PIRGSPECTIVES Fall/Winter 2011-12

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Fall Winter 2011-2012

PIRG spectives

newsletter of the Ontario Public Interest Research Group (OPIRG) McMaster

INSIDE PIRGSPECTIVES ARTICLES: IDEAS Washroom Politics, by Meghna George “Stallings” photos, by Sarah J. Salise Poetry: Alive, by Ben Robinson

EDITORIAL Pg. 3 Pg. 3-4 Pg. 5

WORKING GROUP: ACTION Womyn’s Bike Cooperative, by Amy Verhaeghe Pg. 4 Blue Gold, by Justine Shultes Pg. 5 Pizza for Life, by Caitlin Sommer Pg. 6 Hamilton Haiti Action Committee, by Meghna George Pg. 11 Threadwork Clothing Swap, photos by Alexandra Epp Pg. 12 Freeskool, by Freeskool Pg. 13 Unfair Grounds, by Randal De Souza Pg. 14-15 Just Stop!, by Randal De Souza Pg. 16 McMaster Initiative for Water, by Kumar Jadoo Pg. 17 Students Making a Difference, by Maureen Elliott Pg. 18 New Resources at OPIRG Pg. 19 OPIRG ALUMNI Jeanette Eby, by Margot Rosenberg Tings Chak, by Michael Borrelli David Vickery, by Dorina Simeonov

Pg. 7 Pg. 8 Pg. 9

Editing Danielle Moed Kristina Mangligot Christina Vietinghoff Layout Randy Kay

OPIRG McMaster

McMaster University Student Centre Room 229 905-525-9140 ext. 27289 opirg@mcmaster.ca opirg.ca

www.facebook.com/OPIRG.McMaster opirgmcmaster.blogspot.com twitter.com/OPIRGMCMASTER

fall-winter 2011-2012 OPIRG opens up with the contributions of volunteers: thank you to all who found time to share stories to make this issue of PIRGspectives. Busy students, graduates and community volunteers interviewing busy student, graduate and community working group volunteers, resulting in a surprising number of quality contributions making this one of our biggest and best newsletters yet! There are many ways to be involved with OPIRG McMaster as a volunteer, whether you are in one of our 15 working groups (see back cover), or on our general volunteer list, or serving a term as a board member: the commitment level is adaptable to real-world busy lives. You can be part of the OPIRG world making social change and still get your other work done! Keep in mind, everything we do creates possibility, and where will we find more hope than in the possible?! Randy Kay Coordinator of Volunteers

Jane going to the John?

Washroom Politics

By Meghna George

“Stallings” photos by Sarah J. Salise We are all familiar with that feeling of urgency, the one that falls upon us right after that sixth cup of coffee needed to get through those midterm cram sessions, or after the third pint of beer on Thirsty Thursdays. The feeling that results in us demonstrating our rhythmic abilities as we shift from foot to foot, beats marked out through subtle twitches and spasms in our limbs. Yes, I’m talking about the urge to pee. Fearing any accidents, we quickly make our way down long stretches of hallways and run through either of those marked doors to finish our business. We leave, relieved, yet unaware that our decision to go through either door represents a larger process of identity formation, one that corresponds to Western discourses about gender, which envelops the idea that “men” and “women” are fixed categories that always stand in stark contradiction; two opposite poles in our quest to define “self ”. Public washrooms form part of our day-today milieu; they go relatively unnoticed with the exception of people acknowledging that they are entering the correct one. While some washrooms may be “unisex” more often than not they are divided into two spaces: men and women. These marked doors then serve as borders of confirmation, meaning that once you enter these spaces you are subsumed under whichever identity is stuck to the door. The separation of “male” and “female” gendersex categories assumes that these groups are homogenous and identifiable, meaning that what it is to be a man or woman is something universal. Some arguments

note that this division is fastened to the possession of varying sexual organs, genetic make-up, as well as the capacity for reproduction. While others emphasize that to be a “man” or “woman” means to occupy different gender roles. While much research has been done to make a careful distinction between “natural sex” and “socially constructed gender,” often times the two become intertwined. These concepts of male and female then become complicated through the inclusion of phantom identities; those whose constructions of self exist but are unseen. A simple segmenting of spaces erases the experiences of numerous members of society who are forced to live outside our polarized gender-sex system, including those who identify themselves within transgendered diversities. Drawing upon Thom and More’s Welcome to the Festival, I refer here to “...the community of all self-identified cross gender people whether intersex, transsexual men and women, cross dressers, drag kings and queens, transgenderists, androgynous, bi-gendered, third gendered, or as yet unnamed gender gifted people. In the everyday moments where these individuals are faced with the choice of either “male” or “female” washrooms, the decision to be subsumed is not a simple one, for their experiences and understandings of self complicate the neat categorization that society has come to expect from each of its members. In terms of washroom spaces, should we call for legal obligation to provide inclusionary spaces? continued


Some public buildings already provide “unisex” washrooms. While this may be a step in a different direction, one can ask whether or not this actually homogenizes identities. The broader question then follows: how can we rethink our gender-sex system so that it incorporates multiple voices? We can start by adopting a sense of consciousness in which we can view the mundane with a critical eye, meaning that we must take our habits, the things we consider to be “normal” and ask ourselves how and why we come to accept different ideas. In addition, we must understand that the world is not black and white, but in fact different shades of grey for as long as we expect our reality to be packaged neatly, something easy to analyze then we reduce the diversity of human experience to something lifeless.


working group

By Amy Verhaeghe

The Hamilton Womyn’s Bike Collective is a group of four womyn-identified folk dedicated to creating a feminist space for members of the Hamilton community who want to learn how to fix their bikes. The Collective is a feminist organization, and their philosophy is informed by their experiences. In a recent interview, the Womyn’s Bike Collective reflected on some of these experiences: “We’ve gone into bike shops and had tools removed from our hands; we’ve been ignored; we’ve been treated in ways that assume we have no idea of what we are doing with bikes. We’re not the only ones. This is why we do what we do.” The group’s feminism is what encourages them to explore intersecting oppressions, educate themselves, and reflect on their experiences. The Womyn’s Bike Collective is dedicated to building community connections and evolving according to the needs and desires of these communities. The Womyn’s Bike Collective has organized a series of events since it was founded in the fall of 2010, including bike rides, a bike-in movie and a tool-share in Beasley park. In the upcoming year, the collective hopes to create womyn-centred community spaces where womyn can learn about bike repair and share what they learn! Specifically, the collective will be organizing hands-on bike repair workshops and exploring issues of intersecting oppressions and patriarchy on their blog (hamiltonwomynsbikecrew.tumblr.com). The Hamilton Womyn’s Bike Collective is eager to get new members to help organize rides, workshops, and other events. Any interested womyn/trans identified bike enthusiasts are encouraged to contact the collective for more information or to get involved (womynsbikefixin@gmail.com). 4

The heart of this timeless arterial river Is ribcaged in by bowing boughs Each offering up protections as a peace offering To the vicious rhythm of the rapid That rushes fervently to after itself To refresh predecessors. And her scaly lily pad skin A mosaic of greens That is ablaze with love Playing matchmaker to mosquito mates Locked in an obnoxious courtship O’er her reedy coif That is adorned with florangements Liable to drain botanists’ ducts For she is destined to bare life Impregnated by the breeze That sends shivers down her piney spine. Creatures nestle in her many wombs Hugging close to her flow For she is indeed life giver


Ben Robinson

The Age of Water Wars is here: BlueGold Screening

Presented by Hamilton Students for Social Justice and MI Water working groups By Justine Schultes H2O: It’s one of the first elements that we learn about in science class when we’re young. We study water, how we need it to survive, the cycles that rejuvenate the grass, trees and plants and in some parts of the world we even learn how to swim in it! We tend to have the idea that it has an infinite supply. How can it not be infinite when more than 71% of the entire planet is covered by it? For many of us growing up in Canada, it never occurs to us that this resource has a set expiration date. In reality only 3% of the earth’s water is fresh water and drinkable for humans and other species. The issue of the limited amount of water, amongst others, was the focus of the documentary that was shown last week. Hamilton Students for Social Justice and MI Water held a screening of the renowned film BlueGold. The documentary, based on the book written by Maude Barlow and Tony Clarke, focuses on the crisis of water shortage that’s becoming imminently more apparent worldwide. Due to overuse, bad management and pollution, the limited amount of fresh water is increasingly becoming the topic on everyone’s mind. The continued


documentary delves into the crisis and how it has led to an issue that will become more apparent in time: Water Wars. According to the film, water is slowly starting to become the new oil, which will cause increasing conflicts over access to this precious resource. The issue of privatization is one small part of this battle for blue-gold, with multi-national corporations such as Nestle, Veriola and Coca Cola purchasing large sources of fresh water to utilize as a commodity. Such privatization results in limited public access to water, as only those who can afford to pay for it will be able to use it. In the documentary, they visit a number of different countries each of which has some kind of water crisis. One example was in Paraguay, where one of the world’s most powerful political families controls the water market. Important facts presented include: that we are mining as much as 15 times more groundwater than is being replenished and that more than 30 billion gallons a day of water is used in mining. The scary thing is, the consequences of this water crisis are only beginning to be realized. The discussion following the documentary nearly fifteen participants including members of McMaster Initiative for Water and Hamilton Students for Social Justice. The discussion showed that many in the audience were shocked by the documentary. It was particularly surprising how so few Canadians know about water issues in Canada such as that fact that there are dozens of Canadian lakes scheduled to be drained and privatized by companies for mining and water. Another individual brought up the topic of how Hamilton’s water and waste services used to be privatized by a corporation and only recently became run by the municipality again. Although the impending water crisis is threatening, as the post-documentary discussion showed, there are people that are engaged and care about this issues and have not lost hope.


by Caitlin Sommer

On Saturday, November 12, I was so privileged to be included in the cooking class held by the OPIRG Working Group, Food for Life. Food for Life is a small organization dedicated to educating students in the kitchen. They provide the information and valuable skills necessary for students to recognize and cook healthy foods. The mental and physical stress of school is taxing on a student’s body, and healthy food can aptly fuel this lifestyle. This club is excellent for those students ready to quit cardboard meals and transition towards healthier habits. Saturday’s special was pizza – from scratch. The group worked collectively, leaders and learners all actively working on an ingredient of the pizza. While a few students worked on the dough, the rest of us were busy cutting up vegetables. I was impressed with the variety and quality of toppings here, and found a new love for eggplant. According to one member, eggplant prevents age spots, who knew? There were many other fun-facts from Andrew, who divulged the intimate physiological details behind yeast rising in pizza dough and also why freezer burned zucchini is soggy. 6

Finished product. Photo by Caitlin Sommer Ultimately, the dough was rolled and several pizzas were in the oven. The pizza itself was impressive. There were vegetarian options, including a veggie pizza and an arugala pizza, as well as one meat pizza. Each one was unique and imperfect, but all were hot and delicious – not Delicio! (which is about as bad as delivery, no?). A full belly and a Saturday afternoon with some great people has got me wondering, what’s for lunch next time?


Interviewed by Margot Rosenberg

What is your student history? I was an undergrad student at McMaster in the Arts and Science Program and graduated in 2009. I took a year away from school to travel and work. In 2007 I volunteered for a children’s foundation in Bolivia for five months. Then I worked as a research assistant and community mental health worker (a job I still have). In the fall of 2010 I went back to McMaster to do my Masters in Human Geography which I am still doing part-time and working part-time. How did you get interested in OPIRG? I got interested in OPIRG because when I came to Hamilton/McMaster in my first year of university, I was looking for ways to volunteer, to get to know the Hamilton community and to be a part of social justice initiatives. I really liked OPIRG’s mandate and a friend from my Arts and Science program invited me to participate in Nonviolence Now. I became passionate about sharing the philosophy of nonviolence with kids and youth in Hamilton and addressing issues of structural violence. I also found the OPIRG office in the student centre very inviting and continue to buy Fair Trade chocolate bars there. What working groups have you been in or are still involved in? For all four of my undergraduate years I was involved in Nonviolence Now. We were a group that sought to promote and educate around peace and nonviolence in Hamilton. We did several events on campus and in the broader community such as a “Peace Tour” of Hamilton, movie nights and workshops at the Living Rock youth centre, a group home, an elementary school class, and a school breakfast program. We partnered with other campus groups for other events and projects related to peace and social justice. Since my second undergraduate year (starting in 2006) I have also been part of the McMaster Community

Poverty Initiative which is connected with OPIRG. I still participate in the Poverty Initiative as a graduate student. What is your life like now? Life is very busy and also inspiring! I absolutely love Hamilton, and learning about the community through my involvement in Nonviolence Now helped with that. I moved downtown four years ago and absolutely love my Beasley neighbourhood. I’m actively involved in our neighbourhood association, and I’ve been volunteering for several years at a local café facilitating a seniors’ social group and a community movie night. I find it important to balance school—the academic stuff—with on-the-ground, real life work, so I am glad to be a part-time student. For my research, I’m interested in neighbourhood sense of place and the importance of local community spaces in the lower city of Hamilton. I’ve just gotten involved in a new free university-level course called the McMaster Discovery Program that gives access to a supportive and higher level learning experience to adults in the Hamilton community, and work as the coordinator, and then I work part-time for Good Shepherd. So there is lots going on, but I love it and try to be doing things that I really care about. I am committed to downtown Hamilton and have a strong sense of belonging here. I hope to continue my relationship with the organization in Bolivia even while I am here in Canada, and I hope that McMaster continues to bridge the gap between the academic institution and the rest of the city, and that social research can be more participatory and relevant to the local community. I think that OPIRG already plays a role in making this happen and I’m grateful that I connected with them way back in first year! 7


Interviewed by Michael Borrelli

McMaster Arts and Science graduate and former OPIRG volunteer and student staff member Tings Chak still likes to keep her days full. Now in the second year of a Master of Architecture program at the University of Toronto, Tings lives in a vegan co-op in Toronto, and is also involved with that city’s chapter of No One is Illegal, a migrant justice group that organizes around issues of immigration, status, and access of migrant workers and undocumented people living in Canada. Additionally she is the project coordinator of Rocky Railway High (Closure), a nationwide project commemorating the Chinese railway workers through public art and writing. The work will be archived, exhibited, and brought back to China as a symbolic homecoming of the workers who lost their lives building the CPR. Still living and breathing the social justice principles she fought for through her work with OPIRG McMaster, Tings took a few minutes out of her schedule to let PIRGspectives catch up with her. Back when you were at Mac, what Working Groups were you most involved with? Throughout my undergraduate years (2005-2009), I was most involved with Food Not Bombs, Students for a Renegade Society, and Community Volunteer Action. I also co-hosted a radio show on CFMU, The Rhizome, which was, in my mind, part of OPIRG but probably never officially. What was your favourite OPIRG McMaster moment--something that stuck with you? This question is difficult, but one of the best times I had was probably a zine making workshop that I co-led with Bronwyn, an awesome teenage zine-making superstar. There are few things that are more enjoyable than making things with and learning from people. What was the most important life lesson you learned by working with OPIRG? I think that it is through the working groups that I came to know Hamilton in a deeper way and made me really fall for the city. OPIRG was particularly important in helping me understand the values and applications of anti-oppression principles and consensus-based decision making, not just related to organizing but on an interpersonal level. The questions of privilege, race, class, and gender, and what it means to be a settler/ immigrant on occupied indigenous land are questions that I still carry with me. What type of impact do you think your involvement with OPIRG has had on your academic or professional career? I am still trying to figure this out, and trying to figure out how to make the things that I learn, do, create, and love come together. Suggestions are welcome. Nevertheless, at OPIRG, I did learn that I might never be a very good librarian, but I can beautify things in resourceful ways. Any last messages for OPIRG volunteers or McMaster students who might be interested in getting involved? OPIRG is a gem - visit it, use it, learn from it, read its books, and share its resources. Just remember not too eat too much fair-trade chocolate while doing those things. 8

Letters From Morocco

David Vickery

Correspondent Dorina Simeonov

David Vickery is an OPIRG alumni that was heavily involved in OPIRG social justice activities in the mid-90’s. In December 2000, he traveled to Palestine and lived there for two and a half years, volunteering at a University in the West Bank of Palestine. At the age of 65, he moved to the town of Taroudant in Morocco. In this interview, he explains how his activities with OPIRG actually played a role in leading him to his journey of a life of social activism. What kind of activities specifically did you do with OPIRG? As a community member of OPIRG, I participated in a variety of social justice activities, often in conjunction with Homes Not Bombs. I remember one action that we did at an MPPs office in Toronto in protest of the sanctions that were placed on Iraq following the first Gulf War, which ultimately were responsible for the deaths of about half a million Iraqi children. Another memorable one took place in Ottawa where we blocked a major bridge early morning during rush hour in protest of the Canadian government’s decision to increase military spending, under pressure from the U.S., while at the same time homeless people were freezing to death on the streets of that very city. Then there was one at Hamilton City Hall, during which I was dressed as “Death”, wearing a scream mask and a long black garment protesting the militarism of the Hamilton Air Show that the city subsidized while cutting funding to social programs. Somewhere in the late ‘90s we helped organize a very successful symposium on Globalization in cooperation with Council of Canadians which was held in one of the large lecture halls at Mac. Did the OPIRG activities inspire or relate to your choice to go to Palestine? I’m glad you said Palestine and not Israel! On December 6th, 2000, I received an email containing a link to an Indymedia article posted by Neta Golan, a young Israeli activist. She was requesting internationals to come and accompany Palestinians in a march on the 15th(!) from Bethlehem to the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem where they wanted to pray during what was then Ramadan. The inhibiting factor was of course the

Israeli police. I felt this was something I had to do, and OPIRG activities no doubt helped push me in this direction. Inside of the following week I had obtained a passport, my plane ticket, and had done everything else I needed to do. That week included, just by happenstance, a lecture at a large Synagogue in West Hamilton by Rabbi Arik Ascherman who showed a short film clip which included my new friend Neta being attacked and dragged by Israeli soldiers, taking shelter with her Palestinian friends. Coincidence?! Anyway, Palestine and Palestinians continued


changed my life forever. By the way, Neta is now married to a Palestinian, has 3 daughters, and lives in Ramallah. What kind of volunteer work did you do in Palestine? I was staying at the Faisal Hostel in Arab East Jerusalem, and what I witnessed every day made me want to stay; after two weeks I let the plane go without me. Still, I had no clue what I was going to do with my time, keeping in mind that I still had everything to learn about the Israel/Palestine conflict, the history etc. I made a trip to Nablus just to check it out, and before too long I found myself surrounded by curious policemen. I let them know I was looking for volunteer work which led to the most amazing series of events, which included meeting the mayor of the city, I swear. To cut it short, I was accepted to work at the Community Service Centre, the university library, and the Public Relations Department of An-Najah National University, (www. najah.edu), home to 10,000 students. I never did work in the library, as the Public Relations Department wanted to keep me. There I wrote the entire course calendar for the first time in English, in collaboration with one of the English profs. I wrote letters to universities all over Europe and some in North America on behalf of the president of the university. I assisted students wishing to further their education to fill out application forms. I lived with Palestinians, both professors from the university and with one good friend who was also a policeman and a student of English literature. There were a few Christians but for the most part they were Muslims, all of them friendly and hospitable. During this entire time there were frequent invasions by the Israeli army, mostly at about 2 or 3am. At times it was difficult to know if I could make it to work or not, as there was shooting and tanks in the streets, bombs going off, people running for safety. I saw it all, and I know which side I’m on. How did you end up in Morocco? I was expelled by Israel at the end of June 2003, after one week in Ramle, their immigration prison. I got to meet foreign workers from many countries who had overstayed their visas and made a life in Israel, often developing relationships with Israeli women. Romania, China, several African countries, even a few from India. And one Russian named Igor who never stopped trying to convince the authorities that he was Jewish and should be allowed to stay. As I approached the age of 65, I longed to live in another Muslim country, and I knew that I could not go back to Palestine. Banned for 10 years, plus I never want to see another Israeli soldier again; they scare me. I thought of countries in North Africa, and settled on Morocco after considerable research. Each and every day I am grateful to the authorities here for giving me residency. For me at least, life in Morocco is altogether better than in Canada, clean air, cheap healthy food, no malls, not much traffic, friendly people. Also, I can afford to live very well here on my OAS and CPP pensions. Consider that my one bedroom apartment costs $127.50/ month. I am well aware that not many old guys in Canada would think of doing this, but hey, it’s possible. Dorina, it seems this blurb has grown. I hope this gives you the information you need. David/Daoud in Taroudant. Hello Daoud, What an amazing story! Your journey is truly inspiring to a recent graduate like myself who has already landed a job in Canada but yearns to explore the world. I feel that you have imparted so much knowledge and in many ways advice to young students and graduates at McMaster through telling your story.


Hamilton Haiti Action Committee

By Meghna George

The Hamilton Haiti Action Committee (HHAC) working group is a partner of the broader Canada Haiti Action Network (CHAN), serving to promote information and direct action across various member groups in numerous cities in Canada. Established in 2004, the network grew out of the concern for the changing politico-social landscape of Haiti, a result of the violent overthrowing of the elected government and exile of President Jean Bertrand Aristide. I had the opportunity to speak to Riaz Sayani-Mulji, a representative of HHAC, to discuss the philosophy behind the organization as well as the rich, yet often ignored history of Haiti. Haiti comprises the Western part of the Hispaniola, a large island in the Caribbean shared by both Haiti and the Dominican Republic. On Columbus’ route to discover the Americas he came across Haiti in 1492, at the time inhabited by numerous indigenous groups including the Taino. After a violent imposition of colonial power which saw many people slaughtered, the colony occupied a central position in the slave trade. The political climate was never constant, as power was transferred between the Spanish, the English and finally the French. In 1804, Haitian members of the slave trade revolted against their French oppressors, resulting in the elimination of slavery. However, the idea that black Africans could revolt against the white colonizers served as a threat to both Europe and the US, a nation that practiced slavery at this period of time. From the

late 1950’s to the late 80’s, one saw the US exacerbate the divisions between Haiti and Dominican Republic and their installation of a dictatorship. Under the Duvalier family, violence in Haiti increased as the Haitian military and armed gangs suppressed the population. In 1991, Jean Bertrand Aristide came into power on a platform that he would represent the poor class, comprising 95% of the population. He aimed to create fair trade zones, public welfare systems, schools, hospitals, water sanitation projects, a guaranteed minimum wage, etc…, but this was viewed as a threat to the rich minority and thus he was ousted that same year. He was reinstated in 1994, where he continued to develop the infrastructure of Haiti while also disbanding the Haitian military before the end of his presidency in 1996. He was re-elected in 2000 but was warned against putting in place more social programs. Upon ignoring this request, a NATO backed coup once again usurped him in 2004 and exiled him from Haiti to the Central African Republic. Since then, Haiti has suffered from numerous structural problems that result in the increasing levels of poverty and marginalization within the country including rampant cholera, violence, political uncertainty, the reliance on the nongovernmental sector, and earthquakes including the catastrophic one on January 12th 2010 which resulted in the deaths of over 300,000 people and the displacement of over 1 million, thereby compounding previously existing issues. The Hamilton Haiti Action Committee, along with CHAN, works to further several goals. First, Haiti is a country that deserves recognition of its sovereignty. The country has a long history of being occupied by various First World interests, including the installation of puppet governments, which has contributed significantly to the increasing violence and poverty. Furthermore, the return of exiled political prisoners including those who served continued



k r o w d a e r h t

as democratically elected representatives will go a long way in legitimizing Haitian right to self-govern. Second, there needs to be an acknowledgement by the Canadian government in its political involvement in the affairs of the Haitian democratic process, specifically in regards to the coup in 2004. Third, the Committee wants to distribute relief and aid in response to natural disasters and disease in such a manner where it emphasizes the need for sustainable infrastructure, meaning that people will have the capacity to take care of themselves. Currently, Haiti has seen an influx in the number of non-governmental organizations in the country, and while they can provide some relief, they are not without problems. As Riaz explains: “Haiti is known as the republic of NGO’S, the model of unsustainable development...in Canada for example, imagine if...our healthcare system was completely shot and instead of a public health [program] run by the province, [which] regulates all the different zones, we had the Red Cross operating it out of Hamilton, [or] I don’t know like Doctors Without Borders administering healthcare in Etobicoke and all these different NGO pockets emerging. There would be no standards first of all between healthcares...[in addition] there’s no accountability if a NGO messes up or if someone does a surgery completely wrong, well they can just pack up and leave.” Instead, HHAC prefers to “engage in grassroots community building”, meaning that they not only become familiar with the situation on-the-ground, but that they establish relationships with local people and help them develop the skills, or provide them with some of the resources so that they are able to take care of themselves. This is demonstrated through HHAC’s partnership with Hamilton Nurses for Haiti to try and create a Haitian Nursing Students Sponsorship Program which addresses the structural problem of lack of access to education by providing a way for students to gain practical skills through nursing programs. If you are interested in learning more about HHAC, you can check them out at http://opirg.ca/content/ hamiltonhaitiactioncommittee or email them at hamiltonhaitiaction@gmail.com for updates on events or learning how to get involved. You can also visit http:// canadahaitiaction.ca/ to see what is happening across the member groups in Canada.

THREADWORK working group held a successful CLOTHING SWAP in November. Watch for another in second term! Save money and the environment by trading your clothes. Photos by Alexandra Epp


By Randal De Souza

As university students, classes are what define our schedule. We go to them, plan our extracurricular activities around them, spend hours doing work assigned in them and occasionally get tired enough to skip them. We see education as our right in one of the most literate societies on the face of the planet. Never though does it occur to us that this right may be no more than a fleeting privilege to others. We normally connect this lack of access to education with the citizens of a third world country where eking out a lifestyle amidst harsh conditions forces parents to keep their children to work at home. Then it might come as a surprise to most of us that children struggle to receive an education in our very own backyard. And they have little say in the matter too – we who take our democratic rights very seriously in university might be surprised to learn of the frustration that kids have with regard to this helplessness. The Hamilton Youth Engagement Initiative (HYEI), also known as the Hamilton Community Student Initiative, was formed in concert with OPIRG McMaster and serves to provide children from several schools in Hamilton with a voice. Student-identified problems and solutions are the focus of this group, with an emphasis on teaching kids to speak for themselves. Among the founders are Sarah Ali and Alex Ramirez, who began work in September and work with about 10 schools in different areas of the city of Hamilton and Stoney Creek, schools which include Parkview, Glendale, Orchard Park and Delta Secondary Schools. For the purposes of this article, we interview Ms. Ali, who had a lot to tell us about Parkview Secondary School and some of the issues surrounding it. The main issue is the closure of Parkview Secondary School, orchestrated by the Hamilton District School Board. The board wishes to close the school in central-east Hamilton and relocate all the children into one big school constructed in downtown Hamilton by 2013. The issue at stake here is how the school closure will personally impact students. While great in principle, the board’s plan fails to take into account the views of the students in the school. The Parkview HYEI has some student perspective on the problem. The students feel the school is a refuge from the external environment, and a family that keeps them together. A lot of them suffer from troubled pasts, having behavior and anxiety disorders that lead to trouble coping and that since the school is small with a 14

Stop the closure of Parkview Seondary School!

Unfair grounds

good student: teacher ratio, they feel more at home. If forced to start over in a new school and be a new face among the hundreds, it would lead to a lot of stress and coping problems – even the most basic decisions we take for granted, such as where one would sit or who to sit with would cause anxiety. For a long time the school has served as a dumping ground for students with behavioral and other mental disabilities, the result of FAS, neglect and abuse from home life. The small size of Parkview and its initiatives to make students feel like a family – all done without external funding from the school board – is remarkable. The school board does not wish to invest in assisted learning technologies, like more computers for students! With near-universal access to a laptop in today’s information-oriented society, it is difficult to imagine that someone not having access to a computer at school. Ms. Ali’s suggestion to the board is to invest in the school by renovating it, making it a transition school for troubled kids going to a new school. Part of her initiative in the short-term is to sell buttons and t-shirts to raise money for refurbishing computers for the school, in order to provide these kids with computers. This campaign is to attract the school board’s attention, to show that if a single person can achieve this goal, then the big school board can surely put together funds to make a difference in the life of these kids. However, time is running out so this would need to be done before January, when the board anticipates the school will close – so Sarah needs to convince them by December. In a worst-case scenario, what would happen if the school closed? From the school board’s point of view, the school operates at 52% capacity, has high turnover rates and is not worth the trouble. But should the school close, the students may find themselves with nowhere to go, and the problems they have at home will overwhelm them. They will descend into the other ‘options’, the likes of which we can only react with horror to, such as drugs, sex and full-time work. Shocking as it might seem, for kids who live in the very same city as us and lack the options we have. A gross polarization of wealth exists in this city, and this is reflected extremely well in the children of Parkview Secondary School. Perhaps it’s time to break past our mental bubble and see the problems that affect the other inhabitants of our city, especially those who do not have a voice to speak up for themselves. It’s time to step up to the plate and lend our support to Ms. Ali, to help those who cannot help themselves. 15

Why don’t you Just $top?

By Randal De Souza Just $top! Here, it is an imperative phrase, which encourages us to think about the consequences of our actions. But let the following interview with Twishna Patel and Dhanisha Patel, the founders of the OPIRG working group Just $top!, tell you more about its values and aims. Tell me about the inspiration for starting Just $top!. Last year as part of Ecology 2F03 we had to create a presentation based on a video ‘The Story of Stuff ’ by Annie Leonard, the noted critic of excessive consumerism. The documentary emphasized the system of overexploitation of natural resources, leading to the mass-production and widespread distribution of consumer items, which itself leads to over consumption and then the problem of disposal. This capitalistic system has no regard for our health, let alone that of the environment. People are seen as consumers, not individuals, as they crank out products that damage our world and our health – they see us with the cash required to consume. Commercialism was actually designed by an individual and is the consequence of a post-World War II strategy to jump-start the economy: Victor Lebow, a famous retail analyst essentially suggested we make consumption our way of life to benefit the economy. Levels of consumer spending continue to dictate economic policy. We needed to do something that would raise greater awareness of social consumption habits, and lead people to question themselves about why they engaged in shopping sprees, or other commercial frenzies. This need for awareness and for informed individuals motivated our desire to start Just $top!. So how does Just $top! aspire to meet its goal of raising awareness? As the name suggests, you need to ‘stop what you’re doing and think about it’. How does it affect you? How does it affect the world around you? Be an informed citizen, read about what’s actually in your food, accessories and all your stuff. The first step is self-awareness, and the second is to reach out to the people around you and educate them – this means your family and friends. Finally reach out to strangers and tell them about your mission – this is where we currently are with Just $top!, where we involve the public in our activities. We recently held a Flash-mob freeze to engage the McMaster community in a fun yet practical way. We prefer this method rather than bombarding people with facts. A large group of a hundred-plus ‘froze’ in the McMaster University Student Centre (MUSC) Atrium for a total of 3 minutes, while some members of the working group were available to answer bystander questions. There was minimal time commitment required but it provided a meaningful way for people to connect with the concept of just stopping their daily life for a few minutes to think about their actions. 16

Do you have any future direction for your working group? We intend for many, many fun events to get people thinking. We’ll be screening ‘The Story of Stuff ’ in the MUSC Atrium. There are some plans in the works for increasing our group membership and working collaboratively with other groups, clubs and services on campus. We encourage people to come speak with us, and our events are an incentive to do so – we don’t require lots of your time, as our message is focused on increased awareness and increase consciousness. Unlike other groups on campus, we don’t need to fundraise, so you won’t see us with bake sales – we have actually spent $0 this year. While not asking you to spend $0 in your life, we realize there are things you do need, but our emphasis is on asking you to consider your impact on the environment. Do you really need to shop till you drop? Are there others you would like to acknowledge as having helped out in group operations? Our gratitude and thanks goes out to those who supported us from the start, and assisted with logistical and technical planning, including Akash Pathak, Dhruve Patel, Talha Qureshi, Jennifer Dang, Madhur Parashar, Harleen Saini, Shikha Sahajpaul and Rupal Hatkar. We would also like to extend our appreciation to the many volunteers who participated in the freeze – we couldn’t have done it without you guys! Can people find ‘The Story of Stuff ’ and other helpful links about your issues on the Internet? Of course! The Story of Stuff is available at www.storyofstuff.org/, and we have a website too! Check us out at http://juststop2011.blogspot.com/

McMaster Initiative for


By Kumar Jadoo

McMaster’s Initiative for Water is an OPIRG working group that promotes the preservation of water while encouraging everyone to lend a hand to struggling countries around the world dealing with the water crisis. Currently the group is working alongside Global Water to take part in the Healthy Schools Program – a fundraising initiative to build hand-washing stations in specific rural communities within Guatemala. MI Water has adopted 3 schools: Paraje Paoj, Aldea Pitzal and Pologue. Their goal is to fundraise $1330.00 in their aim to help build an 8-faucet hand washing station wall that would benefit the 40 students and 20 families of the schools’ community. In the past term, MI Water has held two bake sales raising a total of approximately $455.00. The group had also teamed up with OPIRG’s McMaster Students for Social Justice during October 13th to hold the screening of Blue Gold: World Water Wars - a film focusing on the growing issue of the privatization of water. During November 5th and 12th, MI Water partnered up with McMaster Outdoor Club and the Royal Botanical Gardens in an effort to take part in the annual clean-up of Cootes Paradise and a shrub planting and invasive species clearing of the area. During the month of September, Nabila Khan and Kunal Tundal, the two co-founders of MI Water, also took part in the Great Lakes Youth Coalition. The Coalition was a response to the renegotiation of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement in an effort to display the level of care about the future of the Great Lakes. It was to advocate for the healthy waters required to sustain the lakes, their watersheds and the people that depend on it. MI Water has had a great starting term. As a new group this year, they are making great progress and looking forward to expanding and putting their future plans in action. Students can expect several campaigns and events from the working group in the new year. In addition, the group is always looking for enthusiastic new members who have an interest in working towards the preservation and provision of water to countries that need the help. 17

Students Making a Difference: A Reflection on My Visit to Social Agencies with CVA Volunteers By Maureen Elliott From breakfast programs and soup kitchens to afterschool drop in and homework help programs, Community Volunteer Action (CVA) provides volunteers for a variety of services that are much needed in Hamilton right now. By participating in each group, I gained so much respect for and understanding of the work that is being done, and of the needs of the Hamilton community on a larger scale. These 300+ students that give their time each week through volunteering may not realize how big their impact really is, but by seeing each program, I viewed the collaborative effort first hand. It is said that ‘every little bit helps,’ and I stand by this. Even a few hours a week are making an obvious difference in the lives of so many people here in Hamilton. Beyond my own personal observations, I was overwhelmed by program coordinators and members of each social agency expressing extreme gratitude for the work that these volunteers are doing. On more than one occasion, I was told that these programs wouldn’t be able to run without the help of CVA volunteers. I saw, first hand, the connections that were made as a result of these programs – high school kids that were expecting particular volunteers to help them with their homework and children who were waiting on a specific mentor to spend a few hours with them, to name a few. It is truly amazing to witness the impact that can be made in such a short time. With that said, I would like to tell each of the CVA volunteers how important their commitment is and how obvious their impact is on this community. Every 18

few hours of your time that you give to someone else has more meaning than you may even be aware of. Over the past few weeks, I have had the privilege of seeing the big picture, and it is pretty spectacular. So thank you so much for everything you do! I hope that volunteering is something that you continue to do in the future – whether it is in Hamilton or elsewhere because it truly makes such a difference. Community Volunteer Action (CVA) is a working group of OPIRG, McMaster and is sponsored by Open Circle. We are a network of volunteering groups where you volunteer weekly with other McMaster students at placements across Hamilton. Your group facilitator helps you find your way to the placement and facilitates discussion for 15 min. after each volunteer session to help you reflect on your experiences and how these relate to larger societal issues. To sign up for a volunteer group, come to our Volunteer Fair on Thurs. January 5, 2012, 5:30-7 in MUSC 311

CVA Volunteers. Photo by Arryn Ter Smitte

RECENT PURCHASES OPIRG RESOURCE CENTRE Room 229, McMaster University Student Centre


BECOME AN OPIRG MCMASTER COMMUNITY MEMBER! Your Membership contributes to the ongoing work of OPIRG McMaster, our Resource Library, and our front-line volunteer working groups. Membership allows you free access to our workshops on Anti Oppression and Consensus Decision Making, a bi-annual subscription to PIRGspectives, and lending privileges to our alternative lending library. (NOTE: Full-time Undergraduates at McMaster are automatically members of OPIRG) NAME____________________________________________________________________________ ADDRESS_________________________________________________________________________ E-MAIL___________________________________________________________________________ PHONE___________________________________________________________________________ TWO PAYMENT OPTIONS: o OPTION 1: $10.00 Community Membership (make cheque out to “OPIRG McMaster”)

_____10.00__ o OPTION 2: $10.00 Community Membership with a tax deductible donation (make the cheque for full amount ($10 plus donation) out to “Ontario PIRG”) ___________ OPIRG McMaster, Unit 1013 c/o McMaster University Post Office, 1280 Main Street West Hamilton ON L8S 1C0 In Person: Room 229 McMaster University Student Centre. ph (905) 525-9140 ext. 27289 opirg@mcmaster.ca

opirg mcmaster working groups


*Body Equity *Community Volunteer Action *Guatemala *Hamilton Freeskool *Hamilton Haiti Action *Hamilton Students Community Initiative *Hamilton Womyn’s Bike Crew* Just Stop! *McMaster First Nations Students Association (MFNSA) *McMaster Green Roof Working Group *mi water (McMaster’s Initiative for Water) *OPIRG Food For Life At McMaster *Save More Students (SMS) *Students for Social Justice *ThreadWork 20