Archive | November, 2012

“We the people must help each other.”

28 Nov

How can we make Occupy useful?

Near the end of the Toronto’s Occupy last year, this question was in the air, on most peoples’ tongues.

Friends and comrades would lament that the occupation beside St. James Church had started to “go wrong.” Debates turned into fighting. Services were required for the occupants that couldn’t be given by the suite of volunteers who were there.

I spent just two hours at Occupy Vancouver and witnessed more than one fight where people had to be removed from the site.

How could have Occupy been made useful?

The debate, in theoretical terms, was a difficult one. Was Occupy meant to simply be a symbol of an egalitarian society? Was the occupation itself a tactic or a strategy? Or, was the success of Occupy the occupations themselves?

At McMaster University’s student centre, where it’s easier for merchants to sell jewelry than for students to hold a rally for lower tuition fees, the occupation of a corner of that space was a victory. It became a progressive hub for students on campus to hang out, do homework, organize and discuss strategies.

McMaster University’s Occupy, which lasted many months after all others in Canada, was an outlier.

Last year ended with these questions unanswered for many Occupiers. 2011 was a year of inspiring protests, but after the movement for the 99 per cent started to wind down, how could we all not ask “how can we make Occupy useful?”

*          *          *

I don’t know if these were the discussions held by Occupiers in New York City though I’m sure that debates were had after the tents were vacated from Zuchotti Park about what to do next.

As is usually the case in life, it’s the unexpected events thrown onto people or movements that define our individual or collective purpose.

The opportunity for Occupy came in the form of a devastating hurricane. Hurricane Sandy blasted through peoples’ homes in New York and New Jersey. It left millions of people in the dark and demonstrated for everyone the gaps that exist within the system.

Occupy Sandy filled many of those gaps, nearly immediately. Driven by the belief in mutual aid, not charity, Occupy Sandy activists have set up an impressive emergency response, equipped to help people through immediate disaster relief to recovery, as long as the volunteers remain.

To volunteer, you simply arrive at one of the central coordinating sites and get placed various teams: communications, demolition, medical services, legal services and others.

With flooding the most significant and damaging aspect of the storm, demolition and reconstruction was in high demand from people who’s homes’ first floors were filled by four or five feet of water. While there, I volunteered for demolition.

The central hub I was dispatched at was the church at 520 Clinton St. in Brooklyn. Inside the church were boxes of clothes, food and other materials. There were information tables and bathrooms. A pipe organ looked over the edge of a balcony adorned with banners that said “Occupy Sandy: People-powered recovery” and “We the people must help each other.”

For demolition volunteers sent to the Far Rockaways, a peninsula that was covered by water as a result of the storm, the next stop was a community centre. Used normally as a church and community hall, half of the large space was dark. The other was buzzing with volunteers illuminated by floodlights powered by an external generator.

From the ceiling to two feet down the walls, the warehouse looked like a prom was imminent. From the floor to eight feet up the wall, it looked like a makeshift hardware store. Silver and blue streamers hung from the roof, around a large, plastic chandelier. Tables were laden with rubber boots, hard hats, masks and gloves all for volunteers to grab before being sent out.

Volunteers were given all the necessary tools: chisels and hammers of all sizes, power tools, wheelbarrows.

For many volunteers on demolition duty, the job included drywall removal and cleanup.

The primary concern, and reason for needing to rip out drywall, is black mould. Unabated, it can cause serious health problems. The homeowners we worked with had called Occupy and asked for help to remove the waterlogged drywall and insulation to stop the spread of black mould.

The Rockaways is still months away from recovery and most of the storefronts I passed remained closed. Combined with the lack of electricity, feeding people has also become a hallmark of the relief efforts.

Food stations are located throughout the neighborhoods. Hamburger trucks, pots of vegan soup, bagels, baked goods, coffee and water can be found easily. On my second day, I ate curry made by the International Yoga Instructors distributed by Occupy Sandy volunteers.

Some of the food stands are administered by other organizations, including church groups. One was giving away clothes, bibles hot chocolate and coffee.

While eating lunch at one location, a woman drove by and demanded to know who was in charge of the site. She said that she was in some way connected to the space and that it was given to Occupy to use as long as no political messages were displayed. She yelled at volunteers until a banner was removed from a large set of solar panels. Begrudgingly, volunteers removed the banner.

“Another world is possible” was the message on the banner that looked upon people receiving a free meal.

I found this interaction to be profound. Occupy Sandy demonstrates that another world is possible, but does so such that potential detractors don’t see the hypocrisy in supporting the actions of the movement while opposing its slogans.

But hypocrisy and hope were everywhere in the Far Rockaways. From the National Guard sitting or driving around staring at the people they passed to hearing a New Orleans-style band march through the streets, it was clear: the hypocrisy that drips from every aspect of our lives under capitalism doesn’t disappear when citizens set up alternative systems. However, the hope that so many of us crave, and that is embodied in the relief efforts, overshadows hypocrisy.

Indeed, another world is possible and it is being built in New York and New Jersey. Occupy Wall Street is demonstrating that citizen-led disaster relief is not only possible, but can be more effective and sophisticated than relief provided by the state.

Through the deeds of tens of thousands of volunteers, Occupy Sandy has answered the question of how to continue to make Occupy useful. Or, how to make it more than useful, even critical. It may be the roadmap to deliver us a collective way past the current, oppressive system that has made Occupy necessary in the first place.

Watch Occupy Sandy. There’s something happening there.

*          *          *

Is disaster the key to making other Occupys useful? Could the next natural disaster launch Occupy Montreal or Occupy Fredericton into action? What happens if our disaster never comes?

During my time in New York, I couldn’t help but resort to the snooty, anti-Americanness that may be socialized with being Canadian. “How is it possible that the greatest country in the world would be so callous as to abandon its citizens in moments of need?” I would constantly ask myself.

Surely, if the US can carry out drone attacks on the other side of the planet, it has the resources to return electricity to people after a storm.

My Canadian sense of superiority made me think of how much better we have it in Canada, how impossible it would be for the same disaster to elicit the same response from our government.

I was snapped from my privilege-laden reverie soon after coming home. Of course this could happen in Canada. It is happening in Canada.

A friend of mine was in the hospital a few weeks ago, near death, after an extreme allergic reaction. I asked him what the doctors thought had triggered it. “Black mould” he told me. He hasn’t been home since the reaction.

A friend of mine posted on Facebook that a First Nation community in Northern Ontario is down to one working power generator and that with the cold, they’re close to being in an emergency situation.

If OWS and Occupy Sandy have demonstrated that in times of disaster, relief can be provided by communities of activist volunteers, then the dozens of Occupy movements in Canada should be re-orienting themselves toward the needs that exists in our communities.

Are any of the Occupy movements in Canada sophisticated enough to pull off what’s happening with Occupy Wall Street? Am I simply advocating for cooptation and opportunism?

Another world is possible and lessons should be learned from the activists involved in Occupy Sandy, but the questions I’ve raised must also be answered. If the state is failing Canadians, why aren’t Canadians filling in those gaps? What will it take for us to reclaim our own sovereignty, to help each other, to ask each other for help, and to be humble and hard-working servants for one another?

What’s stopping an Occupy Attawapiskat, an Occupy Parkdale or an Occupy George Brown College from springing to life?

Let’s find a way to make Occupy the force that builds the world that we know is not only possible, but that we can hear breathing on those quiet days.

To find out more about Occupy Sandy relief, or to donate, go to their website.

White, rich and male: Rob Ford’s a Triple Threat

26 Nov

Today, Torontonians found out that their official clown, Rob Ford, broke the law and will probably lose his position as mayor.

For many of us who aren’t used to seeing the law applied to people in power, the announcement is a confusing victory. On one hand, the democratic will of the city’s last election has been tossed out. However, a judge determined that the crime warranted the strict application of the law, which means we’ll all have to find another jester to occupy us online, between one soul-crushing defeat for progress after another.

Rob Ford is a symbol, not a mayor. He’s the physical manifestation of how disorganized is Toronto’s left, how broken are electoral politics and how easy it can be to ignore journalists (and probably some good advice) and still manage to find favour among a certain group of Torontonians.

Or, to put it another way…

Toronto’s left needs to work out the deep divisions that exist and create new, grassroots organizing models that will help to unite the suburbs with the core to build a better city that meets everyone’s needs.

Toronto needs to change its electoral system to allow for a more accurate representation of the will of the electorate.

We all need to examine the role of the press in defending and upholding democracy and apply this to journalistic coverage of all levels of politics.

But, aside from these important lessons, there’s a larger lesson to be learned.

Being a white, rich man is still a really sweet gig.

Rob Ford got away with his outrageous shenanigans for reasons no more important than his skin colour, his gender and his wealth.

Many, many people have tallied the long list of outtakes, from the DUI in Florida, advising someone to buy street Oxy-Contin, kicking riders off a TTC bus to chauffeur his football team, driving while reading, giving a woman the finger while driving, saying that cyclists deserve to be killed if they choose to cycle, and on and on and on, and they ask how was it that Ford could get away with such a laundry list of outrageous events.

Ford has been isolated by his privilege. The stature that comes with the office of mayor plus his constant air of entitlement has made him untouchable. Throw in the obligatory “poor me” sentiment once in awhile and a tornado of factors are present that had left him nearly unscathed. A second term still isn’t out of the realm of possibility.

The only unfortunate aspect of this decision is that rather than having Ford face the electors to atone for his sins, his Gravy Train is ending early, by the decision of a judge. But then again, Ford will remain shielded by his privilege in any future election.

Today, Ford got what he deserved.

However, though it’s fun to make fun of Rob Ford (and, it is totally fun. I had that .gif open on my computer for two whole days) reducing him to a caricature hides the reality that his entire circus has been made possible because of our oppressive system. Rob Ford has only been able to persist because some people are considered more appropriate than others to be mayor; that some people are considered to be more deserving of attention, high wages or honour; that some people are privileged with the benefit of the doubt; and that while some people can do no harm, others can’t catch a break.

Unfortunately, reducing this lump of a human into such terms obscures this reality. Many of us watched the Gravy-Train-Wreck with horror and bemusement. But, at this juncture, I think it’s important to recalibrate our analysis both for what it means for progressives who live in Toronto and for how it fits into a broader context.

For progressives, this victory must be celebrated but also used as an opportunity to re-group and build.

In the broader context, my guess is that Ford, with all his power, privilege and wealth will be made into a martyr.

And this martyrdom will come at a time where there’s been a clear rise in the rhetoric supporting so-called men’s rights. From a recent lecture at U of T on men’s oppression to Fox News specials, the ousting of Rob Ford by “the man ” (a.k.a. a judge) fits perfectly into the rhetoric of the oppressed man.

Ford and his supporters will be pushing this line through the appeal of his case right to the next by-election (or election) that Ford can run in. Because of this, activists are going to have to cut through rhetoric, draw the connections between Ford and oppression and demonstrate what forces really are at play.

The entitlement of Rob Ford (even identified today by the judge) is what makes him powerful. He’s not interested in criticism, facts or even doing a good job. Like a child who’s just heard “no” for the first time, the tantrum that we’re about to witness is going to be fierce.

He’s a bull in a china shop and Torontonians are various types of delicate, fine china.

Progressives need to show him the door before anything else ends up smashed.

Toronto’s respect deficit for cyclists

23 Nov

There’s something about the cyclist-driver debate that makes people go nuts.

From the cyclists’ side, I know what it is. When we see someone killed, we know it could have been us. We think of hundreds of “close calls” where, had we been riding a bit faster, a bit slower, a bit further right or in another lane, we would have died.

When we see someone killed, we think of all the times we haven’t heard from someone when we should have, and we’ve imagined our lovers or friends dead from their daily commute.

When we see the vile responses online, we see the (few) callous drivers who have intentionally tried to injure or kill us. Yes, that happens on Toronto’s roads. Yes, I’ve had drivers intentionally steer toward me.

Under these conditions, it’s sometimes hard to engage in a rational or productive debate.

From the drivers’ side though, I don’t know what it is. I have no idea why drivers get so defensive and angry in debates about sharing the road.

In a collision with another driver, your risk of death is pretty high. In a collision with a cyclist or a pedestrian, though, your risk of death (or even injury) is low. But rather than raging against each other, it’s more often the case that (some) drivers rage against cyclists.

When I’m driving and have a close call with another car, it’s usually corrected pretty quickly. I think, “good, denting this thing would have been annoying.”

But when I’m on my bike and I have a close call, my heart falls out of my chest. It scares the hell out of me. It’s also way more frequent to have a “close call” on my bike than in my car.

It’s clear to me that the biggest threat to drivers is other drivers. Not cyclists. Not pedestrians. When I’m driving, I take extra care when I can. I give cyclists a lot of space. I’m patient. I refuse to be gripped by anger.

Toronto needs better bike infrastructure. Encouraging more people to bike reduces traffic for cars and drivers with half a brain should be able to understand how this benefits them. But better bike infrastructure isn’t enough.

Torontonians have a serious respect deficit for cyclists.

Ignore the fact that we should be celebrated for choosing to risk our lives for the environment and that we represent one fewer car on the road, or that we’ll hopefully cost the health system less. No, celebration (while welcomed) is not what cyclists need. All we need is respect.

Anti-cyclist rhetoric is really dangerous. It devalues our lives. Add that to drivers who (due to a variety of factors like road conditions, congestion, long commutes, broken relationships, terrible jobs etc. etc) are really angry AND encased in a metal shield, the combination leads to cyclist deaths and hit-and-runs.

The last time I was hit by a car, it was along Davenport at George Brown College. I was hit by a social work instructor. He jumped out of his car and was extremely helpful and apologetic. He told me he was a cyclist too. This demonstrated an important level of respect, which went a long way for both of us.

Compare that to the woman who once aimed for me and floored her pedal as we sat at a red light, also along Davenport. I had to jump out of the way to avoid certain injury/possible death.

If you spend a lot of time cycling, it’s easy to go crazy. This means that it’s easy to look crazy to drivers when we respond to being us off, your erratic driving us or dangerous lane changes. But drivers need to know that most cyclists feel like they’re always a second away from death.

The same force that may dent your car could take my life.

That reality is at the heart of this debate.

I’m sure that nearly all drivers don’t want to hit cyclists and I know that no cyclist wants to be hit. So how do we make our streets more safe?

Here’s a list. While mostly obvious, obeying these points would go a long way to help keep roads safer.

  • Don’t drive like an asshole: Be aware of what’s around you and signal. Don’t change lanes dangerously. Don’t drive drunk.
  • Don’t drive and text. In Toronto I saw people do this daily. It’s so dangerous and stupid and there’s no situation where this is necessary.
  • Don’t drive up to a cyclist and yell something at them for fun. Or for sexism. Or for any reason.
  • Assume that a cyclist is relying on your good driving to make judgements about how to avoid being hit. Know that when you don’t signal, you make the road more dangerous for cyclists. Also know that while cyclists should always signal, sometimes it’s not safe to (like when you have to break and steer in an intersection while avoiding wet streetcar tracks…doing this with one hand is sometimes too dangerous).
  • Don’t honk at a cyclist who’s taking a lane or obeying a traffic signal. If you lay your horn on a cyclist hoping that this will convince them to change their minds, you are an asshole and you should look into anger management classes.
  • Don’t blame cyclists for being hit/injured/etc.
  • While there many terrible cyclists out there, nearly no mistake made by a cyclist equals the force of a mistake made by a car. There’s a reason why children can ride bikes and not drive cars. Acknowledge the power imbalance and act responsibly and accordingly.
  • Understand that while you may be the perfect driver, sometimes cyclists have just passed a scene where another driver has scared the hell out of them and they may project some of their sentiments upon you. Yes, most drivers aren’t total assholes, but the effect of the ones who are influences how we interact with cars.
  • If you feel that you are raging, pull over (safely) and chill the fuck out. There’s no simpler or softer way that I can say that. Road rage is really dangerous. Cyclists on the receiving end of road rage risk being killed. Cyclists get road rage too but their weapon, a bike, doesn’t produce the force possible when your car is your weapon.

Remember that there’s a world beyond your windshield and radio station. It’s filled with humans who are, in many ways, just like you. Imagine your interactions on the road as if you were together in that real world, without your cup holder, car seats or dashboard. Treat people on the road the way you treat people in real life. I’m sure that many of the dangers faced by cyclists would be avoided.

Unless, of course, you’re just an asshole. Then your license should be suspended until you can be deprogrammed.

**This morning a 35-year-old elementary school teacher was killed in Toronto on Davenport at Lansdowne. No one should die as they commute to work. The driver who hit him fled the scene.

Gutting a stranger’s home: disaster relief post hurricane Sandy

21 Nov

My first instinct was to rummage through the trash, see if there was anything I would like.

I can’t help it, that’s how I react to large piles of garbage.

I’d have to remind myself several times that this wasn’t actually garbage. No one had thrown out these items. Strewn across a lawn that looked mostly dead, the broken and dirty possessions represented both the hope and despair of someone’s life after a natural disaster.

Old tea cans. A broken, rusted chandelier. The top of an arcade game. Sea shells. Single shoes, yellow and purple. A milk case full of old books that had to be trashed. A woman in distress paced back and forth along her large colonial porch, dodging volunteers as they cleaned her TV tables.

The path of destruction that had been laid in the wake of hurricane Sandy is obvious on every street corner, every curb and on every house. Tape is still placed over windows to hold them together. Scrap heaps line the streets. Police and the National Guard roam the sidewalks, direct traffic or drive through the congested roads. Homeowners and volunteers don facemasks, rubber boots and gloves.

I heard that there’s a curfew in effect when it falls dark.

Three weeks ago, water surged as part of the hurricane and covered some parts of New York City. Many residents of Stanton Island, the Jersey Shore, Coney Island, the Rockaways and Long Island are still without power.

One side of Rockaway Peninsula faces Jamaica Bay and the other faces the ocean. Hurricane Sandy completely covered the peninsula with salt water.

I went to help relief efforts coordinated by Occupy Sandy, a sophisticated response team that has grown out of Occupy Wall Street. Volunteers are dispatched to peoples’ homes where people have asked for help.

On my first day, we gutted a home located in a low income, mostly racialized neighbourhood. The house had no basement so the water rose at least three feet on the first floor. We started by throwing out furniture. The large screen TV was to be saved. The oven still had water inside of it.

My team leader, a man from Saskatoon, showed me how to demolish a wall.

We took hammers and crowbars to the waterlogged drywall. We pulled it out and removed the insulation behind. Each swath of insulation was soaked up to a foot from the bottom in dirty brown water.

Anything that wasn’t structural was torn out. Doors, carpet, walls, linoleum and debris were hauled out and dropped onto our scrap pile.

On day two, after hours of chiseling tile off a basement floor, we were told that there’s asbestos in the basement. “You OK with that?” we were asked.

We stayed and chiseled on.

Like all the volunteers, we chose to accept the risks, unlike the residents of the peninsula though, who have no choice but to live through the chaos.

The Rockaways is a mix of working class families and summer homes for people in New York City. The woman who lived in the mostly white neighborhood had electricity (turned on this past weekend) while the man who lived in the mostly racialized neighborhood still hadn’t had his house gutted.

His electricity will remain off until his house can be inspected and deemed safe for power.

The man next door finally had his car towed. It was black and orange and looked as if he had put a lot of work into it. On the window was text that said “Orange you jealous?”

There was a layer of filth and dead plants covering his engine, just under the hood.

The inside of his garage looked as if it had not been touched since the flooding and it stank of mould.

There is so much to say about what I witnessed there in just a few days that I can’t capture it in one post. I will have to write separately about Occupy Sandy, the provision of services and food, the failures of the state to look after its citizens and some of the conversations that I was lucky to have.

Look forward to those accounts over the next few days.

What was the most clear is that people will fill in the gaps to provide for each other when left by the state to fend for themselves. People will work hard, learn new skills and donate their time to help others.

As Western nations shrink the size of their governments through austerity measures, and as little continues to be done about climate chaos, citizen-led responses to disaster relief will continue to be critical. They will need to be strong enough to confront the disaster capitalists who seek to profit off people when they are most desperate.

I worked alongside seven Canadians this weekend. If you have a weekend to spare, I encourage you to go and help with the relief efforts. You can find ways to help out at the Occupy Sandy website.

Occupy the Rockaways

16 Nov

Tomorrow I head to New York City (or, Brooklyn, more specifically) to volunteer with the Occupy Wall Street Hurricane Sandy disaster relief efforts.

I’ve never been, so everything I just wrote is totally theoretical for me.

Last weekend, I got a Facebook message from an Anglo here in Québec City. We were in one class together before I convinced the department to let me fail at another level. We played dodgeball together a few times. Now we’re heading on a road trip.

We’re going to be working in peoples’ flooded basements.

I’ve been told to old wear clothes I’d be OK with throwing out….which I don’t own. Anything I’d throw out has been graciously given away in clothing swaps where I usually get 5-fold back for what I give. But anyway.

The situation in NYC post-Sandy is really terrible. I’ll be working in the Rockaways (which is an obviously badass name for a suburb…take that “Scarborough”). Parts of NYC, including Stanton Island, the Rockaways and Coney Island are still without power.

Yup. In the United States, it’s possible to be without power for two weeks after a storm has hit.


OWS has filled in an incredible gap. Rather than remaining as a movement marked by the simple (or not-so-simple) occupation of a physical location, OWS has shifted into providing relief that the state has been unable (or unwilling) to provide. When disaster relief agency FEMA ceased operations due to a storm, OWS activists filled in the gaps.

It’s incredible.

The stories that are flowing from what’s been dubbed Occupy Sandy are inspiring. Rachel, my chauffeur, guide and soon-to-be best friend sent me this story, that links the theme of resistance to disaster relief. She’s friends with the author and I’m hoping to be able to give him a high five when we get down there.

Resistance and disaster relief. The necessary and appropriate antidote to disaster capitalism that Naomi Klein talks about, and of which of course has reared its head in post-Sandy NYC.

My great grandfather arrived on Ellis Island around 1913 from Italy. He’d soon make his way to Timmins, Ontario (where I’m sure he though…what…the…hell…..was I thinking?). My grandparents, in their early twenties, honeymooned in New York City; the trip of a lifetime for two Northern Ontarian Italians. This will be my first time there, and I couldn’t be more happy to be able to go and try to help at least a few people, maybe even 15 people. Who knows?

Another friend of my guide, Shlomo Adam Roth, has taken these photos of the devastation. I’ll do my best to photograph what I see too, though i wont be there to take photos, so they’ll likely be limited.

If the most powerful nation in the world can undertake targeted killings of their enemies through flying robots, or amass the world’s largest army, or bailout the most notorious set of crooks on the planet, how can it not look after its own citizens? The global imperial United States will continue to grow while it sucks the lives from the people inside, who will slowly and more brutally be ignored.

This trend will only be stopped by the people.

And the people are rising up.

Plagiarizing Margaret Wente

12 Nov

Margaret Wente is way better when her own articles are plagiarized into a new article. For your pleasure, here’s the perfect rebuttal to her “columns.” Wente in her own words, plagiarized and out of context.


A Margaret Wente Mash Up

Iran. Israel. The United States. Iran. Universities. Bad teachers. Unions. Sex.

That experiment was 35 years ago, but does anyone think the results would be different today?

That’s when I learned what it feels like to bang your head against the ceiling.

The real issue is the fight against the ruling class, the greedy corporations, the tar sands, and the entire capitalist, neo-liberal elite.

I’m sad to say the ideologically driven, radically unbalanced logic humiliated me.

I just couldn’t get it.

Back in 2008, I was smoking dope with sociology, anthropology, philosophy, arts, and victim-studies students, whose degrees are increasingly worthless in a world that increasingly demands hard skills.

Everything I owned was stuffed in the back of her Volkswagen Beetle.

I was anxious and excited, in a beauty contest full of homely people.

I was worried that everyone would be smarter than me, to say nothing of more worldly and more sexually experienced.

Most other Canadians were, too.

But now, young men don’t have to do those things. They’re the baristas of tomorrow and they don’t even know it, because the adults in their lives have sheltered them and encouraged their mass flight from reality.

Young professionals are facing a painful double squeeze. Plenty of people, including countless academics and large swaths of the diplomatic corps, are upset, as the Greeks and everyone else have always known, if you like your job security, teaching is the place for you.

But, if you’ve been enjoying a news-free vacation lately (highly recommended for your mental health), you may be in for a nasty shock.

A blogger has accused me of substantively plagiarizing the column, and much else.

The allegations have exploded in the Twitterverse and prompted harsh commentary from other writers, some of whom are characterizing me as a serial plagiarist.

Some say they amount to bloodless ethnic cleansing. This is probably impossible. But politicians, even Conservative ones, are not suicidal.

I was devastated.

For the first two years, I regarded Wite-Out as the most important technological breakthrough of the decade. I might as well have been on Mars.

Instead of a laptop, I had a small typewriter, whose keys jammed if I typed too fast.

I wrote lengthy letters full of recriminations and remorse, none of which, thank God, seem to have survived.

I began supplementing income by dealing LSD and pot. Naturally, I was completely hooked. I adored one of those women in politics who seemed like a pathetic rump, but who isn’t really as dangerous, malevolent and crazy as it seems, who’s been taken hostage by a bunch of lunatics.

It seems too awful to be true.

The professional classes can’t escape the gales of change that are ripping through society.

Unfortunately, the fact that for the first two years, I regarded Wite-Out as the most important technological breakthrough of the decade, an astonishing number of soc and psych majors who refuse to venture beyond their comfort zone – linguistic, geographical, or ideological – face even dimmer prospects.

Until recently, the price was steep, up to and including a wedding ring and a promise of lifetime commitment.

But as women began to gain power and opportunity, that began to change. Women can now get a piece of society’s wealth on their own. But every so often we’d get a craving for jelly doughnuts at 3 a.m.

Are you ever worried that you (or a loved one) have mental problems that require professional attention?

What I often am is a target for people who don’t like what I write.

Do you get cranky before your period?

Now the vampire is arising from its grave. He was attractive, he was smart, he was young and, best of all, he wasn’t a serial plagiarist.

There were other disappointments, too – intellectual ones.

She was smart, but was an “insult to humanity” and “a cancerous tumour,” crawling toward the scrapheap of history. I got home early one day from class and discovered I am a serial offender whose work is riddled with errors, and worse.

Think twice before you encourage your daughter to go to law or med school, especially if she’ll have to borrow heavily to do it.

Today, the love affair is over.

In which case, God help the boycott of Israel’s “apartheid regime.”

I would rather drink cyanide than be awash in soc and psych majors.

Once you’re in the door it’s really hard to lose your job for incompetence, or even moral turpitude.

Although Canadians are convinced that I was in an awful mess, who’s so clapped-out, so exhausted, and so devoid of ideas that basically a socialist could scarcely make things worse than they were, it’s just the way it is.

But I’m also sorry we live in an age where attacks on people’s character and reputation, a process widely known as “passing the trash,” seem to have become the norm.

Logic was highly analytical. The right drugs are a godsend (That’s not a vision, or a plan. It’s a fantasy.)

Journalists know they’re under the microscope and the world will not be kind to them.

For every loser there’s usually a winner.

Oh well.

Every sentence was been taken directly from one of the following articles, with only a few linking words inserted.


The old lie: dulce et decorum est pro patria mori

11 Nov

I feel very, very strongly about Remembrance Day. I wrote this piece from a place of frustration in the face of hypocrisy. It’s been posted at Huffington Post, where people have resorted to calling me all sorts of hilarious names, and at Rabble, where I suspect I have more political allies (though a lack of comments leave me with simply guessing this).

Thanks to everyone who has engaged in this discussion. I look forward to continuing it once the wreaths have been laid and the pipers have lamented.


Right after Halloween and just as every store is switching from its fall motif to Christmas-themed displays, most Canadians adorn the red poppy until November 11.

The poppy, crystallized as a symbol of war and remembrance from John McCrae’s poem In Flanders Fields, is worn by most Canadians for a few weeks leading up to November 11.
Most Canadians, except me.

Growing up, I was deeply involved in Remembrance Day ceremonies in my hometown. Twice, I went to Holland to sing at Remembrance Day ceremonies. I spoke at Legions on the importance of remembrance as being necessary to peace.

But, as the Canadian government has demonstrated its support for foreign wars, the symbol of the poppy has been hijacked. While it remains a symbol of peace and remembrance for many, it has also become a symbol of support of Canada’s current war ambitions.

Wrapped together with the yellow ribbon and a maple leaf, the poppy symbolizes a great myth: that there exists “just war” and that, through war, Canadians have been granted their freedom. Canada has been engaged in such a war for a decade, in Afghanistan.

When I see billions of dollars spent on fighter jets, the same amount of money that could eliminate tuition fees for all Canadian college and university students, I question what exactly we are remembering.

When I see veterans dying as a result of suicide, that Canadians are coming home with post-traumatic stress disorder and are being deserted by the government that sent them to Afghanistan, I question what exactly we are remembering.

When I see statistics of the quality of life in Afghanistan or the rise in civilian deaths since the invasion in 2001, I question what exactly we are remembering.
Because, if we truly meant that we supported an end to all wars when we wear our poppies, surely Canadians could prevent our government from marching toward war. If our desire to remember led to a stated political will to end war, Canadian troops would have never been sent to Afghanistan in the first place.

The red poppy has instead become so normalized that it’s simply something that we wear. We leave them on our sun visors in our cars. We lose them. We buy others. We say we remember but we don’t do what’s next to turn our remembrance into action.

Remembrance isn’t enough to stop war.

In 1933, in England, the Cooperative Women’s Guild started to distribute white poppies as symbols of peace. Rather than glorify and honour the dead of one particular country, the white poppy commemorates all war dead and calls for and end to all war.

The Peace Pledge Union continues to distribute these white poppies and, in 2005, actually came to an agreement with the British Legion on distributing the white poppy. In Canada, many pacifist and anti-war organizations make their own white poppies and distribute them in time for Remembrance Day.

Remembrance Day remains a political public holiday that, for me, is an important time to talk about Canada’s role in war today.

My white poppy has turned a little grey as I wear it on my jacket year-round. But wearing a poppy isn’t enough. All Canadians who support peace, whether they wear a white poppy, a red poppy, a poppy with a fleur-de-lys in the centre or nothing, must actively oppose any government agenda that seeks to send more Canadians to participate in foreign conflict.

Otherwise, wearing a poppy is an empty gesture, a socialized custom that has become as normal as dressing up for Halloween.

Glen Murray’s leadership bid: a Dont Pay A Cent Event

7 Nov


“I want ten dollar deductible
I want twenty dollar notes
I want thirty thousand liability” that’s all she wrote

I got me a car And I’m headed on down the road No money down I don’t have to worry About that broken down, ragged Ford



I’ve written to you before, in this fake, diary-esque style that never actually gets sent to you by me (though I hope you do come across my advice). But, after your leadership announcement for the Ontario Liberal Party last Sunday, I thought I’d help you out a little on your higher education promise.

Seems as if you didn’t learn enough in your short stint as the Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities.

I just read your policy for “no money down” higher education and I thought, for the good of humanity, I need to intervene.

There are a few secrets to plagiarizing well that you should be aware of.

First, if you’re going to plagiarize, do it for the right reasons. Margaret Wente teaches us that plagiarism helps her look smarter than she perhaps is. While looking smarter, she also gets to collect a pay cheque (something that many people my age would sell out our best friend for), and she has a high profile soapbox. Pretty good returns for just a little plagiarism.

Unlike Wente, your copied slogan doesn’t bring in too many advantages. Advertising a plan called “no money down” for higher education makes you sound like a TV announcer. This isn’t going to win you many fans.

Second, if you’re going to plagiarize, don’t take one of the most known slogans out there for sketchy, try-to-exploit-the-poor schemes. It’s like Hamilton saying “It’s worth the drive to…Hamilton” or the Royal Bank saying “why buy a mattress anywhere else?”

People will very quickly catch on that you’ve taken the name of your vision for higher education from any number of mortgage or car companies.

You can cancel all plans now for calling your back-to-school celebration the “don’t pay a cent event.”

And finally, if you’re going to plagiarize the name of a policy, do it for a sector like transportation or for lower taxes. Don’t do it for higher education, where plagiarism means something. Students fail for that. It’s the worst crime you can commit in the academy.

The irony of you choosing slogan from The Brick for your higher education policy is so multi-layered that it’s possible you will cause brain explosions for the people who try to grapple with your logic. I urge my academic friends to back away from their computer if they feel like a brain explosion may be imminent.

However, there are a small group of your fans who have said in the past that I’m too hard on you. And so, I would like to praise you for your small shred of honesty on this policy. At least implicit in the “no money down” promise is the promise that money will definitely be expected later. That’s at least a thousand times more clear than your 30-off doublespeak policy.

Take my advice. Change the name of your policy. And, while you’re at it, change the policy entirely. Recognize that bleeding more money from students to boost bank profits is terrible public policy, even for the Liberal Party. Students need “no money” higher education, not just “no money down.”

And, if that’s not enough to convince you, perhaps you’ll listen to Google.


No money down mortgages (care of CanEquity Mortgage Canada)
“Why no money down mortgages can work” –
No money down mortgage, 100% financing
Make millions with No money down
No money down mortgages | Syndicate mortgages
No money down mortgages
Buy a home with No money down –
“High Incident” No Money Down (TV episode 1997, IMDB)
No Money Down – Wikipédia
Legendary Lou Reed – Wikipedia
The truth about the “No money down” mortages
No money down – Kim Currie & Associates
Hotlist of zero down properties
How to buy a company for no money down (sort of) – Globe and Mail
No money down – Youtube
You can buy a house with no money down –
No money down real estate in Canada
How to buy a home with absolutely no money down
Information for first time home owners in British Columbia
Taking full advantage of no money down financing offers –
No money down mortgage 100% financiang | MII Mortgage Group
CBC Marketplace: ‘No money down’
No money down seminar LIVE – World Wealth Builders
After School Session – Wikipedia
No money down mortgage in Canada? – Mortgage Showdown
No money down mortgage – Hants Financial
How to buy a home with little or no money down
The Publisher’s Page: No money down, rent to own
Should you go with No money down and pay off other debt –
No money down O.A.C – Metrotown Mitsubishi
—-> No money down? No, Money down! –The Eyeopener [about Murray’s policy]

Clearly, the students have won at framing the debate. Ontario’s record-high tuition fees are leading to mortgage-sized debt loads.

Unfortunately, a mortgage-like quick fix is not going to fix anything. It will further entrench economic disparity, under and unemployment among youth, strain mental health and ensure that higher education remains the domain of the wealthy.

Is that the legacy you want?

General Assemblies, student movements and Québec’s cégeps

6 Nov

Half of the members’ meeting at Ryerson Students’ Union, Nov, 2010 (courtesy: The Eyeopener)

Having watched most of the Québec student protests from Ontario, I’ve obviously spent hours thinking about the differences between the Québec student movement and the Ontario student movement. And I’ve come up with a few theories that I hope to write into something…someday.

Luckily, others have similar questions as I do. Doug Nesbitt, PhD student at Queen’s and the local PSAC president, has done some thinking on this. And so, because I’ve spent most of my day dealing with the bureaucracy of the state in French and my brain is fried, I’m sharing with you what he’s posted at his blog. Nothing I write next will be as good as his analysis…

Doug focuses on the role of General Assemblies and how they have helped to build Québec’s movement into what it is today. I agree that GAs have been critical to politicizing generations of students. They have helped to circumvent conservative student leadership and maintain the necessary accountability of those students who “float to the top” of a formal students’ union’s executive.

But I can’t believe that it’s *just* General Assemblies. While GAs politicize students who attend them, what is the factor getting students in the door in the first place?

At Ryerson, our General Meetings would normally reach 150 students while more contentious meetings may have topped out at 400. At McMaster University last year, thanks to a heavy advertising campaign and the promise of the MOST AMAZING FROSH WEEK EVAAARRRR more than 600 students attended the MSU GA to vote in favour of an ancillary fee hike. It’s hard to explain how this is possible if we look only at the GA model and how it has fueled generations of activists in Québec. These Ontario examples don’t make sense.

I think that the most significant reason for the differences in the student movements in Ontario and Québec isn’t just the decision-making structure, it’s the role of cégeps.

During my time in the student movement, I always found graduate/second degree/college transfer students easier to organize. They came to their new educational tier with baggage: debt from a previous degree/diploma/certificate, experience (sometimes negative) from another degree (and even school) and maturity that grew out of their first round of post-secondary education. They spent more time in the system and were more ready to challenge what they had witnessed in their first educational experiences as being unjust, but not necessarily having the time, opportunity or willingness to act. I found my work to explain the effects of debt, tuition fees, large classes etc. was always easier with these students as they had an experience that we could link the facts to.

Imagine if Ontario’s colleges were full of students who had already done a few years at college? Imagine every student walked into a university already having experienced the soul-crushing bureaucracy of higher education? The context for organizing would be entirely different.

There’s a reason why cégep students lead the strikes in Québec. The dangerous combination of free higher education, a radicalizing movement and participatory democracy blew up into an amazing student strike. And every university student involved in the strike had been introduced to the student movement either directly or indirectly through their time at cégep.

This has to be said: identifying this difference isn’t to say that it is impossible for Ontario students to organize provincially in the way Québec students have. I think it’s critical that if Ontario students are going to figure out how best to carve out their own movement, the right analyses of the differences (and similarities) are necessary to lead to appropriate organizing techniques.

I have a lot more to say about this…and it’s later than I had intended to be up (and I wrote more than I intended to write) but I will flesh this out. I’m interested in feedback too, as always, but especially on this. The history of the student movement (or movements) hasn’t been told well enough…and who better to tell it than those of us who’ve been there.