Tag Archives: Hunger strike

Defining victory in activism, from #BLMTOtentcity to the Site C hunger strike

Image description: A split shot. On the left is hunger striker Kristen Henry at the protest encampment outside of B.C. Hydro; behind her are several tarps, tents, and signs. On the right is the Black Lives Matter Toronto "tent" city outside of TPS headquarters; a large crowd is gathered on the sidewalk, with several colourful tarps in the foreground, apparently covering piles of supplies. (Image credits: Facebook/Youtube)

Image description: A split shot. On the left is hunger striker Kristen Henry at the protest encampment outside of B.C. Hydro; behind her are several tarps, tents, and signs. On the right is the Black Lives Matter Toronto “tent” city outside of TPS headquarters; a large crowd is gathered on the sidewalk, with several colourful tarps in the foreground, apparently covering piles of supplies. (Image credits: Facebook/Flipboard)

Often, activists are met with derisive questions from opponents as to what, exactly, they think they’re trying to accomplish by (blocking off traffic/marching and chanting/occupying space/working to rule/etc). The implication often seems to be that important decisions about the division of power and resources aren’t made in the streets, but in the halls of power, and that by taking up public space and making a ruckus, advocates are misdirecting their energy and doing nothing to forward their causes. (Often, of course, these criticisms are coupled with disdain for those very causes.)

In recent years, we’ve heard these criticisms mounted, with varying degrees of self-righteous intensity, against the massive anti-capitalist demonstrations at the Toronto G-20 in 2010, against the Occupy movement and its encampments in 2011, against the Québec student strike in 2012, against Idle No More’s road and rail barricades in 2013, and against anti-pipeline demonstrations for quite some time. We’re once again hearing this rhetoric deployed against the two most high-profile protest encampments since Occupy, the Black Lives Matter Toronto tent city (#BLMTOtentcity) at Toronto Police Services’ headquarters and the protest camp/hunger strike against Site C taking place on B.C. Hydro’s doorstep in Vancouver.

To listen to the contemporary critics of each of these movements, all were wastes of time, orchestrated by “professional activists” and attended by the ignorant unemployed, employing needlessly confrontational and counter-productive tactics which would ultimately prove self-defeating.

But the simple truth is that each of these movements did have accomplishments. Some were more successful than others, to be sure, but each of them was able to boast some major achievements.

That being said, not all are remembered as successes. Continue Reading

String of prisoner strikes highlights atrocious state of jails in Canada

Image: a view of the front entrance of the Toronto South Detention Centre, a tall building with glass-panelled walls.

A hunger strike at a Regina jail last week was just the latest in a series of high-profile protests by prisoners over the past six months, and underscored the crisis facing the Canadian prison system as it struggles to deal with the legacy of the Harper-era tough-on-crime agenda.

Back in late 2010, when Stephen Harper laid out his new prison-building tough-on-crime agenda, critics were quick to point out a lot of flaws in his plan.

They questioned the necessity of building new prisons at a time when crime rates were at an all-time national low. They questioned the wisdom of harsh mandatory minimum sentences for drug offences, a practice that many charge creates far more problems than it solves. They questioned the massive $2-billion price tag attached to the prison expansions and sentencing changes. They questioned the unnecessarily harsh and punitive approach taken by the Harper government, which overlooked research into proven successful measures like poverty reduction and increased support for people with mental illnesses.

Those questions – including ones raised by senior researchers in the Justice Department – ultimately went unanswered as an omnibus crime bill was pushed through Parliament in early 2012.

By the next year, prisoners across Canada were going on strike, as this VICE investigative report details: Continue Reading

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