Thirty years ago today as a 16 year old, my life changed. On October 20 1984 I participated in a massive anti-nuclear weapons march in Toronto. It was an eye opener for me. i met hundreds of people who had come together across the mostly left side of the political spectrum to march for peace. I had never been exposed to social justice and action coalitions before, and became almost overwhelmed by the leaflets and pamphlets that I collected that day on issues like Kurdish independence, sanctions against South Africa, cruise missile testing, Central American civil wars in El Salvador and Nicaragua, native issues such as logging at Temagami and weapons testing in Labrador…the list went on and on. Acronyms from that time seem like distant memories: FMLN, FSLN, IRA, CND, ANC, ACT…
I was involved in peace and social justice issues through my church, St. James-Bond United Church, which had a very active social justice program. Our associate minister, John Lawson (who ran for the Green Party in Kitchener in the last federal election) was really active in challenging us young people nto engage with the world and not accept the standard narrative of upper middle class Toronto; money was everything, social justice and peace were communist-loving sympathies and solidarity was for naive idealists. (Years later, after touring the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg, I felt extremely vindicated for having held on to the principles i cultivated in those days).
On that day, John took some of us downtown to march. Later that day he leant me two books that changed my life: a collection of Franz Kafka’s aphorisms and short stories and the first volume of Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman’s “The Political Economy of Human Rights Vol. 1.” I devoured both of these works. i think the Chomsky book was actually not even legal in Canada at the time.
That day was indelibly marked into my memory as the day in which my love and interest in serious literature and progressive politics emerged. My world opened up, my eyes opened up and almost every part of my life’s work that has been important to me got an acceleration on that fall afternoon with 100,000 other people and one mentor on University Avenue in Toronto.