Rarely has a stop sign created so much of an effect.
Dressed in her stern page uniform, Brigitte DePape walked to the middle of the floor of the Senate, stood there silently, and held a sign during the Prime Minister’s 2011 Throne Speech. « Stop Harper », it read.
The twenty-something DePape was planning a career as a politician. Instead, she turned rogue. Since then she has gone on to become an emerging activist and a voice for solidarity and engagement. She toured the country, meeting community-led groups and different activists.
« There is a myth in Canada that the youth is apathetic », she observed. « I saw something different. I met so many different groups. I met a lot of inspiring people.»
Bust the myth, one activist at a time
To challenge that myth DePape got involved with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives in the publication of Power of Youth : Youth and community-led activism in Canada. The book, co-edited with Erika Shaker, features twenty essays written by « engaged, motivated, pissed off, and fearless » activists and community-organisers.
« The book is almost an ode to grassroots organizing. It is grassroots organizing, people-powered strategies led by the directly impacted communities, that has been responsible for groundbreaking changes in history » DePape writes in the book’s introduction.
The compiled essays cover a wide range of issues, ranging from the expansion of the criminal justice system in Manitoba to shale gas drilling in Quebec. It features dialogues between journalists and activists, such as the conversation between the community spokesperson for the Algonquins of Barriere Lake Norman Matchewan and Montreal-baed writer Martin Lukacs.
The book also presents personal reflections on political engagement like the piece written by South Asian activist, Harha Walia. It outlines the key strategies in order to organize and sustain a social movement and stresses the need to engage in our activism with a sense of personal purpose. Some essays speak of the role of creativity in resistance, like Michael Wheeler’s take on political theatre and the G-20-themed play You Should Have Stayed Home.
Each essay is informative on its own, but their entirety creates a different effect : for DePape, it is the beginning of a conversation. « It is a different space for dialogue in progressive movements. It supports youth-led movements but also establishes intergenerational dialogue.»
In other words, it is about learning from other’s experiences, past or current. « I’ve asked some of the coolest and most effective movement builders I know to share some of the things they have learned through their experiences ,» writes De Pape.
Drawing from their own experiences, each writer explains how they are using activism to provoke change in the field they are working in. Though the essays cover different topics, the underlying issues they raise all interconnect. Most essays, in exploring a specific problem, speak of the solidarity, organisational strategies, decolonization, and anti-oppression attitudes.
Power of Youth went to print before the Quebec student mobilizations emerged in the anglophone media in the rest of Canada. DePape nevertheless cites the mouvement as « a case and a show of people power.»
« It inspired a lot of us in the rest of Canada. It builds important bridges » she said. « We learn from Quebec’s tradition that is more about direct democracy, social equality and progressive values.»
Though the “Maple Spring” has been sometimes romanticised, it did provoke new alliances between activist groups in Quebec and groups in other provinces. Ultimately, the creation of a vibrant network of activists through which information and strategies can be shared remains a positive goal.
Ultimately, as DePape puts it, it is about « a united front against the capitalist agenda.»