Saturday, January 20, 2018

Social movement victories in 2018

Today, I want to write about social movement victories. I want to reflect on what that means a little, and then this thread will be one I come back to throughout the year to add movement victories from North America and maybe elsewhere in 2018.

I think those of us who ground ourselves politically in movements, communities-in-struggle, and the extra-parliamentary left don't often do enough to note and celebrate when we win things. Partly – and this is kind of counterintuitive – that's because we don't actually win things very often, these days. I was born in 1974, and you can make a case that the global reaction against the wins by movements, communities, and national liberation struggles in the preceding two decades began to take shape at about that point. So in my lifetime, we (understood broadly and vaguely) have lost far more often than we've won. As well, when we do win, as wonderful and important as those victories are, they tend to be vastly smaller in scale than the systemic violence, exploitation, and oppression that remains to be faced, so it's understandable that folks just move on to the next fight.

And yet, when we act bravely and collectively, we can win, we do win. Noting and celebrating that is about respecting the cleverness, the bravery, the work that made it possible. And it's about actively remembering our own power – which is absolutely essential to win more in the future.

Now, before I get to the list portion of this thread, I want to complicate a bit what the term "victory" means.

For a lot of people, victory means surviving another day. That is not just an empty slogan. I think it sometimes gets treated that way, but it really shouldn't be. Rather, it is a deliberate valuing of everyday resistance – which is the resistance from which all else is built. And it is a recognition that for those who are most intensely targeted by violence from the state and other sources, refusing to die and insisting on building conditions for thriving are themselves ongoing challenges to the oppressive status quo. As well, there are definitely times when a successful collective action can legitimately be understood as a victory even if it doesn't directly lead to tangible gains. Building the "we" that will continue to struggle is itself a win.

All of which means that there are all kinds of victories that we need to be paying attention to and really celebrating – victories that are real, material wins that build towards a better collective future – that I just won't be able to capture in this thread. Every time an Indigenous child develops fluency in their language, that's a win. Every time Black communities, in the face of another police killing, come together to support each other, that's a win. And so on. And I think actions like #TimesUp can legitimately be understood as wins. Yes, it was full of contradictions, it was messy, it did certain things and not others. But it wove new people into struggle, it connected grassroots messages with new audiences, it gathered significant new money to support movement work. It was a win.

This thread, for better or worse, is going to take a much narrower approach. Not because all of those things aren't victories, and not because they don't matter, but because there is lots I just can't see, and because recognizing moments when all of those kinds of victories turn into forcing changes in oppressive systems matters too.

In listing these wins, I'm most interested in the context of the Canadian state, but I'll be actively adding US examples too. And I won't be looking for them but I may add instances from elsewhere as well.

So, finally, here is the start of my list of victories by social movements and communities-in-struggle in 2018, to which I hope I can make many additions in the next eleven and a third months:

1. At the beginning of 2018, Ontario's minimum wage went from $11.60/hr to $14/hr (on its way to $15/hr next year) thanks to years of organizing by people across the province.

2. In response to Toronto's inadequate shelter system and a brutal cold snap, street nurse Cathy Crowe, the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, and others mobilized to push the city to open the Moss Park Armoury for use as an emergency homeless shelter.

3. The climate movement pushed New York City to divest its pensions from fossil fuel companies and to launch a lawsuit seeking compensation for climate change-related damages from the five biggest oil companies.

4. Ottawa-based academic Hassan Diab was finally, after years of legal and movement work in support of his struggle, released from his false imprisonment on terrorism-related charges in France and returned to Canada.

That's what I have so far. I'll do my best to remember to keep this list updated as the year progresses. Please send me your suggested additions! :)

1 comment:

Ruth Pickering said...

What a good idea, Scott. Hopefully the rest of us can also keep our eyes and ears open for small victories to add to your list. Thanks for this.