From bookstore to community organizing space and activist infrastructure

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On this week's episode of Talking Radical Radio, I speak with Bonnie Heilman and Peter Garden. They are members of the Treaty 6 Justice Collective, a group that is attempting to address the urgent need in our communities for infrastructure to support organizing and activism. They began from a decade-old independent bookstore in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, called Turning the Tide, and from that beginning they have launched an exciting new experiment called The Stand Community Organizing Centre.

There are a number of reasons why we have a general lack of infrastructure to support movements and communities-in-struggle in North America. Though the issues involved aren't identical, I think questions of movement infrastructure really do get caught up in our society's broader devaluation and erasure of reproductive labour -- that is, the million little, mostly-unpaid, mostly-unrecognized tasks of reproduction and caring and everyday life that fall disproportionately on women, and that keep most families and communities (as well as, let's face it, capitalism as a whole, and almost any social movement you can name) functioning. As well, work on movement infrastructure -- keeping a grassroots meeting space from closing down, say, or compiling a listing of social justice-related events each week -- can be kind of boring in comparison to the more directly fight-the-power-ish elements of struggles for social change. There's also a history of such infrastructure being attacked and co-opted by those who oppose struggles for justice and liberation.

In addition to all of those things, however, our lack of movement infrastructure both results in and is a product of a lack of models for doing it well -- models that are embedded in community, autonomous from the limitations placed by state and foundation funding, and yet somehow able to sustain themselves through the downs as well as the ups of movement momentum.

There are, thankfully, some interesting experiments in communities around the country that are trying to solve the movement infrastructure problem. Peter Garden is a longtime activist who got his start in the punk scene, Food Not Bombs, and the global justice movement. He has run Turning the Tide -- a social justice-focused, community-engaged, independent bookstore in Saskatoon -- for over a decade. Last year, the store engaged in some community consultations as part of making decisions about its future. And what it heard back was that, yes, people wanted it to remain a bookstore, but also they wanted it to become something more. To enact that vision, a number of people, including both Garden and Bonnie Heilman -- an activist who was energized by the Occupy movement -- came together to form the Treaty 6 Justice Collective. Their role is to govern The Stand Community Organizing Centre, a new hub for activist infrastructure that includes the bookstore but goes far beyond -- it's a move from being a place to get information related to social change, to a place to find information, space, resources, opportunities to build skills, and much more. It's a move that brings together a small business and a non-profit, two existing organizational forms that movements quite rightfully tend to be wary of, but does so in a way that may point towards at least one approach to addressing the urgent lack of infrastructure to support activism, organizing, movements, and communities-in-struggle in North America.

To learn more about Turning the Tide Bookstore and The Stand Community Organizing Centre, click here and here.

Talking Radical Radio brings you grassroots voices from across Canada. We give you the chance to hear many different people that are facing many different struggles talk about what they do, why they do it, and how they do it, in the belief that such listening is a crucial step in strengthening all of our efforts to change the world. To learn more about the show in general, visit its website here. You can learn about suggesting topics for future shows here.

Talking Radical Radio is brought to you by Scott Neigh, a writer, media producer, and activist based in Sudbury, Ontario, and the author of two books examining Canadian history through the stories of activists.

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