- Paperback ISBN: 9781552665206
- Paperback Price: $24.95 CAD
- Publication Date: Aug 2012
- Rights: World
- Pages: 224
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Resisting the State
Canadian History Through the Stories of Activists
The freedoms and liberties that every community, workplace and individual in Canada enjoys are due to the many struggles and social movements in our country’s history. Yet the stories, accounts and histories of the movements to overcome racism, sexism and poverty, for example, remain largely untold, thanks to the single, simplistic national story taught to the masses in school. Deftly combining history with accounts from activists and participants in social movements, two new books from Scott Neigh introduce us to the untold histories of two crucial issues in contemporary Canadian society that challenge all of us to engage in the struggles that will shape our shared tomorrow.
In Resisting the State, Neigh draws attention to the broad range of struggles against the Canadian state, detailing the histories of these movements and providing readers with a richer understanding of the Canadian state and why so many people — including military draftees, welfare recipients, workers, Indigenous people, psychiatric survivors, immigrants and refugees — have struggled against the Canadian state and continue to do so.
”This work is a treasure that provides a portal to Canadian history, bringing it alive and urgent through the voices and profound insights of veteran social justice activists, an indispensable guide for present and future generations to carry on these struggles.”
— Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, veteran activist and author
”Never doubt that a few committed people can change Canada (and the world) for the better. Scott Neigh’s oral histories show not only the power of committed idealism, but also how the history of our whole country has been shaped in large part by brave Canadians who refuse to accept the misery and injustice that surrounds us. Read these books to learn how the history of social change organizing is indeed the history of Canada — and then go out and start making your own history.”
— Jim Stanford, union economist and peace activist
Foreword: Encounters with a Radical History from Below (Gary Kinsman) • Introduction • Unlikely Rebels — Isabel & Frank Showler on Pacifism During the Second World War • Canada on Trial — Charles Roach on Place and the Law • Urban Colonization and Resistance — Roger Obonsawin & Kathy Mallett on Building Space for Indigeneity in Canadian Cities • “I Call It Surviving” — Lynn Jones on Fighting Racism in the Community and in the Labour Movement • (Un)labelled, (Un)controlled — Don Weitz on the Anti-psychiatry Movement in Toronto • Against Poverty — Josephine Grey on Poor People’s Struggles for Human Rights • Conclusion • References • Index
About the AuthorSCOTT NEIGH is a professional writer, researcher and media producer.
History is often described as being written by the victors; a single story in which voices of struggle and resistance are often lost. Scott Neigh’s pair of books, Resisting the State and Gender and Sexuality, work to counteract this dominant account of history, recording “Canadian history from below through the words of long-time activists.” Neigh’s books tell the history of opposition, oppression and struggle. These are the voices of the people that resisted settlement, resisted residential schools, resisted war, resisted the dominant paradigm of racism, sexism, ableism and heteronormativity.
Each chapter in the books contains the story of a particular activist, told in their own words through interviews conducted with the author. These personal stories are prefaced with thoroughly researched commentaries by Neigh, taking the very specific story of one person and giving it a context within centuries of world history. For instance, the preface to an interview with Lynn Jones, a Black woman who fought for power and respect within the labour movement, contains a history of the African Nova Scotian community going back to 1605, explaining the impact of the slave trade, the destruction of Africville, and the legal struggles of Viola Desmond.
More importantly, Neigh weaves the chapters together, showing the connections between the fights for Indigenous sovereignty, against domestic violence, for immigration reform, for LGBT rights, and against the psychiatry movement. As 2013 kicked off with the rise of Idle No More, the words of Josephine Grey, founder of Low Income Families Together (LIFT), resound: “I may never see another success for as long as I live, but I made a promise... If the seeds that I plant today sprout in six hundred years, I don’t care, I’m going to do it anyway. I’m just going to keep going.”- Michelle Schwartz for Shameless, Issue 23
What is the value of dissent and resistance in Canadian history? In Resisting the State, Scott Neigh answers this question by suggesting that the history of activism and social movements can provide an alternative to conventional history that lionizes consent and consensus. Along with a companion book on gender and sexuality, the book offers stories of resistance constructed from the viewpoint of activists. Neigh suggests that these stories speak about Canadian history with dissenting voices – viewpoints not represented in Heritage Minutes and government-published citizenship guides. He asks how history might be read if approached form the standpoint of the oppressed and powerless. While these questions will not be new to historians of the left, Neigh makes a valuable contribution by revealing aspects of the social history of Canadian activism and social movements that are personal and, at times, extremely moving.
Neigh’s work is striking because it shows the deep personal connections between activists and their causes. The book is based upon oral-history interviews that Neigh conducted with fifty people drawn from a diverse group of long-time social activists. Each chapter explores the experiences of key individuals in social movements. These include anti-war pacifism, anti-racist and anti-colonialist movements, community and labour organizing, the anti-psychiatry movement, and anti-poverty human rights struggles. From this diverse list, Neigh makes interesting choices that will offer new insights to scholars in multiple fields. For example, Chapter 3 details indigenous resistance in Toronto and Winnipeg in the 1970s and 1980s, revealing a dimension of urban anti-colonial activism that is seldom considered alongside the history of government-Aboriginal relations in the twentieth century. Another fascinating chapter explores the anti-psychiatry movement in Toronto in the 1970s. This is interesting not only for what it uncovers about the sometimes mutually oppressive powers of medical science and the state, but also because resistance to psychiatry was a movement that dissipated and fractured after a decade of struggle. There are lessons here, and possibly lingering questions too. The harrowing experiences of the interview subjects incarcerated and treated against their will explains the rise of the anti-psychiatry movement and the need to investigate how the state is complicit in the abuses of medical power. We might also question why the movement faded and what this might say about how medicine, or any other professional or juridical power can supplant resistance and attain uncontested (or unearned) legitimacy.
My criticisms of the book are minor and relate to intent and scope. The book does not necessarily deliver what Neigh intends in the way of an alternative Canadian history. In reaching for this goal, however, Neigh is correct that Canadian history should include voices of dissent in moments other than the Riel Rebellion, Winnipeg in 1919 or Québec in 1970. The interviews he draws on reveal a more continuous social history of activism than those flashpoints illustrate alone. And although the book may overreach on its stated goal, it is perhaps too subtle about what it accomplishes on questions of resistance and the scope of individual struggle. Neigh focuses on how particular activists relate to the state, suggesting that these stories are materially connected through this common touchstone of power, oppression, and even banal bureaucracy. But as many of his subjects and Neigh himself argue throughout the book, there are other material connections at play that were also targets of resistance in the form of capitalism, racism, and gender inequality. This is the history of resistance to something more than the state, a struggle for equality that reaches for something greater than what the state can possibly deliver.
The book is successful at demonstrating the value of resistance not just as a social relationship or an element of Canadian history, but a something that shapes an individual life. Neigh’s work details the deeply personal reasons that people are drawn to activism and social protest. The interviews at the heart of this book personalize activism, and in the larger sense, the national history that envelops (and sometimes overcomes) activists. Neigh recovers these voices – and this is in itself a valuable activist project – and turns them to the larger task of speaking to Canadian history. In the process, the book also provides a varied vocabulary for how we talk about activism and whit it means to be politicized. At times Neigh is self-conscious about the differences between his connection to activism compared to the role that struggle played in the lives of his subjects. Lynn Jones of Nova Scotia distilled this divide while reflecting on a lifetime of anti-racist organizing in Nova Scotia: ‘you call it activism; I call it surviving’ (107). Ultimately Neigh brings each set of interviews around to answering a bigger question – why people struggle as they do. The different answers emphasize the value of the activist history in Resisting the State. – reviewed for Socialist Studies (Volume 9(1),Spring 2013) by Ted McCoy, University of Calgary
There are many ways to examine the past.
In his latest collection of work, Scott Neigh looks at history from the eyes of an activist.
The Sudburian has been part of his fair share of social movements, but has more recently taken to documenting some of the biggest fights from modern history.
Using conversations with activists as his primary source of data, he tells the stories the way they say them.
”A very broad and diverse group” of people from across the country shared their stories of what it was like to live through various historical accounts. Many of the people he spoke to were seniors, who actually experienced what is now considered history.
”We tend not to hear how important their struggles were,” Neigh said. “It shaped our Canada of today.”
Not only does the writer recount what happened, he makes a point to write about how historic lessons can be applied today.
”I’m hoping they can be a useful resource to spark conversations about thinking differently about history and thinking differently about Canada,” he said.
”There are two broad groups of people who will be interested in this book–people interested in history...and people who are involved somehow in social change work.”
So far, he has published two books from the lens of activism. Resisting the Stateand Gender and Sexuality tackle different elements of his research.
Audio clips from interviews, and other related material, can be found at www.talkgingradical.ca.–by Jenny Jelen for NorthernLife.ca