A Precipice and a Possibility: Reflections on Climate Justice Toronto’s Strategy Design Process!

A Precipice and a Possibility: Reflections on Climate Justice Toronto’s Strategy Design Process!

Notes from the Field

By: Amanda Harvey-Sánchez and Aniket

In May 2021, coming out of an Annual General Meeting (AGM), Climate Justice Toronto created a strategy committee tasked with spearheading a long-term strategy development process for the organization. The strategy committee’s purpose was to lead and facilitate the process of developing a clear long-term goal which CJTO could orient itself toward, and a pragmatic path forward. This process also began as we were still adapting our new internal organizing structure to the realities and challenges of virtual organizing during a pandemic.

The initial plan below was for the strategy development process to take place in four stages: preparation, design, review, and a final organization-wide vote. 

Intended timeline for strategy development, as envisioned in June 2021. Graphic by CJTO member Rebecca.

The strategy committee coordinated the preparation stage as a process of intention-setting and reading and reflecting on past and present social movements, theories, and strategies. We organized our readings and discussions around four themes: histories, political and economic theory, world-building, and contemporary organizing theory. We summarized our reflections and learnings here, here, here, and here.

One of the defining themes of the preparation stage was the necessity of “deep organizing”. We picked up the concept from Charles Payne’s book I’ve Got the Light of Freedom. Here, he talks about what civil rights organizer Ella Baker called “spadework” – the unglamorous, difficult, day-to-day work of building relationships in a local context (knocking on doors, going to church meetings, meeting with local leaders one-on-one). “Deep organizing”, for us, is taking that kind of slow and repetitive work rooted in communities and structures in society and leveraging them towards a particular campaign objective. It’s these often uncelebrated tasks that lay the foundation for real and material political change. 

What we did and how our plans changed 

The General Plan: As we moved toward the design stage, many of us felt the need to get started on concrete campaigns sooner rather than later. The municipal election, for example, was an opportunity to try out “deep organizing” on the ground. While we still felt that careful and intentional long-term strategy development would help make our organizing more coherent, targeted, and impactful, we were also grappling with how to effectively continue organizing in the short-term. Without any movement on campaigns, we risked losing existing members, failing to bring in new members, and possibly stagnating entirely. Nowadays organizers often worry about going so fast that the wheels come flying off. What we think about less is moving so slow that we come to a halt and get stuck. 

A loose consensus emerged that some combination of the following was necessary:

  • workshops or trainings with an external organizing body to develop hard and soft organizing skills across our membership 
  • a CJTO forum for developing a collective understanding of who we are, what we care about, and what our priorities are
  • a CJTO retreat where we come together and apply our collective learning to launch a new campaign

Concurrently, I (Amanda) also applied for a grant to help fund some sort of “Toronto Climate Justice Convergence” as part of my PhD research with CJTO. I first floated this idea during the preparation stage of strategy development and further developed it in consultation with my Community Advisory Board. The goal was to bring together social, economic, and climate justice groups in Toronto to build broader and more politically impactful coalitions in the city and beyond. 

Amidst this evolving context, we landed on a new timeline for strategy development, including a new partnership with the Institute for Change Leaders (ICL), a Toronto-based organizing training centre: 

The new strategy development timeline that emerged after completing “stage 1: preparation”. Graphic by CJTO member Rebecca.  

The Specific Plan: Building off existing relationships, we partnered with the Climate Justice Organizing Hub (“the Hub”) to support our capacity-building workshops with the ICL. Generous donations from CUPE3902 also helped cover additional costs during the design stage of strategy development, including paying for the retreat. 

The strategy committee brought forward a proposal to the entire organization in January of 2022. The gist of the plan was this: bi-weekly organizing workshops with the ICL followed by a “synthesis meeting” after each workshop to take stock of key themes and learnings, culminating in a spring retreat after which we would launch a municipal election campaign geared towards “deep organizing” that would exceed the immediate electoral context. We also built-in time for an explicit discussion around vision and ideology in two parts, putting into practice reading and discussion on this topic during the preparation stage. 

The Feedback & Revised Plan: Passing the strategy proposal was no easy feat. What soon became clear was that there was an almost infinite number of potential problems, gaps, or shortcomings with any strategy proposal. But much as it might bring us comfort and a sense of security to have a “strategy document”, “5-year plan”, or highly detailed strategy blueprint and mission-statement, no such document will ever be comprehensive enough or stable enough to “solve” the intersecting (and changing) crises in the world today. What’s important is we start somewhere, doing something, even if it’s imperfect and incomplete. 

We made some changes based on feedback from the rest of CJTO. For instance, we agreed that the “synthesis meetings” should be carried out by CJTO as a whole (during Steering Committee meetings) rather than only the strategy committee, to ensure important learning and decisions are made collectively. This meant that the strategy committee effectively dissolved by February 2022, as we were now all working together to carve out a shared path forward. 

We also made some modifications to adapt to changing circumstances as we got started (e.g. a facilitator getting sick, working with fluctuating capacity across our membership, some workshops and discussions taking longer than anticipated, and new ideas emerging along the way). The timeline below shows the actual schedule we ended up following.  

Strategy Design Schedule. Timeline graphic by CJTO member Rebecca.

What resulted from this process

We covered a lot in this process (too much to cover in one blog post), but here are some small snapshots of key documents, decisions, creations, and actions that resulted from the strategy design process. 

Vision & Ideology 

Vision and ideology are topics we have been grappling with at CJTO for a very long time. We’ve danced around them many times in CJTO’s history in the context of developing political principles. The strategy development process brought this to the fore, most notably in this Jacobin article titled, What the Sunrise Movement Can Do Better by former Sunrise organizers Jonathan Guy and Sam Zacher. They note the importance of political ideology in helping to guide decision-making and provide coherence and direction in campaigning – something I (Amanda) have also written about in the context of fossil fuel divestment campaigns. Still, we were wary about the risks of being too dogmatic or sectarian, or what Carla Bergman and Nick Montgomery call “rigid radicalism” in Joyful Militancy. So how to proceed? How much ideology is enough, and how much is too much?

For us, we opted to combine ideology with vision and treat the topic as a set of touchstones to be developed on an ongoing basis. We laid the preliminary groundwork over the course of two workshops, one meeting, and some follow-up discussion on the materials developed at those meetings. You can see what we came up with below.

CJTO Galaxy Map activity adapted from “Vision and Ideology Part 1” March 28, 2022. The Galaxy Map activity was first developed by Krysta Williams. Slide design by CJTO member Rebecca.

Organizing our vision this way was useful in illustrating everything on our radar. That includes the vision for what we want, the “Planets”, but equally as important, common problems that snare left-wing organizing, “black holes”. Most of all, we found this exercise most useful as a starting point. We simply can’t anticipate everything, and as an ICL facilitator reminded us: shared ideology comes out of shared struggle.

We later made some modifications and developed our galaxy map into a definite political programme for CJTO, to articulate precisely what it is we want to work toward. The “North Star Demands”, summarized below and on our website and viewable in full here, work from vision statements down to several specific and tangible demands. We approved this document in June 2022, with the understanding that it is a living document. Our circumstances and priorities change, and so too must our goals along with them. Moreover, we will learn and grow as we work with others and begin taking concrete actions towards making these visions a reality.

Graphical user interface, text, application

Description automatically generatedSummary of CJTO’s “Planet” or “North Star” vision statements. The full list of demands is linked above. Original slide design by CJTO member Rebecca, adapted from our June 2022 retreat summary slide deck.  

York South-Weston: Why this ward? 

The decision for CJTO to get involved in the municipal election was not an easy one. Indeed, it was something we agonized over for almost a month, working through our fears, hesitations, and disagreements collectively (at this point still entirely over zoom!) 

The kind of work needed to organize for power and enact real change does not ultimately happen by only politely knocking on doors twice or thrice a decade. Many of us were worried about becoming foot soldiers for a candidate’s campaign and losing sight of our own political vision and objectives. All the same, elections happen, and their winners and losers make decisions with material consequences for working people. The key question for us, then, was how to use the political opportunity of an election to meet new people, forge relationships, start new political conversations, and ultimately build power beyond the ballot box. 

Given that context, we worked with the ICL to develop a plan for intervening in the municipal election in new (for us) and creative ways. If we were to endorse a candidate, it would have to be strategic: it wouldn’t be enough to just align with our political programme, having an organized grassroots base and a plan to win mattered too. To that end, we considered the following questions.

Graphic design by CJTO member Rebecca.

The points on strategic leverage and winnability were crucial for us. CJTO had already been involved in an endorsement style electoral campaign during the 2019 federal election as part of a distributed organizing campaign called Our Time. In that campaign, we endorsed a large slate of candidates, most of which did not win, and most of whom we have had little contact with post-campaign. This time around, we were going to opt for quality over quantity, endorsing only 1-3 candidates but really making our endorsement count. This would both lay the groundwork for a longer-term relationship with the candidate (win or lose) and if they were to win, incentivize accountability towards CJTO as an organization, thereby providing us with an active ally in office.

Beyond the political calculus involved, we also wanted to use our time during the election to build relationships intentionally and meaningfully in a specific geographical context. We were keen to meet and learn from local leaders and community organizations in the area. Early on, York South-Weston emerged as a key ward to consider. Among other things, low-income neighbourhoods in the ward are disproportionately impacted by flooding. This left an opening to work across climate, social, and economic justice, in collaboration with organizations in the area.  

After meeting and interviewing four candidates in different wards, we settled on endorsing Chiara Padovani – a tenants’ organizer and social worker with strong ties in her home ward of York South-Weston. Chiara lost her bid for City Council in 2018, but did not give up organizing. Instead, she doubled-down by fighting above-guideline rent increases and preventing unfair evictions through her work with the York South-Weston Tenant Union, which she founded. This made us confident we weren’t working with a career politician, but rather someone committed to the kind of grassroots organizing that actually wins change.  

Manageable Campaigns with Big Vision

An ongoing challenge in CJTO is navigating and attempting to reconcile the tensions between big-picture thinking and campaigns we can actually win. There’s no one-size-fits-all formula, but it’s important we think about what will build power toward system change and inspire ordinary people to get involved. Left-wing organizations often struggle with becoming consumed with the individually focused goals of some activists. The problem is if and when this comes at the cost of the broader commitment of our politics: the shared and collective struggle to bettering the world beyond individuals and even our own organizations.

One mechanism we have built-into our strategy design so far is planning for a “Fall Convergence” to stake out campaigns and coalitions beyond the election that align with our political programme. This would bring together social, economic, and climate justice groups in the city, and build on existing relationships developed during the municipal election. You can see how we were envisioning these pieces coming together below, taken from our June 2022 retreat. 


Description automatically generated
The gist of the proposal passed by CJTO members at our June 2022 retreat. This proposal treats the Municipal Election Campaign and the Fall Convergence as stepping stones within a much broader process for systemic changes across multiple sectors of society. Slide design by CJTO member Rebecca, originally included in our June 2022 retreat. 
Campaign arc example (broad strokes) linking CJTO’s Municipal Election Campaign, the Fall Convergence, and more. Slide design by CJTO member Niklas, originally included in our June 2022 retreat.

Like most things in life, strategy and campaign development are rarely ever the same in theory and in practice. Some things played out a bit differently once we got started in earnest, and that’s okay. The test of a left-wing organization committed to making material change is hardly how committed it is to a particular viewpoint or path. But rather how, in the face of surprises, it can adapt and change, democratically and equitably moving past disagreements both within and without, to keep moving forward. There is no one path to the world we want, but each and every one of them passes through concrete strategy, local circumstances, and building power to actually win.

Amanda Harvey-Sánchez is a Toronto-based Latina organizer, activist-researcher, and educator. This blog post is part of Amanda’s doctoral research with CJTO, a two-year ethnographic community-based participatory research project tentatively entitled “Actualizing Everything: Affective Activism, Effective Politics, and the Future of Climate Justice Organizing in Canada”. Find Amanda on Twitter @amanda_hsanchez

Aniket is a person on the planet Earth. 

This blog post is the first in the series “Notes from the Field” by Amanda, a component of her research project with CJTO. 

Cite as: Harvey-Sánchez, A. (2022). “A Precipice and a Possibility: Reflections on Climate Justice Toronto’s Strategy Design Process!”. Notes From the Field. Climate Justice Toronto. 


Bergman, C. & Montgomery, N.  (2017). “Ch. 5. Undoing Rigid Radicalism, Activating Joy”. Joyful Militancy: Building Resistance in Toxic Times. Chico, California: AK Press. 

Delaire, M. (2020). Tenant groups in York South-Weston unite to fight for tenants’ rights. toronto.com.https://www.toronto.com/news/tenant-groups-in-york-south-weston-unite-to-fight-for-tenants-rights/article_6914c1ab-1f02-5ac5-b79c-bdaacc7349a9.html

Grim, R. (2022). The Elephant in the Zoom: Meltdowns Have Brought Progressive Advocacy Groups to a Standstill at a Critical Moment in World History. The Intercept. https://theintercept.com/2022/06/13/progressive-organizing-infighting-callout-culture/

Guy, J. & Zacher, S. (2021). What the Sunrise Movement Can Do Better. Jacobin https://www.jacobinmag.com/2021/08/sunrise-movement-green-new-deal-left-politics-local-organizing 

Harvey-Sánchez, A. & Lang, S.  (May/June 2021). Divestment and beyond. Briarpatch Magazine. https://briarpatchmagazine.com/articles/view/divestment-and-beyond

Moon, J. (2020). The community of Rockcliffe keeps flooding. When will it end? Toronto Star. https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2020/07/09/the-community-of-rockcliffe-keeps-flooding-when-will-it-end.html

Payne, Charles. (2007). I’ve Got the Light of Freedom: The Organizing Tradition and the Mississippi Freedom Struggle. Oakland, California: University of California Press. 

Williams, Krysta. (n.d.). Galaxy Map Activity. https://docs.google.com/document/d/17KAb8z0VTS0-456D-yxqYGwoqgn-G5_1STBkAqnkccs/edit

CJTO References & Additional Resources Mentioned 

Climate Justice Toronto. (2021). Developing a long-term strategy for CJTO. (Theme 1 from “Preparation Stage” of Strategy Development) https://climatejusticeto.com/2021/11/13/developing-a-long-term-strategy-for-cjto/

Climate Justice Toronto. (2021). Long-term strategy: the world as it is and as we want it to be. (Theme 2 from “Preparation Stage” of Strategy Development) https://climatejusticeto.com/2022/01/21/long-term-strategy-the-world-as-it-is-and-as-we-want-it-to-be/

Climate Justice Toronto. (2021). Long-term strategy: imagining and implementing the utopia. (Theme 3 from “Preparation Stage” of Strategy Development) https://climatejusticeto.com/2022/06/30/long-term-strategy-imagining-and-implementing-the-utopia/

Climate Justice Toronto. (2021). Long term-strategy: how we realize our vision. (Theme 4 from “Preparation Stage” of Strategy Development) https://climatejusticeto.com/2022/06/30/long-term-strategy-how-we-realize-our-vision/

Climate Justice Toronto. (n.d.). “About” – “Our Vision”, “Our Structure” and “Our Principles”. https://climatejusticeto.com/about/

Climate Justice Organizing Hub. https://www.lehub.ca/en/

CUPE3902: https://www.cupe3902.org/

Institute for Change Leaders (ICL): https://www.changeleaders.ca/

Our Time: ​​https://our-time.ca/

York South-Weston Tenant Union: https://www.tenantunion.ca/

Chiara Padovani—Our Vote for City Councilor, York South-Weston

Chiara Padovani—Our Vote for City Councilor, York South-Weston

With the municipal election just around the corner, Climate Justice Toronto is thrilled to endorse Chiara Padovani for city councilor of York South–Weston. Chiara is a social worker and human rights activist with a strong voice for positive changes in transportation, housing rights, and climate change action and mitigation. Through her commitment to these important social and environmental issues, we feel Chiara is aligned with CJTO’s goals of addressing climate change by tackling systemic issues through community-oriented solutions. We love her commitment to grassroots organizing and working with communities on specific issues that affect them. Several weeks ago, some CJTO members had the chance to speak with Chiara about her campaign. Chiara’s initiatives and ideas in the following six key areas demonstrate why she is our choice for city councilor.  


Chiara supports creating a safer and more accessible transit experience. Our current public transit system is difficult for someone with a disability to navigate, and costs of public transit are alienating the people who rely on it the most. Chiara believes that an important way of making transit more accessible is to remove fare inspectors and, eventually, make public transit free. Chiara supports fully funding and enforcing VisionZeroTO, which is a plan for reducing traffic-related injuries through measures such as reducing speed limits, creating protected intersections, and making turn signal adjustments. She also wants to improve bike lanes and snow removal services—two major issues impacting transportation, particularly for low-income individuals and communities. 

Housing Rights

Inclusionary zoning is an important issue for Chiara. This means she is committed to planning policies that create mixed income developments to support folks with low to moderate incomes, specifically with the goal of a zero net loss of affordable rental units. Many Torontonians have experienced the effects of an increasingly unaffordable city over the pandemic, making Chiara’s commitment to affordable housing extremely important. She believes building on the current infrastructure is central to overcoming economic displacement and gentrification of areas such as YSW, especially as the area is set to become the second largest transit hub in Toronto. The York South-Weston Tenant Union, of which Chiara is a founding member, supported the open letter to John Tory concerning the pressing need to implement inclusionary zoning.

Chiara has been protesting against above guideline rent increases in YSW and fighting for true rent control. Dream, a real-estate company and owner of at least one apartment building in YSW and 86 residential buildings total in the City of Toronto, has the largest number of above guideline rent increases in the city. Chiara can be found with the tenant union at on-the-ground protests and sharing their progress on Twitter. 

Workers Rights

Chiara wants to strengthen the city’s Fair Wage policy to include a $20 minimum wage and 10 paid sick days for all workers employed by the City of Toronto or employed by one of its contractors. These are desperately needed changes that will support people who are most marginalized and affected by our capitalist system. Chiara wants to create jobs for youth through community benefits agreements with public infrastructure programs and private developments. Further, Chiara supports an increase in the establishment of and investment in workforce development programs that support youth experiencing systemic barriers and discrimination, with paid employment and valuable opportunities for career development at the City of Toronto. 

Flooding Infrastructure & Prevention

YSW has faced flooding issues for several years. With the increasing impact of climate change, we can only expect these events to become more frequent and more destructive. Chiara is a leader in the initiative York South-Weston Neighbours for Flooding Action, which advocates for flooding prevention, emergency preparedness, and climate action. Chiara promotes sustainable infrastructure, such as not building in areas like floodplains and reducing emissions to mitigate climate change.

Early Childhood Development

Chiara wants more investment in early childhood development through the creation of more inclusive, accessible, culturally appropriate, and high-quality childcare spaces. This involves increasing the long-term sustainable investment in the development of youth-led and community-based youth development programs and after-school recreational facilities. Early childhood programs not only benefit the mental and physical wellness of children; they also provide much-needed support for families.

Community Safety

Chiara emphasizes the necessity of addressing the root causes of violence and crime in our communities. Despite increased funding for policing, violence and crime have not decreased in the long-term, and we actually see violence and crime increase when funding decreases for programs and workers who directly address the root causes, such as social services. For Chiara, this demonstrates that sustainable and meaningful investment in social programs proves more effective in reducing and preventing violence, and is considerably more cost-effective, than policing and incarceration. 

Investing in these programs would involve the creation and support of programs like Community Crisis Support Service Pilot, which advocates for non-police response and interventions for mental health crises, wellness checks, homelessness, and evictions. There needs to be full, long-term funding of prevention, intervention, and risk mitigation strategies and programs aimed at the roots of poverty and violence, such as the Community Healing Project, restorative justice programs, and integrated supports for justice-involved youth. Finally, advocating for expansion of hospital-based violence intervention programs city-wide, such as BRAVE (Breaking the Cycle of Violence with Empathy), is another way of addressing the root causes of violence and crime in our city. 


We’re really excited by Chiara’s commitment to building strong and resilient communities through her various initiatives, and we believe she would make an excellent councilor for York South-Weston. Learn more about this candidate at https://www.chiarapadovani.ca/ and mark October 24, 2022 in your calendar. Election day looms—do you know who you’re voting for?


Chiara’s Twitter: https://twitter.com/chipadovani 

Progress Toronto’s open letter to John Tory for inclusionary zoning:


The Star. Transit Connections in Weston Mt Dennis Offer New Possibilities to Solve Chronic Problems. https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2019/08/20/transit-connections-in-weston-mt-dennis-offer-new-possibilities-to-solve-chronic-problems.html

Toronto350. Flooding Prevention in York South–Weston. https://www.toronto350.org/flooding_prevention_in_york_south_weston

      Long-term strategy: how we realize our vision

      Long-term strategy: how we realize our vision

      The theme for part four of CJTO’s Strategy Committee Reading List was Contemporary Organizing Theory: How We Realize Our Vision. Building on what we learned in prior themes on organizing histories, critical political economy, and utopian world building, we thought about how to move from analysis to action through the use of strategic organizing practices. 

      Key takeaways that were relevant from previous weeks included: an emphasis on tangible and local organizing, grounding our work around clear ideological direction, maintaining a meaningful analysis of the root causes of the climate crisis, and providing an alternative vision of the world that we want to achieve. 

      Week One – Integrating World-Building Into Organizing

      • Bergman, Carla and Nick Montgomery, Joyful Militancy: Building Resistance in Toxic Times (2017)
        • Chapter Five: “Undoing Rigid Radicalism, Activating Joy”
      • Ross, Kristin, Communal Luxury: The Political Imaginary of the Paris Commune (2015)
        • Chapter Two: “Communal Luxury”

      Big Ideas

      Some key takeaways from these readings included the importance of building joy and relationship-building into our organizational strategy as well as revisiting the question of ideology. We asked ourselves: how specific does an ideology have to be in order to maintain a clear political vision without becoming too dogmatic and alienating to new organizers?

      Week Two – Movement Building

      • brown, adrienne maree, Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds (2017)
        • Chapter 1 pages 29-46, Chapter 5 pages 131-138, 145, 151-153, and Chapter 6 pages 159-162
      • Smucker, Jonathan Matthew, Hegemony How-To: A Roadmap for Radicals (2017)
        • Chapter Pg 20-24, 37, 52-57, 191-196

      Big Ideas

      We started thinking about social groups and structures that organizers can work with to forge alliances and build power. This also spurred discussion around scale and the possibilities afforded from mass mobilization and smaller, “nimbler” organizing practices that require less outreach while aiming for targeted change.

      Week Three – Strategic Planning

      Big Ideas

      Week three on strategic planning pushed us to think more concretely about how we will proceed in the “design phase” of strategy development. For instance: What specific outcomes do we want? What partner organizations will we collaborate with? We also reflected on current public perception on climate change and how that might shape a strategic approach to climate justice organizing.

      As one CJTO member put it:

       “We are in a very different place than we were even just three years ago… We were trying to convince people that climate change is real, but now we’re in another position where we can actually push a vision for the right response to what is now accepted reality.”

      Main Takeaways & How to Get Involved

      Building joy and relationship-building into our strategy is important to achieve a sustainable movementUnderstanding the scale of a movement is required to determine what goals are possible to achieve

      This last theme brought us to the end of the “preparation stage” of strategy development. For more details on what we read during this stage, you can check out our syllabus and the readings. We are now entering a CJTO-wide “design stage” and will be sharing more on the process in an upcoming blog post. 
      To get involved, join us on Slack or email us at climatejusticeto.on@gmail.com. We’ll be having a long-awaited CJTO new-member orientation in July – stay tuned for details!

      Long-term strategy: Imagining and implementing the utopia

      Long-term strategy: Imagining and implementing the utopia

      “World-Building,” the third theme in our Strategy Committee syllabus, reinforced some of our previous learnings – particularly the importance of building local relationships in our organizing work.

      We explored how the urban/local level not only provides a lot of opportunities to build those relationships with the workers and residents that make up Toronto, but to achieve material wins that can directly impact their lives as well.
      And while we started thinking about who to work in solidarity with, we also discussed how we might do so. We learned that although resistance-based politics has a necessary role, it’s important to set a common vision to work towards.

      Week One – Visions in Practice


      • Jarandilla Nuñez, Alan et al., Routledge Handbook of Climate Justice (2016)
        • Chapter 31: “Mother Earth and Climate Justice, Indigenous Peoples’ Perspectives of an Alternative Development Paradigm” p. 420-430
      • Zuckerman, Ethan, Mistrust: Why Losing Faith in Institutions Provides the Tools to Change Them (2021)
        • Chapter 3: “What we lose when we lose trust” p. 69-104

      Big Ideas

      If a radical political movement is to have staying power, it seems to be important that an alternative social/political vision is offered. Rather than being caught in a constant “whack-a-mole” responding to issues as they emerge, it helps to guide our work towards something over the long term and neutralize nihilism. Organizing around a common vision also helps to maintain political unity and relationships outside of moments of immediate crisis.

      Week Two – Visions in Practice: The City


      • Harvey, David, Rebel Cities: From the Right to the City to the Urban Revolution (2013)
        • Chapter Five: “Reclaiming the City for Anti-Capitalist Struggle”
      • A visit from the wonderful Diana Yoon!

      Big Ideas

      A groundedness in specific local geographies (whether at the city or local level) is key to building deep connections, which turn into strong political alliances. We are in a unique position  as a youth- and climate justice-centred organization, but also in relation to other leftist groups. However, we also think we should be doing more to unify other local groups who are doing anti-capitalist work from different angles.

      And Toronto City Council is long overdue for change!

      Main Takeaways & How to Get Involved

      The importance of “the left” presenting (and demanding and building) an alternative vision of the world.The importance of grounding our work in the local (for example, The City) in order to build strong political alliances with people and groups, and to achieve tangible material goals.

      For more details on the readings, you can check out our syllabus and the readings. To get involved, join us on Slack and stay tuned for a new-member orientation in July!

      Long-term strategy: The world as it is and as we want it to be

      Long-term strategy: The world as it is and as we want it to be

      Political and economic theory: why?

      A recent Jacobin article outlines how the Sunrise Movement’s Green New Deal organizing model has been successful at drawing in large numbers of people quickly, but has come up against clear limits.  Sunrise’s model, known as the “Momentum model,” is based on the premise that successful social movements, largely irrespective of their core political orientations, all follow a similar structure, a cycle in which new participants are “absorbed” into a structure that works towards staging increasingly dramatic protests, which draw in further people and eventually enable large-scale acts of non-cooperation. The Momentum model might be “correct,” but by itself has little to say about how specific movement work in specific places reaches people at specific moments in history.

      As a result, Sunrise lacks a clear and unifying ideological direction, necessary “not just because it articulates a political vision, but because it provides an idea of how the world presently works — and, by extension, how we might successfully intervene in it.” In this theme, we were working with the core question: how do we lay the groundwork for “deep” organizing–a core takeaway from our first theme’s readings (you can read our theme 1 recap, focused on case studies of past and current organizing, here!)

      This part of the preparation stage focused on laying in foundations that would help us clarify and deepen understanding of some of the conclusions we started to come to in our reading of organizing histories. These readings helped us understand how the power structures in our lives form and persist, therefore where we can interrupt and challenge them. In particular, we were thinking about how we should be engaging with the state, and on recognizing the ways in which internalized power structures harms our organizing and our ability to imagine futures. 

      We continue to meet weekly for facilitated discussions, and you can also check out our syllabus and follow along with us!

      Week One: Political Economy

      • Federici, Silvia, Caliban and the Witch (2004)
        • Chapter 4, “The Great Witch Hunt In Europe” p. 163-200
      • Luxemburg, Rosa, The Accumulation of Capital (1917)
        • Chapter 32, “Militarism As A Province of Accumulation”

      Big ideas: 

      • The state under capitalism is a way of organizing other forms of oppression and funneling them into the interests of the ruling class; capitalism, therefore, needs other forms of oppression to function
      • Federici challenges the idea that class relations are the absolute basis, over other forms of hierarchy, looking at how capitalism and patriarchy are inherently intertwined. 
      • She further challenges the idea that capitalism was a necessary stage in history. She looks at the world of knowledges it destroyed (for example, through the witch hunts), arguing against progressive theories of history that disenchant our lives and relations
      • Luxemburg identifies the role of the state as the piggy bank funding the imperial exploits of the ruling class, looking at how it uses militarism to justify re-capturing wealth “lost” to wages

      Week 2 – Colonial and Race Theory

      • Pulido, Laura, “Geographies of Race and Ethnicity I: White Supremacy vs. White Privilege in Environmental Racism Research” (2015) AND “Geographies of Race and Ethnicity II: Environmental Racism, Racial Capitalism, and State-Sanctioned Violence” (2017)
        • Part I – p. 809-815 
        • Part II – p. 524-530
      • Coultard, Glen, Red Skin, White Masks: Rejecting the Colonial Politics of Recognition (2014)
        • Introduction – p. 1-24

      Big ideas: 

      • The importance of land-based analysis beyond simple class analysis, understanding land dispossession as the foundation of both the settler-colonial and capitalist state
      • Recognition as “reconciliation” is empty if it is not also tied to land
      • Racial capitalism: in the context of settler colonialism and white supremacy, the state dispossesses Indigenous land and makes certain bodies–racialized bodies–disposable as “sinks” for the pollutants/waste/harms that capitalism produces

      Week 3 – Disability Justice

      Big ideas: 

      • Weeks 1 and 2 looked at how things are organized under capitalism. Here we started to shift the focus to how we go about building a different world 
      • Reframing environmental justice as how we make the world our home and be at home in our bodies, rather than as finding a “cure” or “fix” that will return us to a “normal.” The “normal” was always oppressive–we need to learn how to live here
      • creating a space where the intimate relationships people do form will be characterized by deeply understanding each other’s access needs–Mingus calls this “access intimacy”

      Week 4 – Recap 

      Big ideas: 

      • A combination of centralization and a lack of ideological depth can lead to political drift and the adoption of tactics that lack direction or sense
      • We also discussed questions raised around the organization of the strategy committee itself, how its current basis in a reading group reflects the current demographics of CJTO, and how, when designing our strategy, we have to be very cognizant of how we are structuring our operations to attract/repel various demographics

      Week 5 – Political Alternatives

      • Bookchin, Murray, The Murray Bookchin Reader  (1999)
        • Chapter 8 – “Libertarian Municipalism” p. 173-196
      • Weil, Simone, “Human Personality” (1942)

      Big ideas: 

      • Political/ideological direction as emerging from personal relationships with other people and radiating outward from roots in immediate community relations
      • Reinforcing the importance of deeply local organizing–in this case, in order to restructure power so that it exists with the people who live on the land/in community together
      • Importance of having a tangible vision to move towards and  agreement on specific political principles

      Week 6 – Alternatives in Practice: Lessons from the ‘Global South’

      • Lopes de Souza, Marcelo, “Together with the state, despite the state, against the state: Social movements as ‘critical urban planning agents’” (2016)
        • p. 321-339
      • Singh, N.M., “Environmental justice, degrowth, and post-capitalist futures”  (2019)
        • p. 138-142

      Big ideas: 

      • There are real dangers of co-optation whenever a leftist group tries to engage with the state/other ruling class institutions. Despite this, it is obviously unavoidable, and is often necessary, to use the state towards certain purposes and in certain ways, so long as we remain always vigilant about co-optation
      • If we see the state for what it is–as a barrier that often gets in the way of our work, but that we can exploit for our own purposes–we can develop a strategy that we can be working towards regardless of what the state is doing (i.e. that doesn’t rely on going through the state), a strategy that recognizes where we can use the state (carefully) without surrendering everything to the state  
      • This involves remaining confrontational, for example by employing methods of direct action to “trick” institutions to redistribute resources

      Main Takeaways & How to Get Involved!

      Deep organizing necessitates a combination of the practical and the performative in order to build strong relationships and embed ourselves in our communities. Deep organizing also necessitates a strong focus on the local; i.e. municipal or neighbourhood-based organizing. Being anti-capitalist/anti-statist in principle does not mean that we cannot strategically engage with the state, but it does imply the importance of building bottom-up political and economic structures outside of the state.

      We always welcome new or old CJTO members to join the strategy committee at any time. To get involved, join #strategycommittee on our Slack channel or email us at climatejusticeto.on@gmail.com!

      Developing a long-term strategy for CJTO!

      Developing a long-term strategy for CJTO!

      Why long-term strategy? 

      We’ve grown a lot as an organization and embarked on many exciting projects since our founding in 2019. Something we felt was missing was a clear long-term goal around which we can orient and ground our daily work and individual campaigns, projects, and actions. In May, we formed a strategy committee that decided on a flexible year-long timeline to develop our long-term strategic plan. 

      The strategy development process consists of four stages: a preparation stage, a design stage, a review stage, and a final organization-wide vote. We are currently in the preparation stage, which includes intention setting and reading together about past and contemporary social movements, theories, and strategies. 

      Current timeline of the strategy development process (dates may shift as we move along)

      A year can seem like a long time to develop a strategy – this is something we wrestled with as a committee. Ultimately, we decided that a year-long comprehensive process is worth it to set ourselves up well for 5, 10, or more years of incredible and necessary climate justice action! While the strategy committee is doing this slow and important methodical work, CJTO will also be keeping up other short-term projects and actions.

      What have we learned so far?

      As part of the preparation stage, we have developed a strategy committee syllabus. We meet weekly to discuss as a group, with rotating facilitators who create summary sheets on the readings in order to make participation in the discussion easier for anyone interested.  

      You can check out our syllabus and follow along with us!

      We’ve now completed the first theme in our syllabus “Histories: How Have successful organizers worked in the past?”. Here’s what we read and some big ideas:

      Week One: Civil Rights & Black Liberation Movements

      • Payne, Charles M., I’ve Got the Light of Freedom: The Organizing Tradition and the Mississippi Freedom Struggle (2007)
        • Chapter 8 – “Organizers and Organizing” p. 166-184
      • Self, Robert, American Babylon: Race and the Struggle for Postwar Oakland (2005)
        • Chapter 6 – “Black Power” p. 217-242

      Big ideas: practical, immediate, and impactful actions show communities that the movement is real

      Key concepts from this week were “deep organizing” or “spade work.” These involve organizers integrating into the local community via slow, patient, and deeply personal canvassing AND providing material needs outside of formal institutions. Deep organizing is predicated upon listening. It also involves building relationships. Deep organizing often serves both a practical function, by helping to meet the needs of our communities, and a performative or theatrical function, by drawing public attention to tangible issues affecting our communities. 

      Doing deep organizing effectively would mean geographically grounding the scope of our activities to the municipal or even neighbourhood level, and scaling up from there to build solidarity between municipalities (and beyond). 

      Week Two: Labour Movements

      • Heron, Craig, The Canadian Labour Movement: A Short History (2012)
        • Chapter 4 – “The New Resistance” p. 94-119
      • Friedlander, Peter, Emergence of a UAW Local, 1936-1939: A Study in Class and Culture (1975)
        • Chapter 3 – “Offensive” p. 38-52

      Big ideas: early union organizing was politicizing everyday life

      The rise of neoliberalism has seen North American union organizing suffer from increasing centralization and bureaucratization. This has largely alienated union activities from the actual political needs of their members (i.e. unions now tend to fight only for wage and benefit contracts for their own industries, abandoning broader class struggle). In periods when it has been more successful, union organizing was employing those same “deep organizing” strategies we learned about in week one. Day-to-day relationship-building combined with performative “structure tests” created a deeply politicized workplace at the level of everyday experience, which fostered a sense of urgency and immediacy that is often lacking today.

      Week Three: Other Political & Social Movements

      • Uetricht, Micah, Strike for America: Chicago Teachers Against Austerity (2014)
        • Chapter 1 – “CORE” p. 20-43
      • Knapp, Michael, Anja Flach, and Ercan Ayboga,  Revolution in Rojava: Democratic Autonomy and Women’s Liberation in Syrian Kurdistan (2016) 

      Big ideas: gradual transformative change that is not reformism means orienting ourselves at the neighbourhood and municipal level and building relationships that make it possible, when the conditions are right, to have structures outside of the state emerge

      What does it mean to “reform” without being “reformist”?

      We tend to think in binaries: i.e. there can either be a violent workers’ revolution OR we must work within and for the system (often the state via electoralism). The directly democratic councils and committees in Rojava, which implement gradual change completely outside the institutions of the nation-state, are an example of an alternative that uses decentralized, bottom-up political organization. 

      Having “the right people in power” is not enough; often, leadership revolutions (whether of elected union officials or state politics) simply lead to consolidation of power in the hands of another party, and not to democratization. In both the Chicago Teachers Union and Rojava, we saw people making huge revolutionary moves, but doing it slowly and intentionally through deep organizing. 

      Main Takeaways & How to Get Involved!

      Deep organizing necessitates a combination of the practical and the performative in order to build strong relationships and embed ourselves in our communities. Deep organizing also necessitates a strong focus on the local; i.e. municipal or neighbourhood-based organizing. Being anti-capitalist/anti-statist in principle does not mean that we cannot strategically engage with the state, but it does imply the importance of building bottom-up political and economic structures outside of the state.

      We always welcome new or old CJTO members to join the strategy committee at any time. To get involved, join #strategycommittee on our Slack channel or email us at climatejusticeto.on@gmail.com!

      Building a better future from the inside out: CJTO’s restructuring process

      Building a better future from the inside out: CJTO’s restructuring process

      By CJTO members Anna, Dani, Julia, and Brook


      Climate Justice Toronto’s (CJTO’s)  roots can be traced back to February 2019, at the “Powershift: Young and Rising” gathering in Ottawa. A few members from Toronto started a group for organizing, and eventually founded Climate Justice Toronto in April, with the main organizing members forming an informal “Core”. Later in the spring, CJTO began electoral organizing with the Our Time campaign (centered around electing Climate Champions for the 2019 Federal election). As the organization expanded into various working groups or “pods”, regional hubs, and in membership, Core continued to add new members based on involvement and personal relationships. 

      In December 2019, members raised a number of concerns  about Core. As the main decision making body for the rest of the organization, Core tended to centralize power, and this centralization brought with it an unsustainably and inaccessibly fast pace of work, anti-Blackness from members not being adequately addressed, and struggles with accountability. These issues led to longer Core meetings where conflict arose, a poor allocation of resources, which in turn led to burnout from Core members. These issues that originated in the earliest days of the organization’s existence that had been consistently acknowledged but never fully addressed are indicative of a challenge that many leftist organizations find ourselves repeatedly and frustratingly coming up against: the learned instinct to internally replicate structures and behaviours which fundamentally support the processes of capitalism, colonialism, and white supremacy that we claim to be attempting to dismantle. 

      This sort of systemic conditioning has risen to the surface several times in the two years since CJTO was founded, and in this particular case, the instinct to be constantly acting “with urgency” (i.e. at the burnout limits of members’ capacity) was driven primarily by two factors: firstly, CJTO’s organizational culture was shaped by the fact that it had always existed in relation to one massive mobilization campaign after the other (first the September Climate Strike, immediately followed by the 2019 federal electoral campaign, and finally the ongoing Wet’suwet’en crisis) and had therefore never known any other mode of work than a constant state of clamorous demand. 

      Secondly, decision-making power had been centralized to the point of being bottlenecked into a handful of individuals, which worked to encourage this frantic pace in a cyclical way; not only were new members who joined CJTO informally directed to look to these individuals as leaders, and therefore examples of how one was expected to work within the organization, but they had also somewhat formally established a practice to only “invite” new members into “Core” who demonstrated a similar level of “committed” activity. In turn, as CJTO grew its membership, the pressure to maintain the organization’s activities at high capacity only served to reinforce this centralization, making it seemingly more and more difficult to distribute decision-making power without entirely ceasing operations. In fact, the forced cessation of most of our activities was, ultimately, what it took to actually begin to meaningfully acknowledge and dismantle these harmful structures, despite repeated attempts by CJTO members to call out the racism and ableism inherent in these elements of the organization’s operations.

      In order to be able to work towards a world that was in alignment with our political principles, we felt that our organizational structure had to reflect the sort of political organization that we would want to see enacted in the world. This led to a series of strategy sessions that began the restructuring process. In March 2020, Core formed the Structure Committee to draft the initial structure proposal and one month later, shared this draft and solicited feedback. 

      Throughout the summer of 2020, the Structure Committee gathered feedback on the proposal from membership; also during this time Core was dissolved. In the fall, feedback from members was organized into categories for discussion by the Structure Committee. The Structure Committee met weekly to discuss solutions to all the concerns raised in the feedback process, and implemented changes by the end of the year, which were presented back to membership for ratification in early 2021.


      Structure Summary

      Our new structure consists of four decentralized “Branches”. The Branches include “Campaigns and Mass Mobilization”, “Public Education and Storytelling”, “Community Care, Mutual Aid and Access”, and “Systems and Admin”. Each branch has a unique function in our organization and provides structure to our operations, while being rooted in our overarching political principles.


      As autonomous entities, the  Branches are meant to decentralize power in CJTO. Branches are free to choose how they operate, including their own meeting schedule, decision making process, regular operations, and overall structure. Each Branch has a number of “pods” or working groups that operate under them. All pods are also autonomous and work within the parameters of their respective Branch.

      Steering Committee

      CJTO-wide decisions and report backs from each Branch are presented at a monthly Steering Committee, where each Branch is allocated a minimum of 2 and maximum of 4 Branch reps to represent its interests. All CJTO members are welcome to attend Steering Committee meetings and participate in discussions, but it is only Branch reps who are able to vote on behalf of their Branches.


      For certain key decisions made at Steering Committee, quorum must be met. Quorum has two conditions: that every branch is represented by a minimum of two and maximum of four Branch reps; and that there is a minimum number of total reps present, which is: 50% + 1 (i.e. 9 total reps for quorum). A Steering Committee can still be held if there is no quorum (e.g. for report backs), but no decisions can be made without meeting quorum.

      Decision Making

      Decisions at Steering Committee (SC) are made using a numbered consensus model. In this model:

      1 = Full support; 2 = Support with reservations; 3 = Abstain; and 4 = Block.

      The consensus process involves the following steps:

      1. A proposal is brought forward to the SC meeting (this proposal will have already been provided to the Branches ahead of time, so that the Branches and their Reps can discuss their stances on it prior to the SC meeting).
      2. Branch Reps, caucuses, and any other CJTO members present at the SC discuss the merits and concerns of the proposal.
      3. After conversation has been exhausted, the original proposal OR the newly amended proposal is brought forward to a vote.
      4. All present Branch/caucus/regional hub Reps vote using the numbered consensus scale as outlined above.
      5. Outcome:
        1. If ⅔ of the votes are 1 or 2, the proposal passes.
        2. If over ⅓ of the votes are 2 or 3, the proposal does not pass, and we return to step 1. 
        3. If there are any number of 4’s, the proposal does not pass, and we return to step 1.
      6. Proposal passes.

      SPECIAL CASE: for decisions involving a proposal to veto an action that may directly violate CJTO’s principles, a consensus-minus-one model would be used. In this case, 4’s from the Rep/entity in question cannot block the proposal.
      See this instagram post for an infographic on this decision making model!

      Orientations and Trainings

      Orientations and Trainings are the proposed touchpoints for new members, replacing general meetings as the first point of entry to CJTO. These touchpoints ensure all members are aligned with our principles and have the skills to organize on their own in our decentralized Branches. 

      Annual General Meetings (AGMs)

      At Annual General Meetings (AGMs) all CJTO members — not solely the Branch reps — have voting power. During an AGM, a super majority of ¾ of voters will be required for decisions to pass, as opposed to the consensus model used at SC.


      A first draft of the above structure was developed in early 2020 by a small committee of CJTO members. A workshop was planned for April with the intention of approving this structure proposal. This first draft was presented as a proposal to Core two weeks before the workshop, and to general membership  one week before the workshop for members to review. The workshop consisted of a majority of Core members and a few general members. During the workshop, it was clear that how the proposal was presented lacked transparency and was inaccessible, as members did not have adequate time to review the structure proposal, and the document itself was dense and included jargon. As a result of these concerns, the proposal was blocked during the voting process and did not pass.


      Over the course of the few months after the new structure was originally presented, several CJTO members consistently advocated that any new structure we adopted could only possibly be as democratic as the process we took to implement it. In other words, the amount of thoughtfulness and care that we took to lay down each brick would end up being reflected in the quality of the house we were building together, and unless we worked to make the restructuring process itself as accessible and transparent as possible, the new structure would likely reflect all of the same problems we were trying to solve.

      That summer was challenging; in many ways, it felt like there was quite a lot at stake, not least the relationships that we had built with each other, which were already strained by social distancing. Conversations were sometimes heated, and during this period several members stepped back from CJTO altogether, sharing ways in which they had been harmed over the course of the past several months.

      The restructuring process continued into the fall, but was operating very differently than it had been. The Structure Committee designed a slow and deliberate feedback solicitation and implementation process which, over the course of six more months, solicited feedback from our members as democratically and accessibly as possible, through townhalls, small workshops, one-on-one meetings, and online feedback forms. The Structure Committee took every single piece of feedback that was received and implemented it into the structure proposal, then engaged in a second round of feedback solicitation, this time also meeting with trusted local organizers outside of CJTO for their perspectives as well. 

      We were, for the first time, engaging in this work slowly and intentionally, making every effort that we could think of to meaningfully connect with all of our members and incorporate their thoughts and perspectives, and what happened when we started moving slower? CJTO did not crumble. Our work did not suffer. 
      Quite on the contrary; the intentional nature of this new process produced a structure proposal that was far better than the one originally proposed. The more democratic nature of the restructuring process produced a structure that was itself more democratic – who could possibly have predicted that? Ah yes, all of those individuals who had consistently laboured to advocate for these changes within CJTO could, and did, predict that.


      Just over one year after our first Structure workshop we hosted our inaugural Annual General Meeting (AGM) on May 3, 2021 with the main goal of reviewing and passing our amended structure. The AGM happened over zoom, and included guest speakers Paul Taylor (anti-poverty activist, Executive Director of FoodShare Toronto, and federal NDP candidate for Parkdale-High Park), Michelle Woodhouse (Program Manager of Freshwater Protections and the Great Lakes at Environmental Defence and CJTO member), and Pam Frache (labour, student, and social movement organizer, and Ontario Coordinator at Justice for Workers: Decent Work for All – previously Fight for $15 and Fairness). We presented our revised and accessible Structure proposal at the AGM and put the proposal to a vote. Spoiler alert: it passed unanimously! 

      To ensure a successful implementation of the new Structure, and a stronger organization, we allocated representatives as Branch transition reps to put together a Branch mandate with their Branch members, organize any logistical transition materials, and host a first Branch meeting before our first Steering Committee meeting. We also started a Principles Committee, to solidify our political principles that have been in draft; a Conflict Resolution Committee to build out a process to CJTO members to hold ourselves accountable and safe; and a Strategy Committee to design the strategy process for CJTO. All of these committees have now been implemented and are starting this work, which will be presented at a future  Steering Committee or Annual General Meeting.


      The systems we’re living and organizing in–and trying to resist–impose constant pressure to produce quantifiable results.  In forcing us to confront the fact that CJTO has been far from immune to this deeply-internalized drive, the structure process demonstrated that if we want an anti-capitalist political structure, the work itself needs to be infused with anti-capitalism at its core; it isn’t enough to have the “right” principles if we aren’t adhering to them in the process of doing the work. This means that, as an organization, we need to take the full time necessary to do in-depth structural work: we need a structure that reflects the kind of world we want to see, and the only way to build and maintain that structure is to be open to continually being challenged–sometimes through conflict–and to create a space where those challenges can be worked through.

      Tied up with this pressure to be constantly productive is a pressure towards toxic positivity–to be good friends with everyone you organize with, and therefore to “get along” and avoid conflict.  This was probably always going to be especially true for a group consisting entirely of young organizers who gained a large platform relatively quickly: many of us have tended to quickly attach our organizing work to our identity and sense of self, so that when our ideas are challenged, it feels like a challenge to how “good” we are as people, as well as a threat to the friendships we’ve built doing the work.

      But the relationships we build in organizing aren’t going to be the same as all of our friendships–we can, and often have to, be comrades with people we aren’t friends with and may not even like.  And when we’re building these relationships with the specific intention of working together to strategize and fight for the world we need, conflict is not only inevitable, but generative.  It shows up when we reach the most critical questions, questions we need to work through if we’re going to do anything more than continually gather a bunch of friends with similar politics.
      More broadly, this process taught us that CJTO is ultimately not a specific group of people.  The group of people most involved with the structure process changed drastically over the months, with some stepping back and others who entered partway through and made essential contributions. The fact that, early on, we kept clear, accessible records and worked to make the process transparent to the organization as whole, however, meant that the structure process continued despite this turnover.  Assuming we do this kind of groundwork, the movement we’re building has its own irresistible spirit that can survive when any one person needs to step back and rest.

      Other Resources:

      Disassembly line

      Disassembly line

      By Julia DaSilva

      Julia DaSilva (she/her) has been organizing with CJTO since the spring of 2019. When she’s not working on the CJTO blog, she can be found writing poetry and fantasy, studying magic systems, or baking muffins.

      (Pictured above: Artwork by Maia Grecco. Check out her work on her website: https://maiagrecco.ca/about.)

      manual for the dis-assemblage / of a peak efficiency / that has pulled you apart.

      use a power drill to pull out the nails of the golf course.

      they’re there under the grass.  You can think of it as weeding

      the clumps of linear machinery that insist

      on popping up.

      this portion of collective space unpackaged,

      look around for the clock-

      adjacent sense of time that makes life here

      possible. the clock hovering in the barn and none

      when you carry your sweater outside. outside

      learn the names of the roads.

      pedal up and down a new one each day until

      you’ve gear-shifted past every conveyor

      on which you’ve every trailed behind 

      a faceless form:

      the borders that assemble scarcity

      by checkpoint, the logistics

      of fortressing obscured

      as storm-proofing for the hurricane.

      rename them after

      the cats slipping out of your way.

      if you reach the shoreline,

      as you must, take note of its erosion

      by the notion that there is an original

      to this simulacrum of natural border. the corrosion happens

      by wheels of offshore clockmaking:

      they churn up sand and weed

      the ocean with oil rigs and all those sterilizing

      forms of gardening.

      bike to the next town and

      the next until you meet someone

      who can fill in the fields between

      with the whisper of their name. ask,

      should we make the preserves today?

      back at your workstation,

      have someone with a basket

      to collect all the parts.

      they might not all be worth salvaging,

      but at the very least you can avoid cutting your feet, later

      on the bells that drop

      from the cat’s collar.

      money-commodity-money those bells have jingled

      your whole life. you have been sequence

      after sequence.

      the long shop’s ever-present balancing

      problem: the cat takes the claws she has used to knead

      affection into your lap and

      works off her obligatory tinkling alarm and soon

      it’s hard to tell if you’re an endangered flying squirrel

      or the object of someone’s love.

      the right balance will return your affection to her.

      it’s not even her fault.

      but you need to have someone there.

      the collar tightens around your neck too

      until it snaps.

      and you can’t be alone when it does, even if you are, in fact

      the last thing in your inventory.

      between shifts, learn to sleep

      on both sides of the bed

      until you’ve worked on the line long enough

      to put yourself back together with

      non-interchangeable parts.

      survey the patch of weeds

      left on your heart. there’s a way to deal

      with these tiniest remnants.

      undermine them with a fork. if

      there isn’t going to be rain you can just

      let them dry there,

      but that’s a big if; here, there are

      heartfuls of rain. best to scrabble

      with your fingers until you get most

      of them. assure yourself it won’t always be like this:

      you have to circle back but if you do it right

      new strawberries should poke their heads

      from the mulch bed under your ribs.

      take your jar of strawberry jam all

      weeded and sealed and sterilized against

      the only real storm,

      and go straight to the shore,

      just this once. 

      Food justice and community mutual aid in conversation with FoodShare Toronto’s Director of Advocacy and Programs, Katie German

      Food justice and community mutual aid in conversation with FoodShare Toronto’s Director of Advocacy and Programs, Katie German

      By Sabrina Michael

      Sabrina Michael is a Toronto-based freelance journalist, part-time student, and collector of library fines. She writes about labour, culture, and politics anywhere she can. Her work has been featured in The Pigeon and TRNTO. You can find her on Twitter at @sabrinammich.

      Edited by Natalie Wee.

      (Pictured above: Artwork by CJTO member Brook, @art.by.brook.)

      The COVID-19 pandemic has spotlighted the inequalities inherent in food systems worldwide. A CBC article published in November 2020 highlighted the fact that in Toronto, low-wage workers took the brunt of worsening food insecurity, a majority of these being Black, Indigenous, and people of colour. According to the Toronto Fallout Report, Statistics Canada reported 14.6% of Canadians were food insecure as of May 2020, a 39% increase from 2017–18. Food insecurity means that people do not have reliable access to enough affordable, healthy food to eat. 

      Understanding these statistics requires a holistic approach. Food access in Toronto is situated within a broader global ecosystem that is itself impacted by systems of power such as capitalism, colonialism, and systemic racism. Food access is also deeply connected to land justice. One cannot consider Indigenous sovereignty without also addressing food justice; white settler colonialism has created a system in which food is more connected to capital than the land. Deconstruction of these capitalist settler ideals of who is worthy of food access and land ownership is an essential component of food justice. 

      Food justice as a framework and social movement seeks to respond to the problem of food insecurity by adopting such a holistic view, and responding with solutions that remove structural barriers to accessing healthy food. This is done by promoting actions and projects in sustainable agriculture, labour rights, anti-racist policy, and Landback actions. Food justice organizers are often also involved in mutual aid groups, which work to provide food to those in need and fill gaps in political policy while fighting for communities’ rights to grow, sell, and access healthy and culturally appropriate food. 

      In Toronto, there are many groups doing this type of work. Some of them include: Community Fridges Toronto, an initiative where community fridges are stocked with free food and necessities; The People’s Pantry Toronto, which offers home-cooked meals and groceries to food-insecure folks around the GTA; and FoodShare Toronto, which aims to develop long-term solutions for an equitable food system centered around food justice values. Although these organizations have laudable goals, they are often expected to fill gaps in policy when what’s needed are long-term, structural solutions. 

      Climate Justice Toronto caught up with Katie German, FoodShare’s Director of Advocacy and Programs, to talk about food justice and explore what FoodShare does in the community. 

      As Canada is built upon stolen Indigenous land, any conversations about food justice must include Indigenous justice and land justice.

      “The idea that people can consider food without considering soil, without considering land, without considering whose land it is, like,” German considers for a moment before concluding, “you just can’t.”

      The question of land and colonialism is being taken up in an emerging global Indigenous social movement mobilizing under the banner of “Land Back”. Broadly, land back campaigns work to get Indigenous lands back into Indigenous hands. More than this, they also seek to restore a different, more sustainable relationship to land. In so-called Canada, we saw an example of a Land Back campaign in July 2020, when Haudenosaunee land defenders occupied a housing development that was to be built on unceded Six Nations territory, creating what is now known as 1492 Land Back Lane. Their Facebook page notes that they are growing a community garden and “an orchard of cherry, apple and pear trees” on the land, as noted on spokesperson Skyler Williams’ Facebook page, as part of “[t]aking care of the land and one another.”

      Care for one another through mutual aid is also a driving tenet for what food justice can look like in the city. 

      “Our vision is a Toronto where everyone can feed themselves and their loved ones and their communities with dignity and joy,” German says. “Something we’re really focused on is trying to see some movement on realizing the right to food. The right to food is legally recognized federally, and legally recognized by the municipal government—and yet, what do you see?”

      The City of Toronto actually has a Food Charter which was created in 2000 as a commitment to the United Nations’ Covenant on Social, Economic and Cultural Rights, which includes the right to be free from hunger. The Food Charter states that Toronto City Council will, among other things, “champion the right of all residents to adequate amounts of safe, nutritious, culturally-acceptable food without the need to resort to emergency food,” and “advocate for income, employment, housing, and transportation policies that support dignified access to the food people need.” 

      It’s clear that the City Council is aware of the role structural inequity plays in food insecurity, given their 2000 Food Charter, but their willingness to act on these proposed solutions is less clear when one looks into their current policies. Data from 2019 shows that 1 out of 5 Toronto households experiences food insecurity,  and throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, City food policy has heavily relied on emergency food

      Explaining FoodShare’s work in relation to emergency food, German explains emergency food relief is an immediate lifeline, it is not a long-term solution. “We’ve never done food banking or free food because it’s really difficult, almost impossible, to do that in a way that supports agency. […] It’s that self-determined community power piece that’s really important, and it’s also why FoodShare has never done emergency food relief.”

      Instead, FoodShare prioritizes community-determined projects like their Good Food Markets program, which supports and trains community members to create independent food markets in neighbourhoods where farmer’s markets may not be viable due to low sales. As German explains, “Part of the reason why [Good Food Markets] works so well is because it’s entirely determined by the community, what food they’re going to be making available. […] So it’s all about the community having control and taking back some of the power in how that food system works.”

      FoodShare’s Good Food Markets connects community leaders with fresh produce vendors and the resources necessary to coordinate and organize their own independent markets. 

      German says, “In recent years we’ve really tried to really focus on who we’re working with—where are we allocating resources, whose voices are getting amplified, who’s getting access to resources. […] We’re intentional about asking: ‘how do we support community leaders that are already doing this work, already identifying solutions, and already know what’s best for their community?’”

      She explained that, all too often, charities have good intentions but end up exacerbating the same issues they are attempting to fix, as governments assume they are doing the work that should be addressed through policy. 

      “A lot of these organizations—FoodShare included—were set up to address a broken food system, but then ended up replicating a lot of the really crappy structures that exist out in the world.”

      Food justice does not exist within a vacuum. Systemic injustices throughout society play a role in access to food and in food agency. As German explains, “One [element] is adequate income, and that means also, how do people live if they’re not working. The way that food security gets fixed is through income, and it’s primarily an issue of money— but even if we fixed income inequality, there’s still systemic racism that exists within the food system.”

      Racial disparities in food inequality are another element of the racism and structural inequality that Canada was built upon. Black households are 3.5 times more likely to experience food insecurity than white households—even when taking factors such as homeownership, immigration status, and education levels into consideration.

      “The second [element] is that we address systemic racism and for people to know that, fundamentally, the food system was designed and built and is currently maintained by the exploitation of Black people, Brown people, and people of colour. That exists both in agriculture, but also […] in all of the sorts of precarious, dangerous jobs that exist across the food system.”

      There is an increasing death toll among migrant workers in Canada, who make up approximately one-fifth of the Canadian agricultural workforce and are subject to exploitative work and housing conditions, which they are often hesitant to report for fear of being blacklisted from the industry. Gig workers working for food delivery apps such as UberEats and DoorDash often face exploitative algorithmic pay rates with little protection or ability to unionize. Social response to injustice in these areas includes Migrant Workers Alliance for Change, a member-led organization of migrant workers fighting for labour and immigration justice, and Gig Workers United, a community union of gig workers across apps and employers that aims to fight for labour rights and protections. 

      German tells Climate Justice Toronto that a holistic government approach is necessary, explaining that, “The thing that we need is real investment from government and policy responses that look at income distribution, wealth redistribution, income policies, and how food is deeply connected to the environment.”

      For example, she argues, “Any nutrition you get from food comes from soil.”

      Soil health is massively important in managing carbon emissions. Agricultural practices such as growing mono-crops (repeatedly growing the same type of crop in a field), using excessive pesticides and fertilizers, and overgrazing are practices that can cause unhealthy soil to release carbon into the atmosphere. 

      Regenerative farming aims to improve and replenish the ecosystem and improve soil health, causing the soil to become a “carbon sink,” with carbon stored in the soil instead of released into the atmosphere. The exact methods vary from region to region depending on the ecosystem but can include crop rotation, minimizing soil tillage, and rotational livestock grazing.  

      Food comes from land and soil, from individuals’ labour, from dozens of factors working in tandem to create our food system. Ultimately, food justice is not possible without a holistic, long-term approach, but the solutions are out there. 

      To learn more about FoodShare, visit: https://foodshare.net.

      Wiisagendam aki: Indigenous body as a site of environmental violence

      Wiisagendam aki: Indigenous body as a site of environmental violence

      by Annie MacKillican

      Annie is a graduate student at Trent University and is Algonquin from Mattawa North Bay First Nation with mixed Scottish ancestry. Annie’s current research project involves an examination of sexual violence against Indigenous women in the Albertan tar sands region. Annie is also a beadwork artist and performer.

      Edited by Alexandra Simpson.

      (Pictured above: “My Body is Not Terra Nullius” by Erin Marie Konsmo.)

      otigwaan (the head) 

      When colonization began in the late 1400s, a variety of constructed systems were imposed on Indigenous communities by Europeans hoping to Christianize the territory and by extension, those who had occupied it since time immemorial. Hetero-patriarchal systems of governance and relations, white supremacy, and most notably, capitalism, have all been working to sustain settler-colonialism for the past several hundred years, and have incidentally contributed significantly to the destruction of the land, and to serious harm done to Indigenous women, girls and queer or Two-Spirit folks and their bodies.

      To see how this desecration of the land has impacted Indigenous women’s bodies, we must begin at the birthplace of the harm; the mind. Capitalism, as it has settled on this land, has convinced us that our relationship to the land must be one of extraction, of greed, and of amassing wealth at all costs. Alongside settler-colonialism and white supremacy, capitalism has convinced us that this is the only way to relate to our more-than-human relatives, and to our land. Capitalism has transformed our lands, relations, and kin into resources to be extracted. As Nishnaabeg scholar Leanne Simpson points out, there is no capitalism in traditional Nishnaabeg ways of living; the accumulation and hoarding of capital is offensive to the greater-than-human relations who also occupy this land.1 Capitalism has also become the primary support for the persistence of settler-colonialism on Turtle Island, and globally. It has made Mother Earth into a resource from which to extract, as opposed to a relative. It has poisoned our minds to make us believe there is no other way to live, but this is not the case.

      opan (the lungs)

      Lubicon Lake Cree Nation in so-called Alberta has asserted since the arrival of Europeans to their lands that their territory has always been unceded—meaning they have never participated in any historical or modern treaty process, and Canada has no legitimate claim to pillage their lands.2 Despite this, the ancestral lands of the Lubicon Cree has undergone massive oil and gas development without the consent of the community for the last thirty years. More than 1400 square kilometres of the territory are in use for development with over 2600 oil and gas wells sitting in the territory. According to Melina Laboucan-Massimo, a climate activist and member of Lubicon Lake Nation, almost 70% of the remaining land has been leased to extractive agencies for future development.

      With further development comes a high risk of pipeline leaks and disasters. In 2011, the Rainbow Pipeline leaked 4.5 million litres of oil onto the territory, causing not only the devastation of the environment, but also several physical symptoms that continue to plague the community.3 Members of Lubicon Lake have seen this disaster manifest in their respiratory systems, with the community developing elevated rates of lung cancer, asthma, and other respiratory illnesses. Children and elders have been especially vulnerable to the poor quality of air which has become commonplace in the region. Lubicon Lake is not an exception, it is the rule. Communities near oil sands projects are facing devastating respiratory problems across all generations. Ultimately, this is because governments and corporations do not manage the tar sands to protect people or to protect the land. Their only priority is to protect profits and to mitigate the culpability of the state

      omisad (the stomach)

      On February 6th, 2020, the RCMP moved into raid Wet’suwet’en territory at the Unist’ot’en camp, arguing that they were enforcing an injunction which would allow Coastal GasLink to begin construction of a natural gas pipeline which would cut directly through the unceded yintah, or the land. The Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs, land and water defenders, and community members opposed the construction of the pipeline (as well as two other pipelines) on the grounds that it would cause irreparable harm to the area’s watershed, as well as the plants and animals who depend on the health of the water.4

      The Coastal GasLink pipeline, Pacific Trails pipeline, and the Northern Gateway pipeline all pose a threat to the traditional hunting, trapping and fishing territories which are necessary to allow the community to sustain their lands in a way that not only considers the longevity of the earth, but also allows them to participate in traditional food patterns.5 In a time when grocery prices in northern or remote areas are often inaccessibly high, access to traditional foods are essential for the survival of a community. Food sovereignty contributes significantly to the political sovereignty of a nation, and this is what the Wet’suwet’en people are trying to protect. However, food sovereignty does not grow profit or capital, and is therefore not in the interest of the state or of extractive companies. The destruction of food sources is an attack on Indigenous nations.

      oniijawin (the womb)

      Women are the first environment. Their bodies create and sustain life, their future generations experience the world in the same ways that they do. Through pregnancy and during infancy, women nourish the future generations of the nation. Children develop relationships to Mother Earth in the same way that they relate to their own mothers. For these reasons, the struggle for environmental justice cannot be separated from Indigenous women’s reproductive health. Katsi Cook, a Mohawk elder and midwife, urges us to consider environmental toxins as a direct threat to the future of Indigenous nations through the harm they cause to the reproductive system.6

      A fetus can carry up to seven million eggs before its birth; this means that we all lived inside our maternal grandmothers for a short time. The generational links between women and their children and grandchildren is innate; this also means that the future of Indigenous nations is very vulnerable to environmental harm. Women in proximity to extractive projects can pass down contaminants and toxins to their children through their bodies. An attack on nature must be seen as an attack on the women, and by extension, an attack on the children.7 However, the mitigation of these attacks is not a priority of the state. Indigenous women, Black women, and women of colour more broadly, are seen as a threat to a capitalist, white supremacist society because they hold the power to produce future generations of non-white children. Indigenous women are a threat to Canadian sovereignty.

      omiskwiim (the blood)

      In the 1960s and early 1970s, the Reed Paper mill dumped nearly nine thousand kilograms of mercury into the English-Wabigoon River, which flows downstream into Grassy Narrows First Nation. The mercury had a grave effect on the fish population, which made up a large portion of the community’s diet. Once mercury enters a species’ system, it is there forever through a process called “bioaccumulation”.8 Over the past several generations, the mercury poisoning has plagued both the fish population and the community in Grassy Narrows, materializing in the blood of each generation through the placenta during pregnancy.

      As the mercury poisoning has continued to plague the community, Grassy Narrows has seen a serious deficit in healthcare options, and a serious increase in health problems arising from the toxic chemicals lurking in the bodies of most of the community members. Children and elders face the most serious health problems, as they have more vulnerable immune systems, but the community’s women bear the burden of empoisoning future generations through childbirth. Why, over fifty years since the pollution began, are the people of Grassy Narrows still fighting for clean water and medical care? Their survival as a community is a threat to Canadian nationalism.

      ojichaagwan (the soul)

      Settler colonialism and capitalism rely on the connections between Indigenous women’s bodies and the land in order to operate across Turtle Island and elsewhere globally. Women in Indigenous communities are particularly vulnerable to colonial violence at the hands of the resource extraction industry because they are the ones tasked with holding and protecting the land for the next several generations.9 In breaking the spirit of the women, girls and queer or Two-Spirit folks in the community, the core of the Nation is destroyed, and colonial governments or corporations can more easily access the land for exploitation.

      In Fort McMurray, as well as near all other extractive projects globally, the presence of man camps, or workers camps, have increased the prevalence of physical and sexual violence against Indigenous women significantly. In Fort McMurray, the ratio of men to women has climbed as high as two to one, creating an intense patriarchal culture which has normalized violence against the land and against Indigenous women’s bodies.10 By working to protect capital instead of human lives, colonialism and capitalism have authorized this assault on the body, the land, and the spirit of Indigenous communities across the globe.

      Despite the collective hurt that capitalism and settler-colonialism have caused across Turtle Island, Indigenous women and queer people have demonstrated time and time again how much resilience is to be found in their communities. Indigenous people continuously face environmental and state violence with a deep desire to heal the damage caused to the body and the land, and to protect Mother Earth for the next seven generations to come. Indigenous communities hold fast to the truth that they have been caring for these lands long before capitalism and settler-colonialism, and they will continue to care for them long after settler society has collapsed. In the meantime, Indigenous women put their bodies on the front line of land and water defense movements, risking their own safety for the survival of their communities. They reclaim control over their bodies and as a result, reclaim the ability to nurture and protect their lands.11

      [1] Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, “Nishnaabeg Anticapitalism,” in As We Have Always Done: Indigenous Freedom through Radical Resistance (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2017), 71–82.

      [2] Melina Laboucan-Massimo, “Awaiting Justice: The Ceaseless Struggle of the Lubicon Cree,” in A Line in the Tar Sands: Struggles for Environmental Justice, ed. Toban Black et al. (Toronto: Between The Lines, 2014).

      [3] Keith Stewart and Greenpeace Canada, “The Rainbow Spill: A Case of Crime and (No) Punishment,” 2018, https://www.greenpeace.org/static/planet4-canada-stateless/2018/06/RainbowPipelineSpill.pdf.

      [4] Lee Wilson, “RCMP Move in on Wet’suwet’en Territory in Early Morning Raid,” APTN News, February 7, 2020, https://www.aptnnews.ca/national-news/rcmp-move-in-on-wetsuweten-territory-in-early-morning-raid/.

      [5] Unist’ot’en Camp, “NO PIPELINES: Background of the Campaign,” Unist’ot’en: Heal the People, Heal the Land (blog), 2017, https://unistoten.camp/no-pipelines/background-of-the-campaign/.

      [6] Katsi Cook, “Powerful Like a River: Reweaving the Web of Our Lives in Defense of Environmental and Reproductive Justice,” in Original Instructions: Indigenous Teachings for a Sustainable Future, ed. Melissa K. Nelson (Rochester: Bear & Company, n.d.).

      [7] Andrea Smith, “Rape of the Land,” in Conquest: Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide (Duke University Press, 2015), 55–78, https://doi.org/10.1215/9780822374817.

      [8] Jody Porter, “Children of the Poisoned River,” CBC News, accessed May 25, 2021, https://www.cbc.ca/news2/interactives/children-of-the-poisoned-river-mercury-poisoning-grassy-narrows-first-nation.

      [9] Women’s Earth Alliance and Native Youth Sexual Health Network, “Violence on the Land, Violence on Our Bodies: Building an Indigenous Response to Environmental Violence,” 2016, http://landbodydefense.org/uploads/files/VLVBReportToolkit2016.pdf.

      [10] Women’s Earth Alliance and Native Youth Sexual Health Network.

      [11] This article cites Andrea Smith, a well-known scholar who has long claimed a false identity as a Cherokee woman. Smith’s work, Conquest, which was cited in this article, chronicled the experiences of abuse and violence suffered by many Indigenous women across Turtle Island at the hands of the state which should not be invalidated by Smith’s false claims, despite the harm that Smith has caused herself to Indigenous communities both within and outside of academia. I encourage those who wish to learn more about Smith’s false claims to read the open letter published by Indigenous women scholars following the discussions about Smith. This letter can be found at: https://indiancountrytoday.com/archive/open-letter-from-indigenous-women-scholars-regarding-discussions-of-andrea-smith


      Cook, Katsi. “Powerful Like a River: Reweaving the Web of Our Lives in Defense of Environmental and Reproductive Justice.” In Original Instructions: Indigenous Teachings for a Sustainable Future, edited by Melissa K. Nelson. Rochester: Bear & Company, n.d.

      Laboucan-Massimo, Melina. “Awaiting Justice: The Ceaseless Struggle of the Lubicon Cree.” In A Line in the Tar Sands: Struggles for Environmental Justice, edited by Toban Black, Stephen D’Arcy, Joshua Kahn Russell, and Tony Weis. Toronto: Between the Lines, 2014.

      Porter, Jody. “Children of the Poisoned River.” CBC News. Accessed May 25, 2021. https://www.cbc.ca/news2/interactives/children-of-the-poisoned-river-mercury-poisoning-grassy-narrows-first-nation.

      Simpson, Leanne Betasamosake. “Nishnaabeg Anticapitalism.” In As We Have Always Done: Indigenous Freedom through Radical Resistance, 71–82. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2017.

      Smith, Andrea. “Rape of the Land.” In Conquest: Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide, 55–78. Duke University Press, 2015. https://doi.org/10.1215/9780822374817.

      Stewart, Keith and Greenpeace Canada. “The Rainbow Spill: A Case of Crime and (No) Punishment,” 2018. https://www.greenpeace.org/static/planet4-canada-stateless/2018/06/RainbowPipelineSpill.pdf.

      Unist’ot’en Camp. “NO PIPELINES: Background of the Campaign.” Unist’ot’en: Heal the People, Heal the Land (blog), 2017. https://unistoten.camp/no-pipelines/background-of-the-campaign/.

      Wilson, Lee. “RCMP Move in on Wet’suwet’en Territory in Early Morning Raid.” APTN News, February 7, 2020. https://www.aptnnews.ca/national-news/rcmp-move-in-on-wetsuweten-territory-in-early-morning-raid/.

      Women’s Earth Alliance and Native Youth Sexual Health Network. “Violence on the Land, Violence on Our Bodies: Building an Indigenous Response to Environmental Violence,” 2016. http://landbodydefense.org/uploads/files/VLVBReportToolkit2016.pdf.