January 2019 / Toronto - In preparing to write my first blog of the year, the word ‘Hope’ came to me with a feeling of urgency. That this is the message that needs to go out into the sector as we head into 2019 and what could be a most contentious year of political posturing on all sides of the political spectrum; as we as a province and country face the potential loss of ground on progressive policies that we’ve fought for, disappointment in the promises not fulfilled by our elected officials, and a growing feeling of being unsettled within civil society especially in our for-public-benefit organizations as we are challenged to walk our talk in a time of political uncertainty.
There is an anthology called A Shining Thread of Hope which shares the stories of “the lives of Black women from enslavement and indentured servitude in the early American colonies to the cruelty of the antebellum plantations to the triumphs of the Civil Rights era”. The book highlights how the tale of American Black women is a story of “courage and hope as it is a history of struggle”. While I am usually loath to use the historical and contemporary struggles of my people as illustrative of modern-day struggles for more generalized equality and human rights, the title did capture my imagination and so I borrow it for the title of my first blog of the year.
During the holiday break, in between travel and celebratory moments of drumming and dancing as we celebrated the seven days of Kwanzaa, I spent quite a bit of time on social media, catching up on what was ‘out there’. Sorting through the noise of naysayers, xenophobes, and disinformation on everything from immigration to the impact of carbon taxes, I found quite a few gems. I’m not quite sure how social media platforms work, and maybe I live in an online bubble for the most part. But I was pleasantly surprised that in spite of the above, the majority of posts that came my way whether on Facebook or Twitter or by unsolicited e-mail, all had to do with groups and individuals calling for progressive change, highlighting issues and making the links between causes and struggles and sharing a sense of optimism despite the media hype of dark clouds - economic, political, and climate – on the horizon.
The first message that was constant from a multiplicity of sources is the urgency to address issues of violence against women and girls. What was different in the messaging was the role of men and boys and the need to shift the narrative from what women and girls must do to be safe (although that remains important) to how we need to socialize boys and work with men to change their behaviours. Discussions on women’s empowerment – from having decent work/living wages to the need for affordable and safe housing were all highlighted. This is such a refreshing take on the issue and it gives me hope that this messaging came from cis men as much as it did from feminist organizers regardless of gender.
Secondly there appears to be a growing consensus that progressive forces must align regardless of differences in tactics, issue emphasis or strategy. If we are to build an inclusive, multi-issue platform for human and civil rights we must not allow the differences between us to tear apart our movements. This is a message for organizing across race, gender, class, and organized labour in the non-profit sector and the private sector - in fact, in the whole of civil society. We must find a way to speak hard truths to each other with love and compassion and shared hope. We must develop a political program that advances the rights of those most marginalized amongst us knowing that no one is free until all are free.
The most hopeful signs on social media however were the role of young people. There is a campaign by the Canadian Human Rights Commission from December 10 – Human Rights Day that I came across that speaks to the fact that one is never too young to engage in the rights discussion. It is a group of multiracial, multi-gendered children all under the age of fourteen I would guess, that identify issues that they believe are important. They speak to everything from the right to an education, a right to a home, to the right to love who one chooses. Simple and powerful. “And the children will lead them” is what came to mind after my viewing. And the thought that came to me was ‘this is hopeful’. So I enter 2019 with eyes wide open, but with great hope in my heart.
One last thought: I was in Marrakech (Morocco) in early December for the adoption of the Global Compact on Migration. In spite of the political noise and the misinformation about the potential impact of the Compact (including here in Canada by the federal official opposition party who should know better) more than one hundred and fifty countries said yes to a regular, managed, fair and just immigration regime that highlights workers’ rights, speaks to the specificity of women’s experiences and call on governments to ensure that immigration and settlement policies are grounded within a human rights framework.
The important symbolism of Canada’s head of delegation (IRCC Minister Hussen) being a former refugee youth from Somalia was poignantly recognized by many present. Representation does matter. I was proud to witness the important role Canada played during this process. It left me hopeful for the immigration and refugee determination system here in Canada knowing that in spite of the hiccups and the many changes that we still need to make, it is a model for the world!
Hope is the Thing with Feathers (Emily Dickinson)
‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers-
That perches in the soul-
And sings the tune with the words-
And never stops- at all-
And sweetest- in the Gale- is heard-
And sore must be the storm-
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm-
I’ve heard it in the chilliest land-
And on the strangest Sea-
Yet, never, in Extremity,
It asked a crumb - of Me.
A Song of Hope (excerpt) by Oodgeroo Noonuccal (Kath Walker)
"Look up, my people,
The dawn is breaking
The world is waking
To a bright new day
When none defame us
No restriction tame us
Nor colour shame us
Nor sneer dismay."