Activism has been getting a bad rap lately, what with the recent police disruptions and arrests at last July’s World Trade Organization demonstrations, but there are many activist groups operating out of Montreal making their way in the world and doing good things.
The face of activism isn’t all glory and fame and often goes unnoticed except when it comes to unfavourable media coverage. But where activism truly exists is behind the scenes, organizing, planning and bringing attention to a cause.
“An educated consumer is a compassionate consumer,” explains Andrew Plumby, Director of Global Action Network (GAN), an animal rights group operating in Montreal. “Education is key to meeting our objectives,” he says.
Plumby explains that GAN’s strategy is to create a ripple effect, to get people talking about what they have learned about animal rights. Word of mouth is an essential tool. The message always seems much more personal and enticing when shared by friends. “We want to engage people,” says Plumby, “not just talk at them.”
By educating the public on issues such as factory farming, the seal hunt and the cruelty of animals in circus performances, GAN hopes to change consumer patterns and influence government on all levels “We change consumer patterns we change the world,” says Plumby.
Changing the world is a difficult undertaking, but it is one step at a time, one victory at a time.
Last year, GAN was shocked to learn that the Granby Zoo had planned to create a dolphinarium. The zoo planned to construct a large concrete tank to house six dolphins. “Dolphins are intelligent social creatures that swim great distances in the wild,” explains Plumby. “A small tank would be torture to those poor creatures.”
When GAN also learned that the zoo would be getting 20 million dollars in government subsidies to build the tank, they launched a six-month campaign rallying media and public support to lobby the government to drop the funding. The public was furious that their tax dollars were being spent on such a project. The government and the zoo eventually gave in and scrapped the idea for the dolphinarium.
“The [campaign against] dolphinarium project worked well,” says Plumby. “We budgeted for a quick six month campaign with realistic goals. In the end we got what we wanted.”
GAN is also working to have Montreal circus performances with animal acts banned, as many of these acts mistreat the animals involved.
“To achieve a successful mandate you must break up larger problems into bite-sized achievable chunks,” says Plumby, who believes that groups must define a goal with a timeline, budget, resources and materials, and plan for short term achievable goals that further the long term.
Another group, the self-proclaimed radical randy misfits, the Ass Pirates, don’t really fit into your traditional definition of ‘queer’ so they’re busy trying to create their own scene open to all those free of discrimination.
The Ass Pirates got their name this summer when they hijacked the Gay Pride parade. Pirates have always been seen as being on the outskirts of mainstream capitalist culture, often associated with sexual deviance and debauchery. Agent Mook, Goat Boy and simply Challes represent the Ass Pirates.
Despite the strange name they are making way in the queer community. With their friendly anti-hierarchical order they’re looking to find a place for those who are fed up with the current “non-straight” community.
The Ass Pirates state, “We will not be satisfied with a commercialized gay identity that denies the intrinsic links between queer struggle and challenging power.”
“The Ass Pirates started as a response to the current gay pride activities in Montreal,” explains Agent Mook “We didn’t see anything other than big circuit parties and corporate sponsors.”
The group is a radical queer movement that examines all levels of social dysfunction. The main objective of the group is to inform and inspire other non-mainstream groups like them. “It’s not enough just to be accepted or tolerated,” says Challes, “if we become copies of productive members of the society and political system, that we hate.”
A better known group and one close to Concordia students is the Quebec Public Interest Research Group (QPIRG) Concordia that has been operating since 1989. QPIRG Concordia is an umbrella organization that helps various action-oriented groups get on their feet.
Founded by Ralph Nader in the 1970s PIRGS try to capture the energy and creativity of students to promote social change. Eventually, students in Montreal bounded together to get QPIRG Concordia off the ground.
“QPIRG is not just a student organization,” says Marcie Gibson, one of two co-ordinators at QPIRG.
“We also make stronger links with non-student Montreal based activists and the Montreal community at large.”
QPIRG Concordia acts as a resource to several different actions groups. It supports eight official working groups, which have first priority access to staff support, space, and funding as well as four affiliate groups, which are more independent from the organizations. QPIRG receives almost all its funding from a student levy that takes 30 cents per credit from all Arts & Science, fine arts and independent undergraduates at Concordia.
QPIRG Concordia contribution to the community has been impressive. QPIRG has helped many organizations start up. Some of the projects include Blood Sisters, an organization based on menstrual activism and recyclable menstrual products. The Right to Move Bike shop focuses on sustainable transportation, and Santropol Roulante, a meals-on-wheels bike program which delivers good food to people of all ages.
“A lot of our work is done behind the scenes,” Gibson says. “We do not always have a visible presence, but our membership is there.”
One of the recent working groups of QPIRG is the volunteer group Alcan’t in India, a group that implements a paid training project for South Asian youth in Montreal.
“The youth who participate in Alcan’t will be learning about organizing techniques and examples, and developing a sustainable solidarity campaign against Alcan’s further development in Orissa, India,” says Gibson.
One might think that to be an activist one needs a tough skin.
“That and the organizational skills to pull it off,” says Gibson. “You need a sense of direction, goal setting, and to keep self evaluating, learning and accepting new challenges and new campaigns.”
To reach GAN e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, for QPIRG Concordia, email@example.com or the Ass Pirates, firstname.lastname@example.org.