Design for Democracy: Casseroles for democracy

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We are losing our living systems, social systems, cultural systems, governing systems, stability, and our constitutional health, and we're surrendering it all at the same time.
-- Paul Hawken

I directed this musical documentary of the Manif Casseroles on May 30 in Toronto, to support Quebec students, and prompt a discussion about the democratic rights of civil society to control access to our future as undermined by Bill C-38, currently being considered in Parliament. $24 billion in the budget is set aside for Canada's military, yet $15 billion would enable free university tuition nationwide. Beyond their initial conversation about rising tuition fees, Manif Casseroles rallies have enabled a discussion about the Harper government's lack of transparency about their proposed future control of our natural resources through Bill C-38, which repeals 70 laws hidden in this 420-page omnibus bill, of which 30 per cent is not about the budget. MP Elizabeth May has called this juggernaut of repeals "the Environmental Devastation Act."

As a Torontonian and ex-Montrealer, I was so moved by Jeremie Battaglia's black-and-white video Casseroles - Montréal, 24 Mai 2012, that I decided to make a call-and-response video from my perspective -- in joyous colour, with a woman singing -- which reflects the diverse, politicized beauty of my chosen community. "Resilience" is performed and written by Annabelle Chvostek.

As a sustainable design educator, I believe that the quality of our environment determines our health. As our air, water and land become more polluted through deregulated mining and resource extraction, we will pay the price directly, and indirectly, through additional costs to our health-care system. Primary prevention of toxicity at source is the best policy; our energy needs could be completely renewable within a decade if we had the political impetus to research, design and implement sustainable design solutions. Solar panels on roofs of houses, wind turbines, which generate energy from blades inside their columns, and sensors embedded in smart buildings to turn electricity on and off as micro-conservation measures, are being used as design standards internationally -- why is Canada so far behind? Corporate lobbying ensures our outmoded dependency on oil and gas, and international pressures for others' growth have been prioritized by the Harper government.

Canada's Bill C-38, Ontario's Bill 55: Strong Act for Ontario, Quebec's Bill 78, and the proposed budget, undercut the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act to enable unfettered resource extraction for multinational projects -- Quebec's Plan Nord, Ontario's mega-quarry, and British Columbia's Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline -- while curtailing our ability to protect our environment through grassroots opposition and legislation. Provincially, Bill 55: Strong Act for Ontario, and federally, Bill C-38, will enable international companies to extract resources without repairing or replacing what they have taken, and governmental oversight. These mega projects' mining waste and tailings will run downstream, robbing of us of clean water, while stripping us of funding for education, health care and public transit infrastructure. As part of the "quadruple bottom line," government and businesses should be held accountable and responsible for the economic, social, environmental and spiritual effects of their actions -- aggregate could be recycled, trees could be replanted, conservation measures could be implemented before nuclear reactors are built, arable farmland could be classified as protected, and research and development could be allocated for green jobs and healthy economic development.

Although I have written many feature articles over the past three years for rabble about sustainable transit, municipal politics and civil rights, this is my first as a monthly columnist. As a diary of my ongoing research, this column is intended to discuss sustainable design solutions, and provoke the political will for an intelligent future, designed by us, for us. To this end, I have entitled my column Design for Democracy. Collectively, we have demonstrated more grassroots ingenuity for positive change than our present government as we have more to lose as civil society, and irreplaceably, for future generations. Witness the launching of the BlackMark Campaign against C-38 by,, the Toronto Environmental Alliance, and 18,000 other environmental groups as well as the stepping down of David Suzuki from his own foundation to speak out against these bills, as proof of our impassioned citizens' desire for a smarter, greener Canada.

Casseroles for Democracy: Toronto, May 30, 2012 from Elizabeth Littlejohn on Vimeo.


Elizabeth Littlejohn teaches sustainable design, social innovation and new media. The column "Design for Democracy" focuses on sustainable design solutions for a greener future.

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