It’s a history tour — not just the history of rabble.ca, but a history of progressive politics, the labour movement, and grassroots organizing. It’s also a history of media itself, in which our team has played no small part.
We also invited some of our founders and earliest contributors to look back on the history of rabble.ca and the Canadian history that unfolded in our (virtual) pages. Some of these articles are sprinkled throughout this list for context.
First things first
On April 20 and 21, 2001, 34 heads of state from North and South America gathered in Quebec City for the third Summit of the Americas. The summit was a round of negotiations toward a proposed new continental trade agreement, the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), modelled after the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
At least 20,000 civil society activists, trade unionists and environmentalists from throughout the Americas descended on Quebec City to protest both the Free Trade Area of the Americas with its corporate backers, and the massive security measures put in place to keep the demonstrators away from officials (including a three-metre-high concrete and wire barricade).
rabble.ca had just been launched, and was on the front lines of the clashes in the streets of Quebec, telling the story of the dangers of these free trade deals and of the growing protests to confront them. Activist and author Maude Barlow looks back.
2001: Also shortly after rabble’s launch in 2001, we saw history taking place in real time when the Twin Towers fell on September 11 and shortly after, then-president George Bush declared a “war on terror.” There were vocal opponents to the war, of course, including Canadian sociologist Sunera Thobani. As Lynn Coady wrote here, the Canadian media was not so keen on hearing it, instead amplifying those who would accuse anti-war rhetoric of being pro-terrorism.
2002: In September 2002, David Bernans wrote about the aftermath of a protest at Concordia University that forced the cancellation of Benjamin Netanyahu’s planned speech on campus.
2003: Angela Bischoff recounts how she was left “emotionally exhausted” after hearing about the horrors imposed upon poor communities in the name of globalization and western-imposed “development” at the Asian Social Forum in Hyderabad.
2004: Stephen Harper was the newly minted leader of the Conservative Party of Canada. Duncan Cameron offered his take on the impending negative attack ad campaigns from both sides of the aisle.
2005: In 2005, rabble made media history when it launched its very own podcast network — years before Apple. Listen to an early interview with the one and only Stephen Lewis, hosted by podcasters Meagan Perry and Wayne MacPhail.
2006: All the way back in 2006, now-MPP Catherine Fife was writing about the need for a national child-care plan. Yes, that’s 15 years ago. In 2021, a national child-care plan finally made its debut in the federal budget. Will there be follow through? Time will tell.
2007: In 2007, Tricia Hylton wrote about how the shooting death of 14-year-old Jordan Manners caused her fears for her own Black son to boil up. Fourteen years later, what has changed?
2008: Paul Tulloch asked, “If the auto sector is allowed to die in Canada, the question is: what industry can replace the wealth-generating capacity of the auto sector?” He concluded there wasn’t one. Perhaps that is still true, but with more current and former autoplants transitioning to electric battery production, the industry has certainly evolved — but not beyond recognition.
2009: In 2009, Roz Allen was writing about net neutrality: “We still have the power to make sure that when it comes to free speech on the Canadian Interweb, the artists and producers — in short order, we, the people — win out.”
2010: Eleven years ago, Corvin Russell wondered if Canada was capable of sharing the land with First Nations, or whether the colonial state could only offer resilient Aboriginal cultures a menu of assimilation, dependency, and cultural death.
Surviving the Harper years
Also in 2010, rabble welcomed Humberto DaSilva to its roster with a vlog, aptly titled “Not Rex,” as in… “Not Rex Murphy,” the National Post’s right-leaning columnist known for his wordiness and his ability to be evermore out-of-touch. For rabble’s 20th birthday, Not Rex returned with a birthday wish for the site he called home for so many years.
“When I was 20 I didn’t know shit, but a lot of what I know at 60 about citizen journalism, activism, and the expression of creative political rage, rabble.ca taught me from when it was barely 10,” he writes. Without rabble, DaSilva wrote, he wouldn’t have been able to survive the Stephen Harper era.
2011: On April 18, 2011, rabble celebrated its 10th anniversary. Former intern Noreen Mae Ritsema reflected on rabble’s involvement in anti-Iraq war protests over the years.
2012: In 2012, supporters turned up at Dufferin Grove Park in Toronto armed with pots and pans to express their solidarity with former Quebec student leader Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois after he was found guilty of contempt of court. John Bonnar covered the moment.
2013: “We are all woefully ill-equipped to deal with the multiple crises that are bearing down on us…Our collective institutions are at their weakest points just as we need to them to be at their most imaginative,” Murray Dobbin presciently wrote at the end of 2013.
The ebb and flow of organizing
In the spring of 2020, Sophia Reuss and Christina Turner sat down with three activists working towards system change in these realms: rabble co-founder Judy Rebick, NDP member of Parliament Leah Gazan, and executive director of Indigenous Climate Action Eriel Tchekwie Deranger. They met over video conference to reflect on the future of movement organizing and the power of independent media.
For rabble’s 20th birthday, we published an excerpt from that interview, in which Rebick describes the political climate rabble emerged from and the challenges it faced along the way.
“rabble started at the height of the anti-globalization movement. That movement — against corporate globalization — was strong and growing. There was nowhere that meetings with world political leaders and financiers — the G8, the World Trade Organization — could happen where there weren’t huge protests. But six months after rabble was founded came the September 11 terrorist attacks. And September 11 shifted everything,” she said.
There was a decline in social movement organizing after that, Rebick noted. But what was happening was the internet was growing. And soon, it became the tool it is today, having been the medium through which movements like #metoo, #IdleNoMore, and #LandBack were born.
2014: In 2014, in the wake of allegations of sexual assault against Jian Ghomeshi, #BeenRapedNeverReported took off on social media, one of many such hashtags that would eventually lead to the #metoo movement. Antonia Zerbisias shared what it was that pushed her to tweet three deeply personal memories that she had never shared with anyone, let alone the millions on social media.
2015: Mercedes Allen wrote about how bathroom-related fear-mongering had been the cause of several petitions and campaigns to kill trans human rights legislation in North America, including in the Canadian Senate.
2016: This was a momentous year for many reasons. It was the year of Trump, of Brexit, of the Paris climate agreement. In Canada, it was also the year that the Jian Ghomeshi verdict delivered a blow to the feminist movement. Not all was lost, as Christina Turner recounted.
2017: Desmond Cole left the Toronto Star when his editors told him his activism was interfering with his journalism. As the landscape of Canadian media continues to evolve, John Miller’s story on the matter is worth revisiting.
2018: Halfway through the Trump presidency, Monia Mazigh reported on a 47 per cent increase in hate crimes in Canada in 2017. Both Quebec Premier François Legault and Ontario Premier Doug Ford remained silent about the disturbing surge in numbers.
2019: rabble covered what was at stake in the 2019 federal election that resulted in a Liberal minority. That year, the Liberal party all but dropped its commitment to its “most important relationship” as Pam Palmater explained. Will there ever be a return to reconciliation and sunny ways?
2020: The collective trauma, grief, and hardship of 2020 is fresh in our memory, but we must not allow the lessons to fade away. One major pitfall in Canada’s health-care system that still requires urgent attention? Long-term care. Karl Nerenberg writes about what’s needed to fix the system that broke down hard, causing untold preventable deaths of our elders.
That brings us to 2021. We hope the story of the year will be about record-setting vaccinations, people hugging their friends again, and taking the lessons of this pandemic and building forward — towards a better, more inclusive future. In the meantime, rabble will be here, publishing incisive analysis of the news of the day and scathing critiques of the ineptitude of many of our governments. Stay tuned!
Interested in reading more like this? Check out our brand new book, Everything on (the) Line, published by Between the Lines.
Editors S. Reuss and Christina Turner guide readers deftly through rabble’s deep and storied archives, combining critical analysis with new essays from celebrated activists and writers such as Russell Diabo, Nora Loreto, Phillip Dwight Morgan, and Monia Mazigh. Each vital selection marks a flashpoint in Canadian politics — and an opportunity to reflect on the social movements that have challenged capitalism, racism, settler colonialism, and patriarchy over the past two decades.
Chelsea Nash is rabble’s digital engagement editor and labour beat reporter.
Image credit: Department of Defense/pingnews.com/Flickr