by Levy Abad
A friend asked me if it’s true that I’m running as an NDP federal candidate for Winnipeg North. Well, I said yes, and the reason for doing so is I want to give back to the community by serving as a representative. I have been doing community organizing for some time now as a Constituency Assistant, then as an Executive Assistant of Flor Marcelino, Minister of Culture Heritage, and Tourism. Recently, I have been appointed as a Multicultural Outreach Officer for the Office of the Minister of Multiculturalism. To date, I took a leave of absence to join the democratic process. All these experiences equip me with the tools for understanding the social terrain of Winnipeg North.
Aside from that full time job, I am also a volunteer for a newly formed human-rights organization called Winnipeg Multicultural Human Rights Forum (WMHRF). We have yet to formalize this organization; but even at its formative stage, we have already organized some human-rights education events such as “Where Are They Now? – A Human Rights Forum on the Disappeared, Global Mining, and Indigenous Rights” and assisted with the organizing of Annual Night of the Disappeared of SOCEPP. SOCEPP, or the Solidarity Committee for Ethiopian Political Prisoners, is led by Ali Saeed, a former political prisoner who himself was sentenced to death in Somalia and also a founding member of WMHRF. As a member of Migrante Manitoba, I advocate migrants’ rights and welfare. I also sing and write songs that reflect the issues of the community, including performing at the RightsFest in celebration of the official opening of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, Eya Keen’s events in Brokenhead on the third annual opening of the White Buffalo Day (August 22, 2014), and CUPE’s 2015 National Conference on Human Rights. I am also member of Sparling United Church Praise Band. My involvement in these organizations reflects my belief that, as an artist and grassroots organizer, a person can use culture to empower the marginalized. Such engagement is a potent force for social transformation.
Coordinating events enabled me to meet up with leaders in the multicultural community. By engaging in dialogue, I was able to have a clear grasp of the sentiments of various groups. My readings of Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed back in my university days proved helpful. They come in handy in grasping the dynamics of a given community and are effective tools in relationship building leading to community transformation.
These experiences show the clear connection between grassroots organizing and social legislation for which any good student of Canadian history would, I think, readily agree, since most of the policies that benefit the community like health care, EI, OAS/GIS, housing, just to mention a few, are the results of grassroots organizing for a protracted period. They are instrumental in enacting social legislation and, eventually, transformation. Going back to a fraction of Canadian history from the Winnipeg Strike of 1919 up to now will provide enough clarity for understanding the significance of organizing. Indeed, the tension between the two (grassroots organizing and social legislation) is inseparable and can be considered a crucial aspect of the democratic process. Any conscious adherent of democracy would always protect and promote the importance of these ideas. As an organizer with a social perspective, I am also acutely aware of the opposite ideology that wants to destroy the people’s historical gains in the field of social justice and compassion in favour of greed and empire. Joining the electoral process is one of the ways to effect social change, and making the voice of the marginalized heard on important issues should always be supported.
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