This ain’t your grandma’s protest

One of the hardest things for me about being an environmentalist is being known as an environmentalist. Although it can be said Western society has warmed up the environmentalism to the point that it is now fashionable to be “eco,” the image of a hippie, tree-hugging radical still persists. When I was studying Environment & Resource Studies at Waterloo, I learned that there were many ways of responding to environmental problems. For a class on Environmental Education and Action, I addressed my hesitation to be categorized as a tree-hugging radical by exploring some of the benefits of taking a more confrontational approach (such as protesting, boycotting, media stunts)  to being an environmentalist.

This can be contrasted with approaches that work within corporate and government systems to create change. I would put LEED certification and sustainability reports, for example, in this category.

Next week, I will write about some benefits of these approaches that work with business and governments in more of a cooperative way.

This ain’t your grandma’s protest: building a case for confrontational tactics

There is a certain romanticism about early protest campaigns of the 70s in North America (Anderson, 2000; Walter, 2009); we see chanting throngs of people, blocking the street and carrying cardboard signs. Greenpeace activists are scaling billboards. Tree-sitters are sitting vigil in trees to prevent the giants’ fall.

But are these tactics still relevant and effective? Or are they dated and only self-serving? Saul Alinsky’s 1971 classic Rules for Radicals has been the backbone of many confrontational social movements and protests – but some people today feel it is outdated, preferring tactics that work with business rather than against it(Vancouver Community Network, 2013). But the anti-corporate environmental activist often suffers an image crisis of negative framing in the media, often to the point that they do not have the support of the public they are trying to represent(Lester, 2010). In the 1980s, international organizations like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth reacted to this dilemma by taking on new organizational structures that – to the criticism of some – mirrored that of the corporations and bureaucracies they were trying to upturn(Anderson, 2000). No longer always on the margin, environmental organizations are today often significant players on the global and local stage of decision making (Anderson, 2000). We are now seeing the rise of powerful environmental lobbies which put pressure on policy and transitional corporations (Anderson, 2000).

Are protest and confrontational activism useful in today’s hyper-networked and increasingly corporate world(Lester, 2010)(Andreasen, 2006) in order to challenge banks and business on their environmentally or socially destructive actions? Protest and radical activist action doesn’t have to look like it used to – and it doesn’t have to play into the big business game either. Here we build the case that confrontational tactics are still relevant.

Confrontational tactics speak to the people

One way to approach businesses is to appeal to the CEOs – those in “power.” Yet confrontational tactics such as media stunts and marches get the conversation out of the boardrooms and around the kitchen table(Goldsbie, 2010). Theoretically, ordinary people – shareholders in banks and consumers of goods and services – are the ones who hold real power over a corporation’s work, if they can be engaged en masse. Coverage in the media of loud or contentious voices can catch the attention of a wider audience of people.

Confrontational tactics teach both the heart and mind           

Activism and education draw many connections; in challenging banks and business, activists seek to teach a new perspective and change behaviour(Orr, 1991;1996)(Walter, 2009). However, just as in education(Orr, 1991;1996), the how question in confrontational activism is extremely important, especially since corporations and audiences are smarter and savvier than ever. Environmental education centre Meadowcreek Project founder David Orr has a few things to say about effective teaching that are applicable to confrontational tactics(Orr, 1991;1996). Particularly pertinent is his insistence that increased knowledge doesn’t necessarily translate to better behaviour. Confrontational tactics that simply chant data and facts at people are often ineffective because these are meaningless without context. Orr says that effective education teaches values rather than theories – they engage the heart and not just the mind(Orr, 1991;1996). Confrontational tactics have the capacity to do this, but organizers must be strategic about it.

Activists must become well-versed in the workings of business and finance, while maintaining a solid understanding of what is wrong with them. Orr encourages all students of the environment to understand ecological economics concepts like the steady-state economy and other alternative ways of thinking about wealth and resources.

Confrontational tactics leave room for creativity

Being strategic involves employing a little creativity. With their “Art Attack!” campaign, the Toronto Public Space Committee reclaimed the visual landscape from corporations by drawing their own art and covering billboards and bus stop advertisements(Goldsbie, 2010). Creative tactics catch people’s attention, and speak not only to the direct stakeholders of a situation, but to a wider audience – hopefully speaking to hearts and minds to encourage widespread paradigm shift(Goldsbie, 2010).

Today’s confrontational environmental activist protests, organizes, and communicates in a world of scepticism, and mass media. Techniques that can engage the masses, by touching their hearts and minds and by thinking outside of the box, are still integral to creating positive change.

Hope and reconciliation for the Earth

Courtesy of Missouri State Archives

Courtesy of Missouri State Archives

Around Easter, the weather begins to get warm and I emerge from the indoors with a shining face, wondrous at how easy it is to be outside. Through the duration of SW Ontario’s windy cold winter, being outdoors took a bit of teeth-gritting. But now it’s a springy season, with moss on the trees, buds on their branches, and birds chirping everywhere. Human neighbours emerge, and so do those dastardly squirrels. (Sorry, even though this is a blog by a supposed environmentalist, I still can’t pretend to like squirrels. It’s a thing, okay? Just let me have this.)

Seeing all this new life refreshes me with hope for the coming months. I hope for walks on Waterloo Region’s trails, trying to identify plants, and spotting birds. I hope for cycling to work. I can’t wait to feel a cool breeze in relief of the hot sun.

Hope isn’t all about thinking about the future, though. The very concept of hope suggests that there is some confusion and strife in the present.

When we think about the environment, it can be tempting to think about our hopes for the future without acknowledging the current pain humans continue to inflict on each other and on the rest of creation. But of course – back again to hope – I have faith that there is a reconciliation story here at work.

 Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.

In caring for each other and this world, we are doing the work of reconciliation tasked to us, modelled for us by Christ.

Image taken from:  "Letters from Rome to Friends in England" The British Library

Image taken from: “Letters from Rome to Friends in England”
The British Library

Maybe its time for me to make amends with my squirrel (gag!) friends. Haha. :S

City park girl ventures to the municipality of Leamington

Where are you from, and are city parks important to you? Is there a difference between city parks in big cities like Toronto, and parks in towns and smaller municipalities? I honestly don’t have much experience in smaller places – but here’s what I think! Did I get it wrong?

My holiday at the end of last year was spent split between my beloved old stomping grounds of Toronto, and a new stomping grounds – Leamington, Ontario.

Leamington is a municipality located in Ontario’s Essex-County. It features the southernmost point on Canada’s mainland: Point Pelee. For those who get a kick out of saying, “I’m the most southern person in all of Canada right now!”, (me) it is a treat to go to Point Pelee National Park. My gracious hosts in Leamington told great stories of Sunday afternoons in their youth, down at the “Tip.”

Image from Blain Trucking… apologies – this was the most straightforward map I could find on Google.

Leamington is also famous for being Tomato Capital of Canada. Balmy weather, sunshine, and a landscape of greenhouses famously made Leamington a Heinz town from 1909 until 2014 when the plant was recently closed after more than 100 years in operation. (100 years!)

I was visiting Leamington because my gent’s family lives there. His family and their friends like to joke a little about their small “L’ton”. I think they might expect me to be unimpressed with their town, being a city girl from the Big Smoke.

On the contrary, for me, getting to visit Leamington is an adventure. I’m try to maintain my starry-eyed mantra that every place is a gem to be discovered, and every place can be the setting for many stories if you just look close enough. (I also don’t want to be known as the arrogant city girl who thinks she is better than town folk. That is so very far from my perspective and personality) 

I did make a City Girl fumble, though. (There really was no fooling anyone!)

I came across, on the Municipality of Leamington website, the “Parks and Trails” map. I made my fumble when I suggested we visit ALL THE PARKS OF LEAMINGTON (every single one!) Now, I’ve made similar suggestions for the parks of Toronto and Waterloo, and while I haven’t actually achieved this goal visiting ALL THE PARKS OF TORONTO AND WATERLOO (every single one!), it is the same sentiment that I was trying to apply to Leamington. Looking at a map, I wonder about the tiny greenspaces. The thrill of a list, the possibility of adventure, the desire to gain new appreciation for these spaces: these are reasons I  have wanted to do ALL THE THINGS!

I am not alone in my gusto for municipal parks. There is an organization in Toronto called Park People that acts as an alliance for Toronto park groups. Friends of the Don, Friends of Trinity Bellwoods Park.. there is a list of them. These local park groups are made up of of volunteer citizens who gather around their local community greenspace and seek to make it better. From advocating for better recreational infrastructure or getting hands and knees dirty by caring for plants, streams and animals, these groups demonstrate that many Toronto citizens care for their parks, and have gusto for outdoor life and nature.

So, it is with the gusto for outdoor life and nature that I make the ridiculous suggestions that we try and visit every single park in Toronto and Waterloo. But while this gusto may be alive and kicking in Toronto, I realize that municipal parks do not play the same role to the community of Leamington – at least not in the same way.

Seacliff Park in Leamington, where my hosts graciously took me after my ridiculous suggestion that we visit all the parks of Leamington

Local park groups, organizations like Park People, and the cultivation of a love of urban parks is especially important in larger municipalities like Toronto because they are are often highly urbanized and concrete. It seems to me, that for those who live in Leamington, the parks in town can seem like little scraps of grass, especially compared to the majestic Point Pelee National Park (an important migration thru-way for songbirds in the spring and fall), and to the general agricultural (read: outdoor, duh) history of the region. What’s more, there may be less of a great need for a public green space in Leamington, as many people have large yards, fields, or at least access to the countryside and open space. The same is not always true, for example, for inner suburb Torontonians who live in a desert of parking lots, high-rises, and highways.

An appreciation for outdoor life and nature is very much alive in Leamington. In fact, it is more holistic and life-encompassing than in Toronto, where the greenspaces are zoned and fenced in and isolated from each other, cut off by stores, sidewalks and streets of cars. In the big city, in order to get into nature, we either have to settle for these islands of green (and usually quite ecologically poor), or drive out of the city.

In Leamington I experienced great richness of both human history and ecological significance. Point Pelee not only has much to teach with regard to bird species, monarch migration, and Carolinaian Life Zone, but also about the human-environment relationship. It was not always protected for its ecological elements, but has a long history of recreation and commercial use. This big city girl will definitely be looking forward to new adventures to little “L-town,” learning about its rich cultural and natural history.

What do you think? Did I interpret this difference in the role of urban greenspace between Toronto and Leamington correctly? Where are you from, and are urban parks held to high importance there? 

The summer I just vegged out… at the Hacienda Market Garden

This past summer I spent my days outside planting, weeding, bed-prepping, harvesting, singing and dancing with shovels and rakes, and eating delicious fresh food that I had a part in growing.

Interning at the Hacienda Market Garden was life-changing experience. Four reasons:

1. Getting dirt under my nails.

You know the feeling when you’re kind of scared of something – but it’s only because you have no experience with it? That was my main feeling with gardening…and the outdoors in general. (I always used to joke – I must have been the only Environment Resource Studies student who hadn’t been outside yet) I loved the idea of it – gardening – but I was sort of afraid because I hadn’t had the chance to get some dirt under my fingernails.

I knew this internship would be the perfect opportunity to throw myself into gardening, to just do it. I loved that we were told we didn’t necessarily have to have extensive farming or gardening experience. It was a learning internship, in fact. Coming out the internship, I can’t say I know perfectly well how to grow everything – but I now have the familiarity and confidence that I can get started.

(And now, my romantic daydreams of having an orchard and raising goats aren’t so out of the realm of the possible.)

2. The Working Centre ideas

As part of our internship, we got to meet with other Working Centre interns to talk shop. We discussed themes surrounding the values and ideas behind how the Working Centre, a community-building organization in downtown Kitchener is responding to unemployment and poverty.  Many of these ideas really resonated with me, and I was delighted to able to take time to discuss and hear what others thought about the ideas. It was the opportunity to talk not just about what  we were doing, but also how and why. Some of the ideas we talked about have remained with me. 

The Working Centre is pretty special in that it makes intentional effort to remain true to resisting bureaucracy and hierarchy. By remaining open to revisiting decisions and ways of doing things, the people at the organization try to engage in discussion about how to do things, rather than automatically deferring to policies or precedents. Other ideas have really stuck with me: viewing our work as a gift, seeing relationships as reciprocal, rather than one person giving something to another person out of their charity, truly recognizing the value in what another person can give you too.

I loved these ideas, and though I realize it takes time, discussion, and MISTAKES to follow in line with these values, I hope they will be things I can take with me into whatever community I am a part of.

3. New relationship to food and to my community

I ate really well with the large variety of vegetables around me. I loved coming home with a huge load of seconds and asking, “Internet! What can I do with mustard greens/tomatoes/radishes?!”

I had already enjoyed cooking and vegetables, but I gained a lot more experience and understanding about the whole life cycle – from seed to plate to belly – of food.

4. Wonderful people

For me, whatever the work, what really makes a good experience is lovely people to work with. I’m so blessed to have met everyone I worked with at the garden, and feel so grateful for the fun times we had. ❤


Convocation day, I posed with my intern teammates/friends in the garden.


Planting strawberry plants on a brisk day in May

Foraging Dandelions

This summer, I am doing an internship with the Hacienda Market Garden in Kitchener. More about this internship later – but for now, my point is I’m not earning too much moneys! Just having graduated this April, I’ve become more aware of my spending habits as I think about finding work and choosing where to live…I’m not a student anymore! It’s time to be responsible! (Apparently, haha.) 

My wise friend Jacob assured me – as I worried about finances – that being a creative person, I could probably find some ways to save money. It’s true – saving money…this could be kind of fun! (I’m grateful that I am far from true poverty, as I know there is much help and support from family and friends should I just ask) 

So one of my first creative ventures – foraging dandelions! Here I am in our backyard killing two birds with one stone – “weeding”, and gathering tasty greens to eat!