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A Harper majority. Stifling anti-union legislation. Provincial unrest and austerity across the country. At a glance, it seems like activists don’t have a lot to celebrate this holiday season. However, in these trying times, organizers, Indigenous people, workers, youth and ordinary citizens have come together for the common good.
Inspiring actions have touched communities and emboldened movements with historic victories. Here are our top 10 activist successes in 2012 — and the tools they used to get there.
1. Creative labour actions
The infamous Bill C-377 passed this month, adding to the ever-growing list of anti-worker legislation passed by the Harper government in 2012. Being pushed into a corner has inspired Canadian unions to take unorthodox and creative actions as bargaining tools. Despite this bleak political climate, when the Harper Government forced back-to-work legislation on workers, they found ways to fight back.
After being issued legislation that took away their ability to strike in April, Air Canada pilots began calling in sick on the same day, resulting in 75 cancelled flights. Other workers called a wildcat strike and simply walked off the job at a Toronto airport.
In the U.S., workers took on anti-union behemoth Wal-Mart. The workers’ organization OUR Wal-Mart led a mass walkout on Black Friday.
Tool: Creative protests
The Toolkit’s overview of creative protests is a good place to start finding new ideas. From artistic displays to stretching loopholes, creative actions continue to inspire innovative activists.
2. Legacy of Occupy: From Occupy Sandy to Quebec’s solidarity Casseroles
Occupy Wall Street started a discussion in the mainstream about class and the distribution of wealth that continues today. Occupy changed everything and the world is forever different because of it. In Canada, Occupy camps were still up and running in 2012, despite dropping temperatures. After mainstream media lost interest, rabble.ca was still changing the conversation around Occupy, producing a print newsletter for Canadian camps.
Not only were spaces reoccupied throughout 2012, the energy of the movement kept it alive in different reincarnations.
Actions sprung out from the fertile roots of Occupy, from Occupy Sandy to the Quebec Casseroles, to democracy rallies in Spain, to actions against police brutality. Occupy is not dead and gone but a movement still growing and diverging. The legacy of the original camp in Zuccotti Park has outlasted its need for a physical presence.
Tool: Consensus decision-making
Synonymous with Occupy is the popularized process of fast, accessible consensus decision-making. Because Occupy organizes without leaders or hierarchies, the movement has been able to adapt to include many struggles pushed to the margins by mainstream society.
3. Mega quarry in Ontario stopped
Farmers in Ontario started selling their land to Highland Companies in 2011. Highland promised to keep growing potatoes on the fertile land, as area farmers had been for decades. But when it came out that the company actually intended to drill an open-pit limestone quarry on the North Toronto land, farmers took it personally. Provincial legislation wasn’t on their side and the odds were stacked against the farmers from the very beginning. The community held huge festivals to draw attention to the proposed mega quarry that would unearth and hide some of the country’s most fertile farmland in a giant water pit left over from the mining. From Soupstock to Foodstock, farmers focused their efforts on pitting local agriculture against corporate mining. Their event-based organizing worked. On November 21, 2012, Highland Company withdrew their application for the quarry.
Tool: Put on a concert
Themed events can help solidify a slogan to the real-life stakes in a campaign — Foodstock was a great example of this. The festival rallied musicians and chefs to speak out about how the mega quarry would affect local farmland. The Toolkit’s guide to organizing concerts walks activists through how to pull off their own action.
4. The Maple Spring
In a matter of months, students in Quebec not only staved off tuition fees — they swayed a change in the provincial government. Originally billed as a general strike in response to a 75 per cent hike in university tuition fees proposed by the Charest government, the protests quickly gained support. Nightly “casseroles” went on for more than 100 days, gaining momentum along the way. Jean Charest’s austerity measures were the main topic of the provincial election which saw Pauline Marois become the new premier. Marois’ first action in office was to reverse the legislation passed by the Charest government to quell the student protests. The groups that formed during Maple Spring, such as CLASSE, have expanded their actions and goals. The reverberations of Maple Spring in Quebec and across the country are integral to the student movement and the important lessons from this victory will not be soon forgotten.
Tool: Mobilizing students, public outreach for activists
The Quebec student movement stands out for its democratic and participatory structures and traditions. This is a big part of the reason they were able to mobilize hundreds of thousands, over a sustained period of time. And the Casseroles also worked so well in part because they had the numbers. Thousands of people showed up every night. Reaching out to the community and students and keeping everyone up to date about what’s going on is critical. This guide to public outreach for activists goes over the basics.
5. ‘Robocalls’ legal case
Fraudulent calls plagued Canadians during the last federal election, providing the wrong information to voters. The robocalls have had Conservative links since their discovery but challenging them in court seemed nearly impossible. Canadians started by simply reporting the calls. With complaints being filed, Elections Canada could only ignore the situation for so long. The group Democracy Watch held letter-writing sessions, rallies on Parliament Hill and created petitions to bring the Conservatives to justice. Democracy Watch called on the federal Conservatives to enact legislation against voter suppression — however the biggest robocalls victory is an unfinished story. The Conservatives are currently being challenged in court for their possible role in the scandal.
The robocalls case has huge ramifications for Canadians. For now, Canadians can take solace in the small victory of getting their day in court.
Tool: Online petitions
Petitions not only show how much support a campaign has but it’s also easily shared. This guide shows how to make simple online petitions.
6. Rob Ford ousted
As an early present to the city of Toronto, Rob Ford was found guilty under the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act. Although he was granted a stay, so that he remains the mayor until he has had a chance to appeal the decision, an election seems imminent. Besides blaming a left-wing conspiracy, there aren’t many options left for Ford if he loses his appeal but to run for office again.
The real victory for Toronto activists is that Ford’s likelihood of winning an election in 2013 is slimmer than ever before. On a platform that threatens homeless people, cyclists, queer folks and libraries, Ford’s gravy train popularity has run dry. Efforts like Occupy Toronto and Stop the Cuts helped bring these issues into the public discourse, leading to the collapse of Ford Nation.
Tool: Non-violent street action
Part of staying in the spotlight is holding direct actions to provide an alternative view to Ford’s actions. Activists were successful at holding non-violent direct actions — learn how in this workshop outline.
7. From Attawapiskat to Idle No More: Indigenous rights struggles on the rise
The mainstream media was shocked when Attawapiskat declared a state of emergency in 2011. The crisis continued into 2012, breaking into the consciousness of the mainstream. The Harper government had previously been seen as a government not hostile to First Nations in the public eye, providing an apology to indigenous peoples who endured the residential school system. Attawapiskat brought indigenous issues back to the forefront, as claims of millions already spent on the reserve and mismanagement by the local band were refuted. The state of Attawapiskat wasn’t just the fault of the Harper government but the institutionalized racism that influences Canadian politics.
The actions in Attawapiskat were a learning experience — a wake-up call to some and a war cry to others. Lessons learned from the racism, inaction and frustration in Attawapiskat set the stage for the success of Idle no More. Though the Attawapisakt yurt was a fleeting victory, the project shows what activists have the power to accomplish. Idle No More is already harnessing this power across Canada.
Tool: Attawapiskat backgrounder
This backgrounder on Attawapiskat provides much-needed context for activists interested in indigenous organizing.
8. A new union in Canada
Despite mainstream union-bashing, 2012 saw the birth of Canada’s biggest private sector union. The proposed union was drafted this past summer as a merger between the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) and the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers (CEP). During the CEP convention in Quebec, delegates of the CEP voted to dissolve and join forces with the CAW for one great big 300,000-member-strong union. In a climate where workers’ rights are threatened and unions are shunned in the name of austerity, the solidarity of the new union provides a ray of hope. This victory is more than an inspiration — it’s an opportunity to use the strength of these two powerful voices in the labour movement to create further change. The currently unnamed union will have a lot to prove in the coming year but one fact is already certain: labour activists have achieved a historic victory.
Tool: The Growing Divide — Inequality and the Roots of Economic Insecurity
Don’t stand for union bashing! This workshop guide to inequality and economic insecurity examines the growing class divide affecting workers and how unions can help.
9. Fights against austerity around the world
When governments told citizens there was simply no money left for vital social assistance, old-age pensions and liveable wages, the people fought back. Still seething from the global economic collapse in 2008, engineered by a failing capitalist system, protest broke out across Europe, Canada, the U.S. and around the world. Megastrikes brought the world to a standstill as citizens took to the streets all over Europe. Canadians showed their solidarity on the day of action. Anti-austerity measures have been successful on a global scale because activists have come to the common issue with solidarity and support for each other’s struggles.
Tool: Solidarity activism
When austerity hits home, stand together to weather the storm. This short overview of solidarity activism sorts through the basics.
10. The growth of alternative media
Alternative media has been critical to the success of social movements — but these days independent media is more important than ever before. After all, we can only have activist success stories if there are media outlets willing and able to tell these stories.
Tool: Support rabble
So, we admit, this last one is a shameless plug…
This year, the mainstream media succeeded in creating a conversation that enforces the status quo. “Oil” sands, necessary austerity and corporations dominated the discourse. Meanwhile, rabble.ca has worked to change the conversation. We’re talking about tar sands, the crisis in capitalism and communities. rabble.ca continued to grow this year thanks to the tireless work of its volunteers, staff and community activists. We were able to give unparalleled coverage of Maple Spring, the CEP convention, the NDP leadership race, Idle No More, Powershift and countless other stories missing from the mainstream. With reporters across the country and a dedicated Parliamentary correspondent, labour reporter and Quebec reporter, we’re expanding our reach further than ever.
Before mainstream newspapers were blocking their content with paywalls, rabble.ca was reporting on stories that matter, without restricting access to them. The content on rabble.ca is available because of the support of rabble-rousers like you!
Steffanie Pinch is the Activist Toolkit Coordinator for rabble.ca. Files from rabble.ca Assistant Editor Michelle Gregus.