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MediaWrench.org Presents Occupy Talks: Oil

MediaWrench.org is pleased to present the next evening in the Occupy Talks series which took place at the Bloor Street United Church at 300 Bloor St. W in Toronto, Ontario, Canada on the evening of the 20th of March, 2012. The church provided a setting that was both strangely focusing, while also excellently ironic, and the first order of business that evening was to do a very small “smudge” ceremony (to clear the air of bad spirits). Once this was finished, the smell of burnt sage and other traditional native medicines set the stage for an evening of insight.

“Tar sands extraction is one of the largest civil and environmental rights issues of this generation. The Harper regime, in alliance with the Alberta government and the largest oil companies in the world, have ignored First Nations rights, broken global agreements and decimated hundreds of kilometers of land in Northern Alberta. Pipelines are expanding the impact to Southern Ontario, where tar sands refining is already happening in Sarnia, aka Chemical Valley. As well, Canada has supported companies and governments employing brutal military regimes to facilitate mining and oil & gas projects abroad. We ask the question, how is this ‘ethical’?” 

– Occupy Talks

The following embedded videos feature esteemed community organizers and intellectuals Eriel Deranger, Ron Plain, Isaac Asume Osuoka and Syed Hussan. The panel was moderated by Anna Zalik, and the talks open with a song requested by the organizers: Mr. Businessman, by Mama D.

Anna Zalik – Anna teaches in the Faculty of Environmental Studies at York University and has researched oil industry strategy since 2000, with a focus on Nigeria, Mexico and Canada. She has been involved in activism on social justice issues since the 1980s and has published critiques of extractive industry activity in a range of sites.

Diem Lafortune (Mama D) – Lafortune does not take life lying down. She’s a fighter, a champion, an activist and a believer in guardian angels. She’s also a singer/songwriter whose varied life experience – from cab driver, to actor, photographer, near politician and constitutional appellate lawyer – has provided a rich source for her powerful music. Her website can be found here.

Eriel Tchekwie Deranger – Eriel is a Dene Indigenous activist and member of the Athbasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN) of Northern Alberta, ground zero for tar sands extraction. Eriel is currently working for ACFN as a campaign and communication coordinator to challenge current and proposed projects by Shell Canada in Alberta’s Tar Sands. Shell is one of the largest operators in the tar sands and has contributed greatly to the erosion of Dene lands, culture and health. Eriel is a longtime Indigenous rights activist, fighting for environmental justice and has worked with many organizations including the International Indian Treaty Council, TakingItGlobal, Canadian Heritage, the United Nations, Indigenous Environmental Network, the Ruckus Society and IP3. She has extensive experience and a deep knowledge of International Indigenous rights, obtained through the International Training Centre for Indigenous People in Illuslisat, Greenland as well as through her work as a researcher for the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations. Eriel is currently working with many allies to create awareness about the catastrophic climate and human rights impacts of the tar sands and demands full recognition of Indigenous rights from all levels of government and industry operating in Indigenous territories.

Ron Plain – “I am not an environmentalist, I am Aanishinaabe. My reverence for Mother Earth is not a conscious decision, rather it is a genetic predetermination.” Currently, Ron is campaigning to raise awareness about tar sands refining in his community, Aamjiwnaang, located near Sarnia, Ontario, which has been termed the most polluted place on earth by the National Geographic Society. Ron has been an activist for many years, his campaigns began with human rights and discrimination protests in the late 70’s and early 80’s, spanning Turtle Island from Burnt Church to Portland, Oregon. Ron has established himself as a leader in social justice movements with a focus on Aboriginal inherent and treaty rights as they pertain to the holistic views of our environment. Ron has been featured in 11 documentaries, numerous print media, Men’s Health, National Geographic and Chatelaine and network television, CNN, MSNBC and APTN to name a few for his work and his community, Aamjiwnaang.

Isaac Asume Osuoka – Asume is currently enrolled at York University in the doctoral Faculty of Environmental Studies Program. Asume has worked for over a decade to support communities in the Nigeria and other countries in the Gulf of Guinea region organizing programs that encourage change in policy and practice of oil corporations, governments and international finance institutions. He had served as Coordinator of Oilwatch Africa (1997-2006), Directror of Social Action, and also coordinator of the Gulf of Guinea Citizens Network (GGCN). Asume has participated in several international conferences on environment, energy and mining and has been a panellist at the United Nations. He has also represented communities in committees set up by the Nigerian Presidency to address the crisis in the Niger delta.

Syed Hussan – Syed is a writer and activist based in Toronto. Hussan is part of migrant justice, environmental justice, anti-imperialist and Indigenous sovereignty movements. His writings regularly appear in alternative media outlets. Hussan has worked to highlight the links between tar sands extraction and the US military-industrial complex.

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Media Wrench presents: Occupy Talks: What Gravy Train? Austerity, Finance, and the Polarization of Wealth

MediaWrench went down to Occupy Talks to present it for you, and we had a really great time doing it!

Peaking at about 75-100 people of all ages, the turnout blew my mind.  The organization and focus of the event only shows the positive directionality of the Occupy Movement in North America, especially here at home, in Toronto, Canada. The crowd’s thorough mix shows that this was an issue that was completely relevant and perfectly timed considering the austerity measures we are facing across the board. I’ve always said that the most important next step for this intellectual, and what some would call spiritual, revolution will be to bring in the people who have dedicated their lives to knowing the finer points of the problems that we all know are in our hearts and ever-growing. The maturation of the Occupy Movement is moving at a pace most cannot deny is truly impressive.

Our guest speakers focused appropriately enough on the systematic denial of workers’ benefits through union busting, the systematic status quo of the business narrative, and the need to focus on long term goals, whilst celebrating the singular victories within sight. This talk takes place, literally, the day after Mayor Rob Ford’s budget was rejected piece-by-piece due to trying to fix the problems of our community by taking more money from the poorest of society and children. Very little of what Mayor Ford had originally intended to cut from the budget actually survived the process of the budget meeting. And the visibly ‘subversive’ council member who had talked sense into his fellow city hall colleagues, Councillor Josh Colle, saw the necessity and urgency to step back and rethink the logic of Toronto’s bizarre proposed taxes – such as the $2 per head child-tax for children using small wading pools across Toronto. This is a major victory for all reasonably hopeful citizens! The political system affects you.  We can all, more or less, admit for the first time in a long while that we have undeniably affected the system in a tangible manner. The lesson is this: the politicians who are in power now may not agree with the logic of fostering and nurturing our population. Rather than simply catering to the business narrative and the credit scores decided outside our country; sooner or later, the opponents of these politicians are going to acknowledge and bolster the public outcry.  They will naturally and organically replace those leaders who are out of touch with the populace they are hired to serve, once and for all.

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 Speakers List:

Linda McQuaig is an acclaimed Canadian journalist and best-selling author. She currently writes an op-ed column for the Toronto Star and has written eight books on politics and economics, including It’s the Crude, Dude and most recently, The Trouble With Billionaires.

Jim Stanford is one of Canada’s best-known economists. He is the founder of the Progressive Economics Forum and writes a regular column for the Globe and Mail. He has written seven books, including his latest, Economics for Everyone: A Short Guide to the Economics of Capitalism.

Nathan Okonta is a community activist and researcher, studying the links between schools and prisons. He is a former member of the Metro Network for Social Justice and is currently a member of the Network for Pan-African Solidarity Toronto, and the Tabono Institute.

Sam Gindin is a respected academic and intellectual. Until recently, he was a professor of Political Economy at York University. He regularly publishes in academic journals and has written numerous books. His latest is In and Out of Crisis: The Global Financial Meltdown and Left Alternatives.

Lana Brite and Occupy Talks have set up the next generation of forum.  These conversations draw such a crowd simply by utilizing a professional and deeply intellectual approach to activism. The conversation we could not show you, between guests and speakers through the Q&A, was handled with grace. It was a true credit to the Occupy Movement itself here in Canada and also aligned perfectly with the respect for a studied mind that I believe was at the core of Occupy Toronto in its infant stages back in St. James Park. The key to success lies not in brute force, but rather, in expertly applied pressure.

Written by Kris Harrison

Contributions for this piece: Kris Harrison, Jared Khan & Roberto Horta