The Electric Pencil

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Wade Rathke: Healthcare, Neo-McCarthyism and the need for a progressive pushback

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Last Tuesday, I had the opportunity to hear Wade Rathke speak at Concordia University, as part of the Too Cool for School alternative orientation, and organised by the 2110 Centre for Gender Advocacy and the School of Community and Public Affairs. I’m not a student there anymore, but I’m glad I can take advantage of these kinds of events.

Rathke is the founder and former chief organiser of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now; he stepped down after 38 years at the helm in 2008. Like any organisation, it has had it’s fair share of ups, downs and scandals*; but it has also had some pretty major successes, including working to ensure living wages in at least 15 cities across the US, and on issues such as housing, immigrants rights, and voter registration.

I was curious to hear Rathke speak; I didn’t know much about him, except for his long tenure at ACORN, or much about ACORN, except what little I had heard during the last presidential election around their efforts to sign up voters.

He gave an interesting, wide-ranging talk on everything form the history of ACORN, to voter registration reform, to housing laws and protections, to areas where Canada is lagging behind the US in social policy (there are a few). He also highlighted that there is, in fact, ACORN Canada, which I had never heard of, and that they are campaigning for a living wage in Ottawa, which is great to hear.

I’m being intentionally vague here – I recorded the talk for CKUT 90.3FM radio, and we’ll be playing it next Wednesday from 5pm to 6pm when the Avalanche Collective hosts Off The Hour. But to give you a sneak peak, I thought I’d put up this short, 4 minute clip:

It’s a response to a question that came up a few times: how is it the right-wing seems to be more organised and mobilised around health care? And is anything being done about it? Wade was at times more positive, at times more negative, but he was clear: the left became to complacent after Obama’s election, and it needs to stand up – together – or right-wing, anti public health care forces will definitely win on this one – and who knows what else. In particular, he took called out the Neo-McCarthyism he sees in the media, and called for progressives rally together in a pushback, or be ready to loose on this.

*Those scandals have erupted recently with the posting of ‘sting’ videos allegedly showing ACORN employees in several offices providing income tax advice to a prostitute and her pimp. The two were in face undercover right-wing activists. I won’t post directly to the videos here, but Bertha Lewis, Chief Organizer with ACORN, responded to the allegations on Democracy Now yesterday. She makes it clear that while ACORN takes these issues serieously (they have fired the employees involved) there’s a lot more to this story than the media is saying. Watch her response here. Wade has also written a bit about this on his own blog.


Written by Tim McSorley

September 18, 2009 at 8:09 pm

Hanlon Creek occupation update

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Since the beginning of the direct action against the HCBP, there was a clearly agreed-upon conclusion that this occupation was first and foremost to be a space of resistance. This was to ensure a “safe and healthy space” focused on the defense of the land, and to forgo all possibilities of reason for police intervention, such as substance abuse or partying. This was to define all camp activities. The point was to maintain a sense of purpose and direction for a potentially tense political situation that seemed inevitable and to continue to examine the place of action against the HCBP in a wider resistance movement.

That’s from “Protect Mother Earth, Don’t Settle For Less” by Adam Lewis, a new article posted at The Dominion presenting a first hand look at the occupation of the proposed area for the Hanlon Creek Business Park on the outskirts of Guelph, written by one of the participants. I’ve been meaning to post an follow-up to my previous post about this for a while now, and this piece gives me a good reason to.

After nearly a month, the City of Guelph announced that developments in the area will be put on hold for a year. But even in doing so they continued their slander campaign against the occupiers, claiming that they ‘held the city hostage’. This pushed even the local daily, the Guelph Mercury, to call the city on their scare tactics. The city is also pursuing the land defenders for $150,000 in damages, down from an original $5 million when the papers were first served in July; city lawyers say the amount could rise again though.

And after hand delivering a letter to the house of one of the developers involved in the project, two members of Friends of Hanlon Creek (it isn’t clear if they participated in the occupation itself) are being accused of intimidation by police; they deny the charges and voluntarily visited the police station, only to be greeted by a locked door and to be told that they would have to come back the next day.

So while the fist part of the battle has been won – postponing the actual development – it seems that the city and police are bent on vilifying this group of non-violent activists looking to protect important and increasingly rare greenspace and habitats in Southern Ontario. You can continue to follow the situation – and what they describe as the growing anti-development sentiment in Guelph in general – on their blog at

Written by Tim McSorley

September 12, 2009 at 12:55 am

Thursday/Jeudi: La fin du néandertal

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This Thursday at 8:30pm, Bruno Dubuc will be screening his latest film at Club Social in the Mile End (180 St-Viateur East). Three years in the making, La fin du néandertal is an exploration of Montreal city politics, activism, and the hope for a better city friendly to pedestrians, cyclists and all residents, and devoid of cars: a city that has moved outside of the age of the neanderthals. In particular, it follows both the municipal party Projet Montréal and the Maison Aurore Traffic Committee, a community organisation in the Plateau, as they both set out to change the city in their own way. I had a chance to interview Bruno at the end of June just before the premier screening of the film at Cinéma du Parc. Below you can listen to the unedited director’s cut. I haven’t had a chance to see the film yet, but in a year where we are in line for a heated municipal election – and a possibly strong turn out for Projet Montréal – the film is a must-see, based on the topic alone.

Ce jeudi, Bruno Dubuc présente son nouveau métrage La fin du néandertal au café Club Social dans le Mile End (180 St-Viateur est). Un exploration qui à durée trois année, ce film chronique les changements dans le militantisme urbaine à Montréal depuis 2006. Entre autre, ça suit le développement de deux organismes – le parti municipal Projet Montréal et le comité de circulation de la Maison d’Aurore, une organisme communautaire – qui s’engage à changer comment nous vivons ensemble en ville. J’ai eu la chance de parler avec Bruno en fin juin, juste avant la première de son film à Cinéma du Parc. Vous pouvez écouter ci-bas l’entrevue en entier. J’en ai pas encore eu la chance de visionner le film, mais j’en suis certain que dans cette année qui annonce des élections municipaux chauds cet hiver, c’est une film à voir.

Bruno Dubuc: La fin du néandertal/Le lendemain de la veille/25 juin 2009/19min23sec:

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Written by Tim McSorley

July 27, 2009 at 11:24 pm

McNamara passes, Morris speaks

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I’m a little late on the news, but former US defense secretary Robert McNamara passed away on Monday at the age of 93. He was the primary architect of the US war on Vietnam, and the target of many anti-war demonstrations, and accused of being a war criminal.

Coincidentally, as part of my work at the NFB, I’ve been working on promotion of a new film called Capturing Reality: The Art of Documentary, directed by Pepita Ferrari and featuring 33 filmmakers talking about their craft. One of those filmmakers is Errol Morris, who made what is one of my all-time favorite docs, The Fog of War, whose main subject and interviewee is Robert S. McNamara himself.

You can view clips of Morris speaking about McNamara here & here.

Errol Morris on the set of Capturing Reality. Copyright 2008, National Film Board of Canada

Errol Morris on the set of Capturing Reality. Copyright 2008, National Film Board of Canada

The rest of the clips on the Capturing Reality site have nothing to do with McNamara, but they do cover the questions and quandries that come with documentary filmmaking. You can watch all four hours of interview clips on the site, as well as the trailer for the film, which features more interviews that aren’t on the site and is well worth the watch (the DVD comes with both the doc and all four hours of clips…). The entire project reminds you why the Herzogs, Obomsawins, Braults and Maysles of the world are phenomenal, and, for me at least, is an introduction to a slew of filmmakers whose work I want to discover.

And in pure self-promotion, I helped pick the 11 clips we’ve put together into a playlist on; they’re my favourites of the bunch and contain some pleasant surprises… You can view them all, my favourite is from the inimitable Werner Herzog…

Written by Tim McSorley

July 8, 2009 at 9:45 pm

Posted in media, politics

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Canada, les mines, et le coup d’état au Honduras

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Il y a beaucoup de nouvelles qui circulent à propos du coup d’état dimanche dernier au Honduras. Ce matin au Lendemain de la veille nous avons ajouter au discussion de notre propre façon. Ma collègue à l’émission, Sabine Friesinger, a accueilli en studio Antonio Artuso, un colombo-montréalais qui est membre du Comité citoyen contre le coup d’état au Honduras. Il touche sur plusieurs aspects importants, peut-être le plus important étant la complicité des gouvernements canadien et étatsunien dans ce débacle.

À propos du positionement du gouvernment Canadien dans le coup d’état: “Les intérêts pour le Canada au Honduras sont trois grandes mines: Goldcorp, Breakwater et Yamaha.” (vers 6 minutes)″

Written by Tim McSorley

July 2, 2009 at 10:59 pm

All out: No more C-484s

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The federal election means that all legislation that was on the table in the last session of parliament is gone and will need to be re-introduced. That includes Bill C-484, the Unborn Victims of Crime Act, a controversial proposed legislation introduced by MP Ken Epps as a private members bill. You can read more about it here and here (read the actual bill here). Essentially, under the guise of ensuring greater protection of ‘unborn children’ there are serious concerns any such bill would also be used to attack women’s right to chose to have an abortion. Epps has denied this is his intent, but comments from his supporters point otherwise.

While C-484 has attracted so much negative attention that the Conservatives have essentially axed it, as you can see on the image to the right, there are other bills following in the footsteps of C-484: C-543, C-537, C-338. They will all need to be re-introduced, and the Conservatives plan to follow through.

That’s why – along with the Harper government’s terrible track record on women’s rights so far – people will be gathering on the streets across the country this weekend to make sure that women’s rights are heard during this election campaign and the remind politicians that while the economy and environment are at the forefront, there are more than two issues that people are voting on.

Montreal: No More C-484s!

Sunday September 28th
Meeting point: Parc Lahaie (corner of St-Joseph and St-Laurent)
Rally at 1:30pm
March at 2:00pm

Written by Tim McSorley

September 27, 2008 at 6:26 pm

Be afraid…

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Carole Goar has a strong piece in the Toronto Star today about Harper’s politics of fear, where Canada is a “country whose citizens worry about teenage killers; oil-hungry foreigners prowling their Arctic waters; terrorists lurking in their cities; and economic shock waves rolling toward them.”

She does a particularly good job taking on the Conservative promise to crack down on young offenders:

Those unregenerate 14-year-old criminals he proposes to lock up for a decade were troubled kids when he came to power. Their teachers had spotted the danger signals. So had welfare caseworkers, community activists and beat cops. They had tried to help, but were hampered by too few resources and too little political support.

Written by Tim McSorley

September 26, 2008 at 6:00 pm