Friday, December 6, 2013

Mandela and anti-colonial struggles

Millions around the world are mourning the loss of the symbol of the anti-apartheid struggle, Nelson Mandela. But people are mourning for different reasons. Most are mourning a freedom fighter who spent 27 years in jail for his opposition to colonialism and racism. Most are mourning a symbol of international solidarity, who spoke out against the Iraq War, supported people with HIV/AIDS and likened the Palestinian freedom struggle to his own. But others are using his death to hide the history of anti-colonial struggles.

Apartheid: a Canadian tradition
According to The National Post, Conservative Prime Minister Mulroney “spearheaded Canadian push to end apartheid in South Africa and free Nelson Mandela.” Mulroney welcomed Mandela into the House of Commons on June 18, 1990, later claiming that “the very notion of South Africa’s apartheid was anathema to me…I viewed apartheid with the same degree of disgust that I attached to the Nazis…I was resolved from the moment I became prime minister that any government I headed would speak and act in the finest traditions of Canada.”

But South African apartheid was based on Canadian tradition. According to Shannon Thunderbird, a Coast Tsimshian First Nations elder, “It is ironic because the Canadian Indian Act formed much of the basis for the oppressive apartheid policies in South Africa. It’s kind of an understood custom and practice that Canada’s Indian Act came to be known as the acceptable role model for apartheid policies and there are books and websites that outline all of this. It’s actually hypocrisy for Canada to stand forward as a kind of bulwark of protest against atrocities going on in other countries while at the same time we turn a blind eye to our own people.” Mulroney welcomed Mandela while the genocidal residential school system was still operational, and two months before sending thousands of Canadian soldiers to confront the Mohawk blockade at Oka.

It is not only the Conservatives whose tributes to Mandela reveal their hypocrisy. Liberal leader Justin Trudeau and former Prime Minister Jean Chretien called Mandela’s life inspiring, but Mandela certainly did not inspire the White Paper. In 1969—five years into Mandela’s incarceration, when Canada still supported South African apartheid—Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and his Minister for Indian Affairs Jean Chretien proposed the White Paper to forcibly assimilate First Nations. As the Cree activist Harold Cardinal wrote in his book The Unjust Society (exposing Trudeau’s claims of Canada’s supposed “Just Society”), “In spite of all government attempts to convince Indians to accept the white paper, their efforts will fail, because Indians understand that the path outlined by the Department of Indian Affairs through its mouthpiece, the Honourable Mr. Chrétien, leads directly to cultural genocide. We will not walk this path.”

Anti-colonial struggles
The Red Power movement emerged to challenge Canadian colonialism and defeat the White Paper, and later solidarity with Mandela and the anti-apartheid struggle swept the country. Mandela was part of a mass movement against apartheid that included student and township uprisings, armed resistance, mass strikes, and international solidarity. South African apartheid depended on black workers for profits, so the wave of unionization—including the founding of COSATU in 1985—provided a powerful weapon to organize strikes of millions against apartheid. It was South Africans themselves who spearheaded the push to end apartheid and free Nelson Mandela, not the “humanitarian intervention” myths about Mulroney.

But there was widespread solidarity against South African apartheid, which has inspired a similar movement against Israeli apartheid. Western elites are eager to detach Mandela from the struggle, counter-posing the South African freedom struggle with other anti-colonial struggles. Prime Minister Harper claims that Mandela “demonstrated that the only path forward for the nation was to reject the appeal of bitterness.” But it was the bitterness of fellow Conservative Rob Anders—who in 2001 called Mandela a terrorist—that best expressed how Western elites view anti-colonial struggles. That this label was imposed on South African freedom fighters should lead us to challenge the criminalization of other anti-colonial struggles—from Palestine to Tamil Eelam to Turtle Island.

South Africa after apartheid
Mandela’s rehabilitation in the eyes of the elites, from terrorist to inspiration, is not because of newfound solidarity with his anti-apartheid past but rather the neoliberal policies of the ANC government. Reacting to news of Mandela’s passing, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund offered their sympathies to the South African people—sympathies that were lacking when these financial institutions imposed structural adjustment policies in the 1990s.

According to South Africa’s Anti-Privatization Forum and Coalition Against Water Privatization, “The majority of South Africans, made up of the poor and working class, fought and died not just for political freedom from apartheid, but for socio-economic freedom and justice, for the redistribution of all ‘national wealth’…This popular mandate was captured in the Reconstruction & Development Programme (RDP), which formed the basis of the ‘people’s contract’ with the new democratic government. However, it did not take long for the ANC government to abandon that popular mandate by unilaterally deciding to pursue a water policy that has produced the exact opposite result… Following the neo-liberal economic advice of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and various Western governments (and heavy lobbying by private multinational water companies, such as Suez and Biwater), the South African government drastically decreased grants and subsidies to local municipalities and city councils and supported the development of financial instruments for privatised delivery. This effectively forced local government to turn towards commercialisation and privatisation of basic services as a means of generating the revenue no longer provided by the national state. Many local government structures began to privatise and/or corporatise public water utilities by entering into service and management ‘partnerships’ with multinational water corporations. The immediate result was a massive increase in the price of water that necessarily hit poor communities the hardest.”

But the struggle for socio-economic freedom and justice, against the ANC government and global corporations, continues—from the Treatment Action Campaign for people with HIV/AIDS, to the protests outside the UN climate talks at Durban, to the strikes at Marikana and beyond. As Mandela himself said in 1993, “You must support the African National Congress only so far as it delivers the goods, if the ANC government does not deliver the goods, you must do to it what you have done to the apartheid regime.” The best tribute to Mandela is to continue the movement he represented—of anti-colonial resistance, protests and strikes, and international solidarity.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Labour against Line 9

Last year thousands joined a sit-in in Victoria against the Northern Gateway pipeline. As Susan Spratt, organizer for what was then the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) said, “The ongoing risks that these tar sands pipelines and tankers pose aren’t worth any price. Tens of thousands of unionized and other jobs depend on healthy river and ocean ecosystems. We will be standing in solidarity with thousands of working people in BC and our First Nation sisters and brothers.”

A similar movement is emerging against Enbridge’s plan to pump toxic tar sands through the 38-year old pipeline Line 9. Last month hundreds of people—including indigenous communities, environmentalists, students, faith groups, musicians and trade unionists—marched and rallied against Line 9. Next week the Ontario Federation of Labour is holding its convention in Toronto, and a number of unions have submitted resolutions against Line 9.

But there are a number of myths about Line 9 that threaten to drive a wedge between labour and the rest of the climate justice movement. Some claim that Line 9 is a progressive tool for controlling energy resources, making the transition to a less carbon-intensive energy regime, and providing good jobs for energy workers. Some counter-pose the Northern Gateway and Line 9 pipelines, claiming Line 9 is a smaller and safer pipeline, intended for domestic use instead of export, and part of a national energy policy that will ultimately reduce carbon emissions through regulation and respect for First Nations. None of this is true.

* Not for domestic use: Enbridge’s Line 9 project is an effort to revive its 2008 Trailbreaker project, which aimed to pump tar sands through Ontario and Quebec to Portland, Maine for export. The Trailbreaker proposal was composed of three parts: increase flow through Line 6B (Chicago to Sarnia), reverse flow through Line 9 (Sarnia to Montreal), and then reverse flow through the Portland/Montreal Pipeline (jointly owned by Suncor, a major tar sands producer). Enbridge is slowly recreating this project, first gaining approval for Line 9a, and then 9b. If Enbridge gets its way, it could then reverse the Portland/Montreal pipeline to carry tar sands to the US for export.

* Not a job creator: As climate justice activists have explained, “The 'jobs' argument for tar sands creates a fictitious division between the economy and the environment, attempting to pit employment against health and environmental concerns. The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) has projected that about 6335 jobs in Ontario would be related to tar sands by 2035. While seemingly substantive, this would represent less than 0.1 per cent of jobs in Ontario should an unemployment rate of 10 per cent be maintained with continued population trends -- hardly a boom for a rapidly declining economy. For Line 9 specifically, Mike Harris wrote to the Financial Post suggesting, ‘Ontario will gain 3,250 person-years of direct and indirect employment, and Quebec will gain 1,969 person-years [over three decades]." Breaking down the math, this translates at best to 108 jobs per year for 30 years related to Line 9 in Ontario, and about 66 in Quebec.’” According to the report “More Bang for our Buck: how Canada can Create More Energy Jobs and Less Pollution”—by Blue Green Canada, an alliance of labour and environmental groups—the $1.3 billion of federal subsidies to the oil and gas industry could create 18,000 more jobs in the clean energy sectors. According to Dave Coles, past president of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada (CEP), “we need to get serious about the transition to clean energy, and that includes a plan for putting people to work.”

* Not an economic benefit: Enbridge and the Harper government don't calculate cost of cleaning up inevitable spills, or the cost that we and future generations will pay for catastrophic climate change. The 2010 spill from Line 6B has cost a billion dollars and is still not cleaned up. The Toronto floods are estimated to have cost $600 million, and the annual cost of flooding in Canada is estimated to become $17 billion by 2050. Line 9 might make money for Enbrdige, but it will do so by undermining the planet on which all our lives and livelihoods depend.

* Not safer: Line 9 is the same size and old age as Enbridge’s Line 6B—which resulted in a massive spill that contaminated the Kalamazoo River. As Toronto city counselor Anthony Perruzza warned, “The City of Toronto sits at one of the biggest freshwater supplies in the world. These pipelines cross the city, traverse it completely. Any leakage, any rupture, any break, any undetected leaks over time will have disastrous consequences for us and for our water.”

* No regulation: as the City of Toronto wrote in its submission to the National Energy Board (NEB) last month, “Neither the TTC, Toronto Fire Services nor Enbridge appear to have any specific contingency plan to manage a leak of petroleum should this occur near the TTC entrances.” Furthermore there has been no federal of provincial environmental assessment of Line 9, as provincial NDP Environment Critic Jonah Schein highlighted: “a study by Toronto Area Conservation authorities concluded that a spill from Line 9, like the one in Kalamazoo, Michigan, would constitute a significant threat to drinking water in the GTA. Under new federal rules the project will not receive a federal environmental assessment. But Quebec has committed to conducting a provincial assessment to protect Quebeckers. Why will the Ontario Minister not stand up for the safety and drinking water of people in our province? Why won’t he launch an environmental assessment that allows full public participation and full consideration of the environmental impacts of line 9?”

* Not sustainable: According to NASA climate scientist James Hansen, “exploitation of tar sands would make it implausible to stabilize climate and avoid disastrous global climate impacts. If the tar sands are thrown into the mix it is essentially game over.” All tar sands pipelines, including Line 9, aim to expand tar sands production, which threatens planetary survival and local health. According to the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, “air pollution kills about 20,000 Canadians a year and with tar sands expansion, it will only get worse. If we care about our health we need to leave tar sands oil in the ground.” This health threat reaches genocidal proportions when it comes to indigenous communities most impacted by tar sands production and refining. According to Ron Plain from the Aamjiwnaang First Nation, near Sarnia: “the lands these companies operate upon were stolen from my community and turned into a toxic wasteland without our consent or consultation. Shell’s plant is located directly on my father’s hunting ground and today, instead of feeding my family these lands kill my community. Shell’s plant to expand bitumen refining in an area already devastated by pollution is effectively a death sentence for our culture, lands and people.”

Indigenous communities are leading the movement against tar sands—opposing tar sands production, the Northern Gateway and Keystone XL pipelines, and Line 9—and the climate justice movement is expanding to include the labour movement. As Jim Britton, then Regional Vice President of CEP said in the lead up to the Victoria sit-in, “we want a transition from dependence on fossil fuels that is fair to the workers in the sector, as well as a national energy strategy that includes good green jobs and long term energy security to Canadians.”

This means opposing Line 9—out of solidarity with indigenous communities and as part of a green jobs strategy that is central to rebuilding the trade union movement and averting climate catastrophe. As Naomi Klein said at the founding of Unifor, “If we want to lower our emissions, we need subways, streetcars and clean-rail systems that are not only everywhere but affordable to everyone. We need energy-efficient affordable housing along those transit lines. We need smart electrical grids carrying renewable energy…The renewal of the public sphere will create millions of new, high paying union jobs – jobs in fields that don’t hasten the warming of the planet. But it’s not just boilermakers, pipefitters, construction workers and assembly line workers who get new jobs and purpose in this great transition. There are big parts of our economy that are already low-carbon. They’re the parts facing the most disrespect, demeaning attacks and cuts. They happen to be jobs dominated by women, new Canadians, and people of colour. And they’re also the sectors we need to expand massively: the care-givers, educators, sanitation workers, and other service sector workers. The very ones that your new union has pledged to organize.”

Monday, November 4, 2013

Austerity and the politics of the Ford scandal

Considering all his budget cuts and bigotry, it’s no surprise people are taking pleasure in the scandal surrounding Rob Ford. But while 60% think he should resign, polls also show his popularity has increased from 39% to 44%. The scandal seems to present opportunities for the left, as the Toronto Sun anxiously wrote in its article calling for Ford to resign: “Ford’s enemies on council, beyond calling for him to resign, are going to use his personal troubles and controversies to try to discredit his agenda of fiscal conservatism.” We certainly do need to discredit his agenda, and have through a series of mobilizations. But the scandal can just as easily erase these memories, and substitute right-wing moralism that fuels his support and reinforces his agenda. We should remember why he was elected, how he was challenged, and the real scandal of the Ford agenda if we want an alternative.

Why was Ford elected?
Ford was elected in a landslide victory, which confused many. Two years into the economic crisis there was visible resistance to austerity—24,000 city workers went on strike in 2009, and 40,000 people marched against the G20 in 2010. Any left candidate giving electoral expression to this sentiment could have won the election. But the left in office, supported by the left candidate, did the opposite: David Miller fought against the city workers, and then passed a unanimous motion applauding the police for the largest mass arrest in Canadian history during the G20. The silence of the left on council opened up a right-wing backlash that Ford rode to office—similar to the Tea Party’s emergence in the wake of disillusionment with Obama.

With no left alternative to the crisis, Ford articulated a right-wing populism that tapped into people’s anger against austerity (defending “the people” and “the tax payer”, demanding “respect”, and calling for an “end to the gravy”), but channeling it into a right-wing direction. As a result the millionaire mayor was elected by contradictory groups—the 1% eager to impose austerity, and much of the 99% with a confused opposition to it.

How was Ford challenged?
This contradiction, revealing the limits of right-wing populism, was important to recognize. In the opinion polls Ford had massive support, leading many to claim Toronto had surged to the right, and that people were unwilling or incapable of resisting austerity. But seeing opposition to austerity—even in a section of those who voted for Ford—was crucial to mobilizing against him. On International Women’s Day, in March of 2011, thousands marched for jobs and services, and on April 9 a labour and community mobilization brought 10,000 people into the streets, to demand “respect for communities, public services and good jobs.” As John Cartwright, president of the Toronto and York Region Labour Council and one of the speakers, said: “This is not a rally against an individual politician. This is a rally that talks about the kind of city we want to have together, the kind of city we want to invest in together, the kind of city we want to build together.”

This was also important for distinguishing between the right and the wrong reasons to be against Ford. When he announced he was running, NOW Magazine wrote about it under the title “fat chance”, and early in his term had a cover of the mayor naked—aiming to make fun of his body size. As I wrote at the time, “There's plenty of reasons to criticize Rob Ford—from his racism and homophobia to his attacks on transit workers and public services—but his weight is not one of them. NOW defended itself on freedom of speech grounds, but that's besides the point. Free speech shouldn't pander to fat phobia or any other form of oppression.”

A focus on Ford’s policies continued to mobilize people throughout the summer—at Pride, through a Toronto library petition that went viral, at marathon deputations and neighbourhood meetings. As a result of sustained mobilizations, a poll in September 2011 found Ford’s popularity fell from 60% in February to 42% in September, with a majority of Torontonians in all wards against the cuts. Left counselors reflected the anger in the streets, and right-wing counselors like Karen Stintz began trying to differentiate themselves from Ford. Ford announced a delay in cuts, but resistance continued—including a video against the cuts, a second labour/community rally on September 26, and marches by the Occupy movement in October and November—when Ford’s approval rating was at its lowest. But the tendency to personalize Ford’s policies continued—through slogans like “stop the crazy train”, which depoliticize the austerity agenda and reinforce the oppression of people with mental health issues.

In January 2012, with a third mass rally outside, city council passed an amended budget dampening the austerity agenda. Ford then went after city workers, hoping for a repeat of the right-wing backlash that catapulted him to power. But the library workers fought back in the spring of 2012, receiving strong public support. A year ago, opposition from below and splits from above made Ford vulnerable to legal challenge, which almost removed him on a conflict of interest charge; since then the right-wing have been increasingly anxious about his ability to impose austerity.  

What's the real scandal?
The Toronto Sun’s call for Ford’s resignation began with a glowing tribute to him for having slashed budgets, contracted our garbage and revoked transit workers’ right to strike, but concluded: “He is now a liability to his own agenda of fiscal conservatism, because the longer he stays in office, the more City Hall will become a circus, preoccupied with the mayor’s personal issues and credibility rather than with spending taxpayers’ money wisely…That’s why we will continue to support Ford’s fiscal agenda, even though we can no longer support the man.”

The liability to his agenda of fiscal conservatism should be…his agenda of fiscal conservatism, which sparked mobilizations of thousands of people, who fought back against his policies and undermined his support. But the mainstream media’s main target has not been his scandalous policies, but his size, drug use and denial.

Fat phobia is in full swing, through cartoons and the front page of the Toronto Sun exclaiming “Dead weight”, with a photo of Ford’s abdomen. The media’s moral outrage over drug use is rekindling support for Ford, as a pollster exclaimed: “if you saw him during that media scrum yesterday, it might have generated some sympathy.”

It’s certainly hypocritical for a millionaire mayor to escape justice. But it’s the “justice system” itself that is the greater scandal: disproportionately incarcerating poor and racialized people, and criminalizing drug use and people with addictions. The police have taken advantage of the anger over the killing of Sammy Yatim to give more tasers to police, and could use the Ford scandal to reinforce the “war on drugs.” The media praise for the police chief—who presided over the G20 mass arrests and an epidemic of extra-judicial killings of people of colour and people with mental health issues—shows how a drug scandal amidst the 1% can still reinforce the 1%.

What next?
For the right-wing, this is Ford’s crime: that he sparked opposition to austerity, and drew attention to the hypocrisy of the system. That is why they want him out, so they can calmly continue to impose brutal austerity. As Karen Stintz explained in her mayoral announcement: “I believe in the fiscal agenda of Rob Ford, but I worry that another four years of Rob Ford may not move the city forward.”

For the left, this means that moral prescriptions—that Ford “must take responsibility for his actions” and “face up to the truth”—ignore the real austerity scandal, and let Ford off the hook. Ford simply announced on his radio show that he is apologizing but will weather the storm, will run in the next election and that people can judge him on his record. That has appeal for people disillusioned by mainstream politics, cynical about media scandals, and wooed by Ford’s statements about implementing the policies he promised.

The problem is that he did implement the policies he promised, and it's that record that needs to be challenged. It’s his policies (shared by the rest of the right-wing on council) of cuts to jobs and services that he should apologize for, and reverse. To weather the rest of his term, and beat him and Stintz, in the next election, the left needs to return to the issues that mobilized so many people in the first two years: not moralism about drug use or attacks on Ford as a person, but opposition and alternatives to austerity. 

Thursday, October 3, 2013

9 reasons to stop Line 9

Without even an environmental assessment, oil giant Enbridge wants to use a 38-year old pipeline to pump toxic tar sands through the most populated corridor in the country, promoting the tar sands and contributing to climate change. As Toronto enters a two week calendar of events for environmental justice, culminating in a rally on October 19, here are 9 reasons to stop Line 9.

1) challenge the tar sands
Line 9 will encourage the development of the tar sands, which are devastating indigenous communities. According to the Indigenous Environmental Network, “Northern Alberta is ground zero with over 20 corporations operating in the tar sands sacrifice zone, with expanded developments being planned. The cultural heritage, land, ecosystems and human health of First Nation communities including the Mikisew Cree First Nation, Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, Fort McMurray First Nation, Fort McKay Cree Nation, Beaver Lake Cree First Nation, Chipewyan Prairie First Nation, and the Metis, are being sacrificed for oil money in what has been termed a “slow industrial genocide”. Infrastructure projects linked to the tar sands expansion such as the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline and the Keystone XL pipeline, threaten First Nation communities in British Columbia, Canada and American Indian communities throughout the United States.” Stopping Line 9 would support communities resisting the tar sands, and prevent its spread eastwards.

2) reduce climate change
As former NASA climatologist James Hansen has warned, “If humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar that on which civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted, paleoclimate evidence and ongoing climate change suggest that CO2 will need to be reduced ... to at most 350 ppm.” This year, for the first time in human history, atmospheric concentrations of CO2 reached 400ppm. In this context we’re seeing increasing climate disasters—from hurricane Sandy to epic floods in Alberta and Toronto.

According to a Canadian scientist and coordinating author of the recently released IPCC report, “evidence for a warming climate is getting stronger and stronger, and the evidence of the influence of human activities on that climate change is getting stronger and stronger…Climate change and warming in particular is amplified—that is, it’s larger—at higher latitudes. So warming over Canada is larger than the warming that has been experienced [worldwide] and it is projected to continue that way. That warming over Canada will continue to be more rapid than the global [average] warming.” 

The tar sands are Canada’s fastest growing source of carbon emissions, and both its local and global affects disproportionately affect communities impacted by poverty and racism. Stopping Line 9 and other tar sands pipelines is critical to reduce climate change.

3) prevent oil spills
Pipeline spills happen all the time--including Enbridge’s Line 6B that spilled 3 million litres into the Kalamazoo River in 2010, the spill of millions of litres in Lubicon territory in 2011, the spill last March in a residential neighbourhood in Arkansas, and the spill this June in Alberta from Enbridge’s Line 37. As an Arkansas resident said: “I didn’t even know the oil pipeline was there…she called me and said, ‘Honey, something’s wrong.’ I came out and smelled it. Then I saw it coming down the street.”

This is what’s in store for communities along the Line 9 route. According to the city of Toronto’s submission to the National Energy Board, “Neither the TTC, Toronto Fire Services nor Enbridge appear to have any specific contingency plan to manage a leak of petroleum should this occur near the TTC entrances…The top stair of the Bishop Avenue stairwell is at grade and provides no barrier to the flow of the product should there be a release. If any petroleum product was discharged either down the stairs or the escalators, or by other routes into the TTC concourse, platform or track level, there would be an enormous risk to thousands of daily passengers and TTC workers.”

These bitumen spills can’t just be “cleaned up”: some components evaporate and poison the air, while others sink and poison the earth and water. Three years and a billion dollars in clean-up fees later, and the Kalamazoo River is still contaminated. We need to stop Line 9 before it spills.

4) protect water
Massive amounts of water are wasted in tar sands production, which then contaminates the local water while pipelines threatens distant water. In the words of Toronto city counselor Anthony Perruzza: “The City of Toronto sits at one of the biggest freshwater supplies in the world. These pipelines cross the city, traverse it completely. Any leakage, any rupture, any break, any undetected leaks over time will have disastrous consequences for us and for our water.” With the pipeline running down Finch avenue--and not Bay Street or wealthy neighbourhoods in Toronto--oil spills would add to the poverty and racism already imposed on these communities. The best way to prevent these disastrous consequences is to stop the pipeline.

5) promote health
Tar sands and the oil industry is harmful to our health. Fort Chipewyan, downstream of the tar sands, is experiencing higher cancer rates. The working conditions in Fort McMurray contribute to an array of social costs, including the exploitation of migrant workers, and increased rates of suicide, addiction and abuse; a few years ago the director of Fort McMurray’s only woman’s shelter went on hunger strike to demand more resources. Pollution from oil and other petrochemical companies in Chemical Valley undermine health in Aamjiwnaang First Nation and Sarnia. According to the World Health Organization, “Climatic changes already are estimated to cause over 150,000 deaths annually… The risks are concentrated in the poorest populations, who have contributed the least to the problem of greenhouse gas emissions.” Stopping Line 9 would be a small but concrete step towards reversing the health impacts of the oil economy.

6) rebuild democracy
There has been no free, prior and informed consent from First Nations for Line 9, or the tar sands. Harper has undermined environmental regulation, there has been no environmental assessment for Line 9, and Enbridge has given “donations” to municipalities along the route (including the Hamilton police, who arrested line 9 protesters for occupying a pumping station). The National Energy Board (an “ally” of the Harper government) has monopolized decision-making power, excluded people from contributing to hearings, and tried to divide the movement between those they allow to intervene and those they do not allow. Challenging Line 9 exposes these attacks on democracy, as part of a movement to rebuild democracy.

7) support indigenous sovereignty
As IEN states, “Just a few years ago, people in Canada, U.S. and Europe heard little to nothing about the Canadian tar sands. Today, the tar sands have become a topic of national and international discussion as stories of cancer epidemics in the community of Fort Chipewyan, massive wildlife losses related to toxic contamination, environmental degradation and increased vocal resistance from impacted communities have shattered the ‘everything is fine’ myth propagated by the Canadian and Alberta governments.”

From declaration of unity against pipelines to Healing Walks, from freedom train to speaking tour, indigenous communities are leading the movement against tar sands, and providing an environmental justice framework to understand the threat of tar sands and the importance of indigenous sovereignty and solidarity.

8) demand green jobs
The billion dollars in subsidies to the tar sands each year could provide thousands of green jobs, and the climate justice movement includes labour activists pushing for a just transition from the oil economy to one based on sustainability. Last year unions endorsed a sit-in against tar sands pipelines and tankers, and this year the Steelworkers Toronto Area Council has endorsed the rally against Line 9 and provided funding for First Nations activists to bus into Toronto to join the rally. As a CAW organizer said last year, “tens of thousands of unionized and other jobs depend on healthy river and ocean ecosystems. We will be standing in solidarity with thousands of working people in BC and our First Nations sisters and brothers.” Line 9 will only produce a few temporary jobs in an industry that exposes workers to chemicals while undermining the environment on which future jobs depend. Stopping Line 9 is part of a movement demanding good green jobs for all.

9) build the environmental justice movement
Last October 22 there was a mass sit-in in Victoria, led by Coastal First Nations with participation from environmental groups and unions. On February 17 there was a huge protest outside White House against the Keystone XL pipeline. These movements are creating major barriers to pipelines going west and south, and there is a similar movement emerging against Line 9, from Aamjiwnaang to Montreal. During the next two weeks in Toronto there is a series of events leading up to the National Energy Board hearings, where people will be intervening against Line 9 in the hearings and in the streets. Join the movement!

*Sunday October 6: Rock the Line with Environmental Defense, free concert, 2pm Mel Lastman Square

*Monday October 7: #Oct7 National day of Unity in Action, Idle No More Toronto, 5pm at Trinity Bellwoods

*Tuesday October 15: Do The Math movie screening and panel discussion, by Toronto350, 5:45pm and 8:15pm at Bloor Hot Docs Cinema

*Friday October 18: Tar Sands Reality Check Tour6pm at Bloor Street United Church

*Saturday October 19: NO LINE 9! NO TAR SANDS PIPE LINES, rally at noon outside the NEB hearings (Metro Convention Centre, 255 Front Street). “Indigenous communities, environmentalists and labour groups have united to oppose the tar sands pipelines going west and south, and we need a similarly impressive display of mass opposition to any such proposal to transport tar sands east. Stopping the Line 9 Pipeline Reversal and moving toward a clean energy economy with green jobs would be a multiple “win” – a win for communities, jobs, farms, the environment, public health, and for our long-term energy security. Join us October 19th outside the NEB hearings as we say No Line 9! No Tar Sands Pipelines!”

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Who organized the historic March on Washington?

Today is the 50th anniversary of one of the most famous moments in US history, the 1963 March on Washington that helped win civil rights. But while King and his “I have a dream” speech are universally known, the origins and organizer of the march have largely been written out of history.

Mainstream history presents the civil rights movement as either a spontaneous outburst or a campaign entirely directed by King, a supposedly simple dreamer whose politics were frozen in 1963. The Civil Rights movement is presented as a single issue struggle—with no connection to anti-war, labour, gay or radical activists—which culminated in the March on Washington and civil rights legislation that supposedly completed the black freedom struggle. In response, radical historians have often dismissed the March on Washington and its organizers; Howard Zinn’s masterful People History of the United States described the march as a “friendly assemblage” that was highjacked by the Democrats, and never mentions its main organizer Bayard Rustin (pictured behind King).

But remembering the origins and organizers of the March on Washington restores its connections to anti-war and labour movements, to anti-Stalinist socialists and to gay activists who struggled before Stonewall. This rich history, including its strengths and weaknesses, is important both to understand how the civil rights victory was won, and why King’s dream remains deferred.

The idea of a march on Washington started with A Philip Randolph, a socialist and trade union activist, who organized the first predominantly black union—the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. In 1941 he used the threat of a march on Washington to force Roosevelt to desegregate defense industries.

In the 1940s Randolph joined forces with Bayard Rustin, an openly gay Quaker who joined the Communist Party in Harlem in the 1930s—when the organization still had a strong record of fighting racism and inequality. When Stalinism purged Communist Parties of their politics and dropped anti-racist struggles in order to support the war, Rustin left the party to work alongside Randolph and AJ Muste. Muste was a Christian pacifist and labour activist who founded the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE), taking pacifism and civil disobedience to fight racism.

After going to jail for resisting WWII—where he was persecuted for being black and gay—Rustin joined CORE, the War Resisters League and Ella Baker (another unsung hero of the civil rights movement) to organize multiracial teams to challenge bus segregation—a precursor to the Freedom Rides. As Rustin wrote later, “That period of 8 years of continuously doing this prepared for the 1960s revolution. I do not believe Montgomery would have been possible nor successful except for the long experience people had about reading about sitting in buses and getting arrested, so that people had become used to hearing this.”

In 1948 Congress debated peacetime conscription, and Randolph and Rustin began organizing another March on Washington—which pressured Truman to desegregate the armed forces.

One of the main reasons Rustin has been written out of history is because of homophobia. In the early 1950s he was arrested for “perversion”, fired from CORE and forever kept in the shadows of movements despite his central role. As his biographer wrote, “The arrest trailed Rustin for many years afterwards. It severely restricted the public roles he was allowed to assume. Though he fought his way back from the sidelines, he did so at a price. As both the peace and civil rights movements grew dramatically over the next decade, as a philosophy of nonviolence became familiar to millions of Americans, Rustin’s influence was everywhere. Yet he remained always in the background, his figure shadowy and blurred, his importance masked. At any moment, his sexual history might erupt into consciousness. Sometimes it happened through the design of enemies to the causes for which he fought, sometimes through the machinations of personal rivals, sometimes through the nervous anxieties of movement comrades. But underneath it all was the unexamined, because as yet unnamed, homophobia that permeated mid-century American society.”

As the documentary Before Stonewall reminds us, many queer activists were involved in the civil rights movement in the 1950s and early 1960s, which became a training ground for the Gay Liberation Movement that began in 1969.

When Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat and King began organizing the Montgomery bus boycott, Rustin went on behalf of the War Resisters League to help. His account humanizes King, who was not born a leader but developed during the course of the struggle: “The fact of the matter is, when I got to Montgomery, Dr. King had very limited notions about how a nonviolent protest should be carried out. He had not been prepared for the job either tactically, strategically, or in his understanding of nonviolence. The glorious thing is that he came to a profoundly deep understanding of nonviolence through the struggle itself, and through reading and discussions which he had in the process of carrying on the protest.”

Rustin mentored King, connected his struggle with campuses and unions across the country, helped launch the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), and organized its first action: the 1957 Prayer Pilgrimage that mobilized 20,000 to Washington. Meanwhile, Ella Baker helped launch the Student Non-violence Coordinating Committee (SNCC), when sit-ins started exploding across the South.

In 1963, Randolph and Rustin began organizing a Washington on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, connecting the fight for civil rights with economic justice. As Rustin explained: “Integration in the fields of education, housing, transportation and public accommodation will be of limited extent and duration as long as fundamental economic inequality along racial lines persists. When a racial disparity in unemployment has been firmly established in the course of a century, the change-over to ‘equal opportunities’ does not wipe out the cumulative handicaps of the negro worker. The dynamic that has motivated negroes to withstand with courage and dignity the intimidation and violence they have endured in their own struggle against racism may now be the catalyst which mobilizes all workers behind demands for a broad and fundamental program of economic justice.” This perspective brought together the NAACP, CORE, SCLC, SCC, the National Urban League, religious leaders and the United Auto Workers. While the AFL-CIO labour bureaucracy stayed away, labour activists across the country mobilized—including steelworkers, ladies garment workers, packinghouse workers, electrical workers, and labour councils. On August 28, 1963 a quarter of a million people marched on Washington, and forced the Democrats to provide civil rights legislation.

Poverty, racism and militarism
But as Zinn explained, the corporate Democrats moved quickly to smother the broader project. Rustin was co-opted and called for a shift “from protest to politics”, subordinating the movements in order to placate the Democrats—while his elevation of multiracial non-violence from tactic to principle led him to condemn Black Power and the Vietnamese resistance. But as his biographer noted, “the pupil surpassed the teacher”. King, rescuing Rustin's politics and continuing to learn from the struggle, condemned the Vietnam War and the "giant triplets of racism, militarism and economic exploitation", planned a Poor People’s March on Washington, and went to support striking sanitation workers—where he was killed.

Fifty years after King dreamed of a day when people would “not be judged by the colour of their skin but the content of their character,” Trayvon Martin was murdered for being black—while Chelsea Manning has been persecuted for speaking out against a war that killed a million Iraqis. With 100,000 marking the 50th anniversary of the march, many are rediscovering its radical roots—connecting civil rights to broader struggles and committing themselves to King’s words from 1967 that remains relevant today: “Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism."

Friday, June 14, 2013

Join the June 17 day of action for refugee health

A man denied eye surgery to prevent blindness. A man with symptoms of tuberculosis denied an X-ray. A woman denied asthma medication, resulting in a costly ER visit and hospitalization.

These are some of the results of the Harper government’s cuts to refugee health care over the past year. According to Dr. Meb Rashid, medical director of the Crossroads Clinic at Women's College Hospital. “The patients we see have fled unimaginable terror to seek a safer life in Canada, and our government is telling doctors that they cannot provide necessary treatment.”

On April 25 of last year, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney announced drastic cuts to the Interim Federal Health Program, implemented on June 30. Kenney claimed the cuts would be fair, save money and protect public health—and all these claims were bogus. As the Canadian Council for Refugees immediately predicted, the cuts would create a two-tier system of refugee care, deny essential medical care, institutionalize gender discrimination and offload costs to the provinces. That’s exactly what has happened.

A six year old child denied tests for urinary tract infection. A pregnant woman fleeing the sex trade denied tests. A sexual violence survivor denied PTSD treatment.

But what could not have been predicted was the massive outrage from the medical community, beginning May 11, 2012 with occupations of Tory offices in Winnipeg and Toronto, a rally in Ottawa and press conference in other cities. This launched Canadian Doctors for Refugee Care (CDRC). Then on May 18 an open letter condemning the cuts was signed by national associations representing optometrists, nurses, doctors, social workers, dentists, pharmacists, and family physicians.

On June 18 last year, health providers organized a day of action with rallies in a dozen cities across the country—from Inuvik to Vancouver to St. John’s—opposing the cuts and the way they are being used to scapegoat refugees for broader cuts to healthcare. As Dr. Mark Tyndall said at the Ottawa press conference, "the government has used this issue to divide Canadians, pitting those who are dissatisfied with their own health coverage against refugees. Canadians are smarter than this. This is an attack on our entire healthcare system." Through the summer health providers continued to challenge government officials, while 17 year-old Bashir Mohamed directly challenged Jason Kenney.

While the government quietly reversed a small number of the cuts under pressure from protests, Kenney posted a shameless petition on his own website congratulating himself for the cuts, refused to document the impact of the cuts, and dismissed all evidence collected by CDRC of people who have suffered as a result of the cuts. Meanwhile the cuts are having their intended consequences. According to Dr. Philip Berger, Chief of Family and Community Medicine at St. Michael’s Hospital, “we advised the government from the beginning that these program cuts would reduce care, increase costs to other areas of the health system and needlessly threaten public safety, and regrettably, this is exactly what our colleagues are seeing in clinics and hospitals across Canada.”

A child of a refugee applicant denied immunizations. A teenager with PTSD and suicide attempts denied medication. A young girl with fever denied investigations for malaria.

Opposition to the cuts has continued to grow. On December 15 resident physicians organized vigils to protest the “Designated Country of Origin” list that deprives health care from refugee claimants from countries arbitrarily labeled “safe”. In February CDRC and the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers launched a constitutional challenge. This Monday, June 17, is a second day of action, taking place in 19 cities: Victoria, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Thunder Bay, Sudbury, Windsor, London, Kitchener, Guelph, Hamilton, Toronto, Kingston, Ottawa, Montreal, Halifax and St. John’s.

June 17 will be an important mobilization for all those who oppose the cuts to refugee health, and momentum is building. UofT and McGill faculties of medicine are facilitating learner participation. Health providers from across the country and around the world are participating in a photo campaign, posted on CDRC’s facebook page. Over 50 prominent writers and artists—including Margaret Atwood, Adrienne Clarkson, Shirley Douglas, Jian Ghomeshi, Naomi Klein, Vincent Lam and Kiefer Sutherland—have signed an open letter: “We call on the federal government to reverse these health cuts and restore our country’s humanitarian tradition of providing care to refugees. On June 17th, please join us and Canadian Doctors for Refugee Care in participating in a National Day of Action. There are events taking place in cities across the country. To learn more, please visit”

See you in the streets.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Conservative anti-choice motion defeated

Harper’s government is filled with anti-choice MPs, including his second in command Jason Kenney, who has opposed a woman’s right to choose since his college days. But while Harper’s majority inside Parliament is anti-choice, the majority outside Parliament remains pro-choice and recently defeated Motion 408.

This is the legacy of a mass movement. As Carolyn Egan wrote, the Ontario Coalition for Abortion Clinicsstated that for all women to have real choices in our society they require safe and effective birth control services in their own languages and their own communities, decent jobs, paid parental leave, childcare, the right to live freely and openly regardless of their sexuality, employment equity, an end to forced or coerced sterilization, and, of course, full access to free abortion. All were required if women were to have reproductive freedom… In linking struggles, OCAC was able to build a wide campaign through demonstrations, marches and rallies -- in which thousands participated. Through our organizing, we were able to broaden the participation of trade unionists, students, AIDS activists, people of colour and immigrant women’s organizations in the campaign. We understood that, without the active participation and the support of thousands, no change would occur. The goal was to build a visible, mass movement that fought together for women’s reproductive freedom. ”

Anti-choice by stealth
Because of the legacy of the movement that struck down the abortion law in 1988, Harper cannot directly recriminalize abortion, and instead resorts to anti-choice by stealth. Shortly before International Women’s Day in 2008, the Conservatives’ anti-choice “fetal homicide” Bill C-484 passed second reading, with support from the Liberals. But there was widespread opposition from women’s groups, unions and the medical community. In the fall of that year there were protests across the country, forcing Harper to withdraw the motion before the election.

Harper took his anti-choice policies abroad in 2010, using the G8 meeting to impose a maternal health plan that excluded abortion (and initially excluded contraception as well). The world’s leading medical journal The Lancet denounced the plan as “hypocritical and unjust”, and called for a “maternal health plan based on sound scientific evidence and not prejudice.” Instead, Harper went on to deny Planned Parenthood funding except in countries where abortion is illegal. As Angela Robertson said at the 25th anniversary of the Morgentaler decision this year, “Harper has responded by stating that the Conservative government will never endorse anti-abortion legislation while he is in power. We ask: if these rights are worth preserving for women in this country, are they not then equally worth supporting for other women around the world.” There was widespread opposition to Harper’s plan, causing a frustrated Conservative Senator Nancy Ruth to demand women’s groups “shut the fuck up about abortion.” Instead, women led the mass demonstration in Toronto, with a giant coat hanger and banner reading “Maternal health includes abortion.”

Then came Bill C-510 against “coerced abortion” and then Motion 312 to change the definition of “human being”, which was supposedly an issue of conscience. But as the NDP Status of Women critic Niki Ashton said in Parliament, “This is not an issue of conscience, it’s an issue of women’s rights, and women’s rights are human rights and they are not up for debate.” While Motion 312 was defeated, it received support from 10 Tory cabinet ministers including Jason Kenney and the Minister for Status of Women Rona Ambrose. Ambrose said she voted for Motion 312 as way to “raise concern about discrimination by sex-selection abortion", helping fellow Conservative Mark Warawa launch another anti-choice motion, Motion 408

Motion 408: lip service and scapegoating
Motion 408 called on Parliament to “condemn discrimination against females occurring through sex-selective pregnancy termination”. Warawa later added that he “would be shocked at anybody who would oppose a motion that is condemning discrimination against women and girls.” But as Joyce Arthur pointed out “Mark Warawa is one of the most zealous anti-choice MPs in the Conservative caucus…Further, Warawa has no record at all on protecting or advancing women’s rights.” Dr. Prabhat Jha, a world expert on sex-selection abortion, has debunked the “evidence” for this occurring in Canada warned against restricting ultrasounds and safe abortions where it does exist. According to the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada, “providing patients with results of diagnostic imaging procedures is part of the Canadian standard of care, and fetal sex determination and disclosure should not be exempt.”  

Motion 408 paid lip service to women’s rights while scapegoating immigrants for supposedly importing sexism. As National Post columnist Barbara Kay claimed during a recent televised debate on Motion 408: “In our country, in Canada, girls are very much as welcome as boys. There are certain communities where girls are not as welcome as boys, and that is the problem. Do I think we can judge these people? Absolutely. We are a nation that is built on certain democratic principles, on the equality of people before the law, and certainly on the equality of the sexes. So it is not only ok to judge people that take an alternate view, but to judge them quite severely, and say, ‘look, you’re here in this country, these are our values, if you are actually translating alternate values, it’s the same as if they believed in slavery.”

Motion 408 provided a cover for the Harper government’s discrimination against women—from canceling a national childcare program on his first day in office, defunding women’s groups, ignoring the women-led Idle No More movement for indigenous sovereignty, cutting refugee healthcare including for pregnant women, opposing LGBT rights, denying pay equity, and more—while aiming to further restrict abortion rights. Recently, three Tory MPs called for the RCMP to investigate late-term abortions as homicides, showing that the ultimate goal of anti-choice motions is not simply to “raise concern” but to recriminalize abortion. 

As I co-wrote last fall, “Motion 408 ignores all this systemic discrimination, erodes women's reproductive choice, scapegoates the South Asian community, and then has the audacity of accusing opponents of the motion of ‘discrimination.’ But the incessant claims of ‘not wanting to open the abortion debate,’ while chipping away at choice through deceptive motions demonstrates the Conservatives are not confident to openly confront the pro-choice majority. Challenging Motion 408 provides the opportunity to clarify the reality of abortion in Canada, expose the consequences of restricting choice, and defend and expand abortion rights through the broader context of reproductive justice.”

Reproductive justice
While the anti-choice is emboldened by the Harper majority inside Parliament, the pro-choice majority outside Parliament is rising to resist. On October 20 there was a day of action for reproductive justice across the country, and on January 28 there were events to look back on the movement that won abortion rights and look forward to continuing the movement. On March 9, thousands marched at International Women’s Day in Toronto for indigenous sovereignty, abortion rights and an end to violence against women. On March 26, UofT Med Students for Choice organized a conference about the historical, political, legal and medical aspects of abortion. On April 13, community and labour allies held a picket in Mississauga outside the office of one of the Tory MPs calling for the criminalization of late-term abortions.

Instead of uniting Tories and dividing the opposition, Motion 408 split the Tories. Rona Ambrose backtracked and refused to support the motion, explaining that “the opposition has positioned it as an issue about abortion so it becomes a very divisive issue.” Under Harper’s rule a parliamentary committee declared the motion unvotable, causing a rift in the Tories before Warawa dropped the motion.

The attacks on abortion have not gone away, either federally or provincially—from PEI which still has no abortion provider, New Brunswick which refuses to cover clinic abortions, and Ontario where Tory leader Tim Hudak has signed a petition calling for the defunding of abortion. But there’s rising resistance to defend and expand abortion rights as part of a broader movement for reproductive justice—building on the legacy of what Judy Rebick has called “the deepest and most important victory the women's movement in Canada has ever had… After eight years of organizing, demonstrating, direct action, lobbying, fundraising and sometimes facing threats and violence, we had won.” 

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Toronto IWD march

On Saturday March 9, thousands marched through Toronto for International Women's Day.

Last year's march focused on fighting the austerity agenda. This year the anti-austerity struggle across the country has been radicalized by Idle No More, began and led by indigenous women, which was a major theme of IWD this year--with indigenous women leading the march under the banner "fires are burning, we are rising."

Recently Human Rights Watch issued a damning report on police abuse of aboriginal women. Challenging violence against women was the second major theme--with people chanting "stop the silence, end the violence." There were also demands for pay equity and childcare.

While the Harper government has ignored violence against women, pay equity and childcare, it is claiming to address discrimination against women through Motion 408, scheduled for debate in Parliament later this month, which attacks abortion rights. The fight for reproductive justice was the third major theme of IWD, and the Ontario Coalition for Abortion Clinics mobilized--including their banner "maternal health includes abortion" which led the G20 protests in 2010.

From the G20 protests in 2010, the Egyptian revolution beginning in 2011, and Idle No More that began at the end of 2012--women are at the heart of the fight for a better world. As the motto of IWD says, "the rising of the women is the rising of us all."