5.18.2009

two observations, part two: activism and community

I have no idea if this observation can be said to accurately compare New York and Toronto, or is peculiar to New York and my Toronto experience is more common.

Since becoming active in the war resisters movement in Canada, I find myself part of a community of activists, people who know each other from all different related movements, see each other at all different events, and who regularly socialize together.

Political meetings and events almost always have a social component, and people regularly go out together after the event.

We never did this in New York.

In successive cycles of activism in New York City - reproductive rights, sexual assault, youth issues, sexual assault (different work) and domestic violence, AIDS work (briefly) and back to reproductive rights again - I never experienced this.

I always made a friend or two through these various groups, including some close and lasting friendships. But the group as a whole didn't socialize. After the meeting, we all went our separate ways. The most you'd do is walk with someone out of the meeting to the subway.

The coordinating committee of the Haven Coalition often met at coffee shops. We lived and worked in far-flung corners of the city, so we tried to share the travel burden. But even then, we'd have a meal together, and we'd talk and laugh a little, but when the meeting was over, it was over.

Here, a meeting ends, and people go to a pub. Not everyone goes every time, but a gathering place is announced, and everyone is welcome.

It took me a while to adjust. I used to attend weekly meetings but mostly kept to myself. As I've adjusted to the social aspect, I've made more friends, and I'm happier. Funny how that works.

7 comments:

Kim_in_TO said...

It's not as if anyone is asking for anything in return for the work we put in. We get involved because we truly believe in a cause. But it's a great perk, init? I also think it's really smart; it gives people more of a chance to bond, and helps form a community, rather than just a group of coworkers, if you will.

L-girl said...

"But it's a great perk, init? I also think it's really smart; it gives people more of a chance to bond, and helps form a community, rather than just a group of coworkers, if you will."

Absolutely, I agree on both.

And in it's not that I didn't have community with the activists I worked with in NYC, but it was a community only around that issue. This goes much further - and makes the work more satisfying.

M@ said...

It's funny, this is exactly the opposite of what I've experienced in the arts community, both in Toronto and in Kitchener-Waterloo. I would expect when writers get together they would want to go for coffee or to a pub or whatever when the "business" of writing is done with. Not so. Getting people to go out together was always like pulling teeth -- so much so that I don't even suggest it myself; I wait till someone else suggests it and then i enthusiastically agree.

I think it's an important part of any kind of group activity -- especially one where there needs to be some kind of trust relationship between the members of the group (which includes activism and arts groups I'd say). I'm glad to hear you've experienced it so much in this area (and I've witnessed it too of course).

L-girl said...

"Getting people to go out together was always like pulling teeth -- so much so that I don't even suggest it myself;"

This is what happened to me in NYC. I got tired of being the only person to suggest or organize socializing (outside of the activism we were doing), so I stopped doing it.

And your comment reminds me of another type of activism I've been involved with, the National Writers Union. And I need all of it for my grad school CV, so thanks for that!

richard said...

Welcome to Canada :-)

David Heap said...

While we don't get out together to the pub as often as the TO crowd does, socializing together is a part of the war resisters support group (and other causes) here in London too. Being able to do this has helped convince me (the transplanted Torontonian) that I have an activist community here in my adoptive city -- and allowed me to make some wonderful friends (like Beth Guthrie, among many others). I have done the activism-without-socializing thing too, and vastly prefer this way. Keeps us going longer too, I think (and lord knows we need energy!).

nick said...

If I can't socialize after a meeting, I don't want to be a part of your activism.

When I commit to a meeting or event I try to block out time afterward for the social aspects. Meetings (and their afterwards) are my social life.

Socialism - social = just another ism.