A School of Activism is our answer to “How do we build a sustainable socially just world?” We are part of a rich history of activism here and abroad. In all sectors of Canadian life (from trade unions to youth, aboriginal people to women, Quebec to Nunavut) there is an abundance of experience, practice and skills in the fight for social justice, deepened democracy, human rights, environmental justice and much more. Toronto also has a particularly rich history of struggle for equality by the women’s, anti-racism, LGBT, and disability rights movements. But despite surges in activism we all-too-often lurch from crisis to crisis. Even when thousands of new activists join social movements, we often see them fall away after a short time due to larger political forces and because there is nothing to hold them, nothing to support them or develop their skills and political vision. Popular education is an approach that sees activist learning as something we do for the “long haul.” We are committed to embracing ourselves and each other as learners who need equally to engage their capacities for critical thinking and their passions for taking effective action. We also understand that as learners we have many different ways we learn and different amounts of time, energy, and other resources to commit to this learning.
- Courses are extended (multiple sessions over time) learning opportunities. Some courses that Catalyst has offered in the past include: If People —an intro to popular economics; Reading the Word, Reading the World—intro to popular education; Creative Action Circles: an aboriginal oral history research praxis; These courses are constantly being updated and revised and will be offered along with new courses including Co-operatives 101. Plans are underway to organize a summer (2012) school of activism popular education intensive.
- Workshops: We offer a variety of workshops in response to interest expressed by communities with whom we work and as circumstances in our troubled world develop. Two core workshops that are offered a couple of times annually are Democratic Facilitation by Design (an introduction to popular education group work and facilitation) and Not Just a Bag o’ Tricks (a sampling of a variety of popular education tools for group work.) Other workshops have included: Intro to Popular Economics; Comeuppance: Storytelling & Social Justice; Murals and drawing in Community Development; Intro to Theatre of the Oppressed
- Conversations and other activities: Like any school, there are things that happen outside of formal learning spaces. Catalyst organizes Catalytic Conversations - free community events that create a space for interested individuals to connect with other practitioners and together learn more about popular education while discussing a particular burning of issue (e.g. what inspired your activism?) From time to time we also welcome guests to share their knowledge with us (e.g. Ron Davis, founder of the San Francisco Mime Troupe lead a session on Making Paper Movies). We host spaces for people to come and be crafty whether that is creating your own ‘zine, working on a piece of writing, or sewing a book. We also host potluck dinners on topics of interest (e.g. the Riverdale Community Development Institute spoke to us about an alternative way of organizing and mobilizing student interns; we hosted a vibrant conversation about consensus building). We use our Facebook group to publicize dates for these kinds of events as well as list them in the calendar on the Catalyst website. We are eager to hear about your ideas of how to support community based learning.