Art and Activism

I had a wonderful few days on Gabriola Island this past week as a guest of Save Our Shores Gabriola (SOS) and Gabriola Friends of the Library. Thanks very much to Kristin Miller for taking such good care of me. (Thanks also to The Writers Union of Canada for funding.)

 seagull on dock (600x450)

 Six creative souls came to the poetry workshop in the poetry yurt, run by Poetry Gabriola,  set in the trees beside The Commons

The workshop was meant to inspire people to express their anger, frustration, distress   about events taking place in the world. We explored some darker themes and then lightened things up by writing limericks – it’s hard to write a limerick without laughing. There won’t be any Nobel Prizes forthcoming (whoopee, Alice Munro) but it was fun.

 Raymond composes
Photo: Viviann Kuehl

Photo: Viviann Kuehl









I also gave a reading at the library from my novel, The Taste of Ashes, with a focus on the ways in which activism propels and informs my writing. Over time it has become clear that an interest in, concern about and a sense of wanting to bear witness to people’s courage are fundamental issues in the work I admire most. It’s little wonder that those same values and concerns for social justice show up in my writing. 

 Sheila and Kristen

And what an audience! The collective knowledge and wisdom in the room was awe-inspiring. One woman had been to Afghanistan with Global Exchange – the amazing group that facilitated my trip to Guatemala when I was researching The Taste of Ashes.

The visit ended with an SOS Gabriola dinner meeting – a group of Gabriolans committed to preventing oil pipelines and tankers in BC lands and waters. It was an honor to be a part of their month-long celebration of Art and Activism around the island. All around us hung quilts made for the Clayoquot Sound protests twenty years ago now.


cormorants 1 (600x364)

Bravo to SOS for calling it a celebration – all too often we are taught to think of this work as negative because we’re against what industry likes to call development. Exploitation is a more accurate term.

As well as sharing a delicious meal, we talked about the ways in which people respond to the dangers posed by our ever-increasing use of fossil fuels. How do we motivate people to act? How do we support and value people who don’t feel able to stand up and speak up? How do we support all the differing ways community members contribute on the ground (creating and maintaining a place like the Commons, for example) and in the oh-so-impure corridors of power (MLAs, MPs, larger environmental organizations, for example)?  As Bill McGibben writes in Oil and Honey, the story of the rise of the movement, environmental activism is long-term – it’s not something that’s going to get done, like that deer fence you need to build around your garden. Jean McLaren was one of the first Raging Grannies, was arrested at Clayoquot Sound and is still taking part in events in her eighties. She and Heidi Brown shared dinner with us last week; twenty years ago they edited the Raging Granny Songbook.
cormorants 2 (600x448)

I was happy to tell the folks from Gabriola that in the north we, too, have people with that long-term commitment. We have young people who are being mentored by those who have been doing this work for over thirty years (with many successes) and those same young people are bringing their amazing talents to the table.


cormorants 4 (600x288)

Eight community groups in eight communities across the north are working with First Nations to stop the Enbridge Gateway pipeline; others are springing up to try to unravel the “plate of spaghetti” of proposed LNG pipeline routes; all are committed to resisting the free-for-all that is both provincial and federal government policy around tar sands, fracking and coal.

 cormorants 3 (600x400)

And artists – musicians, visual artists, poets, and dancers – are standing beside scientists, farmers, fisherpeople, and others who are beginning to understand the price tag attached to fossil fuels, tar sands expansion and climate change. Artists are reading scientific reports, carvers are putting up blockades, biologists are making quilts, and poets are running for city council. And fishermen like Guy Johnston will be joining thousands of people across the country on tomorrow’s National Day of Action against fossil fuels expansion. 

Find an event and get there if you can. sea lions (600x450)





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