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Anti-racism at the neighbourhood level

On this week's episode of Talking Radical Radio, Scott Neigh speaks with Rabea Murtaza. She is a member of East Enders Against Racism, a neighbourhood-based anti-racism group in Toronto that came together in the wake of a blatant white supremacist incident after last November's presidential election in the US.

With the arrival of the far right at the centre of global politics via its role in Donald Trump's presidential campaign and administration, there has been a sharp increase in hateful incdients and political mobilizing that embody overt and blatant white supremacy. This is not just a problem in the United States; the current moment has brought out the white supremacy that is deeply embedded in Canadian political culture as well. Yet as awful as this development is, it has also triggered an upsurge in anti-racist responses of various kinds, and some people are using it as an opportunity to go beyond challenging hateful incidents and to draw more people into addressing the ways in which the everyday and systemic forms of racism profoundly shape our communities and lives.

One of the many ways that blatant white supremacy manifested in the aftermath of last November's US election was white supremacist posters that appeared in Stan Wadlow Park in the East End of Toronto. Many people in the surrounding neighbourhood were, not surprisingly, appalled by the posters, and the resulting conversations on social media led to a decision to hold an anti-racism rally in the park. The online mobilizing in the lead-up to the rally plus the rally itself created an opportunity for many people with a range of anti-racist politics who live in the neighbourhood but who did not previously know each other to connect, to begin building relationships, and to start doing political work together.

The group East Enders Against Racism emerged out of these initial conversations. It includes a core group of organizers who meet regularly (about equal parts women of colour and white women), and a larger group of supporters who participate in activities when they can and who remain connected through their 1800+ person Facebook group. The goals of the group include actively countering hate, doing community building and community engagement that are family-friendly, and doing a range of kinds of anti-racist educational work.

In one respect, the group is a rarity in the Canadian context: it's an anti-racism group that is neighbourhood-based. Being neighbourhood-based means that, in some ways, the group starts from a bit of a different place than many anti-racism efforts. Rather than coming together on the basis of a shared identity or a fairly tight political affinity, the group brings together people with a wide range of experiences, a wide range of ways of understanding racism, a wide range of kinds and levels of knowledge of the issues, and a wide range of politics.

Not surprisingly, this has resulted in the group engaging in a wide range of kinds of activities. A central one, both at in-person events and in the Facebook group, is an ongoing process of discussion and mutual education about racism and anti-racism, and all of the oppressions and struggles that those intersect with. This may not be very visible work, and it may not be politically glamorous, but this commitment to having hard ongoing conversations with your neighbours is crucial to what the group is accomplishing. The group has also identified multi-cultural and anti-racist books which it is obtaining and donating to elementary and middle schools in the area. They have distributed signs proclaiming "United against hate" and "Everyone belongs" in multiple languages. They're figuring out how to connect with a broader cross-section of people and communities that exist in the East End. They work to connect people in the neighbourhood with anti-racism actions, events, and initiatives happening elsewhere in the city. They have written a number of open letters taking positions on important questions related to racism in the Greater Toronto Area and beyond. They have a working group that has been strategizing on how to challenge Your Ward News, a longstanding white supremacist newsletter that is produced and distributed door-to-door in the community. And they recently responded to news that the Toronto Police would be hosting a barbecue in a neighbourhood park by postering the park and then being present during the barbeque in ways that made prominently visible the message that "Black Lives Matter."

Rabea Murtaza teaches community work at a community college in Toronto and is a resident of the city's East End. She has been involved in anti-racism work in one way or another for over 20 years, and she is a member of the core organizing group of East Enders Against Racism. She speaks with me about doing anti-racism work in the current moment, and about East Enders Against Racism.

Talking Radical Radio brings you grassroots voices from across Canada, giving 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 check out its website here. You can also follow us on FaceBook or Twitter, or contact scottneigh@talkingradical.ca to join our weekly email update list.

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

The image modified for use in this post is used with permission of East Enders Against Racism.

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