It’s taken me awhile after George Floyd’s murder to pull my thoughts together for a solidarity statement with Black Lives Matter/Not Another Black Life and all the youth coming forward to organize for justice. The statement herein is from me as an individual, but also as a key individual in Green Thumbs Growing Kids. I started GTGK in 1999 with support from the City and local elementary schools to cultivate food and environmental learning in our downtown East neighbourhood, in Regent Park and St. James Town, and even Cabbagetown with its large percentage of co-op housing. School gardens bring lots of people together, and even before COVID we knew that urban food production is an important part of our food system, including its educational side. Food justice is what we are striving for. This moment in the Black Lives Matter story is at once horrifying and pregnant with possibility. Every day a new travesty is visited on Black and Indigenous bodies. Anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism is a public health crisis. For Regis Korchinsky-Paquet, and so many more, an encounter with police ends in death, deaths that could have been prevented by sending anyone but someone with a gun, taser and pepper spray.
10% reduction in our police budget is way too low a demand. Didn’t even Rob Ford want that? We can do better. Black Lives Matter TO and SURJ (Showing Up for Racial Justice) are calling for 50%. Whatever the percentage cut, City Hall needs to control the police budget – we don’t even know where public money is actually going, and it’s the largest budget line by far for the City. There needs to be a change to a provincial regulation just to SEE how they spend their budget. The way things are now, TPS could just decide to take 10% out of something that’s actually useful, like community consultations and equity hirings. The answer already from the brass is that they need MORE money for cameras. Sorry, but there’s absolutely no evidence that will bring the change we need.
Anyway, as a white executive director of a downtown non-profit concerned with food justice and education about ecosystems, I have to step out and say that I cannot be silent any more. Silence is consent. I have had and continue to have enormous benefits simply because I’m white, and I need to always check myself, and examine how to leverage that for Black, Indigenous and People of Colour. I subscribe to an anti-colonial, anti-imperialist, pro-feminist perspective. But I see my privilege in so many ways, not the least of which is that I got to raise my kids without worrying about their interactions with police.
I am grateful for the patience my Black and Indigenous and People of Colour friends and mentors have shown me, when rightfully they are exhausted, and in physical and mental pain from the ongoing trauma. Leadership in the streets right now is provided by Black and Brown youth, and they are carrying the load of failed models, slight reforms, even token Black leadership leading to zero systemic change. I see that tinkering with the system has not produced any material improvement. Yet our own theory of change is based on changing the culture, and that is why I do what I do.
As an organization we have hired mainly people of colour, Black and Indigenous staff, and their happiness with us as an employer is hugely important. We could do more in the realm of outreach and targeted recruitment, with more resources. I always want to do better by them, since every day they do battle that we white folks don’t know. I am inspired by the call for #LandBack, because if these lands were returned to indigenous control and management it would be a truly new world, under the historic Dish with One Spoon treaty. We have to imagine this and other wide remakes, tearing down and starting over, to move the struggle for racial justice forward. We have to make what are admittedly symbolic moves such as changing street names to the Anishnaabemowin or other local indigenous language. Our business address is on Dundas Street. What if we worked together on renaming this ancient trail, that connects the waterways that are the source of life in our region.
A reduction in the police budget must be followed by changed priorities for public money, driven by Black and Indigenous leaders. We have to listen, learn and act.
The current unrest is not a revolution just yet (or maybe it is, depending on who you talk to!), but it is building a different culture. Since the culture is being remade anyway by a virus, what better time to “grasp this sorry scheme of things entire” (Khayam). Let’s look for new/old names for the streets paved over trails cut over millennia. Always a gathering place, Tkaronto can remake itself again. We hope to be part of that remaking, literally from the ground up. Here’s what we wrote, years ago, under the heading “anti-racism” as part of our values statements. Green Thumbs is always trying to improve our actions and welcomes all feedback from staff and board.
As has been pointed out in the context of police violence and the blue code of silence/complicity, culture trumps policy. Police culture rejects accountability, even if it’s supposed to be there in policy. But police culture reflects the culture at large. To do right by the indigenous and Black people, and all people of colour facing down white supremacy, whites have responsibility to change the culture of white-centric institutions, including non-profit food organizations, and we need to get much more vocal about systems of exploitation. We need to act, challenge and unmask our unconscious privilege, and fight for our real interest as humans on a finite planet. The resonant call is for an end to poverty, an end to a tiny group at the top benefitting while the vast majority are suffering under a racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, ableist society, where Black and Brown people are also dying of the novel coronavirus at a disproportionate rate.