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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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[I recognize that some people might read this article and find it hard — or _I hope not_ offensive. Please comment and write in the comments cause really the point of this is to create a discussion not prove my point]

It’s interesting working in several organizations and seeing the various dynamics and relationships that exist within them. Most recently I’ve been working in a pretty large cooperative that contained at moments up to 35 people and now more around 25 people (on a good day). Our mission is to support other organizations attain their goals online through the use of open source software. It’s interesting, nerdy, and fun to help people realize new and cool things they can do online. And most importantly, at least for me, is to be able to break that _hard-ass_ bubble barrier that technology creates for folks. Yep you go it technology empowerment!

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[Written for Michael Freeman – a man of many talents – wait for the audio I reckon it will be better]

A progressor of progression
Towards a new – open world.

Not so cold
Not so old
So so so much more bold.

A spoon deep in a vessel
Sizzling senses of hot sauces

Brewing…
Of deep support,
sustenance,
and spirit.

His hands like a magician
Crafting unseen grace in the food he touches.

A tapstry of local foods –
a plate of possibilities.

Casting people in a revolution of trance for
Change with their mouths.

A magician unlike others
He’s ready to teach
– You and me –
The magic!
And remove the smoke and mirrors…

Michael
Your a friend I respect
A laugh as contagious as a winter cold
A heart solid like a beetroot freshly picked.

Your not buying into this cash train
Finding possibilities,
Spreading messages,
In the actions you take
The actions  you make.

– An actor nota talker –

I thank you
For inspiring, encouraging, and loving me

It’s true –
Our friendship is like glue

Founded on canned foods,
Long talks,
and all the shit that will shift this revolution onward upward and forward.

SALUT!

[I found out just the other day that a dear friend of mine from Australia has passed on after having a diabetic coma. It’s really hit me hard as I really saw her as a sister, friend, and awesome person in this world. So to her I wrote this…]

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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.

For a moment consider the following classic scenario.

A womyn is working at a work place and her male manager begins to making explicit derogatory comments towards his fellow employee (read: comments ranging from sexuality, having sex, or competency – choose your own adventure). Most often followed by physical gestures towards this individual (read: winking, pinching, touching, etc.)

There are laws in place to indicate that the manager is at fault, because in this way his actions are creating a dynamic that is oppressing this womyn in the workplace. Tragically this type of situation is still happening and encouraging inequality.

Forms of Oppression

These days forms of oppression can happen in many different facets be it verbal, physical, or even mental abuse (in the form of non-verbal).

Mental abuse is actually a harder action to trace back to its origin mainly because the action itself is displayed through non-verbal actions (walking away, disregarding peoples thoughts, ignoring, not attempting to solve conflict, etc). Understandably, statistics indicate that mental abuse is the hardest form of abuse to prove. In contrast, physical and verbal forms of abuse are far more tangible and present.

Society still struggles with recognising that this is a true form of abuse. What’s interesting is that in the example above there are actually two forms of abuse happening. The manager making a sexual comment to his employee and then winking is indicative of both verbal and non-verbal abuse.

Resolving Oppression

At the base of this all it’s really important to stop any form of oppression or abuse.

  • Tell people – It’s important to tell people around you what is happening to bring more awareness to the actions.
  • Talk to the abuser – Not always the easiest option. Sometimes impossible (sometimes it’s easier to just leave I know). But realising that it’s not going to change that person if you don’t talk to them about what is going on for you. Using a facilitator can be helpful to ensure that no further abuse takes place.

Enter stage left… (Solidarity is the key)

The concept of solidarity is to create a pact of common responsibilities and interests around issues.

  • A pact – Creating a pact with other people who could be affected in this situation too (coworkers, friends, etc)
  • Solidarity – Collectively demand an end to the action
  • Actions – Taking actions like work-to-rule, striking, collectively resigning, or demanding the resignation or leaving.

What’s interesting is that it’s not about taking one persons side, but more about trying to balance the table. Demanding that an action does take place. If the person being oppressed has taken action and the oppressor has not recipricated the power is still in their hands. The crux of the problem.

We are all human and do make mistakes, but we need to be responsible for our actions in life. Intentions are great but actions are stronger. Actions have brought this world to what it is today whether we agree with it or not.

(Thanks Sarah for your awesome insight in this)

“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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