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10th annual Social Justice Week offers wide lens for world issues

By Margaux Perrin

Ryerson’s 10th annual Social Justice Week (SJW) is looking beyond Ryerson and Toronto to advance the social justice efforts that have become an everyday battle for individuals and groups around the world. 

Since the event is entirely virtual this year, the panel events from Oct. 26 to Oct. 30 will feature speakers “from across Turtle Island, Canada, the USA, Hong Kong, Brazil, South Africa and Trinidad & Tobago,” said Kiké Roach, the Unifor National Chair in Social Justice and Democracy at Ryerson and organizer of SJW. 

Since 2011, SJW has been a forum for social justice advocates and Ryerson’s academic community to come together and interact, as is the mandate for the Unifor Chair, said Roach in an email to The Eyeopener.

“It is definitely more challenging organizing events without the benefit of being on campus and meeting with the planning committee on a face to face basis,” Roach wrote. 

Faced with the challenge of being entirely online, “we’ve decided to focus on a big advantage,” she said. “We can invite speakers from around the world and gain insights on how people are grappling with pressing issues internationally.” 

With many social justice topics discussed throughout the week—such as fighting for healthcare, democracy and challenging state-sanctioned violence and legacies of colonialism—are happening globally. Roach said that SJW “is an opportunity for us to learn and connect to and show solidarity with people around the world.”  

“There is an energy that’s built from being around people who are changemakers,” said Roberta Timothy, assistant professor at the University of Toronto Dalla Lana School of Public Health and director of the Masters of Public Health health promotion program.

Both Timothy and Justice for Migrant Workers member, Tracy-Ann Hines, will be speaking on the Food Justice in a Time of COVID panel discussing food security and justice as it relates to the precarious work conditions involved in producing and distributing food. 

Coming from a family activists, Timothy said she was “breastfed with revolution” and grew up going to marches for women’s rights and supporting Pan-African movements, citing the Anti-Apartheid Movement as having a significant impact on who she is today. From a young age, she’s done feminist and decolonizing work; noting that her mother was involved in emancipatory movements and taught Timothy and her siblings the power of resisting.

Now, Timothy said she’s “honoured” to be part of SJW among a roster of amazing speakers. In particular, she appreciates being in a space where the people who are doing social justice work will be supported and recognized. 

“I stand here, because I’m standing on the backs of others, who sometimes their names are not known, and their voices were not heard,” she said. “I hope that people take away that this is not a seven year revolution, [emancipation of Black, Indigenous and colonized folks] is a 400 year and more revolution that we’re a part of, and that they can make a difference.”

She also added that SJW should make people feel like they are a part of something, and create “a safer space to talk about some of the difficult conversations that we need to do, hold people up, and support the change work we need to do in this world.” 

In past years, SJW events have included skill building workshops, panels, speeches, poetry, rallies, walks, and other events. Through these, SJW addresses a wide range of issues including “Indigenous sovereignty and land defence, workers’ rights, democracy, and political organizing, the environment, homelessness, the failures of the legal system, combatting anti-Black racism, disability justice, food insecurity and feminist activism to name a few,” said Roach. 

This year’s theme, “Beyond Walls, Beyond Borders,” tackles in particular justice: critical geography, democracy, political mobilization, labour, global resistance, and feminist activism, according to the SJW website.

Monday’s headlining panel, Beyond Pipelines & Prisons: Infrastructures of Abolition, features anti-colonial thinkers Winona LaDuke and Ruth Wilson Gilmore. The two will discuss how we can build social infrastructures to avoid planetary, social, and ecological disaster posed by infrastructure from pipelines to prisons, according to the event’s online description

LaDuke is an international lecturer on Indigenous and environmental issues and community leader at the White Earth Indian Reservation in Minnesota. As a Havard-educated economist and life-time award achiever from the Minnesota Women’s Press, LaDuke’s scholarship explores America’s attempts at multicultural democracy, grassroots efforts against climate change and Indigenous sovereignty. 

Gilmore, a professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the City University of New York, is the co-founder of multiple grassroots organizations such as California Prison Moratorium Project and Critical Resistance. Gilmore recently won the 2020 Lannan Foundation Lifetime Cultural Freedom Prize.

Roach’s predecessor and second Unifor Chair, Winnie Ng, was the creator of SJW in 2011. Following the effects of the 2008 recession and the election of a conservative government, “SJW emerged as a place where critical political questions were analyzed and much needed dialogue on grassroots community engagement was fostered,” said Roach. 

At that time, “[Ng] did a wonderful job of bringing different people across campus together to reflect on the most entrenched systemic problems we face, and to discuss solutions powered by the activism and creativity of so-called ordinary people.” 

Ng will be moderating the Right Before Our Eyes: Dissent, Democracy and Creative Resistance in Hong Kong session. The event, which will situate Hong Kong as “part of a global movement against tyranny and dictatorship” and discuss its connections to Canadian and other democracy movements, will also feature RU Stand with Hong Kong. 

Other prominent Ryerson figures who will be speaking at SJW include Cathy Crowe, a street nurse and distinguished visiting practitioner at Ryerson, who will be speaking on the Housing in Crisis panel to discuss how homelessness is exacerbated by race, colonization and the pandemic.

Pascale Diverlus, former Ryerson student and co-founder of Black Lives Matter – Toronto, will also be hosting a panel featuring Black freedom fighters from around the world called “Global Black Resistance.” 

Dr. Loree Erickson and Adan Jareat-Poole, the former and present Ethel Louise Post Doctoral Fellows at the School of Disability Studies, respectively, will host Mad/Crip Jam: Digital Intimacies, a workshop on game design, access intimacy, and disability justice. The workshop will create a space specifically for Mad, sick, spoonie, Deaf and disabled students (broadly defined, not policed or dependent on diagnosis, according to Erickson) to “share their experiences of COVID-19 and use collaborative storytelling as a mode of community-building and critical intervention,” according to the event description.  

The week will end with We Keep Each Other Safe: Living In a World Without Police or Prisons, an webinar organized by the Toronto Prisoner Rights Project to discuss and imagine a future where policing and prisons have been abolished and explore collective safety models. 

SJW’s full schedule is available online. All the events are open to the public and free to attend. ASL and captioning will be available and some of the events will be posted on the Social Justice Chair website in the future. 

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