Microphone with "Courage My Friends" logo

COVID. Capitalism. Climate.

Three storms have converged and we’re all caught in the vortex. What brought us to this point? Can we go back to normal? Do we even want to?

The Tommy Douglas Institute and rabble.ca, with the support of the Douglas-Coldwell Foundation, present the Courage My Friends podcast, beginning May 26 on rabble podcasts.

From economic and climate justice to rethinking cities and health, Courage My Friends explores our unique new reality, what this reality reveals about the old one and envisions possibilities for a brighter and necessary future.

Started by faculty at George Brown College in Toronto, the Tommy Douglas Institute was founded for a number of reasons:

  • As a response to the growing encroachment of neoliberal forces within education.
  • To provide a forum for both structural critiques of these times and alternative visions for progressive change and social empowerment.
  • To strengthen and build public spaces where educational and wider communities could gather, dialogue, debate and engage with thinkers, activists and each other on critical issues impacting all of us.

That it is located in a college was also pretty important in allowing us to counter long-held assumptions about post-secondary spaces, namely that universities hone the mind, while colleges tone the muscle — nope, we think, too.

Over the past eight years, our annual conference saw us come together in dynamic participant-focused roundtables, visionary panels, and heart-thumping performances. We heard  rousing keynote speeches by the likes of Maude Barlow, George Elliott Clarke, Henry Giroux, Dr. Vandana Shiva, Senator Murray Sinclair, Chris Hedges, Shirley Douglas, Clayton Thomas-Mueller, and rabble co-founder Judy Rebick, to name a few, on topics ranging from climate justice and truth and reconciliation to rethinking pedagogy and confronting populism.

And then came COVID-19… a moment of crisis affecting all of us, but especially our most vulnerable, even as it spotlighted the very systems that brought us to this point. The need for critical and community engagement was more important than ever, even as we had to maintain physical distance. However, as with all major events, we had to shut down and postpone our conference.

A year later, we found ourselves in the same position — locked down, physically distanced and with few resources to organize another conference, even online. But then longtime media partner rabble.ca came to us with an idea: how about transitioning this year’s conference into a podcast? We replied with an enthusiastic yes!

We may not be shoulder-to-shoulder in the physical space, but we can be voice-to-ear (or transcript-to-eye) in the online space. The Courage My Friends podcast allows us to reinvent, focus and resume the important conversations we need to have, now within our new and online normal.

The six-part series begins with “The Convergence: COVID, Capitalism, Climate.” Chair of the Broadbent Institute and author of the Broadbent Principles for Canadian Social Democracy, Ed Broadbent and thought leader and Toronto Star columnist Kofi Hope discuss this current crisis that reveals, even as it accelerates, deepening fractures within our societies. If COVID-19 was the trigger for a disaster waiting to happen, is it also a chance for us to redeem ourselves by building communities and nations that honour the rights and dignity of all?

Eepisode two covers “Labour & Economic Security: Bread and Roses in a Post-Pandemic World.” Anti-poverty activist John Clarke and national president of United Food and Commercial Workers Paul Meinema focus on those living in poverty and on front-line workers trapped within exploitative economies. How can workers be both essential and expendable? Can we move from banging pots to making policies that support our most vulnerable?

Executive director of FoodShare Toronto and federal NDP candidate Paul Taylor is featured in episode three, “Sustainable Food and Zero Hunger: The Future and the Right to Eat.” Taylor looks at the present crisis in food access, the situation facing those working to grow, pack and deliver our food, and whether we can finally secure the right to eat in a post-pandemic world.

Episode four is titled “From Epidemic to Pandemic: Rethinking Health.” Keith McCrady, executive director of 2-Spirited People of the 1st Nations and Zoe Dodd, activist and harm-reduction worker with the University Health Network, look at the situation facing populations living with addictions during COVID-19, and alternative approaches to health and health-care delivery.

With municipalities on the front lines of both the pandemic and the climate crisis, episode five considers the role of urban spaces in “Toward a Sustainable City: Access, Equality, Rights.Cheryll Case, author of House Divided: How the Missing Middle Will Solve Toronto’s Affordability Crisis and founder of CP Planning, is our guest in this episode. How do we envision urban centres built on rights rather than capital?

In the series finale, “COVID, Capitalism, Climate: The Way Forward,” eco-feminist, author and global climate activist Dr. Vandana Shiva speaks to us from India during the grip of a devastating second wave. From structural violence — fomented through centuries of colonization, decades of exploitative structural adjustment and debt, climate destruction and continuing plunder by the global north — to the current vaccine apartheid of COVID-19, the global south stands at the forefront of the converging crises we discuss in this series.

In this age of borderless pandemics, climate destruction and global capitalism, where the well-being of one is intertwined with the well-being of all, can we finally engage in redressing the systems that brought us to this brink? Will we recognize the need for solidarity within and between nations and embark on the creation of regenerative economies that protect all people and the planet?

In the words of the great Tommy Douglas: “Courage my friends; ’tis not too late to build a better world.”

Please join us for the Courage My Friends podcast. Episodes will launch every Wednesday from May 26 to June 30 on rabble podcasts.

Resh Budhu, coordinator of the Tommy Douglas Institute and co-producer of the Courage My Friends podcast, has worked in social justice issues of gender equality, anti-racism, education and the arts. Resh brings this commitment to her role as faculty in the Community Worker Program at George Brown College.