A female friend and colleague who is actively engaged in Canada’s social justice and labour movements sent me a link to a video produced by the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (EFTO) entitled “Women Change Makers: Taking Action for Social Justice” which is available at http://etfovoice.ca/feature/women-change-makers-taking-action-social-justice
This brief video offers quick profiles of Canadian women who are engaged in social justice campaigns on topics including ensuring access to clean drinking water, including the experiences of black Canadians and women in elementary school curricula, combating workplace discrimination, transgender rights, and promoting equitable access to government services for Aboriginal communities.
The central message of the video is that anyone can become a social justice leader and that many Canadian women have played vital roles in working for social change. The opening line of the video is:
“When you study the history of social justice movements, it’s easy to get the idea that all of our progress has been brought about by a few key people. The truth is, that real, lasting social change can only be achieved if we all participate”
This is certainly an important message to share about social justice activism, but the examples in this video offer other important lessons as well.
The first of these is that achieving social change is a long process and several of the women mentioned in the video are celebrated for a lifetime of work rather than a single act of social justice action. Making change takes time and even after a change is enacted there is a long tail of embedding that change in society and working to build on that victory. If we want to achieve real social justice in our society then we need people who are willing to put in a long term effort.
People in the trenches of any kind of social justice work may find that there may be frustrating days when it feels like things aren’t moving, but when you look at change over years and decades, the fruits of their efforts are apparent. It is inspiring to see that persistent – and sometimes invisible – efforts are recognized in this group.
A second vital message for anyone watching the video is that these social justice activists acted on their own behalf and on behalf of members of their communities based on their lived experiences. They saw a problem and took action. We are the experts when it comes to our own experiences. When we see problems in our communities, like the teachers who didn’t see their experiences and the experiences of others from non-dominant groups represented in curricula, we need to realize that we don’t need to find someone else to take the lead in resolving them. We can and should seek out allies and mentors, but we should feel empowered to act even if we have to start on our own. If we wait for other people to work on our behalves we may have a long time to wait. The women in this video chose to act.
A final lesson from this video is that we all have unique talents that we can bring to social justice movements. The women in the video each had different approaches to activism. They drew from their professional competencies and experiences to find an approach that worked for them. Whatever your professional role or background, you have skills and knowledge that you can bring to help support or lead a social justice campaign.
Featured image by Tom Woodward