Toronto / March 2019
"I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own”
“The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house”
- Audre Lorde
Two quotes from the late prolific writer, lesbian-feminist, social justice warrior, Librarian Audre Lorde. Apt quotes I would say for the political moment in which we find ourselves especially this month as we mark International Women’s Day, a nod to working women although that herstory is often overlooked.
There is an unsettling that is happening across our country – a signalling of seismic shift in who we are becoming as a nation or probably more accurately who we’ve always been, with a throwing off of the facade of the tolerant and blandly polite Canadian.
I have spoken in this space over the last year or so of the renewed boldness of Canada’s xenophobic and racist groups. We have seen it in the last weeks as we watched a convoy make its way from western Canada to the national capital initially as a protest group legitimately pushing back (support or not support them, public protest is a right we must all guard) against government policy and court rulings that they believe signal the beginning of the end for Canada’s oil and gas industries. But the raison d’etre for the protest was quickly usurped by the Canadian version of the France inspired Vestes/Gilets Jaunes (Yellow Vests) with a clear anti-immigrant/refugee agenda and racist rhetoric. In fact, it was reported that one of its founders is fond of calling our Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, himself a child refugee- “ugly n---ger”. The group, euphemistically referred to as the alt-right, has made a name for itself by promoting misinformation about the integrity of Canada’s border and raising unnecessary alarm about the threat to Canada’s sovereignty because we supported the Global Compact on Migration and the Global Compact on Refugees.
What was even more troubling than to see this coming together was the public endorsement they received from the leader of the official opposition in Ottawa, and from a well-known leader of a western provincial political party. Shame!
Those of us who are committed to creating an inclusive and equitable Canada have much work to do. We expect that in the months leading up to the general election in October this year we will see more of the rhetoric of division and hate. It will require all our individual and organizational resources, knowledge and political smarts to counteract the well-organized regressive forces that have been unleashed internationally and here at home. We must be vigilant in questioning all candidates regardless of political party affiliation, about their stance on immigration, anti-racism and their commitment to building an inclusive Canada where all have equality of opportunity regardless of which demographic group they identify with.
Which brings me to what I really want to write about this month - which is the state of our solidarity across issues and causes. And I know that I’m not the only one wanting to explore how we can foster conversations around building more inclusive, equitable and connected communities. In fact the UN Special Rapporteur for the Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) will be hosting a small roundtable in Toronto to explore this very issue prior to her public presentation Building Connected Communities - A Woman’s Journey for Human Rights.
There is much talk about intersectionality and intersectional approaches to social justice work. However in the last while it feels as if we have all retreated to our own corners as we engage in ‘call out’ practices, where it appears as if we spend more time policing each other’s politics and praxis than we do building solidarity and finding the commonality among our concerns and strategies for structural social and economic change.
We have been witness to this happening in North America’s women’s organizing through the annual marches that started in resistance to Trump and his ultra-right compatriots and their policies. We’ve seen the spill over here in Canada’s large cities as different women’s groups chose one or the other banner under which to organize. We are witnessing once again, how anti-Black racism, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia can tear our movements apart. We know how patriarchy leverages race to separate white women from racialized and Indigenous women, the way the beneficiaries of neo-capitalism leverage race to cause divisions among the working class and the poor.
We are so busy fighting for supremacy of message and strategy that we become indifferent to how our performance of political activism erases the knowledge, lived experiences and leadership of the most marginalized people among us, while allowing those who will destroy our vision of a just society to mis-educate, co-opt and control the national narrative and agenda.
We cannot move forward a progressive, inclusive agenda that results in a just society if we are too busy fighting each other.
There is urgency for us to organize; to get our collective houses in order. We are losing ground to the naysayers, the crowd that is promoting ‘Make Canada Great Again’ – back to a time when public institutions, systems and laws were blatant in their discriminatory intent: When immigration policies were explicitly racist, indigenous communities faced cultural genocide and forced assimilation (which is ongoing), and women were ‘kept in their place’; people with disabilities were invisible and even more marginalized than they are now and LGBTI folks stayed firmly in the closet with the doors shut tight.
We are running out of time and the stakes are high. There is a federal election in seven months. Canada with all her difficulties and isms and divisions is still a beacon of hope in a world that is increasingly turning insular. If we care at all about the public good, about including all who live within our borders we would put aside our nuanced differences and work in unison towards our shared vision. We are the resistance.