Motivated by the plummeting price of oil and the inability of political parties to address the crises of climate change and inequality, the This Changes Everything team decided to convene a meeting to help shape a social movement response. In May 2015, we brought together sixty activists and leaders from Canada’s Indigenous rights, labour, environment, student, migrant and social justice movements in an unprecedented gathering in Toronto. The intent was to devise strategies and principles that would help a coalition of groups galvanize a rapid and just transition to a renewable-based economy in Canada.
Among many hopes for the gathering in Toronto, we strove to connect organizers from every part of the country, create relationships between local foundations and funders with emerging progressive and radical leadership, deepen political and media engagement around the issue of climate justice, and begin projecting a positive, compelling and holistic vision for change that could rally movements and people across Canada. Over two days of debate, discussion, story-telling and action-planning, we helped spark important advances in these goals.
After providing breakfast and making an opening territorial acknowledgement, we went over meeting protocols and engaged participants in a geographical mapping activity. Conference members were asked to move around the room in correspondence to their answers to the following questions:
- What place do you live and work in now?
- What part of the world do you identify with?
- Where are we from, as a group in this room?
Meeting Goals and Expectations
In this setting, naming our goals served two purposes: to clearly identify who was in the space and to allow participants to discuss their expectations.
Gather progressive movements to collectively strategize about how to galvanize a rapid justice-based clean energy transition in Canada.
Facilitate convergence among the Indigenous sovereignty movement, community groups, grassroots social movements, labour unions, food justice and environmental groups on a bottom-up climate and economic justice agenda.
Build just, equitable and authentic relationships to allow for honest conversations and a shared interest to work together across progressive movements
Adopt shared principles and cultures of practice that guide collaboration across progressive movements
Discuss creation of a visionary just transition platform that can rally people and movements across Canada.
Craft next steps and effective future activities, including helping to mobilize for a July 5 Toronto climate and economic justice mobilization on the eve of the Pan American Climate and Economic Summits
Naomi Klein’s Address
We asked Naomi to frame the meeting. Her speech put a name to the problems we faced, both immediate and systemic, internally in the movement and externally in facing corporate power, and concluded on a hopeful note about what had motivated the convening itself — the opportunity for change.
Understanding Our Past to Chart Our Future
To collectively forge a new climate justice agenda, we needed to come to a shared understanding about the foundations already laid by historical struggles and more recent advances. We used an interactive timeline, posted on the wall of the conference room, to establish a sense of collective history.
During this part of the day we gave participants within their specific movements a chance to discuss what they would like to see a “big tent” agenda accomplish.
Example prompts included:
What are the most important goals of a just transition for your sector/community?
What are the most desirable attributes of the next economy?
What do we mean by terms like climate justice, renewable energy, systems change?
Modelled after a World Cafe, the Liberation Cafe break-out is an attempt to inspire conversations using thematic prompts. People were arranged around the room in groups, each with assigned questions to address. We based our prompts on the Movement Breakout discussions.
- What will it take to align labor and environmental agendas with First Nation priorities?
- How do we successfully organize against the fossil fuel economy?
- How do we successfully tell a popular story for the next economy?
- How do we finance the creation of the next economy?
- What’s the strategic timeline for organizing alignment nationally/internationally?
- What are the challenges/opportunities of organizing in climate policy arena(s)?
To close the day, we reviewed the objectives of the past six hours. Our intention to build alignment on shared history had been fleshed out in the morning timeline. Identifying a common cause was a result of the first Movement Breakout, and finally, recognizing key elements that we want to see in the next economy had been furthered by the Liberation Cafe.
In the morning, we had designated a team to report back on key areas of consensus from Day 1, the main questions being:
- What are the pathways to the next economy?
- What are the principles that guide us there?
- What needs to be in the Just Transition platform?
After discussing these integral areas of consensus and synergy, we encouraged participants to highlight their present and upcoming campaigns, events, and mobilizations on a visual timeline, akin to the historical context timeline from the day before.
Thematic Break-out Discussion
Similar to our Liberation Cafe exercise, we had more thematic break-outs to encourage debate among the conference participants. Here are some of the provocations we gave for dialogue:
- What do First Nations want others to support?
- How is the new economy defined as being controlled by workers and communities?
- How do we lead with vision? What is it that we want? This is not only what we want to stop.
- What are the most compelling narratives for justice?
- What are the strategies and tactics of solidarity organizing? How does solidarity organizing really work?
- What does the labour movement want others to support?
- Who’s not in this present space that needs to be included?
- How do we build power across many movement sectors? How is that power made durable and resilient?
- How do we build the kind of power to take on Stephen Harper and big Oil?
- What are our resources? Where is the leadership coming from?
- Where are the flashpoints that will allow us to bring together coalitions?
- What are the most important principles to be included in a just transition platform?
After two hours of deliberation, we had a representative from each break-out share to the entire group the key points that had been discussed.
Planning Next Steps
Closer to the end of the conference we dedicated time to laying down groundwork for the practical applications of our discussions. There were many options already in the making for ways to collaborate after the weekend was over, as well as opportunities to support each other’s work. These included the March for Climate, Jobs, and Justice in Toronto on July 5th, 2015, as well as the upcoming Federal Election in Canada. The Road To Paris was another campaign in the works, preparing for the climate talks in Paris in December of 2015.
Perhaps most important was the nature and shape of the just transition platform or manifesto that had been discussed and debated. It was decided that all the feedback from the meeting would be distilled into a first draft, and then representatives from the movements represented would provide additional feedback.
At the end of the convening many shared a strong interest in continuing to work together on a movement-building process that would deepen our bonds and advance the goals of a just transition.
The final document summarizing our aspirations and common ground — which eventually became known as the Leap Manifesto — can be found here. The website of The Leap, the organization that was born out of work around The Leap Manifesto, is here.