With unending media coverage of “The Rise of the Right,” increasingly divisive politics, and fear-based decision-making at government levels globally, I’ve been needing a reminder that there are also people working towards positive change, towards building bridges, towards challenging discrimination. And I got it! Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend the Broadbent Institute’s Progress Summit in Ottawa, and it was a fantastic, necessary, and challenging kick in the ass for not only me, but also hundreds of other folks in attendance, and upon reflection, a few key points stand out:

  • Tangible change is intersectional and intergenerational: conference organizers understood the importance of inviting a diverse roster of speakers and presenters, and this was reflected in conference attendees as well – dialogue and interaction occurred between people from a variety of different age groups, ethnic and religious backgrounds, etc. Sometimes there can be an inclination to want to stay comfortably within groups of folks who think like us, look like us, talk like us, but true change happens within entire communities, and healthy communities incorporate the experiences and perspectives of all members. A reminder for me to get outside my comfort zone and have conversations with people who might see things from a different point of view, who might come for a different lived experience.
  • People fighting for change are responsible for holding each other accountable: perhaps my favourite moment of the conference was when Diego Cardona, a Vancouver-based advocate for refugee and immigrant youth (himself still a youth) called out conference organizers: “We started this whole conference by having an elder welcome us to unceded and unsurrendered Algonquin territory… and then we proceeded to stand up and sing O Canada. That is a huge paradox to me, and I’m not trying to criticize, but I think we as Canadians who want to see progress need to be asking these questions.” That statement received a standing ovation, the first of many times throughout the conference when presenters and audience members, all on the “left,” would challenge or call each other out respectfully for the sake of dialogue and debate. A reminder for me to remain humble when being called out or challenged, because in the fight for progress, we will all inevitably make mistakes at times, and also a reminder that it’s our responsibility to call each other out on statements, actions, or thoughts that might be oppressive or counter to progress.
  • Youth are at the forefront of driving change: Hamilton activist Sarah Jama put it best when she exclaimed emphatically in a speech, “The issue isn’t that youth are not leaders. The issue is that they are not given the space to prove it.” There was definitely space at the conference for young people to take a lead in the conversations, as folks like Jama, Cardona, Max FineDay of Canadian Roots Exchange, and many others, shared space and dialogue with activists and community organizers of 20 or 30+ years of experience. The coolest part? The old school heads listened. A reminder for me, and for BYTE, that the voices of young people carry with them fresh perspectives, creative ideas, and passionate urgency. We NEED to be listening to our young people.

Feel free to check out some of the highlights from the conference by searching @byteyukon on Twitter and reading the posts hashtagged #prgrs2017.

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