A brief overview of activist action in Hamilton
CW: mentions of violence and racism
2020 has been a rough – albeit transformative – year for everyone. From the pandemic to the racial injustices across North America that gained media attention to global emergencies such as the Beirut explosion or worsening of the Yemeni crisis, the world has lived through some of its worst times in recorded history.
However, in the midst of the anger and sadness, there have been sparks of spirit and action as activists took the summer of 2020 as a time to enact social change. From rallies to sit-ins, activists across the country, even at McMaster, have advocated for change. Whether it be fighting for a home country’s autonomy and nationhood, empowering marginalized communities in Canada or reclaiming land that was lost to colonization, summer 2020 was full of activism.
Pushing for Autonomy: Hong Kong’s Fight
In June 2019, protests took place across Hong Kong in response to plans to allow citizen extradition to mainland China. Although the bill that would allow for the extradition to occur was withdrawn in September, demonstrations continued as people demanded democracy and inquiries into police actions against protestors and activists. As police brutality against the citizens of Hong Kong became increasingly violent, many pro-independence activists are now seeking asylum in Canada as refugees. Canada has begun accepting these refugees into the country.
The events unfolding in Hong Kong are heard here, on the other side of the globe, through media and first-hand accounts. Despite the physical distance between us, these issues directly affect and involve us, including students at McMaster.
McMaster Stands with Hong Kong is a student activist group that was founded last October. The mandate of the organization is to support and bring awareness to Hong Kongers in their fight against Chinese occupation, police brutality and to support all refugees seeking asylum in Canada. This past summer, the organization engaged in multiple acts of activism.
In May, Mac-HK opposed the Student Success Centre’s decision to post a Hong Kong police job on their student website, which yielded significant results as the Student Success Centre quietly deleted the post. In August, Mac-HK co-organized an event in downtown Toronto with other universities that called out Chinese influence and actions in Hong Kong and the need for Canada to protect Hong Kongers’ safety here. In September, Mac-HK co-organized a rally for Status for All, a rally focusing on giving status to international students, refugees, farmers and workers, who were all particularly affected socially and financially by the pandemic.
These acts from McMaster students are a reminder that what happens across the world affects us right here in Canada and at McMaster.
Fighting Social Injustice: Black Lives Matter
Black Lives Matter: this sentence and movement have been gaining traction since its use as a hashtag on social media after the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the death of Trayvon Martin in July 2013. This year, the movement reached a peak in traction and recognition following the shootings of Black men and women, including the murder of George Floyd in May.
An international fight against systemic racism and police brutality in the form of rallies, protests and petitions took center stage. In response to police brutality, many organizations seeking to fight systemic racism and police brutality in North America have emerged, some of them right here in Hamilton.
HWDSB Kids Need Help is an organization that was formed by Hamilton students, including some who currently attend McMaster University. The organization seeks to support the rights of high school students, particularly those from marginalized communities, in the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board and oppose police presence.
In February 2020, HWDSB Kids Need Help assisted in a report that requested the termination of the HWDSB police school liaison program. The program supported the presence of six officers at 38 secondary schools and five officers in a partnership with 158 elementary schools. This presence was meant to prevent crime, but HWDSB Kids Need Help researched and outlined the impact of the program. After a summer of activism, the motion to terminate the police school liaison program was passed
Reclaiming Land: Land Back Camp
Today, Indigenous people continue to face systemic oppression as a result of colonialism in many forms. In response to this, many movements fighting against land occupation have come about.
One example is Land Back Camp, which was set up in June in Kitchener’s Victoria Park. The camp was set up to reclaim land that was once a central hub of activity and life for Nations such as the Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabe peoples.
Beyond existing as a way to reclaim land and send a political message to authorities, the camp is said to connect young Indigenous adults to their culture and offer youth and two-spirited people a place where they feel more at home.
Movements like Land Back Camp that occur so close to home offer an opportunity for students to reflect on their role in supporting Indigenous communities.
Although social issues can often appear abstract or distant, it is important to remember that our neighbours and peers are actively shaping and defining change in our society. Large-scale issues manifest in one way or another within our school and communities and it is important not to disregard them, but to rather acknowledge the efforts local activists are putting in catalyzing change.
This article is the first in a series on the many acts, events and movements of activism from summer 2020.