A Look Back at the Peoples’ Social Forum: a COCo digest

The Peoples’ Social Forum wrapped up in Ottawa last week having hosted more than 5000 participants and 500 workshops. Aiming to be a space inclusive of the diverse social movements from First Nations, Quebec, and all of Canada, and dedicated to exploring and sharing alternative, anti-oppressive and anti-colonial perspectives, the PSF set the bar high for the World Social Forum to be held in Quebec in 2016.

COCo Workshops
COCo staffers Gabriel and Sabrina were present at the People’s Social Forum to offer the bilingual COCo workshop, Power and our Role in the World / Notre pouvoir dans le monde. Participants completed an exercise derived from Peggy McIntosh’s Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack, but redesigned to cover more than one type of privilege, and conversely, of oppression. A discussion followed about the resulting insights on their day-to-day experiences relating to power and powerlessness.
For more information, check out some of the tools and readings used here:

Anti Oppression Reader
NASCO Anti-Oppression Packet

COCo was also invited to help moderate workshops organized by a coalition formed of Greenpeace, Équiterre, Coalition vigilance oléoducs, Regroupement Interrégional Gas de Schiste de la Vallée du St-Laurent, Sierra Youth Club, Alternatives, as well as activists and organizers from First Nations, Indigenous and environmental groups. The first workshop, on Thursday morning, featured stories recounted by different activists of the fights they’d carried out against Northern Gateway, Keystone XL and other pipeline projects. The second session, on Friday afternoon, started with a collective brainstorm to identify the main targets that strategic environmental activism could focus on to make gains against the Tar Sands industry and pipeline expansion. A second brainstorm in small teams allowed people to develop tactics and strategies for each of these targets, which they shared with the larger group.

More highlights from the PSF
Sabrina attended a workshop by Judy Rebick, Manon Massé and Jean Trudelle, on the topic of switching from activism to parliamentary politics. While all recognized a diversity of tactics was a good idea for social causes, including political action, there was some hesitation around the limitations of parliamentary, or mainstream, politics. Manon Massé came out as the most optimist of the three for this mode of action.

Gabriel sat in on a talk called Restorative Justice in Indigenous Communities. Weaving in personal stories from her own community and family, Annie St-Georges talked about the harsh impact of criminalization, judicialisation and sentencing of young Indigenous people without regard for past personal, family and community trauma, such as the residential school period, suicide in the family, the threat of alcoholism, previous violence and abuse, and other factors which should serve as attenuating circumstances in sentencing. The inefficiency of the prison system in creating conditions for social reinsertion was also criticized, and she spoke of Indigenous-run healing centres and other alternative options for restorative justice. Finally, Annie insisted on the importance of judges requesting Gladue reports to consider relevant, Indigenous-specific attenuating circumstances for suspected Indigenous offenders before ruling on sentencing.

Gabriel also attended a workshop on the issue of Private-Public Partnership funding for social programs (PPP-sociaux), given by the MÉPACQ of Montréal and Saguenay Lac-Saint-Jean. The workshop walked participants through the risks of foundation funding, from community groups losing autonomy to the funder’s agenda, to the democratic deficit of having foundations decide where money is allocated, rather than a democratically elected government. The workshop included case-study information about the Chagnon Foundation in Québec, whose PPS-social agreement with the Québec Government to allocate funding to different areas of social action is up for renewal in the following years.

For further reading on this issue, MEPACQ provided the following links (in French):

La Coalition Non aux PPP sociaux: http://www.rocfm.org/files/brochurepppsociaux12mai2014.pdf

For more coverage of the PSF, check out Ricochet Media’s wrap-up of the PSF (in French) or on Rabble.ca (in English).


A snapshot of the brainstorming session, facilitated by COCo, around strategies for fighting against oil pipeline expansion. Photo: Gabriel Bergevin-Estable.