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 — Radical research bringing campus and community together

On this week’s episode of Talking Radical Radio, Scott Neigh speaks with Lama El-Hanan, Rachele Gottardi, and Maverick Smith. They are involved in the Toronto Research Action and Community Exchange (TRACX), an initiative to connect students interested in doing grassroots social justice-focused research with community organizations who need research done. They also organize an annual symposium, which this year will focus on the research needed to support efforts to counter the rise of the alt-right.

At its broadest, “research” is any effort to learn about the world. It is something that all of us do, at least informally, because acting in the world, whether you are a powerful institution or an ordinary person going about everyday life, requires knowing about the world. The world is a complicated place, though, so sometimes, for some questions, specialized skills and dedicated time, space, and resources can be very useful in doing research.

The thing is, research about the social world is not value neutral. The questions that you ask, the approaches that you take to answering them, the judgements you make about what you learn, and the accountability you enact as you are doing all of that will shape the nuts and bolts of what you do as well as the substance and utility of what you learn. So, for instance, if you give a bunch of money to a university to do research on a particular issue or topic, the work that results may not end up being something that is useful or even particularly respectful towards the communities-in-struggle and grassroots organizations that are directly engaged with that issue. Such communities and organizations, however, do often have urgent needs of their own for clever, creative, well-grounded research responsive to their circumstances as they make decisions about acting in the world. Unfortunately, they often have access to little in the way of resources to make that kind of research happen.

TRACX is a three year-old effort based in the Ontario Public Interest Research Group (OPIRG) at University of Toronto. It aims to leverage the kinds of expertise and resources that are available in the university context to meet the research needs of communities and grassroots organizations.

One element of their work is matching up student researchers with community organizations that have research needs. TRACX’s commitment is not just to doing this, however, but to doing it in a politically responsible way that centres social justice. TRACX works to make sure that everything about how the research is done flows from the needs of the organization — that it focuses on the questions they want answered and on methods that fit with their values and goals. They also ensure that all of the work is accountable to the organization. Among other things, all of this involves doing as much as possible to navigate the various paperwork-related and institutional hoops that are often part of university life, so that the organization and the student can focus on the work itself.

The other side of the work that TRACX does is host an annual symposium about whatever has been the focus of that year’s student research. It gives the TRACX student researchers a chance to talk about their work, but it also brings together groups, organizations, community members, and researchers from a much broader area to talk about the issue in an engaged, active way grounded not in academic ways of doing things but in struggles for a better world. Last year, the focus was police violence. And the TRACX symposium happening this fall in Toronto will focus on research to help counter the alt-right.

Lama El-Hanan is an undergraduate student at University of Toronto taking anthropology and near and middle eastern studies. Maverick Smith is a grad student focused on adult education and community development. Both are active with OPIRG. And Rachele Gottardi is the volunteer programming coordinator at OPIRG Toronto. We speak about TRACX, about the politics of research, and about this year’s focus on countering the alt-right.

Talking Radical Radio brings you grassroots voices from across Canada, giving 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 check out its website here. You can also follow them on FaceBook or Twitter, or contact scottneigh@talkingradical.ca to join our weekly email update list.

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

The image modified for use in this post was created by YeshaiMishal and is used under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International licence.

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Radio — Celebrating grassroots LGBTQ media

On this week’s episode of Talking Radical Radio, Scott Neigh speaks with Dorian Jesse Fraser. Fraser is part of the Queer Between the Covers collective, which maintains a distro of hard-to-find queer and trans print media and organizes an annual book and zine fair in Montreal – one of the largest queer book fairs in North America.

In the last two decades, space for LGBTQ representation, voices, and creators has opened up in mainstream North American culture in a way that would have been unimaginable in earlier years. This is an important claiming of space, and a product of both broader grassroots political victories by LGBTQ movements as well as of the relentless persistence of queer and trans cultural creators in the face of marginalization.

As important as this change has been, however, it is important to recognize how incredibly partial and uneven it is. Most of the rich diversity and depth of queer lives and queer communities remain largely excluded from this space, while the pressures to accommodate a mostly cisgender and heterosexual audience plus the profit imperative of cultural production in a capitalist society mean that what does find its way into mainstream consciousness is often narrowed and distorted. Those identities and intersections under the broad LGBTQ umbrella that remain more marginalized in real life continue to face the most profound marginalization in terms of culture. Which means there are a lot of people who rarely if ever see themselves represented, see stories that speak to their experiences and struggles, or see ideas and information that they need to thrive. As such, spaces dedicated to creating, celebrating, and sharing queer and trans cultural production, including in grassroots and do-it-yourself ways, remain as important as ever.

In 2002, Montreal’s queer book store shut its doors. A lot of people saw this is a major loss in the community, and a few years later some of them came together to strategize about what to do. In 2007, they founded Queer Between the Covers, a collective under the umbrella of the Quebec Public Interest Research Group at Concordia University. Queer Between the Covers’ annual book and zine fair usually occurs in conjunction with the more grassroots events that happen during the city’s Pride celebrations. As well, at least in years when the group has the people power to do it, they organize and participate in smaller events throughout the year with their distro. The annual book fair, which is coming up this year on August 19th at the Centre communautaire de loisirs Sainte-Catherine d’Alexandrie at 1700 Amherst in Montreal, features dozens of zine creators, independent publishers, distros, and other vendors of queer and trans print media.

Dorian Jesse Fraser is a graduate student at Concordia University, a writer, and a member of the Queer Between the Covers collective. They speak with me about the relevance of print media in a digital age, about queer and trans politics in Montreal, and about the ongoing importance of grassroots queer and trans cultural spaces like the Queer Between the Covers book fair and distro.

Talking Radical Radio brings you grassroots voices from across Canada, giving 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 check out its website here. You can also follow them on FaceBook or Twitter, or contact scottneigh@talkingradical.ca to join our weekly email update list.

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

The image modified for use in this post is used with the permission of Queer Between the Covers.

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Telling histories of struggle through posters and comics

On this week’s episode of Talking Radical Radio, Scott Neigh speaks with Julia Smith and Sean Carleton of the Graphic History Collective. They talk about the group’s decade of work with comics as a means to tell histories of marginalized people and of struggles for justice, and about their current Remember Resist Redraw poster project.

The stories we’re told about the past shape our understandings of ourselves and the world in the present, and therefore our relationship to struggles for a better future. And of course the stories that most of us get a chance to learn usually silence the voices of anyone outside the elite, erase important struggles, and make it very difficult to understand how we ended up with the world that surrounds us today. This, in turn, gets in the way of building collective efforts to fight for change.

Intervening in this can take a lot of differnet forms. Indeed, you could argue that any time we take action for justice in the present, we are disrupting these settled stories of “all is well” and “there is no alternative” and “that’s just how it is,” and all of the erasure and silencing they rest upon. But, even so, one important element of undoing the harm of these inaccurate and oppressive histories is doing the work to address them directly — unearthing those struggles, amplifying those voices, and telling those stories in ways that as many people as possible can hear and learn from.

The Graphic History Collective is no stranger to doing that work. The grouping of scholars, artists, educators, and writers first came together almost a decade ago to produce a graphic novel-style history of May Day in Canada. Since then, they have worked on multiple projects that bring together historical research and art — the history focuses on the experiences of people who are marginalized and on struggles against exploitation and opression, the art has usually been in a comics format, and the goal in combining them is to popularize this history-from-below and make it accessible. Over the course of this work, they have built relationships with a network of creators and collaborators far beyond the collective itself. Their most recently completed major project was the edited collection Drawn to Change, published by Between the Lines in 2016, which features nine short graphic histories of diverse working-class struggles in the Canadian context. Drawn to Change won both the Wilson Book Prize of the Wilson Institute for Canadian History and the Public History Prize of the Canadian Historical Association in 2017.

The Graphic History Collective’s current project is called Remember Resist Redraw. Starting in January 2017, each month they have been releasing a poster that graphically presents an aspects of history-from-below from the Canadian context. Topics covered so far include the political past and present of Pride, the Metis resistance at Batoche in 1885, Chloe Cooley’s resistance to enslavement and its role in challenging slavery in Upper Canada, the racialized and gendered history of caregiving work in Canada, and much more. From the group’s website, you can download all of the posters for free for personal, educational, and activist use, and you can also read the short write-up that accompanies each.

In describing Remember Resist Redraw, the group writes, “In order to change the world, we need to be able to imagine alternative ways of living and organizing to bring about social change. We combine art and history because it helps us fuel our radical imaginations and dream of what might be. Activist art encourages us to remember, resist, and redraw our world with an eye to changing it for the better.”

Julia Smith is a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of History at Rutgers University and a visiting professor in the Department of Hisotry at the University of Calgary. Sean Carleton is an assistant professor in the Department of General Education at Mount Royal University in Calgary. They talk about the Graphic History Collective’s trajectory, about the Remember Resist Redraw project, and about the importance of challenging dominant narratives of Canadian history as one part of supporting struggles for justice and liberation.

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 check out its website here. You can also follow us on FaceBook or Twitter, or contact scottneigh@talkingradical.ca to join our weekly email update list.

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

The image modified for use in this post was created by Jerry Thistle, with accompanying text by Jesse Thistle, and is used with permission of the Graphic History Collective.

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Radio — A new rank-and-file network inside Canada’s largest private sector union

On this week’s episode of Talking Radical Radio, Scott Neigh speaks with Cory Weir and Mike Mutimer. They are rank-and-file auto workers in Oshawa, Ontario, and they are among the founding members of the Unifor Solidarity Network, a new network of rank-and-file workers within Canada’s largest private sector union.

Unifor formed in 2013 with the merger of the Canadian Auto Workers and the Communication, Energy, and Paperworkers Union of Canada. The union’s more than 300,000 members therefore work in a wide range of different sectors and in communities across the country.

Weir and Mutimer are not just members but are actively involved in Unifor and in the broader labour movement. Weir is on the young workers’committee in his local and on Unifor’s Durham Regional Environment Council, and he is the young worker rep on the Durham Region Labour Council. And Mutimer is a member of the education standing committee of Unifor Local 222 and executive member-at-large of the Durham Region Labour Council.

Over their years of involvement, Weir and Mutimer have had lots of opportunities to have informal conversations with other rank-and-file union members, whether that’s on the shop floor where they work, at meetings within their local, at meetings of Unifor-based or broader labour movement bodies beyond their local, at conventions, or on social media. And in the course of all of that, they’ve seen a growing discontent among Unifor members. For some people, that discontent has focused on the decision by Unifor to accept tiered wages in their auto contracts — meaning new hires make significantly less and have much less access to benefits than long-time workers. For others, their concern has been the choices that Unifor has made in recent years about how to relate to elections. And for still others, it’s more about what they see as the top-down culture within Unifor that discourages critical participation and debate. And the list goes on.

In response, Weir, Mutimer, and a number of other Unifor members decided that what they needed to do was create some kind of space in which rank-and-file members of Unifor could engage in debate and discussion outside of the formal structures of the union. To that end, they founded the Unifor Solidarity Network. At the moment, it exists mainly as a website — solinet.ca. They’re looking to publish pieces by Unifor members from across the country and from all different sectors talking about the issues in their workplaces and their locals, and contributing a wide range of perspectives on the big questions facing Unifor and the labour movement as a whole.

The network is deliberately horizontal in its structure and open to a wide range of ideas. The founding members committed the network to a few general principles — rank-and-file democracy, working-class politics, and bargaining positions that will enhance solidarity — but they interpret those deliberately broadly, and they welcome contributions to the site that disagree, debate, and discuss. They hope that over time this will foster a culture of political engagement and active involvement among a broadening layer of rank-and-file workers. In the longer term, they hope that the Unifor Solidarity Network can eventually become a way for rank-and-file members across different sectors and locals to discuss issues, support each other, and advance positions within the broader union that can improve workers’ ability to take effective action in the face of the very real challenges confronting workers and unions in this age of neoliberalism and of the rise of the alt-right.

Weir and Mutimer speak about the issues facing Unifor and the labour movement today, and about what they hope the Unifor Solidarity Network can accomplish.

[PLEASE NOTE: Most episodes of Talking Radical Radio are published both here and on Rabble.ca. To my surprise, Rabble declined to publish this week’s episode, so you will only be able to find it 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 check out its website here. You can also follow us on FaceBook or Twitter, or contact scottneigh@talkingradical.ca to join our weekly email update list.

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

The image modified for use in this post was taken by Rob Brucker and is used under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license.

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Radio — Unsettling Canada 150 on Parliament Hill

This week’s episode of Talking Radical Radio offers a behind-the-scenes look at the bold Reoccupation that went to the very heart of the Canadian settler colonial project — Parliament Hill itself — and used ceremony to challenge and unsettle Canada’s 150th anniversary celebrations. Freddy Stoneypoint, Summer-Harmony Twenish, Trycia Bazinet, Hamda Deria, and Elsa Hoover were among the organizers of and participants in the Reoccupation ceremony, and they talk about their experiences on the Hill and their understanding of the ongoing work of unsettling Canada.

The Canadian state spent half a billion dollars to fixate the attention of Canadians on various forms of celebration and self-congratulation to mark the 150th anniversary of Confederation. Yet in the lead-up and on Canada Day itself there were plenty of people in grassroots contexts across the country speaking back to this forgetful feel-good nationalism and offering instead much more critical but also much more grounded accounts of the actual past and present of the northern half of Turtle Island. These activities took a variety of forms, from quiet reflection to vocal denunciation, and they came from a variety of political places, most importantly from a range of Indigenous stances calling out the unrelenting and ongoing settler colonial violence that is the basis for not just Canada 150 but for Canada itself, and asserting the ongoing and resurgent reality of Indigenous dignity and Indigenous nationhood in the face of it. This included a call by Idle No More and Defenders of the Land, issued in honour of the late Arthur Manuel, for a National Day of Action to Unsettle 150 “in support of Indigenous self-determination over land, territories, and resources.”

Perhaps the most visible action taken to answer that call was the Reoccupation ceremony that occurred on Parliament Hill. The Reoccupation was a collaboration between the Bawating Water Protectors from Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, and a collective of youth based in Ottawa (who were supported by two Cree elders). In the face of opposition from police and security forces as well as hostility from many ordinary settler Canadians, the ceremony succeeded in holding space and engaging in ceremony on the Hill from June 28th through Canada Day itself. Even at the heart of nationalist celebration, Indigenous lives and voices and resistance asserted their ongoing presence and their jurisdiction over the land.

Though they did not get the support they had hoped for from certain people with positions in academic and other institutions before they took action, it was countless gifts of grassroots resources and support that made it possible for them to stay on the Hill. Despite minimal resources, it was an incredibly successful action. In fact, they see this approach as a model that can be taken up in community contexts across country — indeed, they hope their actions inspire others to do exactly that. In this model, the fact that it is not protest but ceremony is absolutely central, though it is ceremony combined with what you might describe as a direct action ethic. They see this kind of ceremonial intervention as being particularly promising as a way of reclaiming and asserting Indigenous jursidiction over urban spaces.

This interview was done on July 2nd, the day after the Reoccupation ended, by Greg Macdougall — a grassroots media-maker and community organizer in Ottawa who has also written about the Reoccupation — and then edited, narrated, and produced by Talking Radical’s Scott Neigh. The participants in the interview include four of the members of the Ottawa-based side of the core organizing collective of the Reoccupation — so, not the folks from Sault Ste. Marie. Freddy Stoneypoint is an Ojibwe youth from Sagamok Anishinawbek First Nation. Summer-Harmony Twenish is an Algonquin Anishabekwe from Kitigan Zibi First Nation. Trycia Bazinet is a white settler woman from northern Quebec. And Hamda Deria is a Somali-Canadian Muslim woman. All four of them are students at Carleton University in Ottawa. Also participating in the interview is Elsa Hoover, an Anishnaabe woman who lives in New York and is active with New York City Stands with Standing Rock — she was not a core organizer but was an active participant in the Reoccupation.

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 check out its website here. You can also follow us on FaceBook or Twitter, or contact scottneigh@talkingradical.ca to join our weekly email update list.

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

The image modified for use in this post was taken by Susie Shapiro and is used with permission.

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Radio — Turning towards music of protest and resistance

On this week’s episode of Talking Radical Radio, Scott Neigh speaks with Teghan Barton of the Hillside Music Festival, happening from July 14 to 16 in Guelph, Ontario. They talk about the relationship between music and struggles for social justice and about this year’s decision by the festival to highlite music of protest and resistance at a moment that calls for as much of both of those things as we can muster.

Some people’s understanding of political music begins and ends with a stereotype of 1960s folk songs. But of course there are almost as many different flavours of musical resistance as there are movements and communities-in-struggle — from the songs of slaves in the US South in the 19th century, to the adaptation of Christian hymns by labour militants in the early 20th century, through blues and punk and hip-hop and songs of national liberation around the world, to the upsurge in recent years of Indigenous musicians spitting decolonial truths across Turtle Island, and much, much more. In different contexts and different moments, musical assertions of dignity and demands for justice and liberation can manifest in a dizzying diversity of forms.

But what about our moment, our context? The grip that commerce holds over music can be very tight, limiting in profound ways whose music gets heard and who is able to make a living performing, and this often does not favour artists who experience marginalization in one way or another, especially when those artists prioritize putting a message into their songs. Yet we are in a moment of overlapping crises, from incipient climate catastrophe, to ongoing state violence against Black and Indigenous people, to skyrocketing income inequality, to the growing power of a racist and violent far right. Resistance is happening on all of these fronts and many more, and so music is being made that embodies this resistance — in kitchens and living rooms, around fires and in community halls, in basements and warehouses. And, if you’re lucky, you can find a space near you that is dedicated to nurturing, supporting, and amplifying such musical resistance.

The Hillside Festival has been happening every summer for over three decades. When it started out in the 1980s, environmental concern was in a growth moment, so while the festival didn’t begin with a commitment to politics in its content it did start out with a commitment to environmental conscientiousness in its operations. Over the years, that has become a core principal of its organizing and one of the key things the festival is known for. Barton, who is a publicist with Hillside, describes the evolution of this ethic over the years to incorporate an increasingly expansive vision of social justice and peacemaking. For instance, in a context in which many festival lineups vastly underrepresent women musicians, for the last few years Hillside has, with little fanfare, ensured its lineup exhibits gender parity or better.

And this year? This year “music of protest and resistance” is Hillside’s theme. While there will also be many artists who channel their work in other directions, a solid subset of the performers that will be featured at the festival are artists whose work is explicitly political. Attendees will be able to hear performers like Anishnaabe singer Leonard Sumner; DJ Shub formerly of A Tribe Called Red; hip-hop crew MissingLinX; Yes, a queer no-borders feminist; protest music legend Billy Bragg; and a range of other performers who in one way or another infuse their music with concern for justice, like Sarah Harmer, NEFE, Denice Frohman, Las Cafeteras, and more. Hillside has also been running a protest song writing course for young musicians over the last few months, and attendees will get a chance to listen to what the participants have created. And in a continuation of a longstanding element of the festival, attendees will also be able to participate in and learn from numerous workshops under the banner of the Indigenous Circle space, which is run by Indigenous elders.

Barton talks about the long relationship between music and struggles for social change, about the history of the Hillside Festival, and about this year’s focus on music of protest and resistance.

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 check out its website here. You can also follow us on FaceBook or Twitter, or contact scottneigh@talkingradical.ca to join our weekly email update list.

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

The image modified for use in this post was taken by Dean Palmer and is used with the permission of the Hillside Festival.

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Radio — A little-known front in the fight against the Kinder Morgan tar sands pipeline

On this week’s episode of Talking Radical Radio, Scott Neigh speaks with Holly Andersen and Rudy Reimer. They live on Burnaby Mountain in British Columbia and are part of a growing group of residents opposing the expansion of the nearby storage facility, or “tank farm,” that marks the BC terminus of the widely opposed Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain tar sands pipeline.

Anyone who pays any attention at all to climate and environmental justice issues has heard about the big conflicts. We all know about the brewing confrontation with those who are working to extract every last drop of bitumen from the tar sands on one side, and those of us who think that respecting Indigenous sovereignty and not burning the planet to the ground might be a better plan on the other. We’ve probably all heard, as well, about various battles around the pipelines that are meant to carry extracted fossil fuels to market — including Enbridge Line 3, the Dakota Access Pipeline, Enbridge Line 9, Keystone XL, Northern Gateway…and of course the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline. These big picture struggles would go nowhere, however, if it was not for smaller localized efforts. And as important as these local struggles are, we don’t always hear about them, which means we aren’t always able to act in support in the ways that they need.

In its Trans Mountain pipeline expansion proposal, Texas-based corporation Kinder Morgan seeks to invest something in excess of $7 billion to add a new pipeline next to an existing one that stretches from Alberta to the British Colubmia coast in order to massively increase capacity and enable pumping not crude oil but tar sands bitumen diluted by chemicals. The pipeline has approval from the National Energy Board and the Trudeau Liberals at the federal level, and was supported by Christy Clark’s Liberals in BC. However, since this interview was recorded, the BC Liberal government has fallen and been replaced by an NDP-Green coalition that is opposed to the pipeline. Mayors in municiaplities along the route are staunchly against, public opinion in BC is opposed, grassroots opposition is vocal and growing, and many First Nations whose territory would be affected have made it quite clear that their options for stopping the pipeline are far from exhausted.

One of the lesser-known fronts in the struggle against the Kinder Morgan pipeline is coming from residents of Burnaby Mountain. The mountain was a focus for the larger movement against the Kinder Morgan pipeline a few years ago, including civil disobedience and multiple arrests, when the company was doing some preparatory testing. The growing opposition by residents today, however, is focused mostly on the tank farm. The facility as it exists today has 13 massive tanks, but the expanded version would have many, many more. The diluted bitumen would be stored there and piped through the mountain and onto tankers docked on the other side.

The residential community higher up on Burnaby Mountain is in a bit of peculiar position. Simon Fraser University (SFU) is located on the mountain and owns quite a bit of land there. In the 1990s, the university decided that it would develop a source of income by leasing land higher up the mountain for residential development, under the banner of a land management trust called UniverCity. It is currently home to around 5000 residents — some connected to SFU, but many not — and it continues to grow. They are technically residents of the City of Burnaby, but are physically a bit separate from the rest of the municipality and are often not fully considered when it comes to city services and city politics. Yet SFU and the land management trust, despite their connection to the community, are not at all democratically accountable to the residents.

The tank farm is located relatively close to the university itself, and is actualy right beside the only intersection that lets people get in and out of the residential community higher up the mountain. The risk of leaks and the risk of fire rank high among the residents’ concerns, and fear of having no way to escape should a disaster strike. Indeed, at least one study commissioned by SFU has found that the probability of a catastrophic event at the tank farm would increase significantly after the expansion. The Burnaby fire department has been quite clear that they are not equipped to deal with a major fire there, and emergency preparedness plans have been either kept secret or seem to be inadequate.

Holly Andersen is a philosophy professor at SFU. Rudy Reimer is a member of the Squamish Nation and is a professor of Archaeology and First Nations Studies at SFU. Both are residents of Burnaby Mountain. They and some of their fellow residents have started meeting, sharing their concerns about the tank farm expansion, and taking action. Some of that action so far has involved doing some research to find out exactly what is going on, as many important aspects of the proposal and the process have not been widely communicated. Some of it involves building relationships with other small groups that have become similarly concerned, including campus groups — they have already held a rally bringing students and residents together to oppose the expansion. They are trying to work through institutional channels as well, including the local government in Burnaby and the faculty senate at SFU. But their big focus at the moment is raising awareness among residents and people on campus, in preparation for more visible mobilizing once school resumes in the fall.

Andersen and Reimer speak with me about the Burnaby Mountain community, about the larger fight against the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline, and about their work to oppose the unacceptable risk to Burnaby Mountain residents that would be created by expanding the tank farm.

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 check out its website here. You can also follow us on FaceBook or Twitter, or contact scottneigh@talkingradical.ca to join our weekly email update list.

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

The image modified for use in this post belongs to Vranak and is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike Unported 3.0 license.

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