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Feminists fighting with love and rage

Human RightsFeminism

In October 2008, under the theme of Toujours RebELLES–Waves of Resistance, 500 young feminists, aged fourteen to thirty-five, from all regions of Canada and Québec gathered in Montreal. What motivated a group of young Québec feminists to invest incommensurable energy and political courage in this adventure and organize what became the RebELLEs Movement? At the root of our feminist fever to organize collectively was the conviction that the Canadian feminist movement was greatly weakened by years of attacks and cutbacks and needed new energy, fresh ideas and, mostly, was in dire need of the activist commitment of thousands of young feminists to fight the rise of the right that pervades the state and our minds, and to organize to defend womyn’s rights for the coming years and decades.

“Toujours RebELLES”: The 2008 Gathering

By opening a brand new space, the 2008 RebELLEs Gathering broke new ground, allowing young feminists from all corners of Canada to meet, discuss our realities, our feminist and personal victories, our struggles, our fierce transformative anger and our feminist spirit. The atmosphere at the gathering was, at times, charged and electric, at other moments, more introspective.

One central aspect of the gathering was the quick transition from analysis to action. After having analyzed and discussed specific issues in one of the thirty workshops offered, participants collectively organized an action with the other participants of their workshop. Twenty creative resistance actions took place the same afternoon in the streets of Montréal. Actions included everything from radical cheer-leading, to feminist batucadas in the middle of the streets, to theatre of the oppressed inspired pieces in the metro, interactive banners denouncing womyn’s poverty … and much more.

Another central objective of the gathering was to share and deepen our analysis on the current rise of the right-wing fundamentalist ideology and policy, in order to develop strategies to fight back. It was mostly through the discussions, debates and finally the adoption of the RebELLEs Manifesto that we materialized this goal. The Manifesto acts as our political platform and basis of unity, supporting identification with the movement and the very organization of our struggles.

Beyond Networking

The RebELLEs movement mobilizes and brings together young feminists from all over Canada, in a way that builds on the plurality of our ages, backgrounds, cultural identities, contexts of life, political trends and analyses. It serves as an entry point into feminism or activism and gives everyone a space to experiment on many levels, make mistakes and organize with feminist sisters. It is an extremely creative movement in the way that we organize and overcome major obstacles. We create alternative anti-hierarchical practices, democratic processes of organization and of pan Canadian coordination.

On International Women’s Day, March 8th, 2009, the first pan Canadian day of decentralized action of the RebELLEs movement took place under the theme Resist. Make waves. Ditch the Right. Young feminists from all over organized over twenty-five actions to denounce the rise of the right-wing policies, idea and attacks on womyn.

One month later, we put the strength to test. The Montreal radical feminist collective La Riposte sent a call out to the RebELLEs movement to organize actions denouncing the anti-choice (pro-life) march that was to be held on May 14 in Ottawa. This call was sent out less than a week before the event and still, RebELLEs answered with demonstrations in Winnipeg and Toronto, and actions in Halifax, Antigonish and Whitehorse, on top of the RebELLEs participation in the Montréal protest.

In 2010, our movement focused on two priorities: the World March of Women and the anticapitalist, anticolonialist and antipatriarchy fight against the G8-G20 meetings in Ontario. Several RebELLEs participated in the anti-G20 mobilizations in last June. We produced a feminist analysis of the G20 and Harper’s Maternal Health Initiative. Moreover, many of us either contributed to or spearheaded the organization of demonstrations to denounce the unprecedented political repression that took place in Toronto. We joined our voice to the popular outrage demanding the immediate release of all political prisoners, and denouncing the sexist and homophobic aspects of assaults in what is now referred to as “Torontonamo”. We denounced the abuse, assault and breach of human rights that took place in the streets and jails of Toronto, and foremost the sexual, sexist and homophobic assault of young womyn turned prisoners at the hands of the police.

(Re)-Building our Feminist Balance of Power in Right-Wing Canada

The RebELLEs movement is growing and is here to stay. We humbly believe that we are on the road to building a truly diverse movement, based on the understanding of the intersectionality of oppressions experienced by womyn and the necessity to root our antipatriarchal struggle in a larger fight against all systems of oppression, whether they are capitalism, racism, imperialism or heterosexism. Though always inspired and informed by the struggles and victories–and errors–of our feminist foremothers, the RebELLEs movement is clearing a new path to continue evolving as a part of the historical feminist movement. This way is radical, antihierarchical, anticapitalist, anticolonialist and antipatriarchal; assertive, grassroots, action-oriented, diverse, disruptive, dissident, explosive, welcoming, colourful, celebratory and fun.

We are the RebELLEs movement!

Barbara Legault is coordinator of the PanCanadian Secretariat of the RebELLEs movement based in Montreal.

This article appeared in the November/December 2010 issue of Canadian Dimension (The New Feminism).


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