Pushing through Peak Danger

Nora Cole is a Project Manager at Atkinson. She joined the Foundation in February 2018 and landed running. At the start this year, she finally found a few minutes to write her introductory post.

Last year, I had the (fortunate!) opportunity to hear Gloria Steinem speak. In a panel discussion, she was asked about the challenge of right wing populism and the threat to social justice. In her answer, she referred to commonly cited research about domestic violence – the most dangerous time for a victim is when they are trying to leave the relationship. An oppressor feels that they are losing control and they are using everything they can to maintain control. This, she said, is what she sees happening now in our political systems. “We are at a time of peak danger,” she said, “but maybe we could be free.”

The quote has stuck.

For the last decade, I have worked, volunteered, and found community in movements for progressive change. It’s never been easy work. But these last few years have been hard, and the last six months in Ontario have been particularly tough. Watching the gains we’ve made be dismantled  is gut wrenching.

But over this last year, Atkinson has felt like the right place, at the right time. There are a few reasons for that.

First, we are firmly oriented to opportunities. Together with grant partners and fellow fighters, we are part of the movement for decent work. In making  Just Work It,  I got to listen in to their inspiring stories of  organizing for community benefits, equal pay, opportunities for Black workers, and democratic engagement. This work is encouraging policy makers to take big leaps. It’s translated into the federal government introducing a measure for community employment benefits on infrastructure projects and the Ontario government passing a pay transparency act (though the latter has since been stalled). I also got to help out in the publication of The Co-operative Opportunity, where Sean Geobey and Meg Ronson spelled out a set of evidence-based, fresh policy ideas that would preserve local services, build democratic capacity, and create more decent work in Ontario.

Second, in looking back on history, we can reflect on other times of peak danger and our response. The International Labour Organization (ILO) was born out of the ashes of World War I, created with an ambitious mandate for social justice. As the ILO celebrates its centenary this year, we can see how far we have come and still have to go. In Canada, the government created Employment Insurance in the early days of World War II, with advocacy from our founder, Joseph Atkinson. And for the last 30 years of the Atkinson Fellowship in Public Policy, journalists have started national conversations on policy issues that have prompted big changes, as laid out in Peter Goodspeed’s beautiful reflection, The Atkinson @ 30. (My personal favourite: Anne Mullens’s 1993 Dying for Leadership on choice in death, which has since become legal and accessible under certain circumstances).   

So yes – we are in a time of peak danger. Everyday, we see harm being done to historically excluded and marginalized communities, racialized people, women, the LGBTQ community, and workers. But maybe, if we can continue to build community and movements in the name of social and economic justice, we can be free. I look forward to continuing to work with you in the good fight.