SJRI at the Peoples’ Social Forum

by your Projects Facilitator, Rachel Hirsch

Through this blog post, I share some of my experiences at the Peoples’ Social Forum (PSF) held in Ottawa from August 21-24, 2014. To me, the forum stood as an exemplar of a transdisciplinary space where knowledge can be mobilized for social change. The PSF provided an important professional development opportunity as well as a great fit with some of my own interests in local knowledge sharing, Indigenous rights, and better practices organizing for social change within/outside academia.

What I provide here is a brief summary of SJRI’s role at the PSF, key experiences that resonated deeply with me, and some resources that emerged from my time in Ottawa that may be of interest.

The PSF offered a critical public space aimed at fostering activism in individuals and civil society organizations interested in transforming their communities and organizations across Canada. It was a space where social movements converged to express alternative ideas about how to address pressing social and environmental concerns. (More info…)

Brock’s MA in Social Justice and Equity Studies (SJES) and SJRI supported two activist scholars, Sherri Vansickle and Nona Bader, from the Niagara Region who served as Transdisciplinary Social Justice Witnesses at the PSF. SJRI’s current MA Fellow, Blaire Hinsperger-Fox, and myself (SJRI’s Projects Facilitator) joined these TD witnesses in creating a social media presence at the PSF.

The official SJES/SJRI presence was meant to provide outreach and make visible the opportunities to engage in social justice scholarship at Brock. We marched in the opening rally with the SJRI placard, hosted a table with a display banner for SJES, distributed postcards and bookmarks, and talked to people about opportunities to do social justice research at Brock.

I was grateful to be present in my capacities as both the SJRI Projects Facilitator and an advocate, more generally, for scholarly activism. There was an impressive alternative media presence at the PSF. Upon speaking with folks from Rabble I learned about various possibilities for those interested in exploring activism through writing. Those interested in sharing their experiences/ideas during the PSF were able to submit to the official PSF blog site or a more informal discussion forum called Babble. I was also able to attend an amazing workshop on “suffering-free writing” led by Alexis Shotwell.

There are so many stories to share but some PSF moments definitely stood out to me. One was a “blanket exercise” organized by KAIROS Canada that immersed participants in the colonial legacy of Canada through interactive storytelling. Another included the  “Reconciliation Canada” keynote with Viola Thomas who shared her experiences as a survivor of the residential school system and put out a call for action asking Canadians to consider and contest the perpetuation of colonial practices such as the institutionalization of care in/on Aboriginal communities.

On Saturday, PSF participants assembled to discuss next steps and develop action plans. I took in most of the Indigenous Solidarity Assembly which, throughout the day, wove its way into all the other assembly meetings. It was quite the experience to see Algonquin grandmothers move throughout the entire forum from assembly to assembly spreading a call for greater action to support frontline grassroots defenders.

The plan from here is to reconnect with the Brock/Niagara delegation by holding a private ‘photo share’ and then exploring how we might want to share some of our experiences with the wider community. Stay tuned for blog articles, a video montage, and a public panel with some of our delegates.

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