A photo of two people shaking hands
The Community Solidarity Project is about creating the environment where communities can find solutions to systemic problems. Credit: Chris Liverani / Unsplash Credit: Chris Liverani / Unsplash

Earlier this year, in response to the Freedom Convoy, the Community Solidarity Project was created – with a goal of combatting divisive politics and hate in communities.

“Community Solidarity is a collective response to the rise of the politics of division and hate. We have seen the impact of this politics across the world, and see how it speaks to so many of our own neighbours who feel frustrated and angry today,” reads the opening of the Community Solidarity Project handbook.

The project provides resources to communities and neighbourhoods to respond to events like the Freedom Convoy protest if events like that happen again. It also aims at helping individuals to reach out and connect with neighbours, friends, or family who may have fallen down rabbit holes of misinformation or have embraced extremist views.

It was started by The Council of Canadians, a non-profit organization specializing in grassroots community organizing.

“[W]e had a conversation on The Council of Canadians board just as the convoy arrived in Ottawa to say, we need to reach out and talk to people from other organizations and see if there should be some kind of conversation about how to deal with the impact of this thing,” explained John Cartwright, chair of The Council of Canadians in an interview with rabble.

A failure to act

The Freedom Convoy protest disrupted life in Ottawa’s downtown for weeks, with the constant honking at all hours and harassment of individuals living and working in the neighbourhood. Convoy goers also engaged in vandalism tothe city’s core, with graffiti and destruction defacing historical landmarks such as the National War Monument and the Terry Fox monument.

The Council of Canadians felt that creating a template and handbook to help guide communities to organize was necessary after the failure of the Ottawa Police Service to act quickly and respond to the protest.

“This is not the first time that hate groups have shown up in our cities,” the handbook reads. “But never in living memory has our nation’s capital city been occupied and disrupted for weeks, with the police and governments paralyzed. Ottawa residents were traumatized, wondering when their communities will be left in peace. It took actions by residents to silence the noise and stop more trucks coming in, and police only cleared the occupation after immense pressure.”

Members of The Council of Canadians like John Cartwright feel that the police in Ottawa showed favour to the protestors. Cartwright feels that the lack of police action early on in the protest made them complicit with the convoy and their supporters, which drove The Council of Canadians into action as they saw the need for communities to have the tools to protect and support themselves.

Collective solutions over individual interests

Cartwright said that the Community Solidarity Project wants to alter that individualistic narrative in favour of collective solutions.

“[T]here was the polling being done at one point in time that a very worrying number of Canadians were supporting the slogan or the intent of the convoy,” Cartwright said. “Where that leads is to saying that it’s all about individual choices,” Cartwright said of the narrative they are trying to counter with the Community Solidarity Project.

The Community Solidarity Project handbook explains how steps can be taken in advance to prepare a neighbourhood or community by building a network that is ready to respond to any sort of hostile or extremist movement that might seek to move in and create division.

One of these steps is creating a media strategy and assigning and training key spokespeople to execute that strategy.

“The strategy should be proactive, starting long before the “convoy” event takes place and including voices from diverse communities. As well as civil society, local elected officials should speak up about community safety and respect for all,” the handbook reads.

These media strategies and communication plans may be deployed in response to different types of extremist movements that are focused on different issues, but the core message should remain the same: that the common good is paramount.

“[T]hat as compared to people saying, I’ve had enough of all authority and I just want to do my own thing, is engaging those people in conversations about the lessons of COVID and the lessons of our own history,” explained Cartwright. “There’s all kinds of constituencies that will approach that, from faith communities to trade unions to the student movement to racial justice groups and climate justice groups. They’re all going to approach this differently and that’s why we created templates that are very adaptable.”

Reaching across divides

The Community Solidarity Project is not just aimed at protecting communities from events like the Freedom Convoy, but also at reaching across the divide that might exist between an individual and their neighbour, family member or friend who might hold extremist views themselves.

“I mean, I know people who believe that Putin was justified for his war in Ukraine or that carbon taxes don’t work, things like that in your life,” Cartwright said. “There are many folks that talk about family members or friends or neighbors who’ve started to repeat this. And I think it’s about listening to people and hearing what’s the source of their concern. And secondly, identifying some of the areas that are clearly a problem in what they put together in their head.”

Cartwright gave examples of how some pieces of information get latched on to and passed around on social media, especially through pages and hashtags that support movements like the Freedom Convoy. Some examples include the belief that COVID was no more dangerous than the seasonal flu, or myths about the vaccine being dangerous.

He said that one strategy is to share information about who participates in movements like the Freedom Convoy and who is sharing misinformation and what their motivations are. Cartwright praised organizations like the Canadian Anti-Hate Network who have worked to identify leaders of the Freedom Convoy and who also showed that most of its biggest donors did not live in Canada.

“[T]hat can sometimes help people to realize maybe they’re being drawn into something that they don’t want to be associated with,” said Cartwright.

The second strategy is to show how working together as a community is in their best interest, such as protecting vulnerable people who are around them from getting sick with COVID-19 for example.

Ultimately, the Community Solidarity Project is about creating the environment where communities can find solutions to systemic problems.

To that end, the Community Solidarity Project has received support from over a dozen Canadian labour unions and non-profit entities including CUPE Ontario, the Broadbent Institute, ACORN Canada, the Canadian Anti-Hate Network and more. 

To learn more about the Community Solidarity Project, visit their website.

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Nick Seebruch

Nick Seebruch has been the editor of rabble.ca since April 2022. He believes that fearless independent journalism is key for the survival of a healthy democracy. An OCNA award-winning journalist, for...