Are we all in this together or what?

Taking change to the next phase

Welcome to At The End Of The Day, a newsletter that puts a people-first perspective on the news.

As I write, I’m listening to my kids scream downstairs.

“I’m mad at you! But I can be mad at you and still like you!”

Hmm. Annoying but cute.

How’s your pandemic going?

Credit: Twitter


What will you miss about this time?

As talk swirls around re-opening the economy, I’m already feeling nostalgic for these last few weeks. I’m nervous admitting that because this has been a true, economic disaster for many, not to mention a life-and-death health crisis, too.

However, this week, on our daily morning nature walk, I found myself speaking wistfully to my 8-year-old.

“When you go back to school one day, I’m going to miss going on these walks with you,” I mused.

“WHAT?! WE’RE NOT GONNA DO THIS WHEN SCHOOL STARTS?!”

Oops? It hadn’t occurred to me that I was breaking bad news. And I’m trying so hard to give my kids a rosy outlook on whatever scrambled version of the future we’re stepping into.

I chose my words carefully, reminding him that pre-COVID, we were always late in the mornings. We didn’t have time to look for birds. We’d get to the corner and I’d slap his backpack like a football coach and yell, “Run!” so he could sprint the last stretch and slip in the school door without a late slip.

Ambling around our neighbourhood in the early morning light with a coffee in hand as he munched apple slices, I didn’t want to slam the door on our favourite, new daily routine. “I do love these walks, so maybe we can try, honey. Maybe.”

Thinking about it later, I’m kind of steamed with myself. There’s so much we’ve lost and grieved, so many dashed plans. Why on earth would we not insist on carrying over the few, unexpected delights of this time into the next phase, whenever and however it happens?

I also think about this all the time when it comes to systems. I think about how we’re finally seeing, in an urgent way, all the ways in which we’ve organized our society so that some groups of people stay vulnerable and exploited, with no morally justifiable reason.

Can we say we’re going to come out of COVID with any real and lasting change?

Have we learned anything about how we value work and the people who do it?

Credit: Instagram/thankyoupigeons

I’m always extremely inspired by hearing voices we don’t usually hear from. I read a really great essay in The Atlantic last week, written by a grocery store cashier who was particularly blunt and brilliant.[1]

I appreciated how they laid out details of their own exploitation and their anger with the system.

Cashiers and shelf-stockers and delivery-truck drivers aren’t heroes. They’re victims. To call them heroes is to justify their exploitation. By praising the blue-collar worker’s public service, the progressive consumer is assuaged of her cognitive dissonance.

The wealthy CEO telling his thousands of employees that they are vital, brave, and noble is a manipulative strategy to keep them churning out profits.

I have immense gratitude for my job. I love my co-workers like family.

The anger I have is not toward my boss, or my boss’s boss, or even that guy’s boss. It’s toward an unfair system that will never change if we workers don’t question the motivations behind such mythmaking.

You can hold multiple things to be true at the same time. You can love your job and hate an exploitative system. And all of us can think about ways we can change it. The question is how?

Mutual aid — Google it

I wanted to talk about this with someone who could give me perspective on how to create positive, lasting social change.

Michael DeForge is an artist friend who is a cartoonist and illustrator. He’s also an activist organizer, mainly around fair labour, climate and public bathroom advocacy (I didn’t know about this last interest of his, so I found this conversation fascinating).

I asked him how he protects his optimism around making good things happen.


When you spot Michael DeForge’s latest in the Globe & Mail (April 25, 2020)


ATEOD: People know you as an artist. How do you describe your activism?

MDF: I’m an organizer, I’m involved in a few different groups.

ATEOD: What are the groups?

MDF: $15 and Fairness and there’s some work around the climate and free transit. A friend and I run Toronto Toilet Codes, which is public bathroom advocacy. It’s about sharing the toilet codes of different businesses online so people wouldn’t have to line up to use the bathroom.

ATEOD: What drew you to that?

MDF: Generally, I’m interested in seeing the ways we’ve lost the sense of collective ownership in our cities and toilets are a big one. Everyone needs to use a washroom and when facilities are not accessible to people, it tethers to them to home in real ways.

If you’re homeless or sleeping rough, not having access is a life or death thing. If you’re elderly, have mobility issues or illness like Crohn’s, pregnant people, if you’re caring for young children, they’re also limited by their access to washrooms. Everyone’s had the humiliating experience of having to line up in a Starbucks to buy a cookie they don’t want, to stop themselves from having to take a crap in the middle of the road.

Obviously the toilet project has to be stopped for quarantine but the lack of public washrooms is a big health hazard. For workers, there aren’t places to wash their hands and it’s heightened for people sleeping rough. Food deliverers and truckers, too.

ATEOD: I go to Starbucks and don’t buy anything but that speaks to my privilege. I look like I belong.

MDF: Actually Starbucks, they’ve made it their policy to give out the code without buying anything but it’s loosely enforced in different places. It’s easy for you or I to walk in but if someone is sleeping rough and bringing carts of their belongings, it’s harder to stroll into a Starbucks. For us, our thinking is that codes aren’t necessary. It’s just, if you can walk into a building in your neighbourhood and use the washroom, that seems like a decent expectation.

ATEOD: Everything’s weird and on pause right now. Does your activism feel more urgent than ever?

MDF: It does feel very urgent. There will always be the slogan on the left, “Another world is possible.” The pandemic has shown another world is actually inevitable, whether it’s a wonderful socialist utopia or the government cracks down and says they’ve spent all this money and they need to increase policing and surveillance. It feels like people are ready to talk about these things but it’s hard to figure out what to do from your room, you know?

ATEOD: What do you say to people who are thinking, I’m stuck at home, what can I do?

MDF: There are ways to look to your own communities and use that as a starting point.

Look to the spaces you occupy the most, you’ll find there are a lot of opportunities to politicize those spaces or plug into a larger struggle through those places. Your workplace, where you live, that’s where you spend most of your life, you know?

If you’re concerned about labour rights, how democratic is your workplace? If you feel at odds with the city and rising prices, you can look at legal aid and tenants’ rights in your area.

And there are all these mutual aid or care-mongering groups set up.

ATEOD: What’s mutual aid?

MDF: Mutual aid is about community setting up networks of support for each other. The other word is care-mongering. It’s a distinct thing from charity. The mutual part implies a network of support. There are a lot of big and small examples of it in history and throughout the world, but a lot of it is about setting up alternate systems where we protect each other rather than relying on outside sources like the state.

ATEOD: How are you feeling at this point in lockdown mode?

MDF: Definitely losing it a little. [Laughs]. It does help knowing that everyone else is losing their minds at the same time. And I have it better than most. Trying to manage the fact that it is really scary but you can’t live every day paralyzed by dread and fear, you have to still put on pants and cook an omelette, that’s still a thing everyone has to do. It’s weird for everybody.

ATEOD: What are the things you want to see after this time?

MGF: A lot of it is stuff Doug Ford helped roll back in Ontario specifically. We should be pushing for paid sick leave and paid emergency leave. Paid sick leave should feel like the minimum we’re asking for. The business lobby and some politicians have been craven about saying you should work until you die. At this point the President of the United States has made that clear by saying it’s time to go back to work. You shouldn’t have to choose between being able to pay your rent and getting sick, you shouldn’t have to choose your health over jobs.

Credit: Instagram/michael.deforge


The CERB (Canada Emergency Response Benefit) excludes a lot of people. Certainly for migrant workers it’s impossible if you don’t have SIN, and that’s a huge portion of workers right now.

I have a buddy in a warehouse, the supply side of a grocery store, and he says the most protection they’ve been given a t-shirt that says, “Please stay 6 ft from me.” He’s being treated as an essential worker and we’re all going outside and banging pots and pans and corporations are making viral GIFS, but he isn’t getting hazard pay.

ATEOD: What if I agree with everything you’re saying but I don’t know what to do and how to start?

MDF: It doesn’t take a lot of Googling to find groups in the places you live, so in Toronto, I would say $15 and Fairness [2], Climate Justice Toronto [3], TTC Riders [4] , Anakbayan [5] , Friends of Chinatown TO [6] , Jane and Finch Against Poverty [7] . The Canadian Chinese National Council, the Toronto chapter [8], has a grocery store project. Grocery store workers are on the frontlines of this and intersect with those most exploited. Those are good starting points.

And if they notice there’s something they’re particularly furious about, it’s very likely there’s already people working on it that you can plug into and if there isn’t, there are people who would happily support you. That’s the big thing about organizing is realizing that you’re not alone in any of it.


That’s the thing, isn’t it? We’re all supposed to be in this together. And I love that Michael identifies the fury we feel when things are systemically unfair and yet, he is such a calm, cool speaker. Maybe it’s the benefit of a good feelings-to-actions ratio. Thank you, Michael, for the conversation.

What are you thinking about during this weird time of massive change? If you’re on Facebook, come to my new page to let me know.

Take care and thanks for reading,

Hannah

[1] The Atlantic, Calling Me a Hero Only Makes You Feel Better

[2] $15 and Fairness

[3] Climate Justice Toronto

[4] TTC Riders

[5] Anakbayan Toronto

[6] Friends of Chinatown TO

[7] Jane and Finch Against Poverty

[8] The Canadian Chinese National Council, the Toronto chapter