Thursday, November 29, 2007

Sudbury: Resisting the Next Stage in 'Free Trade'

On December 17th there will be an event in Sudbury on resisting the latest stage in what gets spun as 'free trade', co-sponsored by the BC Stop TILMA Coalition, the Council of Canadians, and Upping the Anti. Topics covered will include the new inter-provincial agreement between B.C. and Alberta, called TILMA, which the Ontario provincial government wants in on, as well as the so-called Security and Prosperity Partnership (or SPP) being negotiated among Canada, the U.S., and Mexico. I expect that the panellists will be presenting critiques coming from at least a couple of different angles, so it should be an opportunity for an interesting discussion.

Here are the details:

Resisting the Next Stage in 'Free Trade'

TILMA, Corporate Globalization and Democracy

Date: Monday, December 17, 2007
Time: 7:00pm - 9:00pm
Location: St.Andrew's Place, 4th Floor
Street: 111 Larch Street
City/Town: Sudbury, ON

What is TILMA?

It's the Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement, and it's bad news.

TILMA is an interprovincial trade deal signed in secret by the premiers of BC and Alberta. And now the Ontario government wants in on it.

The deal extends privileges similar to those in NAFTA to corporations and individuals. Corporations can sue provincial governments and their official agencies for any regulation deemed harmful to investment.

TILMA was signed without any democratic process, without even consultation in the provincial legislatures and municipalities.

The Agreement creates far-reaching deregulations that will benefit corporations, while challenging governments’ right to create public policy. It eliminates the power of municipalities, local and regional governments to act in the best interest of their communities.

It occurs at the same time that the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP) is being negotiated between the Canadian, Mexican and US governments which is also deepening ‘free’ trade as well as extending common security practices between the three states.

The speakers will be

Caelie Frampton, BC Stop TILMA Coalition,
Eduardo Sousa, Ontario-Quebec Regional Organizer, Council of Canadians
Gary Kinsman, Advisory Board of Upping the Anti

Free public event
This location is wheelchair accessible.

Come on out!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Conservatives Shut Groups Out of Hearings on Secret Trials

The legislation under which the canadian state claims the right to throw out due process and hold secret trials based on secret evidence -- a process used in recent years exclusively to target racialized Muslim men -- was ruled unconstitutional by the Surpeme Court earlier this year. The Court gave the government a year to fix things, and recently, despite a nation-wide day of action calling for the abolishment of secret trials, which included a decent action here in Sudbury, the Conservatives have responded to the Court by introducing legislation that that will tinker with the secret trials process but not fundamentally change its flawed and unjust character.

The most recent development is that groups working on the issue have been denied standing in the supposedly public hearings on the new legislation. Here is the material released today by the Campaign to Stop Secret Trials in Canada:

Campaign to Stop Secret Trials in Canada

For Immediate Release

Groups outraged at being shut out of public hearings on new security certificate legislation

Conservatives accused of forcing Bill C-3 through Parliament despite broad public opposition

Ottawa, 27 November 2007 – Groups who have been on the forefront of the campaign against security certificates are demanding an opportunity to be heard in public hearings on the proposed new legislation, Bill C-3. The request was made in a strongly-worded letter sent today to the Parliamentary Committee charged with reviewing C-3. The letter accused the Conservative government of attempting to force the unpopular bill through Parliament without public debate.

Community organizations and human rights groups are normally allowed to comment on proposed legislation before it is adopted. However, groups who applied to the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security were informed on Friday that the application process had closed. It closed on Thursday, less than two days after the bill was referred.

“We were more than disappointed to learn that we are being denied the opportunity to appear before the standing committee,” said Adil Charkaoui, whose constitutional challenge led to the Supreme Court ruling in February.

“It is shocking that no Muslim community association, none of the groups who work directly with the detainees - Justice for Mohamed Harkat Committee (Ottawa), the Coalition Justice for Adil Charkaoui (Montreal) and the Campaign to Stop Secret Trials in Canada (Toronto) – no family members, and none of the detainees’ lawyers are being given a chance to respond,” said Mary Foster of the Coalition Justice for Adil Charkaoui. “They have the most intimate knowledge of these cases, they are the most immediately affected. They are in a position to speak about the serious social consequences to targeted communities. They brought the issue to the attention of the public. But now they are being shut out and silenced.”

International organizations such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and CAIR-CAN, all of whom have actively engaged on the issue for years, are also absent from the witness list.

“This is a matter of an undemocratic law being forced through Parliament in an undemocratic manner,” stated Matthew Behrens of the Campaign to Stop Secret Trials in Canada. “The addition of this special advocate changes nothing. If they succeed in forcing through C-3, we will be in essentially the same position as before the Supreme Court decision: secrecy, no fair trial, indefinite detention, house arrest and deportation to torture on the basis of suspicion ... It’s outrageous.”

“The Conservatives have created a false emergency which is serving to silence opposition. Where is the emergency? They are simply fear-mongering, trying to scare the public and opposition parties into accepting a new security certificate without debate,” said Marie-Ève Lamy, of the Coalition Justice for Adil Charkaoui. “Let’s recall that the government has had since last February, when the Supreme Court decided to leave this illegal law in place for another year. Why did the Conservatives leave it until the last minute? Why are they pretending that they can’t ask the Court for an extension, as has been done in the past? This is a kind of bullying that cannot be tolerated in a democracy.”

“Bill C-3 raises issues of profound importance for Canadian society. It directly affects the fundamental rights of tens of thousands of people living in Canada who don’t have citizenship, and has far-reaching consequences for all of us,” said Foster. “Yet it is being railroaded through Parliament at a pace that allows for no serious opposition. Why? Are the Conservatives afraid of an open and democratic discussion on this issue?”

Community organizations in Montreal and elsewhere are responding by organizing a popular day of action against the new security certificate on Friday, 7 December. Visits will be organized to the riding offices of MPs who voted for the new law at second reading, to deliver a strong message that C-3 is not wanted by their constituents.


Interviews, more information: tel. 514 222 0205 (Montreal); tel. 416 651 5800 (Toronto); tel. 613 276-9102 (Ottawa)
Source: Coalition Justice for Adil Charkaoui; Justice for Mohamed Harkat Committee; Campaign to Stop Secret Trials in Canada

Text of letter to Standing Committee

November 27, 2007

To: Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security

We, the undersigned, hereby request to be heard by the Standing Committee on Public Safety concerning Bill C-3.

Several of the undersigned first applied to be heard on or before Friday, November 23, only to learn that the witness list was already closed. This apparently occurred on Thursday, less than two days after the Bill was referred to committee. We vigorously object to the profoundly undemocratic decision to close the witness list so quickly, thereby excluding many of the groups most directly affected by the security certificate process.

However, it is perhaps not surprising that the Committee has decided to shut the door on the groups working with the men currently held under security certificates and their families. This decision is eerily consistent with the secretive character of the security certificate process itself, left intact by Bill C-3. The most directly affected individuals are shut out of the process, deprived of their basic democratic right to speak out in their own defence, while their fate is decided by others, without their participation.

Bill C-3 perpetuates a two-tiered justice system which discriminates against the tens of thousands of Canadian residents who are on their way to becoming citizens, and has far-reaching consequences for all of us. The new law, like the old one, allows Canadian residents to be indefinitely deprived of their liberty or deported to a country where they are at risk of torture or execution, all this on the basis of secret allegations. The addition of a special advocate does not change the fundamentally unfair and discriminatory character of the procedure, which still violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The government would have us believe that Bill C-3 must at all costs be adopted before February 23, 2008, when the Supreme Court's decision declaring the former security certificate provisions null and void will take effect. Yet the government knows full well that it has many other options. These include charging the current security certificate detainees under criminal law if there is a case against them. The government could also ask the Supreme Court to extend the February deadline. Extensions have been granted by the Supreme Court under similar circumstances in the past. The government is using the February deadline argument to rush Bill C-3 through Parliament and silence opposition, after having created a false sense of urgency by presenting the Bill at the last moment and exploiting the fear of terrorism.

Bill C-3 will have long-lasting effects on the rights of Canadians residents who are in the process of acquiring citizenship. It maintains a system that violates our most fundamental values of fairness and due process. Should the Committee maintain its decision to refuse to hear groups representing those most directly affected by Bill C-3, this will reinforce public perception that the process of adoption of the bill is as unfair as its content.

Coalition Justice for Adil Charkaoui, 514 222 0205
Justice for Mohamed Harkat Committee, 613 276-9102
Campaign to Stop Secret Trials in Canada, 416 651 5800

Monday, November 26, 2007

Why Them-Who-Own Like the Harper Minority Government

Generally speaking, I don't write a whole lot about mainstream electoral politics, but a few nights ago as I was trying to get to sleep it occurred to me that, as far as that tiny segment of Canadians with the most power is concerned, this whole Harper minority government is a pretty sweet deal.

Now, depending on how you read that statement, it might come across as kind of a bold one -- what do I really know about that particular tiny segment, after all? -- or as incredibly obvious. While I make no claims that it is a particularly deep insight, I don't think it is quite as immediately dismissable as either of those reactions would have it.

First of all, I should define a little more clearly who I mean to include in that tiny segment. I don't mean the entirety of the somewhat larger minority of people who stand a shot of benefiting materially or ideologically from a government formed by a party committed to shifting towards an even more open attack than recent Liberal governments on gains won in decades past by communities and movements that struggled for social justice -- that is, at least theoretically, those who are included in one or more likely several of the following: people of the middle class, people who are socially understood to be white, people who are assigned from birth to the gender box "male", and so on. That is, I don't mean all people who accrue benefits of one sort or another from relations of power being made more stark, but rather that subset who at least potentially have some significant sway over how things work in this country in more than a member-of-a-large-group kind of way. I mean the people who own the place and, probably, their highest ranking functionaries. I mean those people who might qualify for the label "the ruling class", though it isn't vocabulary I commonly employ myself.

Now, it is entirely correct that I have no direct knowledge of this class of people. I am pretty privileged in a lot of ways, and certainly there are some people that I know who in the conventional, distributionist way of understanding class would be categorized as "upper-middle class". I suppose, given my primary partner's profession, I'm on the edge of fitting that bill myself, and likely will in a few more years if I don't already. But I'm not sure I've ever met a gen-yu-eyn capitalist or even a leading lackey. One person I did anti-poverty stuff with years ago was born into an owning-class family in the '30s, but had taken a different path from that several decades before we met. There was a summer program I did one year as a teenager that had a few mighty privileged youth in it, but I have no idea where precisely they might fit into things. Generally speaking, it just isn't a part of my experience.

Direct interpersonal interactions isn't the only way to build this kind of understanding, of course. According to sources that I respect, it is possible to get a fairly accurate picture of what those in charge are saying to one another by reading the elite business press.

Of course, I don't do that either.

No, I base my guess on a rather more roundabout route: I read lots of books about how the world works and in particular about how the corner of it currently understood as "Canada" works. I spend lots of time thinking about it all, too. For incentive to do a decent job of it, I have the fact that I am trying to write a book and other things that I want to stand a chance of getting published and then read and then regarded as having said things that are at least a little bit interesting and useful. None of this is to strike a pose as some sort of expert when it comes to these things, because I'm not, just to point out that my gut reactions are at least the product of some effort and so are no less likely to contain some insight than any other regular person.

The other reaction that statement might get is that it is so obvious as not to be worth saying -- of course the (mostly) boys in charge like the Conservatives. But I think it's more complicated than that. Actually, given the history of the twentieth century, it seems pretty obvious that them-who-own in Canada like both the Conservatives and the Liberals, and much of the time have probably, on balance, preferred the Liberals for various reasons. Many of the more progressive members of the Liberal Party seem pretty adept at convincing themselves that their organization is 'anti-establishment', which is a neat trick given that the Liberal Party has been the establishment in most ways that matter, in most of the places I have lived, for most of my adult life. The most generous interpretation of how things actually work is that the Liberal Party has historically been a somewhat less unfavourable terrain for pushing for ruling class acceptance of particular kinds of compromises that benefit non-elite segments of society, but that approval from at least a significant proportion of them-who-own is necessary for such compromises to be considered admissable (though where that approval falls does depend on the state of struggle and the location of current inertia outside of the confines of political parties).

So what does this tiny segment want? Well, there are lots of things you can read that talk about it in very complicated ways -- competition among them, different historical dynamics, relationship between that tiny segment here and elsewhere, blah, blah, blah. I think it is possible to say some useful things that are pretty simple, however: Those who are in charge wish to stay in charge. And, given that "in chargeness" at a social level is not a binary thing where you are or you aren't but instead depends on the state of relations among people that no single group controls and that in some ways is created constantly by all of us, they generally wish to increase their level of "in chargeness". This can be read as increasing their ability to expropriate the fruits of making and doing -- that is, to make a profit -- and also as refining and expanding the capacity of organizations acting largely in their interest to exert other kinds of control.

Now, because the effective level of elite "in chargeness" depends on a whole bunch of complicated relations and is not solely dictated from on high, these two imperatives can actually pull in different directions. For example, efforts to squeeze a bit more profit out of a bunch of workers can prompt those workers to heightened levels of resistance, which in turn can threaten to push back the level of profit extraction of those workers farther than it was to begin with.

This brings me to why I think a Conservative minority government is particularly useful to them-who-own in Canada today. One thing that them-who-own depend on to retain their position as benefiting most from how things are is to maintain a sense of legitimacy for how things are. One component of that is that the collection of functions and practices and relations we call "the state" are seen as legitimate. And one component of that -- an important one given that most people really think more in terms of "the government" -- is that the party in charge has to have some legitimacy. In Canada, though the Liberals have historically been useful more often than the Conservatives in stitching together that perception of legitimacy to rule, their long stay in power under Chretien and Martin plus the corruption scandals they faced mean that, at the moment, they are less useful for providing this veneer of legitimacy. Sooner or later they will be resuscitated and Liberal majority rule will return, but we're not there yet. Perhaps even more troubling to them-who-own is the idea that a Liberal minority government would most likely depend on the NDP to function. The NDP is hardly a radical influence, but with the last Liberal budget they did demonstrate a capacity to push for minor reforms that would mildly slow the implementation of the ongoing project of neoliberalism (which largely translates to "the ongoing project of enhancing the ability of them-who-own to be in charge and to benefit from being in charge"). While this is not something that would be intolerable to them-who-own under all circumstances -- for instance, if social movements were in a more active state at the moment, and it was important to shore up the legitimacy of how things are by showing a capacity to respond to certain kinds of needs -- it really is not something that is necessary for them at the moment.

On the other hand, I think there may be reasons why a plunge into a Conservative majority at the time of the last election might have been something that them-who-own would have been ambivalent about as well. On the one hand, Conservative willingness to be more aggressive in implementing neoliberal reforms would have been seen as welcome, but there is always the spectre of resistance from ordinary people. The Liberals, starting especially with the draconian budget of 1995, showed remarkable skill for implementing such reforms in ways that did not result in a whole lot of sustained resistance. Had they won a majority a year and a half back, the current crop of Conservatives, depending as they do on a base that cares passionately about certain issues that are connected less directly to the class interests of them-who-own but that really don't sit too well with a lot of ordinary Canadians who have done very little to oppose neoliberalism, might have jumped right in and done things that got people in Canada all riled up. This opposition to certain aspects of red-meat social conservatism could easily have spilled over into obstacles to neoliberal reforms that enhance ruling-class power. But what have we seen with a minority government? We have seen a process in which the public fear of rule by the new dominant clique of Conservatives is being eased, making resistance less likely if they get a majority and are able to pursue some of their pet projects with more vigour. And it is also a process in which the new dominant clique of Conservatives are being socialized into the role of being a suitable government, so that if they do ultimately form a majority government then they will be more subtle and skilled, and perhaps even a bit more restrained, in throwing blood-drenched red meat to their base. And if the way out of our current Parliamentary impasse ends up being a return to majority Liberal rule, well, then, they've been shown that Canada is capable of electing this new flavour of Conservative, so they'd better be doubly devoted to neoliberalism if they wish to remain the usual party of choice of them-who-own.

All of which probably makes it sound as if my understanding of how things work is a lot more class-determinist than it really is. As neatly as all of the speculation above fits together, at least to my way of seeing it, I think it is entirely likely that the relationship of the explicit interests of them-who-own to party politics is a step or two farther back, as long as the main contenders pose no threat to their interests (which is the case in Canada today). But there is still something I find useful about this back-of-napkin, thick-chunky-crayon, outliney kind of sketch of some of the context of electoral politics in Canada today.

Canadian Militarism

I think maybe it overemphasizes the role of arms-related profits in keeping us in Afghanistan, but it is still a pretty striking article. Here's a brief excerpt:

Though negligible in terms of its military power, Canada profits from war in many ways. To start, we have the dubious honour of being the sixth largest supplier of military goods in the world. Between 1997 and 2002, Canada’s military exports rose from $23 million to $678 million. Since then, according to a recent CBC investigation (1), Canada’s military exports have tripled. Though under the Export and Import Permits Act, the government is supposed to report its military exports to parliament, for the past four years – that’s three successive governments, two Liberal and one Conservative – that has not happened. Keeping this information from the public is a trend that cuts across party lines.

I have my doubts about the 1997 number in this paragraph -- seems a bit low to me -- but the fact that Canada is the "sixth largest supplier of military goods in the world", despite having a much smaller population than the countries I would expect to be ahead of us in the list, is -- well, it's a sad, awful thing.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Review:Learning From Our History

[Tania Das Gupta. Learning From Our History: Community Development by Immigrant Women in Ontario 1958-1986: A Tool for Action. Toronto: Cross Cultural Communications Centre, 1986.]

This is a short, deceptively simple book. It is a rare example of a text produced out of, by, and for communities in struggle. Though its author had recently received a PhD for work on/with garment workers in Toronto (and later wrote this book and contributed to this book, I think among others), it is not at all a product of academia, nor is it oriented towards academic consumption. Neither is it interested in preconceptions, often held by more privileged folk who don the mantle "activist," that mistake certain moments and modes of confrontation for the entirety of "struggle." Rather, it is immigrant women and women of colour preserving some of their collective experience from the erasure it often faces, in the interest of supporting other immigrant women and women of colour in their efforts.

After some concise introductory remarks, the book moves on to its main content: a schematic presentation of groups and programs created by immigrant women and women of colour in Ontario over the decades in question with a few key reflections on each, followed by a more detailed examination of some of the key groups. The book closes with a detailed listing of practical resources, including contact information of groups and organizations and networks, and a list of relevant publications.

I'm not clear how useful this volume would be today as a practical tool -- "a tool for action", as the subtitle says -- in the manner originally intended. I think at least some of the practical lessons that are drawn from the detailed case studies would remain relevant to similar work today. At the same time, a lot has changed. The communities have changed, in that most are much larger today than they were 20 years ago, and at different stages of institutional and political evolution. The state has changed as well, both in ways prompted by pressure from below to respond to the needs of racialized and/or new Canadians, and in ways prompted by the mix of pressures from above and elite reorientations that gets labelled "neoliberalism." I suspect this means that the opportunities and challenges facing organizing by immigrant women and women of colour in Canada have changed since then in important practical ways, though I do not know enough to speculate about how.

One of the things that jumped out at me as being different then than it would probably be in similar work today was the way in which the categories "immigrant women" and "women of colour" were related. My sense is that at that time, at least in Toronto, there was considerable effort to distinguish the specificities of the experiences of racialized immigrants so as to pointedly counter earlier erasure and in the face of political clout and access to resources related to the label "immigrant" (such as they were) still falling disproportionately to organizations coming out of southern European communities, even though non-European immigration was well on its way to becoming numerically predominant. This book is very clear in naming racism and pointing out some of the ways that mattered at the time for immigrant women, but I suspect the ways that would show up in the text and in implicit assumptions about "natural" communities of interest would be different today.

One of the most interesting aspects of this book is that the vast majority of the history that it chronicles is about the relationship between immigrant women and the state. In some ways, this is not surprising. After all, much of the organizing by immigrant women was in response to very immediate, very urgent needs experienced by themselves, their families, and their communities. The strand of social democracy in the political culture in general, the particular approaches introduced into state practices by the Liberal governments of the '70s, and the fact that there was really nowhere else to get the resources to respond to community needs makes this orientation an obvious, almost inevitable, choice.

The book is quite up-front about the problems with state funding, and offers suggestions about how to deal with those potential pitfalls, but because of the practical focus of the book there is still a lot that strikes me as key about this issue that remains implicit. It is quite clear, and pointed out overtly in the text, that most of the time efforts by the state to meet the needs of immigrant women were in response to self-activity by those women rather than spontaneous beneficence. Even so, you can see how the urgency of meeting material needs, the fact that capitalist social relations predominate and get to largely define what "practical" means, and the interest of state authorities in catering to the needs of capital have all worked together to create a somewhat more liveable subordination for women of colour, as in the labour market stratified by race and gender, rather than anything resembling liberation. And this isn't meant at all as some sort of moralistic denunciation of the women who did the organizing -- it is a recognition of the barriers placed in their way and their need to prioritize survival while creating the capacity for adapting, subverting, getting around, and confronting the boxes within which dominant social relations try to contain survival for immigrant women and women of colour. It is the navigation of that particular dynamic that I would be interested in seeing narrated more consciously and completely in the context of this particular piece of history.

The final thing that really leaped out at me from this book is how it shows, without really making a point of it, that the state -- which is generally a pretty nasty piece of work despite the genuinely positive social democratic bells and whistles added to it since World War II and subsequently partially removed again -- seems to have been more responsive and sooner to the experiences of immigrant women and women of colour than many ostensibly progressive social movement spaces in Canada. There were lots of reasons for this, I think, and many have to do with the role that the state plays in society, so it isn't an entirely fair comparison. But it is still, for me, a striking illustration of progressive and radical white Canadians largely dropping the ball. It is also a testament to why relatively privileged progressives and radicals need to avoid falling into that easy "we" that assumes a unity when any meaningful "we" really needs to be built by hard work -- however oppressive and hierarchical the national "we" that the state has been trying to build with the way it has responded to organizing by immigrants and people of colour, it was at least recognizing that building "we" is a political act and (inadequately, problematically) meeting urgent needs in the process, while the majority of (white) participants in movements organizing around workers, women, peace, and other things were at least up to the early '80s blissfully unaware that there was even a challenge to be taken up let alone doing much about it. Opinions vary as to how much has changed in the interim.

In fact, now that I think of it, this may be connected to a peculiarity of Canada's political culture that I once read about: In most white-dominated capitalist countries, people of colour are statistically more likely to vote and even identify with whatever the mainstream party of the left happens to be and opposing racism is popularly understood as a "left" issue, however poorly the left might actually deal with it in practice. In Canada, however, there is a much greater history of relationships between immigrant and racialized communities and the Liberal Party (and, in a more limited way in the first half of the last century, the Communist Party) while our social democratic party, the NDP, has historically been considerably whiter (with more recent, local exceptions).

Anyway. I'm not sure how much practical use this book will be to most people two decades after its publication, except those with an interest in the history. However, it certainly reinforces my support for community-based efforts to produce history, because much of this would likely have been lost without the determination of the immigrant women and women of colour and their allies working through the Cross Cultural Communications Centre to make sure it was preserved.

[For a list of all book reviews on this site, click here.]

Saturday, November 17, 2007


I've mentioned before on this site that it excites me when people I know have success in publishing work of various sorts, and it gives me pleasure to draw people's attention to it. I know at least half a dozen people who are working on book projects of one sort or another at the moment, so I hope this is something I get to do frequently over the next couple of years.

In this case, the successful author is Ahmad Saidullah, someone I did social change work with for a couple of years. In January, Coach House Books is releasing his first collection of stories, Happiness and Other Disorders. It recently got its first review, and a very positive one at that, in Quill & Quire, the trade journal of the Canadian publishing industry. Reviewer Heather Birrell commends its "stunning prose and subtle sense of the symbolic" and concludes that the author "possesses an entirely singular form of ominous and lovely second sight; he also has the literary chops to give it voice. Saidullah is a tale-spinner of the first order, and this collection is both a mystery and a treasure."

Congratulations Ahmad, and I look forward to picking up a copy when it comes out in January!

Friday, November 16, 2007

Sudbury: "The Future of Feminism in Canada"

As I've mentioned before on this site, I'm on the advisory board for Upping the Anti, a radical political journal produced in Canada. The latest issue is out and has lots of great stuff in it (though as in the last issue I have my reservations about the editorial). One of the strongest pieces is an interview with Sunera Thobani, former president of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women and a prominent feminist thinker and activist in Canada. For a launch event here in Sudbury we decided to focus on the Thobani interview by gathering together a number of local feminists to offer their thoughts on what she has to say, which will hopefully lead to some interesting discussion about the future of feminism in Canada. Here are all the details:

Sudbury Upping the Anti Issue 5 Launch: "The Future of Feminism in Canada"

Come see "In the Shadow of 9-11," a short film of a recent talk by Sunera Thobani, former president of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women (NAC) who is interviewed in Upping the Anti #5. Join a discussion with local feminist activists and thinkers sparked by Thobani's interview ("The Fight For Feminism") on feminism in Canada. With comments from:

Jen Johnson - Lecturer in Women's Studies at Thorneloe College, Laurentian Unviersity.

Waubauno Kwe - First Nations elder, aka Barb Riley.

Leyna Lowe - Women's Studies student and feminist blogger (

Meagan Mullally - student, editor of Muse, and activist with Common Cause.

Alexis Shotwell - Professor of Philosophy and English at Laurentian University.

* Thursday, Nov. 22, 7pm, Myths and Mirrors space, (in Victory Park. on the right side of Frood Road, three blocks north of Kathleen). The Myths and Mirrors space (it's covered in murals) is in Victory Park which is between Dupont st. and Schevchenko Ave., north of Kathleen. This is a wheel-chair accessible location. Here is a map.

Refreshments and snacks will be provided and copies of Upping the Anti #5 will be available for $5.

Sponsored by Upping the Anti and Common Cause (to contact Common Cause email revolution_reversal[at]

Upping the Anti is a radical journal of theory and action which provides a space to address and discuss unresolved questions and dynamics within the anti-capitalist, anti-oppression, and anti-imperialist politics of today’s radical left in Canada. For more information go to

And here are the contents of issue #5:


Sunera Thobani: The Fight for Feminism, Anti-Racism and the Women’s Movement

Gord Hill: Indigenous Anti-Colonialism

Michael Hardt: From the Perspective of Resistance


Macdonald Stainsby -- Empire, Resistance and the Tar Sands

Caelie Frampton -- Student movements and the CFS

M. Staudenmaier -- The Three-Way Fight
Rami Elamine -- Islam & the Left: a Reply to Staudenmaier

Bryan Doherty and Tom Keefer: Political Prisoner Roundtable with
Ashanti Alston, Seth Hayes, Susan Tipograph and Sara Falcolner.

Book Reviews

Chris Harris on Black Power from the Inside: Muhammad Ahmad. We Will Return in the Whirlwind: Black Radical Organizations, 1960-1975

Anna Feigenbaum on Death of a Dichotomy: Ward Churchill. Pacifism as Pathology and Peter Gelderloos. How Nonviolence Protects the State

Matthew N. Lyons on Not Just a Smear Tactic: April Rosenblum. The Past Didn’t Go Anywhere: Making Resistance to Anti-Semitism Part of All of Our Movements

If you are in the area, come on out!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Review: And Still We Rise

[Linda Carty, ed. And Still We Rise: Feminist Political Mobilizing in Contemporary Canada. Toronto: Women's Press, 1993.]

Because human beings learn, any act of reading shifts the context in which future reading takes place. In the last year or so, because of the particular chapters that I have been (slowly, slowly) writing in my social movement history project, I have been reading and responding on this site to a fair number of books coming out of and reflecting on the women's movement in Canada, many of which (but not all) have been anthologies. One of the odd implications for a pattern of reading like this is that it means I not only react to books like And Still We Rise as individual volumes, but also as instances of this particular class of books -- this is not necessarily a good thing, I realize, but it is unavoidable.

One impact of the fairly consistent presence of books in this class in my reading list over that period of time has been to dampen my enthusiasm for them a little bit. Partly this is because I have historically been used to wending a very idiosyncratic, zig-zaggy path through the universe of books and I have come to chafe a bit at the focus mandated by orienting most of my reading to the needs of my work (while still appreciating the opportunity for sustained learning that it provides me). Partly it is because some of these books have themselves been fairly unexciting. In the current instance, inertia from my own passive resistance definitely delayed me plunging into the text, but thankfully this one is among the more engaging in this category that I have read and my enthusiasm built up some steam as I got into it.

Another outcome of doing some fairly sustained reading in this area has been the slow, disturbing realization that most of the books in this category are not new. I know that there is related material that was published beginning in the early '70s, but the publication dates of the ones I have read range mostly from the mid '80s to the late '90s, with perhaps one or two sneaking into the '00s. I may just be missing the more recent stuff, but I don't think so. I'm not sure what this implies about shifts in the women's movement and in the publishing industry in this country, but it doesn't feel positive.

Yet another product of this focus is increasing frustration about my inability to figure out to my own satisfaction how best to respond in writing to broadly focused anthologies. Not all of these books have been collections, but many have. Addressing whatever theme unifies the book can be useful, but this often results in comments that are quite vague, while engaging even just a ilttle with the specific ideas presented in each essay can easily turn into something that reads like an annotated laundry list. The best approach I have come up is the rather dubious one of trying to find a tasteful way to do both.

And Still We Rise is an anthology that was produced by Women's Press in Toronto as part of its difficult but valiant growth into a feminism committed to fully integrating opposition to racism and other forms of oppression. The essays within are written by and talk about the experiences of indigenous women, lesbian women of colour, Jewish women, women living in poverty, Black women, women living with HIV/AIDS, women of colour in the shelter movement, and others. The essays present diverse material in other ways too -- they include focused histories, political memoir, qualitative social research, roundtable discussion, and more.

As always in anthologies, the included pieces varied both in their quality and in their interest to me. Much of Carol Allen's essay on the struggle for lesbian and gay equality, for example, is dated, because of the significant changes in that area over the last decade and a half. Her warnings of the political dangers of a shallow, mainstreamed approach to queer equality feel prescient, however. Nahla Abdo's piece on the struggles of Arab women in Canada has a lot of politically important stuff in it, but I was disappointed that I found it a bit hard to follow. I have encountered a fair number of more recent things about the challenges faced by the mostly immigrant women of colour in the Canadian garment industry so the essay "Are These Clothes Clean?" didn't really grab my attention the way it otherwise might have (which is not at all a comment on the situation of women who work in that industry, which remains dire). The roundtable of women active in the National Action Committee on the Status of Women contained important history and reflection on attempts at anti-racist organizational change, but it also at times had a tone of smugness to it that I found distracting.

However, most of the pieces were useful and powerful, even a decade and a half after their publication. Two of the strongest pieces in the book are right at the start: a brief history of feminist publishing in Canada to that point and then an examination by white Jewish lesbian feminist Amy Gottlieb of her own political evolution, particularly with respect to racism and Zionism. I really liked the two other roundtables, one involving Jewish lesbians and lesbians of colour and the other focusing on feminist activists living with (and struggling against) HIV. I appreciated Donna Kahenrakwas Goodleaf's analysis of the Oka crisis, particularly because I had the opportunity to see Alanis Obomsawin's film "Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance" over the summer so I already had context and images to associate with it. I was also happy to see an essay that focused on a particular struggle here in Sudbury, around efforts in the early '90s by (initially) non-unionized clerical workers at Inco to achieve pay equity. Two essays on the history of African Canadian women's organizing and one on the history of organizing by women with disabilities in Canada -- the only piece of work on that subject I've ever heard of -- were also very useful to me.

Of particular interest to me was the last essay in the book, "Power or Empowerment: Questions of Agency in the Shelter Movement", by Rita Kohli. I interviewed Rita for my project, and found her analysis to be among the most consistently challenging of any of the people I talked to. For various reasons, one of the harder decisions I have had to make in turning 47 interviews into a partially completed book has been the one not to feature her material as a focus for a chapter on its own, though I may use a few choice quotes from this essay and from my interview with her in the chapter I am currently writing. This essay draws on her own experience as a woman of colour -- when I interviewed her she was quite explicit about identifying as a lesbian woman of colour living with visible and invisible disabilities -- working in the shelter movement as well as on interviews with seven other women of colour who do or did work in the shelter movement. The essay is a powerful indictment of the ways in which small-scale expressions of social relations of power can get inside and mess with spaces that are reputed to be progressive and liberatory, and on the huge barriers that racialized women have faced in the context of the mainstream shelter movement and the white-dominated women's movement more broadly.

I often end posts like this with a summary of how useful the book was to me and my best shot at a recommendation about how useful it might be to other people. Certainly in this instance I have no hesitation saying it was very useful to me, both because of the specific details of some of its contents and because it was interesting and useful political education for me in a more general way. However, my recurring attention to this class of books has, in a strange way, made me think a bit more deeply about how people in the Canada of 2007 learn about the feminist movement, and what that means for my unsolicited book recommendations. What do people read? How do they find out about those resources? I'm not sure at all how to think about appropriately endorsing a thick, fifteen year-old, out-of-print book of essays, no matter how much good stuff is in it. Nonetheless: If you are sufficiently motivated to read even a few books about feminism and the women's movement in their specifically Canadian incarnations, there is a strong case to be made that this should be one of them.

[For a list of all book reviews on this site, click here.]

Sudbury: Film and Discussion on Grassy Narrows

If you are in the area, please attend:

Indigenous Solidarity Film and Discussion: The Continuing Struggle of Grassy Narrows

Wednesday November 28th 2007, 7pm. 111 Larch Street, 4th Floor Resource Centre; A wheelchair accessible location.

This film details the struggle of a remote native community to protect the land from exploitation by corporate logging companies. It shows how the community had to take action into their own hands; shows how even school children can effectively defend the land. Film produced by Rainforest Action Network and Thunder Bay Indymedia.

This event is being put on by Sudbury Against War and Occupation, and by what seems to be headed towards becoming a separate group of both settlers and indigenous people focused on indigenous struggle.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Stop Military Recruiting in Canadian Schools

All I can say is, the recruiters had better keep their filthy, lying, militaristic, patriarchal, colonial propaganda away from my kid:

ACTION ALERT: Stop military recruiting in our schools

November 2, 2007

The Canadian Armed Forces are actively recruiting through their forty-two recruitment centres across the country, their website, at various major public events (such as exhibitions, sports games, etc.), and even at high schools, colleges and universities.

In fact, they have even conducted "outreach" at elementary schools. As reported by on June 15, 2007, "The Canadian Forces have been touring schools in the St. John's area this week, as part of an outreach program." The story reports that a Grade 3 "class at Holy Cross Elementary school (in Holyrood, Newfoundland) were given a first-hand show-and-tell session with a tank and related gear."

Andrew Cash wrote in the May 25, 2006 issue of Toronto's NOW magazine, "In both Toronto's public and Catholic boards, the (military co-op program) pays kids to join the Reserves, gives them four high school credits and trains them in, among other soldiering arts, machine gun shooting and grenade throwing...The crisp military brochures most guidance offices make available to students talk up the career aspects of the military while conveniently ignoring the elephant in the room: the fact that a soldier is trained to kill and die on command. Do we really want a merging of public education and military objectives when it appears we have no national consensus on our new U.S.-inspired war aims."

There has been resistance to recruitment outreach to students:

* The London Free Press reported on October 19, 2007, "One Grade 12 student irked by (a) military event at South secondary school has received permission from administrators to hold a simultaneous anti-war event in another part of the school...He said that earlier this week it looked as if his counter-recruitment event -- he asked the school for permission last week -- wouldn't be allowed..."

* As reported by London Indymedia on February 24, 2007, "the Canadian military has been drastically increasing their presence at Fanshawe (College in London, Ontario)...All year, recruiters have been setting up booths and tables inside our college, convincing us to join the military instead of pursuing our own dreams for which we are in college in the first place." A group of six students who attended a February 13 career fair there to hand out information "as a counterweight to the military recruiter's lies" were told to leave, while one student was arrested.

* And as reported by the student newspaper The Manitoban Online in 2006, "While some Canadian universities remain unconcerned about the militarization of student space, others are more critical. Students at UBC are currently organizing to resist the presence of recruiters. Concordia University in Montreal has a policy banning military recruitment on campus entirely, and the Link, Concordia’s independent student newspaper, includes the Canadian Forces on its advertising boycott list."

If you go to the Canadian Armed Forces recruitment website, you will see that they emphasize "subsidized education" as well as "competitive wages...medical and dental care..." and their pension plan. It also features a "publicity video" and an "Online Chat with a Recruiter" feature.

In turn, ACT for the Earth has launched "Operation Objection (which) is a Canada-wide counter-recruitment campaign to reclaim our educational institutions for peace and the interests of students from those who would co-opt them for war."

If you go to their website, you will find a downloadable war free schools organizing kit, counter-recruitment charts and postcards, and reports and resources. In their 50-page 'War Free Schools: The Rise of the Counter-Recruitment Movement' you will find on page 40 a listing of films that may be helpful for film screenings and discussions. Their 26-page 'War Free Schools: A Handbook for Counter-Recruitment in Canada' on pages 8 to 11 includes a helpful 'Students for Peace: A Guide for Organizing a Counter-Recruitment Campaign' section.


Take action by writing the Minister of Defence Peter MacKay at and your provincial or territorial minister of education and demand that military recruiting be banned from Canada's educational institutions. Our schools should be a military-free zone.

Minister MacKay,

I join with the Council of Canadians in calling on you to stop the Canadian Armed Forces from recruitment and outreach activities in Canada's elementary and high schools, universities and colleges. Our children should be learning about peacebuilding, the avoidance of violent conflict, global justice and true security, and not be subject to glamourized and misleading images of the military through publicity videos and brochures. I await your response.

[your name]

For this one, I think letters are only a place to start if we want to achieve the stated demands.

(From an email from GK.)

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Discomfort With "Green" Consumption

Two days ago, the electrical devices in my home were powered by the standard electricity from Ontario's power grid. Yesterday, months after applying, we were switched to power from a particular company that guarantees that its sources for generation meet or exceed a particular federal government standard for renewable, carbon-free energy. It claims that 20% of its power is generated by wind, 80% by certified "low-impact" (whatever that means) hydro, and none from conventional hydro sources, oil, coal, gas, or nuclear.

Now. This is not normally something I would feel the need to share on this site, but I have been feeling a certain ambivalence about the change and it has made me think about how "green" consumption choices fit into the larger problems they are meant to address, so I thought I would try to write something.

So why am I having mixed feelings about buying "green" power? On the one hand, making this change, if you are in a position to do so without hardship -- the cost is 30% above the grid standard -- seems so obvious as not to be worth mentioning. Even if its positive impact is miniscule, it can't hurt, so why not if you are able?

On the other hand, though I don't think the doing of it is a bad thing if you are able, there are things about the discourse around "green" consumption that I find manipulative and repellant, and its relationship to the global climate crisis and other environmental issues is highly problematic.

The entire category of "green" is a manipulative one, at least as it is applied to products and services. It is constructed as absolute and binary, something a product either is or is not. Nuance is not encouraged. When a product falls into this category, it gives the buyer a sort of absolution -- it tells us that this product or service is wholesome, that whatever can be done, has been done, and we need not worry or feel bad. It is a form of branding, really, which calms our concern by imbuing a product or service with these connotations. It is easier for a company to do this if there is some basis for the claim, of course, but by definition the branding process is ideological, in that it is a deliberate effort to selectively draw from material reality to construct an abstraction that oversimplifies and misleads. A common element of many uses of "green" is that it is constructed in comparison with current practices rather than with reference to what might actually be required to deal with the problem. For the most part, companies trust in the busy-ness of our lives and in our painstakingly cultivated acceptance of reified commodities to make us accept that they provide only enough background information for a very shallow exploration of the processes that produce the good or service in question. This shallow information that we receive and the ideological grounding for the labelling of something as "green" comes, of course, from an entity with a vested interest in convincing us that there is a substantive basis for the claim of "greenness" because it wants us to buy what it is selling.

This particular company is quite clever in its marketing, which makes me resent it even more, and is why I haven't named it or linked to it (which, I admit, may be pure contrariness on my part). One element is endorsement by Canadian celebrities -- Margaret Atwood and Gord Downie buy it, you should too! The company has also assumed a sort of folksy performance of meaningful engagement with the customer base that is a calculated break with the coldly impersonal megautilities it hopes to usurp. The most stomach-turning aspect of its marketing, however, is the deliberately moralistic appeal to privileged people who have concern for the environment that relies on potential customers' urge to see themselves as "good" or "better than" (depending on the person). For this moral salve to be even remotely invokable, those who are its targets have to view themselves, the world, and their connection to the social in a particular way that either erases or completely absolves them of responsibility for the massive historical and contemporary violence to other humans and the earth that have made lives like theirs (like ours) even remotely possible. The usefulness of this sort of moralistic psychological boost for marketing purposes -- "Buy what we're selling because it makes you good!" -- depends on people seeing some need for change, but not too much need for change.

There is also a serious problem with any uncritical embrace of a situation in which "right behaviour" depends on privilege. If you accept a moral frame for a problem and then foreground an answer that is only accessible if you have enough money, you are implicitly condemning poor people to inescapable immorality (which perhaps is invisible to many of us in the middle class because of the tight oppressive connection that already exists in lots of stories and imagery in our culture between poverty and questionable moral worth).

Like I said, I don't think the answer is to refuse to make such a choice if you can with minimal effort, but rather to take apart and reject the moralizing frame, and to refuse the push to stop thinking critically in the face of the greenly branded.

All of that is enough to make me feel uncomfortable with the whole thing. But it leaves a much more important question: Setting aside the manipulations of ecocapitalist marketing, what can we reasonably expect from market-based responses to the global climate crisis? What is the actual material impact of buying "green"? If it isn't The AnswerTM -- and I'm convinced it is not -- then why not, and how should we think about dialoguing with people who are convinced that it is? I had hoped to start mapping out in this post some of my still very fuzzy and unsure responses to these sorts of questions, but I don't have time...but I suspect I will come back to them sooner or later.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

What Makes Writing Politically Relevant To Me?

Not along ago, I had cause to respond to a particular piece of political writing. Now, I won't go into what that piece of writing was or outline all of my objections to it. I mention it because of only one of my concerns: I expected this piece of writing to be relevant to my political practice somehow, to challenge me in ways that were not just about pretty ideas but about what I do, but it did not.

That got me to thinking about what exactly would pass that test. I read lots of stuff that wouldn't, including lots of political stuff, and I still enjoy it or find it a useful thing to do for one reason or another. But what kind of material do I find relevant in a really grounded political way?

The standard of relevance I'm employing here depends on doing in which I am involved, so I think the place to start is to think about the units of action of which I am a part.

The most obvious unit of action is "I". Not that anyone ever functions in the kind of atomized way that we are painstakingly trained to imagine when we think "I," and noone is ever apart from the contexts in which they exist, but each individual does have a certain (inequitably distributed) space for agency.

I can think of a few different kinds of political writing that feel like they are directly relevant to decisions at this level. Any writing which helps me develop a sense of how that "I" is integrated into the social, for example, has the potential to be relevant in some way to my political practice. You can't act effectively if you don't know who and what and where you are. In theory, any writing which is descriptive of phenomena at the social level might be able to meet this criterion, but in practice only some of it does. I'm not sure I can succinctly sketch a boundary for what does, either -- it has to do with the effort that the piece of writing itself makes to tie individuals to the social, to contextualize the "I" within social relations, as well as how the subject of the writing relates to the map I already have in my head connecting myself to the social. In other words, whether or not there is any effort to do this in the writing itself, does the way in which I take up the printed words allow me to add to this grounded, metaphorically map-like picture of me-in-the-world that I have, or is it just floating out there in Abstraction Land?

The second kind of writing that qualifies based on its relevance to the "I" unit of action is anything that helps me produce my movement history book. That piece of writing is (among other things) a political act coming from the "I." The writings of people who have come before about Canadian social movements and about ideas relevant to the movements that I am writing about are central to producing my own writing, so they count as being of grounded interest to my political practice.

The third major category of writing with grounded relevance to "I" is writing which challenges me around everyday/everynight practices -- at least potentially, things like parenting, relationship practices, media consumption habits, complicity in or challenge to oppressive ways of doing things at the level of personal interaction and micro-politics, and so on. At its best, this is actually a subcategory of the first example above, connecting me to the social, but with content that is prescriptive as well as descriptive. While there is always a danger that it will become the kind of individualistic, privilege-based, purity-seeking orientation that some on the left tend to accuse in a blanket sort of way, I see it as being of social and political relevance if properly understood. It is through our everyday/everynight choices and actions that we personally participate in constantly creating and recreating social relations. Deliberately changing and tweaking those choices and actions certainly can't transform social relations on a large scale but they can unsettle them in a local way, which seems to me to be a necessary part of any model of social change from below.

I am not just "I," of course; I am also part of many, varied, and shifting varieties of "we." What writing is of grounded relevance to "I-in-we" is entirely dependent on exactly which "we's" I am a part of at any given moment and if/how those "we's" act.

One kind of "we" that all of us are a part of are large-scale, involuntary "we's." These are not things we get to choose, though we can embrace them with enthusiasm or (mostly futilely) attempt to distance ourselves from them or subvert them depending on their character and our own. I am, for example, part of the large-scale "we" labelled "Canadian" and the one labelled "white." These constructions of "we" do not tend to act in consciously collective ways (though those who belong to them still manage to frequently engage in distributed, ongoing action in the service of collective self-interest, such as the ways in which many everyday behaviours by people socially marked as white function to reproduce white supremacy, regardless of intent). Any writing relevant to membership in this kind of "we" is of interest in ways connected to what I wrote above about understanding the integration of "I" into the social and how that is relevant to our actions.

Any "I" is also part of many "we's" that are smaller in scale and experienced in a more immediate way. Though many other people are, I am not personally a part of any deliberately and locally constructed identity-based "community" entities founded on shared racial background, language, faith, or sexual orientation, and the physical neighbourhood that I live in has no deliberate organizational expression of collectivity. However, like everyone else, I live as part of complex, overlapping relationship networks based on various kinds of personal affinities, histories of how and where and when those affinities were initially generated, and evolving choices about how to relate to one another in practice. I intensely dislike the ways in which those networks usually get subdivided and categorized because those categories tend to reflect imposed norms which often covertly express and reinforce various kinds of relations of privilege and oppression, and blind us to the importance of how these networks and the relationships which constitute them actually can and do function by focusing our attention on how we're told they should function. With that caveat about limitations in available language kept in mind, the individual relationships that compose the filaments of that network that directly touch me span a broad range: from such powerfully significant and longstanding ones as those who comprise my family of origin and with whom I share a range of kinds of active connection today, the wonderful person who is my long-time primary partner and co-habitant and co-parent, and a few other people first met during my teenage years that I remain connected to in various ways; to relationships of personal significance but somewhat more recent vintage, like a number of fellow activists who became friends who are now geographically scattered but whom I still stay connected with socially in a range of ways and intensities, or a couple of friends turned lovers turned friends, or plenty of former co-workers I still like to get together with for beer when I visit the city I used to live in, and of course the little one who plays "kid" to my "parent"; to many more transient connections, like the woman who intermittently participated in anti-poverty stuff I have been involved with in Sudbury but whom I didn't really get to know but whom I ran into today for the first time in ages and had what was probably the longest one-on-one conversation we've ever had at a length of 15 minutes. And there are many others, each with their own peculiar mix/presence/absence/flavours of history, intensity, continuity, political affinity, hiding, emotional affinity, conflict, desire, duration, physical affection, intellectual affinity, humour, pain, shared interests, and mutually (if usually unconsciously) negotiated ways of relating. All of these many and varied and wonderful (or not) relationships function on their own or in combination to in turn constitute various more or less fluid and transitory spaces -- various "we's" that might last a few moments or a lifetime.

The spaces thus created can vary enormously in character, durability, fluidity, role in the participants' lives, and relation to the social world more generally. In my experience, the kinds of doing that happen in and from these spaces tend to be contiguous with everyday doing of the "I" and the writings with grounded relevance to them are much the same. I think, by the way, that the formal left often underestimates the importance of politically conscious doing in and from such spaces. Particularly for people who are surviving the ravages of oppressions of various sorts, these are vital spaces for crucial mutual aid and support that allows for the ongoing anti-oppressive defiance that is survival and provides a basis for the possibility of more visible resistance. For all of us, relationships are the context in which we learn about ourselves and the world, and the changes in our consciousness and practice in and because of these spaces can be much more deeply rooted than those that come about in more consciously and overtly political but less organic collective spaces. And of course these spaces can and do blend into more formally political ones. Struggles that erupt from groupings with internally dense organic, affective ties are always more powerful, though I have never personally been part of such a thing. More common in my experience is the other direction: informal affective connections that form on the basis of initial encounters in more deliberately created "activist" spaces, which then tend to feed back into the more formal spaces and strengthen their capacity to act.

Despite this overlap, I have experienced these informal and fluid spaces formed on the basis of diverse sorts of interpersonal affinities as qualitatively different from spaces constituted around specifically political affinity and around the intent to deliberately intervene in the world, which is the final type of "we" I will consider. Obviously a good part of the writing that might be of grounded relevance to this sort of "we" depends on exactly what sort of intervention is intended. I can think of several different "we's" of this sort to which I belong at the moment -- two highly overlapping but not identical in-person groupings, constituted in different ways but with similar intents; and two(ish) geographically dispersed groupings with quite different intents and forms of organization. (One of the web rings to which this site belongs is probably regarded by some of its members as a "we" but it has no scope for deciding upon and then enacting deliberate, coordinated action -- it does happen occasionally, but that is generally by accident -- so I don't consider it to be a "we" in a sense that is relevant to this post.)

Written material that might be relevant to this kind of "we" would include writing on the subject matter that is the focus of the group, particularly how the things that we are trying to change are organized, socially and in discourse; grounded strategic and tactical critique of the larger movements of which these "we's" are a part; analysis of how groups of this sort function internally and how they might function better (group dynamics, ways of work, how-to stuff, group-level anti-oppression analysis, etc.); and stuff that tries to figure out how social change more generally can and does happen. I suppose I would also feel that there is grounded relevance in writing which presents strategic and tactical critiques of movements that none of my "we's" are a functional part but which are movements which I would wish at some point to be a part of or to functionally ally with in some way.

So. I think all of the above boils down to a few general categories of writing that are, or at least can be, of grounded political relevance to me and the various sorts of doing in which "I" and "we's" I'm a part of engage. These are writings related to

  • politicized, anti-oppressive, contextualized-in-the-social and not purely individualistic ethics;
  • my political writing;
  • understanding how people work (psychology (often but not necessarily contextualized-in-the-social), pedagogy, etc.)
  • understanding how groups work;
  • my social location, how it is socially produced, and how it is connected to other social locations;
  • the social organization of things I'm actively organizing to change;
  • constructive criticism of movements that I am a part of or that I am not a part of but can still learn from;
  • processes of social change more generally.

In doing the thinking to write this post, I have had to recognize that even though I think collective doing is absolutely imperative to deal with the violent, exploitative, and oppressive social organization in which we are all currently embedded, the largest chunk of my doing still proceeds from the basis of "I" rather than "we." I'm not quite sure what to make of this. It might merely be a reflection of the fact that, after all, "I" is where we have to start. It might be a comment on the insulation of privilege enabling me to avoid committing more self to "we's," and me going along with that. It might be a reflection of the atomizing effect that neoliberalism (and capitalism more generally) has had on our social organization, particularly for those with access to middle-class financial resources. It may also reflect the current low ebb of social movements in Canada as a whole and Sudbury in particular. Probably it is all of these things.

It has been a strange process to think all of this through explicitly, I have to admit. It makes me wonder how other people think about such things -- that is, about the relevance or lack of same of writing to their political practice, broadly conceived. Anyone care to share?