clubs. Canada's Task Force on Cannabis Legalization and Regulation has recommended that the federal government de‑criminalize dedicated places like cannabis lounges and tasting rooms for consuming recreational marijuana. However, this seems to be an inadequate solution, particularly if access to these areas is at the whim of private sector businesses which can set membership fees and limit entry to their spaces.

It is time we consider these questions in the context of fair access to recreational marijuana use in private and public spaces. Ontario has the opportunity to avoid the mistakes made south of the border, and establish a comprehensive regime for the enjoyment of recreational marijuana that is accessible to recreational marijuana users regardless of class and race. To do so, the Province needs to think twice about granting landlords and condominiums the right to ban smoking by tenants and owners and ensure that designated smoking areas are both available to and can actually be used by the public when legalization takes effect next summer.

Elliot Fonarev is an articling student at Iler Campbell LLP, a law firm serving co-ops, not-for-profits, charities and socially minded small business and individuals in Ontario. He lives in Toronto.

Pro Bono provides legal information designed to educate and entertain readers. But legal information is not the same as legal advice -- the application of law to an individual's specific circumstances. While efforts are made to ensure the legal information provided through these columns is useful, we strongly recommend you consult a lawyer for assistance with your particular situation to obtain accurate advice.

Submit requests for future Pro Bono topics to probono@rabble.ca. Read past Pro Bono columns here.

Photo: ashton/flickr

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pro bonomarijuana legalizationMarijuana Lawscannabismarijuana reformElliot FonarevPro BonoJuly 28, 2017Landlords and tenants to fight out right to grow medical marijuana under new regulationsWhile new regulations governing the growth of medical marijuana provide a quick solution for the issue of reasonable access, they leave the tough questions for tenants and housing providers.Outgrowing the government: Medical cannabis access in Canada in light of the Allard decisionCities like Vancouver, Victoria and Toronto are experiencing a medical cannabis dispensary boom -- neon lights and all. What is going on? Why now? And are they legal?This election, let's have a real debate about legalizing marijuanaOn the campaign trail, Stephen Harper is repeating assertions that relaxing pot laws will lead to terrible things. But the real debate is whether we should decriminalize or legalize it.

VUCAVU offers 45 years of independent video and film from Canadian artists

28 July 2017 - 9:52am
July 28, 2017Independent video, film artists in Canada get a massive new online portalVUCAVU is the brainchild of independent video and film distributors from across Canada, concerned by the tidal wave of digitization that has pushed lesser-known artists to the edges of distribution.

Independent video, film artists in Canada get a massive new online portal

28 July 2017 - 9:46am
Arts & CultureTechnology

A trip to the optometrist can be inspiring for Cecilia Araneda, the executive director of VUCAVU, a newly launched online portal featuring 45 years of independent video and film from Canadian artists.

"My optometrist will say to me 'I saw this film at the Cinematheque but where can I find more like it?' And I realize these films have a bigger fan base than I think!," Araneda told rabble.ca in an interview.

VUCAVU is the brainchild of a group of independent video and film distributors from across Canada, concerned by the tidal wave of digitization and social media that has served to push lesser-known artists to the edges of distribution.

"With digital right now it's as if we are reverting back to the '80s -- I'm thinking of music where there is a focus on mega stars, and that is who is being marketed," noted Araneda. "The idea of the internet was that everything would be made visible but instead, a lot is invisible -- it's like trying to find a needle in a haystack."

At the moment, VUCAVU has about 5,000 videos digitized with a total of 14,000 to be completed by mid-2018. They include such venerable artists as Michael Snow and Guy Maddin.

The kernel for the idea was sparked by an early 2000s Canada Council report concerning distribution models. Since then, various distribution agencies such as the Canadian Filmmakers Distribution Centre in Toronto, the Winnipeg Film Group, Video Pool in Montreal and a few others have tried to launch the portal.

In 2013, they got a $1.5-million startup grant to get it going. By late 2018, Araneda expects VUCAVU to be launched fully along with a more public campaign.

"The idea is along the model of Netflix," said Araneda. "Most people want to stream, downloading is dead."

Netflix as a model

VUCAVU is primarily for curators around the world interested in programming Canadian videos and films and these users, who have to present their credentials, would be provided free access.

On another level is the public. So, VUCAVU would allow someone to pay $1 to $5 (access and prices are set by the artist) to screen a work for a period of time, say 72 hours. 

Lastly, VUCAVU would also become a subscription service where institutions can pay monthly for access.

"We're trying to have a different model so that these artists can find wider audiences," she said. "We are not competing with the National Film Board (NFB) because they are very different -- they have certain types of films and they market them very well. Of course, they are also fully funded by the government."

Araneda says the distributors are keen to "professionalize" the work of video and film artists.

"We are creating a new consciousness of Canadian culture and bringing it out to light. The problem of digital tools is that it's gotten so far ahead in the last 10 years but opportunities in marketing and distribution are static -- i.e. film festivals, which don't pay usually."

Artists have been paid for the videos that are streaming for "free" but there are also many videos that are not available to the public depending on what the artist wants. VUCAVU is pretty much a virtual space that parallels artist-run centres.

"Artists get money for production but rarely for presentation," emphasizes Araneda. "VUCAVU is about the artist -- they retain the copyright and control the relationship."

Araneda, a filmmaker herself who is based mostly out of Winnipeg, says she's had the privilege and pleasure of seeing much of the video works that are coming in.

"I see how video art has come out of a politicized space -- a reaction to white, male-dominated film culture," she said. "It opened up Queer culture, Indigenous issues … educating us about stories that the mainstream media isn't presenting to us. It's provocative."

'Agent of reconciliation'

Araneda is particularly touched by the work of Winnipeg's Jackie Traverse.

"She works in animation and covers her personal experience with The Sixties Scoop and this is in no way a POV documentary. It's about recovering, alcoholism."

The Sixties Scoops refers to a time between the 1960s and the 1980s when thousands of Aboriginal children were taken from their homes by child-welfare workers and placed with mostly non-Aboriginal families.

For Araneda, bringing lesser-known artists and their works out to a bigger audience has taken on a personal meaning.

"I see VUCAVU as a meaningful agent of reconciliation [with Indigenous peoples]," she said. "It's important right now in Canada -- so we can move beyond ignorance."

She harkens back to her roots -- in Chile. Her mother was a political refugee, escaping the violent dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. They arrived in Canada when she was a child. Eventually, the family settled in northern Manitoba, where Araneda grew up among Indigenous people.

"I was welcomed as a refugee into the community," she recalled. "Living in The Pas was both great and awful…I think of the missing and murdered Indigenous women and then my life, which was opposite of that."

Araneda deems it a mission to bring out more Indigenous artists into the world so their stories, their lived experiences, can be seen and heard.

"It's so important to recover what has been missed."

June Chua is a Berlin-based journalist who regularly writes about the arts for rabble.ca.

Video stills from film "Two Scoops" by Jackie Traverse

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Canadian filmindependent filmCanadian artistsdigital artdigitizationfilm distributionvideo artJune ChuaJuly 28, 2017Instagram project chronicles search for missing and murdered Indigenous womenThere's another story to the tragic saga of missing and murdered Indigenous women and it's coming to light through an Instagram project created by the National Film Board.'Rise' series documents frontlines of Indigenous movementsRise is a fantastic new series that covers a resurgent Indigenous cultural urgency, filmed by Toronto's Christopher Yapp and executive directed by award-winning filmmaker Michelle Latimer.Mad Room: Black artist lays bare struggle with depression, anxietyTangled Art Gallery in Toronto is opening its first-ever installation, featuring the work of local artist Gloria Swain and focusing on her experience as a Black woman in the mental health system.

Reflections on Radical Handmaid protests in Canada

27 July 2017 - 9:59am
July 27, 2017The Radical Handmaids' tale of reproductive justice began on Parliament HillOn April 25, 2012, a small grassroots group of (mostly) young women donned outfits inspired by Margaret Atwood's 1985 novel, The Handmaid's Tale, and went to Parliament Hill for a little "cosplay."

Former Alberta PC leadership candidate Richard Starke to UCP Mothership: A PC I was elected and a PC I'll remain!

27 July 2017 - 12:52am
David J. Climenhaga

Richard Starke, it turns out, is not just a nice guy, he's a principled one as well.

This is not to say, I should hasten to add, that I ever thought Starke, MLA for Vermilion-Lloydminster, former Tory cabinet minister and candidate for the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party, was anything but principled.

Still, now that Jason Kenney's double reverse hostile takeover of the PC Party by the Wildrose Party last spring, and then of the Wildrose Party by the PCs last Saturday, is all but complete, one imagines MLAs from the two conservative parties are under enormous pressure to knuckle under and behave themselves. Good behaviour, of course, being in this case defined by Kenney and his minions.

Moreover, despite his obvious decency, Starke is just as clearly not an unambitious man, as the retired Prairie veterinarian's willingness last winter and spring to run for the PC leadership against Kenney, a former Harper government cabinet minister who is not an MLA, made clear.

So if there was an opportunity for a future high-profile cabinet portfolio, I had thought Starke was likely to stick around to see what would happen.

But Starke didn't stick around. He said yesterday he has told the Speaker of the Legislature he intends to continue to sit as a Progressive Conservative MLA as long as there's a Progressive Conservative Party. If it ceases to exist, he'll sit as an Independent.

That Starke only waited until the first available business day to tell us about his plans paints a vivid picture of the real state of conservative merger movement after what Postmedia's Don Braid, apparently letting his enthusiasm get the better of him, hailed as "a massive consensus." Braid's headline writer did him one better, accurately reflecting the tone of the column: The decision, the headline hyperventilated, was "a massive and historic vote for conservative unity in Alberta."

It wasn't just Braid. All day Sunday and Monday supporters of the "United Conservative Party" merger and their media auxiliary were crowing about the effect the combined new UCP caucus would have on the NDP Government of Premier Rachel Notley. (Not much, actually, seeing as the electoral math of a majority government won't change at all.)

The 22 Wildrose MLAs plus the seven PCs would add up to 29, we were repeatedly reminded. Well, make that 28, now that Starke has decided to bail out.

Monday morning, he issued the following statement his Facebook page, which deserves to be quoted in its entirety:

"After much consideration, I have decided that I will not join the United Conservative Party Caucus," Starke wrote.

"When I made the decision to seek elected office in 2011, I promised the constituents of Vermilion-Lloydminster that I would hold to values and principles consistent with Progressive Conservatism -- the values espoused by Peter Lougheed that first drew me to the Progressive Conservative party when I was in my teens.

"In both 2012 and 2015 I was nominated by the Vermilion-Lloydminster Progressive Conservative Association as their candidate, and elected by the people of Vermilion-Lloydminster as a Progressive Conservative MLA.

"At the conclusion of the PC Leadership campaign I was assured that my voice and those of the people who supported me would be welcomed by the new leadership. I took that assurance in good faith. My experience, and that of many like-minded party members who have left or been driven from the party, is that our views are not welcome, and that the values and principles we believe in will not be part of the new party going forward." (Emphasis added.)

"I have no way of knowing whether the leadership and policies of the new party will align with the values and principles I ran and was elected on. Without certainty in that knowledge I cannot, in good conscience, sit as a member of that party.

"I have informed the Speaker and the Legislative Assembly Office of my intentions. My first responsibility remains unchanged -- to represent the people of Vermilion-Lloydminster with the commitment and integrity they deserve." He concluded: "I am honoured to continue this endeavour."

For this, you can count on it, Starke will be viciously excoriated by Kenney’s followers for "disloyalty" to the conservative movement -- although what he has decided to do, arguably, demonstrates the opposite.

UCP supporters may also say that one MLA is just one MLA, which is true enough. Surely, though, it is a symptom of the strains below the surface in the post-progressive era of Alberta conservatism that a respected MLA and former cabinet member like Starke would walk away from the party at this hour.

He elaborated a little on his reasons to the CBC, citing Kenney's hostility to gay-straight alliances in schools, his refusal to take part in the Edmonton Pride Parade, and statements on social media from PC Party President Len Thom that compared the province's social studies curriculum to Hitler Youth indoctrination.

"As a veterinarian, at some point if there are so many clinical signs, you have to make a diagnosis," Starke observed bluntly.

Presumably all this means the PCs under Kenney wouldn't have chosen Starke as interim UCP leader in any circumstances, but they did (as suggested here they might) choose Nathan Cooper, MLA for Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills and a former Wildrose staffer, for the job. Alas, Dr. Starke might have added Mr. Cooper's past role as spokesperson for a social conservative group opposed to what it called the "homosexual agenda" to his list of concerns.

Now, UCP supporters may argue that a leadership race is yet to take place, and Wildrose Leader Brian Jean, who lately has been trying to define himself as the candidate of the party's progressives, will be running in it, so nothing is decided. You can believe that if you wish. But is said here Mr. Jean is no match for the Kenney juggernaut, which will crush him this fall just as it crushed Starke, Stephen Khan and Sandra Jansen last spring.

Premier Notley is another matter, of course, and while it is considered heresy in conservative and journalistic circles in Alberta to say so just now, a conservative party led by the baggage-laden Kenney and abandoned by respected Tories like Starke is not a slam dunk to defeat Notley and her New Democrats.

As the determinedly right-wing Kelly McParland of the National Post, of all people, admitted, "it's no given that Alberta's United Conservatives will manage to reclaim all the best offices at the legislature in Edmonton come 2019."

McParland's reasoning is the usual conservative elitist pishposh about how voters are so dumb they can be "bought with their own money." They're not, of course.

But they might -- just might -- ignore the PACed up big-money guys now dancing the Frankenparty fandango and recognize they're getting pretty good government in very difficult circumstances from Premier Notley and her disciplined NDP caucus.

McParland moans: "What if Notley beats the united Tories anyway?" He calls this possibility "scary." In light of what the UCP seems to represent, many Albertans may be starting to see this differently. Perhaps Starke is one of them.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

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Climate activism and ecosocialism: What kind of movement do we need?

26 July 2017 - 9:12pm
Brad Hornick

In Militant Particularism and Global Ambition: The Conceptual Politics of Place, Space, and Environment in the Work of Raymond Williams, David Harvey discusses the challenges presented by moving from place out across time. In the midst of his involvement in a participatory research project within a high-stakes local struggle against the closure of an automotive plant, he was accused of being a "free-floating Marxist intellectual," an outsider, and he was given the "evil eye" and asked to explain "where his loyalties lay." This is in an environment where people were losing jobs, and families and communities were being destroyed. Harvey takes the accusation to heart and proceeds to explore the alienation inherent in the intellectual's role and the responsibility of abstracting concepts from the lived experiences of local activism.

Harvey approaches this research with an eye to understanding the politics of community and "broader social forces" as a "parallel force to the politics of the workplace" in a context where working-class solidarities at the particular worksite were diminishing. But Harvey is reproached by his co-researchers for his allegiance to methodological distance and his perceived shift to "reactionary intellectualism" in his contextualizing the passion of struggle within the closure of political categories. In negotiating a broadening of the conceptual space of interpretation, he is "disloyal" to local union and community activism -- the active, vivid, and unique lived experience of struggles for socialism in his midst.

His preoccupation with larger theoretical and strategic concerns potentially undermines the "structures of feeling" that embolden the activists involved in the immediate struggle. His motivation comes from the desire to positively influence local militancy but also to extend its program toward broader socialist aims, to "break out of its local bonds and become a viable alternative to capitalism as a working mode of production and social relations." But what right does Harvey have to intervene and impose layers of "scientific" strategy to divert the energies of a group of people in a particular place toward a more universalist political project? He asks:

"What might it mean to be loyal to abstractions rather than to actual people? ... What is it that constitutes a privileged claim to knowledge, and how can we judge, understand, adjudicate, and perhaps negotiate different knowledges constructed at very different levels of abstraction under radically different material conditions?"

Harvey confronts a paradox: In order to understand and contribute to the militant particularism of local struggles and not become a "spectator" abstracted from the local situation, he needs to immerse himself in and identify with that struggle. In order to accurately account for scientific and analytical causalities and meaningfully appraise particularism and become strategic, he needs to maintain distance from the struggle. One threatens loss of subjectivity from approaching the object (embodiment), the other from receding (disembodiment).

Naomi Klein, John Bellamy Foster, Richard Smith

Harvey's idea is that a militant project begins in a place, and if it maintains its energy and gets properly strategic over time, it will translate into a more consequential movement. An "intellectual" parachuted into the midst of an incipient militant particularism would betray a sense of entitlement, privilege, and potentially reactionary energy by saying, "What you're doing is wrong." Rather, "traditional intellectuals" (working within studied social scientific rules) might more usefully ask, "How can we contextualize what is happening in relation to larger issues?" This would occur in discussion and solidarity with what Gramsci calls "organic intellectuals," individuals usually within subaltern groups working within grassroots language and practices.

In recent debates within the ecosocialist community, Richard Smith and John Bellamy Foster discuss similar themes of moving from place out across time. For ecosocialists, capitalism and the Anthropocene are the global signifiers upon which all worker and environmental movements must focus with urgency. The fate of humanity in the short term literally rests upon this universalist pursuit. Ecological alternatives are not possible within the framework of capitalism, so socialist demands must be articulated alongside transitional concrete ecological demands and reforms. In recent posts to climateandcapitalism.com, Smith and Foster (2017) brew over the subject of Naomi Klein and the ongoing tug-of-war to claim or disclaim her as an ecosocialist. At issue is her theoretical rigor and tendency to straddle the organic and traditional.

Ecosocialists can be quick to identify the dramatic irony in how the aims of environmental activism are consistently neutralized by activists themselves. Constrained by time and place, local activism is compelled by immediate circumstances to act on the self-evidential nature of particularist truths at the moment of apprehension. Capitalist culture is powerfully resilient for the very reason that it incorporates these contingent system threats into its own reproduction. If activism remains compartmentalized or reformist, it remains embedded in, and will not threaten the global power and inertia of, capital. If theory is neither precise nor rigorously explicit, it also evacuates revolutionary potential.

Klein positions herself within movements where people are already engaged in forms of making sense of the world while responding to immediate vital and existential needs. She is also, as are Foster and Smith, a "free-floating intellectual" maintaining methodological distance in order to infuse, widen, and contextualize conceptual abstraction and offer strategic direction. Her book, This Changes Everything, is important for popularizing the critique of our whole socio-economic system and the geological time scales of climate science. As I have argued elsewhere, whether intentional or not, she appeals to wide audiences in part because of theoretical and strategic ambiguity, or "wiggle room."

In Smith's writing, there is a potent sense of climate emergency and the desire to "keep the (strategic) eye on the ball." Read Smith's short book on Green Capitalism: The God that Failed, which could have been subtitled Ecosocialism: How to Be Loyal to Abstractions. It is a series of smartly written polemics, but with a sober theoretical foundation. Smith's irreverent, in-your-face fury is infused with the will to impose abstractions with different versions of scope and truth upon the "impeccably respectable premises" of conventional economics (and environmental activism).

Smith argues that Klein has "broken open the mainstream discourse, cataloguing the failures, contradictions, and corruptions of so-called green capitalism," and that she "nails climate change squarely on the door of capitalism with a withering indictment." But when Klein talks about capitalism, she does so in an equivocating sense, qualifying "capitalism" with adjectives such as "neoliberal," "extractivist," and so on, which also reconfigures strategic goals. Klein's "Blockadia is not a strategy," says Smith, and neither are her other "maddeningly confusing, contradictory, even incoherent" prescriptions. Klein is thus "an eloquent liberal-radical investigative journalist ... but she is no ecosocialist ... with no systematic analysis or critique of capitalism as a system whatsoever."

In Smith, you will not see pithy pronouncements like Klein's "to change the world we need everyone." You will read sharp, interrogative distinctions drawn between ostensibly "radical" economists and environmentalists and a forceful evocation of Marxist and political economic positions geared toward the contemporary ecological crisis. Warrior up on a rhetorical level!

Ruthlessly reveal mainstream environmentalist absurdities, deconstruct platitudes, call out euphemisms! Strike at the heart of false gods and zero in on the unequivocal message: shut the system down ... move beyond technological visions of "decoupling" and "dematerialization" ... depose the 1%, halt market and profit driven growth, bring on radical global industrial economic contraction that the ecological crisis demands.


By contrast, John Bellamy Foster responds that while he may not agree with everything Klein says, "her influence and her radicalism, at the left end of the climate movement, are beyond question," that she "walks a fine line between social democracy and socialism/anarchism," and is "openly anti-capitalist." Foster argues that we don't want so much a movement that is "limited to advanced ecosocialists" but a "broader movement that can actually be effective today." Ecosocialists should "stay to the left of those like Klein and sharpen the critique within the movement but also support and work with them so as to not separate themselves from broader radicalism. ... If she does not always articulate this explicitly in terms of an ecosocialist strategy, it is because her strategy is rooted in the real movement as it exists today."

Foster is confident that he knows Klein as a comrade. He concludes the exchange with Smith with a personal story that is emblematic of the role of relationship and solidarity-building in action. Foster and Klein are together being chased by police in Johannesburg at a climate meeting in 2002. Outfitted in military gear, police throw percussion grenades, then kettle and point rifles in a stare-off with climate protesters. Foster claims Klein heroically "disregard[s] the danger." He remembers prophetically "thinking at that time that she was the kind of leader that the movement needed -- if she would once embrace the issue of capitalism versus the climate." As it turns out, Klein later penned a book with that name, Foster's uncanny prescience realized.

Foster's and Klein's shared "fuck-you-to-power" moment of anarchist rebelliousness is a powerful performative statement. The embodied moment concretely codifies political position vis-à-vis the state, capital, and ruling class as well as international, class, and gender solidarity. The moment is felt as something immediately trustworthy and an alternative to the certainties that abstract concepts promise but rarely deliver. The story illustrates that as much as conceptual clarity is important in moving goals forward, a sense of discernment about the metaphoric and affective dimension that initiates and builds associations and relationships requires cultivation.

To use Walter Benjamin's vocabulary, the moment's auratic quality imbues the relationship with profound symbolic density and meaning. A redemptive moment, it connects their present with history's revolutionary acts and cements their personal pact. In these moments, Foster seizes on the dialectical image of revolutionary negation and exits the argument with Smith without further explanation. Foster wants to enable Klein as a comrade rather than diffusing the power of the moment with theoretical dissimulation. Smith, in equally necessary moves, wants to embolden and equip comrades with revolutionary intellectual tools by asserting objective and logical necessity into vital and existential necessity.

Radicals are a tricky bunch. Anyone who has attempted to rouse significant numbers of Marxist intellectuals to action, or coalesce disparate groups of direct-action anarchists to a shared cause, knows it is like herding cats, and it is much easier to attract hoards of environmental nonprofit careerists, with their banal spectacle activism, with an ounce of foundation funding. This makes anti-(green)-capitalist and ecosocialist organizing that is directed to undermining the systemic logic of capitalism challenging. Yet, what inspires ecosocialist faith in their own relevance is the methodically reasoned account of a stable, identifiable conceptual and affective fault-line of the entire social whole that divides our present totality from the future, one that if we can name and permit ourselves to cross, and then recruit others, will open a new set of (non-catastrophically terminal) possibilities for the world.

Both Smith's and Foster's life work has done as much as anyone to point the world toward identifying and engaging with that fault-line, rather than pursuing much less ambitious or counterproductive goals. (The latter would include COP21-inspired, market-based adjustments such as carbon pricing, alone, as the holy grail of climate mitigation.) Climate scientists reach toward comprehensive and authoritative understanding of earth systems, which by now are sufficiently objectively definitive to be actionable. But if we believe that progress is even possible within the severe time limits that ecological crisis imposes, we also recognize that action at the level of wholesale change (for instance in terms of relations of production) is dormant in this deadly game of catch-up ... and the "procrastination penalty" to be paid for inaction is getting beyond reach.

Marx showed how history was materially transformed through a series of contradictions toward greater complexity, but held out the promise of one particular class representing the universal interests of humanity, if activated within objective conditions by political agency. The problem today is that cyclical and conjunctural crises that have propelled capitalism to hegemonic global reach and to the point of near absolute structural crisis have also eliminated resistance in the form of a consequential collective agent that would avert ecological collapse.

Harvey concludes the above episode referencing a kind of intellectual's sovereign exceptionalism, the notion of the intellectual's role being at once "inside" and at the same time "outside" of experience. The right to engage and impose interpretations follows from the need to fulfill obligations to comrades who are simultaneously political allies as well as obligations to the considered political saliency of the immediate and long-term objectives of a political act.

The former may lead toward a more arbitrary or instrumental relationship with immediate objects and objectives, the latter toward suspended intellectualism, abstract deconstruction of the immanent rationality of a particularism. Both are potential vehicles toward immobilization, or toward empowerment. In the meantime, our atmosphere is well over 490 parts per million CO2 equivalents. Welcome to our apocalyptic, or revolutionary, future.

Brad Hornick is a PhD candidate in Sociology at Simon Fraser University. He is active with System Change Not Climate Change – an Ecosocialist Network, and the Vancouver Ecosocialists. This article first published in New Politics.

Photo: Joe Brusky/flickr

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The Radical Handmaids' tale of reproductive justice began on Parliament Hill

26 July 2017 - 3:26pm
Radical Handmaids on Parliament Hill Today, on Parliament Hill, the Radical Handmaids gather in opposition to Motion 312, the anti-choice motion that seeks to redefine when human life begins.The science and art of defeating Motion 312The pro-choice movement scored a significant victory last week in the Parliamentary debate over anti-choice Motion 312. It could prove to be a watershed moment, one that could end the abortion debate.Without Apology: Writings on Abortion in CanadaAre you getting any closer? A pocket-sized primer on female sexualityShannon StettnerThe clitoris. Something so powerful and wonderful, yet largely misunderstood and ignored. Dive into female pleasure and sexuality with "Closer: Notes from the Orgasmic Frontier of Female Sexuality."Athabasca University PressAalya AhmadRadical HandmaidsJuly 27, 2017Reproductive activism in CanadaArts & CultureFeminism2016$29.95

Without Apology gathers the voices of activists, feminists, and scholars as well as abortion providers and clinic support staff alongside the stories of women whose experience with abortion is personal. With the particular aim of moving beyond the polarizing rhetoric that has characterized the issue of abortion and reproductive justice for so long, the collection offers engrossing and arresting accounts that will promote both reflection and discussion. The following excerpt comes from a chapter by the Radical Handmaids, whose protests in 2012 were inspired by Margaret Atwood's famous novel, The Handmaid's Tale. At a time when activists dressed as handmaids are bringing renewed attention to the fight for reproductive rights in the U.S. and around the world, the Radical Handmaids' reflections have a new resonance.

On April 25, 2012, a small grassroots group of (mostly) young women donned outfits inspired by Margaret Atwood's 1985 novel, The Handmaid's Tale, and went to Parliament Hill for a little "cosplay" to protest Motion 312 -- Conservative MP Stephen Woodworth's attempt to reopen the abortion debate by proposing that a Parliamentary committee be established to revisit the question of fetal personhood. We called ourselves the Radical Handmaids.


Our protest took place the day before the opening debate on Woodworth's Motion 312, on April 26, 2012. The motion was supposed to return to the House of Commons in June but was postponed until September 21, with the vote taking place on September 26. As expected, the motion did not pass, but 91 MPs -- four Liberals and the rest Conservatives -- voted in favour of reopening the abortion debate, including the minister responsible for the Status of Women, Rona Ambrose (who, after the election of the Trudeau-led Liberals in October 2015, became the interim leader of the Conservative Party). Woodworth's initiative has not been, nor will it be, the only attempt to recriminalize abortion in Canada. In May 2012, another Conservative MP, Maurice Vellacott, tried to appropriate the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia to suggest, bizarrely, that abortion bullies the fetus in the womb.

It's tempting to regard these anti-choice proposals as little more than quaint flare-ups of an outmoded and marginal ideology. Eyebrows may be raised at the suggestion that campaigns against bullying should extend to fetuses, but no matter what's happening south of the border, in Canada, a perception endures that the War on Women is only a silly skirmish -- interesting to observe or debate but unlikely to have any real consequences for women's lives, even with a Conservative federal government in power. Therefore, the Radical Handmaids were met with shrugs and why-bothers from some quarters. Even Margaret Atwood herself said in 2011, prior to the Conservatives' return as a majority, that a debate on abortion ought to be had, albeit located within its proper context:

Harper says he will not allow a debate on abortion. But he should allow it. All aspects of this troublesome question -- and it has been troublesome throughout history, as there are no lovely answers -- should be thoroughly discussed. There should be clarity on Harper's attitude to women and children and their well-being. Let them die of malnutrition? Supply adequate diet, public support if there's no income, protection from rape and enforced prostitution, improved adoption procedures, education, better hospitals and access to drugs, new orphanages, enforced chastity, unwillingly pregnant women locked up in mega-jails, payment per baby if baby-making is service provided to the state, pace Napoleon? What's it to be? Spit it out. Let us know what may be coming soon to a neighbourhood near us.

Of course -- and Atwood's intention was undoubtedly to highlight this dismal reality -- those whose bodies and lives are particularly vulnerable to such debates, fertile women, are condemned to watch from the sidelines. As Atwood makes clear, the problem with the view that such a debate is harmless is its dislocation from the context in which it needs to be firmly situated -- the Harper Conservatives' relentless erosion of hard-won feminist gains since their first rise to power as a minority in 2006. Looked at in this way, the attacks on reproductive rights, however silly, become not marginal but central to the steady pattern of an anti-feminist backlash. Too often, abortion rights are isolated from their intrinsic connection with the other rights that feminists have fought for. And yet those rights -- including access to education, affordable child care, freedom from stifling poverty, and the ability to leave abusive partners, to name only a few -- are integral to women's ability to choose whether, when, and with whom they will have children.

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Jagmeet Singh brings flair and audacity to NDP leadership race

26 July 2017 - 9:03am
July 26, 2017Jagmeet Singh is the self-styled candidate of connections and emotionJagmeet Singh entered the NDP leadership race months after the four other candidates, yet there is polling and anecdotal evidence that he already has higher, and more positive, name recognition.