Published in Shameless magazine | Fall 2010 | Circulation: 3,000
On the morning of June 23, the land trembled.
An earthquake rattled corporate towers, shook up news media, and jolted Canada’s political and financial centres, Ottawa and Toronto. But the real tremors of that week were felt above ground.
Only three days later, world’s most powerful leaders were to gather in Ontario for meetings of the G20 and G8, coordinating policies affecting billions. And, as happens everywhere elites meet, thousands of people confronted their policies’ impact on communities of colour, women, LGBTQ, migrants, Indigenous and poor people, and the Earth itself.
That morning, as the quake struck, organizers were on the streets with colourful floats, oil drums, and costumed activists covered in tar, calling for action against the destruction of Indigenous territories, climate change, and Canada’s tar sands. At the march, my friends felt the tremors. In fact, several posted a sarcastic communique online claiming responsibility for the earthquake as a symbol of resistance.
Jokes aside, I couldn’t help but later imagine that the shake-up was an omen of the events yet to transpire – the largest mass arrests in Canadian history (nearly 1,200 people detained, where police threatened some women with rape), brutality on a widespread scale by authorities, the loss of our constitutional rights and freedoms of assembly, and friends jailed in house raids at gunpoint.
When the earthquake hit, I was cooking underground and felt nothing. Except, maybe, regret that I didn’t get to protest. Instead, I had been approached by a friend to help behind-the-scenes.
“We will be serving free food every day,” she told me, “but we’re short on people to bottom-line cooking for a few of the days at the Convergence Centre. Can you cook for large groups?” (The Convergence Centre: a community meeting place, “people’s kitchen,” media centre, banner-painting and art area).
So I agreed to cook, found volunteers to help, and bought supplies to make butternut squash soup. But as out-of-town friends arrived, I began to feel a bit jealous they’d get to be on the front-lines, while I’d probably get burned out shopping, cooking for hundreds of activists, and cleaning up after them – not to mention hosting up to six people in my home.
I have been part of justice movements for more than a decade. In recent years, however, I’ve been reflecting a lot on my experiences in feminist and Indigenous communities, and wondering where I fit. After years of such organizing, my instincts told me I needed to step back, withdraw from the intensity of street protest, and gather up energy for the long struggle ahead.
There’s no shame in being in the background – what is in fact, truly a front-line of our struggle – doing vital work of helping cook and serve food, securing meeting spaces, fundraising to support political prisoners, or waiting outside jail late at night with smokes and blankets for two dear friends – both queer women of colour – who spent 24 hours in police cages.
It’s not that I was inactive – it’s just that I chose my action carefully and went ‘underground’ when needed. I realized that when we step back or ask for support, others step forward to take our place or back us up. Even more importantly, I’ve learned that movements need a wide range of tactics and roles to be successful – we need the cooks, hosts, healers, elders and artists, as much as we need the border resisters, journalists, black bloc militants, and other witnesses for a just world (and these are not always separate).
In fact, as a white, class-privileged man who tries to live by feminist values, I needed to stop seeing the often unrecognized support roles as less valuable. I also needed to learn to respect my intuitions and feelings, while offering my heartfelt support to everyone who chose to take risks to speak out and offer a more hopeful vision for our world.
And so, on the night of the earthquake, as hungry and tired activists clamoured for supper, my cauldron boiled over, exploding scalding squash soup across my arm. As I reeled from the pain, I felt an intense sensation of being alive and of being part of a thread of resistance woven through history by countless generations.
I still choose to give my energy to the struggle, but I’m learning my limits, and I’m learning to value the diversity of tactics and roles each of us takes on.
This summer, the land trembled. I’ll cherish my squash soup scars for some time to come.
David Ball is a community organizer and photojournalist in Toronto, involved in Indigenous solidarity and environmental justice, particularly with Grassy Narrows First Nation. He also loves writing music and cooking.