Nov. 2 2012: Melisa Larue and “Powershift”; commentary on Windsor in the Neo-liberal age

Click image for more on OPIRG Windsor

Listen to entire program here:

I welcomed Melisa Larue, a Windsor activist who I first met at Occupy Windsor where she put in a lot of time and passion, and she hasn’t slowed down.

Melisa Larue (Photo: Ben Powless)

Just days ago, from October 26-29, she was at Powershift in Ottawa, a youth gathering in support of climate justice and was an organizer for the event.

Click image to learn about the event and further involvement

Over the three days, hundreds of young people gathered in Ottawa seeking to teach each other and learn together, “and use that knowledge to strengthen the movement for climate and environmental justice.”

Here, Larue describes the event, who took part, the aims and how it has informed her own activism:



Listen here:

And read it here:

Thursday evening, Nov 1st, I attended a thought provoking panel discussion entitled “OPEN: Discussing financial precarity and alternative economies”. Jeff Noonan, a philosophy professor on campus, and two members of the Broken City Lab collective, Justin Langlois and Hiba Abdallah were the panel discussants. Artist and MFA candidate Michael DiRisio moderated and also had an exhibit installed in the space we met in at Mackenzie Hall.

DiRisio began with a short intro on his work which featured those ubiquitous OPEN flags that businesses use to highlight their location and that they are in fact…open. He admitted to being fascinated by them and that they occupied the space between commerce and politics. I suppose this would be a good place to talk about the origin of flags but that’s for another time. Clearly and increasingly in this country we are urged to rally around the flag in the American sense so the juxtaposition of commerce and politics is clear but layered in complexity. When George Bush urged everyone to go out and shop after 9/11 many of us knew that a line had been crossed and that commerce and consumerism became elevated to the level of national security: keep them busy dammit so they don’t start asking too many questions! The shut up and shop mantra is clearly present in this country as well.

 Here is the gist of Noonan’s opening remarks, and he took us on a tour of liberalism in order to expose the reality of our neo-liberal age. In the mid 17th Century, the old feudal order was swept away in England creating new openings for commerce and scientific change. The factory lured the peasants from the land and the old social order and the Industrial Revolution was not long in coming – historically speaking. By the mid 1800’s with Marx and others to the Russian Revolution the emerged order of merchants and the state sought to contain working class efforts to close the gap between rich and poor. Over decades and through two horrific world wars, a middle class was established with the help of Keynesian economics and a détente of sorts between capital and labour: everybody got a piece of the pie, at least if you lived in the global north. The 1960’s saw the throwing off of the yoke of colonialism and the advancement of rights and recognition for Indigenous peoples. By the 1970’s for various reasons, prominent among them being the phenomenon of “stagnation”; high unemployment and inflation, a neo–liberal order emerged to restore economic growth and their efforts have been a failure even as obscene gobs of wealth have shifted to a new global order of elites who manage a global economy that relies on communication technology that moves packets of financial info around the world in nano-seconds. Capital flows to exhilarating mega cities like Beijing, Shanghai, New York, and so on bringing on the commodification of city life and spectacle. The winners in this neo-liberal fantasy feature urban-scapes of high architecture, spectacle, destination hotels and galleries. The losers look like…well…like, Windsor and Detroit.

 What happens in places like this with fallen real estate values and a bleeding of young people is a process of revitalization by artists – cultural workers is the description – and as property values begin to rise, real estate developers move in to work the magic of a money valued ideology and over time those very cultural workers have moved on as property values become too expensive and the tone of the neighbourhood changes. In Noonan’s words, we are faced with Fantasy Island vs. precarity and exclusion. (Suggested reading HERE & interesting research on the London Olympics)

 Our challenge then is to figure out how urban spaces can be available for everyone and to do that means freedom from money value is necessary. But what does that mean? It seems to me that we first have to take stock of the fact that we WORK in a global economy, but LIVE locally, rooted in our neighbourhoods, our workplaces, and leisure spaces. Democracy doesn’t exist in the global economy. The global economy is driven by an extreme version of scientific management and highly dependent on information technology. People however desire to create real community where shared values and real needs can be met together. The standard of the global economy is bleeding into civic life tearing apart our sense of solidarity leading to a place where our city council can blithely make plans to cut services that are not legally imposed on cities. In other words, council is saying if no one tells us to provide street lights than maybe we don’t have to have them. It turns out the only reason we have street lights is so the city can avoid law suits. Is this building community, or is it pandering to a leisure focused upper middle class who believe they actually live in a global economy not local community? This is complex stuff. The way out is for citizens to organize neighbourhood by neighbourhood. To Broken City Lab:

 In a series of slides, Langlois and Abdallah presented “proposals for living affectively in an open world” with the key being affective – that is being an agent for change:

• Rehearse the world you want to live in: practice what we want where we are

• People not Proposals: ask why not what

• Goals vs direction & Success vs, aims: being less concerned with measured outcomes

• Principles over platforms: echoing Winnie Ng’s call to move from issue based to value based movement building I spoke about in last week’s program

• Arranging agency not organizing armies: “carving out opportunities for agency”

• Set boundaries, allow intersections: cross, but don’t combine

• Fail to meet expectations” “shared concerns do not mean to solve every problem” and allow for moments of serendipity and just ‘be’ in the process

• DIY spatial production: “city planning and architecture as a set of everyday decisions”

• Shared values equal shared resources” on bringing people together”

• Long forms & short utopias: “time vs. tactics” and build up trust by leveraging opportunities in the existing order vs. giving it the finger.

 The BCL is a space working in community engaged art which is a way of intervening in the existing social and political order in ways outlined in the ten principles I outlined here. Their work was described in the Q&A that followed as a form of doing nothing which Langlois defended as a form of resistance. I get the need to be free to depart from the norms imposed all around us while I also recognize the other point brought out that “doing nothing” is making use of space that would remain empty but it is a privilege and what needs to be examined is who shows up to take part and who doesn’t. It occurred to me on the drive home as I attempted to assimilate what I saw and heard that BCL is a showcase for ‘how’. Its very existence is a radical use of space in the urban core defying the other blight of neo-liberalism in that owners will hang on to space waiting for the money value of the space to rise while cultural workers and community allies beg for space to try and “incubate” new ways of existing in community. All of us in neighbourhoods can sure supply the ‘what’, or needs that can be applied to BCL’s ‘how’. We all have a place in the struggle to democratize decision making at the community level. The fight against the closure of community centres and pools for the aquatic centre – Windsor’s sad version of a destination in the global economy sense – was a clear example of the dire need to get organized, not to fight or ‘give the finger’, but very much in the mold the panelists talked about in different ways: first the admission that struggle is necessary and to do work in a sort of isolation as BCL does can only go so far.

 Once we figure out how to go about meeting our needs we will face an entrenched set of elites that can be traced from Mayor Francis’ office to the PMO on Parliament Hill. It won’t be so much as overthrowing an order as much as it will be to transform it from within.

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