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'The Other Mrs. Smith' examines electroshock as violence against women

Wed, 2017-12-06 04:24
Bonnie Burstow

In late October, my novel The Other Mrs. Smith -- a novel centred on electroshock -- was published. The fact that the release of such a novel was newsworthy became evident shortly after its launch. I was approached by CTV National News Channel for an interviewBut days later, I was approached by Amy Pitt for an interview. What follows is an edited version of the second interview (see the original printed version here); I invite the reader to peruse and ponder it:

AP: This novel traces the life experiences of one highly successful woman who falls prey to electroshock. What inspired you to write it?

BB: In the early 1980s, I was part of group that held hearings into electroshock. And those hearings were an incredible eye-opener. I had known people who has been subjected to electroshock, but the few I knew were men. And so while I had certainly seen terrible damage -- nothing like what I witnessed from the legions of women at this hearing. The extent of the memory and other losses was horrifying. And that was the start of my becoming highly involved in the fight to ban electroshock. What followed were decades of research, articles, and activism. Now at one point in the mid 80s, it looked like we had the electroshock industry on the ropes. Then we lost the interest of the press and the public and never got it back. Anyway, after decades of research and activism, I remembered the power of art and embarked on this novel. "Could a novel, if powerful enough, lead to a public outcry against shock?," I wondered. So what was my inspiration? Very real people and the very real damage done to them.

AP: Primarily, you wrote it from the perspective of Naomi, the protagonist, who suffers from enormous memory loss. How did you go about writing a novel from the perspective of someone who can't remember much of anything?

BB: That was the struggle; and that, the gambit. As I was keenly aware, all instructions on how to write novels warn you against writing from the first person where the person has been severely damaged or traumatized. And I could totally see why. Nonetheless, I knew from the get-go that this was the only way to do it if the reader was to end up really understanding. So I took the plunge. Decided to write it from inside the head of a brain-damaged narrator. And indeed, writing from the first person virtually forced me into her perspective.

AP: Did you have to employ any special strategies to tell the story?

BB: Well there was no problem getting into her head -- none, for I had been making common cause with shock survivors for decades. The issue was: How was she to tell a story when she cannot remember? Also, how do I ensure that reader does not get drowned  in her problems? What did I do? I started employing two devices early on in the project. One was to switch back and forth between pre-shock days -- when her memory was good -- and her post-shock life. The second was to invent point-of-view characters and allow the novel to occasionally drift into the third person narrative from their points of view -- for that way we could learn the odd thing that we that we needed to know but that Naomi was in no position to tell us. Those were the two main devices. But even doing that did not come close to addressing the biggest problem facing me. The point is, narrating a novel primarily from within the head of someone who could not remember her story was crazy-making for I kept running into dead ends. Anyway, a couple of years into the project, I decided: I can't take this any more. I want my life back. And I can get my life back. All I have to do is stop writing this novel. Then it hit me like a thunderbolt: Yes, I can get my life back. But shock survivors cannot get their lives back. Which means that I have to continue and to do it well. Herein lies the moral imperative. And once I took that in, I solved problem after problem. And in the process, the novel grew richer and  richer.

AP: I get that. Let me ask you something somewhat different. They say that all writing is autographical. Where's Bonnie in this?

BB: Besides the concern over shock? Like the protagonist, I spent most of my life in two cities -- Toronto and Winnipeg. Now Naomi loves Winnipeg, not Toronto, and I'm the opposite. So I asked myself, if you loved Winnipeg, what would you love about it? Also I found myself drawing on the type of arguments that my best friend and I have when I scripted quarrels between Naomi and her sister. One way or another, your life always flows into the fiction that you write, and in the absence of that, you just cannot write anything deep.

AP: I've heard you refer to this as very much a Canadian novel. How so?

BB: Two Canadian cities come alive in the novel, Toronto and Winnipeg -- especially Winnipeg. We are led to shiver at the cold Winnipeg winter. We are introduced to the legendary flooding of the Red River. Aspects of Canadian history -- the Winnipeg General Strike, for instance -- are frequently referenced. We experience Kensington Market in its heyday. We get a taste of Newfoundland. So, yes, this is quintessentially Canadian. Let me just add, it is at the same time a Turtle Island novel, if I may call it that. An Indigenous theme runs throughout. We witness the oppression of Indigenous people. We make the acquaintance of a remarkable Indigenous man named Jack. And we see Indigenous wisdom. When Naomi does not know what to do, she calls to mind Jack -- and suddenly, she knows.

AP: Which reminds me, this novel has a huge rich cast of well developed characters. Who's your favourite and why?

BB: Hands down, Naomi. That said, if I were to choose another, it would be Ger. Ger is a trans man. He is also the kindest and most sensitive soul in the novel -- the sort of guy we would all dearly love to have as a friend. And we see him thoughtfully make the connection between his struggles and those of other oppressed people. And then there is his uncanny eye. He realizes early on that there is a secret lurking between the lines in some writing of Naomi's known as Black Binder Number Three. But let me ask, Amy: Who's your favourite?

AP: One of the many characters that I love is Naomi’s father. His kindness, his spirituality, his open-mindedness, his connection with nature. My favourite scene is when he takes the girls outside to feed the birds. It reminds me of my own father. You know, we can all identify with your characters, for they link up one way or another with our own lives. Okay, a more literary question: How's this novel different from the other famous novel about electroshock -- One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest?

BB: Let me say from the outset, that Kesey's is a truly terrific novel for Kesey is an exceptional writer. At the same time, his novel does not provide either an intricate or an accurate depiction of electroshock. On one level, we are left with the impression that electroshock mainly befalls men, when two to three times as many women as men are shocked. Moreover, women are way more damaged by it. Nor is there any exploration of the damage done. Now it is a fascinating novel, but I would have to add, it is also a sexist novel. The primary adversary in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is Big Nurse -- a woman, in other words, not the patriarchal figures who actually have the power. By contrast, in The Other Mrs. Smith I lay bare the reality of electroshock. In other words, my novel is once experiential, true-to-life, and what goes along with this, a feminist novel. I was trying to show what happens to women in this patriarchal society and what happens to women with electroshock -- the sheer violence against women involved.

To move beyond the question of Kesey, you know, every woman survivor that I have ever known -- and I've literally known hundreds -- have overlapping stories to tell. Which leads me to this point: While the character Naomi is very individual, there is a way in which some version of what befalls her not only has befallen many women, but beyond that, could happen to any woman. You know, the morality plays mounted in the Middle Ages typically contained a character called Everyman. And, as unique as Naomi is, what we gradually come to realize, if I may coin a term, is that Naomi is "Every-Woman." What happened to her happened ultimately for no reason other than that she is a woman. So we see the plight of Every-Woman in Naomi. We also see the wondrous strength of Every-Woman. A testament in itself to the beauty of the human spirit

AP: Yes, we do indeed see her heroically and brilliantly rebuild a life. Bonnie, congratulations on writing an exceptional novel. You have written a highly lyrical novel. You have provided a sobering account with such grace and tenderness that it speaks to the paradox of what it means to be human. There is something here for everyone.

BB: Humour, pathos, ingenuity, comraderie, activism, mystery, insight.

AP: All and all, a stunning work of art. And I imagine many people will be itching to dip into it over the holidays. So one more question: Where can one pick it up?

BB: From libraries. From the publisher's website, from Amazon. Also, from local bookstores. For example, in Toronto, Book City on the Danforth has the equivalent of signed copies.

AP: Good to hear. Congratulations again.

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Categories: News for progressives

An awkward meeting in Parliament

Tue, 2017-12-05 15:43
December 5, 2017Politics in CanadaUS PoliticsWorldJustin Trudeau betrays his father’s legacy on nuclear weaponsWhile Parliament honours the anti-nuclear campaign, the Trudeau government refuses to join the effort of more than 120 countries to ban nuclear weapons. Critics wonder why.nuclear war
Categories: News for progressives

Free speech is not a neutral proposition with equal enfranchisement

Tue, 2017-12-05 10:32
Mercedes Allen

Part two of a two-part series. Read part one.

It should be no surprise to anyone that trans* people find the "Debate™" to be triggering and toxic.

Of course, Ezra Levant might be a bad example.  Social conservatives aren't usually as candid (or as classless) as Levant, and instead hide these views in coded language about sinister, ideologically-driven social agendas, a nebulous transgender "craze," totalitarianism (as if trans* people had that much power!), political correctness, "cultural Marxists," and persecution by "compelled speech" (which -- on a legal level, at least -- is factually incorrect, regardless of what overzealous professors at WLU reportedly told Lindsay Shepherd).

From his argument before the Senate against trans* human rights protections, Peterson himself makes it clear that he sees gender identity as as something that cannot be substantiated scientifically, and therefore as something that should not be dignified by giving it any credence:

"It's incorrect in that identity is not and will never be something that people define subjectively because your identity is something you actually have to act out in the world as a set of procedural tools, which most people learn -- and I'm being technical about this -- between the ages of two and four. It's a fundamental human reality. It's well recognized by the relevant, say, developmental psychological authorities. The idea that identity is something you define purely subjectively is an idea without status as far as I'm concerned.

"I also think it's unbelievably dangerous for us to move towards representing a social constructionist view of identity in our legal system. The social constructionist view insists that human identity is nothing but a consequence of socialization, and there's an inordinate amount of scientific evidence suggesting that that happens to not be the case. So the reason that this is being instantiated into law is because the people who are promoting that sort of perspective, or at least in part because the people promoting that sort of perspective, know perfectly well they've lost the battle completely on scientific grounds.

"...the social constructionist view of gender isn't another opinion; it's just wrong...99.7 per cent of people who inhabit a body with a given biological sex identify with that biological sex. They're incredibly tightly linked.

"If you can't attribute causality to a link that's that tight, you have to dispense with the notion of causality altogether. Of the people who identify as male or female who are also biologically male or female, the vast majority of them have the sexual preference that would go along with that and the gender identity and the gender expression.

"These levels of analysis are unbelievably tightly linked, and the evidence that biological factors play a role in determining gender identity is, in a word, overwhelming. There isn't a serious scientist alive who would dispute that. You get disputes about it, but they always stem, essentially, from the humanities. As far as I'm concerned -- I've looked at it very carefully -- those arguments are entirely ideologically driven. It's a tenet of the ideology that identity is socially constructed, and that's partly why it's been instantiated into law, because there's no way they can win the argument but they can certainly win the propaganda war..."

I don't know about you, but to me, that says that if there are so few trans* people and they can't prove their existence on a scientific level that Peterson is willing to accept, then he shouldn't have to accept their existence or treat them as anything other than deluded people.

For what it's worth, to make this argument, Peterson has to disregard decades of medical case histories which have consistently demonstrated two key points: first, that suppression and reparative therapies are extremely harmful to trans-identified individuals; and second, acceptance and accommodation alleviates distress to the point that it (social stigma and circumstance aside) allows them to reach a kind of "square one," from which they hopefully move on to happier and productive lives.

There is some discussion about the medical study of gender identity herehereherehere, and elsewhere, but the bottom line is that the overwhelming weight of case histories has been so compelling that the American Psychiatric AssociationAmerican Psychological Association, and all other major medical professional organizations (with the lone exception of an astroturf reparative therapy advocacy group with the official-sounding name of the American College of Pediatricians) call for the accommodation of, medical access for, and acceptance of trans* people. So, even though you can't circle someone's gender identity on a radiograph, the medical evidence is there -- and when it comes to human rights, it also isn't the point.

Indeed, it's become a common adage for trans* folk to say that we only hear about ten "regret" stories a year, and nine of them are Walt Heyer (although since the backlash to trans* human rights protections arose, that ratio has become more like 70 out of 80).

With all of that said, freedom of speech is a critically important part of Canadian life -- and not just in academic settings.  The people who are first to lose it are typically those who are marginalized, those who never really had much visibility, or a public voice, or access to platforms to speak out in their defense. Whatever else they may feel about it, trans* people must take the side of freedom of speech, because their continued existence and eventual acceptance depends on it.  What is critically important, then, is to seek true freedom of speech, which as Abigail Curlew points out is not a neutral proposition that all parties come to with equal enfranchisement:

"From a sociological perspective, our society suffers from extreme stratification along the lines of race, gender, sexuality, and class. Your identity shapes where you might be located within society's opportunity structure. Where you were born and what body you were born with matters and has a significant impact on your material and symbolic wealth.

"For transgender folks, this positions us in a precarious reality. A great portion of Canadian society doesn't recognize trans folks as real persons. And when they recognize us, it is often filtered through crude stereotypes that emphasize perversion or mental illness. The point is, we must go to great lengths to justify and defend our very existence in everyday situations.

"...The pressures of daily transphobia and cissexism push us back into the closets where we are unable to express our voices. The "freedom of speech" of those who hold bigoted views silence the freedom of speech of those they target..."

In the end, the very reason that opponents use free speech as a weapon is because they feel threatened. This is because in recent years, trans* people have demanded to have a voice in the cultural debate, have increasingly been given that opportunity, and have been compelling when they are heard. Indeed, by telling their stories and having the audacity to assert themselves as authorities on their own experiences, trans* people have already changed the actual debate, making it necessary for opponents to use some twist of logic to re-establish a hegemony that uses the language of academia -- couched in theory that can be misguided or at times even deceptive -- but removing the authority of lived experience, to once again justify trans* exclusion from that discussion. 

This, then, is the solution for trans* people: to keep speaking their experiences, and for there to be continued platforms available for them to do so. Protest, yes (with an effort to be clear what is being protested and what non-censorious remedy is being sought), but do not waste an overly unnecessary amount of energy on them (especially since that draws undue attention to them). When trans* people are considered authorities about themselves and are prioritized, then opponents' collective stance against acceptance begins to be recognized as archaic.

For people like Jordan Peterson and Ezra Levant, the thought of this is apparently terrifying.

Crossposted to Dented Blue Mercedes.

Photo: wiredforlego​/Flickr

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Categories: News for progressives

Navigating free speech when the 'debate' is you, and you're not invited

Tue, 2017-12-05 03:10
Mercedes Allen

Part one of a two-part series.

There's a duplicitous game of sleight-of-hand that is taking place in discussions about freedom of speech in academia and the public square.

Here's how it works: at first, a person fishes for controversy by saying several things that they know will offend people. If this garners enough attention, then the process recurs organically -- say, whenever a politician wants to reference the controversy as a coded dog whistle to their base, or when a teaching assistant replays a recording in class because she thinks the discussion is interesting and challenging.

And the moment the people targeted by that discussion get angry and protest, they're described not as being upset about the content of what is being said, but rather their protest is reframed as opposing freedom of speech itself.  Whether you see that as accidental or deliberate probably depends on how cynical you are about the whole issue.

And often in their anger and rush to respond, that target group will unwittingly play along and demand things that create the appearance of doing exactly that, rather than directly challenging the offensive comments. (Though to be fair, it's incredibly insulting to expect people to participate in a debate when said debate is about whether they exist and should be treated with dignity). 

Media, meanwhile, doesn't have much incentive to challenge that narrative, since controversy sells -- and the simpler and more iconic that controversy can be made, the more effective it becomes at drawing in readers.

That's why even when it's acknowledged that the protesters are also exercising freedom of speech, it can be made to sound like a perplexing situation in which "counter-protesters use free speech to protest free speech."  It makes the protesters sound idiotic, reframes their protest and demands as unreasonable, and their actual objections are erased entirely.  It also helps validate manipulative messaging that transforms a group of people who are concerned about their human rights and their acceptance in society into some vague and deceptive "agenda" that is maliciously transforming our nation in ways that no one actually ever has to clarify or substantiate -- because by this time, the people doing the framing already control the debate completely.

This also makes it possible to recast the substance of what is being debated into something that is so delicate and fragile that it shouldn't ever be subjected to any scrutiny or challenge whatsoever, lest free speech itself be irreparably harmed. It redefines free speech as speech-without-consequence, becoming "a little free speech for me, and a little shut-up-and-take-it for you." The intended result is to bring about a "discussion" which is apparently about you, but ideally doesn't involve you.

This is how freedom of speech -- a principle which Canadians rightly value highly -- can be weaponized. It's an effective quandary to dupe people into, seems to work every time, and Canadian social conservatives love and have perfected it. In fact, it's become a lucrative source of income for some of the better-known personalities who use it (albeit with some hypocrisy).

Such is the nature of University of Toronto professor Jordan Peterson's battle to deliberately disregard trans* peoples' requested pronouns -- he was so adamantly determined about it, in fact, that he urged the Senate to oppose a law to extend basic human rights protections to trans* people, for fear that he might be obligated to call someone "ze."  While there are similar debates being engaged in regarding Islamophobia, immigration and abortion (and LGBTQ human rights are simultaneously being reconceptualized as religious persecution), trans-bashing continues to be a favourite and effective political strategy. Apparently we're today's lucrative low-hanging fruits.

And so, the "Debate™" manages to fluctuate from the question of whether trans* people deserve to be dignified as the people they claim to be, to whether political correctness creates a toxic environment on campuses -- the moment one is challenged on the former, one hides behind the latter and plays the victim.

Of course, you experience the debate a little differently when the "Debate™" is you. 

Peterson's debate arose from his objections to respecting trans* peoples' choice of pronouns. In the process, he casts dubious aspersions on the whole question of trans* identity (and, if you listen long enough, chalks it all up to a Marxist/feminist conspiracy to destroy academia and society). If you're willing to plumb it to any depth, it quickly becomes a discussion about whether trans* people should have their identities respected... and by extension, whether they have any right to dignity. You can't have a debate like that without getting a lot of angry speech in response, especially if the people at issue don't typically have a voice in that debate (or at least not one that is given any weight or credibility). Even if Peterson himself isn't intending to make trans* people the issue, it's certainly where his proponents quickly go.

So, that's the context that needs to be kept in mind.  Out of a sense of decency, we don't debate other groups' right to dignity, or argue about whether someone from a different characteristic class should be dignified as "Mr." or "Ms." (which is itself a relatively recent development in language). I'm sure if the debate was about whether clinical psychologists are true academics or just "mentally ill" (playing on the same negative and stigmatizing attitudes prevalent in society about mental health issues that anti-trans* speakers typically exploit), Peterson would find it very insulting very quickly -- especially if he kept having to contend with those arguments constantly. So to have that debate without remembering the responsibility to approach it with empathy, care and to elevate the voices of people being talked about...that is always going to be trouble.

As an example, let's look at one snippet from the extended discussion about the Peterson controversy, courtesy of Rebel Media's Ezra Levant:

"I have no patience for the predators. For the sex offenders who just want to sneak into a women's jail rather than a men's jail. Makes sense: if you're a sex offender, sometimes you get killed in a men's jail -- but you get into a women's jail, well, now you get to be the rapist. I'm against the predators in the Girl Guides. Don't foist yourself into a girl's cabin at camp. I'm against the cheaters who want to compete in women's sports leagues instead of men's sports leagues. I'm hardline on that stuff. 

"But for the truly troubled men out there -- and it's almost all men -- I have concern and worry and sorrow, and I don't want them to kill themselves. I want them to get help. Don't cut things off your body. Being straight, being gay, whatever, do not cut yourself up.

"The American Psychiatric Association is using the dead bodies of these suicides as political weapons. So is the New York Times. And frankly, politicians like Justin Trudeau and Hillary Clinton, and the politicians at Wilfrid Laurier University are too. If you care about transgender people -- especially youth -- stop normalizing their troubles. Stop accelerating it. Stop coaching it. Stop pushing them down the road to what the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention says is a death sentence. Just stop it. And no, it is not transphobic to say so. It's the opposite, actually..."

If Levant isn't equating trans* women (who he essentializes as men) with sexual predators, then he at least certainly doesn't see a need to make any effort to differentiate the two. He still equates being trans* with mental illness (which in addition to invoking stigma also deliberately suggests that trans* peoples' experiences are not "real"), and displays no understanding whatsoever about what gender dysphoria is (nor any apparent interest in finding out).

In his accompanying article, Levant goes on to warn about "insane attacks on society...done in the name of trans rights," claims that Wilfrid Laurier University (WLU, which reprimanded teaching assistant Lindsay Shepherd for playing a recording of Peterson, and then subsequently apologized) has a "massively-funded Transgender Office," and suggests that there weren't any trans* people attending WLU (emphasis his) "until it became cool -- free stuff, special rights, lots of attention." Oh, those lazy socialists: exceedingly wealthy and powerful, yet totally unambitious until there's free stuff going around. And I'm not even going to dignify his "not transphobic" nonsense.

But he goes further to allege that acceptance, accommodation and medical transition are responsible for an extremely high rate of suicide among trans* people. Levant appears to refer (but does not link) to a 2014 report that the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention co-authored (Ann P. Haas and Philip L. Rodgers) with UCLA's Williams Institute (Jody L. Herman), entitled Suicide Attempts among Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Adults: Findings of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, documenting the effect of stigma and transphobia on escalating suicide ideation. If this is indeed the report that Levant is referring to, then he is certainly mischaracterizing their findings.

So in other words, Ezra Levant is so willfully blind to the stigmatizing effect that attitudes like his have on trans* people (or as he dismissively minimizes whenever it comes to human rights issues, "hurt feelings") that he has to twist the high incidence of suicide back into his "illness" paradigm by asserting that all of their troubles would be solved if they would simply stop being trans* -- which is an easy expectation to have when you start from a premise that the existence of trans* people has no basis in reality whatsoever.

It should be no surprise to anyone that trans* people find the "Debate™" to be triggering and toxic.

Crossposted to Dented Blue Mercedes.

Photo: Adobe Stock, with modification by author

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Categories: News for progressives

Canadian banks need to stop fleecing low and moderate income users

Mon, 2017-12-04 23:20
Donna Borden

"We say 'More,' he says 'No!,' Mor-neau, Mor-neau!" I yelled, along with my fellow ACORN members outside Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s constituency office in Toronto this morning. As cars honked in support, we demanded that the Minister improves the consumer protection framework under the Bank Act, so that people on lower-incomes can have access to fair financial services. Our National Day of Action on Fair Banking saw ACORN members taking to the streets in New Westminster, Calgary, Regina, Toronto, Hamilton, Mississauga, Ottawa, Montreal and Halifax, urging the Government to take action. The Bank Act is currently under review, providing an opportunity for the Liberals to implement regulations that meet the needs of their citizens, and we want to make sure they do so.

ACORN's Fair Banking campaign is important to me. I joined ACORN in 2014 after I ran into problems with a CitiFinancial installment loan (now Fairstone). At the time, I had approached my bank to consolidate my loan payments, to make it easier to repay. However, the bank told me that I had too much credit. Not that I had bad credit, just too much. So they wouldn't offer me a loan. Left with no alternative, I signed up for a $10,000 loan with Citifinancial. The interest rate was under the 60 per cent permissible by under the Criminal Code. Yet, with the addition of thousands of dollars of insurance premiums, I soon realized it was going to be impossible to pay the loan back. I reached a point where I had repaid $25,000 for a $10,000 loan and CitiFinancial were still saying I owed money.

After searching every corner of the internet to find out how I could resolve this issue, I found that there are little consumer protections in place to protect people like me from these unscrupulous lenders. I reached out to ACORN and found that there are many others in a similar situation -- the Government isn't doing their duty to protect low-income people. While wealthy Canadians can access affordable loans, low and moderate-income Canadians are being denied access to basic credit by mainstream banks. At a time where Canadians are racking up debt-to-income at rate of 169.9 per cent, an increase of over 93 per cent since 1990 (according to Statistics Canada), more and more low-income earners are being pushed into relying on fringe financial services, that charge predatory rates.

Our Fair Banking campaign calls for the Federal Government to mandate the banks to provide access to fair financial services for low and moderate-income earners, including:

  • Access to low-interest credit for emergencies;
  • Access to low-interest overdraft protection;
  • No holds on cheques;
  • Lower NSF fees from $45 to $10;
  • Alternatives to predatory lenders, such as postal banking and credit union credit products geared toward low and moderate income families;
  • Creation a national anti-predatory lending strategy;
  • A real-time national tracking system (or database) to help stop roll over loans;
  • Amend the Criminal Code to lower the maximum interest rate from 60 per cent to 30 per cent.

Until now, Morneau's focus when regulating the banks has only served to push low-income communities further to the fringes. Recent changes to mortgage regulation look to make it even more difficult for low-income earners to access credit from mainstream financial institutions. The mortgage rate stress test was introduced to ensure that consumers can afford to borrow, yet by not moving forward on a regulatory framework that addresses the entire market, specifically the absence of a national anti-predatory lending strategy, Morneau has missed the mark.

The stress test only succeeds in raising the bar even higher for low and moderate-income earners who strive to own a home. Even the banks admit that, "If you tighten rules and raise the bar on getting a mortgage from financial institutions, it may prompt a number of borrowers who are being shut out to deal with lenders that are in the less regulated space." In the midst of a housing crisis, this will push consumers further into the fringes and increase the risk that borrowers will get trapped in high-interest, high-risk mortgages. Analysts indicate that the entire fringe market is growing, and with further growth expected over the next twelve months, I worry that without adequate protections in place, more people will be pushed into the same predatory debt trap that I was pushed into.

A national anti-predatory lending strategy that seeks to harmonize federal and provincial anti-predatory lending practices would help tackle inter-jurisdictional challenges and gaps in regulation on predatory lending, which would help bring spiralling debt costs for many low and moderate-income individuals under control.

Find out more about ACORN's Fair Banking campaign here.

Donna Borden is a member of ACORN Canada and an ACORN Financial Justice Leader. 

Photo: ACORN Canada​

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Categories: News for progressives

The week we heard the first death rattles of the Canadian newspaper industry

Mon, 2017-12-04 08:56
December 3, 2017Newspapers march further down their road to oblivionThis week's Torstar-Postmedia deal and Globe and Mail redesign both show that newspapers will do anything to put profits ahead of readers.
Categories: News for progressives

Neoliberalism is a spent force in electoral politics

Sat, 2017-12-02 09:02
Political ActionPolitics in CanadaWorld

What accounts for the "progressive," activist, pro-government, even leftish tone of Patrick Brown's platform for Ontario's Progressive Conservatives in the coming June election: more transit, more for mental health, etc.?

A. Someone bodysnatched the former Harperite MP and replaced him. B. He's an unprincipled politician who believes nothing except what focus groups tell him. C. He has returned to Bill Davis's inclusive Red Toryism that predated the Mike Harris/Tim Hudak eras and dominated the postwar decades.

My own answer? As a young lad of 39 (Brown qualifies as what Niki Ashton calls an "early millennial"), he grew up under neoliberal assumptions: free trade deals are the coolest, government sucks and business must be unleashed. But as a callow youth absorbed by politics, he also noticed the crash of '08 and how those promises turned out false. So neoliberalism is a spent force, electorally.

In their early days, around the time Brown was born, those ideas sounded fresh and there was nothing to test them against. Now there is declining pay, failing social programs, and, above all, the crash of 2008, from which the rich learned nothing while most leaders, like Obama, continued catering to them. That was a watershed, especially for those who once hoped for better lives and now live in despair over their student debt, their dashed dreams of owning a home, or even just being able to rent in a decent downtown area.

In other words, Brown has noticed the Zeitgeist. So have others, like U.K. Conservatives, who suddenly "recognize the good that government can do." It's even permissible to advocate "socialism" (Corbyn, Sanders, Podemos in Spain, the Frente Amplio in Chile's recent election). The alternative is no longer neoliberalism; it's Trumpian racist populism, probably a nonstarter in Ontario.

One sign that Brown has gauged this situation correctly is that premier Wynne is attacking him not for what he says he'll do but for being naive: How ya gonna pay for that, buddy? -- a hoary jibe traditionally spewed at the NDP.

It's not a simple return to Davisism, because Bill Davis was also responding to the Zeitgeist of his time: the postwar consensus. Respectable conservatives like him could still smell the stench of two world wars, a depression, the Holocaust; they realized the old order was no longer acceptable. They weren't leftists, but their perspective had shifted, partly in response to horrors they'd seen with their own eyes, partly from political realism. When the moment is past, its effects tend to fade, no matter what memorials or testimonials are shown to later generations. What Brown's eyes beheld was the folly of 2008.

There's nothing deep going on here, but there's nothing wrong either. People are allowed to change their minds, including for career reasons. Not all politicians can be Sanders or Corbyn, who stayed consistent when the Zeitgeist left them behind, then rejoined them again while they remained where they'd always been.

Kathleen Wynne should be in a strong position here. When she ran five years ago she said, "Anyone who knows me, knows I'm about social justice" -- and sounded like she meant it. But she lost her footing, especially in selling off Hydro One. It wasn't just Hydro's near-mystical status in Ontario; she also embraced one of neoliberalism's core tenets: privatization of public goods, under the hideous Orwellism of "broadening" its ownership. You never hear business say: Let's sell some of this great business we've got to government.

Wynne has since re-emerged as the person she was supposed to be then. Her government's new workplace law is pretty impressive, both for doubling the number of enforcement officers -- business had grown casual about breaking the law, knowing they wouldn't be inspected, much less charged -- and perhaps even more for imposing equal pay for part-time precarious workers. I'm not sure even the dreamers expected that. There's also the $15 minimum wage, which Brown has committed to, though more slowly. So who was that premier who sold off Hydro One and refused to raise taxes instead, or let Toronto do so?

But the party leader in the weirdest position now is NDP Leader Andrea Horwath. Whatcha gonna do when you're a socialist, or social democrat, or whatever she calls it, and you're in danger of being outflanked on your left not just by those damn Liberals but by Stephen Harper's former backbencher

This column was first published in the Toronto Star.

Photo: Andra Mihali/Flickr

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The struggle continues between Q'eqchi' communities and Hudbay Minerals

Sat, 2017-12-02 08:55
Rachel Small

"In my community we are fighting for our lands and we will protect them until we die." Margarita Caal Caal explained to over 150 people who had packed into the Toronto Friends' House on November 23. "I am here to tell you the truth."

Margarita is one of 11 Mayan Q'eqchi' women from the tiny Guatemalan community of Lote Ocho at the frontlines of the struggle against Hudbay Minerals. The women had traveled to Toronto to be cross-examined as part of the lawsuit they launched against the Canadian mining company in 2010. The suit addresses the gang-rape of 11 women from Lote Ocho by mining company security personnel, police, and military during the forced eviction of their village and families from their ancestral lands on January 17, 2007. The company is also being sued for the murder of community leader Adolfo Ich Chamán and the shooting and paralyzing of German Chub.

I first traveled to Lote Ocho in 2009. The entire community gathered in an open air structure at the centre of their land to share with me, via a Q'eqchi'-Spanish translator, how all of their buildings were burned down during violent evictions carried out by the mining company, the police, and the army. However it was only when I met with some of the women individually that I learned about the terrible gang rapes many had suffered during these evictions. To say that these women were nervous to be sharing these stories with me -- an outsider and a Canadian no less­ -- would be an understatement. None spoke a language other than their native Q'eqchi' or had ever left Guatemala. At the time, the idea that within a few years they would stand up defiantly before Hudbay's lawyers in a board room on the 20th floor of a skyscraper in downtown Toronto was nearly inconceivable.   

These landmark lawsuits launched against Hudbay seemed unlikely for other reasons as well. They are in fact the first cases to hold a Canadian company to account in Canadian courts for violence committed overseas. Historically, Canadian judges have typically sent such cases back to the jurisdictions where the alleged crimes took place. Communities impacted by Canadian mining around the world as well as the Canadian extractive industry itself are watching these cases closely to see what new precedent will be set. If the claimants are able to find some measure of justice in court that will mark a tide-changing moment in the corporate accountability landscape in Canada.

But any verdict in these cases is still years away. And when the claimants return to their communities they know very well the dangers they will continue to face. "Because of all that happened to me I must look for justice," Elvira Choc Chub explained. "But because we are seeking justice, the company continues to intimidate and threaten us." The plaintiffs have documented multiple instances of being threateningly stalked by unidentified men. And in the early hours of September 17, 2016, shots were fired outside the home of Angélica Choc in El Estor, where she slept with her two children. Bullet marks were found the next morning on the walls of her house, and 12-gauge shotgun and 22-calibre bullet casings were found nearby.

Angelica's husband Adolfo Ich Chamán, former President of the Community of La Uníon and a respected Mayan Q'eqchi' community leader, was killed in 2009 due to his leadership role in speaking out about the rights violations caused by Canadian mining in Guatemala. Adolfo was hacked with a machete and shot in the head, allegedly by the private security forces contracted by the mining company. In Choc v. Hudbay Minerals Inc., Angélica Choc personally sued Hudbay Minerals and its Guatemalan subsidiaries in Canadian courts for the death of her husband. She will undergo a similar process of cross examination in Toronto in early 2018 as the women of Lote Ocho have just done. It is crucial that those of us here in Canada who support their struggle for justice continue to show up in solidarity.

More of the Council of Canadian's writing about this here.

For more of Rachel's writing with a deeper background on this case (and of efforts in Toronto to confront Hudbay minerals) see this article in Alternatives Journal and her blog posts on the subject.

Photo: "13 Brave Giants vs Hudbay Minerals," a painting by Pati Flores​

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Categories: News for progressives

Supreme Court to hear VICE News case on source protection

Sat, 2017-12-02 06:02
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression

On November 30, 2017 the Supreme Court of Canada agreed to hear a landmark case for press freedom in Canada. VICE News successfully sought leave to appeal an Ontario Court of Appeal ruling that VICE News reporter Ben Makuch must hand over all communications between him and an ISIS fighter to the RCMP.

This is a big deal: the Court only agrees to hear around 8 to 12 per cent of cases that apply for leave in any given year. By agreeing to hear the case, the Supreme Court of Canada will have the opportunity to overturn a dangerous precedent and ensure that press freedom and the integrity of journalism in Canada are protected.

"We are encouraged that the Court has agreed to hear the case, which will be crucial to defending press freedom in Canada," said Duncan Pike, Co-Director, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE). "If journalists cannot protect their sources, then the information they provide will dry up, leaving Canadians uninformed and democracy impoverished."

CJFE will be seeking leave to intervene before the Supreme Court shortly, which will require court approval to proceed. A legal intervention is a procedure that allows an outside party to join ongoing litigation, usually because the outcome of the case will affect the rights of others besides the original parties. A coalition of civil liberties organizations intervened before the Ontario Court of Appeal in support of VICE Media's appeal, including CJFE, CBC, Canadian Media Lawyers' Association, Canadian Association of Journalists, Canadian Media Guild, Reporters Without Borders, Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, Centre for Free Expression, The Canadian Civil Liberties Association, and the B.C. Civil Liberties Association.

Last year CJFE and VICE Media Canada joined forces with a coalition of civil liberties organizations to launch protectpressfreedom.ca, a multi-platform campaign to raise awareness about VICE News Journalist and Cyberwar Host Ben Makuch's fight to protect his sources from RCMP interference. CJFE, together with a coalition of media, labour and non-governmental organizations, held a rally in support of VICE News reporter Ben Makuch as he appeared in court on February 6, 2017, making a principled stand to protect press freedom. The rally took place outside the Toronto courthouse in which he was appearing.

In October 2015, the RCMP served Makuch and VICE Canada with a production order seeking any notes and all records of communications with alleged ISIS terrorist Shirdon. VICE Canada has actively fought the production order over the last two years before seeking leave to take the case to the Supreme Court of Canada. 

The protection of sources is a foundational principle of journalism, making crucial reporting like Makuch's coverage of ISIS possible in the first place. Forcing Makuch to hand over his notes to the RCMP, or go to jail, makes it less likely that sources will be willing to speak with journalists. The RCMP's production order is a simple fishing expedition which will do little to make Canadians secure while making it harder for Makuch, VICE, and all Canadian journalists to bring stories of national importance to the public.

Interestingly, the RCMP has acknowledged as much in a recently revealed court document. The original production order, written by RCMP Constable Harinder Grewal, states, "It is a reasonable inference that this news organization would not be able to stage this kind of interview with a purported member of a terrorist group if they had a reputation for immediately handing original evidence to the police."

Makuch's work has deepened public understanding of a matter of urgent national importance. As the RCMP admits, this work could be made impossible if the ruling is allowed to stand.

CJFE has a long history of intervening in cases that affect free expression and free press issues in Canada, including defamation and libelprotection of sourceshate speech legislation, and access to information.

Note: Tom Henheffer, VICE Canada's Head of News and Digital, is a member of CJFE's Board of Directors

Photo: Ben Makuch/Facebook

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Global corporations have become the greatest threat to the planet

Fri, 2017-12-01 15:47
December 1, 2017WorldWe must begin to curb the power of corporationsThe revelations of the Paradise Papers and the earlier Panama Papers demonstrate just one dimension, tax evasion, of an obvious truth: corporations have become the greatest threat to the planet.corporate corruptiontax evasiontax havensParadise PapersPanama Paperscorporate taxationcorporate greed
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High-profile Alberta horticulturalist Jim Hole does his bit to make cannabis cultivation respectable

Fri, 2017-12-01 12:31
David J. Climenhaga

O Cannabis!

Even a couple of city councillors showed up Wednesday morning for horticulturist Jim Hole's news conference at Hole's Greenhouses and Gardens here in the Botanic City, as the Edmonton-area bedroom suburb of St. Albert styles itself. You can't get much more respectable than that, now, can you?

The newser didn't actually seem to be about much that we hadn't already been told, though.

Hole, co-owner of the venerable family greenhouse business, answered a few questions from reporters and showed off a home pot-growing set-up he'll soon be selling. Disappointingly, the tent-like structure housed only a couple of azaleas, pot not being quite legal yet hereabouts, despite the third reading given Bill C-45, the Cannabis Act, in the House of Commons Tuesday.

Hole will be director of cultivation for Edmonton-based Atlas Growers Ltd., the privately held corporation that is building a large legal medical and recreational marijuana growing facility in nearby Lac Ste. Anne County. The company says it expects to harvest its first crop of legal recreational marijuana in the second half of next year.

Hole did most of the talking Wednesday, but Atlas President and CEO Sheldon Croome stepped up to the microphone to promise to "redefine production standards within the cannabis industry."

Hiring Hole, he said in a news release, was "a major step forward in our efforts to legitimize and standardize the Canadian cannabis market." Fair enough, hiring a professional horticulturalist and media figure with deep roots in Alberta as the public face of a pot-growing company does send a message of respectability about an industry that is still highly controversial.

A horticulture expert regularly heard on the CBC certainly comes across as more decorous than hiring a former police chief or justice minister who used to send pot users to jail, as some folks in the marijuana industry have recently done. If you ask me, using former cops to market pot is the definition of bad optics.

Hole of course, is the son of the late Lois Hole, founder of the greenhouse business, gardening guru, author and beloved lieutenant governor of Alberta. Asked by a reporter if his mother would have approved, Hole responded: "Mom would be happy. She loved helping people."

I don't think Hole was entirely blowing smoke. I have no doubt Lois Hole would be happy. She was, after all, a shrewd and tough-minded businesswoman, and legal marijuana looks to soon be a multi-billion-dollar horticultural business in Canada, which is getting into it as an entire country before anyone else in the industrialized world.

As for the real or imagined therapeutic benefits of the hardy weed that Hole seemed to be referring to, I'll leave that to the medical experts.

But the new cannabis era that Canada is entering at a dizzying pace under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's Liberal government is having a faintly disorienting effect on a lot of us -- even if we were part of that tiny group of Canadians who never thought marijuana should be outlawed.

By that I don't mean the pungent smell of the burning herb now common every lunch hour on the streets of downtown Edmonton, even though formal legalization isn't expected to take place until Cannabis Day, I mean Canada Day, next summer.

No, I have in mind the entirely legitimate concern of many Canadians we're not moving to legalization and full marketization of this drug quite the right way.

Overnight, a substance that could net a seller or even a user a long prison sentence, is turning into a full-blown legal recreational product pushed by major corporations with virtually no controls on how they advertise or sell the stuff other than an age limit for buyers.

Seriously, should we really be letting large private corporations market marijuana like Big Tobacco through corner-store outlets with near-zero accountability? What could possibly go wrong?

Handing the marketing and profits to the private sector as the Alberta NDP plan to do while socializing the risks seems like going about this in a bass-ackwards way.

Of course, not everyone who worries about legal marijuana is worried about the same stuff.

Take Ron Orr, for example, the United Conservative Party's culture and tourism critic, who thinks legalizing marijuana will spark a Communist revolution in Canada.

By now all of Canada knows that the MLA for Lacombe-Ponoka told the Alberta Legislature on Wednesday the "human tragedy of what's going to happen with this is yet to be revealed," which might just be true, and that "nobody's taken a moment to think about it," which almost certainly is.

He went on, however, to argue there are historical parallels between Canada's imminent Horticultural Revolution and China's Cultural Revolution under the Communist Party of Mao Zedong.

Orr told the House he believes use of opium in China contributed to the rise of Communism there, so the use of pot in Canada could obviously lead to a Communist revolution in Canada.

This suggests the former Wildroser doesn't really have a strong handle on either history or cause and effect. Still, if you apply a little good old 19th-century Marxist analysis, you might come up with an argument he's right just the same.

After all, opium in China was pushed by the British as part of their imperial project, and the eventual reaction to imperialism in China was communism. Still, something tells me this isn't what Orr had in mind.

Give him a little time. He's the tourism critic, after all. With marketing advice from folks like Jim Hole, the UCP will soon be demanding the government support Bud & Breakfast bus tours through the high Rockies of Alberta.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Photo: David Climenhaga

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Categories: News for progressives

Calling someone 'Pocahontas' is actually a compliment, not an insult

Fri, 2017-12-01 10:22
Anti-RacismIndigenous RightsUS Politics

President Donald Trump has the most powerful bully pulpit in the world. Sadly, he uses it to do just that: to bully, to demean, to wreak havoc. On Monday, he met in the Oval Office with three of the surviving 13 Navajo Code Talkers, ostensibly to honor them for their courageous service in World War II. As young men, they were recruited into the U.S. Marines to use their native Navajo language in the war against Japan. They used 600 Navajo words, each of which had a code meaning useful in combat communications. They are credited with helping the U.S. win key battles like Guadalcanal and Iwo Jima. In the space of a few minutes, though, Trump veered off message:

"You were here long before any of us were here," Trump said, addressing the Navajo men, all in their 90s. "Although we have a representative in Congress who, they say, was here a long time ago. They call her 'Pocahontas.' But you know what, I like you because you are special. You are special people."

Trump's dig was directed at Democratic Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, and her belief based on family lore that she has some Cherokee ancestry. There is no evidence that she ever used the claim to advance her career. Her unverified lineage became an issue in her 2012 senatorial campaign, and Trump, perceiving her as a potential challenger in 2020, has repeatedly called her "Pocahontas."

To add insult to injury, the backdrop of the Oval Office ceremony with the Navajo veterans was a portrait of President Andrew Jackson that Trump had installed upon assuming the presidency. During his two terms, from 1829-1837, President Jackson, known as "Indian Killer" and "Sharp Knife," accelerated the removal of native tribes from the southeastern U.S., with forced marches to reservations west of the Mississippi River. Thousands of Native Americans died. These death marches would become known as the "Trail of Tears."

If Trump were a reader of history, he might know that calling someone "Pocahontas" is actually a compliment, not an insult. Pocahontas was a real person who displayed courage and conviction in her very short life. She was born around 1595 in the Tidewater region of what is now called Virginia, and was named Matoaka, then nicknamed Pocahontas. Her father was named Powhatan, which also was the name of the affiliation of 30 or so Algonquin tribes in the region. According to one account, she saved English colonist John Smith from execution in 1607. In 1995, Disney released a blockbuster animated film based on that story.

"Most Americans at this point understand her as a Disney character," Mary Kathryn Nagle told us on the Democracy Now! news hour. Nagle is a citizen of Cherokee Nation and an attorney who works to restore tribal sovereignty and jurisdiction. "Her real true story has been commodified and retold in a false narrative that celebrates her union with her abuser. She was a survivor of a form of violence, of colonial violence, at a time when native women were primary targets, because the colonial powers who came over here from 1492 and even past 1776 knew that a primary way of destroying a tribal nation, an Indigenous nation, is to attack the women."

Matoaka, or Pocahontas, actively sought peace between her Indigenous people and the white, European colonists. In 1613, she was kidnapped and held prisoner at Jamestown. During captivity, she converted to Christianity and later married John Rolfe, a prominent tobacco grower. Rolfe took her to England, where she died at the age of 20 or 21. She was buried in Gravesend, England, and her remains have never been located.

The abduction of Matoaka/Pocahontas has current parallels. The disappearance of native women from the oil boom fields of North Dakota and the Canadian tar sands region is an ongoing and underreported epidemic. Olivia Lone Bear, a 32-year-old mother of five from the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation in North Dakota, has been missing since October 24. She is just one of hundreds who have gone missing.

Imagine if Trump used his vast Twitter following to assist in the search for Olivia. Instead, Trump retweets anti-Muslim videos put out by an extreme right-wing racist group from the U.K., attacks African-American athletes for their civil-rights protests, and supports Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, accused of child molestation and serial sexual harassment of teenage girls. Meanwhile, Trump himself stands accused of sexual harassment and assault by no less than 16 women.

Pocahontas died 400 years ago this year. Let's remember her name, not because it is invoked by a powerful man who preys on the vulnerable, but to inspire action, advancing Indigenous rights and women's rights.

This column was first published on Democracy Now!

Image: Simon van de Passe/Wikimedia Commons

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Concerns about election tampering during Honduran Presidential election

Fri, 2017-12-01 07:43
Raul Burbano

Common Frontiers expresses profound concern over the environment of intimidation in Honduras leading up to the elections and the electoral process itself, which has been plagued by delays and a lack of transparency during the vote tally. We are also concerned by allegations of election tampering and falsification of elections results.

On Sunday November 26, 2017, Honduras held elections for president, the National Assembly, and mayors. Leading up to the elections, Honduras experienced escalating militarization and intimidation intended to strike fear in opposition coalition supporters. 

Former President Manuel Zelaya's leftist Liberty and Refoundation Party (LIBRE) and Salvador Nasralla's centrist Anticorruption Party (PAC) had joined to form the Alliance Against Dictatorship coalition to run in the elections.

Supporters of the opposition alliances have experienced electoral fraud in the past. It was President Juan Orlando Hernandez's National Party that engineered the coup which deposed President Manuel Zelaya from office. Hernandez' National Party has control over many of the country's institutions, including the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) and the Supreme Court, that eliminated terms limits so he could run for re-election.

Amid allegations of fraud, the TSE, which is responsible for overseeing elections, still has not declared a winner in Sunday's presidential vote.

With 60 per cent of ballots counted, the TSE announced initial results on Sunday showing Alliance Against the Dictatorship's presidential candidate Salvador Nasralla leading by 5 per cent over incumbent National Party candidate Juan Orlando Hernandez. Two members of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE), Marco Lobo and Eric Mejia, stated the Opposition Alliance candidate Salvador Nasralla's lead in the vote was irreversible.

Inexplicably, election authorities then stopped giving results for more than 24 hours. The long pause in results have led many in Nasralla's party to suspect fraud and his supporters have taken to the streets in protest.

On Tuesday, the TSE finally began releasing vote totals which showed, Nasralla's lead dropping rapidly, and by Wednesday morning results showed that it has shrunk to about 1 per cent.

The European Union election monitoring delegation has criticized the TSE for lack of transparency and for failure to document where the votes tallies were coming from.

Several international elections observers in the country have said irregularities during the vote counting could be potential fraud intended to benefit Juan Orlando Hernandez. As well, prominent civil society groups in Honduras accused the TSE of slowing its release of tallies because it appeared the incumbent president was headed toward a loss.

Hernandez has increasingly militarized the Honduran police and adopted a military style approach to the problem of migration, drugs and crime, an approach favoured by the White House administration -- the steady increase of U.S. assistance to the Honduran armed forces is an indicator of tacit U.S. support.

We call on the Canadian government to break its silence about repression, corruption and impunity that have been systematic in Honduras since the 2009 coup.

We call on the Canadian government to stop all political and economic support for the Honduran government until election results can be scrutinized by international observers and declared free and fair, and until the human rights situation in the country improves.

We call on the international community to stay vigilant in order to ensure the democratic will of the Honduran people is respected without repression, fear or violence.

Photo: Matt Ginsberg-Jaeckle

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Hashtag activism promotes inclusion and helps build solidarity

Fri, 2017-12-01 01:07
Krystalline Kraus

Leveraging the power of social media has been a key way smaller social justice campaigns have successful amplified their voice, and larger campaigns have unified the personal experience of struggle.

Not everyone can have the backing of a major political party, NGO or other social justice group to promote their cause; causes that are often extremely important to individuals and communities who have to break through geographical, social and political isolation.

There is nothing better than watching an campaign soar thanks to a successful social media strategy.

Web 2.0 activism

For anyone who does not have Twitter or use other Web 2.0 social media platforms, haghtags amplify campaigns by allowing hive-mind thinking. They allow a quick way for anyone searching a political cause or slogan to connect the dots, one story to the next, thus painting a larger picture than one could with one person's story alone. Not only do hashtags represent a form of information sharing, but it also builds strong bonds of solidarity that can bring in national and even international attention to a cause.

An example of this is the hashtag #IdleNoMore which was created by four women from Canada. The slogan and hashtag not only went viral here in Canada, but also internationality. #IdleNoMore posts came in from as far away as New Zealand where people shared stories of struggles and solidarity.

Sharing and solidarity

Sharing is one major way to promote inclusion and remove stigma around more intimate issues such as sexual assault, police brutality and even murder. One example of this type is the #MeToo campaign, which told stories about sexual harassment and assault told from the first person but shared as a community. For these issues impact individuals, but they also impact communities and larger society.

On a practical level, even if all someone can do is share a link and include the relevant hashtag, that's still doing a lot. Frustrated screams and street chants often make for good hashtags. Some campaigns that come to mind are #IdleNoMore, #MeToo, #ICantBreathe and #HandsUpDontShoot come to mind.

In activism, one movement heroically builds itself up upon the lessons from the past and dreams about a better future. #MeToo has become successful by learning lessons from earlier campaigns such as #IdleNoMore, which when used together, has united Indigenous individuals and communities fighting sexual assault on a personal and newsworthy level. On a larger level, #MMIW, which stands in short form for Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women, encompasses the stories from both the #MeToo and #IdleNoMore campaigns.

Hashtags build solidarity

Simply put, hashtags build solidarity.

Perhaps you're a seasoned activist who wants to research into intersectionality, or a new activist trying to connect the dots between different campaigns. Hashtag can allow both to happen, thereby increasing the depth and breadth of a campaign. Black Lives Matter birthed a few hashtags that came from real situations. Eric Garner's last words, #ICantBreathe, or Michael Brown's arrest, #HandsUpDontShoot, spawned two very important hashtags.

Struggling against shame and isolation are two of the bone crushers that the state relies upon to keep people shut up. Hashtag activism can open up dialogue around important topics and weave intersectionality and solidarity into public consciousness. Smaller cities and towns with only a handful of activists have successfully used hashtag, such as Grassy Narrows and their #RiverRun campaign for access to clean water, as a way of stitching together smaller campaigns to bigger voices.

That is fundamentally what activism is all about. Opening up issues to the wider public so people don't have to feel so alone. That is why I rarely use the term "protest" and instead use the word "demonstration" because we are showing others, demonstrating to one another, the power that lies in our hearts; strong enough can defeat the weapons of isolation, shame and fear.

Nurturing Community

Hashtag activism nurtures community. It nurtures the creation of a shared voice of struggle. Nurtures solidarity even when we are ourselves are racked with pain.

The Idle No More is a classic example I'll always return to when proving the power of the internet and how that platform has changed the very nature of activism itself, from direct actions to international campaigns.

#Metoo is the experience of not just one woman but the "we" in "us." The solidarity of hashtag activism helps to combat the effects of othering’by virtually laying a kind hand on stranger's shoulder and telling them you understood the pain, the humiliation and all the other nasty effects of sexism and misogyny.

The street chant is true: if united, we'll never be defeated.

Photo: badsci/Flickr

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