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VIEW: Why I'm attending CanRoots with other social change workers tomorrow

It's easy to feel isolated in our work on social change. We're often stuck in our offices or else stuck in our issues -- mine being predominantly the labour movement and progressive electoral politics.

This is why I'm excited to attend CanRoots, a gathering for organizers on May 23 and 24 at the Museum of Vancouver. There we'll not only get a chance to meet people across different sectors, but also to raise our game by learning from one another about best practices.

I've been around campaigns my whole life thanks to my family, and got my professional start in organizing and campaign work in my mid-twenties. I was thrust into doing voter contact on a political campaign with little hope and was told, “Just try not to make anything worse.” It turns out we did lose, but along the way I met some amazing people and also became slightly obsessed about how to do things better.

Today I work as a communications director in a B.C. union at a time when we are under attack politically. We also face the challenge of a public that sometimes thinks unions did good things in the past (like getting kids out of factories) but aren't as relevant today.

But everyone has a bad boss story which illustrates why unions are still necessary. And when the conversation shifts to the influence of corporations and money over legislation and rising inequality, it becomes clear to most that unions are an equalizing force. It sounds a bit trite when I say it, but we help put power back into the hands of the people. We not only need to tell that story better, but also get better at that role through improved organizing.

In that vein, one of the speakers at CanRoots will be Josh Berezin from the Analyst Institute in the U.S. There's a danger in lionizing too much what the Obama campaigns achieved or to not understand the differences when compared to Canada, but at the same time there's something to learn from the rigour they brought to their campaign work, especially in going beyond just talking to the converted, which is a trap we can all fall into.

I'm looking forward to that, but I also love the fact that most of the speakers are homegrown. I'm very excited to go to the Building First Nations Power session and to learn more about the indigenous movements built by the Yinka Dene Alliance and Idle No More, both incredibly inspiring campaigns solidly grounded in their grassroots. How did they spark and direct their groundswell of support into action? And where will they go next?

I'm also eager to hear from the Winch Institute that will be presenting on, in part, targeting the elusive youth voter. Many campaigns are about working the margins, adding one set of people to another until you have the winning number. So how do you do that?

The conference features some of the most innovative organizers in B.C.'s environmental movement, child care activists, people working to turn the tide on sexual assault, advocates for immigrant youth and more. I'm excited to learn about the ideas we need to spread, the changes we need to make, and the actions we need to take – and what ties the diverse participants together.

As CanRoots participants, our issues might be different, but how we are working on them is important for us to learn from, both to shake us out of losing methods and also to shake up how we think about the issues themselves.

The work of social change is incremental and never done. Rosemary Brown (Canada's first black woman MLA), said: “Fighting for equality is like washing the dishes: you have to get up and do it every single day.” Whether we're fighting against climate change or for indigenous rights, fair workplaces, or economic justice, we do the dishes today and tomorrow there will be more to do. But we can become more proactive, rather than staying reactive. We can create the space for society and governments to create a better world. That's what good organizing is all about.

CanRoots will take place May 23/24 at the Museum of Vancouver. Learn more here.

Sage Aaron is Communications Director at COPE 378.

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