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 — A broad vision for sexual and reproductive health and rights

On this week’s episode of Talking Radical Radio, Scott Neigh speaks with Sandeep Prasad and Frédérique Chabot. They work for Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights, an organization that is active on a wide range of issues connected to sexuality, gender, and reproduction, both in Canada and globally.

Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights formed in 2014 with the merger of three existing organizations: Action Canada for Population and Development, which had an international focus, came together with Canadians for Choice and with the Canadian Federation for Sexual Health, both of which were active primarily within Canada.

At the international level, Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights is an active partner in the Sexual Rights Initiative, a coalition of groups from countries in both the Global North and the Global South working primarily within the United Nations system to advocate for progressive policies on sexual and reproductive rights. As well, they partner directly with organizations working on these issues in other countries.

Domestically, they are involved on a number of fronts. They offer a 24/7 access and support line that people can call when they face an unintended pregnancy or any sexual health issues. Related to that, they manage an emergency fund to help people overcome barriers to accessing abortion services. This frontline engagement with people attempting to access health care intimately informs the organization’s policy advocacy, much of which is geared to pushing for changes in how health care in jurisdictions across Canada is organized and delivered so as to reduce and eventually eliminate the many different barriers that many different groups of people continue to face — barriers that mean, notwithstanding a lot of rhetoric that we often hear in this country, that health care is still a long way from being truly universal.

Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights also does education work around sexual and reproductive health — some of that is public education, but it also involves developing resources for teachers to support the delivery of comprehensive sexuality education in schools, as well as educating health care professionals as part of the work of addressing barriers to access.

And one of the most visible campaigns by the organization in recent years has been related to Mifegymiso, a medication for inducing medical abortions. Though the drug has received Health Canada approval, albeit after an unusually lengthy process, it is still in the process of being taken up as one approach to delivering abortion services by health care systems and providers across the country. Action Canada has prepared resources to educate both the public and policy makers about the drug, and is advocating for things like public coverage of the cost of this quite expensive medication in all jurisdictions and changes in what they argue are excessively restrictive regulations around prescribing and dispensing it, in order to minimize barriers to access.

In all of this work, Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights takes an approach that they describe as “movement building.” For them, a central aspect of what that term means inovlves working with groups, organizations, and movements that deal with different issues, to understand how their respective struggles intersect and to collaborate in working towards a larger vision of justice. In some contexts, this is about recognizing how a common grounding in concern for bodily autonomy can break down silos that often divide groups that are working on different aspects of sexual, gender, and reproductive rights. But it also means situating their work in the context of broader struggles — for example, working to make sure that their policy work to make Mifegymiso as well as surgical abortion options as accessible as possible is situated in the larger call for access to healthcare by people who often face unjust exclusion from our supposedly universal access, such as Indigenous people and refugees.

Sandeep Prasad is the executive director of Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights, and Frédérique Chabot is their Health Information Officer. They speak with me about barriers to health care in the Canadian context, and about the work of the organization to advance sexual and reproductive health, and sexual and reproductive rights, both globally and in Canada.

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 is used with permission of Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights.

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Radio — Protecting the land in Labrador

On this week’s episode of Talking Radical Radio, Scott Neigh speaks with Jennifer Hefler-Elson. She is a member of the Labrador Land Protectors, a grassroots group opposed to the hydroelectric dam megaproject being built at Muskrat Falls.

Muskrat Falls is a waterfall on the Churchill River in Labrador, not too far from the Indigenous-majority town of Happy Valley-Goose Bay. The dam at the falls is being built by Nalcor Energy, a provincial crown corporation. It’s a project that has been in the works for many years, and so, as these kinds of projects must do in order to get this far, it has crossed many t’s and dotted many i’s in terms of consultations and environmental assessments and approvals. Yet, as is also often true of these kinds of megaprojects, the fact that it has met various bureaucratic requirements has not kept many of those people who will be most directly impacted from recognizing that for them the project means harm and risk and disrespect.

The most recent wave of opposition began back in 2016 with a campaign organized by the Nunatsiavut government, which represents Inuit people in Labrador, to “Make Muskrat Right.” This campaign, at least at the level of its leadership, did not oppose the project in its entirety. Flooding from the project was due to begin that fall, and there was new evidence that the amount of flooding and the approach the company had proposed for preparing the territory would lead to significant accumulations of the toxin methylmercury that could contaminate downstream food supplies that many Inuit depend on. There was a major rally and then a series of other actions, including regular protests at the gate on the road leading to the construction site and a a hunger strike, as well as many arrests. At the end of October, negotiations between the province, the Nunatsiavut government, the Innu Nation, and the Southern Inuit of NunatuKavut led to a protocol that would allow Nalcor to proceed with the flooding in a way that they hoped would mitigate the risk from methylmercury.

Many of the grassroots people who were involved, however, were of the view that nothing could make the project safe and it must be stopped in its entirety. They have continued to be active under the name Labrador Land Protectors. Though Nalcor had obtained an injunction constraining where and how protest could occur, demonstrations continued on a regular basis at the gates on the road to the construction site. More people were arrested in November. Many arresstees were prohibited from participating by release conditions and many other people became wary of the risk of being arrested for participating even in the most innocuous kinds of protest activites, so numbers have dwindled somewhat since then, yet protests have continued.

The Labrador Land Protectors have many concerns with the Muskrat Falls project. Not all Indigenous peoples who are being impacted by the project have been given the opportunity to offer (or not) free, prior, and informed consent. The group has grave misgivings about the megaproject’s environmental impacts, about the risk to human health from toxins and from flooding, about the serious negative impacts seen already on human rights, and also about the longer term public consequences of the project’s massive cost overruns. Even the conditions of the protocol for reducing methylmercury (agreed in October) are not being met by the company. The group is also becoming increasingly concerned about the safety of what’s called the North Spur — a formation of dirt and rock that spans part way across the river and that is being incorporated into and reinforced as part of the dam construction process. Today’s guest also talks about signs of unauthroized burning by the company and about a recent major flood of a nearby town that land protectors are convinced is related to the dam. And in addition to the many land protectors still facing criminal charges, many listeners will have heard of the case of Beatrice Hunter, an Inuk grandmother arrested, taken 1600 km from her home community, and jailed in a men’s prison for refusing to commit to staying away from the gate to the construction site. She was still detained as of the time we recorded this interview, though she has subsequently been released.

Given all of these concerns, the land protectors are steadfast in their commitment to stopping the project. Their immediate demands include a forensic audit of Nalcor Energy and an independent study of the stability of the North Spur.

Jennifer Hefler-Elson is a resident of Happy Valley-Goose Bay, an Indigenous woman, and a member of the Labrador Land Protectors. She speaks about the struggle against the Muskrat Falls dam.

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 is used with permission of the Labrador Land Protectors.

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Radio — Anti-racism at the neighbourhood level

On this week’s episode of Talking Radical Radio, Scott Neigh speaks with Rabea Murtaza. She is a member of East Enders Against Racism, a neighbourhood-based anti-racism group in Toronto that came together in the wake of a blatant white supremacist incident after last November’s presidential election in the US.

With the arrival of the far right at the centre of global politics via its role in Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and administration, there has been a sharp increase in hateful incdients and political mobilizing that embody overt and blatant white supremacy. This is not just a problem in the United States; the current moment has brought out the white supremacy that is deeply embedded in Canadian political culture as well. Yet as awful as this development is, it has also triggered an upsurge in anti-racist responses of various kinds, and some people are using it as an opportunity to go beyond challenging hateful incidents and to draw more people into addressing the ways in which the everyday and systemic forms of racism profoundly shape our communities and lives.

One of the many ways that blatant white supremacy manifested in the aftermath of last November’s US election was white supremacist posters that appeared in Stan Wadlow Park in the East End of Toronto. Many people in the surrounding neighbourhood were, not surprisingly, appalled by the posters, and the resulting conversations on social media led to a decision to hold an anti-racism rally in the park. The online mobilizing in the lead-up to the rally plus the rally itself created an opportunity for many people with a range of anti-racist politics who live in the neighbourhood but who did not previously know each other to connect, to begin building relationships, and to start doing political work together.

The group East Enders Against Racism emerged out of these initial conversations. It includes a core group of organizers who meet regularly (about equal parts women of colour and white women), and a larger group of supporters who participate in activities when they can and who remain connected through the 1800+ person Facebook group. The goals of the group include actively countering hate, doing community building and community engagement that are family-friendly, and doing a range of kinds of anti-racist educational work.

In one respect, the group is a rarity in the Canadian context: it’s an anti-racism group that is neighbourhood-based. Being neighbourhood-based means that, in some ways, the group starts from a bit of a different place than many anti-racism efforts. Rather than coming together on the basis of a shared identity or a fairly tight political affinity, the group brings together people with a wide range of experiences, a wide range of ways of understanding racism, a wide range of kinds and levels of knowledge of the issues, and a wide range of politics.

Not surprisingly, this has resulted in the group engaging in a wide range of kinds of activities. A central one, both at in-person events and in the Facebook group, is an ongoing process of discussion and mutual education about racism and anti-racism, and all of the oppressions and struggles that those intersect with. This may not be very visible work, and it may not be politically glamorous, but this commitment to having hard ongoing conversations with your neighbours is crucial to what the group is accomplishing. The group has also identified multi-cultural and anti-racist books which it is obtaining and donating to elementary and middle schools in the area. They have distributed signs proclaiming “United against hate” and “Everyone belongs” in multiple languages throughout the neighbourhood. They’re figuring out how to connect with a broader cross-section of people and communities that exist in the East End. They work to connect people in the neighbourhood with anti-racism actions, events, and initiatives happening elsewhere in the city. They have written a number of open letters taking positions on important questions related to racism in the Greater Toronto Area and beyond. They have a working group that has been strategizing on how to challenge Your Ward News, a longstanding white supremacist newsletter that is produced and distributed door-to-door in the community. And they recently responded to news that the Toronto Police would be hosting a barbecue in a neighbourhood park by postering the park and then being present during the barbeque in ways that made prominently visible the message that “Black Lives Matter.”

Rabea Murtaza teaches community work at a community college in Toronto and is a resident of the city’s East End. She has been involved in anti-racism work in one way or another for over 20 years, and she is a member of the core organizing group of East Enders Against Racism. She speaks with me about doing anti-racism work in the current moment, and about East Enders Against Racism.

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 is used with permission of East Enders Against Racism.

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Radio — Building a movement against budget cuts in Saskatchewan

On this week’s episode of Talking Radical Radio, Scott Neigh speaks with JoAnn Jaffe and Peter Garden. They are fighting back against the massive wave of cuts to social programs and privatization initiated earlier this year by the provincial government in Saskwatchewan. They belong to Stop the Cuts, a group working to support the many individual fightbacks against individual cuts and to help them come together into a broader movement.

We’ve seen it all before: Budget cuts. User fees. Privatization. Deregulation. Tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations. Austerity. Neoliberalism. Whatever language is used to describe a given instance of the overarching agenda captured by these terms, it boils down to a process of shifting resources and power from those who already have less to those who already have more. For the last few decades, this agenda and these goals have weighed heavily upon our political culture. Sometimes they are aggressively and boldly pursued, at other times sneakily and covertly enacted. But it is nearly impossible to find a mainstream political party anywhere in the industrialized world, even those bearing names that tie them historically to the left, which are committed to actively and resolutely working against these priorities.

Despite the ubiquitous and massive pressure, however, the speed and degree to which these policies are implemented in any given place and any given moment varies a great deal. For years it will be a slow drip-drip-drip, and then a particular constellation of circumstances will put their proponents into overdrive, and suddenly an all-out austerity assault will fill the headlines. On the one hand, it can be ominous and discouraging to always be living under the threat of the screws being tightened. On the other hand, this highly uneven character is also a source of hope: It works this way because those who are implementing this agenda can’t do it any other way. So this unevenness is a reminder that they cannot just snap their fingers and do what they want. It is a reminder that every single measure to make our lives worse is something they have to enact, and therefore something we can fight against. It is a reminder that sometimes we win, that sometimes collective resistance works. It is a reminder that the entire austerity agenda is also fragile and contingent, and that however loudly its proponents try to fool us into thinking that (in the words of Margaret Thatcher) “there is no alternative,” there is. And we can make it happen.

Saskatchewan has been governed by the right-wing Saskatchewan Party (also just called the Sask Party) for about a decade. For most of that time, in the province that began socialized medicine in this country and that once had an impressive array of co-operative and state institutions focused on creating social justice, austerity has been in drip-drip-drip mode. And, certainly, there has been some resistance to that. But about two months ago, the Sask Party government released a budget that opened the austerity floodgates. Even now, the breadth of cuts in the massive budget document are still being discovered by the media and by grassroots opponents, but they touch nearly everything. Education, environemnt, healthcare, housing, social assistance, transit, community organizations, cities — all of those and more are being hit, and hit hard.

From the very first day, there was resistance on multiple fronts. One of the most high profile and successful campaigns, for instance, responded to proposed massive cuts to the province’s public library system — though it seems likely that the provincial government will try to impose similar cuts again next year, at least for the moment this resistance has already scored a significant victory by pushing the government to back down. Another prominent campaign been around the decision to privatize the province’s publically owned bus system, which many people in remote and northern communities depend on. This campaign has also been visible and vocal, but between the time of the interview and when you are listening to this, the Saskatchewan Transportation Company (or STC) closed its doors. And many other campaigns opposing specific cuts are active, vibrant, and ongoing.

JoAnn Jaffe lives in Saskatoon and is a sociologist at the University of Regina. Peter Garden runs a small radical bookstore in Saskatoon called Turning the Tide, and is involved in a community organizing centre called The Stand. Both are involved in specific struggles opposing this wave of austerity in Saskatchewan, and they are also both part of a new group called Stop the Cuts. This group is doing the work of supporting disparate anti-austerity efforts springing up in communities across the province by trying to be a hub for information and resources, building key infrastructure for grasrsoots activism and organizing in a province that has relatively little, and working to bring groups into a larger coalition that they hope will be able to effectively act together to oppose not just speicific cuts and policy changes but the entire austerity agenda.

Jaffe and Garden talk about the political context in Saskatchewan, about the resistance that has happened so far, and about the work by Stop the Cuts to help build a broader movement.

You can learn more about Stop the Cuts 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 is used with permission of Stop the Cuts.

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Radio — Working for human rights for sex workers in Newfoundland

On this week’s episode of Talking Radical Radio, Scott Neigh speaks with Heather Jarvis, Alice, and Layla about the Safe Harbour Outreach Project (SHOP), an initiative supporting sex workers in Newfoundland and Labrador in their efforts to win full human and labour rights.

Several years ago, some feminists in St. John’s recognized the absence of any organization working for the human rights of sex workers as a major gap in their province. So these feminists at the St. John’s Status of Women Council and Women’s Centre — the oldest women’s centre in Canada — began the process of founding SHOP.

SHOP’s work is based on three principles: Self-determination for sex workers, the power of harm reduction, and the pursuit of social justice. When SHOP started its work three and a half years ago, it was very deliberate in not starting with an already-established vision for turning these principles into action, beyond a commitment to engaging in a process of building relationships with sex workers in as many parts of the city and areas of the industry as possible. In this way, the work of SHOP was shaped by what sex workers themselves identified as their needs and aspirations.

One important aspect of what emerged from this bottom-up approach involves doing a great deal of individual support for sex workers. This support can happen when sex workers are struggling with things ranging from transportation, to filing taxes, to court appearances, to medical visits, to navigating income support bureaucracies, to finding housing, and much more. This support is never predicated on forcing sex workers to make particular kinds of choices.

Another important aspect of the work involves education and advocacy in a range of settings. There are many misconceptions about sex work that dominate media and popular understandings of it, prominently including (though far from limited to) the mistaken tendency to conflate consensual sex work with the quite distinct phenomena of sexual exploitation and human trafficking. There is also intense social stigma about sex work that is incredibly harmful to sex workers and makes their work and their lives far more difficult and dangerous than they would otherwise be. Much of the education and advocacy happens in the context of the sorts of institutions that shape people’s lives and can regulate people’s access to the resources they need to live — institutions from police to health care to social services have long histories of treating sex workers very poorly, in part because of the misconceptions and stigma already mentioned, so SHOP does lots of work with such institutions to improve their policies and practices when it comes to interactions with sex workers.

And finally, SHOP is also working towards a broader agenda of human rights for sex workers. They are part of the Canadian Alliance for Sex Work Law Reform, a coalition whose member organizations across the country are pushing for the decriminalization of sex work. Today’s guests lay out why that approach is a crucial first step to reducing stigma, improving safety, and allowing for better access to human and labour rights for sex workers.

Heather Jarvis is the program coordinator for SHOP. Alice is a sex worker who has been in the industry for nine years, and she currently manages the Studio Aura adult massage parlour in St. John’s. Layla has been a sex worker for thirteen years, and she currently works as a dominatrix. They speak with me about the realities of sex work and about the Safe Harbour Outreach Project.

You can learn more about the Safe Harbour Outreach Project 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 is used with permission of the Safe Harbour Outreach Project.

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Radio — Archives as activism: The case of residential schools

On this week’s episode of Talking Radical Radio, Scott Neigh speaks with Skylee-Storm Hogan and Krista McCracken. Both work in the archives that are part of the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre, and they talk about both that work and the broader role that archives can play in struggles for social change.

In the middle of battles over pipelines, cuts to social programs, rape culture, police killings of Black and Indigenous people, gentrification, missing and murdered Indigenous women, the minimum wage, blatant racism from elite media figures, and all the other struggles going on at the moment, the political importance of thinkng about archives and the practices that create and maintain them might not be immediately apparent. Yet today’s guests argue that archives can be significant sites and tools of activism.

It’s no secret that the experiences of people who have been marginalized in one way or another tend to get written out of history. Also, the important role of struggle by ordinary people in shaping the world that we live in is ignored most of the time too. The version of history that results from all of this erasure contributes to keeping us feeling powerless and passive, and presents the injustices of the world as “just how things are.” Actively remembering those histories, however, can go far beyond just honouring where we came from to be part of an active process in the present of understanding that things don’t have to be this way, and that the only thing that has ever made things better is ordinary people acting collectively.

That sort of remembering otherwise can only happen as a result of rather a lot of work of various sorts — including the preservation of documents, objects, stories, and images that have the potential to be the basis for such remembering. In other words: archiving.

Skylee-Storm Hogan is a Haudenosaunee woman and a fourth-year student at Algoma University in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, and she has been working for almost two years as an archive and resource assistant in the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre. Krista McCracken is a white settler woman and the archive supervisor at the centre, and she recently wrote an article called “Archives as Activism” for the website ActiveHistory.ca.

What eventually became the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre began in 1981 with a reunion of survivors of the residential school that had existed in Sault Ste. Marie. Long before these conversations began happening at the national level, this gathering sparked a hard but crucial ongoing process of survivors (and eventually the children and grandchildren of survivors) telling their stories, talking about their experiences, listening to each other, and supporting each other — in other words, it was an example of remembering otherwise in the face of the dominant story of Canada that, even more in those years than today, completely erased the genocidal trauma at the core of the residential school system. Over the years, the gatherings have continued, and the centre has amassed an impressive collection of photos, objects, and other important materials related not only to Shingwauk Residential School specifically but to residential schools across the country. Though in recent years they have worked to archive that material in a more formal and systematic way, the priority for the centre remains supporting survivors and their families, and being actively involved in shared, public, collective processes of remembering.

The Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre is just one example of the different kinds of relationships that archiving projects can have to grassroots struggles for justice. Existing archives can be sources of material about the past that are useful in practical ways to movements and communities-in-struggle today. And increasingly, archives — both institutional archives wishing to engage with communities in new ways, as well as community-based and grassroots archival projects — are working to make sure that today’s struggles are not forgotten. From the pioneering work of initiatives like the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives, to more recent efforts to preserve material from pivotal groups like Occupy Vancouver and Black Lives Matter Toronto, there is increasing attention to the importance of making sure that we don’t lose the raw materials that will be necessary for engaging in grassroots, just, and liberatory remembering in the future.

Hogan and McCracken speak with me about the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre, about archives as activism more broadly, and about what people engaged in grassroots struggles can do themselves to make sure that their stories aren’t lost.

To learn more, please check out the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre and McCracken’s article “Archives as Activism.”

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 is used with permission of the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre.

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Radio — Policy advocacy and storytelling linking social justice and health

On this week’s episode of Talking Radical Radio, Scott Neigh speaks with Monika Dutt and Jared Knoll. They talk about Upstream, an organization that is working to get ordinary people, health professionals, and governments thinking about how inequality, injustice, and other social factors shape our health, and to promote social policy that gets to the root causes of ill-health by addressing those factors.

Maybe you’ve heard the old story about the babies in the river: You’re standing by a river, minding your own business, and all of a sudden you see a baby floating past. So, of course, you rush to rescue the baby. You pull it out of the river, bring it to safety, dry it off. And then you see another baby floating in the river, and another, and another, and you and other people around you are all taken up by rescuing these babies from the river. It’s important work. But the point of the story is that, hopefully, sooner rather than later, someone thinks to ask, “How are all of these babies getting into the river?” and heads upstream to find out. It’s a story about the importance of thinking not just about harmful impacts but about causes — not just about what’s happening downstream, but about what’s going on upstream that’s creating those impacts.

That distinction between “downstream thinking” and “upstream thinking” is the source of the name for the organization Upstream — in fact, a version of the story about the babies in the river shows up in an introductory video on their website. The organization was originally based in Saskatchewan but has a growing presence across the country. Monika Dutt is a family doctor and public health physician, as well as Upstream’s executive director, and Jared Knoll is the organization’s communications coordinator.

Applying upstream thinking in the realm of health means recognizing the profound importance of social factors. Sure, eating well and getting plenty of exercise are still good things, but a big part of how healthy we are depends on social circumstances that are beyond our individual control. It’s hard to eat well if you don’t have the money to do so, for example, or if colonization and climate change mean you can’t hunt for food the way you used to, or if your urban neighbourhood has no grocery store nearby. And beyond that, there is substantial evidence that systemic experiences of wealth inequality, racism, colonialism, misogyny, homophobia, climate change, and other forms of injustice can take a toll on your health in all kinds of ways. “Social determinants of health,” these factors are sometimes called.

Upstream responds to this understanding in a number of ways. It works with researchers and specialists with expertise in specific areas to stay on top of the most up-to-date evidence around how these social determinants shape our health. It uses that evidence in working with partners to establish recommendations for policy changes that will improve people’s health. And it uses storytelling based in that evidence as a way both to engage in general public education around these issues and also to build networks of people that share the vision of not just fishing the babies out of the river but of going upstream, understanding what’s happening, and addressing the root social causes of people’s ill health.

Dutt and Knoll speak with me about the social determinants of health, about the importance of storytelling (especially storytelling that is evidence-based), and about the work of Upstream.

You can learn more about Upstream 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 is in the public domain

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