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 — Queers against gentrification

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On this week’s episode of Talking Radical Radio, I speak with Helen Lenskyj and Liisa Schofield. They are members of Queer Trans Community Defence, a group of queer and trans people in Toronto’s Downtown East neighbourhood organizing against a new LGBTQ-focused sports and recreation centre that they say contributes to the broader urgent threat that gentrification poses to their community.

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Gentrification is a process of intervening in neighbourhoods in ways that (a) displace poor people (often disproportionately poor people of colour); (b) destroy poor communities (again, often but not always poor communities of colour); (c) remake those spaces for the benefit of people who are better off (and often whiter); and, (d) make people who are already rich a great deal of money.

How exactly the process plays out varies from place to place. Often, those who stand to profit from such destruction take great care to paint the changes that it involves as positive and beneficial. Sometimes, this is as simple as pointing to the great new things that gentrification might bring to a community, while leaving out how the presence of new business that existing residents can’t afford or services in which they are made to feel unwelcome is precisely a way in which people are made to feel like strangers in their own community. Sometimes, it is through framing existing residents as sources of danger — through framing them as “Other,” so they can be policed, regulated, and displaced accordingly, and so that destroying their community is itself seen as a benefit. But sometimes the process is eased by some sort of progressive veneer, some sense that the action being taken is a step towards some sort of progressive goal.

This is what the members of Queer Trans Community Defence argue is going on with plans by the City of Toronto to take the existing John Innes Community Centre in Moss Park in Toronto’s Downtown East neighbourhood and remake it into a shiny new sports and recreation facility. The new sports and rec centre is being pitched as…well, it was originally framed as “LGBTQ-focused,” though more recent communications from the city use the language of “inclusive.”

Downtown East is one of the poorest urban neighbourhoods in the country. Its residents include lots of poor people, lots of homeless people, and more than a few people struggling with addictions, living with mental illness, engaging in sex work, and so on. And it is under intense pressure from gentrification, with the neighbourhoods on all sides of it already well down that road.

Queer Trans Community Defence is a group of LGBTQ people, many of whom themselves live or work in the Downtown East, who are staunchly opposed to the new sports and rec centre. Given several decades of thriving LGBTQ-centric sports leagues in the city, they are skeptical that an entire new centre with that focus is necessary. More urgently, however, they argue that the specific redevelopment proposed in that specific location will just be one more piece of gentrifying the neighbourhood — a shiny new space in which existing poor and homeless residents (including those who are queer or trans) will not be welcomed, and which will contribute to displacing poor people (including those who are queer or trans), destroying their community, and remaking the Downtown East in the interests of developers.

Helen Lenskyj is a retired academic who has worked on issues of gender and sexuality in sport since the 1980s, and who has been an activist since the 1970s. Liisa Schofield has been involved in the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty for 13 years, doing work around welfare, disability benefits, housing, and homelessness in the Downtown East. They speak with me about their opposition to the new sports and rec centre and about the broader struggle against gentrification in Toronto.

To learn more about Queer Trans Community Defence, 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 Hamilton (formerly Sudbury), Ontario, and the author of two books examining Canadian history through the stories of activists.

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Radio — Demanding workplace dignity, not just a higher minimum wage

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On this week’s episode of Talking Radical Radio, I speak with Deena Ladd and Winnie Mah. They are both active in the Fight for $15 and Fairness, an Ontario-wide initiative that is mobilizing low-wage workers to win an increase in the minimum wage while at the same time pushing the provincial government to address the complex web of other indignities facing low-wage, part-time, temporary, and precarious workers that a wage increase alone would not fix.

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Efforts by low-wage workers to increase their wages are among the most common kinds of campaigns happening in North America these days. Some of these campaigns are directed at employers, but many of the largest have focused on getting governments to raise the mandated minimum that employers are allowed to pay — the minimum wage. The cry “Fight for $15!” has been heard in jurisdictions across the continent, and has won victories — albeit mostly partial — in more than a few places.

Yet despite how broadly that demand resonates, there have also been some voices of caution among workers and their supporters — people who definitely endorse the idea that working full-time should earn enough to get you out of poverty, but who also recognize that there are a series of other interrelated problems with how more and more waged work is organized today, and with what employers can get away with doing to workers, that changes in the minimum wage alone will not remedy.

During and after a campaign focused on the minimum wage in Ontario a few years ago, the Toronto Workers Action Centre — one of the lead organizations in the broad coalition driving that campaign — heard all about these complex, interconnected problems and the importance of addressing them. As they geared up last year for a renewed minimum wage fight, they seized on an Ontario government decision to consult the public around revamping basic employment standards in the province. As a result, last year an even broader coalition of workers, supporters, and organizations came together not just to “Fight for $15″, but to “Fight for $15 and Fairness” – for an increase in the minimum wage that would begin to lift workers out of poverty, and for a series of other changes in employment law in Ontario that would give the increasing number of workers in precarious, part-time, and low-wage jobs a bit more dignity and respect in the workplace. This includes paid sick days, better provisions around scheduling, better enforcement of employment standards, better protections from unjust dismissal, an end to exemptions from workplace protections for many classes of work, and much more. The campaign, which has been happening in at least 20 communities across Ontario, has included a combination of actions on the street, demands focused on the provincial consultation, and amplifying the voices of workers through mainstream, grassroots, and social media.

Deena Ladd is a long-time organizer with the Toronto Workers Action Centre. Winnie Mah worked for many years in the retail sector and for the last year has been active in a variety of capacities with the Centre. Both are very involved in the Fight for $15 and Fairness. They talk with me about the difficult realities faced by precarious, part-time, and low-wage workers in Ontario; about the nuts and bolts of the campaign; and about their vision of dignity and an end to poverty for all workers.

To learn more about the Fight for $15 and Fairness, 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 Hamilton (formerly Sudbury), Ontario, and the author of two books examining Canadian history through the stories of activists.

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Radio — Social movements and how they make, learn, and teach ideas

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On this week’s episode of Talking Radical Radio, I speak with Aziz Choudry, a long-time activist, a scholar of social movements, and the author of the new book Learning Activism: The Intellectual Life of Contemporary Social Movements.

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When we think about social movements, often what we think about is action: petitions signed, banners unfurled, meetings disrupted, strikes waged, land reclaimed, and so on. On the other hand, when we think about knowledge, teaching, learning, and research — that is, about the various components of knowledge production and circulation, and of intellectual life — we aren’t likely to automatically jump to thinking about movements, and certainly for most of us those sorts of intellectual activities won’t bring to mind sit-ins or marches or blockades or anything like that. But today’s guest argues that all of those things do go together.

Aziz Choudry has been involved in social movements for around thirty years. Though he grew up in England, his political involvement began in the 1980s when he lived in Aotearoa/New Zealand in the context of struggles that would later be given labels like “anti-globalization” and “global justice” — particularly, in parts of those struggles that were shaped early and strongly by anti-colonial influences. Choudry’s involvement has continued ever since in a range of movements and places, and much more recently he decided to take his politics into the academy. He is currently an Associate Professor in the Department of Integrated Studies in Education at McGill University in Montreal, and a Visiting Professor at the University of Johannesburg in South Africa.

In Learning Activism, Choudry discusses in detail how doing research, teaching people, learning things, and collectively articulating new ideas about the world are absolutely integral to social movements and the actions that they take. Unlike a lot of scholarly work about movements, this is a book firmly grounded in the needs of movements themselves, and it strongly argues for the importance of learning from movements and movement participants not just about their experiences, not just about their actions, but about their analysis — their ideas, their knowledge, their theory — of the social world.

He talks with me about his own involvement in activism and organizing, about his new book, and about the ways in which teaching, learning, research, and the production of new ideas are woven tightly through the everyday activities of social movements.

To learn more about Learning Activism: The Intellectual Life of Contemporary Social Movements, click here. Launch events for the book are coming up in late January in Montreal, Ottawa, and Toronto.

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 Hamilton (formerly Sudbury), Ontario, and the author of two books examining Canadian history through the stories of activists.

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Radio — Seeds of a radical Christian left

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On this week’s episode of Talking Radical Radio, I speak with Letizia Waddington and Scott Neufeld. They are members of Streams of Justice, a small, highly active, multi-issue social justice group in Vancouver with roots in the Christian faith.

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In part because of the frequency with which faith has been and still is brandished as a justification for oppression, but also in part because of prejudices inherited from the Enlightenment and from earlier versions of the left, it can be hard for those of us who ground our visions of justice and liberation in non-religious ways to appreciate the rich and potentially radical resource that faith traditions – including but far from limited to Christianity – can offer those who struggle for a better world from a place rooted in their faith.

Streams of Justice emerged from an informal bible study group associated with a Baptist church in a poor neighbourhood of Vancouver. A combination of close listening to the experiences of people who were marginalized in one way or another, and close attention to scripture, led to a shift in emphasis by those in the bible study from the charity model that is common to many faith contexts, to a focus on the need to struggle for justice. In particular, they explored the long tradition of interpreting the bible from the perspective of people who are suffering from injustice – an approach that came to be called “liberation theology” in some Christian traditions in the 20th century, but that has gone by other names as well and has a much longer history.

Today, Streams of Justice is a mix both of people who continue to attend that same church and others who do not, and they explicitly acknowledge the group’s Christian roots while working to be welcoming to those of all faiths and of none. Much of what they do involves acting in material solidarity with other groups, mostly non-religious, that are involved in a range of struggles, including Indigenous land defense, anti-poverty, climate justice, migrant justice, and more. And they have also at times worked to engage with broader Christian communities around questions of justice. Waddington and Neufeld speak with me about the origins of the group, its Christian roots, its emphatically multi-issue practice, and its work for radical social transformation.

To learn more about Streams of Justice, 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 Hamilton (formerly Sudbury), Ontario, and the author of two books examining Canadian history through the stories of activists.

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Radio — A union for panhandlers, buskers, and other folks on the street

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On this week’s episode of Talking Radical Radio, I speak with Andrew Nellis. He is involved in the Street Labourers of Windsor (SLOW), a union for panhandlers, buskers, scrappers, security guards, and anyone else who makes all or part of their income by working on the street.

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It is certainly not universally embraced, particularly in parts of the institutionalized core of the mainstream labour movement, but it has become more and more a piece of left commonsense that the future of worker struggles absolutely must involve, and even prioritize, organization and mobilization of workers variously described as low-wage, low-skill, low-status, precarious, or otherwise marginalized. Whether that takes the form of workers’ centres, non-traditional organizing by traditional unions, migrant workers’ groups, community-based minimum wage campaigns, or other sorts of creative organizational forms to bring workers together, it is one of the liveliest areas of social movement activity in North America these days.

Yet even among people who adhere to this particular piece of left commonsense, it might take some convincing to get them on board with the idea that the workers at the heart of today’s show are in fact workers, and that the organization that is organizing them does indeed qualify as a union. Andrew Nellis, though, is quite certain that they are, and that it does. The Street Labourers of Windsor is an affiliate of the Industrial Workers of the World in Windsor, Ontario. Nellis is the caretaker of SLOW’s new union hall, and he has been using his earlier experience as an organizer with the panhandler’s union in Ottawa as a resource for SLOW’s core organizers. He speaks with me about the details of what it means to build a fighting organization among street workers, about the trajectory of SLOW to date, about their new union hall and fundraising campaign, and about their plans for building the union in 2016.

To learn more about SLOW and to donate to the fundraising drive to make their new union hall a useful and vibrant community space, 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 Hamilton (formerly Sudbury), Ontario, and the author of two books examining Canadian history through the stories of activists.

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Radio — A new feminist music and arts festival in Calgary

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On this week’s episode of Talking Radical Radio, I speak with Kaely Cormack and Hayley Muir. They have been involved in Calgary’s music scene in one way or another for quite some time, in the last few years as members of a punk band, and they are also co-founders of Femme Wave: A Feminist Arts Festival.

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Over the years, they’d had a lot of conversations — between themselves and with other women — about the experience of being women in a male-dominated industry. At least part of that experience can be framed in terms of space: who is present and who is absent, who gets to feel welcome and who is made in subtle ways to feel out of place, who feels entitled to exert some control over space and who doesn’t. In their experience, it’s a pretty common thing for there to be relatively few women as performers on any given bill, or even in audiences. And as performers, it’s not unusual for women to face the gamut of small but important interactions known as “microaggressions” that may not even be done consciously but that mark those who face them as somehow unwelcome, lesser, or not-belonging.

Along with being punk musicians, the two are also committed feminists with backgrounds in marketing and experience in their paid work lives of project management — that is, they know how to make things happen. After bouncing the idea around for a couple of years, they were in the early stages of figuring out the practical nuts and bolts of putting together some sort of feminist, woman-centric musical event, or maybe a few of them, when they connected with a crew of older women who had extensive experience at putting on festivals and other large events. In short order, Femme Wave: A Feminist Arts Festival was on the path to becoming a reality. The first of what they aim to make an annual event happened in late November, and it featured not only multiple music shows in a variety of Calgary venues covering a range of genres of music, but also panels, public education, film screenings, visual art installations, and stand-up comedy. It may not be entirely unprecedented, but in terms of combining multiple art forms and an explicit commitment to feminist politics into one event, it is certainly rare not just in Calgary but in Canada as a whole.

To learn more about Femme Wave: A Feminist Arts Festival, 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 Hamilton (formerly Sudbury), Ontario, and the author of two books examining Canadian history through the stories of activists.

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Radio — Organizing against racism and anti-Blackness on a very white campus

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On this week’s episode of Talking Radical Radio, I speak with Cicely-Belle Blain. She is a fourth year student at the University of British Columbia, and she was one of the organizers behind a recent event on that campus that was part of the current wave of activity by Black students and their allies at universities across North America.

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It’s a truism that most important institutions incorporate, into how they work, their own versions of the relationships and practices that benefit some and harm others across the length and breadth of our social world. From the outside, or from a position of privilege within, it can be easy to lose sight of that reality when it comes to universities – it’s easy to think that the islands of critical thought and action that years of hard struggle have won and preserved in some universities are much larger and more influential than they actually are, and it’s also easy to miss how many postsecondary institutions reward (or at least strategically ignore) radical-sounding words just as long as they are kept carefully divorced from any action that might challenge the institution in which they are housed.

One axis upon which this is true in most North American universities is white supremacy (tightly intertwined, of course, with settler colonialism). There are exceptions, but it is all too common that racialized (especially Black and Indigenous) people are underrepresented in faculty and administrative positions; that their perspectives are underrepresented or completely absent from the syllabi of most courses and programs; that they face disproportionate barriers in gaining admission; and that as students, faculty, and staff they face a range of barriers, hostilities, and even violences within the institution.

Over this past year, there has been an upsurge in organizing on campuses across the United States, and to a lesser extent in Canada, by Black students in particular, and by those who support them. Triggered by powerful organizing at the University of Missouri in the face of intense systemic and direct racism, and happening very much in the context of the broader Black Lives Matter upsurge led by Black youth, much of this wave of organizing has happened under slogans like #StudentBlackOut and #BlackOnCampus.

Blain knew that she wanted to organize something at UBC campus to show solidarity with students in Missouri and elsewhere, and to challenge the pervasive systemic racism and anti-Blackness on her own campus. She had been involved in feminist and other social justice work in her time at UBC, but there had been very little anti-racist organizing on the campus in that time. The Black student population at UBC is very small, so she and the people she raised the idea with decided to organize an event that would bring together a broad range of students of colour and Indigenous students (while keeping the specific experiences of racial violence and harm experienced by Black students clearly visible). They organized an event that explicitly centred their own voices, bodies, and experiences through performance and conversation. The event culminated in an impromptu march through the campus and the presentation of demands to a representative of the university president. Blain speaks with me about both the UBC and broder movement contexts, about the event, and about the kinds of changes that Black students, students of colour, and Indigenous students need to see at UBC.

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 Hamilton (formerly Sudbury), Ontario, and the author of two books examining Canadian history through the stories of activists.

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