Tatamagouche Summer Free School

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Interview: Rob Assels (Local Currency)

Yuill Herbert interviewed Rob Assels, who is President of the Sunrise Trail Community Development Co-operative and Administrator of the Local Economic Trading System (LETS) in Tatamagouche.

What is the LETS program?

It is a membership based trading system that uses a local currency (the Northumberland Note) to facilitate transactions.

How long has the trading system been effective in Tatamagouche, and how has it developed since then?

It was officially launched in June 2005, although the first transaction took place on May 13, when Avi Lewis and 25 others had a five course meal at the Sunrise Beach Golf course. We began with only 20 businesses. I refer to them as businesses because everyone in the program must be both a buyer and a seller. In our first month we traded $750 worth of goods. Three months later we allowed another 12 businesses to join. In March, we accepted another 21. In June of 2006, one year since it started, we transacted for $9,000 in goods and services.

How many members are there, and what is the ideal membership?

There are currently 53 members. In terms of the ideal membership ... It's a bit of a strange question, because no one ever asks that of the conventional economy. Some LETS administrators feel that 250 is the maximum number but that is because of the amount of volunteer work required by traditional LETS administrators; we don't have that problem because we have an accounting firm do all the administration. I would say that economies of scale begin to materialize around 100. For instance, at that point you can consider offering insurance to members.

What can people buy in the Tatamagouche area with LETS dollars?

Vegetables, meat, some clothing, mechanic, electrician, carpenter, lawyer, baker, florist, art gallery, golf course, restaurants, advertising, manual labour, and many others I can't think of off hand.

What was your motivation in setting up a Local Economic Trading System in Tatamagouche?

It is one front in the war our community is fighting to be sustainable. We believe that there isn't enough money in rural communities. This happens because of two distinctly different issues. The first is that there isn't enough money entering the community and the second is that the money that is the community in the form of salaries is leaves the community fairly quickly in the form of purchases at big box stores. The LETS program helps to address the second issue, by allowing people to support local businesses without feeling they are being penalized.

Is there potential for setting up similar local trading systems in other communities throughout Nova Scotia?

Yes there is. We are hoping the office of Economic Development will seriously consider assisting us in exporting the model we have developed to other communities. We have a step-by-step guidebook on how to accomplish what we've done to date.

How do you see the LETS program benefiting the local Tatamagouche community both presently and potentially?

Most people in all communities (urban and rural) say they can't afford organic food. We've found that since implementing the LETS program, the amount of organic food being sold has almost doubled (on some product lines it has risen four fold). It appears as if we are going to get a rural transit system that would not have been possible if we hadn't been able to buy the bus, hire the driver and get the diesel repairs, all in local currency.

What is the most important aspect of making a Local Economic Trading System sustainable?

Probably the best advice I can offer is to recommend that it not be based upon volunteer administrators. It is also important to include a food retailer in the program from the outset. In fact, I would say that it shouldn't be attempted without a food retailer.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Interview: Halifax Coalition Against Poverty

Cole and Jill (and one other, whose name I unfortunately forget) of the Halifax Coalition Against Poverty gave a free school session about their organizing. Hillary Lindsay interviewed them via email.


Could you explain the purpose of HCAP?

HCAP is a direct-action anti-poverty organization based in Halifax, NS. We organize to defend individuals from evictions, welfare termination and abuse from employers. As well, we launch campaigns against regressive government policy and the institutions that perpetuate poverty. We believe that there is dignity in resistance and that the poor, homeless, and their allies should organize to fight back. As social services are continuously clawed back and the gap between rich and poor widens, the need to resist becomes increasingly urgent. Hundreds sleep on the street and in temporary shelters due to desperately inadequate social housing. Welfare and disability rates cannot sustain a decent standard of living and the minimum wage provides no escape from impoverishment. Our economy centralizes wealth in the hands of the few while government policy protects property and profit, keeping the poor in their place. HCAP believes this can change by uniting the struggles of poor and homeless people with those of workers, students, women, First Nations and others. A movement must be built that is capable of winning concessions from power. Only then will we have the strength to challenge the existing power structure and ultimately transform society.

Why is advocacy work an important part of what you do?

For an anti-poverty organization with anti-capitalist vision it is essential to be able to deal with the day to day symptoms of poverty. In and of themselves, actions such as defending tenants rights at a tenancy tribunal of getting welfare recipients a bit more on each check by working the policy do not challenge the systematic oppression. Our advocacy work is first and foremost a means to politicize and mobilize poor people to broader political action. Advocacy work builds our membership and recruits new activists who have experience advocating for themselves.


Why do you use direct action as a tactic?

We use direct action because we understand the system we are up against. Winning justice for poor people is not a matter of convincing those in power to give us more crumbs from the table through research and strong moral arguments. Winning justice in the context of a capitalist society means forcing a redistribution of wealth by disrupting and confronting those institutions and individuals in whose hands wealth and power is currently concentrated.


Could you give an example of one of HCAP's actions?

In the winter of 2004 a rooming house on Mitchell Street was shut down through HRM by-law M-100. HRM did not make any attempt to have the landlord pay for the repairs nor did they take that responsibility on themselves.

14 low-income tenants were given 2 weeks notice of eviction. Most of these people ended up on the street. These 14 fell under an umbrella trem of "the hardest to house" people with drug and alcohol abuse issues and physical and mental illness. Their slum land lord was providing a service that to other person or organization in the city would do.

You may have the impression that Halifax's shelter system would be adequate enough to deal effectively with these people.

Wrong: lots of people fall through the cracks because of discriminatory policy.

In response to the building closure HCAP demanded:

1. M-100 be amended to make landlords and/or City responsible for doing repairs.

2. That a shelter of last resort designed to accommodate anyone be funded.

HCAP prepared a presentation for City Council but were rejected when we applied to be on the next weeks agenda. We came anyway with 20 or so of our members that included people who had been evicted from Mitchell Street.

When the time for new business came around we all stood up and made our demands heard against the wishes of Council.

When nothing came out of this, we decided to repeat the same simple, disruptive action. Wanted to send the message that while people are forced to risk harm from exposure sleeping on the streets, business will not go on as usual.

After a second disruption Mayor Kelly got on the ball. A meeting was called of all anti-poverty and service providing groups in HRM reps from over 30 organizations came to meet with the Mayor and David Morse, then the Community Services Minister. At that meeting DCS commits to fund Pendleton Place, a temporary wet shelter for the winter months.

Between December 2004 and May 2005, the 40 bed shelter is packed every night to capacity, sometimes housing upwards of 60 individuals according to Saint Leonard's Society.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Interview: Shaani Singh (The Art of Good Chai)

Interview by Yuill Herbert.

Where did you learn to make chai?


I learned it at my house and my mom and dad taught me.

How often do you make it?

Every morning. In the winter we make it alot.

What feeling does the taste and small of chai give you?

Comfort sort of....

Do you have any secret ingredients?

Everyone has their own way- I sort of copy my parents. Cinnamon.

How long does it take you to make a pot of chai?

It takes 10 minutes.

What was it like to give a workshop on chai tea making?

Its fun and I liked to show it to the people.

Where does the chai recipe come from?

My grandmother taught my father and mother and she comes from India.


How does it taste different from normal tea?

It's spicy.

Sunday Seminars: Yoga and Poverty

Not pictured is Rob Astle's seminar on local currencies.

Yoga and Cancer:


Reinventing (Anti-)Poverty, with Cole and Jill:




Onlookers fascinated with sawing lumber:


Interview: Av Singh (Chewing Cud and Wicked Messenger: Bob Dylan and the Bible)

You gave sessions about chewing cud and Bob Dylan's religious streak. Is there any connection between the two?

Wow...Dylan does make reference to a sacred cow in the song "Ring them bells'...otherwise I don't have a connection...they're just two topics that I have passion about.


What fascinates you about cud chewers?

Ruminants often get maligned for damaging the environment, in terms of meat production...but if we fed them what they actually should eat...that is forage...they are a benefit for the environment in that they capitalize on a food source that is undigestible to humans.

Can you briefly describe the mechanics that make that possible?

Ruminants have made an evolutionary symbiotic relationship with bacteria and protozoa that live in their stomach and digest the cellulose from the forage and then will eventually release nitrogen that will be used for milk, meat, or fibre.

That raises an interesting question. Where does Dylan come down in the evolution debate?

At the very beginning...God created Dylan on the eighth day and he arrived on earth on May 24th, 1941.

But you were saying that Dylan believes, or seems to believe, that everything is part of a divine plan?

Dylan is part of that divine plan...in his recent interview with Ed Bradley (60 Minutes) he definitely gives the credit of his songwriting ability to the Master.

Hmm. Ok. So I just read an interesting book by David Noble, who argues that it's the belief in the existence of a divine plan, and the idea of a promised land, forms the intellectual and cultural underpinning of both the free-trade-as-divine-order crowd, and also the messianic tendencies in Marxism. Noble says that this kind of idea leads us away from the world, away from actualizing the potentials of the here-and-now. Your own thoughts?


I think putting too much emphasis on the ideas of the world does takes us away from actualizing certain potentials... but I think many of those potentials are illusory... we could do better avoiding some of the illusions and perhaps get grounded with simpler philosophies of love and respect.

For a final question, then, how do you think love and respect figure in our relationships to ruminants?

Without love and respect, I don't think the ruminants would have formed the relationship with bacteria and protozoa and we would still be having small ungulates that could not digest cellulose.



All together now!




Saturday Music: Abigail Lapell

Abigail Lapell, of Montreal and the room next to mine in our apartment, played some songs in the Hay Loft.



Saturday Evening Seminars: Haiti and Nanotech

Stu Neatby recounts his time in Haiti and Canada's involvement in the political situation there.



Yuill Herbert presents on the rapid development and lack of understanding of the environmental and health risks of nanotechnology:



No photos (! I got too interested in the tail end of Stuart's presentation) of Introduction to Midwifery.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Interview: Cammie Harbottle (Seed Saving)

Maybe we should start with what seed saving is....what is it?

It is quite simple. You just let the plant, lettuce, tomato, whatever, go through its life cycle as it will. It will produce a flower which will develop into a seedpod which, when allowed to fully mature can be collected, processed (dried, or fermented and then dried), and then saved to be re-planted the following year.


There are obvious economic incentives to do this (although they are relatively small considering the low costs of seeds that one can buy from the grocery store) but what are the other incentives? There are environmental, social and political incentives to save seed as well. As control over plant breeding, research, and seed banks becomes increasingly concentrated in the hands of large US and transnational corporations, genetic diversity is lost as heirloom varieties are replaced with hybrid seeds suited for agribusiness. It is becoming more expensive and difficult for farmers and gardeners to grow food due to levies and royalties attached to the increasing number of patented seeds. Federal policies and legislation are shifting control of plant research and breeding programs out of the public domain and into private hands. This is only to mention a few issues. By saving seed we can help to ensure that no more varieties are lost and the remaining seed bank in North America and around the world is maintained, and farmers and gardeners retain their rights to save seed. It is a really important thing to be doing.


Where's a good place to start, for people who have never saved seeds before?

In the garden- whatever garden you can find. Just start observing the life cycle of plants. Some species are definitely less complicated than others to save seed from. These are annual flowers and vegetables that self-pollinate and do not cross with other varieties of the same species. There is lots of information out there, in books, on the internet, with seed saving organizations and in the people around us, especially the generations that have come before us. Just start talking about it. People seem to get really excited about saving seed and love to share what they know, at least I do and those who I have come across... It's an exciting and amazing process. And it feels like you are doing something important.

Interview: Dru Oja Jay

Yuill Herbert interviewed me after I did a session on independent media. Here's the result.

Describe how the Dominion is different from the Globe and Mail?

dru_hallway.jpg To speak of general trends, the Globe covers stories that are interesting to Canada's elite. They actually say that explicitly at some point; that the people who read the Globe are the people who perceive themselves to be the Canadian elite. So the coverage is almost entirely about who's in power, which public figures are being affected by the latest scandal, and what governments or corporations said in recent press releases or press conferences. Their business section actually digs into some stories critically, but it's critical from the perspective of trying to understand what is going to increase profits, or prevent them from being increased.

The Dominion's priorities are elsewhere. Our coverage seeks to understand what's happening on the ground, and what's happening with the people who are directly impacted by the political maneuvres that the Globe is covering in great detail. The personalities involved, to us, are less interesting than the human and environmental reality that is being affected by the moves. We also spend some time trying to understand the specific ways that the Globe and other publications either cover up or avoid reporting on these effects.

What do you mean by independent media?

I mean, primarily, media that is not dependent on the usual sources of revenue for corporate publications. Whether that's corporate financing or government funding, there is a basic problem with having someone else pay for reporting that you rely on to be informed about the world. One improvement is to have different kinds of funding, so you have media that is supported by different interests that have different priorities: governments can fund interesting projects like Al-Jazeera, and unions can fund outlets that break interesting stories like BC's The Tyee. For media to be really independent, though, it can only be dependent on the people that it is serving.

Why did you chose the title Dominion?

We wanted something that would refer to this geopolitical area, without doing the typical nationalist thing and using the term Canada, a maple leaf motif, or whatever. The Dominion of Canada used to be the official name, and until a few decades ago, it was in use. It has become unfashionable, as it refers directly to Canada's status as a colony of Britain; the Queen is still our sovereign. But we're reviving it to refer not just to the history of colonization--a bloody history that we don't hear about much, except when we're feeling good about how much more enlightened we are today--but to its present and future status. There are many powerful forces at work in this land, and they are vying for control of natural resources, and what they refer to with that abominable phrase, "human resources". Paradoxically, "dominion" comes from the the same root word that gives us "domicile", so it's meant to evoke this sense of the excercise of power, but also that it's place where people live their lives.

If someone gave you one million dollars (and they are strongly encouraged to do so) what would you do with it?

I think I would spend a chunk of it to travel across the country and spend a lot of time talking to people whose lives are directly affected by the disinformation that comes out in the media, to see what their priorities are in terms of combatting that. The rest of the money would be spent on establishing a network of people that are interested in supporting and funding independent media in the long term. In some ways, I think it would be a bit of a curse, in the sense that if you have money, you get a reprieve from the necessity of finding out what's going to work, and getting in touch with the people who can help you, because you have the ability to buy that help, at least temporarily. So I think the money would be best used bringing people together, connecting them and creating a space where people have the capacity to collectively decide if they want to keep relying on the CBC and the Globe and whatever else, or if they want to give $5 a year to create something else. If everyone in Canada gave $5 a year, we'd have a $150 million budget to work with. That's not going to happen soon, but I think that putting it that way illustrates the need for, before everything else, space for informed, democratic decisionmaking. The problem is that the venues where those kinds of discussions could conceivably take place are owned by the same people who want to maintain the status quo.

You also helped organise the Free School. Can you explain the inspiration for the idea?

I think that the main inspiration was visiting Waldegrave farm for the first time after it was bought by the community land trust crew, and seeing all this space, which just seemed to exude pure potential for new and interesting configurations of human interaction. I had participated in a number of interesting events, including KotkjArve MetsaUlikool, which is a "forest university" that has been organized by members of the Toronto Estonian community since the 1970s, and the Cascadia Anarchist Tech skillshare, which was geeks from Vancouver, Seattle and Portland getting together to enthuse about cool stuff, and share skills. There was also the Halifax Free School, which was a weekly event in Halifax where people could learn everything from knitting to the history of Palestine. The ability to have a permanent space that wouldn't go away, or be occupied by other people after an initial event was over suggested a great deal of potential, so to me the Free School is the seed for the creation of radically different kind of university... that said, those kinds of ideas point further down the road. For now, the Free School is attracting a lot of attention because it's fun and interesting, and brings a lot of compelling people into the same place. I think that's as good an 'engine' as any for moving toward building something that has a much bigger scope down the road.

What book are you reading right now?

Well, I just finished reading "Beyond the Promised Land," by David Noble. Noble makes the interesting argument that the concept of an original utopia--the garden of eden being the canonical example, but the trope appears throughout western history--is harmful, in the sense that it makes us wait for salvation at the hands of God, or historical inevitability, and leads us to seek escape from the concrete reality we're faced with. Noble argues that the conception of a perfect state of affairs imposes a kind of death on our positive experiences, and actively prevents us from an existential engagement with our here and now, our responsibilities. He gives examples of free marketeers and marxists alike who have fallen into this kind of pattern of thought, which he identifies throughout the western intellectual tradition. Noble's a smart guy, and has read a lot.

Et alia

Some photos I like.

Hillary, during the second meeting of the discussion group on the next five years of Free School. After a lively discussion about the politics of inclusion, folks went on a brief tour of the hog barn, which is being considered for possible renovation/rebirth as a dedicated Free School building:


The vegetable choppers displaced what was a de facto newsroom yesterday. For now, though, all the computers have been gradually displaced by squash and beets:


Workshops: Saturday Afternoon

Zine Making, with Sarah Evans:


Bike Repair, with Rob Maclean:


Physical Theatre, with Sarah Cormier:


Keynote: Amanda Quiche

Amanda Quiche was in her fourth year of law school (one of only a handful of Mayan women to be there) when she and her family were forced to claim refugee status in Canada. She spoke to a big Free School crowd about her experience in Guatemala, and coming to Canada as a refugee.



Friday bits

On the way to a session in the hay loft:


Cammie Harbottle's seed saving workshop:


Av Singh's seminar, "Cud-Chewing 101: An Introductory Look at the Ruminant Digestive System", was the sleeper hit of the free school so far. Here's Av with a sheep stomach, explaining the finer points of how some mammals stay alive while eating not-easily-digestible grass. Cows, says Av, have to eat half their weight in grass every day to get enough nutrients to keep going.



Interview: Abigail Lapell

Questions by Dru Oja Jay

What motivated you to start a discussion about "gender, performance and musicality"?

i was initially interested in doing something about playing music, like a guitar clinic or some kind of skill-sharing, with a focus on dealing with the kinds of challenges people experience about confidence, performance etc., picking up an instrument. women in particular seem to often feel really intimidated or excluded by music "scenes" or whatever, and that's something i'm interested in from a lot of angles: as a musician and event organizer, and sometimes-music-teacher, as a student, a feminist.... so it started to seem like there was a lot to say about these themes of gender identity and music. and that that conversation could be more open and unpredictable than a hands-on workshop, and that it would give me a chance to hear about other people's experiences around this stuff.


What kinds of things did the other participants bring to the discussion?

people talked about personal experiences of gender roles sort of through the lens of musicality, which bore out a lot of the stereotypes about women being, for instance, more quiet or isolated or tame as musicians. a couple of women talked about dealing with these kinds of issues as mothers, both as far as gender roles and child-rearing, and also the limits that parenting places on your own time for things like music.

Did you discuss possible responses to these kinds of roles?

i talked a bit about different models of organizing women's music spaces and raised the question of how these can work or not work as a kind of corrective. the theme of pedagogy kept coming up, too. it was interesting to hear from someone who home-schools her daughters, who talked about how playing music together is a really important and fun part of their education.


What do you think men's role is in addressing the issues around musical confidence and acknowledgment?

that's so hard to answer because these things emerge on such a specific and personal level. i feel like even talking about it or being aware and supportive in those minute ways goes a long way -- and i found it striking how, among both men and women who attended the seminar, there really were similar perceptions about how and why people feel excluded along gender lines. to me it's encouraging when men want in on that discussion, because this shit affects everyone.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Interview: Heather Andrachuk

Interview by Yuill Herbert.

Can you describe your work?

I work on long-term ecological monitoring programs that are useable and applicable across Canada. Long-term ecological monitoring is a way to detect and track changes in an ecosystem. The programs that I'm involved with are referred to as citizen science, which is a form of community-based monitoring. This is a way to involve multi-party stakeholders in what's happening in their local environments, in a tangible, accessible manner.


Can you describe what you have set up at Waldegrave Farm?

It's a 20mx20m forest monitoring plot. It was based on a standardized protocol that's used nationally, so we can compare what we found here and what changes occur over time to what's happening in other places in Canada.

We tagged each tree in the 20m square, measured it's diameter, and noted its species.

How would you describe the forest (in spiritual, economic,or ecological terms)?

In ecological terms (which I'm most familiar with), it's a mixed-wood forest. This means that there is a mixture of coniferous (cone-bearing or "softwood") trees and deciduous trees (trees that lose their leaves in the autumn or "hardwood"). There has been some kind of disturbance in the area that we set up the plot. This is evident in the amount of fallen and dead standing trees as well as the fact that there is a lot of regeneration on the forest floor.


Why are you passionate about your work?

I think that citizen science, and community-based monitoring in general, are a fantastic way to actively engage people of all ages, capabilities, and education in reporting on what's happening to the environment around us. This is an important and empowering way to help citizens to inform policy and decision-making.

What kind of changes will be tracked in the plot?

The way that the plot was set up today allows us to monitor a lot of aspects of forest health. We can look at tree growth, health, shrub and seedling regeneration, lichens, salamanders, and soil decomposition to name a few. It's exciting to have a research plot and learn about what kinds of changes occur naturally and what are not "normal" changes.

Describe the phenological programs that you introduced here.

They're part of the citizen science programs that I work on. They're called the NatureWatch programs (www.naturewatch.ca) and are a way to track climate change and biodiversity "on the ground." Volunteers across Canada are tracking frogs, plants, earthworms, and when lakes and rivers freeze and thaw. FrogWatch has people reporting on when and where frogs and toads are calling. PlantWatchers track when certain plants (selected as good indicators of climate change) are blooming. WormWatch participants get their hands dirty by digging for earthworms. And IceWatchers report on the freeze and thaw dates of lakes and rivers. The way to track and report is simple, so anybody and everybody can participate. It's a great way to learn about your local environment at the same time as helping to contribute to information about climate change.


Pad Thai in a giant wok:


Cilantro and peanut sauce (for Pad Thai), peach chutney, boiled eggs, beet and mint salad, marinated fried tofu. Woohoo:


Interview: Ola Mork (Free as in Freedom)

You talk about Open Source software and free software. What is the difference between these two ideas?

ola2.jpg Free software is a subset of open source software. All free software is inherently open source because the definition of "free" requires access to the source (for modification and redistribution). Open source software can be non-free depending on the specific licensing (such as preventing redistribution or requiring modifications to be returned to the original author).

Free software is defined as:

1. free to execute the program
2. free to access the source code
3. free to modify the source code
4. free to redistribute your modifications
5. with the requirement that you pass these rights on to others if you distribute your modifications.

Explain how Free/Open source software (F/OSS). works. Who creates it? Who uses it? How is it distributed?

An individual articulates a problem and publishes the beginning of a solution. Anyone who finds it useful uses that seed of a solution and recommends repairs and changes.

OSS is generally distributed via the internet (it is also distributed with physical media, but less frequently).

How or why is F/OSS beneficial?

ola1.jpg It's not necessarily beneficial. There are some circumstances when distributing open source software would be nonsense. Examples could include highly specialized applications like subterranean, Pacific tube worm (SPTW) length prediction software or applications that are only used by one person or within an organization (like specialized drafting-software modifications for modeling SPTWs).

Generally though, a lot of software would benefit from an open development environment. Most general software (productivity suites like Microsoft Office or database programs like Oracle) are being supplemented and replaced by viable open source alternatives. It would have been difficult for Oracle to turn their programs into open source programs and still maintain their licensing structure. They are now being replaced by open source alternatives that have sprung up without the burden (or requirement) for marketing and bureaucracy and the cost those incur.

Is there profitability associated with creating and using F/OSS? How can creators of F/OSS be rewarded for their work?

The value of software is rarely in the software itself. The value is in how the user needs the software to work for them. So if it works out of the box, fine. But usually there are changes that need to (or could) be made that require resources that it doesn't make sense for the user to maintain. Why pay a programmer full time when you only need a few one-time changes? That's the value that open source offers and how purveyors of F/OSS make a living. They maintain and customize their software (thus improving it per the actual user's needs) for cash.

Do intellectual property rights play into F/OSS?

Intellectual property rights as a concept is too ambiguous to accurately respond to. The term is used to include copyright, trademarks, patents, trade secrets, etc. All of these are important to F/OSS.

Copyright is the mechanism that free software uses to defend the liberties that it defines. Trademarks and patents are mechanisms that are most commonly used by those who do not participate in Free software to protect their investments. Both practices are necessary in different environments and circumstances. The concern would be how to define the limitations on these protections. Any state sponsored protection of a right to ownership and for practical purposes extends into perpetuity is unreasonable. Either it has to be a trade secret (without state-protection if copied or duplicated) or it has to have a terminated protection period (expiration on copyright or patents).

How can you translate the lessons and experience of F/OSS into other aspects of life?

Any time the end user can examine (or deduce) the mechanism their tool uses they can improve it. The community of users as a whole benefits from each other's improvements. Examples: electronics (schematics), architectural drawings, mechanics, text books, agricultural techniques, etc.

Session: The Politics of Food

This summary by Lindsay MacDougall, who's in town from Toronto:

"Politics of Food"

Presenter: Pat Kerans

Pat is working on his 2nd book, and wanted to share and generate ideas about a food issues as a unified political strategy.


He discussed the 3 recent major focuses of the green movement:

1. climate change
2. peak oil
3. biotic concerns ie. endangered species, ecosystems etc.

The shortfall of environmental expert/scientific books have been that they emphasize change by focusing on consumption not production, and that they miss the importance of cultural and community change, reconstructing society etc.
Pat, having worked for many years in social work, politics, and on food issues with the national people's food commission, feels that FOOD issues and it's politics is the node at which so many environmental issues, communities and possibility for political action intersect and therefore where the most environmental and community change can happen.

The discussion diverged to the topics of deep/deliberate democracy to help restructure society to create the kind of change needed.


There are 2 kinds of knowing 1. scientific/academic/heroic/individualistic knowing, and 2. Coming to an understanding: which comes from community being willing to talk, listen, learn and willing to change their minds.

The second way of knowing will require the new "experts" to not be speaking from their ivory towers telling a community what they should do, but to help facilitate learning between communities.

Quotable: "Power is a learning disability."

Interview: Thom Workman (Working Life in the Belly of the Empire)

An interview with Thom Workman, who gave a keynote address today entitled "Working Life in the Belly of the Empire". Questions by Dru Oja Jay.

You spoke about political science being a discipline that actively seeks to obfuscate the experience of reality. Can you refer us to a specific example of that phenomenon?

For example, the notion that democracies "matter" -- when they don't. The general discussion of forms of the state irrespective of the social relations of power contributes to the failure to relate "democracy" to the truth of societies riven with racial, class and gender divisions.


So do you think that electoral systems do not afford a degree of accountability that is not present in other political systems?

Only if by accountability we mean the possibility of being removed for lesser evils -- like lying and getting caught. If, however, we mean accountable for the utter misery inflicated on working people and the poor around the world then the answer is no. Political parameters do not permit politicos to change the terms of their society even if they were so inclined. Moreover, the question itself has the effect of buying into the apologetic rhetoric of contemporary democractic societies. It is helpful to remember: "If democracies could change anything, they would be outlawed".

It sounds like you're ultimately pessimistic about the possibility for fundamental changes. Is it possible to have Capitalism without inflicting "utter misery"?

No. It is a system prone to immanent crises and the deliberate driving down of wages and discharging of the workforce. Nobody wants it to collapse in a heap, since Hobbes' state of nature would come to look attractive, but it can and must evolve into something that will be more truthful to the "human" part of our "human beingness".

With Social Torment, it seems like you're advancing a political agenda, or at trying to establish a basic truth that could have a political effect. I'm curious about your more philosophical work: do think that philosophical work can also have concrete political effects to the same extent that a more journalistic book can have?


In the post-Nietzschian world social thinkers have abandoned the notion of transcendent truth in favour of a unidimensional notion of sociological life. The "death of god" has meant the death of notions like necessity, truth, essence and so forth. This general intellectual trend makes it much harder to speak of inauthentic existence, or the truths of life, or the essence of "our world". I suspect that this has dampened general the critical atmosphere in this hyper-imperial era. The atrophy of critique, indeed, the very right to be critical in the sense of our ability to stand up and say that "what is true is false" has suffered. Probably not a good thing to abandon more robust notions of criticism as we witness the ravages of capitalism around the world.

So you see criticism and intellectual work are central, in your view, to the political battles you describe? If so, is there not a tension between that idea and your comment that democracy doesn't matter?

Not central, but they do provide and direct intellectual climates, and this plays itself out in the concrete world. Simple insights into the oppressive nature of social life get lost all to often, and general intellectual life tends to do little to recover them then gather them into coherent, meaningful pictures or theories about the general character of capitalist society -- that is, its class oppression, its demand that one sell one's labour power, its precarious feeling "on the ground" and so forth. By the way, democracy doesn't matter.

In Social Torment, you said that international capital is running out of places to "run" in order to find sources of cheaper labour. How you see that playing out, and has your understanding of it been changed by the events of recent years?

Recent years remind us more that ever that capital will fight its wage struggle on every conceivable political, social and military front. Part of this struggle to lower wages remains "capital mobility", that is, the corporate flight to regions of cheaper labour to drive down wages. This is what the FTAA is about, about preparing to leave Mexico and go further south, especially Brazil, where poverty is high.

Interview: Wilf Bean (The Mackenzie Gas Pipeline: The last time around)

wilf_wilf.jpg What follows is a brief interview, conducted via keyboard, with Wilf Bean. Wilf gave a session on the Berger Inquiry, which put a halt to the last attempt to build a gas pipeline in the Mackenzie Valley, on Dene land (Denendeh). Yuill Herbert asked the questions.

How did you end up in the North?

Mainly, by accident. I didn't like the job I had with the federal government and they sent me north for 2 weeks to fill in. I stayed 10 years.

How did living in the North shape your values and how you thought about western 'civilisation'?

Well, for a start, I learned by experience that people can live in other ways, think other thoughts, be organized on a different basis than in our own society. The way we are now isn't the way we "have to be". I learned from First nations' people to see ourselves as part of a much larger whole - including all life, generations past and present, and that we are just a small part of the web.


You talked about the Berger Inquiry last time around. And it sounded like an amazing process in many ways. Can you describe why this was an 'honourable' process if that is a fair characterisation?

I think the term "honourable" does apply because it was a process that really "honoured" the people. It didn't try to manipulate them but instead sincerely was a process of deep listening to their stories, their reality, their vision, hopes and fears. It was also "honourable" in the person of Judge Berger who himself took the evidence he was given and ruled in favour of the people having fundamental rights in the process of their own development.

How is it different this time from what you have seen and heard?

Several things. One thing is that there have been indepth settlements with 4 of the 5 native groups involved. These settlements have given much more control over things like schools, commmunity governments, and resources. So people are starting from a stronger base in that sense. However, they are also now more divided into their separate "tribal" groups and so have not been able to mount a unified position. As well, there are now many more young people dependent on the labour market who have no intention of living off the land.


Much of the debate is about wealth and what wealth means- can you comment about this in relation to your experiences in the north?

I think I am now aware that there is lots of wealth for everyone in the world and it is freely available, in one sense. It is the wealth of struggling to live in right relation with the land and with other human beings, the wealth of community and having a life with meaning. I think we are offered that wealth by many native people, if we are open to receiving it. For example, I remember the quote from Philip Blake, a Gwitchen (Dene) social worker in Ft. McPherson when he testified before Berger:


"I strongly believe that we do have something to offer your nation, somtheing other our minerals, I believe that it is in the self-interest of your own nation to allow the Indian nation to survive and develop in our own way, on our own land. For thousands of years, we have lived with the land, we have taken care of the land, and the land has taken care of us. We did not believe that our society has to grow and to exand and concquer new ares in order that we could fulfil our desitny as Indican people.... We have lived with the land, not tried to conquer or control it or rob it of its riches. We have not tried to get more and more riches and power, we have not tried to conquer new frontiers or outdo our parents or make sure that every year we are richer than the year before..... I believe that your nation might wish to see us, not as a relic from the past, but as a way of life, a system of values by which you may survive in the future. This we are willing to share." July 9, 1975.