Talking 'movement building' with people who do it in both Canada and the U.S.

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Talking "movement building" with people on both sides of the border

Amara Possian and Jodie Tonita both have connections, of various sorts, with social change work oriented towards building movements in both Canada and the United States. Both have experience with grassroots organizing on the ground, and both are now involved in contributing to movements in ways that are a step or two back from the frontlines and instead focus more on strategic thinking, long-term work, and the infrastructure necessary to build the collective power it will take to win. Scott Neigh interviews them about their movement building work, about leadership in movement contexts, and – despite the important differences between the two countries – about what movements in Canada can learn from what's happening in the United States.

Often, when we think about social movements, we do it from the thick of the fight – from the midst of responding to whatever urgent needs we and people in our communities, families, and workplaces face. We don't necessarily get a lot of choice about that, but the fact is that it can also be pretty politically important to stay grounded in those needs. There's value in making sure that our struggles don't drift too far away from how it all affects us, our neighbours, and other ordinary people near and far, whether we're talking about cuts to social programs, cops harassing Black and Indigenous youth, corporations spewing pollution, wages too low to live on, or whatever else.

At the same time, though, it can also be useful to step back a little bit to think about movements. It's not always easy to think strategically and long-term in the heat of the moment, but without at least the occasional opporunity to do that sort of thinking, it can be harder to build the collective grassroots power that we need to win the kinds of victories that will address the urgent needs that got us in motion in the first place.

Jodie Tonita has been involved in social movements since her teens, initially in the feminist anti-violence movement and the global justice movement. Her involvement in a professional capacity began in her early 30s in the environmental movement in British Columbia. And for the last decade she has been living in California and leading a movement organization there called the Social Transformation Project, which works with a wide range of major movement organizations in the United States to build leadership, cross-movement relationships, and movement infrastructure. She retains connections with movement work in Canada, particularly in B.C.

Amara Possian was born and raised in Toronto and she lives there now, though she first became politically active in climate justice organizing and then a broad range of issues when she lived in Montreal. She has worked for the major progressive organization Leadnow, including managing their strategic voting campaign during the 2015 federal election. More recently she has become involved in electoral politics as a candidate, running for the NDP in Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne's riding in Toronto in the recent provincial election and running for the Toronto District School Board in the fall. These days, she works with social change organizations in Ontario and elsewhere in a variety of capacities – helping with organization building, facilitation, training, strategic planning, campaign design, and more. She is also on the board of directors of a US-based movement organization called the Center for Story-based Strategy.

Image: The photos of the participants are used in the image above with the permission of Amara Possian and Jodie Tonita, respectively.


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 them on FaceBook or Twitter, or contact [email protected] 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.

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