Learning from abolitionist organizing in Winnipeg

Talking Radical: Resources is a new collaboration from The Media Co-op and the Talking Radical project. In these short, monthly interviews, activists and organizers from across so-called Canada will connect you with ideas and with tools for learning related to struggles for justice and collective liberation. They will talk about how they themselves have learned, and about ways that you can learn from the grassroots work that they are involved in.

The first interview in the series is with chantale garand. They are a queer, non-binary, two-spirit Métis organizer based on Treaty 1 in Winnipeg who has been involved in a wide range of grassroots political work. This has included participation in short-term mobilizations related to various provincial, municipal, social, and policing issues, including with groups like The Real Team Manitoba, Budget 4 All, and Millennium 4 All. They have been part of collaborations related to action planning, logistics, and security at events. Their longer term commitments include participation in work towards organizing goals with a new group called Abolitionist Futures. But these days, the main focus for their energy is the Métis abolitionist and sovereign future dreaming collective Red River Echoes.

The Media Co-op: What are a couple of important things you’ve learned from struggles that you are not directly involved in, and why are they important?

chantale garand: Learning from how others approach organizing is a central part of how I participate in organizing, including learning from those I vehemently disagree with.

A few years ago, I learned a lot about how the Sandinistas, a liberation movement that overthrew the longest-running dictatorship in Latin America in 1979, were able to build mass power through supporting the literacy of the working class in the 1970s and ’80s. In an age of social media, where creating a graphic and asking people to “like + share” is being said to be “activism,” what I took from that: if you want people to join you, give them the tools and the knowledge to join you.

From Black liberation movements, and particularly people like Malcolm X and Angela Davis, I learned the ability to do radical foundational work that furthers relationality and collective consciousness in times of danger.

From people like Secwépemc leader and Indigenous activist Arthur Manuel – whose writings quite literally changed my life and how I view things – I learned the ability to foresee the bigger wins, and the value and ability to learn from the losses as well.

TMC: What are a couple of sources related to struggles that you aren’t involved in that you’ve found to be particularly useful or important?

cg: I really enjoy Haymarket Books as a source of not only radical books, but also the talks that they put on and keep up on their website/YouTube. During the pandemic, it was a regular part of my life to be able to listen to how/why other people were involved in their organizing and struggles, the wins they’ve gained and how, and the losses, too. The losses are so very important to learn from.

Podcasts like Sandy and Nora give me some laughs about grim and bleak topics while also pointing me in directions of organizing that I had yet to hear about. Laughs are important for me. Also Talking Radical led me to a bunch of cool people doing rad things that I may not have found otherwise.

For shorter reads, things like Briarpatch magazine, People’s Voice, and Upping The Anti provide regular and much needed snapshots into what’s going on around canada and collective struggles internationally, and the people working in them.

Staying up on organizing around No Cop City, Wet’suwet’en, Fairy Creek, rent strikes and housing in Toronto, Sarah Jama and disability justice, Hamilton has some good municipal organizing right now, things like that. I try to follow any group engaging in actions, as there’s things to learn in everyone’s tactics.

TMC: What are a couple of key things about struggles that you are involved in or about your approach to activism and organizing that you would like other people to know more about?

cg: Building true power: Pulling off an action doesn’t necessarily equal building power. Building power is long-term and intentional. It requires time and relationships. Relationships in radical organizing require trust. Trust requires time and/or events. For a variety of reasons, social determinants of health being a main reason, building true power is becoming harder and harder to achieve as the capitalist society marches us further and further into crushing disparities – but there is good stuff happening everywhere, people who refuse to stop fighting.

Also, incorporating transformative justice tools as a means to build that power, that solidarity, and ways to overcome how we are carceral within ourselves and towards the people we are in relationship with, folks that we inherently love through collective struggle. The ability to work through conflict, or things that come up, internally so that it works for everyone involved and doesn’t lead to implosion of good and important work.

TMC: What are a couple of sources related to struggles that you are involved in or to your approach to activism and organizing that you would want other people to read/watch/listen to/learn from?

cg: The people I organize with are sources. The people that organize in Winnipeg are sources. I will support and be in solidarity with any group who is fighting back against oppression and violence against their, and my, communities – regardless of how quick, easy, simple, short, long, complicated, their organizing or actions may be. I believe in a diversity of tactics, and if we are all doing something within our capacities to speak out against injustices levied against us, or supporting those with lived experiences, we are moving. However little that dial moves, in either direction, we are moving. And as long as we are learning from others, from ourselves, from that movement, it will lead to advancement in some way. Would I like that advancement to happen faster and be more grandiose? Sure. But my only problem is when we are static. If we’re okay with the status quo. If we self-implode because conversations with those we love are scarier to us than the hate and injustice we face from those unknown.

Lastly, remember to always lead with love. To have laughter and fun and joy in what you’re doing, in and outside of organizing. To feel those feelings. Burnout is real and affects folks engaging in this work, and for me, it happened because dealing with so much hate and holding that anger was heavy. Too heavy. So I remember to lead with love.

Scott Neigh is a writer, media producer, and activist based in Hamilton, Ontario, and the author of two books examining Canadian history through the stories of activists.

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