Building a broad community coalition in Vancouver

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On this week's episode of Talking Radical Radio, I speak with Deb Cameron Fawkes and Deborah Littman about their involvement in the Metro Vancouver Alliance, a coalition of more than 50 community-based, faith-based, labour, and academic organizations in Vancouver that has been enacting campaigns around public transit, affordable housing, poverty, and social inclusion.

In this neoliberal age, it feels like all of us are becoming ever more atomized and isolated from each other with each passing year. In part because of that (though also because of the many ways that power imbalances so often internally distort and disrupt our groups), it can be tremendously difficult to figure out the basics of how we can work with each other in struggles for social change, even when there is some axis of commonality -- a shared workplace, a shared faith, a shared neighbourhood, or what have you -- from which to begin. And when you don't even have that, and everyone involved is coming from a range of completely different starting points, it can feel next to impossible.

The Metro Vancouver Alliance is an exciting experiment happening in Vancouver with exactly that sort of broadly based coalition, and it is having some significant success. The model itself isn't new in an absolute sense -- it comes from the Industrial Areas Foundation, which was the organization that emerged in the US in the 1940s from the work of noted organizer Saul Alinsky, author of such classics as Rules for Radicals. But it's a model that has been used quite a bit less in Canada than south of the border, and it was very new to Vancouver when a small group started working towards its implementation in 2009. Rather than the more common approach of identifying an issue and trying to gather people and organizations together around it, the key to this model is building strong relationships among organizations grounded in diverse sectors of the community via a commitment to deep and ongoing listening before making any decisions about what issues to tackle. As a result of that slow, patient work, the MVA now brings together an impressive number and range of member organizations. Moreover, it has been putting forward concrete, winnable demands, and winning some victories.

Deb Cameron Fawkes works in a grocery store and has a long history of activism within her union, the United Food and Commerical Workers Local 1518. She participates in the MVA as a representative of labour, but she has also done theology degrees and is a lay preacher, so she approaches the work from a faith stance as well. And Deborah Littman is the lead organizer for the MVA -- her earlier background was in the labour movement, but she also spent ten years as part of a similar community organization in London, England, and the expertise and experience she gained in that decade have certainly played a role in the MVA's growth and success. They speak with me about the Industrial Areas Foundation's model of change, about the process of founding and building the MVA, about its campaigns and victories, and about what it means to work for change in a way that puts relationships first.

To learn more about the Metro Vancouver Alliance, click 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 Hamilton (formerly Sudbury), Ontario, and the author of two books examining Canadian history through the stories of activists.

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