As a social justice and enviro actvist, community-building has been core to my work for more than two decades. Community in the sense of “like-minded people” mostly, community in the sense of that which sustains those of us outsiders to the mainstream when the going gets tough. A community built in tandem with temporary spaces of resistance, alongside meals cooked group-fashion, in opposition to that who we did not want to be. That is – everyone else.
But almost five years ago now, a fairly cataclysmic event took place amongst a segment of my community, when a number of close friends went to jail in the United States for breaking the law in service to that resistance. The fall0ut from that continues to impact my life in ways I could not have imagined when I read the first newswire report of two activists arrested in Eugene, Oregon – but most clear to me is how much my sense of community has changed as a result. Part of that change involves some reflection on the importance of physical community – that is neighbours and co-workers – both in creating supportive space, but also in solidifying the foundations for social change.
In the last year, Brian and I were lucky to be invited to join a nascent neighbours group in our new neighbourhood. We call ourselves Sunrise Commons – in deference to Hastings-Sunrise, and to the fact that we are seeking ways to create more shared space and ideas amongst those of us who live in our nine square blocks. We are a funny little group – a few households comprised of teachers, small business owners, counselors, labourers, drug policy researchers, bureaucrats, film industry workers, trade unionists and the like. None of sharing exactly the same set of ideas, but all of us wanting to make space for a little more friendliness, safer space, and more ecological awareness in our corner of East Vancouver.
Together, we have managed to wrangle some money for boulevard gardening and an awesome block party that took place in August – but mostly the benefit of the group has been in getting to know more people in the neighbourhood, and giving each other a place to come with a grievance or an issue we want to work on. It’s all very in its formation stages at the moment – so who knows where it will go as a group…. But for me it has really helped to deepen my connection to the households around ours, and when it comes to municipal issues (and grants), it is these physical neighbourhood “communities” that matter at city hall.
In the next year I would like to keep working on my neighbourhood ties, and find ways of increasing community through food growing – whether in a community garden setting, or just in our own backyards. I really understand community best as a function of sharing work (and the resultant leisure), and finding ways to work and dream together is the stuff that makes us whole as a society.