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Tree SilhouettesOver the last year, I have found myself in several fairly interesting discussions about community development work. Not in the nature of actually building empowerment within communities or the struggles associated with that but something just as significant. Everyone knows this type of work takes time, effort, energy, dedication, collaboration and plenty of other elements in the mix. Reflecting through a social justice lens this also means that we have to look at community work through the complexities of culture, communities, privilege and class to name a few.

So what was the discussion around? The precarious nature of internal dynamics of organizations.

Frequently, I had conversations with friends, workers and acquaintances over the frustrations of internal dynamics and structures. The conversation usually starts with comments surrounding their voices were not readily heard, continuous structural changes, and overall diminished sense of empowerment. The workers essentially become disenchanted and either leave or just stay until their contracts end. All this to say, this nature of community organizing lacks a sense of desire for others to replace them.

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On Friday night I attend a talk by Andrea Smith who spoke about the racism that exists in North America around the Violence against Native Women and the struggle of indigenous peoples.

Andrea Smith is a Cherokee feminist and anti-violence activist who is the the  co-founder for INCITE! An aloquint speaker i found that I was really drawn into the points that she made around systemic racism that exists in our North American culture around peoples of colour.

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A brave warrior fell today…
A life taken by her own hands
For why we will not know.

Skill, Drive, and Smart…

An active activist,
A pusher of progression for progress.

I stop to reflect
On my own dialect,
My own rederic.

A world filled with people
Stronger, faster, and more fit.

Resisting an urge to be weak,
To seek the status of lie-s.
Just – to – get – by.

“We are strong & not meek.”
They cry to passers by.
Rhetoric told to tame our minds.

But my world is different and full.

We need more courage
To stand up to this mirage
Of instant strength…
Of instant strength.

It’s okay to be weak.
To discuss fears & shed tears.
Of Shame and Sorrow.

The breadth of my voice
Speaks gallons of emotions
Gallons of reflections.

My arms open to embrace,
The emotions you face.

To be there…
Solid like a tree – determined to absorb – and transform.
To not mask
These therapeutic tears of growth and trajectory
To something new and less blue.

uploadThe news came to me a week ago that someone I had known in Montreal had died – taken her life in an abrupt moment.

I question all of this in my mind. This womyn was positive, an activist, deep thinker, adventurous and really seemed to have so much going for her.

Her close friends, foreign friends, distant friends are all left wondering why? To most there wasn’t any signs that indicated that she was struggling.

But it really begs the point for me. Is there a stereotypical type of person that defines suicidal? No. Not really.

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On a recent trip to the Hastings county I wanted to reduce the emissions of the trip (3 hours west of Ottawa) from Montreal – so I posted an ad on Craigslist rideshare.

The day of the ride I waited for an hour to meet up with the four people who agreed to ride with me – none of which showed up.Needless to say I was a bit disheartened, and felt that perhaps I should have just hitch hiked, ridden my bike, or  taking the train out to Ottawa rather than renting a car for this trip.

At the last minute I was contacted by a guy who needed a lift. I’m thinking this is awesome because at least someone will be coming along. In talking with Ray I found out that he was an artist recently based in Montreal – his forum was graffiti-based art. Although not into graffiti since his youth, Ray was exploring his work on canvasses primarily.

At some point my bladder was about to burst – and clearly it’s hard to drive and pee out the window… so I stopped at a gas station. When I got back Ray was listening to his iPod while he waited for me. Ironically, from this point forward Ray continued to listen to his iPod while I drove (read: the remaining 2 hours of the trip). Suddenly, I became a glorified chaffuer for a Montreal-based artist – “Would you like some tea and crumpets with your drive sir?”

Questioning our society

It’s this kind of behaviour that really makes me think about where we are heading with society. Sure it’s not an expectation that we would talk the entire ride, but isn’t there some basic polite principles that can be expected? Am I insane for feeling that this is really anti-social behaviour?

It makes me wonder how we got to this point? Where common norms and respectful behaviour to people has been lost. It’s this attitude of “it’s all for me” or “the world’s an oyster [i’m taking it]” that really makes me sad. Often I see youth driving around with their parents in the same situation as I was in. It appears as though there is no discussion between parent and child and those bright white earphones are hanging from their ears. A bubble is made.

Frankly, if I were an adult in that situation I’d rather listen to the same music as my child then create a situation like that. Tragically, I never told this guy how I felt when he left. He tossed me $15 American dollars and left the car. I felt a bit used.

Does it mean that I’m a jadded-no-longer-interested car pooler? No, it means that we need to work harder at continuing to build back our society from being so individualistic. I think it’s one thing to love and care for yourself and another to really ignore what’s going around you unless it means something to you. Life isn’t here to serve us we are here to interact with it.

Yes take care of yourself, nuture yourself, love yourself, but nuture people around you too. Destroy the bubbles and get to know people around you – build community.

I’m proud to say that I work in a really supportive cooperative organisation that empowers other organisations to mobilise their causes online through web technologies. It’s pretty amazing work to be doing right now and a big switch-up from doing workshops to youth in the past.

A recent alarm was raised by a close friend and co-worker about our organisation being an oppressive space, which has caused a massive  debate about the validity of this complaint. Our organisation sees itself as being very  ‘progressive’  and it was clear that it’s members felt a sting from this comment…

Systemic Oppression in the Workplace

I’ve talked a lot with other people outside of our collective about oppression in the workplace. I’m shocked to hear about how frequently this still happens in companies. It is also heart breaking to hear from people who don’t fight back against this societal norm of oppression.

Why are we accepting to be treated in sexist, racist, homophobic, dominant, and diminishing ways?

I suppose we have to look at the fact that society doesn’t really raise us up to fight for what we feel is important. It’s also a case of power in some situations where we could be fired (as I have been) for calling out overtly oppressive situations.

We still have a stigma towards really addressing issues face on when people raise alarms. We tend to just shut them up rather than listen and make changes. In turn, it means that people who do speak out about things aren’t guaranteed any results and it could make the situation worse…

Solidarity + Safe spaces = Positive Future

In some ways the debate of who is responsible for what or whether a place is oppressive or not has become a major issue at my work. It really raised some alarm bells for me in terms of how we are dealing with these issues.

This is simple and clearcut to me.

We need to stop trying to find justification for people’s complaints and openly talk about their concerns. Full stop.

If someone doesn’t feel a space is safe, inhibits oppression, or has a complaint then ask them if they are okay and how they feel it could be changed. This is a means of support rather than further oppression (through justification). Honestly, it doesn’t matter whether you agree or not, because in order to collectively work together we need to consider everyone’s boundaries when working/living/loving together in spaces. It’s just that easy.

On top of all of this I think as a main framework implementing systems to provide ways to report issues, create safety, and work on what needs changing is essential. We aren’t going to empower those within our organisations, our lives, our hearts without providing a space for them to speak up / speak out.

Showing Respect

This comes from not requiring other parties to really defend the validity of our complaints or concerns. It means…

  • Listening and trying to understand the complaint
  • Being aware
  • Thinking about the complaint and how we could make it safer for that person
  • Being humble
  • Discussing issues that you don’t understand (Note: This doesn’t conjure up ideas of getitng them to defend or provide examples)

Spending our energy on finding solutions rather than fighting a battle is way more productive and probably could solve most of the worlds problems. So this is a good reminder for me to just open my heart and listen.

Get In Line

I’m a huge believer in solidarity. I think the only way to really stop oppression is to raise flags when we see this being exhibited anywhere. Being an ally rather than passive simply means that we making it pretty clear to those around us that this is unacceptable. If we don’t show solidarity in banning together on these issues then we have less of a chance of really removing this from our patriotic system.

For society to progress we need to realise that lots of these things are difficult to unpack and unlearn. But with some heart, humanity, and humbness we can more so much closer to what we ideally want. With some concrete education on respect, love, and anti-oppression we move towards a society that respects itself and others. A society open to criticism, feedback, and shifting away from the history that we so tightly hold onto.

For me – well – I’m just going to keep striving to continue to listen, respect, learn, and grow in an anti-oppressive way.

 

“If we view society as a physical organism, there are clearly parts of this organism that are in dire neglect. For to leave one’s own, here and elsewhere, without shelter, without food, without love… is not very hygienic.

Without downplaying the seriousness of the H1N1 threat to many, we have to realize the disproportionate media coverage and financial investment thrown at fighting a potential pandemic, compared to that directed at the eradication of a flagrant problem which is killing thousands of people each day through hunger, insalubrity, violence, and so on. Not to mention the paranoia and fear which form the face of such coverage. Not very hygienic…” – Etat d’urgance

Every year an urban village was created in downtown area of Montreal to provide an eclectic space for homeless people of Montreal to receive support through food, free clothing, warm shelter, music, arts, and other programming.

My shift started at 7 AM in the morning on Sunday, November 29th – the last day of the festival – after 450 volunteers had managed to help pull off the entire shift by working around the clock to support the people at the village.

Throughout the entire week chefs came from various restaurants to prepare amazing food for the people living in the village. One mornings breakfast included salmon, oysters, eggs, croissants, and fruit. A feast for the kings and queens of the street.

To help out I carried most of the food being prepared by the chefs into the serving area, as well as refilling the coffee machines when they ran out. The entire experience was humbling – to realise that on a regular basis there are people on the street that don’t have the safe luxuries that I do. That most of the time don’t get to choose what they can and can’t eat. It was humbling to realise that after refilling the coffee machine 6-7 times we had essentially served probably over 600-700 people.

The chef that I worked with had an amazing story about having come from a war torn country. Seeing and experiencing threats of this magnitude changes a person I expect. For the last two years he has been contributing to this village through his amazing cooking abilities. He had gotten up at 2 AM in the morning to start preparing the trays of potatoes and sausages to be served. If that wasn’t impressive enough he had been cracking eggs to fill two gallon buckets for the meal.That’s serious dedication towards providing something as beautiful as food for people in need.

On a side note it was also really exciting to see ATSA’s mandate to lower their ecological footprint by recycling and composting all of the waste that was generated. Helping the people and helping the environment – that’s the kinda world that I want to live in.

The Otesha Project (Australia) are setting up another two bicycle tours this year to ride around regional areas of Australia. Each group consists of about 15 – 20 participants and gather together performing a comical theatrical performance and workshops that help youth feel empowered to make small changes that will have massive impacts in the world! We target youth from year 7+ and engage them around environmental and social justice issues – moving them towards considering more sustainable consumption patterns.

Now I need your help! We are trying to fundraise money so that we can pay for the entire program and I’ll be riding along too (since I’ve been volunteering most of my time and getting paid very little I thought it was appropriate to ask people for some help). If you have a few bucks lying around and think you could donate it only takes a second. Every gold coin or bill helps us reach our goal that much more.

Plus it would mean that we would have enough funding to provide liability insurance while on the road, follow-up with youth after the trip, and support members while riding on the tour.

If you would like to help us check out our donation page here.

Thanks for your support it means SOOO much!

Peace and bike grease,

Shane

As an activist, sustainability educator, and random person sometimes I find it difficult not to try and mesh all three of these elements into the way that I communicate thoughts about life. Recent discussions around dumpster diving and educating the “masses” about the legalities of such acts has raised alarm bells for me. Let me start by defining these actions..

Dumpster Diving: The act of going into commercial dumpsters (or non-commercial to) and pull out items of use or food that is being waste for reuse or consumption.

Gleaning: The act of going into farmers fields (note: still legal in Europe although not as heavily acted upon as the old days) and taking the produce left on the farm fields after the harvest.

In the true form Gleaning is an act that is still legal in Europe as a means of collecting left over food. The concept of Dumpster Diving has been a response to the over production of food rather than a means to the end.

In its outright Dumpster Diving is not a sustainable action, but something that most people do in response to the over consumption that our existing world takes part in. Correction: Our existing world meaning “Western” world because travelling to places like Ecuador you find people eating the food that we tend to throw away – brown bananas anyone?

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This image draws me back to a trip a while ago when I travelled to Yurta Yurta Land with Uncle Wayne and Than-lan, a beautiful and wonderful friend.

We were sitting under this tree when Uncle Wayne told us that for years, for centuries, for a period not all that fathomable to me there had been Aboriginals gathering to collect clams, eat, and leave the “garbage” near the tree. I lay there thinking about the tree growing, collecting shells, and experiencing this connection/relationship.

At the heart of it all is…
knowledge
my heart
wisdom
change
something different
me

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