Tonight I am remembering a radical and a man who recognized that white supremacy can’t be fought with niceties and who realized that words and negotiations won’t make the powerful give up any meaningful amount of power. A man who realized that strikes, bombs and guns were needed to bring down apartheid. A man who is still too often depicted in sanitized liberal terms and who in death will likely have his life’s work further sanitized and betrayed.
Let’s also remember that for much of his life the western media and politicians called him a terrorist, a murderer, a radical and a madmen at the head if a communist party with no popular support who should have been isolated, ignored and imprisoned.
I will also remember the thousands upon thousands of black South Africans who died before him – radicals tortured by police, workers whose picket lines were cut down with bullets, innocent people whose white murderers were never brought to justice, families that starved to death in a country with enough wealth to feed everyone, people who died in custody for refusing to turn against their comrades and countless others who were unfortunate enough to be born black and poor in a country and a world which don’t make it easy to be either.
I don’t have time to write anything smart about this, but it is too long to cram into a twitter post. So some quick facts which might not immediately appear related but actually are:
- Today the New Brunswick NDP has not only supported the RCMP’s brutal crackdown on the provinces First Nations and their allies, but actually called on Conservative Premier David Alward to refuse to negotiate with anyone resisting fracking until either activists remove all blockades or law enforcement clear them by force. So the NDP are not only failing to stand in solidarity with the province’s social movements, they want the provincial government to intensify the crushing of opposition to fracking.
- The Assembly of the First Nations Chiefs of New Brunswick have thus far actively called for more oil and gas exploration in the province and have refused to lend full support to the members of their Nations who have been protecting the commons along with their non-indigenous allies. Even gone as far as to criticize the activists on the ground for potentially costing the province and the First Nations monetarily. They have not (as far as I have seen) openly been critical of the role of private security forces or law enforcement in escalating the situation,
- The lawyer for the AFNCNB is Kelly Lamrock. For some inexplicable reason, the white politician has also been serving as the organizations primary spokesperson.
- Kelly Lamrock is a former Liberal Party cabinet minister who lost his seat and then joined the NDP. He is widely thought to be a key advisor to the NDP party leadership with the hope that he will both run in the next election and be able to move the party further to the centre-right to train to gain some ounce of political viability in New Brunswick.
- While still a student in New Brunswick, Kelly Lamrock was a central figure in fracturing the Canadian student movement in the mid-90s by organizing the Canadian Alliance of Student organizations in order to try to fracture opposition to the Liberal Party’s social policy review. Lamrock (along with at least one key figure in the Nova Scotia NDP) helped fracture the student movement in Atlantic Canada an attempt to separate it from its social movement routes and align more closely with small-l liberal lobbying efforts in the midst of a radical economic re-structuring of the Canadian welfare state to re-allocate more and more money to capital in the form of the Liberal Social Policy Review and the Harris Conservative’s reign of terror.
- So in the midst of the start of widespread austerity in the 1990s Lamrock helped lead an assault on a social movement that was at the centre of opposition to re-structuring by helping to organize a rival organization which would side with the state and condemn movement activists in exchange for a metaphorical seat at a non-existent table. In 2013 he is serving as lawyer, spokesperson and political strategist for an organization of leaders who are selling out their own members and trying to use this as an opportunity to push his new political party to the right and disassociate them from on-the-ground struggle and resistance.
Those are facts. Below us opinion, but it is opinion which is rooted in spending too much times in rooms with my generation’s Kelly Lamrock and from spending far too much time thinking about how people of my generation can look at the strategic disasters of the segment of 90s social democrats and liberals who truly believed that capitulation could be traded for access and that access could be traded for social change.
Lamrock is a thread that runs through the politics of our region from 90s to today. And he isn’t a bad guy – I have met him a few times and he is not a bad human being. For the purpose of trying to explain what I think is going on politically, I am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that he believes that his political choices have been the best option for everyone they had an effect on, not just for him. What I am critical of is not his morality, but his political strategy. Even more than that, I am critical of the political strategy that he so perfectly represents.
There isn’t a singular villain here, but Lamrock is emblematic of the kind of liberal politics that he has practiced for decades: he sees social movements not as a vehicle for change but as a wedge. The Canadian Federation of Students of the early 90s and its social democratic positions against imperialist wars abroad and the slashing of corporate taxes and social spending at home was a tool to be use to make him and his policy wonk, big and small-L liberal cohort look reasonable. They wouldn’t just climb to the top of the latter, they would use the backs of the people doing hard organizing to get there.
Likewise, there seems to be a logic at play within the hyper-marginalized NB NDP that has led Lamrock, Cardy and their ilk to believe that the quickest way to convince the electorate that they aren’t radical is to be more opposed to the radicals than the government is. And remember, Thomas Mulcair and many of his provincial counterparts see the 2009 NS NDP’s victory as proof that if you can be un-radical and bland enough you can get enough votes to win. (In the defence of those still clinging to this belief, the Chronicle Herald’s new pay wall may mean that they haven’t actually realized that the voters of Nova Scotia decided that if you want bland and unprincipled you just vote for the real deal and elect the Grits. You get ten more free articles next month, so hold tight, fellas)
The lives of hundreds of people on the ground be damned, Lamrock is going to get his seat at the table. Even if he got there once (a real table! A cabinet tabe!) and did not manage to improve the lives of NB’s most vulnerable one bit.
The sad thing isn’t that he is at it again, it is that he is taking other people along for the ride. The leadership of the New Brunswick NDP want this and they deserve what they’re going to get. Desperation and no direction will take you to crazy places – an few places are crazier than alleged social democrats complaining that a Conservative premier isn’t clearing blockades fast enough.
But shame on the Chiefs of NB’s First Nations for letting the province’s Worm Tongue whisper in their ears and convince them that they can’t control the tide capitalist exploitation and that they just need to use the bodies of the members of their nations to ride it out for some sweet royalty checks down the road. It is obvious that it takes a special kind of heartless to see the people you claim to represent standing and singing for months on a road with the guns of a militarized law enforcement agency pointed at them and to still do nothing. But even if their wager is that selling out the most principled of their people will help them get to the mystical table then they are fools. The grass roots in their communities have had enough, the tides are shifting and they’ve misread them. And they’re following the advice of a man who not only has split loyalties at best, (it is possible to believe that their lawyer has shown throughout his political life that he has few loyalties, split or otherwise) but who has also spent two decades showing the strict limitations of exactly the kind of politics they’re engaging in.
The NB NDP and the Federation of the First Nations Chiefs of New Brunswick have dug deep into the 90s to find a political path, and they both hired the same guide: one who has walked that path his whole political life. But neither the chiefs nor Dominic Cardy have bothered to look at where that path leads, even though the answer is right there, whispering in their ears.
And just like so much of what passes for 90s nostalgia these days, the strategic snake oil they are being sold is flashy and bright but devoid of any real political content.
There are lessons to be learned from the past, but you don’t learn them by repeating the same unprincipled, unsuccessful errors that were so central to the success of the counter-offensive which beat back the first wave of Canadian opposition to neo-liberalism. But just like when students fought austerity alongside trade unionists, anti-war activists, welfare recipients and public healthcare advocates, there are still ambitious, white men with ill-fitting suits and vague politics whispering in ears and claiming that the first ones to capitulate will get the first scraps that fall from the table.
(Good lord, don’t sue me)
I normally don’t care this much about corporate sponsorship, but two events this week mean it’s worth mentioning some numbers and some ideas.
One of course is the Bell Let’s Talk PR campaign. And I am more than done talking about that mess.
I think there are compelling ethical reasons to oppose naming a public recreation facility which is overwhelming funded by public money and which is located on commons land after a company that used to be publicly owned until it was given away to private investors who despite earning obscene profits have let the electrical grid fall into such a state of disrepair that their PR department had to start blaming outages on salty fog.
But the deal makes no sense from a purely monetary standpoint either. The short version is this:
Emera, parent company of Nova Scotia Power contributes $33,333.33 per year for exclusive naming rights and significant signage (it was $500,000 in a lump payment for an absurdly long 15 year contract).* This is an awful deal for the city for three basic reasons:
1) Emera get 30 signs in a highly visible location, plus mention in press releases, some news reports, their logo on city materials and websites and good will for the next 14 years. In contrast the average cost of a billboard in downtown Halifax is $18,000 per year with most major advertising campaigns running 6-10 billboard throughout the city. From an objective standpoint $33,333.33 per year is a pretty good deal. And if $33k seems like a good deal for that much advertising now, imagine how sweet of a deal it will be in 2026, the last year of the contract, once you factor in both inflation and the assumed increase in population on peninsular Halifax.
2) Emera only exist (and makes a quarter billion dollars per year in profits) because the NS government sold a public utility to private ownership at below market cost 20 years ago. The $33k per year they’re contributing is money that belongs to Nova Scotians, both in the sense that they are charging us a profitable rate to access a basic necessity of modern life (and sometimes wrongfully overcharging us) and in the sense that they infrastructure they use to produce profit should still belong to the citizens of Nova Scotia.
3) By far the funniest thing to me is that while its parent company contributes $33k per year, Nova Scotia Power charge the city about $86,000 per year in energy costs to operate the oval. Emera giveth. Emera taketh away 2.6 times as much. The Emera Oval being open doesn’t actually cost them anything.
Money aside, I think the re-naming matters and organizing around a an unofficial name is a worthwhile tactic.
Of course, the city is unlikely to choose to officially use the name that Haligonians choose through the Solidarity Halifax campaign. The CTV interview that aired last night even went so far as to dismissively describe the future re-naming as existing purely in the imagination of activists and voters. I don’t disagree that this will be purely imaginative, but I think that the collective exercising of a re-imaging of public and common spaces is necessary in the times we live in. We have to re-think and re-map the city.
The re-naming of the Oval is precisely this: an exercise in cartographic re-imagining. Cartography is always about making value judgements – a map necessarily includes that which is important and excludes that which is considered extraneous. I am fully in favour rendering Nova Scotia Power and Emera extraneous and admitting the importance of Nova Scotians who have struggled against systematic oppression. People and groups like Rocky Jones, JB McLachlan, the Provincial Working Man’s Association, Viola Desmond, the Morgentaler Clinic, the Gay Alliance for Equality, Jean-Baptiste Cope and countless others deserve to be commemorated and learned from. Let us mark their names and legacies on the unofficial maps that exist in the imaginations of the people who actually live, work and play in Halifax.
It will be an unofficial name and it may or may not stick, I’m fully willing to concede that. But in 1977 after the South African government murdered the anti-apartheid activist Steven Biko, students at Trent University unofficially changed the name of their university library to the Biko Library.
It had previously been named for shoe mogul Thomas J. Bata. Bata was a strong supporter of apartheid – he only sold his holdings in South Africa when pressured to by the Canadian government, at one point saying “We expanded into Africa in order to sell shoes, not to spread sweetness and light.” (incidentally he maintained black servants in his home through the 21st century) Bata was a major donor to Trent and when the library opened in 1969 it was named after him. After Biko’s murder students ran a campaign to have it renamed. The university refused to officially rename it but generation after generation of politically concerned students have continued to call it the Biko Library.
When I first arrived as a grad student at Trent in 2009 (32 years after the “imaginary” re-naming) one of my classmates who had done his undergrad at Trent called it the Biko Library while we were sitting in front of it waiting for a bus. The signs and maps and syllabi all said Bata so I asked him what the hell he was on about. It introduced me to an oral history of the complicity of the University and one of its major financial backers in propping up apartheid and the battle that Trent students waged in the name of trying to right at least a tiny sliver of the collective injustices of a brutal system. It forced a conversation 32 years after the murder of a man who fought and died an ocean away.
It was a reminder that space and names matter. That space can and should be fought over. That people who care more about the lives of heros can challenge the power of those who care about rewarding corporate “donations.” It reminded us that other maps, other names and other imaginations are not just possible, but a necessary part of any struggle for a more just world.
So yes – it is just the name of an oval. Yes, the re-mapping will be imaginary. And yes, I think it is worthwhile.
* It is unclear if the contract for naming rights is ten or fifteen years. (And as a result it is unclear if Emera pay $33,333.33 per annum or $50,000 per annum) Figuring out what the actual length of the contract is seems to be far, far more complicated than it ought to be. None of what follows is all that important, but if you’re curious keep reading.
The proposed but term sheet posted among council documents from December 6, 2011 says that the length is:
Subject to the termination rights in favour of Emera and HRM as noted below, the Agreement shall commence on the Effective Date and continue for a period of 5 years and thereafter be automatically renewed for an additional 5 year period (the “Term”). The Parties agree to review the signage, including appearance and location, following the first 5 years of the Term. For greater certainty, no further monies shall be due and owing by Emera to HRM upon the renewal.
That appears to be a 10 year naming rights deal. The term sheets were attached to council minutes for the December 13th meeting and approved by council.
But news outlets like the Herald, CBC and the Globe and Mail overwhelming reported it at the time as Emera receiving exclusive naming rights for 15 years. The $500k for 15 years number was repeated again this week by Chris Cochrane at the Chronicle Herald. I haven’t seen a single notice of retraction or correction from any of these news papers in regard to the figure.
Emera’s own press release at the time says that “Emera [is] investing $500,000 over 10 years” which could mean ten years of naming rights or it could mean paying $500k over ten years to get 15 years worth of naming rights.
The confusion seems to be at least partially explained by Laura Fraser in the December 12, 2011 edition of the Herald explained the day after the council meeting. She noted that: “The contract says it would run for 10 years, but councillors said during debate last week that the term would last 15 years.”
While council officially approved a term sheet for the Emera naming deal, the arrangements was originally approved in principle by council in an in-camera session November 22nd and a new staff report with new, non-public documents was circulated to councilors on December 6 – so it is unclear to me if something happened to change in those weeks or if the (unavailable anywhere online) final contract actually ended up looking different from the term sheet tabled to and approved by city council on December 13.
It feels like at some point this became a 15 year deal in the eyes of the media (and I am assuming there’s a press release or press conference or updated contract somewhere that I just haven’t been able to find that confirms a contractual change) and HRM and Emera have chosen not to correct it
All of this is a stupidly long winded way of saying that I can’t figure out exactly how long the contract is so I am going with the overwhelming media consensus and the word of councilors. If I am wrong, I am wrong.
Okay, I have some complicated and severely provisionary thoughts on capitalism, mental health, corporate “charity” (and charity in general), public healthcare, the privatization of the emotional commons, and a host of other things, and if I finish my other writing I might actually write a post on it, but for now here are two quick and dirty initial thoughts on Bell’s Let’s Talk campaign that don’t quite fit onto twitter:
1) Let’s assume that Bell choose to donate (the language of “raising” money seems to be misleading here) $3 million as a result of today’s PR campaign.
Given the advertising benefits for Bell this is a sweat deal for them on first blush given their total domination of twitter and facebook and their widespread media coverage this week, today and in the coming days, but if you look at it more closely it is an unbelievably good deal.
When you account for the the 29% reduction in taxable income (not a credit for corporate tax purposes) it actually costs them about $2 130, 000 in donations. (The math of corporate income tax is stupid complicated, so my number here are going to likely be slightly off in practice, but the point remains the same)
In addition, since Bell will get 29% back in the form of not paying taxes it means it will contribute less in taxes to the Canadian and provincial governments. Money that would have been spent on public services, including public Health Care and research. So realistically you need to deduct that 29% in reduced taxes from the amount being spent on “mental health.” So the effective fiscal contribution of Bell’s PR campaign is itself only $2,130,000 since that lost tax revenue is not recovered by the state. (i.e. taxes that Bell does not pay is money not available to be spent on social programs)
That works out to roughly 3.55 cents per tweet that they are effectively contributing.
So let’s say people take 30 seconds to write a tweet, (and think about it and let it load, etc.) that means that in an hour’s worth of tweeting Bell’s hashtag slogan people are collectively “donating” an effective amount of $4.26 per hour of labour to “mental health” as a cause. (and tweeting out your personal stories about your battles with mental illness and attaching a corporate brand name to it is inarguably affective labour in the sense that Hardy and Negri use it) That is roughly 42% of Nova Scotia’s minimum wage.
And in reality one of the things that is actually happening is that for $4.26 per hour Bell are paying you to act as a PR representative for their brand – part of that branding is the image of a “responsible corporate citizen.”
Bell could just pay the same corporate income tax in 2013 that corporations paid in 1960 (or really any point since then) and contribute vastly more to the treatment of mental health in Canada than the money they are contributing as part of a corporate PR campaign. Bell Canada’s 2011 net profits were $2,160,000,000 and its total revenue was 19,500,000,000 – so whatever they end up donating for mental health treatment/awareness could be replaced with stable, annual funding by increasing corporate income tax by less than a sliver of a fraction of a percentage point.
Keep in mind as well that in 2006 Bell Canada attempted to convert to an Income Trust, a corporate model that would have allowed it to avoid paying almost any corporate income tax at all, a move that would have cost the Canadian state about $800m per year in tax revenue. It was only prevented from doing so by a last minute legislative change by the Tories. They sure as hell didn’t care much about funding for mental health in 2006 when they tried to decimate available funding for health and social programs.
In 2007 they also eliminated health benefits for retirees in order to save money (despite net earning of $4,057,000,000 that year), For retirees this of course meant reduced access to psychologists and other professionals and reduced availability of prescription drugs.
So twitter users are effectively being paid less than half of minimum wage to work as a PR professional for a multi-billion dollar telecommunications corporation and then donating that wage to a cause that ought to be properly funded by the tax dollars that multi-billion dollar corporations have lobbied hard to avoid paying.
The hourly wage argument is of course secondary to the larger ethical problem of corporations leveraging emotional, highly personal stories using social media to promote a product in exchange for a tax deductible donation after years of lost healthcare funding due to corporate tax cuts. There’s no other way to describe it than the commodification of our experience of mental illness.
(and yes, I get that there is an “awareness” side to it as well, but that is another complicated argument. I would simply say that awareness is not enough and needs to be coupled with a well resourced, properly funded, universal public healthcare system which is provided with stable funding through a graduated income tax system and that you can tweet about mental health without attaching a corporate slogan to it)
2) I am not sure your tweet actually even “raises” 3.55 cents for mental health. Bell is contributing this money as part of its proposal to get regulatory approval from the CRTC for its proposed merger with Astral Media. In order to seek approval for the $3,380,000,000.00 a merger with Astral (a deal which competitors claims is bad for competitiveness in the telecommunications market) Bell pledged to spend $3.5m on the Let’s Talk campaign. (There’s also other money in there for other “tangible benefits” such as new infrastructure in the north and french language broadcasting)
So the question is (and it is a real question) is whether or not your tweet actually increases Bell’s total spending. If Bell has pledged to spend $3.5m (minus tax incentives) on this campaign and has budgeted for it (and assuming the Astral merger goes through) then that money will be spent whether you tweet or not. I am not really convinced that the total sum Bell will spend out of a budget that no doubt was set months ago will actually increase regardless of how many tweets well meaning internet users make with a specific hashtag. (Though the exact allocation of that money is likely flexible. Further, one has to ask what it would say about a company if they have an amount budgeted to donate to mental health but chose not to donate the full amount if people didn’t tweet their slogan often enough)
In addition, the $3.5m on the campaign is not just being spent on mental health “awareness” but also on PR and on the cost of the acquisition of new corporate assets (i.e. Astral Media).
All of this is not to say you shouldn’t bother tweeting their slogan, but I think its worth trying to understand exactly what the impact of your tweet actually is.
p.s. hello to the PR interns who are currently reading this post and trying to brainstorm how to respond. I am sure many of you would love to be paid $4.26 an hour rather than working on an unpaid internship.
Accounts of the exact number of tweets and texts vary, but estimates for the end of day total seem to be clustering around $4 million-ish. Assuming that is the correct number Bell would donate about $2.8m in total funding to mental health tratment after you deduct the lost tax revenue. (note that earlier in the day I also ditched a re-posted tweet from someone else when I realized that the estimate was waaaaaaaaay off after looking at previous years)
Edit 2: ooooooooooofffffffff I made some errors there with the corporate tax code. Significant numerical adjustments that maintain the spirit of my argument but make it slightly less extreme. I also added some stuff about Bell’s attempt to convert to an income trust. Carry on.
Edit 3: (the final edit) Also keep in mind that in the case of phone calls and texts that came from Bell accounts and which counted for the campaign the customer was actually paying Bell to place that call and send that text (as well as costs of data and broadband internet from Bell internet and smartphone users). Calculating the boost in income from the increased service usage is well outside my limited mathematical talents. It’s also worth noting the awkward ethical position of news reporters from various BCE companies are put in as they plan to gush over this campaign in the coming weeks.
Elections are always awkward times for me. I am not so naive as to believe that real structural change comes through the ballot box, but I also recognize that for many people (particularly the poor) even small policy changes can make life more livable. I also spent much of my naive youth following and being involved in electoral politics and I still follow it with the same sick fascination that causes me to follow professional sports I don’t even like. The end result is that I don’t think it makes a huge difference, but I always end up voting and almost always spend way too much time talking about the strategic elements of electoral politics.
Municipal elections in Nova Scotia are creeping up and I’ve mostly sat this one out in terms of putting any real energy into backing a candidate, but as per usual I will vote.
For councilor I will vote for Waye Mason in District 7. I have known Waye for years and he’s a friend. We disagree on a lot of things, particularly when it comes to political economy, but he is good on some urban planning issues, transit, anti-corruption and racism. While I don’t think he’ll be great (though not “bad” compared to other municipal politicians) around anti-poverty or labour issues he is miles and miles ahead of his main rival Sue Uteck. Uteck inherited her seat from her football hero husband and is awful, self righteous, anti-worker and divisive as a councilor and any opportunity to unseat her is an opportunity not to be wasted. (I am also in an awkward situation since the dividing line between District 7 and District 8 is literally the middle of my street – an really telling example of how politics are reflected in the political geography of Halifax. My side of the street is mostly fixed up semi-detached homes and the row of new-construction yuppie townhouses I live in, across the street crust-punk houses, a methadone clinic and subdivided houses occupied by elderly long-time residents. The blocks just to the south of me include several new condo developments. The middle of my street is the line that divides the gentrified from the soon to be gentrified.)
I will also vote for school board, though I am not sure who I will vote for. Some names have been eliminated in my mind, but there still isn’t an obvious candidate.
The mayoral race is where I am most discouraged. Mike Savage will win by a landslide – likely by a wider margin then he is currently polling at since he’s the only candidate with a viable ground game to pull the vote on election day. I know Savage from my days with the Canadian Federation of Students when he was the Liberal MP for Dartmouth and he’s a competent professional politician, but he’s someone I fundamentally disagree with on my issues. I also don’t like the message sent by the landslide victory of a candidate without any firm policy positions. As a result I am looking to park my vote elsewhere, more as an act of empty protest than as a real act of political will.
None of the other five (FIVE!) candidates emerge out of the city’s social movements: none with background in labour, feminist organizing, anti-poverty activism or community organizing.
The second place candidate at the moment Tom Martin, who is delusional enough to think he still has a shot. He reached out to the professional engagement and social media type 20-somethings early in his campaign and as a result has surrounded himself with a wealth of folks who have never run campaigns, have no connection to real social movements in the city and think that positive tweets and the empty rhetoric of liberal urbanism constitute significant change. I also could not ever imagine voting for a current of former police officer for any political office, let alone mayor. On substantive issues his positions seem confused and often laughable. My favourite suggestion by Martin is that developers need an ombudsperson to represent their interests to the city, laughably asserting that wealthy developers currently hold an inadequate amount of power in the city.
Fred Connors is running an ego driven campaign that is all about FRED (both the brand and the person, though I am unsure if you can separate the two at this point). He occasionally stumbles onto some things I agree with like forcing suburban developers to pay 100% of the infrastructure costs of new development, but he’s also a classic example of a wealthy urban dweller who is ready to dismiss everyone from bicyclists to Occupy activists. He has also, like everyone else, been short on concrete policy suggestions.
The other three candidates are the most puzzling. All were last minute additions and all have had a zero percent chance of winning, or even taking more than 10% of the vote since the day they filed their papers. Normally if someone enters a race they can’t win they are doing so for one of three reasons. Either they are getting their name out there for future political gain (doesn’t seem to be the case with any of these three), promoting themselves and their business ventures (again, outside of a stand up comedian running a “serious” campaign that doesn’t seem to be the case) or they are championing a very specific cause that they think other candidates are avoiding.
What I find so confusing is that none of the three outsiders are pursuing the last option. Mackie has talked a bit about poverty, but he has not been vocal enough nor has he developed either a clear ideological or policy position on poverty in the HRM. Eisses originally billed himself as an environmental candidate, but his positions around sustainable development are not radically different from Fred Connors or even the the vague lip-service paid by the two leading candidates. Indeed, Eisses seemed like the most viable protest candidate at first until he came out publicly in support of the bone-headed, help-the-rich “tax reform” package that would include a charge at cost of delivery instead of pegging municipal taxes to assesed value. A system which would lead to mansion owning millionaires on Young Avenue paying less in taxes than bungalow owning working class families in the semi-rural and rural parts of the city.
So where does that leave those of us who don’t want to cast a vote in the coronation of King Savage II? The two leading options for protest candidates (Connors and Eisses) have boneheaded positions on important issues (and one would marry himself if legally allowed) and none of the unwinnables are willing to take controversial stands on economic or social issues. None of pushed single issues and forced Savage or the media to take serious the lack of social housing, issues of race and racism, police brutality and corruption or the decline of affordable recreation. None of them have even earned my protest vote.
And its a sad state of affairs in municipal politics when I can’t even decide who to waste my vote on as an act of Quixotic protest.
Like many people I read shocking news today: Richard Aoki is alleged to have been an FBI informant. For many people who heard this news it was likely the first time they’d ever heard of Aoki and the story resonates more as yet another example of the degree to which counter insurgency, repression and every day surveillance was a normalized part of law enforcements reaction to the social movement of the 1960s and ’70s. (As many have pointed out, there are good reasons to doubt the accusations at this time)
But for me the news was different. It cut deep. I never met Aoki before his passing and I am far too young, too Canadian and too far east to have been active in the same circles as him. But Richard Aoki, along with Yuri Kochiyama, redefined the last three years of my life.
I research and write about Third World Marxism, the Asian American Movement and about the Asian American wing of the New Communist movement as the basis of my academic work. I’ve spent the last few years staring at microfilm of movement newspapers that featured interviews with Aoki. I’ve seen the film about his life. I’ve read the biography of him. I’ve lived among stacks of photocopies of pamphlets and journals that told the tale of kids with Mao’s writing in their hands and revolution on their minds. And these kids looked like me.
More so than any of my academic interest in people like Richard Aoki the fact that he looked like me is what mattered. Discovering Aoki, Kochiyama and Fred Ho and I Wor Kuen, the Red Guard, Wei Min She and Getting Together and Gidra changed my life. Not because it’s helped me spend three years not finishing a graduate degree but because it let me imagine myself and the collective history I share with people who look like me.
I needed Richard Aoki.
You see, I was left before I was yellow. I identified with the left (first as a naive social democrat and now with more realistic, more revolutionary politics) before I ever thought about my own position as the grandson of poor immigrants from a small village in mainland China. I thought about race and racial injustice, but I never really conceived of how my slanted eyes and my family history were at all connected with the radical tradition that I admired and so very much wanted to be a part of.
White folks have their Lenins and Trotskys and Luxemburgs, their Savios and Joe Hills and their thousands of kids tabling punk shows and university hallways. African Americans and Canadians had Fredrick Douglas, Du Bois, the Panthers and Malcolm X and the obscured history of Martin Luther King’s turn to socialism and anti-war politics. But to be 20, Asian and on the left meant to see no one who looked like me or who shared my experiences. Certainly no one in Halifax where I went to a high school with three other Asian kids and attended a university where there were two other Asian-Canadian kids in my 350 person freshman class.
Richard Aoki, I Wor Kuen and Yuri Kochiyama changed that for me. Aoki was an Asian American bad ass. He had guns. He wore sunglasses in every photo. He talked about revolution and street fights and he stood shoulder to shoulder with the Panthers. He dedicated his life to a set of causes that mean the world to me. All of this meant that I looked at Aoki – a man who made his name 40 years and thousands of kilometers distant from me – as a source of inspiration and imagination. For the first time I saw a politics that really struggled (and though ultimately failed) to reconcile questions of class with questions of race, but more importantly I saw someone who looked like me staring down cops and trying to help run survival programs in inner city slums.
The politics were important but so too were the aesthetics. The pictures I saw of Aoki and his comrades were some of the first pictures I had ever seen of really cool looking Asian-American young adults. No bowl cuts, no gangly awkwardness, no shirts with anime characters on them, no calculators. Sunglasses, horn-rimmed glasses, leather jackets, picket signs and hard as fuck facial expressions.
Up until then I had internalized the myth of the model minority – that Japanese, Korean and Chinese kids were compliant, striving for assimilation, passive, a-political at best and just looking to put our heads down to try to grind out a better future without making waves. I think I imagined that being a radical and being Chinese-Canadian were mutually exclusive. Discovering the radical elements of the Asian American movements destroyed that myth and that dualism for me. (The allegations that the bad-ass Asian American street fighter might have actually been a snitch is what makes this all so emotionally difficult: the most extreme version of the allegations portray Aoki as compliant with the state and willing to betrayed African American radicals. It’s a nightmare.)
Finally I could imagine myself as part of a rich history of the left in North America and that’s why I needed Richard Aoki and why I still do. I never felt welcome in the history of radicalism until I found him and his comrades.
Now that I know that his involvement in these movements is far more complicated than I (or anyone else) had initially thought I find myself trying to figure out what it means. Not what it means for the history of the movement (although it means I may have to revise the thesis that won’t die) or of the left, but what it means for me. Aoki has occupied such a central place in my imagination in recent years that even without knowing any details of what happened in the 1960s I want to simultaneously defend and disown Aoki.
And therein lies the interesting problem for me: I feel like I own his history and I feel like I need to defend him. But at least I feel like I have a history worth defending and worth owning. So regardless of whether or not Richard Aoki was working for the FBI he at least gave me a sense of ownership over a tiny sliver of the history of radicalism on this continent and he created ways in which I could imagine myself as being Asian American (or Canadian) within future struggles.
I still don’t know what to think about today’s news, but I know this: if the FBI hired Richard Aoki as part of their larger plan to make sure that the insurgency of the 1960s didn’t survive beyond that decade then we can at least rest assured that their plan blew up in their faces. If the allegations are true then they hired a man who inspired generations of activists to see the struggle of Asian Americans as linked to the struggle of their Black, Latino, Puerto Rican and poor white brothers and sisters. That inspiration and the inspiring history of a movement that Aoki was just one small part of live on, regardless of whether or not he ever worked for the FBI.
EDIT: While my thoughts are mostly personal, Scott Kushige breaks down the lack of real content in the allegations here. You need to read it.
It’s always a challenge to find like-minded folks in a city, particularly one like Halifax where so much information is spread informally through word of mouth and by friends of friends. So in a modest effort to help folks find like-minded organizations and individuals I’ve begun compiling a list of broadly “left” organizations in the city.
A problem with compiling a list like this is that it involves an inherent process of selecting who does and does not qualify as left. I am explicitly attempting to be as inclusive and non-sectarian as possible with this list and I am defining (or not defining) left as broadly as possible. My goal is not to provide opinions or analysis on the politics or actions of any of these groups, but simply to help folks find groups they might be interested in supporting or working with.
Different groups operate under different structures – some are membership based, some are political parties and others are collectives. Some are non-profits and some are informal clusters of friends or comrades. Some do no have clear structures at all. When possible I try to identify the basic structures of the groups below.
This list is a work in progress and is not meant to be exhaustive. It is limited to groups I know about. If you know of a group that you think should included (or if I misrepresented a group) please post in the comments section or contact me on twitter @cultureofdefeat
Explicitly Marxist, Anarchist, or broadly Anti-Capitalist Organizations
Solidarity Halifax (SolHal) – Non-sectarian, pluralist anti-capitalist organization. Membership based with a dues structure and several dozen current members. Campaigns work includes Power to the People (campaign to public ownership of NS Power) and labour solidarity work. (Disclosure: I am a member of SolHal)
STAND – Libertarian communist organization. Membership based with a dues structure. Describe themselves as “a Halifax-based organization aimed at transforming our social order through mutual aid and direct action, building towards worker and community control of all aspects of our lives.” Have a detailed manifesto and political program.
Platypus Affiliated Society – Dalhousie – Campus based affiliate of the Platypus Society. A Marxist intellectual project based around reading groups, discussions, lectures and publishing. Goal is to spur on debate on the left but not itself action oriented.
Communist Party of Canada (Marxist-Leninist) (CP-ML) – Maoist/Hoxhaist political party. Last Halifax remnants of the New Communist Movement. Very small Halifax membership. Primary activity is participation federal elections and organizing the Halifax May Day celebrations (in past years the “Halifax May Day Organizing Committee” was a CP-ML committee).
Nova Scotia Public Interest Group at Dalhousie (NSPIRG) – Campus and community based organization which provides support for research and action projects through a working group structure. Though its mandate is not explicitly left, the working groups it supports have tended to lean leftwards. Current working groups include Queers Against Israeli Apartheid and READ (Reclaim Education and Democracy).
Robert’s Street Social Centre – plays host to a variety of DIY and anarchist cultural projects including access to screen printing, a zine library and event space.
Labour and Worker’s Rights
Halifax-Dartmouth & District Labour Council – A representative organization made up of all the union locals active in the HRM. Not itself radical as an organization its actions and rhetoric (including adopting the slogan “Capitalism isn’t working for workers”) put them as far left as any district labour council in the country. Individual locals and unions also have political action committees which may lean to the left.
Stepping Stone – sex worker’s advocacy organization. While not explicitly left, they provide support for a marginalized group of workers and include the decriminalization of sex worker as among their goals. Seems rad to me!
Race and Immigration
No One is Illegal Halifax – radical immigration rights work and anti-border activism. Operate as a collective. Part of a wider national network of collectives.
Ujamaa – Not leftist per se, but some experienced left organizers are involved and they are providing a space for left discourse on issues affecting the African Nova Scotian communisty in Halifax. A project of the Greater Halifax Partnership (I know, I know).
Radical sexual and gender politics
Hot Times Collective – collective organizing safe space for the expression of queer sexuality.
Halifax Dyke and Trans March Organizing Committee – currently organize once a year. A committee that organizes a march during Pride Week which is separate from official events and aims to provide a non-corporate, politicized and radical alternative to mainstream events.
Queer and Rebel Collective - A collective organizing a radical alternative to mainstream gay and lesbian politics.
Prison Justice/Prison Abolition
Books Beyond Bars – an almost decade old organization which provides reading material and writing programs for prisoners.
Previously active organizations which are currently dormant
Feminist League for Agitation Propaganda (FLAP) – Exactly as the name suggest. Active within the last few years, but no recent activity. A network of like-minded individuals.
Halifax Peace Coalition – Long running coalition of peace activists in the city. One of the city’s most prominent activist organizations during the early 2000s invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. Currently defunct.
Occupy NS – Nova Scotia version of the North America wide tactic that rose to prominance in the fall of 2011. Evicted by the city in November 2011. No current physical occupation. Small number of activists remaining involved. Open, consensus based decision making structure.
Reduce Tuition Fees Halifax – Group allied with the Canadian Federation of Students (social democratic national students organization) but open to non-CFS members. Organizing around education issues.
Halifax Media Co-Op – Again, not explicitly left in name, but pretty left in practice. Cooperative, member funded website and monthly newspaper. Publish extensively on poverty, racism and social movements.
Various temporary groups spring up on occasion surrounding specific issues, particularly government funding cuts or international summits. Those defunct groups are too numerous to name and unlikely to re-appear under their previous names.
Courtesy of CKDU (I think) here is the audio from the talk I co-presented a few months ago with Kaley Kennedy. It was an early attempt by Solidarity Halifax to try to present some analysis and foment some debate around strategy and tactics on the left. We had about 65 people out for it.
The talk provides a fair bit of detail about the nuts and bolts of the organizing efforts in Quebec as well as some thoughts on the nature of the struggle, the question of reformism and revolution and some thoughts on what the task for those of us in Halifax is at this time. An