Thursday, June 17, 2010

One Observation About the Political Environment in Sudbury

The intent of this post is to make one quite elementary observation about the local environment in which I am engaging in reflections and making choices about political engagement. I may be completely off-base, and if so I want to be told so, especially since five years of living here hasn't been enough for me to shake the sense that I don't really know what's going on politically in Sudbury.

That observation is this: Right now, Sudbury is a local context marked by stark social divisions but relatively little public, collective social struggle. I think this is actually true in a lot of places right now, despite the heavy weight of multiple crises making things worse for ordinary people, with the promise of more to come.

This observation requires a couple of disclaimers. One is the fact that Sudbury is a mining town that is currently in the middle of the longest strike in its history, which could be taken to contradict the point I'm making. A lot of people are suffering pretty severely thanks to Vale Inco's attack on the working people of Sudbury. The strike is not small or trivial, and it is very public and collective. I understand it as very much a struggle against neoliberalism. Depending on how it resolves, it may even spark a new and more generalized cycle of struggle locally -- I'm not sure how likely that is, but it is possible. In making my point above, though, I'm kind of bracketing this particular struggle. I'm doing this because despite its size and importance, the fact that it is happening is more a reflection of the reorganization of the global mining industry and of industrial production more generally than it is a reflection of local political conditions. And the fact is, despite some interesting community stirrings like the CANARYS group, so far it has not strongly drawn from or fed into broader sorts of overt struggle in the community. So it is a special case that may but so far has not had a more general impact. At least this is how it seems to me -- if I'm wrong, please tell me!

Another disclaimer is that by making my point above I am not indulging in the too-common hubris among certain privileged activists of claiming that nothing is happening. That is not my point at all. I start from the assumption that struggle and resistance are always happening, wherever you have some lives organized into suffering and oppression in order that other lives might be organized into privilege. There are a number of different modes and moments of struggle, however, which vary in terms of how collective, how visible, how public, and how confrontational they are, among other variables. I think there are good reasons to try and catalyze opportunities for struggle to become more collective and public, and at least sometimes confrontational, but all too often that priority can translate into ignoring or denigrating the less visible, less flashy, but absolutely crucial moments and modes of struggle. Everyday resistance, everyday acts of mutual aid and support, everyday acts meant to heal the wounds that oppression has carved in one's own flesh and the flesh of loved ones are political acts, and it is not up to someone who does not share those experiences to pontificate on when energy is best spent in those moments versus other kinds of moments.

So, with those points in mind: Relations of oppression and exploitation are at least as much a fact of life in Sudbury as anywhere else. Speaking from my own partial, limited, and privileged view of things, divisions based on poverty and based on racialization (with particular visibility for the white settler/indigenous divide, but with white supremacy more generally quite overt and close to the surface) seem to be particularly stark here, but I'm in no position to conclude that struggles by people with disabilities, women, queers, and gender non-conforming folk, are happening in any less harsh conditions than that.

Struggle against these things happens every day in Sudbury. Moments of people sharing oppositional sentiment and even coming together to do things happen too -- there are state-funded organizations by and for women, and by and for indigenous people, that do crucial things to help people survive awful situations; there is a vibrant Pride week; there is significant if largely passive sentiment in support of working people and against at least certain aspects of neoliberalism; there is a fairly lively network of people and groups responsive to various, mostly mainstream, understandings of green politics.

But, despite all of that, struggle mostly does not -- in this place, in this moment -- tend to be public, collective, and based in ordinary people mobilizing. At least, as far as I can tell.

This is the place, this is the moment, in which people in Sudbury must make decisions about how to act in the world. I suspect it is similar in a lot of places.

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