In this episode, Casandra Fullwood, Bronte Ibbotson, and Pamela Cross join us to talk about the importance of centering healing, joy, and self-care in the movement against gender-based violence.
In this episode, Casandra Fullwood, Bronte Ibbotson, and Pamela Cross join us to talk about the importance of centering healing, joy, and self-care in the movement against gender-based violence.
Although there are no descriptions of sexual violence on this podcast, any conversation about sexual or gender-based violence can be hard to hear. Listen in a way that feels safe for you. If you need support, there are resources like sexual assault support centres in your community that you can reach out to. See our list here of supports available by province.
For a great resource on student organizing that includes tools on self-care and healing, check out Courage to Act’s toolkit, Courage Catalysts: Creating Consent Cultures on Campus.
You Matter Too by Farrah Khan is a helpful list of self-care apps, books, talks, podcasts, and more.
ABOUT OUR GUESTS
Casandra Fullwood (she/her) is a Scarborough-born, Afro-Caribbean woman residing in Tkaronto. Her feminist politics are largely focused within the socio-economic realities of Black women, navigating feelings of bodily unsafety, collective grief, and creating spaces for community healing. Casandra is a harm reduction worker and the founder of We Heal Together, a Black survivor space that focuses on collective community care. She is in her fourth year of Arts and Contemporary studies at Toronto Metropolitan University. In her free time, Casandra likes to create art that centers Black intimacy, matrilineal lineage, Black spirituality and Zami love.
Bronte Ibbotson (she/her) is a first year U of T student from Niagara, Ontario. After witnessing gender-based violence and cultures of disrespect in her community and highschool, she helped found Project Breakaway in 2021: a feminist Instagram account aimed at educating, empowering, and providing a safe space for women and youth. She is now involved in organizing with the High School Too movement, using her voice at the national level to speak up against gender-based violence and create necessary change.
Pamela Cross (she/her) is a feminist lawyer and well-known and respected expert on violence against women and the law for her work as a researcher, writer, educator and trainer. She works with women’s equality and violence against women organizations across Ontario. As the Legal Director of Luke’s Place Support and Resource Centre in Durham Region, she leads the organization’s provincial projects including research, training and advocacy. With Luke’s Place, Pamela has written a number of papers on the topic of violence against women and family law. With funding from the federal Department of Justice, she led a team that conducted research into the use of family violence screening tools for family law practitioners. The final report, entitled “What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You: The importance of family violence screening tools for family law practitioners”, includes a draft screening tool.
CONNECT WITH POSSIBILITY SEEDS
Want to follow our gender justice work? Connect with us on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, and visit our website at possibilityseeds.ca.
Read the episode transcript here.
Created by Possibility Seeds. Project team: Farrah Khan, Emily Allan, Anoodth Naushan, Laura Murray, and Chenthoori Malankov-Milton. Produced by Vocal Fry Studios. Graphic design by Kitty Rodé with elements from Arzu Haider.
Farrah: Welcome to the first season of Possibility Seeds. We're so glad you're here. I’m Farrah Khan.
We made this podcast for anyone who wants to learn about gender justice activism in Canada. We're hosting multi-generational conversations with leaders who inspire us and fuel our belief that positive change is possible.
Alexis Pauline Gumbs, a queer Black troublemaker and Black feminist love evangelist, says “the fact that we all exist here is science fiction to the folks who came before us.”
This podcast is a celebration of new futures being created that weren't thought to be possible.
Today, we're so excited to have Pamela Cross, Bronte Ibbotson and Casandra Fullwood to talk about advocating for healing-centered organizing.
We will explore some of the amazing work they've done and reflect on what it means to blossom in places we're told we're not supposed to bloom.
Before we get started, can you share your names, pronouns, and a bit about yourselves? I can go first. My name is Farrah Khan. I use she and her pronouns. I'm a gender justice advocate and I love this work. Pam, do you wanna start us off?
Pam: Sure. My name is Pamela Cross. I use the pronouns she and her, and I've been doing work to support gender equality, gender justice for more than 50 years. And I'm really looking forward to a conversation where we can cross some of those generational boundaries that seem to exist within the work that we're all doing.
Bronte: Okay! Hi, my name is Bronte Ibbotson, and I'm a 17 year old high school student in grade 12 from St. Catherine's, Ontario. And I'm one of the members of the High School Too organization. And I’m one of the founders of a feminist Instagram account for our Niagara region.
Casandra: Hi, my name is Casandra Fullwood. I go by she/her pronouns, and I've been doing gender justice work for specifically Black communities and racialized communities for I guess over five years now. And what brings me joy with this work is just, like, meeting with community and sharing knowledge and building that space for us to talk about these hard issues.
Farrah: I am so excited about this conversation for the three of you, because I've worked with all three of you in different ways, and you do bring joy to this conversation and this work. Because a lot of the time people think, oh, feminists, they're so uptight. But I think a lot of us bring joy so we can continue doing this work.
One thing that I want to first get us started to think about is what brings you pleasure when doing organizing to end gender based violence and to create gender justice spaces. So maybe we'll start with you, Casandra.
Casandra: For me, it's been understanding that our community has felt alone when it comes to gender based violence, and just having that shared space where we could talk about it, where we can also share some of our like, generational issues with it as well. That brings me joy. Hearing that as a multi-generational issue and how we can support each other, how we can bring that shared knowledge.
And just having people feel like they're not… Alone in their trauma. So, with doing this with my group We Heal Together, I feel like it's a good space to understand that community has to support each other. And this is what we've been doing for, like, generations. And we can continue to pass that knowledge further down the line.
Farrah: Bronte, what about for you? What's bringing you pleasure in doing this organizing?
Bronte: I think one huge thing that was really important to me and really amazing was meeting people who are just as passionate about these things as I was, and throughout my high school experience, I've always struggled with that - struggled with meeting kind of, like, like-minded individuals or people who wanted to fight for these things, just because it's a difficult subject and it's scary. And I just love that the community that I've created in Niagara, and that I'm a part of with High School Too; it’s just kind of comforting to see that young people are already starting to want to create change in the world. And hopefully our future will benefit from that.
Pam: When I think about that question, I look back to the first organizing I ever did, which wasn't related to gender justice at all. I was in Grade 9 or Grade 10, and I thought that we should have a recycling program at our high school. So, recycling wasn't something that was done at that time. And I, if I'm being honest, I will say that part of what brought me pleasure or joy in doing that organizing - obviously I thought it was a good idea for sure - but it was, it was a way to give the finger to the high school administration. Like at that time, there were really strict dress codes, especially for girls. We had to wear skirts, when I was in Grade 10, we were allowed to wear pants, but they had to be pantsuits, which meant the top and the bottom had to match. And the top had to come down below the end of our bum. We tried fighting that and we didn't get very far. So, recycling seemed like kind of a safer topic, but it was definitely, for me, it was just a little bit of wanting to be a rebel and being that gave me pleasure. Now I'm happy to say that over the intervening, whatever 50-some years, I've become a little more focused on not just on the idea of giving the finger to authority, but looking at, you know, what it is we want to change. And, for me, I just echo what both Casandra and Bronte have already said - it's the doing it with other people, you know, you can sit at home and write letters and they might be really helpful. There's lots of value in different kinds of political activism, but that's a pretty lonely way to try to make change. When you get together and organize with other people, you're learning from them. You have that shared thrill when you actually accomplish something. And there's nothing better than that feeling, especially when you are surrounded by other people who have that passion. But it's the learning too, you know, none of us knows everything we need to know. And so when you're part of a group and you're trying to make the world a better place, what could be more joyful than doing it with other people who share that passion with you?
Farrah: I love that all three of you, it's really about community… building that community of safety, building that community that feels welcome and breaking that isolation that we can feel when we're saying “this isn't okay.” And there's others echoing that and saying, let's change it together. Bronte, I want to hear more about High School Too and the work you're doing, because you bring so much passion, energy, and knowledge to this work. It's so inspiring. You created a feminist Instagram account last year when you were in Grade 11 and now you're helping to lead a national High School Too movement. What's inspired your activism and what is so important about the High School Too movement for you?
Bronte: Ever since I was little, I've had a passion for breaking down the patriarchy, and I grew up in a single mom household, and I've lived with my grandma. So I just grew up with a bunch of women in the house, and they're just so inspiring. So I think it's always kind of been drilled into my mind that this is something that I love and I want to be strong and I want to fight against inequality. I called myself a feminist in Grade 6, and I kind of didn't even know what it meant. And my friends didn't know what it meant either. And then in Grade 8, I made like a little speech about feminism and I talked about Emma Watson and Malala Yousafzai and the power of education and women and everything like that. Kids, they looked a bit annoyed. They had no idea why I was so passionate about it, but I made my teacher cry and that was like, kind of the starting point where I was like, wow, this is awesome. Not to make people cry, but yeah, it kind of kick started my passion. And then when I started the account in Grade 11, it originally just started as a feminist account, kind of promoting body positivity and again, gender equality, and also talking about queer representation and minorities as well within the community and just to empower kids within the Niagara region, which I'm a part of. But then as it grew, a lot of gender-based violence was prominent in our community and so many walkouts were happening and a lot of kids were feeling ignored and I just was angry from my own experiences in high school. And as it grew into a community, I learned so many horrible things that these girls and young women and everyone were experiencing. And then that's how it turned into combating sexual violence within my community. And then that's what led to High School Too. And I think High School Too, was just so important because we're told in high school that you can be a part of student council and you can create change within your school and you have a voice and you will be listened to, but that's just not the case. I'm student council president, and I've been trying to push stuff like this for years and I always get turned down because they have excuses or they're too scared. It's too triggering, stuff like that. And we just need to talk about it at least a little bit, or at least give some resources. So something like this, we get to push boundaries and we get to do it from an outside of school aspect, which is helpful. And we get advice from people who have been in this work for so long. And it's also just a safe space where we can promote things that we want, like consent education and we're implementing change and awareness. Which is so amazing and I'm so happy to be a part of it.
Farrah: I'm so happy you're a part of it. I think listening to you is just, it's inspiring. It makes me feel excited about the work again. So thank you for the work that you do. Casandra, you too have been doing incredible work organizing at Toronto Metropolitan University to create a safe space for community healing, specifically for Black survivors. Can you share about that space, how it came to be, and the importance of carving out a space for Black survivors?
Casandra: So my work, when it comes to community organizing around gender based violence, started in high school as well. At my high school, catcalling was, like, a nature in our neighborhood. By other community members, by boys in our school, by grown men, things like that. So we started like a women's group to talk about it at lunch. And I was leading that women's group. But in our women's group, it was mostly racialized women, a lot of Black teenage girls and women talking about this issue of catcalling in our community, right. So, intercommunity violence is something that we felt comfortable talking amongst ourselves, but never comfortable doing things, like, to put in any action behind it. Never comfortable speaking outside of our space because of racism, how they have branded our communities as, like, super predators, things like that. So with We Heal Together, I wanted it to be like a space where we could talk about how sexual violence affects us intercommunity-wise, how it affects how we view our bodies, how it affects how we view sex, how violence towards Black people comes with a past history that is very insidious and adds another layer to our experiences. I was just hearing the same stories about, like, you know, this is something that has been generational for us. Like my grandmother, my mother, and I know it's been like a shame that I carried in my family as well. So, um, having that space for queer people, for men, women, whoever to talk about sexual violence, was important to me. So, yeah, it's just a nice community space where we could explore different healing methods, where we could have those intercommunity conversations, and also support each other to make change in our community, to educate our community about how colonialism has affected how we interact with each other sexually, and to be okay with saying, like, “I'm experiencing sexual violence in my community,” and you deserve to feel safe in your community.
Farrah: I love the work of We Heal Together in the way that every time that there's programming, you see just so many people come to it from different places, naming that they've never seen something like this and never heard something like this. It keeps affirming and confirming that space. Pam, people may not know this, but you also have been organizing a very long time, including some direct action - something that you're passionate about and have lots of experience in. The sit-in you led when you were a student at Queens is just one example. Can you tell a little bit about the sit-in and then how that organizing has changed and shifted over time?
Pam: I can, but I'm going to go back a few years before that, because when I was 18, I got pregnant and had my daughter, and I realized really quickly that I wasn't ready to be a woman who stayed at home with her kids. I wanted to continue my education, but there was no daycare that was available. So, after I failed in my high school attempt to get a recycling program, my activism, you know, a few years later, once I was a young mom, moved in the gender justice field. Although I certainly didn't call it that at that time, uh, activism to get a daycare center, and organized a different kind of sit in. I organized a sit-in with some other moms in which we deposited our babies, safely latched into their car seats, in the office of the president of the student government, because the student government wasn't taking this issue on as an important one. And guess what? The president of the student government was a man, a young man who probably had never thought about babies or children. And so my daughter participated in her first sit in when she was about 4 months old. We were successful. It didn't take very long of babies crying before we got the support of the student government. But, one of the reasons that sit-in is so meaningful to me is that my daughter, who was then a teenager, was part of that sit-in with me. So we went from sitting in when she was a three month old baby at one university to sitting in when she was a young woman at another university. The sit-in at Queens came about after a campaign using the then-slogan of No Means No with respect to sexual violence was responded to by some male students at the university with a counter-campaign, in which they put giant posters in their residence windows facing out onto the streets that said things like No Means Give It To Me Harder… No Means Get Down On Your Knees. And obviously, feminists on campus, students, staff, and faculty, as well as the community sexual assault center, rose up to say, “This is not okay. The university has to respond to this.” And it was not doing that. There was no kind of disciplinary action taken against those students. In fact, this all happened about a week before Queens’ infamous homecoming weekend, at which time, a bunch of male alumni men in their forties, fifties, and sixties, you know, came back to celebrate their glorious time at Queens, and brought cases of beer for these students basically saying, you know, “Don't feel bad that these women are giving you such a hard time. We're with you guys, keep it up.” So we had tried a number of things on campus, our own counter-poster campaign, some teaching kind of sessions. So, you know, just public events where we spoke about the issue of sexual violence. We did some leafletting. We wrote letters to the student paper, letters to the city paper. And nothing was working. And we decided that the only option was to really take this to the top. The principal of the university had declined to meet with us. This is where luck comes into organizing, and our luck was that one of the women in our group, and it was a very loose group, had a meeting scheduled with the principal because he wanted to congratulate her for a big award she was getting. So she said, we're all just going to go in, like, we're not going to tell him, I'm going to keep that appointment. But when he thinks he's going to meet with me, 20 of us are going to come into his office. And that's exactly what we did. And we just said to him, “You can stay, you can leave. We're staying.” He chose to leave. We stayed in that space for, I think it was probably about 48 hours. We had a list of demands. Luckily, the principal had a private bathroom in his office. That was another little piece of luck that we didn't know anything about. But I'm going to tell you one of the hardest things about that sit-in. The university figured out really fast, the best way to kind of diffuse us was to be really nice to us. So they offered a walk home service for any woman who wanted to leave the sit-in during the night. And they kept asking us if they could bring us meals. So we had to find a way to respond to that niceness without looking like assholes. Also letting them help us. Right? Because we didn't care about having some food or getting walked home. What we wanted was a conversation about women's safety on campus and about the need for the university to make it clear that the behavior of these male students was unacceptable. We were successful in raising the issue to a higher level. We got national attention paid to the issue. The university made some promises. It was only a very short time, maybe two to three weeks after that sit-in, that Marc Lépine shot and killed the women at École Polytechnique. And so, the country’s focus on violence against women and the university's focus shifted dramatically at that point. And what had happened at Queens suddenly looked like something pretty small in comparison to what had happened in Montreal. And so it disrupted the dialogue that we were trying to create at the university.
Farrah: I just caught in my head that those things happen within the same timeframe. I didn't even think of that.
Pam: They did. And interestingly enough, the night of December 6th, I started getting media phone calls at my house, and one of the calls came from an American journalist. I answered the phone. And, you know, I'm already pretty distressed that this thing has happened at the university of Montreal. And this reporter says, you know, I'm, so-and-so from such-and-such. And I actually don't remember what media outlet they were from. And the first and only question that they asked was, “Do you think you're responsible for Marc Lépine, by what you did at your university?” That is a true question that was asked of me. At least I had the smarts to hang up. So the two events are, not only are they close together temporally for me, but I can never think of one without thinking of the other.
Farrah: The sheer audacity
Pam: And ignorance
Farrah: And callousness. Yeah.
Pam: Yes. Women speaking out to be safe on their campus are the cause of a man who entered a classroom and shot women to death. I mean, it’s not worth the dignity of a response.
Farrah: And that's just one example of the ways in which our organizing gets so much backlash, and a great way to deal with it sometimes is, yeah, hang up the phone, shut down the social media for a moment. Take a breath. Casandra, what kind of backlash have you faced in the organizing that you've done, and how have you dealt with it? Or seen people deal with it that you're like, “Yeah, that's a good tool.”
Casandra: For me, I get backlash. Two types of backlash. The first will be backlash from people that don't understand the need to focus on Black community when it comes to organizing around gender-based violence and sexual violence, like, they’ll be like, “Oh, you know, we face that too.” Or like, “You could be included in other spaces,” which, you know, sometimes it can be true, but there needs to be a closed space for us to talk very openly about what we're going through. And it is a shared pain, through a lot of the shared experiences we have. So there's that backlash and then there's backlash that's intercommunity backlash, and that's something I've been faced with my whole life. I've been told I am rude… distracting a larger issue. Like I know, like, a lot of people know when Black women want to organize around gender based violence, there's like, “You're exposing our community and you're making our community vulnerable to white violence than we already are.” So there's that backlash. And I don't think it's fair because Black women, Black queer people, Black trans people, we’re allowed to be like, “This is an intercommunity issue that's happening.” And we need to focus on it without it being like, “Oh you're opening us up to white supremacy.” So there's that backlash. And I try to go about it by, like, educating at times. Other times, I'm like not gonna lie, I just don't have the patience. It's a certain type of violence when you're being told to shut up and wait to talk about what's going on with you. And I feel like I'm always waiting to talk about the specific issue that I'm facing in both communities, whether it's in feminist spaces or in just Black organizing spaces. And it leaves me feeling really depleted because this is supposed to be like community for me, right? Where I could bring forth these hard issues that we’re facing, like Black women face a lot of sexual violence and gender based violence in our communities. And it's something that I've been seeing as a child. And there's just a backlash of, like, exposing our men or, you know, or exposing the harsh realities that we have faced due to colonialism due to social, economic issues, whatever. So that's something that I'm always facing online and in my family, in organizing spaces, it doesn't matter where… If I say something is happening to me, I feel like there's just, there's a need to tell me to shut up. Yeah.
Farrah: Bronte. What are the ways that you see backlash and how do you take care of yourself in that?
Bronte: Yeah, I guess since I'm starting off in this kind of work, I haven't received a significant amount of really bad backlash, it's more so just getting ignored, or just redirecting or hiding things that I'm trying to implement in between other things. I have been told though, like that this isn't going to do anything or I have been told by adults like, “Oh, good luck with that.” Like, “You're trying to implement consent education or change a sex ed curriculum in a Catholic school? Good luck with that.” And I think people still look down on me as just a young kid, and I don't exactly know how to deal with that. It is a bit de-habilitating, just because I've been told no so many times. Yeah, I just keep trying. I think I have… a bit of a reputation of being a little bit annoying because I'm so passionate about it, but, I guess you have to be annoying in order for people to listen to you.
Farrah: I love when you said the annoying part, because both Pam and Casandra are like, “Yes. Be annoying.”
Casandra: I’ve been told I’m annoying.
Farrah: Pam, do you want to add to that annoyingness?
Pam: Well, I was just going to add that when you're dealing with backlash, that's when it's really great… that you're part of something that's bigger than you, right. It can feel really scary when you get a tweet that says something really vile or violent, especially sexually violent about you. Or if I go back to before the time of social media, there was a time when my photograph, without my knowledge, was posted on a father's rights website. And it said, “fucking Nazi bitch to look out for” or something. That was really terrifying to me because I'm thinking, where did that photo come from? Every time I'm on the subway, is there somebody who’s seen that picture and now they're seeing me? But then when I would take myself back to, wait, I'm part of a movement of women doing this work. You feel less scared because you remember you're not actually alone.
Casandra: I agree with that. I feel like community has always been like a protective space where I could cry, where I can express my fears and be vulnerable and be soft and held. So I appreciate that too. When you are feeling that backlash.
Pam: And not judged. Right. You can say to this other person, “Okay, maybe this wouldn't scare you, but it scared me. So can you come to this next event with me? Or can you just sit with me for a few minutes?”
Farrah: So that piece of being able to be soft, to be vulnerable, to be able to share is so important when we have community. And that's why activism always is so much better in community than in isolation.
One of my big hopes for this podcast series is multigenerational learning. Before the show, we asked each of you to prepare questions for each other. Bronte, here's your question for Pam and Casandra.
Bronte: How do you approach organization leaders and government members with these issues? How do you make them listen?
Pam: The first thing I want to do is make sure I'm clear about what my goal is. So, do I want this politician or whoever it is to take some action as a result of what I have to say, or am I just trying to disrupt? The baby sit-in was a disrupt, right? Like, “You guys aren't going to take us seriously that we need somewhere to put our babies, then hang out with them for a little while.” But if, if your goal is, let's say, to speak to a parliamentary committee or to go and meet with the president of the university or a politician, then I think you want to make sure that you're ready to engage more, as opposed to disrupt. So you gotta know your stuff, you gotta be ready for all kinds of questions so that you're not either babbling away about something you don't actually know about. You have to be prepared to say, “I don't know much about that, I can go away and get that information for you.” But equally as much, you need to know the person you're talking to. What is it that's going to compel this person to hear what you have to say? Do they have a personal connection to the issue? Is it an election issue that can make a difference in terms of whether they get voted back into their position? And so on. So it takes a lot of research before you decide on how you're going to try to engage that. And you need to be clear throughout about what your ultimate goal is.
Farrah: And Casandra?
Casandra: The only thing I would add is, I'm always trying to know people in the institution who can help get in there, because I like to infiltrate the institution. Because you'll find allies in these spaces - you might feel like you're alone navigating this issue, but there's people in the institution who also want to back you up. They might not be able to do it as outspokenly as you can, but they will be there to provide some support for you, help you get in the room, could provide some insight on what you need to look for. If you're going to try to make institutional change, they will be the ones that can help you with that. So always try to look for an ally in the institution.
Pam: That's such an important point.
Bronte: I'm taking mental notes right now, yeah.
Farrah: I think the last thing sometimes too, is that sometimes you have to make a spectacle of things. If you don't think that that person will be on your side. I know the work that, in Niagara, that the students have been doing, I was so amazed by not only the ways in which you did the walkouts, but the massive amount of students that came out. You had a nation looking at that, like everybody across the country was looking at those protests. So you already kind of know how to get people's attention.
Bronte: Yeah, it's a learning process, I think I'm getting better at it. Hopefully. And I have a lovely team helping me in Niagara, and I've even met some wonderful journalists within our area who are passionate about it and they'll keep writing about it, in the weeks afterwards, after we did protests and it's so amazing to see.
Pam: Bronte, I'm really glad you brought up that piece about the media because they can be our allies, and they can be an important part of how we organize our communication with the people in power who are the ones who ultimately may be able to change things or not change things. So cultivating relationships with sympathetic, intelligent, journalists, I think is a critical part of community organizing too.
Farrah: Pam, here’s your question for Bronte and Casandra.
Pam: I've been an activist for more than 50 years. It's easy to get stuck on one way of doing this work. From your perspective as young activists, what is the most important thing you would like those of us who are older activists to learn from you? What is one thing you think you do better and different from the way activist organizing was being done 20 or 30 years ago?
Bronte: I think one huge thing, which a lot of people do now anyways, is again, just listening to young voices. Because you are fighting for yourselves and right now, but you're also fighting for my future and our future. So it's really important to just get our point of view on how things are happening, what's going on in our communities right now, because things have changed, they obviously have developed, but just not enough…. different perspectives, just finding a big range, not just different age groups, but also different cultures, different backgrounds, sexual orientation, just finding a bunch of different representatives of each group in this issue and kind of cultivating a one way to combat it.
Casandra: I agree. I think having multi-generational conversations is very important because we can learn from the people who have been doing this work before. They can tell you some things that might have worked and things that didn't work, and we can also provide the space to include others in these conversations and these movements. I do notice that people in the past, maybe, because they were fighting so hard, which we are doing now, but there wasn't enough space to be soft and vulnerable. I feel like at times, when I'm reading like Audre Lorde or other people, I notice there was a burnout that we weren't calling each other in for. So that's something I want to include more, how can we protect ourselves? How can we live long, long lives while also doing this hard work? How do we make sure that it is beneficial to the future? That it could sustain generations? Because I don't want us to burnout or glamorize the burnout of this hard work. So that's one thing I would like to bring to the people who have done this work before, that it's okay to rest. Even as a younger activist, or middle-young, I'm looking to provide more softness and vulnerability and care in this work.
Bronte: I completely agree with that. I think it's good to understand that when we're talking about these issues, especially something like sexual assault, we do need support because again, it's so so taxing, so tiring and I think it really discourages people my age fight for topics like these. And I think that's why I found it a bit hard to find kids to help me with this. And if we kind of show people that fighting for what you believe in isn't as extreme or as tiring, as hard as it has been in the past, because it had to be hard because it was new. I think we could encourage more people to get involved.
Pam: I think Bronte, what you said is really interesting and it reminds me of a conversation I had with my stepdaughter when she was about 15… our house was a hub of activism and she was very uninterested in any of that. And I was trying to talk to her about it one day and she looked at me and she said, “I don't want to be angry all the time like you are.” It really kind of sent me back on my heels because I didn't see myself as angry all the time, but I could see how she saw me as that, right. It was an eye-opening moment to have this younger person identify me as something that I didn't think I was. And I changed a little bit about how I presented my emotion, I guess I would say, I mean, I have a core of anger burning in me. I think all of us do. Some days, it's the only thing that gets me out of bed, right? Because things are gloomy and they’re gloomier and it's, it's anger or rage. That's like, okay, I'm going to fight back against this, but it's not always something that attracts other people to want to do the work with us, right? Because anger is seen as a negative emotion. It's seen as tiring… she wasn't saying it to try to be helpful to me, but it was very helpful.
Farrah: I think it's that piece when you do organizing that there's this kind of different sides people take on it. So I know for myself, a lot of the art and posters and imagery that I use in my work, the humor I try to bring to it kind of turns people off. Sometimes I've gotten, in feedback sessions when I've done workshops, people being like “Farrah’s too happy when she's talking about sexual assault. Farrah brings too many weird gifs into things.” But for me, it's a way to ground myself, that we can still find joy in it, that I enter this work with the hope that violence will end, that there can be joy. And there has to be joy in activism because if I'm going to do this every day, there's gotta be joy or I can't do it every day. So I really, really appreciate Bronte and Casandra raising that as something that we need to do better at, as people that have been doing it for longer periods of time. And that we shouldn't take away the joy, and it actually may stop people from being a part of organizing. So what are things that you do on your daily that brings that joy into the work for you?
Casandra: This might sound weird, but I find joy in crying sometimes. It's a joyful experience for me, because I don't like to stifle my emotions anymore. Through my community organizing I learned to be, like, vulnerable with my community and I learned to cry more. So I find joy in crying it out. I also find joy in collecting information from my mother and my aunts. Because they've been doing, like, community organizing. They don't see it that way, but they've been doing community organizing around gender based violence in our communities, how they show up for their communities who are experiencing domestic violence, sexual violence, things like that. So I try to collect those stories more. I write about it, do poetry, collage, things like that, and most importantly, sometimes I know when to just take a step back. I really do think it's important that activists take care of themselves through this work. Seeing my mom, who's been doing this work for so long, she's burnt out and she's still young in her fifties. So I do want to see how I can bring joy to this work, like Farrah said. With my community, we like to laugh about things. People always say like Black people laugh through their trauma. Is that good or is that bad? I don't know. But sometimes we do; we like to bring jokes into some of these heavy conversations.
Bronte: One really specific thing that I love to do, that's very related to this topic, like of feminism, is listen to feminist punk rock. And I love finding, like, new bands, like I found this new band called the Menstrual Cramps and then obviously there's like Bikini Kill and amazing feminist activists. And I just share it with my little Project Breakaway Instagram, like, group chat. And we just talk about music and like, talk about the meaning. And I also, again, I love reading about, I love reading Jane Austin and the Bronte sisters. That's who I'm named after. And hearing my mom's recommendations for books that kind of talk about female empowerment and taking a step back. I've learned recently that I really need to take a step back and focus on my mental health - again, sexual assault is such a serious topic and it does get pretty dark and you can't always joke your way through it. And I think sometimes it's, take a step back, realize that maybe I just can't do my homework today. Maybe I won't work on the post for this Instagram account. I just can't do it. And I go and enjoy and do something else, like walk my dog, talk to my mom and my grandma, so those are fun things that I like to do.
Farrah: Pam, what's your joy?
Pam: Well, I'm a pretty happy person at my core. I'm an optimist. I deeply believe, like you said, Farrah, and I think Casandra, you also said this, that change is possible. I mean, if I didn't believe that I wouldn't keep doing this, I could have an easier job, doing something different. So that's where I start from every day. Even if I'm angry about something I'm starting from that core of optimistic belief. One of the things that over the many decades has bugged me the most, it's pretty superficial, but feminists have this reputation among anti-feminists that we don't have a sense of humor. And when I think of how much I laugh and how much my colleagues laugh, it's just so obviously not true. And yet it continues to be there as a theme. So there's almost always something to laugh about, even if, as all of you have said, the work itself or the subject matter of the work itself is really serious. And I love to bring people together, whether it's for organizing or not. And food is always the center of that for me. I love to cook and unless I have a complete disaster in the kitchen, which fortunately doesn't happen that often, I'm always happier by the time I finish my cooking, than I am when I start.
Farrah: At Possibility Seeds, our work is built on dreaming new visions of gender justice into existence. What possibilities are you currently dreaming of?
Pam: That's a big question Farrah.
Farrah: I know… you know what my dream is? I can start us off. My dream is that I don't feel like I have to do everything. Like when I see an issue I'm like, “Oh, I should probably do something about that.” Or I should organize something about that. So my possibility that I'm dreaming of is more rest and more nourishing younger people or activists that are doing the work and being like, how can I support you to do organizing around this issue that I don't have the capacity for, but how can I support you? So I'm trying to think about more ways of that. So it doesn't feel that pressure it sometimes to hold the, the weight and the stories and the hardships that are happening, that I can also just say, okay, it's not about me, which it isn't, there's lots of people, but also I'm just dreaming into existence, actually like, sleeping more, sleeping, more, resting more. Casandra, what's something that you're dreaming into existence right now?
Casandra: I'm dreaming of two things: to feel embodiment and safety in my body. I carry a lot of, like, fears in my body, just because of the way I navigate society. So everyday I try to, like, take up more space with my body. Going on the TTC, just listening to music, things like that. I wanna open up my own health center for the Black community, hopefully in Scarborough. And I've been manifesting it for a while because I really believe that there's a gap in service for us. People who live in Scarborough, Black folks, racialized folks, so I hope I can open up a wellness center, mental health supports, addiction supports, sexual violence work, everything.
Farrah: I'm putting all the good energy around that happening. ‘Cause Scarborough definitely needs that. Bronte, what about you?
Bronte: Oh wow, yeah recently I've been asked a lot about what I dream of the future since I'm 18 and I'm going into adult life and stuff. So I think one thing that I kind of want to manifest into the world is some sort of way that schools and students in schools can have an opportunity to connect with organizations outside of their school boards, such as sexual assault and wellness centers, mental health associations, and stuff like that, to have connections outside of the school and to actually have an opportunity to discuss important topics with these organizations or even with the government, just have a way to promote their ideas and kind of grow student leadership into something that is bigger and that is actually changing the way we want our schools to look like. Just because that's what I’ve been doing my whole life, is school. I haven't seen a lot of change. And then I guess for my own little future, I just want to learn how to accept that things won't change right away and that, obviously, this is years in the making. And along with many other kids my age, we are very headstrong, but we need to know that this is a slow process and it requires a lot of attention, but it also requires a lot of rest, like you guys have been talking about, and really patience. So I think I kind of just want to develop more patience as I'm older. Yeah. That's a huge thing for me.
Pam: You know, I'm in my mid to late sixties, I've got many years ahead of me yet to go, but I’m in the latter part of my life, as people say. And I think when I started doing this activism, when I was 17, 18, 19, I really did think that in my lifetime, everything would get fixed. And so maybe my dream is to have the patience to realize that I'm going to leave this planet and the work is going to continue, but it's not like I'm going to get to see it come to its complete fruition. I think that will be hard. I'll probably be, like, kicking and screaming until the last minute that I've got one more, you know, media release to get out, or one more demonstration to go to. I don't know.
Farrah: I love that the three things that were raised are really around building more community spaces, healing, and the knowledge that this needs patience, this work, and that it may not be done in our lifetimes, but we can hope that we're planting those seeds of change.
Thanks so much to our guests for joining us today. And thank you for listening. We hope that what we talked about today will inspire you to plant seeds of change in your own communities. Visit us at possibilityseeds.ca and follow us on social media @PossibilitySeeds. Stay tuned for our next episode.