The Electric Pencil

Posts Tagged ‘community organising

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

Residents reclaiming The Point

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Residents of South West Montreal haven’t had it easy over the last few years when it comes to how the land in their neighbourhood is used. Fights against casinos, luxury condos and high-end shopping malls – all unaccessible to or unwanted by many residents – have marked the political and social landscapes.

Throughout it all, residents and community organisations have been putting forward their own counter-proposals, particularly in Pointe-St-Charles where the future of the CN Railyards has been especially contentious. While some community proposals are languishing at city council, particularly an extensive plan submitted by local organisation Action Gardien, some residents are taking action into their own hands.

Starting today, and lasting all weekend, the Carrefour d’Éducation Populaire de PSC (2356 Centre Street) will house the launch of Montreal’s first Autonomous Social Centre. The ASC is an lofty undertaking with the goal of providing community-run resources independent of the city and development corporations.

Throughout the weekend, residents of the neighbourood and Montrealers are invited to take part in Reclaim Your Point. Visitors will be able to take part in a plethora of programs and resources including a bike repair centre (and the launch of a free bike fleet), a community kitchen, an indymedia centre and a wide range of workshops on everything from dance and games to alternative ways of community organising. Tonight also features film screenings and tomorrow night there will be a parade from the centre to Café Paradoxe (255 Rue Ash, 8:30 pm) for a community cabaret featuring local acts, including personal favorites Swamp Sex Robots and the Gumboots.

As a weekend undertaking the event is impressive enough, but the goal is much higher. The next two and-a -half days mark the beginning of a year long campaign to establish a permanent space for the ASC. ASCs aren’t as common in North America, but have a rich history in other parts of the the world, including France and Italy. More often than not they are based on reclaimed spaces and squats, where residents, tired of waiting on local elected officials and of the commercial (instead of community) focused plans of developpers, take over an unused building and turn it into a centre providing for the needs of the neighbourhood.

This new ASC has the same goal for the Pointe-St-Charles nighbourhood and is focussing on unused buildings in the CN railyards. While a final location has not yet been picked, the group’s goal is to use this weekend’s event to kick-off a year long drive to gather broader community support so that, by next summer, the can establish a permanent space in one of the railyards many unused buildings.

I’ll be swinging by tomorrow and will have an update (hopefully with pictures) by the end of the weekend…