Hamilton Book Launch

Date: November 8
Time: 7pm
Location: Room 1010, Michael G. DeGroote Centre for Learning (MDCL), McMaster University, 1280 Main Street West, Hamilton, Ontario

Join author and activist Scott Neigh for a talk and book signing as he launches two new books published by Fernwood Publishing: Gender and Sexuality: Canadian History Through the Stories of Activists and Resisting the State: Canadian History Through the Stories of Activists. Hear about some of the many struggles that have shaped the Canada of today, and talk about new ways of relating to the past as we struggle for a transformed tomorrow.

To learn more about the books and the project of which they are a part, and to read and hear excerpts from the interviews around which the books are organized, visit here. To find out about ways to purchase the books if you can’t make it to the launch, click here.

From the book jackets:

We usually learn our history from the perspective of our rulers — from the top down. In these books we learn about our history from the perspectives of ordinary people — from the bottom up. Whatever liberty and justice that communities, workplaces and individuals in Canada enjoy are due to the many struggles and social movements in our country’s history. Yet the stories and histories of those movements to overcome racism, sexism, and poverty, for example, remain largely untold, thanks to the single, simplistic national story taught to us in school. Deftly combining history with accounts from participants in social movements, Neigh introduces us to the untold histories of activists, histories that encourage all of us to engage in struggles that will shape our shared tomorrow.

Gender and Sexuality unearths a diverse spectrum of struggle through the accounts of longstanding social movement participants. From indigenous women working against colonization and Christian women trying to end sexism and homophobia in their churches, to gay men opposing sexual oppression and women fighting against hostile employers and violence, this book reveals the ways that oppressions based on gender and sexuality — and the struggles against them — have shaped our society.

In Resisting the State, Neigh details the histories of a broad range of social movements and provides readers with a richer understanding of the Canadian state and why so many people — including military draftees, welfare recipients, workers, indigenous people, psychiatric survivors, immigrants and refugees — have struggled, and continue to struggle, for equality and justice for all members of society.

What people are saying about Gender and Sexuality and Resisting the State:

“Never doubt that a few committed people can change Canada (and the world) for the better. Scott Neigh’s oral histories show not only the power of committed idealism, but also how the history of our whole country has been shaped by brave Canadians who refuse to accept the misery and injustice that surrounds us. Read these books to learn how the history of social change organizing is indeed the history of Canada — and then go out and start making your own history.” — Jim Stanford, union economist and peace activist

“This work is a treasure that provides a portal to Canadian history, bringing it alive and urgent through the voices and profound insights of veteran social justice activists, an indispensable guide for present and future generations to carry on these struggles.” — Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, veteran activist and author

And even more.

Scott Neigh is a writer, parent, and activist currently based in Sudbury, Ontario. He lived in Hamilton, Ontario, from 1993 until 2004, where he was active in student, anti-poverty, anti-racism, environmental, and other social justice organizing, including as a board member of OPIRG McMaster. He blogs regularly on political topics at A Canadian Lefty in Occupied Land. You can learn more about these books and the project of which they are a part at the Talking Radical site, and more about Scott here.

This event is sponsored by OPIRG McMaster, Bryan Prince Bookseller, and Fernwood Publishing.

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Radio — From bookstore to community organizing space & activist infrastructure

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On this week’s episode of Talking Radical Radio, I speak with Bonnie Heilman and Peter Garden. They are members of the Treaty 6 Justice Collective, a group that is attempting to address the urgent need in our communities for infrastructure to support organizing and activism. They began from a decade-old independent bookstore in Saksatoon, Saskatchewan, called Turning the Tide, and from that beginning they have launched an exciting new experiment called The Stand Community Organizing Centre

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There are a number of reasons why we have a general lack of infrastructure to support movements and communities-in-struggle in North America. Though the issues involved aren’t identical, I think questions of movement infrastructure really do get caught up in our society’s broader devaluation and erasure of reproductive labour — that is, the million little, mostly-unpaid, mostly-unrecognized tasks of reproduction and caring and everyday life that fall disproportionately on women, and that keep most families and communities (as well as, let’s face it, capitalism as a whole, and almost any social movement you can name) functioning. As well, work on movement infrastructure – keeping a grassroots meeting space from closing down, say, or compiling a listing of social justice-related events each week – can be kind of boring in comparison to the more directly fight-the-power-ish elements of struggles for social change. There’s also a history of such infrastructure being attacked and co-opted by those who oppose struggles for justice and liberation.

In addition to all of those things, however, our lack of movement infrastructure both results in and is a product of a lack of models for doing it well – models that are embedded in community, autonomous from the limitations placed by state and foundation funding, and yet somehow able to sustain themselves through the downs as well as the ups of movement momentum.

There are, thankfully, some interesting experiments in communities around the country that are trying to solve the movement infrastructure problem. Peter Garden is a long-time activist who got his start in the punk scene, Food Not Bombs, and the global justice movement. He has run Turning the Tide — a social justice-focused, community-engaged, independent bookstore in Saskatoon — for over a decade. Last year, the store engaged in some community consultations as part of making decisions about its future. And what it heard back was that, yes, people wanted it to remain a bookstore, but also they wanted it to become something more. To enact that vision, a number of people, including both Garden and Bonnie Heilman – an activist who was energized by the Occupy movement – came together to form the Treaty 6 Justice Collective. Their role is to govern The Stand Community Organizing Centre, a new hub for activist infrastructure that includes the bookstore but goes far beyond – it’s a move from being a place to get information related to social change, to a place to find information, space, resources, opportunities to build skills, and much more. It’s a move that brings together a small business and a non-profit, two existing organizational forms that movements quite rightfully tend to be wary of, but does so in a way that may point towards at least one approach to addressing the urgent lack of infrastructure to support activism, organizing, movements, and communities-in-struggle in North America.

To learn more about Turning the Tide Bookstore and The Stand Community Organizing Centre, click here and here.

Talking Radical Radio brings you grassroots voices from across Canada. We give you the chance to hear many different people that are facing many different struggles talk about what they do, why they do it, and how they do it, in the belief that such listening is a crucial step in strengthening all of our efforts to change the world. To learn more about the show in general, visit its website here. You can learn about suggesting topics for future shows here.

Talking Radical Radio is brought to you by Scott Neigh, a writer, media producer, and activist based in Sudbury, Ontario, and the author of two books examining Canadian history through the stories of activists.

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Radio — Not yet Canada’s Syriza, but a small step in that direction

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On this week’s episode of Talking Radical Radio, I speak with Kyle Buott. He is the president of the Halifax-Dartmouth and District Labour Council and a member of Solidarity Halifax. He talks with me about a recent gathering: 14 anti-austerity and anti-capitalist groups from across the country were hosted by Solidarity Halifax at a Congress of the Radical Left, to discuss building relationships and possibilities for pluralist, non-sectarian collaboration in the struggle for transformative social change.

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Here are two hard facts of life. Number one: Although Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King’s quip that Canada has “too much geography and not enough history” is about as colonial a statement as you can find, its first half also captures the sad truth of a challenge that social movements in this country have yet to solve — our efforts are fragmented by the vast distances across which we are spread.

And number two: There are lots of people around who don’t really like the general direction of change that this country, much like the rest of the world, has taken over the last few decades. They don’t like the increasing poverty, the environmental destruction, the erosion of a sense of collective compassion and responsibility, and all the other toxic outcomes that we tag with labels like “neoliberalism” and “austerity.” But for all this simmering sentiment, there are few to no existing organizational options for us to give our time and energy if we want to resolutely commit to reversing these problems — not mitigating, but reversing. Even the political parties that draw on the energies of these dissatisfactions offer only quite mild opposition, and while that can have some real (if limited) impacts in terms of people’s lives, it still amounts to a softer version of the same.

So what’s a person to do?

There is no single answer to that, but one possibility lies in a new kind of organizing that has popped up in a number of cities across the country — a sort of open, engaged, multi-issue organization committed to pluralist anti-austerity or anti-capitalist politics that are given expression in concrete, grounded campaigns, and that are also committed to refusing the kind of divisive sectarianism that so destructively marked earlier generations of the left. Over the last couple of years, Talking Radical Radio has profiled a few of these — Solidarity Halifax, We Are Oshawa, and Ottawa’s Solidarity Against Austerity spring to mind. Only time will tell whether these tentative local experiments can follow the explosive growth of somewhat analogous projects in Europe, like Spain’s Podemos or Greece’s Syriza (notwithstanding the complicated turn of recent events in that country), or even the much more modest success of Quebec Solidaire. But the recent Congress of the Radical Left in Halifax was a small first step to effective collaboration against austerity and capitalism, across political and geographical differences in the Canadian context.

Buott talks about the origins and basis of this recent gathering, about the conversations that happened there, and about the very modest but still exciting steps that emerged from it.

Talking Radical Radio brings you grassroots voices from across Canada. We give you the chance to hear many different people that are facing many different struggles talk about what they do, why they do it, and how they do it, in the belief that such listening is a crucial step in strengthening all of our efforts to change the world. To learn more about the show in general, visit its website here. You can learn about suggesting topics for future shows here.

Talking Radical Radio is brought to you by Scott Neigh, a writer, media producer, and activist based in Sudbury, Ontario, and the author of two books examining Canadian history through the stories of activists.

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Radio — ACSEXE+: Talking disability and sexuality in Montreal

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On this week’s episode of Talking Radical Radio, I speak with Aimee Louw and Charli Lessard. They are involved with the ACSEXE+ project, an initiative based in Montreal that works to create opportunities for disabled people to talk, share, and learn about sexuality and the wide spectrum of issues with which it intersects.

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It’s a still-tempting oversimplification that has long been dispelled to regard the landscape for communicating about sexuality as a blanket of uniform silence that can only be resisted by speaking. Sexuality of a certain narrow sort is, after all, everywhere in our media, and it’s quite common for people to have to navigate many different kinds of social situations that are not themselves sexual encounters but in which, in what we say about ourselves and in how we act, there is a social compulsion to talk sexuality or signal sexuality. So there is no uniform blanket of silence and repression. Yet in its mix of what is compelled, what is permitted, and what is erased or forbidden or silenced, this landscape is highly uneven and complex.

There is a dizzying array of different ways that it works for differently situated people, but one important group for whom mandatory silence and sexual erasure is, in fact, very strong in mainstream contexts is disabled people. The potential of many disabled people to have and to want sexual lives as vibrant and varied as everyone else is, by and large, erased and denied in mainstream contexts – many disabled people are read as inherently not-sexual, and are given no space, in conversation or in practice, to be otherwise. And though it varies considerably and is in the process of changing, many spaces organized around disabled identities and/or politics, particularly the more mainstream among such spaces, are largely silent about sexuality too.

Aimee Louw and Charli Lessard want to change this. Louw is a writer and media-maker, and an experienced activist on multiple issues, including around questions of disability and accessibility. Lessard is a doula, a long-time sexuality educator, and an activist around reproductive and sexual rights. Both are currently working for the Fédération du Québec pour le planning des naissances, a small but well-established organization in Montreal, on the ACSEXE+ project. It is an intiative committed to a feminist, queer-positive, and sex-positive approach, and it has involved public events, a regularly updated blog and social media presence, the production of a number of videos, and more.

To learn more about the ACSEXE+ project, and about disability and sexuality, click here.

Talking Radical Radio brings you grassroots voices from across Canada. We give you the chance to hear many different people that are facing many different struggles talk about what they do, why they do it, and how they do it, in the belief that such listening is a crucial step in strengthening all of our efforts to change the world. To learn more about the show in general, visit its website here. You can learn about suggesting topics for future shows here.

Talking Radical Radio is brought to you by Scott Neigh, a writer, media producer, and activist based in Sudbury, Ontario, and the author of two books examining Canadian history through the stories of activists.

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Radio — Saskatchewan: Racist policing, community mobilization

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On this week’s episode of Talking Radical Radio, I speak with Robyn Pitawanakwat and Andrew Loewen. They are members of Voices for Justice and Police Accountability, a group that formed this past January after a number of high-profile incidents involving police mistreatment of Indigenous people in Regina, Saskatchewan.

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In the last year, the ubiquity and peristence of systemic racism and racist violence organized into people’s lives across North America via policing, courts, and prisons has become more visible in the mainstream. Of course, to those communities that bear the brunt of it, it isn’t news, just the latest moment in a centuries-long reality on this continent. And a sharp division in understandings of police and policing persist, with a strong correlation between whiteness and a refusal to acknowledge this brutal history and present-day reality. But it is precisely because of organizing among those directly affected that this refusal is now showing cracks.

It is the organizing in African American communities in major urban centres in the United States that has been most visible, but those are far not the only contexts in which it is happening. There is a long history of grassroots efforts in Regina, Saksatchewan, particularly among Indigenous people who live there, to end police violence and impunity. The latest group to take up this work in Regina is called Voices for Justice and Police Accountability. It came together in January of this year, after a series of high-profile incidents. It is a broad-based group that is working hard on a number of fronts: holding public meetings and events, supporting in various ways individuals who have experienced police violence and misconduct, pursuing legal reforms that would strengthen oversight and accountability mechanisms, and working towards a long-term vision of building strong communities where police are less present and less relevant.

Robyn Pitawanakwat is a business-owner and Andrew Loewen is the editor of Briarpatch magazine, and both are centrally involved in the community organizing that has resulted in Voices for Justice and Police Accountability. They talk with me about policing in Regina, about the group, and about its multiple approaches to working for change.

To learn more about Voices for Justice and Police Accountability, click here.

Talking Radical Radio brings you grassroots voices from across Canada. We give you the chance to hear many different people that are facing many different struggles talk about what they do, why they do it, and how they do it, in the belief that such listening is a crucial step in strengthening all of our efforts to change the world. To learn more about the show in general, visit its website here. You can learn about suggesting topics for future shows here.

Talking Radical Radio is brought to you by Scott Neigh, a writer, media producer, and activist based in Sudbury, Ontario, and the author of two books examining Canadian history through the stories of activists.

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Radio — Physicians mobilizing in defense of health care for refugees

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On this week’s episode of Talking Radical Radio, I speak with Dr. Hasan Sheikh. He is a member of Canadian Doctors for Refugee Care, a group of physicians that has been mobilizing in response to the Conservative government’s cruel 2012 cuts to health care for refugees.

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You don’t often hear about physicians, en masse, taking issues to the streets. As today’s guest himself identifies, it tends to be a fairly conservative profession. As well, for all that there are frameworks with roots within the medical establishment that allow for much more resolutely social ways of understanding health and wellbeing, the everyday practice of medicine tends to be quite focused on the individual, on helping this particular person with this particular problem.

Yet in the last few years, some physicians in Canada have been mobilizing. Their first action was a sit-in, and they have had a number of demonstrations, not to mention making regular strong statements in the media. This is perhaps explained by the fact that it’s an issue that is very relevant to the core activities of physicians, and that represents a particularly cruel and egregious example of a government decision denying residents of Canada access to health care. And the issue, of course, is the 2012 decision by the Conservative government to cut a federal program that had smoothly covered certain basic health care needs for refugees and refugee claimants for more than 50 years, and to replace it with a confusing, complicated patchwork that leaves many refugees in Canada with no way whatsoever to address certain urgent healthcare needs.

According to Sheik, Canadian Doctors for Refugee Care began among some physicians who came together in Toronto in 2012, and now has members across the country. Along with annual demonstrations, they have also been integrally involved in a legal challenge to the cuts to refugee health care, have done education with physicians and with the general public about the issue, and have worked with provincial governments to find other ways to meet at least some of the needs left unmet by these cuts. Sheik talks with me about the awful impacts of the cuts on patients that he and his colleagues have seen, about the group, and about the struggle to restore access to basic health care for refugees in Canada.

To learn more about Canadian Doctors for Refugee Care, click here.

Talking Radical Radio brings you grassroots voices from across Canada. We give you the chance to hear many different people that are facing many different struggles talk about what they do, why they do it, and how they do it, in the belief that such listening is a crucial step in strengthening all of our efforts to change the world. To learn more about the show in general, visit its website here. You can learn about suggesting topics for future shows here.

Talking Radical Radio is brought to you by Scott Neigh, a writer, media producer, and activist based in Sudbury, Ontario, and the author of two books examining Canadian history through the stories of activists.

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Radio — Reconciling queerness and faith at the Human RITES Conference

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On this week’s episode of Talking Radical Radio, I speak with Kim Holmes-Younger and Pam Rocker about the Human RITES Conference, a recent event in Calgary which brought together people from a variety of denominations and faiths to discuss the histories of LGBTQ people being excluded from and marginalized within organized religions, and also the important work happening in many faith contexts to move towards a diffent, more inclusive future.

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In the last 20 years, dominant attitudes in Canada towards lesbian, gay, bi, and queer people have shifted significantly, and attitudes towards trans people have have also shifted, though nowhere nearly as much. Grassroots struggles by queer and trans people and allies have driven these shifts; and various kinds of expanded institutional and social space for queer and trans folk to live and thrive have been won as well (though access to this enhanced thriving has been quite unevenly distributed). Yet this shift has not been accompanied, for a significant part of even the more steadfastly supportive people who are straight and cisgender, with a substantive engagement with the diverse realities of queer and trans lives, and with the ways that sexuality, gender, and power work in our lives, institutions, and communities. And this means that for all the goodwill and support of a certain sort that’s out there, it can be a tricky thing to communicate to mainstream audiences that, yes, gay marriage is legal and, yes, certain kinds of gay visibility have increased dramatically, but there are still a lot of other kinds of barriers and struggles and challenges that permeate LGBTQ lives. And those, by the way, cannot just be reduced to the lingering presence of a handful of retrograde individual bigots; the need for major social and institutional change persists.

This plays out in lots of ways, in lots of contexts, but the one that is the focus of today’s show is religion. As today’s guests discuss, many LGBTQ people have experienced significant wounding through and by organized religion — through the institutions themselves, and through distributed attitudes and practices that are reproduced via the teachings of the institutions. Many people experience this as the imposition of an awful, impossible choice: remaining where they are and continuing to experience one kind of hurt, or leaving their faith behind and experiencing a different kind of loss and hurt. While many people navigate this dilemma by leaving their faith behind, many others do not, and continue to desire a spiritual journey in which they can be full participants.

The Human RITES Conference, an initiative that began in a handful of United Churches, brought together both clergy and lay people from a variety of denominations and faiths. It was meant as a space of learning and a space of healing. Kim Holmes-Younger has been working at Wild Rose United Church in Calgary in community engagement and youth ministry roles. Pam Rocker is a playwright and a spoken word poet, and works for Hillhurst United Church in Calgary specifically on engaging and celebrating LGBTQ communities. Both were centrally involved in the event, and they speak with me about queerness, faith, and the recent Human RITES Conference.

To learn more about the Human RITES Conference, click here.

Talking Radical Radio brings you grassroots voices from across Canada. We give you the chance to hear many different people that are facing many different struggles talk about what they do, why they do it, and how they do it, in the belief that such listening is a crucial step in strengthening all of our efforts to change the world. To learn more about the show in general, visit its website here. You can learn about suggesting topics for future shows here.

Talking Radical Radio is brought to you by Scott Neigh, a writer, media producer, and activist based in Sudbury, Ontario, and the author of two books examining Canadian history through the stories of activists.

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Radio — To defeat austerity, we need solidarity

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On this week’s episode of Talking Radical Radio, I speak with Kevin Skerrett. He is a trade unionist and a member of the local Ottawa-based anti-austerity formation Solidarity Against Austerity.

The language of “austerity” is not necessarily broadly understood in Canada, outside of a narrow segment of people who already identify with the left. Yet it is a concise way to name a cluster of political phenomena that are central to much of what is happening in this country and that are having profoundly harmful impacts on millions of lives — phenomena that a much more significant chunk of the population care about and oppose, however they name them, from cuts, to schemes to exploit migrants, to environmental deregulation, to privatization, to attacks on workers, to much more. And whatever language we use to name these attacks on ordinary people, it’s no secret that, outside of Quebec at least, we do not yet have the models and tools for action that might be able to successfully oppose the austerity agenda in its entirety. And — without completely dismissing them — it’s improtant to recognize that the conventional repertoire of actions by mainstream trade unions and parties that at least nominally aspire to social democracy, have not been effective in presenting meaningful alternatives to austerity and in fact at times have been actively complicit in reproducing narratives that claim that there is no alternative.

Solidarity Against Austerity emerged out of organizing that happened in Ottawa in 2012, after a loose network of activists planned a successful May Day demonstration. They all recognized the urgent need to be mobilizing against austerity, and also the limits in the existing possibilities for doing so. After repeating their success in getting people into the streets on May Day in 2013, they started to have serious conversations about what sustained, ongoing anti-austerity organizing, and the organizational form to support that, might look like. And they’ve been at it ever since — organizing educational events and forums, pulling together demonstrations, supporting strike actions, and much more. They recognize that what they’ve been able to do so far is small and limited compared to the scope of the problems that they name and oppose, but they see it as a starting point that they hope will be able to lead to at least one kind of genuinely effective, politically independent, non-sectarian response to the urgent conflux of crises impacting the lives of so many ordinary people under the banner, named or not, of austerity. Skerrett spoke with me about austerity, the origins of the group, the actions it has taken, and the ways it hopes to grow.

To learn more about Solidarity Against Austerity, click here.

Talking Radical Radio brings you grassroots voices from across Canada. We give you the chance to hear many different people that are facing many different struggles talk about what they do, why they do it, and how they do it, in the belief that such listening is a crucial step in strengthening all of our efforts to change the world. To learn more about the show in general, visit its website here. You can learn about suggesting topics for future shows here.

Talking Radical Radio is brought to you by Scott Neigh, a writer, media producer, and activist based in Sudbury, Ontario, and the author of two books examining Canadian history through the stories of activists.

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