APCOL Speaker Series
The APCOL Speaker Series was inaugurated on September 17 by Wade Rathke, co-founder of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN). Rathke was ACORN’s chief organizer from its founding in 1970 until 2008. He is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Social Policy, a quarterly magazine for scholars and activists, and the author of two recently published books. Accompanied by Josh Stuart from ACORN’s Toronto office and introduced by Peter Sawchuk (OISE) and Stephanie Ross (York University) Rathke spoke about the many changes in approaches to community organizing which have taken place over the span of his career. He stressed the importance of adapting to increasingly hostile political environments and keeping current with new technologies. “The [APCOL] project is fascinating and it will be interesting to see how it progresses and what conclusions it draws over the years, but right now it was interesting for the discussion it allowed about organizing and the challenges before us”, wrote Rathke looking back on the event.
Israt Ahmed, Tashnim Khan and Joseph Sawan
The APCOL Speaker Series continued its tradition of linking leading community anti-poverty activists to the public as well as academic researchers with its co-sponsorship (with the Transformative Learning Centre, OISE) of a panel on Toronto housing activism. Scarborough organizers Israt Ahmed and Tashnim Khan took time out from their work to share their thoughts and experiences with University of Toronto students and community activists in a session facilitated by APCOL researcher Joseph Sawan (OISE).
Ahmed is a long-time anti-poverty activist in Canada and internationally, as well as a resident of the Kingston Galloway – Ortin Park neighbourhood and a Social Planning Council (Toronto) organizer. She offered her insights on the unique approach of the “Residents Rising” group in the community, while Khan, a newly emerging community leader, was able to give the audience a glimpse of how activists learn and develop in the course of a housing campaign. Said Ahmed, “Our approach is not simply to protest... We are building capacity by building networks of people.”
The APCOL Speaker Series continued its tradition of linking leading scholars on community organizing to the public as well as academic researchers with its sponsorship of a special talk by South African Labour and Community Educator Linda Cooper (University of Cape Town, February 23rd, 2010).
Professor Cooper spoke to a group of university and community researchers as well as students at OISE based on her over two decades of research on the changing nature of political organizing in South Africa pre- and post-apartheid. Cooper emphasized theoretical tools for effectively understanding how forms of organizing change emphasizing contrasts between ‘rolling mass organizing’ and culture versus the ways that social movements can be incorporated into governance and the challenges that incorporation imposes on social movements. Lessons for effective organizing and activist learning included the dangers of exclusion and the contradictions of the ‘professionalization’ of activism.