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 — Palestine, statelessness, and Omar Ben Ali’s fight for immigration status in Canada

On this week’s episode of Talking Radical Radio, you will hear about Omar Ben Ali’s fight for immigration status in Canada, about a new campaign from the group Tadamon in support of that fight, and about how Omar’s struggle relates to the broader Palestinian struggle.

Omar Ben Ali is a Palestinian man from the Jenin region of the Israeli-occupied West Bank. He has been in Canada, living in Montreal, for almot ten years. He claimed refugee status on arrival, but despite coming from territory under violent military occupation, his refugee claim was denied. He then applied for immigration status in Canada on humanitarian and compassionate grounds, and that was also denied.

And yet, despite having no legal status in Canada, Omar cannot return to Palestine – Canada does not recognize the existence of a Palestinian state, and Israel as the occupying power will not allow him to return. So he remains stateless and in bureaucratic limbo, separated from his wife and children, unable to go back to the home he came from and yet prevented by law from very basic elements of belonging and from living a normal life in the country that he has made his new home.

In Montreal, Omar is very involved in the struggle for justice and freedom for Palestine. In the course of that involvement, he got to know the members of Tadamon, which means “solidarity” in Arabic. They are a grassroots collective that has been involved in supporting the Palestinian struggle in various ways, including the struggles of Palestinian refugees, since around 2005. They do so from an anti-colonial and anti-authoritarian perspective. When they found out about Omar’s predicament, they decided that they must launch a campaign demanding that Minister of Immigration Ahmed Hussen and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau use their ministerial discretion and grant Omar status.

Omar happens to be a resident of Justin Trudeau’s riding, so a major focus of the campaign so far has been both public education and mobilization in the riding itself. As well, they are currently seeking support from elsewhere in the country – primarily, they are asking people to send letters supporting Omar’s request for status to the minister of immigration and the Prime Minister, as well as to Tadamon, and eventually they hope that mobilizations can occur in other cities as well. In the course of this, they are also drawing the connections between Omar’s predicament and the larger issues at the heart of the Palestinian struggle – Palestinian statelessness, the occupation, Israeli apartheid, the refusal to allow Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland, and the complicity of the Canadian settler state in all of this.

This episode includes an interview that Scott Neigh did with Mostafa Henaway of Tadamon, as well as excerpts from an interview that Henaway and Sawssan Kaddoura did with Omar Ben Ali. The latter interview was done for the show Under the Olive Tree that broadcasts on CKUT in Montreal and is used with permission.

Image: Modified from a photograph taken by Neal Rockwell and used with permission of the Tadamon collective.

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.

Talking Radical Radio has been nominated for a Hamilton Independent Media Award. If you like the show, please vote for Scott Neigh under the category of “Best Journalist – Social Justice and Human Rights” before November 8!

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Radio — Long-haul opposition to the dangers of nuclear waste

On this week’s episode of Talking Radical Radio, Scott Neigh speaks with Brennain Lloyd. She is part of the Know Nuclear Waste project, which works to support individuals, groups, and communities as they respond to the dangers posed by the nuclear industry’s efforts to put high-level radioactive waste near where they live.

When the nuclear age exploded into world consciousness at the end of the Second World War, what followed was an era that combined deep fear of global annihilation with an optimism about endless energy and technological possibility that today seems naive and creepy. The down sides of the nuclear age are many: There is the enduring, deep, and unavoidable institutional connection between nuclear energy and nuclear weapons – which the nuclear energy industry works hard to downplay. There’s the ever-present risk of catastrophic failure of power plants, encapsulated by place names like Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima. And, of course, there’s the waste.

Every step of the nuclear chain generates radioactive waste. Low-level but still dangerous radioactive material is produced in exploring for, mining, and refining the uranium that is used as fuel. And once that fuel is used in a nuclear reactor, it becomes a highly radioactive and toxic mix of different isotopes that will be dangerous to any living thing that comes near it for, at a conservative guess, hundreds of thousands of years.

That means that every nuclear reactor generating power today is making high-level radioactive waste that we will have to manage and prevent from causing harm to ourselves and to the rest of the biosphere, that our children will have to manage and prevent from causing harm to the rest of the biosphere, and that human beings will have to responsibly look after basically forever – certainly for a far longer duration than any human institution has ever lasted. This high-level radioactive waste continues to be produced, and really no country in the world has figured out what to do with it.

Northwatch is a multi-issue environmental, social justice, and peace organization – with a heavy focus on the environment – that has existed in northeastern Ontario since the late 1980s, and Brennain Lloyd has worked with Northwatch from the start. And all along, the nuclear waste issue has been a high priority for them.

For decades, various sites in northern Ontario have been suggested as potential destinations for all of Canada’s high-level nuclear waste. And for decades, Northwatch has been actively responding to efforts by government and industry to turn that potential into a reality – particularly one long process in the first ten years of the organization’s existence, and a seprate one in the last ten years. The current process is driven by the nuclear industry itself, under the umbrella of the Nuclear Waste Management Organization.

Northwatch’s work on the nuclear waste issue currently takes the form of the Know Nuclear Waste project, which brings together a variety of issue-based organizations along with individuals, networks, and organizations in the local communities that are being subjected to this industry process. Its focus is on empowering residents and communities, and responding to the information needs of those concerned about the hazards of transporting and storing high-level nuclear waste.

Lloyd has serious concerns about the interim measures that are currently used to store high-level nuclear waste and about the industry’s vision for what to do with it in the longer term. She is particularly concerned with the current process, and argues that it is a big mistake to let the industry be in the driver’s seat – instead, she argues, we need some serious efforts to develop policy and regulation by the federal and provincial governments, which is currently not happening.

Image: Modified from an original photo by RRJackson, used under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Talking Radical Radio has been nominated for a Hamilton Independent Media Award. If you like the show, please vote for Scott Neigh under the category of “Best Journalist – Social Justice and Human Rights” before November 8!

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.

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Radio — Building unapologetically Black spaces in Winnipeg

On this week’s episode of Talking Radical Radio, Scott Neigh speaks with Alexa Potashnik. She is the founder of Black Space Winnipeg, a group that works to create spaces that are unapologetically pro-Black and Afrocentric, while also acting in solidarity with other oppressed groups, and challenging anti-Black racism and building inclusivity across all sectors within Winnipeg.

It’s pretty difficult to find a broadly embraced narrative of “Canada” that doesn’t erase or significantly marginalize Blackness. There have been people of African descent in this part of the world pretty much as long as there have been people of European descent, but our dominant stories rarely reflect this, with Black people usually erased or de-humanized. That’s true of the family of narratives pushed by more conservative elites, like the vision of Canadianness promoted by the former Harper Conservative government that emphasizes ties to Britishness and long histories of militarism. It’s also true of more liberal stories of Canada that focus on things like multiculturalism, socialized medicine, and liberal internationalist foreign policy.

That may sound counter-intuitive – isn’t multiculturalism meant to address that sort of thing, after all? But among other critiques of the versions of multiculturalism that have been promoted by the Canadian state over the decades are that they continue to centre and privilege whiteness; that they often have left little space to name and challenge systems of white supremacy and the other axes of oppression that white supremacy is intertwined with; and that they often serve to erase the specificities of Black experience, of anti-Black racism, and of Black resistance and thriving.

Take the city of Winnipeg. Alexa Potashnik’s grandparents moved there from Jamaica (via England) in the late 1960s. There have been quite sizeable Black communities, mostly with roots in the Caribbean, living in the city since at least the 1970s, and in more recent years Black communities in Winnipeg have grown even larger and more diverse with further migration not only from elsewhere in Canada and from the Caribbean but from various countries in Africa as well.

Yet much like in Canada as a whole, dominant ideas and stories of Winnipeg tend to erase Blackness, spaces of artistic and cultural production in the city have often excluded Black producers and Black stories, and powerful institutions that organize life in the city are no more committed than anywhere else across the continent to the changes that would be necessary to create a world that truly values Black lives.

Potashnik founded Black Space Winnipeg to push back against that erasure and marginalization. It started about a year and a half ago with a private Facebook group for Black people in Winnipeg to share stories and experiences with one another. And by July 2016 it became the basis for the city’s first Black Lives Matter rally. Since that point, the group has been involved in numerous events of many different sorts, ranging from workshops and other forms of public education, to arts and culture events, to the “Silence is Violence” rally held in late August of this year in the wake of the white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.

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.

Talking Radical Radio has been nominated for a Hamilton Independent Media Award. If you like the show, please vote for Scott Neigh under the category of “Best Journalist – Social Justice and Human Rights” before November 8!

Image: Modified from an original that is used with permission of Black Space Winnipeg.

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Radio — Grassroots disability politics in BC

On this week’s episode of Talking Radical Radio, Scott Neigh speaks with Paul Gilbert and Margo Bok. They are involved in the BC Disability Caucus, a group whose work has spanned the range from online education and discussion to mobilizing people into the streets to get disability issues on the public agenda in British Columbia.

Gilbert currently serves as the group’s media spokesperson. Bok is a regular contributor, including of original articles in which she combines research and analysis of disability issues that are mostly ignored in the mainstream. They speak about some of the key issues facing disabled people in the province, and about what their group has been doing to address them.

According to today’s guests, there are multiple ways in which the struggle for disability rights in Canada lags behind many other countries. It’s not only that governments have so far failed to take many of the most obvious steps that disabled people and their allies identify as necessary for addressing the barriers, poverty, and injustice that they face. It’s also that there just isn’t the same density of grassroots groups focused on disability as there is in the US or the UK, for instance, and substantive coverage of disability issues in the mainstream media in Canada is sporadic and often not very well done.

Gilbert and Bok have taken a number of approaches to working for disability rights over the years. For awhile, Gilbert had a focus on traditional lobbying – meeting with government ministers, particularly at the provincial level in British Columbia, and with other politicians. That didn’t seem to be getting anywhere, so he joined the political party in power in BC at the time and worked to set up a formally recognized disability caucus within the party. That was ultimately successful, but once the caucus was in place he again came face to face with the serious limits to what such a body could actually achieve, within the constraints of the institution. He needed a new approach and, he said, “It had to be disability first rather than any party first.”

To that end, they decided that the way to go was to make use of social media, but to go beyond how many groups use it. The BC Disability Caucus has a Facebook page at its centre, but it is also a group with an active core of contributors that is managing not only to build consciousness of crucial disability issues, but to promote dialogue among disabled people about their needs, put together demands from that ongoing dialogue, present these demands to governments, raise the profile of disability issues in conventional media, support other kinds of human rights struggles, and – from time to time – get people protesting in the streets.

Talking Radical Radio has been nominated for a Hamilton Independent Media Award. If you like the show, please vote for Scott Neigh under the category of “Best Journalist – Social Justice and Human Rights” before November 8!

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 the BC Disability Caucus.

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Radio — Fighting back against developers to protect a wetland in Niagara Falls

Please note that Talking Radical Radio has been nominated for a Hamilton Independent Media Award. If you like the show, please vote for Scott Neigh under the category of “Best Journalist – Social Justice and Human Rights” before November 8!

On this week’s episode of Talking Radical Radio, Scott Neigh speaks with Emily Spanton, Taylor Telford, and Rose McCormick. They are involved in Save Thundering Waters Forest, a campaign that has done everything from lobbying politicians to a week-long land occupation this past August in its efforts to save a wetland in Niagara Falls from being turned into luxury housing.

The 484 acre natural area in question is hidden away by a golf club and residential area to the north, an industrial and commercial area to the east, and an L-shaped bend in the Welland River to the west and south, and even many nearby residents aren’t aware of it. Thundering Waters Forest is a rare remnant of the kinds of ecosystems that once covered much of this part of the province – in this case, a mix of savannah plains and old growth forest. Much of it is forested wetland, including 220 acres that are designated as significant wetlands by the province of Ontario.

A company called GR(CAN) Investment Group wants to develop this land, ironically under the name “Paradise.” At the moment, the provincially designated portion cannot be developed, but the company hopes to use the remainder to build high-end housing, and all of the associated infrastructure, for 10,000 people.

Consultation and discussion related to the proposed develpoment was happening via a number of local governmental bodies over the course of 2016. At various points, the Niagara Region, the City of Niagara Falls, and the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (or NPCA) have all been involved, and from the beginning concerned residents took every opportunity to participate.

The issue initially came to a head when a secondary plan that would have allowed the development to proceed came up for a vote in August 2016. Citizens opposed to the development lobbied hard in the lead-up and then filled the council chamber that night, and they were successful in pushing enough councillors to express uncertainty about the proposal that the vote was postponed.

Over a year later, and that vote has still not been held. Nominally, the process is waiting for additional studies to be completed about various aspects of the development, but those residents who are paying close attention to the issue say that it is very unclear what is actually going on. They say that even their allies on city council have been unable to get answers about the process, and they have grave concerns about what this might mean down the road for efforts to protect the wetland.

Emily Spanton, Taylor Telford, Rose McCormick, and the rest of the members of Save Thundering Waters Forest argue that developing the portion of the site that is not currently protected by the province would ultimately destroy the viability of the entire ecosystem, even without developing the rest. And they fear that, either way, approval would lead to a push from the developer to remove the provincial protection from the balance of the land. They even make it clear that they have nothing against development per se: Niagara has many brownfield sites – meaning urban sites that have previously been developed but are not currently in use – that they would love to see GR(CAN) Investment redevelop.

In the year since the vote on the secondary plan was postponed, Save Thundering Waters Forest has not been idle. They have been doing all sorts of public education around the issue, have launched two separate online petitions (1,2, and in August of 2017 took the step of doing a week-long occupation of the site to raise the profile of the issue. Seven of them stayed for the duration, including Emily, Taylor, and Rose. Media coverage and a strategically placed banner drew passers-by to the site, and they offered tours as well as generous amounts of information to illustrate exactly what is at stake if the wetlands are turned into high-price housing. For the moment, the group is focused on building their case against the development, on continuing their public education efforts, and on keeping a close eye on the evolution of the public process with a readiness to intervene whenever necessary. And they have not ruled out resuming their occupation of the site, if that’s what it takes.

Emily, Taylor, and Rose speak about Thundering Waters Forest, about the dangers posed by the so-called “Paradise” development proposal, and about the work they’ve been doing to stop it.

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 taken by Emily Spanton and is used with permission.

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Radio — Demanding access to public services without fear of deportation

On this week’s episode of Talking Radical Radio, Scott Neigh speaks with Mirtha Rivera and Emily Eaton. Both were active with the Regina Access Without Fear campaign, which demanded that the city of Regina adopt a policy enabling all residents to access city services without fear of repercussions related to their immigration status – an initiative that required rather a different approach than similar campaigns have often taken in larger cities.

Public conversation and action emerging from the struggles faced by newcomers to Canada – whether they are refugees or immigrants, documented or undocumented, on a temporary work or student visa or on a path that might eventually lead to citizenship – tends to be concentrated in and on the country’s larger cities. On a certain level, this makes sense: That’s where a greater proportion of immigrants and refugees tend to live, after all. But while there may be proportionately fewer immigrants and refugees living in many smaller centres, those who do live in such places have similar constraints, hassles, and even violence organized into their lives by the immigration system, and face similar kinds of racism and other marginalizations to those living in the big cities. Indeed, less attention to the issues and less political power in those areas may mean that things are, in some ways, worse. Not only that, the differences in context might change people’s experiences in qualitative ways and mean that people’s choices when it comes to survival and to fighting back collectively have to look different, and approaches devised in Toronto or Vancouver may have to be carefully adapted.

Take, for instance, Regina, Saskatcewan. Earlier in 2017, after the wave of protests across not just the United States but also Canada in response to anti-immigrant and other measures taken by the incoming Trump administration, a number of Regina social justice activists decided it was a prime moment to turn that attention and momentum into a local campaign. Regina Access Without Fear asked the municipal government to commit to policies and practices that would make it easier for immigrants and refugees to access services provided by the city. Similar kinds of campaigns, often under the banner of “sanctuary city,” have occurred across North America over the last few decades, with a resurgence of interest in them on both sides of the border after the election of Donald Trump.

The circumstances for such a campaign are somewhat different in Regina than they might be in, say, Vancouver, Toronto, or Montreal. For one thing, it’s not clear how many undocumented people live in Regina, but it doesn’t appear to be a large number. Municipal services already don’t ask for immigration documents, or at least they aren’t supposed to. And unlike some Canadian cities, there has not been a high profile instance of police, transit police, school officials, or other service providers reporting people to the Canada Border Service Agency (CBSA) and getting them deported. Indeed, one of the primary responses that Regina Access Without Fear heard from politicians and mainstream pundits was the claim, “We don’t need that here.”

The activists in the campaign did not agree with that assessment. A small and uncertain number of undocumented people is not the same as none. Policies that don’t instruct service providers to ask for immigration documents and don’t compel them to communicate with CBSA are not the same as policies which forbid those things. And most importantly, the activists realized that there is a sizeable population of peope in the city who are not undocumented but whose immigration status is in some way precarious – temporary foreign workers, students, refugee claimants, and so on – and that often people with precarious status have considerable fear about accessing the services to which they are entitled. Such fear may or may not reflect an actual risk, but from conversations in the impacted communities it was clear that it is a definite barrier that some immigrants and refugees face. The made-in-Regina version of an access without fear policy that the campaign demanded of city council was therefore focused on policies, trainings for service providers, and public education that would address the fears of people with precarious immigration status.

After developing the text of a motion, the campaign then obtained numerous endorsements from organizations and from high-profile individuals in the community, and won the support of a city councillor who agreed to introduce the motion. As well, there was extensive public debate and lobbying. Though there was relatively little right-wing xenophobic backlash, the campaign still needed to counter a range of objections and concerns in the media and through a night of delegations that spoke at city council.

Alas, despite a well-waged campaign, the motion was not passed. Along with ongoing reluctance to recognize the need, the context of harsh austerity imposed by the Saskatchewan provincial government made the city reluctant to take on even the modest cost that the measure would have involved. In fact, a procedural move meant that the motion was not even voted on, and instead the city council decided to claim that they were already doing what they need to do and to refer the motion to other levels of government for action. Though the city also adopted an administrative undertaking to engage in a few of the measures that the policy would have called for, the activists were disappointed that such a strong campaign was ultimately unsuccessful.

Mirtha Rivera is a community activist who came to Canada in 1975 as a political refugee from Chile. Emily Eaton is a professor of geography and environmental studies at University of Regina. Her research interests include immigration issues and she, too, is a community activist. Rivera and Eaton speak with me about the Regina Access Without Fear campaign and about the lessons it can offer to activists and organizers in other small cities.

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 taken by Nathan and is used under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic lisence.

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Radio — Challenging inequities in and through the arts

On this week’s episode of Talking Radical Radio, Scott Neigh speaks with Michele Decottignie and Olivia Marie Golosky. Both are involved in the performing arts in Calgary, Alberta. Discrimination and inequities pushed them both from their involvement in mainstream contexts in the arts sector. Both have taken up the radical theatre practice of “theatre of the oppressed.” And both are now, through Stage Left Productions and through the Calgary Congress for Equity and Diversity in the Arts (or CCEDA), turning their energies towards pushing for greater equity and for decolonization in the arts at the local, provincial, and national levels.

There’s a common idea that people in the arts, on the whole, get it — that they’re a bit more enlightened, a bit more open minded, a bit more oriented towards ideals that include justice. Now, whatever else you might be able to say about where this idea came from and what basis it might or might not have, the sad truth of the matter is that people in the arts are produced by and live in the same oppressive, violent, messed up world as the rest of us. And as today’s guests discuss, the same kinds of marginalizations and exclusions that shape the rest of society also shape everything about how communities and institutions in the arts sector function, from access to resources, to aesthetic norms, to interpersonal conduct, and far beyond.

Michele Decottignie has been working in the performing arts in Treaty 7 territory in Calgary, Alberta, for more than 30 years. She is a white working-class lesbian with invisible disabilities and a socialist worldview. For the first fifteen of those years, she worked mainly in mainstream theatre companies. She witnessed and experienced any number of inequities. Eventually, in the face of a mainstream that wouldn’t change and was actively hostile to being told that it needed to, she struck out in a different direction.

From a series of artist-community collaborations that started in 1996, Stage Left Productions emerged in 2003 as an alterantive theatre performance company, with Decottignies as founder and artistic director. Stage Left is focused on being a politicized safe space for diverse artists whose work is based in using the arts as a form of activism. Over the years, they have put on a wide range of productions, hosted many festivals, shot 30 films, and engaged in a huge number of social justice-focused popular theatre interventions that push beyond what theatre is conventionally understood to be. In particular, much of their work has drawn on the approach known as “theatre of the oppressed” – a means of promoting social and political change originally elaborated by Brazilian theatre practitioner Augusto Boal in the 1970s.

Olivia Marie Golosky is Metis, Two-Spirit, and an artist. She grew up in Fort MacMurray in Treaty 8 territory and she now lives in Calgary. Golosky has worked in film, theatre, and radio, as a stage manager, as a playwright, and as a writer. Until quite recently, she was working in mainstream arts contexts in the city. She, too, was facing and seeing lots of marginalization in those contexts, and had no choice but to do the exhausting and alienating work of navigating it. One particularly galling aspect for her of how the arts sector in Canada has remained resolutely colonial is that even through the recent boom in arts funding focused on responding to the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, relatively little of that funding has actually been going into supporting Indigenous artists and Indigenous-led projects. During her time working in mainstream contexts, Golosky was also getting to know Decottignie and her work, and she reached a point about two years ago where she had to withdraw from those contexts and began to work exclusively with Stage Left and with grassroots arts organizations run by and for Indigenous people.

While Stage Left is still involved in doing and supporting theatrical pop-up social justice interventions, most recently the organization has turned its attention away from more formal productions and into advocacy work promoting equity in arts funding and arts policy. As well, Decottignie, Golosky, and Stage Left more generally have been involved in establishing CCEDA as part of their work to change arts policy. Not only that, they have begun to use the tools of theatre of the oppressed within the arts sector itself, in contexts across the country, as a way to advance an equity agenda.

Deccotignie and Golosky speak about injustice in the arts, about theatre of the oppressed and the work of Stage Left, and about their current efforts to push for justice and equity within the arts sector.

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 taken by Jtherald and is in the public domain.

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