Last night’s town hall meeting was an auspicious birth ceremony for the week-old Department of Culture. Speaker Naomi Klein termed it a “movement moment” and member Darren O’Donnell could only say “Holy fuck!” to the attendance, as more than triple the expected number of people crowded into the AC-less Theatre Centre. Leaflets were used by every member of the crowd to cool themselves while community leaders stirred existing anger at the Harper government. “You don’t need to stoke the fires; the fires are already stoked, we are all hot,” punned Claire Hopkinson of the Toronto Arts Council.
The agenda for the evening was not just about expressing anger. “I want to make it clear that this is an organizing meeting,” said Department member Izida Zorde. The first speaker, Susan Swan (former President of The Writers Union of Canada), read her letter addressed to “Dear Prime Minister Harper” aloud. It began with her personal frustration at being routinely ignored by the P.M. and moved on to her pledge “to start a campaign to vote you out of office!”
In the same way, the meeting moved more into the political realm as the evening progressed. The possibility of an election was not so much looming, but rather was directly invited; the explicit agenda was that every effort should be made to oust Harper and the Conservative government, and the Department of Culture proposed “Swing Teams” to “intervene directly in local elections.” This sounds almost scary, we know, but keep in mind that these are artists, even if Naomi Klein’s husband was deemed a “general radical” by the Tories. The Department’s “Gone in 30 Seconds” project does not involve any political abductions or Nicolas Cage stealing half a car—it’s a call for artists to submit 30-second spots to respond to the funding cuts. You know, the kind of stuff that artists do.
But make no mistake, the Department of Culture is serious about political activism. All in attendance had had their fill of the Harper government. The Department’s agenda stems beyond fighting funding cuts, beyond Zorde’s call “to criticize media, political parties, and the government,” straight to, as Naomi Klein said, “beat[ing] the Tories in this election!”
As the overpacked crowd members squeezed their way back onto the street, the cool night air was not the only source of palpable relief. Attendees cautioned that the other political parties did not offer solutions, but almost everyone seemed to agree that they would at least be less openly-hostile opponents. A general meeting is scheduled for Saturday at 10 a.m. (location to be announced), so expect to hear a fair bit more out of this newborn.
Photo by designwallah from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.