Post-PowerShift 2012 thoughts from a Prairie Organizer
One of my recurrent themes as an organizing member of PowerShift 2012 has been how to engage, involve and empower folks from Western Canada to participate in a meaningful way. While I feel this goal has been somewhat accomplished, I know there is a long road ahead of us when it comes to engaging central Canada in the discussion around climate justice.
For many of my peers at home in Saskatchewan, as well as friends in Alberta, Manitoba and British Columbia, cost and time constraints were the two largest factors determining whether or not they would be able to attend PowerShift 2012. There was a great deal of enthusiasm around the idea and the potential learning that could occur at such a large, national-scale event – as well as excitement around the idea of more accessible, local-level PowerShift events in the future.
On a different level, an issue that I have struggled with and that was also brought up in our regional (SK & AB) session was that of relevance. As someone working on the issue of climate justice in a province currently reaping the benefits of extractive industries (and living next door to the Alberta Tar Sands, with a premier who has openly stated that Saskatchewan will be the next Alberta), there is a huge disconnect and resistance to overcome when it comes to making the discussion around environmental and social justice relevant in the prairie setting.
For as long as I can remember, Saskatchewan was often the “have-not” province of Canada and a place that was “good to be from but not to be”. It is only in the past 10 years or less that the economic tides have shifted in my province, to the point where we have been recognized globally as one of the world’s hottest local economies.
This has led to an understandable shift in the provincial mindset. If what we are doing now is working so well, why not just do more of it, and faster? Who cares about the consequences to remote communities, the environment or our future generations as long as the going is good right now?
A salient comment that came out of our regional discussion group was the fact that the issues coming out of the West (tar sands, fracking, Indigenous rights) have taken up the national spotlight – while often remaining in the shadows at home in our communities. We, as local organizers, must now take up the challenge of initiating and facilitating some very uncomfortable discussions back home. We must begin to ask the difficult questions and be prepared for some trying times ahead.
The question we must ask, both at home and on a national scale, is how do we plan to support and enable this kind of dialogue to take place? How will we, as organizers across the country, come together to support people working on these issues at a local level in an effort to increase solidarity and the strength of our movements – rather than allowing isolation and frustration to burn out our local activists?
There are no easy answers to these questions. Certainly, a call for regional PowerShifts has been made (and answered) – but the challenge remains to harness the energy and enthusiasm we have garnered in a way that increases our capacity and our ability to rise united in challenging the systems that divide and separate us.