On December 14th, along with over 30 community members, I had the opportunity to participate in a Walk of Hope and friendships. For the second year in a row, organizers of the event wanted to grow a symbolic garland of lights, streaming together bright landmarks of social justice throughout the city of Peterborough.
Our commitment to tending this garden of solidarity through joy and inspiration was seriously tested. That Saturday was bitterly cold and an hour into the walk, I sincerely wondered whether I was going to make it to St Andrew's United Church, the final destination of our journey. Thankfully, the kindness and contagious spirit of my fellow walkers carried me through. Once I got inside the church and started to sip a warm cup of tea, I felt good I had made it.
In the course of the walk, several of us shared the seeds of hope that feed our spirit and commitment for a better world. Here was my offering...
I am a YWCA Peterborough Haliburton staff member and while my work focuses on food security and social inclusion, the YWCA is an organization which deals, primarily, with the issue of violence against women. This anti-violence work feeds the lens through which I see the world and it is from this vantage point that I offer my first seed of hope.
Forty years ago, when the first Canadian women shelters were created, violence against women was perceived as a private matter between a man and his wife. The issue was hidden from the public sphere and men rarely faced any consequences for violating or abusing their wives. In 1982, when NDP MP Margaret Mitchell tried to raise awareness about this issue in the House of Commons, she was laughed at!
Violence against women is no longer a source of laughter. Yes, more work needs to be done. But in the short period of time since the first seeds of change were planted, we have seen the growth of a solid network of shelters, increasing number of programs for violent men, greater awareness about the issue among police officers and crown attorneys and a strong body of domestic violence legislation.
Through dedicated and creative work, feminists have deprivatized and denormalized violence against women and by doing so, they have shown that significant cultural shifts can take place. This feeds my spirit and provides me with a renewed sense of possibility - the possibility that other forms of violence will be addressed within my lifetime.
My second seed of hope has grown out of my involvement in community food programming. This work has taught me the power of food. When people come together in dignity and around delicious food, magic happens, connections are established and transformation takes place.
This year, I saw this transformation at A Taste of Nourish. By bringing participants together to learn new food skills, engage in advocacy and imagine ways to create an alternative food system, A Taste of Nourish has shown me, once again, that change does happen.
In many ways, these two seeds of hope have crossed pollinated and led to the creation of a new cultivar bred to eliminate poverty and address unequal power relationships through food. I know that this may seem naïve. In fact, I have often been told that eradicating poverty is not possible, regardless of one's approach.
Yet all the major breakthroughs in human rights were first seen as impossible. Think about the abolition of slavery, laws against child labour, the vote for women, decriminalization of same sex relationships... While the initial voices which expressed their outrage at these injustices were vilified and told they would never achieve their goals, they did in the end significantly reshape our social and political landscape.
Seeing the passion and commitment to cultivating an unwavering sense of hope in the eyes of my fellow walkers on Saturday, I know that we can indeed build a more equitable world and food might just be the avenue to do this work.