Civil Society Forum organizers asked representatives of the Canadian Labour Congress delegation to speak at thier forum. Below is the presentation made by Karl Flecker, National Director CLC Anti-Racism & Human Rights Dept.
Greetings companeros, campaneras, comrades, allies’ brothers and sisters.
Organizers asked me to make a few inputs this morning addressing our collective struggle to combat against racism within the context of the current social and economic crisis.
It occurred to me do this on a Saturday morning in Geneva is a struggle of another sort.
It also occurred to me that to make a few inputs (after a lot of sitting and listening) on topics as weighty as economic and social crisis is interesting perhaps only to a select hard core crowd.
If I can be so blunt, addressing a theme like this is a bit like peeing down your leg. It might feel hot to you –but perhaps not so much to everyone else.
Speaking of unpleasant moments--- I was reminded of just how powerful, painful and liberating it can be to tackle social and economic challenges linked to racism.
I like to make my inputs personal –so bear with me. About 18 years ago my partner and I bought our first and only home. Our first child was pretty new to the world and our 2nd enroute in just a matter of a few months. My family is part of the hybrid generation –I’m the brown one, she is the white one –and the kids refer to themselves as hybrids.
Now buying a house is a major social and economic moments in some people’s lives. This place was a wreck of a house located on the rough side of town and barely affordable. Everything needed fixing –including a fence that separated us from our neighbour’s yard.
I went to talk with my neighbour about repairing it – and hoped to build a relationship with them too. Unfortunately, the colour shift my family represented was not to their liking. Words –venomous racist words and actions was the welcome mat our neighbours felt most comfortable putting between us.
For the next long time, racist insults and attacks was our new reality in our new home. These neighbours were tough – they were known to the police for a range of ugly and criminal behaviors that ranged from assaults to desecration of human remains.
We were scared and angry.
But so too were our other neighbours’ – and buried here is the nugget of hope we want to find in humanity.
For weeks, others in our hood witnessed the abuse, the verbal and physical attacks our family struggled with. And it affected them deeply- much more deeply than I could ever know.
One day, one neighbour knocked on my door and wanted to talk. He said, we have been watching and hurting and we can’t sit by any longer. He said, we have been meeting and talking and we are now prepared to act. We know these neighbours have a history of violent conflict with law –and we want to act in solidarity and safety for your well being and ours. It is risky we know, but continuing to do nothing is not an option.
He told me, we are going to say no to this neighbour –as a community. We are going to their home and say it stops now. The message will be delivered through a simple medium a yard sale, strategically located across from their house. The yard sale has a theme: Thumbs down on Racism and we have made hundreds of t-shirts and posters to make the message clear.
We are inviting these neighbours to join us- to be part of a community that will not tolerate racism in any form – the yard sale is merely a small vehicle to deliver a bigger message.
I was stunned. I had never experienced non-racialized strangers willingly undertake my struggle. And these were strangers to each other; this small group of neighbours did not truly know each other until they watched what was happening to us. The ugly picture of racism in their hood, made them look at each other deeply.
On the appointed day, hundreds and hundreds of people showed up. The neighbourhood was filled with many wearing their t-shirt proclaiming Thumbs down on Racism. My racist neighbour who held a firmly black and white world view – now faced a multi-coloured, peacefully vibrant and resolute new world picture.
Soon months after –these neighbours relocated, quietly in the dark of night. Another neighbour bought the house and invited the neighbourhood to join him to undertake a massive repair and restoration. His goal, because he is an artist, –was to make something new, creative, fresh and welcoming oh…. and anti-racist. And so we did.
Comrades our struggle to eliminate racism from our social and economic house faces a number of contemporary challenges. Here are just three.
The failure of the financial system –or more accurately, the failure of a rigorous financial regulatory system has brought devastating job losses, livelihoods and lost homes for too many.
The art of cutting up massive debt into tranches of murky and obscure securitization vehicles and credit derivatives also enabled an elite circle to stow away obscene profits and bonuses.
Our task of combating racism must consider the colour coded impacts of this regulatory criminality and the subsequent economic solutions that are being proffered.
Some of us have heard the refrain that corporate players like Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Chrysler, AIG, General Motors and Citigroup are "too big to fail". The song goes like this; their collapse would cause "systemic risk" to our economies by implication and association.
To avoid such risks, some wealthy nations are spending trillions of dollars on bank bailouts and stimulus plans.
In terms of global social and economic terms for our struggle, we must bring to the bail out table this colour coded fact. The global south –which hosts the world’s majority peoples –the racialized and colourful comprise more than 47% of the world's $55tn economy, and this cohort, is the source of more than half of all OECD country imports.
Yet the global south is home to some 3 billion people living on less than $2.50 a day. Certainly our quest for racial justice must respond to this economic and social reality.
More than the corporations, ---our world is too big to fail.
Comrades- in light of this global economic picture and our struggle I ask you are we examining the DRC and draft outcomes text with the bold goal of ensuring that access to decent jobs; fair trade and investment rules, and a daring commitment to the MDG goals are the norm and not the anomaly?
On the weighty and hot issue of climate change, we can speculate that coastal and colourful communities will most dramatically feel the watery and devastating impacts of excessive carbon production.
As many countries embrace notions of a green industrial strategy –should we not use a darker brush in the rush to get on the green bandwagon?
Comrades should we look at the impending environmental crisis as an opportunity to advocate for colour coded investments and initiatives in conservation programs, energy efficient building and retrofits, urban mass transit initiatives, the re-engineering of neighbourhoods to provide green centric recreational, cultural and social infrastructure.
Within the DRC process should we argue for the use of a darker hue in determining who gets the green jobs; where green centric services should be comprehensively located and how communities get re-engineered?
Finally, for those who travelled here by plane, train or some such border crossing and did not endure a “random” security check –congratulations.
For those who endured an undignified and perhaps unwarranted random frisk and query of your ancestry our task to eliminate racism must be prepared to challenge overzealous security and surveillance initiatives that rely on racial and religious profiling.
Did you know the US has a terror suspect watch list that contains more than a million names and 20,000 additional names are added monthly; oh and it has an error rate of nearly 40%.
Meanwhile my country Canada has put in a place a national program to develop a risk profile assessment on every citizen. It operates on the premise that everyone is guilty until proven innocent – everyone who travels by plane, boat, train or sea will be assessed for their potential as a security threat. Data files are shared with homeland security and kept on record for 40 years. Think of travel as getting a colour coded pass, green means you are good to go –yellow means take a seat, and red means give it up and say goodbye. Perhaps you can imagine how fairly this program will assess it’s increasingly racially and religious diverse citizenry.
Comrades, should we monitor the DRC process for the role it may be playing to ostensible build a more secure and safe world?
I started my input by sharing with you the story of my house and neighbourhood—it is my personal story of excitement and hope on life’s road of some tough times.
I hope I also shared with you the sense that it is possible to rebuild a different kind of local neighbourhood and perhaps even a global community.
To this day, my neighbourhood continues to change--always for the better because of courage, perseverance and patience
Thank you comrades for yours.
CLC Anti-Racism and Human Rights Dept.