“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing,” said Irish political philosopher Edmund Burke in the 18th century. For Nadia Alexan, founder of the Montreal civic organization Citizens in Action, the words couldn’t ring truer today.
Alexan has been striving for social justice for over thirty years, and she doesn’t seem keen on stopping, “How can you see what’s happening and remain apathetic?” she asks.
During their monthly meeting, Tuesday Sept 10, Citizens in Action addressed Scandinavian prosperity. Guest speaker and UQAM doctoral researcher Pier-Luc Lévesque dissected Scandinavia’s socio-economic model while comparing it to Quebec’s. The goal was to find tools to improve the province’s own system. A crowd of mixed backgrounds and ages listened intently.
“What I want to do is to get people involved in the political process,” Alexan said. “First, you’ve got to understand the issues. Then, you’ve got to act. The mission of Citizens in Action is to fight for justice and good government in Canada.”
Alexan is passionate about what she does. She prints and hands out pamphlets, keeps her community informed about upcoming talks and protests, calls politicians about polemical issues and writes opinionated articles in local newspapers. When she talks about the matters that irk her she’s vociferous and doesn’t shy away from words like ‘disgraceful’ and ‘preposterous.’ With her bright attire, confidence and conviction, she’s a force to be reckoned with.
Two months after graduating from the University of Alexandria with a major in English literature, Alexan left Egypt and immigrated to Canada. She landed in Montreal in May of 1967. Her timing couldn’t have been better. “I loved it at that time, I loved Canada! I thought it was the most wonderful country in the world. People were talking to each other on the streets, the bus drivers were singing, the intellectuals were writing books and plays; René Levesque had nationalized electricity and a new Ministry of Education had just been formed…I get goosebumps when I think of those days because everybody seemed so happy,” Alexan recalled.
Alexan found a job teaching for Montreal’s English school board, a position she held for 30 years. In the 1980s, she attended a teacher’s conference in Toronto where something happened that changed her life. Maude Barlow — author, activist, and National Chairperson for the influential left-wing non-profit organization, The Council of Canadians (CC), — gave a speech.
Alexan was deeply moved by Barlow’s views and decided to start a CC chapter in Montreal.
For the following decade, Alexan organized CC conferences while teaching. She also earned two bachelor’s degrees: one in education from McGill, and another in political science from Concordia. In 2006, Alexan founded Citizens in Action to raise consciousness through popular education and lobby government in the public interest. “I’m the kind of person that, wherever I go — even at the Centaur theatre — I’ll pass the pamphlet,” she said.
Alexan explained her zeal by using a quote from British thinker Bertrand Russell: “Three passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong, have governed my life: the longing for love, the search for knowledge, and unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind.”
Citizens in Action meetings are made possible thanks to the collaboration of Concordia’s Student Union and Concordia’s School of Community and Public Affairs. Conferences take place the second Tuesday of each month. For more information visit the group’s website at citizensinactionmontreal.org or email Alexan at email@example.com