March 8th was International Women’s Day, a commemoration going back over 100 years, and according to the website dedicated to the day, “International Women’s Day has been observed since in the early 1900’s, a time of great expansion and turbulence in the industrialized world that saw booming population growth and the rise of radical ideologies.”
On Friday, March 6th I had in the CJAM 99.1FM studio Theresa Sims a Six Nations Mohawk and member of the Turtle Clan, Hagar Farag, a graduate studies student at the University of Windsor studying the militarization of North American police forces, and Mireille Coral an activist educator and alumni of University of Windsor. She was also one of the founders of the Womyn’s Centre at the university in the 1980’s.
They spoke about personal experiences as women, politics, identity, and who shapes the narrative around issues like, for instance, dress, culture, and what is important to talk about.
We attempted to create a cross section of women’s experiences for a discussion and to start off it was thought each could have a few minutes to describe their encounters in the world as women and the significance of IWD to start off the discussion.
The program is The ShakeUp, a project of OPIRG Windsor airing Friday’s at 4PMEDT
On the line from Greensboro, NC was Michael Roberto, associate professor of history at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University in Greensboro. He is a contributor to the Monthly Review and his recent article: Crisis, Recovery, and the Transitional Economy struck me as being very relevant to what’s happening, and needs to happen, in this area: namely an economic model that works for people not owners of capital.
In forging their relationship with two community groups, Concerned Citizens for Northeast Greensboro (CCNG) and Citizens for Environmental and Economic Justice (CEEJ), Whitfield and Thompson proposed a cooperatively owned grocery store in Bessemer Center that the city would renovate and then rent to the co-op with an agreement that the latter would eventually buy the space. Unlike a privately-owned chain grocer, a food co-op would benefit the community by (1) supplying affordable and nutritious groceries to residents who were among the most impoverished in the city and whose neighborhoods lay in one of the largest of the city’s food deserts, and (2) build new wealth on the basis of cooperative ownership and democratic control in a community badly in need of capital formation but often left out of the city’s plans for economic development. (Michael Roberto)
In this audio section Roberto describes the struggle to achieve a local democratic economic alternative:
Proportional Representation as a voting system, is practiced in 80 countries around the globe. From the FVC website “In 2011, just 39% of the voters gave one party 54% of the MPs and 100% of the power. Our skewed system threw seven million votes in the trash so those voters are not represented in Ottawa. When we add proportionality to our electoral system, voters are treated equally. We actually get what we voted for. Results are fair. Parliament reflects our diversity. Seats are truly at stake everywhere, so MPs are held accountable.”
Kelly Carmichael, who is the Executive Director of Fair Vote Canada was on the line to talk about PR. Is PR the cure for a dysfunctional political system? No, but a truly fair system of voting is a basic requirement of a people-powered political process:
By: Paul Chislett
My friend Robert Mittag, who rocks the airwaves on the ShakeUp the last Friday of each month as Rockin Robbee, posted on Facebook yesterday a call to boycott the provincial election. He was challenged in what I read as a dismissive manner and I felt a need to respond.
Let me say first that I risk looking like I am speaking for Robbee – I’m not. I will be labeling him as a marginalized person – a member of the working poor – while using the problematic term ‘middle class’ to describe a wide swath of people with a steady income well beyond a mere living wage who inhabit the suburbs, shopping malls, and trendy shops in Walkerville-type areas. Many such people – maybe most – have a well developed social conscience, and I’ve met and been taught by many who are academics, union leaders, and so on. I make no judgments; I am trying to make observations based on my own experiences and what I have learned through union education, university courses and my own extensive reading. This means necessarily I must be blunt, honest, and respectful while saying what I feel I must.
What I am getting at here I suppose is the difficulty in arguing social and political ideas as strictly working class vs. the capitalist class. We live in a highly differentiated society where the middle class would never have come to be if not for the struggles of workers during the heydays of industrialization.
To the issue! Robbee makes the claim voting does not create change and he’s absolutely right. It was implied on Facebook that Robbee was abdicating his civic responsibilities by not voting. He was assailed and chastised on Facebook by two citizens solidly embedded in the middle class and told boycotting the vote is the wrong thing to do. Yet, he has displayed more than his share of political responsibility during Occupy Windsor and during his fight against an unreasonable and Charter-violating ban from city hall because of a petition he was circulating calling on city councillor Al Magnieh to resign – a perfectly valid political activity. The democratic process is far more than simply casting a vote and walking away for 4 years.
I was reminded of something I ran into years ago as an NDP candidate in the Sudbury Riding in the 1999 provincial election. I was a union local president and throwing myself into the effort to make change. I saw myself as a blue collar worker taking a social democratic political stand in a party that was created to be the political vehicle for the working class. I was also brought up in social housing subsidized by the government and looked forward to canvassing in those places.
My illusions of being the champion for the working poor sure evaporated on the street when I came across a guy in is 20s, and when I told him I was running for the NDP he couldn’t care less. What’s more, he had no intention of voting. When I urged him to consider that if he didn’t vote others will vote against his interests, he shrugged his shoulders and said he couldn’t see where any party was looking out for his interests. I tried to explain that I was a working class guy lucky enough to have a really good job, and hey, I lived in social housing for 11 years. I’m you, I said to this fellow and I want to represent your issues if elected. He didn’t buy it. He saw me as just another candidate shilling for a vote. Talk about ego deflation. Maybe I needed to hone my message. Maybe I had to get real.
Years later I now understand why people don’t vote insisting voting is not something they see will bring change. Consider this: Mike Harris came to power in 1995 largely through the vote of middle class blue collar workers who bought in to his hateful war on the poor. His government slashed social spending, and in 1999 he won a second term. If it was even possible to mobilize the working poor and those on social assistance, would Harris have won a second term? It’s likely since it’s become far too clear that it is the power of marketing and money that wins elections, not mass mobilization. And anyway, who will speak for the marginalized if organizing could occur and who will provide the means to do that mobilization? Party politics relies on money for marketers and focus groups. Unions focus on the needs of their members while doing what they can for the larger community (which is a lot). But we don’t even enumerate for the voters list anymore and as a canvasser in the past that is a huge problem. It takes money and a sense of social empowerment to mobilize. Too many working poor and those on social assistance simply use too much energy to survive a day and feel disempowered.
The typical middle class response to just go and vote really is a condescending platitude and ignores the real damage done by past voting. Those votes enabled the Harris regime to attack marginalized communities and keep in power the wretched Liberals who spent nine years managing the catastrophe created by the Harris regime, never restoring the cuts to social assistance and other social needs like hospitals and schools, all the while nursing their obsession with public private partnerships. The NDP party, notwithstanding many fine MPs, MPPs, and party members and so on cannot be counted on to be the champion for the working poor and marginalized communities – nothing the party leader says leads me to believe she won’t carry on exactly like the liberals. The only real choice we have is to choose a party that will do us the least harm and that isn’t a real choice and it’s sure as hell not democracy.
Here’s something though: in Ontario voters do have the choice to decline their ballot – I did that in the recent by-election in Windsor-Tecumseh. It’s a formal process where you tell the official you are declining your ballot. You have the opportunity to explain why on the ballot. The ballot must be counted so it is better than simply spoiling a one. HOWEVER! Having done that the really hard work to mobilize the ranks of the working poor and marginalized communities must begin in earnest along with allies across class lines. Make the point the existing system is a corrupt mess by declining a ballot, and then immediately set out to create a real people-driven alternative. If we are to have a functioning democracy no one gets off the hook!
A broad coalition of individuals and groups must begin to put together an agenda for change that might include forms of participatory democracy in budget making ( eg. fair, consistent taxation with wealth redistributed according to needs), electoral reform so all votes actually count in a multi-party system, and so on. What about democratically run work places that would rein in corporate power? That requires an activist government and that would get people voting and involved. Voting is only a sliver of what constitutes a functioning democracy.
We need to develop a new consciousness of solidarity; that if my voting decisions (tax cuts) cause pain to another citizen I now have a moral responsibility to make that right. So middle class voter, if I in a marginalized community vote to spend more on social needs will you too? Can we dove-tail our interests? Can we resist the framework, propagated by the wealthy and disseminated by the corporate media, of worthy/unworthy victim? (That is: beleaguered middle class taxpayer vs. the working poor soaking up tax dollars and sweeping streets of “undesirables)
The “sociological imagination” is a term sociologists use as a challenge to look at the world in a way where we can connect our personal selves with the wider society, and is maybe well described here: as “the things we do are shaped by the situation we are in, the values we have, the way people around us act, and how that all relates to some sort of outcome. Thus, the Sociological Imagination can also be considered as the ability to see things interactively, between the personal and the societal, rather than from the narrow lens of personal experience.” If we want elections that matter we have to more or less master the struggle between our personal experiences and those of the “other”.
Declining a ballot is a valid political response to the dreadful deadlock we see in all levels of politics where cronyism, vote rigging, big money, and negative advertising determines who will form a slim majority where policies are implemented that do more harm to the working poor and marginalized communities. The irony is if this keeps up where middle class voters see only through their own personal lens, maintaining the status quo leading to more oppression and austerity, they themselves will be joining the ranks of those they chastise for not playing along in a rigged system.
We’re interconnected and that’s always been a huge concern for the wealthy elites whose own interests are best served if we ignore our working class interconnected reality.
Listen to entire program here aired April 11 2014:
Dr Gordon Edwards is President of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility. He graduated from the University of Toronto with a Gold Medal in Mathematics and Physics (1961), and obtained a PhD in Mathematics from Queen’s University in 1972. In 1975 he co-founded the CCNR and rose to prominence as one of Canada’s best known independent experts on nuclear technology, uranium, and weapons proliferation.
He has given many keynote addresses including at a 2007 International Conference on Nuclear Waste in Stockholm, at a 2008 International Conference on Uranium Mining in Salzburg, at the 2009 annual meeting of Physicians for Global Survival in Ottawa, and at the 2010 World Conference of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War in Basel, Switzerland.
I began our conversation by asking about the theme: How the Age of Nuclear Waste is Upon Us. NOTE: When I met with Dr Edwards at his talk in Detroit he corrected an error in his arithmetic in this audio segment. In the interview he said “that there were 128 steam generators from the Bruce station alone, each weighing 100 tonnes, and that part is absolutely correct. But then I said that that gives a total of 128,000 tonnes whereas I should have said 12,800 tonnes…”: Email Dr Edwards at firstname.lastname@example.org to get on his low volume email list
Jessica was in the studio again with three songs: Working Class Hero, The Drugs Don’t Work, and her original composition, No Mistakes:
On Monday, March 31, 2014, Stacey Toews, Co-founder and Communications Catalyst for Level Ground Trading visited Ten Thousand Villages Windsor to connect with staff and volunteers and the share stories of many small-scale farmers benefiting from direct fair trade through Level Ground. Toews is a co-founder of Level Ground located in Victoria, British Columbia.
Paying well above Fair Trade mandated pricing; Level Ground will purchase the harvest of about 5,000 farming families in ten developing countries this year.
Ten Thousand Villages creates opportunities for artisans in developing countries to earn income by bringing their products and stories to our markets through long-term, fair trade relationships.
Since 1997, Ten Thousand Villages and Level Ground Trading have partnered to offer a Private Label Coffee Collection in Ten Thousand Villages stores.
As a board member of the Global Resource Centre which runs the TTV store in Windsor, I sat in on the discussion with Toews and Patricia Pearson, also of Level Ground. Following their talk I sat with Toews to talk further about his work and Level Ground:
Targeting the Poor
Commentary by Paul Chislett ( The views expressed are mine and not necessarily shared by OPIRG Windsor or CJAM):
I spoke with Camilo Cahis to get an understanding of what is happening on the streets of Venezuela. He is a national spokesperson for Hands Off Venezuela in Canada. Cahis started off with a description of his work and research and we moved through how Venezuela has changed because of the Bolivarian revolution, the nature of the political opposition, neighbourhood (communal) councils, and finally the implications of the tepid NDP resolution voted on in Parliament:
During student elections begun Feb 27th at the University of Windsor, a referendum was put to the undergraduate student body to support the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement. Having a campus wide referendum on BDS was a first for a Canadian university. The question passed 798 in favour to 585 against, with 1,398 votes cast.
There was a stunningly low voter turnout on a campus of about 14,000 full and part time undergraduates. The University of Windsor Student Alliance (UWSA) has a by-law forbidding media contact by those involved in a referendum. If this anti-democratic practice weren’t in place perhaps voter turnout would have been greater.
The win for the Palestinian Solidarity Group (PSG), who worked to have the referendum placed on the ballot, was marred by an isolated break in of an office on campus setting off a firestorm of fear mongering and the threat from University of Windsor President Alan Wildeman to have the referendum quashed.
A UWSA office was broken into the evening before the voting period was to begin and the word ‘Zionist’ and a Star of David were spray painted on a “Support Our Troops” flag. The incident has been decreed a hate crime and is still under investigation.
Zionism is defined as a “…national movement for the return of the Jewish people to their homeland and the resumption of Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel.” Certainly and unequivocally the right of Israel to exist is without question. But does the condition of Israel’s existence have to mean the denial of the same right to a homeland for the Palestinian people? That’s a question fought over since 1948.
To claim someone is a Zionist without context and the opportunity for proper debate (for even Zionists disagree over their philosophy) is really just plain stupid. To do it by breaking into an office and spray painting it on a wall is criminal, but is it a hate crime? Can the PSG be blamed for the actions of someone’s behaviour? Is the PSG referendum responsible for creating an unsafe environment on campus? The university president and local media seem to think so, and published reports certainly imply it.
An early published report stated that “[d]espite the potentially explosive issue students are voting on … the university has no control over what referendums the student alliance conducts.” The issue is the referendum question and it is hardly “explosive.” In a later report,President Wildeman states, “The university cannot allow student organizations to compromise the university’s commitment to provide a welcoming learning and living environment to each and every student on our campus”. This astounding charge appears to be a heavy-handed attack leveled directly at the Palestinian Solidarity Group.
Let’s back up a bit and look at the referendum question:
Be it resolved that the University of Windsor Students’ Alliance:
Join student organizations around the globe by endorsing and participating in the 2005 call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions from Palestinian civil society; and
Commit to identifying and divesting from companies that support or profit from Israeli war crimes, occupation and oppression; and
Affirm that students have a vital role in supporting struggles for social justice, and stand in solidarity with Palestinians’ struggle for self-determination and freedom.
Let’s then ask what the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions campaign is:
In 2005, as a response to Israel’s persistent violations of international law relating to its treatment of the Palestinian people, 108 organizations representing Palestinian refugees, Palestinians under occupation, and Palestinian citizens of Israel called for an end to Israel’s occupation of Gaza, the West Bank and other Arab territories through a non-violent campaign of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS).
Israel has violated hundreds of UN resolutions since 1948 when Israel violently forced Palestinians from their land with the sanction of the international community. Today, also in violation of international law, Israel continues to build settlements on occupied lands, build a wall that separates Palestinians even from each other, and allows companies to profit while located in occupied territories.
Periodically, the Israeli military, one of the best armed in the world, has invaded Gaza killing hundreds of men, women and children. I have heard firsthand accounts of Palestinians in Windsor who endured the daily humiliation of Israeli checkpoints just to go to work, health clinics, school or shopping. Gaza has been described as the world’s largest open air prison. (And HERE)
For more on BDS listen to an interview with Electronic Intifada contributor David Cronin that Chislett conducted in February on CJAM 99.1 FM:
Even with this violent history, the referendum is seeking to boycott, divest from, and sanction Israeli companies that profit from work done on occupied Palestinian land. Not Israelis, not adherents of the Jewish religion, not individuals. The BDS campaign is a challenge to us all, and critically, to the University of Windsor Student Alliance not the University of Windsor, to boycott and divest from companies that profit in the occupied territories
How can it be that a group of University of Windsor students, concerned with the rights of Palestinians under Israeli occupation, have created a climate of fear at the university while following all the procedures for referendums?
The members of the Palestinian Solidarity Group on campus I know remind me of young adults in the past that fought oppression, war, and occupation. I have encountered from them nothing but humility and a sincere desire for justice and peace in the occupied territories.
There does need to be recognition of individuals who say they feel unsafe on campus, however; can that not be accomplished by creating a safe place for respectful dialogue to occur – an exchange in search of understanding about what justice means and how to attain it, and common ground around the right of all peoples to a homeland and autonomy? Could this not be a role the media and a university president could play in collaboration with the University of Windsor Student Alliance?
Instead, the local media and president Wildeman are playing their version of Fear Factor, and shame on them. Safety on campus, a stated concern of the President and the PSG, cannot be ensured by clamping down on legitimate debate and justice work.
Of course if a university president were only focused on devolving a university into a structure focused on neo-liberal economics and automotive technology, stripped of all semblance of humanist inquiry – arguably exactly what this president is all about – then stamping out justice work shouldn’t be a surprise move. Here many will recall last summer’s de-funding of the Centre for Studies in Social Justice on campus.
The fact is the PSG has NOT created a climate of fear at the university. The local media, notably the Windsor Star, and now picked up on by The Urbanite, the CBC, MP Jeff Watson, and international media appear to be using the isolated break-in and vandalization of property as an opportunity to smear the PSG and discredit the referendum and the BDS campaign on campus, thus fanning a climate of hostility on campus.
The members of the PSG are not willing to simply talk about a just world. They have taken the initiative for non-violent action against a serious injustice that does affect us here. Instead of praise for taking on a tough issue they are met with a hard line threat of censure. In contrast, students in sports, business, and technology programs are frequently celebrated for their work on and off campus.
The PSG is up against the entrenched belief that any criticism of Israel, especially in the post 9/11 world, is tantamount to racism. Our own Prime Minister, while in Israel in January, decreed criticism of Israel as the “new anti-Semitism”. As a result, the brutalization of Palestinians will continue unabated. Therefore, it is left to people of good conscience on campuses and communities the world over to take on the fight in the absence of such conscience on the part of our co-opted leaders and a compliant media.
Gerald Caplan got it right with his response in the Globe and Mail during Harper’s January trip to Israel that he “…will not be instructed by [Harper] about the limits of our free speech, and we will not be silenced in the face of injustice.”
On March 4th, University president Alan Wildeman issued a threat to the University of Windsor Student Alliance. Here is a segment of Dr Wildman’s ultimatum (the full letter is hyper-linked near the beginning of this piece):
I am aware that the UWSA Council will be meeting on Thursday, March 13, and that the report of the Chief Returning Officer (CRO) will be brought to the Council as a final step in the referendum process. I am requesting that you defer the receipt of that report and the finalization of the referendum process until the UWSA and the University have completed their investigations. Should you choose not to defer the tabling of the CRO report, and the complaints are proven to be valid, the University of Windsor will have to consider its options.
Stifling the referendum and vilifying the PSG will prevent crucial work on the global BDS campaign on an important university campus in a city counted as the fourth most diverse city in Canada. What kind of message does that send about the University of Windsor campus?
The rights of the Palestinian people are not some far off problem to a substantial number of Windsor residents. Palestinian rights also tie into Canada’s history. The oppression of the Palestinian people is a result of the same colonial mentality that tore apart First Nations in what is now Canada. The proper resolution of land claims and a nations to nation relationship with First Peoples cannot be resolved until Canadians come to terms with our own colonial past and present.
Too many Canadians usually descend into paroxysms of anger and denial when faced with the above version of our history; however, if one can put aside the manufactured (by the state and school system) history of assimilationist European settlement in Canada, one cannot fail to see the similarities in experience between First Nations people in Canada and the Palestinian people.
Colonialism and oppression are hard matters to talk about, but they must be faced. Instead of censure it is courage that is required, like that displayed by the members of the PSG. And where else but on university campuses should this tough dialogue take place? President Wildeman and his supporters simply want to wish away the tough dialogue that is required to make the world a more humane place. In fact if one reflects on president Wildeman’s patriarchal language around creating a safe campus, it is clear that what he means is students can’t be trusted to manage dialogue around difficult ideas. What kind of university president is that?
We should all be fearful, not of the BDS campaign, not of students challenging world views, but of autocrats in the service of injustice and their compliant media practitioners who want to silence democratic dialogue.
While much of the rest of the world moves to pressure Israel to conform to international law through the non-violent BDS campaign, President Alan Wildeman can be seen to be abusing his position of power to de-legitimize the BDS referendum. He is willing to censure free speech and derail the BDS movement on campus to impose some Orwellian idea of order.
This is a blatant example of autocracy in action which is becoming all too common at all levels of Canadian politics. The growing movement, fueled by the local media, to censure and punish the Palestinian Solidarity Group and end the BDS campaign before it gets under way should be vigorously denounced.
Tell University of Windsor President Alan Wildeman to respect the student referendum results:
Paul Chislett is a Windsor, Ont. activist and host of OPIRG Windsor’s The ShakeUp on CJAM 99.1 FM Fridays at 4PM at the University of Windsor.
Mireille Coral is a Windsor Ont. Based adult educator and PhD candidate at the University of Windsor. Her research investigates the role of popular education in the context of a de-industrializing economy.
ON FIRST NATIONS:
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