The Role of Activists and Academics in Addressing Health and Environmental Issues Associated with Extractive Industries in Latin America and Canada

***Below is the post-workshop report on “The role of activists and academics in problems of health and environment related to extraction industries in Latin America and Canada: Toward the democratization of North-South relations“, submitted to the Antipode Foundation in September 2016. The Foundation would like to thank Matt Feagan and his colleagues for all their work thus far.***

1. Overall Summary

This project sought to bring together a diverse group of scholars and activists in an open-ended discussion about our roles in confronting the health and environmental effects of extractive industries across North-South relations. In particular, the approach was intended to open a space for considering the relationship between social movement organizing and academic research, as it relates to changing policy and practice in terms of agribusiness and Canadian mining in Latin America. More than fact finding, the approach prioritized the development of the group members’ critical perspectives on their own roles as doctoral or postdoctoral researchers and/or as activists, in moving through the different institutional, cultural, and political contexts of academic and activist networks. The central goal, therefore, was to design a collaboration process that might help us to better understand how to work toward our mutual interests in contributing to a socially just and ecologically sustainable planet, from our different positions across North-South-South relations, within and outside the university, and through social movement organizing.

At a basic level, the research project was successful in:

Forming a group of 10 emerging scholars and activists with different experiences of the health and environmental effects of large scale resource extraction industries in Canada, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Colombia. Some group members had worked together previously on related projects, while others met for the first time, allowing new relations to develop while deepening others;

Organizing a face-to-face meeting in Medellín (Colombia) August 18-26 (2015), which included participation in the 9th International Public Health Conference at the Universidad de Antioquia, as well as hosting our own workshop entitled The role of activists and academics in problems of health and environment related to extraction industries in Latin America and Canada: Toward the democratization of North-South relations;

Launching an ongoing online planning, discussion, and reflection process;

Organizing a follow up public event in Toronto (Canada) on March 10, 2016, to workshop and discuss the relationship between Canadian universities, Canadian mining, and human rights abuses and environmental degradation in Latin America.

Furthermore, our group process continues around two initiatives. First, we are working on an article, tentatively entitled Canadian Mining and the Neoliberalization of the University: Partnerships for Global Health?, in which we discuss the prospects for new partnerships in global health to break from their colonial and capitalist frames of development, drawing largely on our own experiences of the obstacles and opportunities we have encountered as early career scholar-activists. Second, our group was recently invited to collaborate in developing an online diploma program in critical approaches to collective health for frontline health workers in Latin America, and we are considering ways of advancing this project.

Beyond this basic level of achievement, the extent to which this research project has fulfilled its objectives remains to be seen. The richness of the group process could be unpacked further to understand better the different expectations of the group members and to explore more deeply how we best assess our practices. Making room for this analysis across different schedules, time zones, family and career commitments remains a challenge, but one that we will advance (at least partially) through our ongoing publication efforts.

2. Context

This report documents the encounter of researchers and activists from Latin America and Canada working on themes of health and environment in relation to extractive industries, especially mining and agribusiness. We note that the ongoing history of socio economic and political structures associated with the capitalist mode of production, as well as certain cultural elements, have contributed to a complex and problematic situation today, whereby the health of communities and their environment is compromised for the benefit of large scale resource extraction, driven by the interests of multinational companies, and sanctioned by free trade agreements between nation states. As aspiring academics and activists committed to social and environmental justice, we denounce this situation. The purpose of our coming together is to begin an inquiry process into our own roles in confronting the situation, with a view toward democratizing the North-South relations upon which our work rests. We take on this work from within our various institutional and activist networks, recognizing that much work in this direction has already begun, and we hope to make a contribution both to our own understandings as well as to the history of struggle that continues to seek new systems, models, and processes that respect human and planetary life.

The role of mining and other resource extraction industries has been foundational in the construction of the Americas throughout the colonial and current neo-colonial eras, so much so that it has become a naturalized part of ongoing historical patterns of destruction and oppression–even as they continue to be labelled as “development”. As an interdisciplinary group of activists, doctoral and postdoctoral researchers in geography, communication, public and collective health, environmental studies, and psychology, we’re interested in understanding what it means for us to confront the situation, and contribute to its transformation, toward a more socially just and ecologically sustainable future. Our investigation has three main lines:

1. Theorizing the political ecology of knowledge within the current neoliberal era.

2. Democratizing North-South relations.

3. Advancing a practice of international solidarity across social-environmental justice movements.

3. The Participants

Three of the organizers met in November 2014 to co-facilitate a workshop entitled La formación postgrado y la construcción del poder popular: Contradicciones y posibilidades para democratizar los espacios de aprendizaje [Graduate training and the construction of popular power: Contradictions and possibilities for democratizing l earning spaces], at the conference of the Asociación Latinoamericana de Medicina Social y Colectivo de la Salud (ALAMES), in El Salvador . This workshop allowed us to explore popular education and problem based learning as ways of democratizing graduate training and confronting the contradictions of academic work with social justice aspirations. The success of this workshop led us to thinking about future collaborations and ways of bringing more people into an action-reflection process–hence our proposal to host a workshop in August 2015 in Medellín, supported by the Antipode Foundation and EkoSanté Collaboration.

The participants in the Medellín workshop:

Ben Brisbois (BB)
Ben is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Toronto. His doctoral research focused on occupational and environmental pesticide exposures in Ecuadorian banana production, and postcolonial analysis of North-South research partnerships. Email: [email protected]

Gabriel Jaime Otalvaro Castro (GJOC)
Gabriel Jaime teaches at the Universidad de Antioquia, Medellín, while pursuing doctoral studies at the Universidad Andina Simón Bolívar in Quito. His work focuses on mobilizing youth to confront issues of gentrification and social inequality in urban settings, while also theorizing how to confront the neoliberalization of health in Colombia. Email: [email protected]

Isaac Kukoc Paz (IK)
Isaac Kukoc Paz is a doctoral student in Collective Health, Environment, and Society [Salud colectiva, ambiente y sociedad] at the Universidad Andina Simón Bolívar in Quito. His work focuses on the social determination of health in families affected by mining in the city of Potosí, Bolivia. Email: [email protected]

Juan Camilo Cano Cano (JCC)
Juan Camilo work is related to the administration of the health system in Colombia, from the perspective of providing health services. He uses epidemiology to identify actions to improve the health of specific at risk groups. Academically, his work relates to environmental health and teaching in the area of environmental and community health. Email: [email protected]

Jorge Acosta (JA)
Jorge is a veteran activist engaged in organizing banana workers in Ecuador. He is very interested in international collaboration as a way of pressuring the multinational companies and transnational agreements that undermine worker and environmental health. Email: [email protected]

Luz Dary Carmona (LDC)
Luz Dary Carmona is a philosopher, specialist in social management, master in educational and social development, and doctoral candidate in public health, environment and society at the Universidad Andina Simón Bolívar in Quito. She is an expert in participatory approaches to social, political and public health management. Her research deals with health policy ( Ley 100 Balance y Perspectiva published in 2006), health promotion, and social participation in the right to health. She teaches graduate courses in policy and health promotion in Bogotá, Colombia. Email: [email protected]

Marta Berbes Blazquez (MBB)
Marta is conducting postdoctoral studies at the University of Waterloo (Waterloo, Canada). She has a PhD in Environmental studies from York University, where she explored the impact of different forms of environmental management in agricultural communities in rural Costa Rica. Email: [email protected]

Matt Feagan (MF)
Matt has a PhD in Communication and Culture, and a Master’s in Canadian and Native studies. He has taught at Ryerson University’s Department of Sociology and conducted postdoctoral research with the University of Toronto’s Department of Leadership, Higher and Adult Education. Email: [email protected]

Patricia Polo (PP)
Patricia has studied geography and human health. She lends support to collectives in the construction Territorios Saludables for life, while researching and teaching in the areas of territory, space, human health, social relations and community. She works with Terapia Comunitaria Integrativa to strengthen the social fabric of group and organizations. She is a doctoral candidate at the Universidad Andina Simón Bolivar, and her thesis is entitled: “Relación territorio-salud: un análisis desde los modos de vida de los y las trabajadoras bananeras, entre 2000-2013, recinto San Rafael, provincia del Guayas, Ecuador.” Email: [email protected]

Rebecca Bartel (RB)
Rebecca conducted her doctoral studies at the University of Toronto. Her thesis considers the crossroads between faith practices and economic practices in Colombia. It focuses on the issue of political economy of war and financialization processes in the country. Between 2002 and 2010, she lived in Colombia and studied at the Universidad de Los Andes en Bogotá, where she obtained a specialization in resolving armed conflicts and a Master’s in political science, with an emphasis on political economy of war and the role of the extractive industry in the continuation of the armed conflict. She has worked with non-governmental organizations on community development issues, and as a policy analyst. Email: [email protected]

3.1. Emerging Group Principles

As a group, we have come to share certain orientations toward the environment, health, education, and social justice, though we may disagree on the finer details. We believe in the value and the dignity of work in industrial mines, agriculture, as well as the intellectual labor supported in part by universities. Furthermore, we espouse the idea of critical collective thought, and we ask ourselves how we can support its development through our reflection and practice as a network with others who can help us in this mission of learning.

We believe it is vital to work through ethical and moral references as part of the basis for our collaboration, thinking, and action together. We want clarity in our work, organizing and approach to meaningful collaboration with people in various sectors of society. We do not believe there is some magical, apolitical place from which objective analysis happens; rather we seek to further our own politicization through practices that advance the struggle for socially just, healthy, and sustainable social relations. We recognize that others have already been working on these struggles for a long time, but we need to start from where our own understandings currently sit, to transform our contexts, practices, and ourselves.

Thus we require a space in which to reflect on our own self-production, by questioning the ideas and habits we may have internalized from the dominant conditions that frame our growth and development. We want to use this space for advancing collective conceptions of our roles in supporting social movements for alternatives to capitalism, as we believe these alternatives are necessary for human health and planetary sustainability.

4. What we have done

With the support of an Antipode Foundation International Workshop Award and EkoSanté Collaboration Internship and Fellowship grants, we have organized a face-to-face meeting (conference and workshop details below) in Medellín, Colombia, around which we have launched an open-ended group inquiry process through online discussion. So far, we have:

held monthly Skype discussions;

presented preliminary thoughts on the role of academics and activists in collaborating on social change beyond single niche approaches to policy/practice changes (EkoSanté Fellowship webinar, November 2015);

collected data from our group for an article on what it means for global health research partnerships to break from colonial and capitalist North-South relations;

hosted a public workshop, entitled “Digging Up Justice: When Mining Reaches the University”, in Toronto on March 10, 2016, with a diverse collection of community organizers, academics, NGOs, and activists;

collaborated with colleagues in Latin America in developing critical approaches to collective health using online materials/curriculum.

This project contributes both conceptually and methodologically to an approach to collective reflection and practice across North-South relations. Conceptually, the project advances a political ecology of knowledge based on the productive tensions between different ways of knowing across North-South political, institutional, and cultural contexts. As activists and early career academics, we analyze our own experiences as a way of learning how to name and confront the conditions of knowledge production and expertise that frame our efforts to intervene in the health and environmental effects of resource extraction industries in Canada and Latin America. Rather than simply promote academic expertise as a realistic means for shaping the direction of change in policy and practice, our analysis reveals contradictions built into the structure of academic knowledge production, which tend to glorify the language while neutralizing the effect of research in actually transforming the foundational social relations upon which extractivism and expertise rest. The political ecology of knowledge helps explain how the structural bases of social inequity and ecological destruction can remain intact, even while the leaders and new experts adopt the language of social justice and sustainability. Alternatively, we propose that a political ecology of knowledge framework helps to broaden the context in which academics see their roles in changing policy and practice, beyond the confines of cutting-edge niche research projects, toward an intervention in the bottom-up and top-down power relations that define the relationship between university-government-corporate alliances and social-ecological movements.

Methodologically, this project uses a North-South-South, self-directed, workshop-based approach to opening space for dialogue, putting participants in the driver’s seat in designing, practicing, and evaluating their own collaboration. This is in essence an action-research approach based in peer or near-peer relations, which attempts to challenge participants to take ownership over the conditions of their own knowledge production and practice. Unlike most graduate training and employment opportunities where participants are essentially competing with each other against a set of measures of success imposed by existing authorities, the approach here aims to have participants co construct their own inquiry process, while learning how to offer each other mutual support. The advantage of this approach is that it allows room for failure as an important stimulus for learning and change, while giving new experts credit from the outset for their abilities to be successful in pursuing their own knowledge production process.

We believe that the integration of these conceptual and methodological approaches will help us better understand our roles in addressing extractivism across the Americas.

5. El 9 Congreso Internacional de Salud Pública, August 19-21, 2015

At the 9th International Conference of Public Health at the Universidad de Antioquia, Medellín, August 19-21, 2015, group member Isaac Kukoc presented as part of the roundtable on Salud y minería (Health and mining) a talk entitled “Resistencia y naturalización del extractivismo minero en el caso de Potosí Bolivia”. In brief, his work presents a description based on local knowledge of mining as a story of both resistance and naturalization of health issues. Within this story, the mode of production and its media, cultural characteristics, and conceptions of life contribute to a psychological process of naturalizing exploitative living conditions.

The group was moved by many of the roundtables and other presentations at the conference, especially a discussion with Mario Hernandez on the neoliberalization of healthcare in Colombia (we later invited Mario to a Skype discussion as part of our workshop, more details below).

Along with participating in the conference itself, this was a time for group members to reconnect and to get to know each other in Medellin. One morning we visited the museum, which has a collection of artists exploring key themes in Colombia’s political history.

6. Medellín Workshop Activities and Schedule, August 23-26

The Saturday after the conference and day before the start of our workshop, we took gondolas, a part of the public transportation system of Medellín, to visit communities in the mountain sides around the city. In general, the most expensive houses are closest to the centre of the city in the base of the valley, while the poor neighbourhoods are higher up the valley walls, where there are risks of landslides. However, lately new construction of large apartment buildings have sprung up around the perimeter of the city, displacing many poorer people from their houses. This form of aggressive gentrification contrasted with the mix of nature conservation, small villages, artisanal workers, restaurants and cultural celebrations in the area we visited.

Day 1 of the workshop

Objectives: to explore our expectations; to draft a first mapping of the problem, using our different perspectives.

Expectations: After a brief icebreaker activity (Luz Dary and Jorge could not attend the conference and so had just arrived for the workshop) that consisted of standing in a circle, passing an object, and sharing a secret about ourselves, we started the meeting with a discussion of expectations. Some points that stood out in the conversation:

How to focus a discussion of our roles that simultaneously takes into account the specificities of a particular local context (country, community, actors, agro-industry and mining, etc.) while understanding that context within more global dynamics of capitalism, extractivism, free trade agreements, colonialism, etc.

Some tension around group process, some are already working together and others are meeting for the first time, so how to work together in a way that supports our
various interests, positions, commitments?

That we do not want to just be a “conference group”, that is a group that only meets at conferences and has no other collaborative activity together; rather we’re more interested in supporting social movement organizing efforts through a combination of local action and international solidarity.

Surely we would discover many other tensions the more time we spent together, but we already also experienced a common commitment to the need to democratize power relations between the global north and the global south. So we talked about concretizing our shared interests in environment, health and education in a group project intervening in extractive industry (which we said could include agri-business). We wanted to develop a group process that would allow us to express and challenge our own individual and collective knowledge — to take ownership of it in a mutually supportive, gender conscious, and transdisciplinary way.

Also, we shared concerns. We talked about the tendency for academics to appropriate the ideas of the people they study (academic tourism) rather than to approach their work as an ethical practice in co-learning and reciprocity. What does it mean to help? How to recognize different forms of leadership and coordinate between these? We talked about the precariousness we experience with employment and the uncertainty of the future, and the challenges this presents for setting realistic expectations, especially when we live in different countries and are at slightly different stages of life and career advancement. Do we share a theory of change? How to open sufficient space for building collective strategies? How to understand the ways in which we may already be connected to the same financial networks through university, international development, or other North-South relations? How to prioritize action and practice, at least as much as ideas and discussion? How to balance our different individual processes and needs for politicization? How to get the most out of the next three days together?

Defining the problem: The question around which the workshop was designed was: what is the role of academics and activists in democratizing North-South relations in the context of extractive industries, such as mining and agro-industry? A big question, no doubt, but one that allowed a number of shared concerns to be identified and discussed.

Marta started us off with an activity in which each of us had to draw a representation of the problem using the following factors: health, environment, activism, academia, North-South relations, extractive industries, and democratizing processes. We then shared our various representations in pairs, before presenting them to the group as a whole. It was interesting to see the different ways we mapped the key factors to define the problem: some painted a very hierarchical structure as an objective reality to be overturned, others centered on the problem of collective agency and how more people become active, and others divided the factors into permanent material conditions around which different actors hold different stakes and perspectives. The exercise seemed to give rise to an ambiguity: were we talking about these factors as they are currently related (objectively) or as different possibilities in the future in different places?

In sum: This was our first planned workshop activity together, an opportunity to discuss the basic problematic that brought us together; Many tensions around understanding the role of the group; Such a vast problem does not require consensus immediately, it requires an interest in developing an ongoing group process together.

Day 2

Objectives: (1) to generate a list of questions for further investigation that we could begin answering in conversation with two additional colleagues (Mario Hernandez and Donald Cole); (2) to begin developing our vision of international solidarity.

Questions: In an activity led by Pati and Camilo, we broke into three groups and brainstormed key questions, then compared what each group came up with:

From group 1: 1. How to navigate academic pressures that shape how we engage in social justice work? 2. What positive examples should we follow? 3. How have past academic role models understood their part in social change? 4. How to make time to do organizing work outside of academia?

From group 2: 1. How to map the conflicts that result from extractive industries in Colombia? 2. What mechanisms help academia and social movements collaborate on health and environmental issues?

From group 3: 1. Given current conditions, how to articulate our role as academics? 2. How does our training connect with concrete realities of struggle for changing places and material conditions?

A discussion with our guests: The group had contacted Dr. Mario Hernández from the Universidad Nacional de Colombia and Dr. Donald Cole from the University of Toronto, Canada, via skype, to ask one question from each group. Pati led the Skype discussion, and below is a summary of key themes in their responses:

Open new spaces for public debate;

Systematize the work happening in different countries to construct a new model of development with a real public health system;

The public often has more progressive ideas than the governments, so how to harness those ideas to advance political debate?

One example was the four cities project (Río, Bogotá, Medellín, Quito), on the creation of an agrotoxic dossier and their effects on human health, written for a general public audience;

The need for balance between formal and informal resources;

You cannot confront local struggles only from local perspectives, because the community is organized by global forces that produce certain local conditions;

Identify where resource extraction is weakest as an industry (access to the territory, legal aspect, financing, etc.) to then determine intervention points for academic and social action;

It is important to change the relationship between social movements and universities, to better challenge how the market currently shapes public health;

Fragmentation is a huge problem in the university;

Seek out spaces within the state that can generate collaboration between civil society and academics; we need to support municipalities, indigenous movements, and local organizations;

There is a deep need to change the structural elements of North-South relations, and not just to look for answers from a Northern perspective. But the North-South relations of money make it very difficult to create horizontal relations. CLACSO is one good example showing that it is nonetheless possible.

What do we take away from Mario and Donald? Certainly there is a need to situate our efforts as a group within a broader historical struggle to confront the structural dimensions of inequality that underpin North-South relations. While there is a need for new forms of North-South collaboration, it is critical that any such collaboration advances an analysis from the point of view of southern actors, if it is going to confront the structural inequality built into the current North-South divide. It cannot, in other words, adopt the dominant view in the North (and imposed on, and reproduced by so called leaders in the South) that the South is catching up to the North, following more or less the same development trajectory modelled by the North. Not only does this dominant perspective ignore the relations of extraction and inequality that define the North-South relationship, but it also denies the possibility of alternative futures already advanced in different ways in the South. In brief, the North has a lot to learn from the South, but the North has been too busy dominating to pay much attention. There are in fact many differences across the global South and North that disappear when set against this dominant narrative of Northern progress and Southern backwardness, and it is these differences that must challenge the status quo and propose alternate frames of analysis.

To challenge the dominant narrative, massive public pressure is needed. For example, in Ecuador, direct actions are called for in pressuring the government to recognize the needs of the people rather than continue with the dominant model of development. International pressure supporting the needs of the people can be a strategic ally, to ensure that the people of Ecuador are heard and to force the government to acknowledge them and listen. In the North, the public must also adopt a strategy of pressure and calling attention to the government’s steadfast approval of accelerated extractivism in the face of widespread public disapproval. If new forms of North-South collaboration can provide mutual support in increasing the visibility of public pressure against extractivism, this will force governments (and the corporations they serve) to retreat, opening new space for public victories.

It is also clear that while research can play a key role in reframing how the public interprets North-South relations, this research must then be in support of social movements, rather than merely a tool to give the state greater social licence to proceed with a top-down approach to development. Researchers cannot be allowed to see themselves as benign contributors to scientific debates in the context of international development–this is a deeply political sphere of action, and all the more so as the role of expertise is framed in depoliticizing ways. It is therefore appropriate and necessary to engage with these politics, to show that the most capable expertise is one that embraces the political nature of research, rather than hide behind its distancing walls of authority.

Our vision and strategy of international solidarity: We started the afternoon with a short smudge ceremony led by Matt and used with permission from Lila Pine, a Mi’Kmaq activist and professor at Ryerson University in Toronto. The ceremony is designed to help interactions come from a good place, using sage as a medicine to cleanse the mind, heart, eyes, ears, and whole being. We then embarked on a discussion led by Isaac and Gabriel about who are we, and how the different parts of the group should see their roles. Were the more established members of the group simply consulting with new members, or was this an invitation to work together on an ongoing basis? The organizers of the workshop felt responsible for the work of planning and organizing the time in Medellin, but also wanted the new members to see themselves as having an open invitation
to participate as much as they desired. We then listened to a short presentation from Ben about the institutional links that inform the context in which our group has come together. It was interesting to see his map of international development funding from Canada, and the links with the workshop participants, but what was implication?

On the one hand, there was a sense of how institutional context shapes actions in ways that actors aren’t necessarily conscious of; on the other hand, we discussed how institutional contexts are supports for a wide range of actions and thus can be used to the benefit of strategic players.

Marta and Rebecca then led us through an activity of identifying the strengths and commitments of the group, while generating a list of groups, people, and activities that group members were engaged, which gave us a deeper sense of who we were in practice, and suggested a matrix ranging from local to global, from advocacy and action to academia.

Day 2 in sum: We opened a lot of space for deciding in which direction to move, while also deepening our understanding of each other’s current practices. The affective dimension of the workshop included moments of high energy and connectedness, but also anxieties about where we were going, whether or not we had set ourselves enough of a defined direction to make sense of all we were thinking and feeling.

Day 3: Planning

Objectives: To concretize a collective action plan that played into the strengths of the group; To evaluate our work in Medellin over the past days; To complete the administrative forms for reimbursement of travel and lodging costs.

We spent the morning in an activity led by Matt to identify the key tasks, division of labour, and timeline to help concretize our activities moving forward:

Thinking about pedagogy, we need to: Conduct a scan of other related initiatives (BB, RB, PP, MBB, GJOC);  Come up with a proposal of what the final product would look like, .e.g. Summer institute, pop ed manual, a dossier of collected information related to our topic (LDC, RB, MBB, JCC, MF); Create a web platform (BB, JCC).

There is also: the structure and argument of an article for peer-review to develop (MF, MBB, PP, IKP, GJOC+others);  an online diploma program (IKP) and applying for grants (Antipode, Rosa Luxembourg) (MF, JA); and the reading group–organizing readings and discussions among group members (all).

Then we went to see a special screening of the documentary film, Carta a una sombra, by Daniela Abad, on the life of his grandfather, Doctor Héctor Abad Gómez–a key figure in the history of public health and social movement organizing in Colombia.

We finished the by completing the forms of reimbursement and ensuring everyone had transportation to the airport to catch their flights home.

6.1. Evaluation of our workshop

1. Most significant learning for you so far?

a. The richness of knowledge and experiences of the group; learning and working as a group; revising the logistics of our activities.

b. Hearing each person’s ideas, learning more about myself and how to manage my expectations. I feel like our time together has confirmed that the direction of our work makes a lot of sense from different points of view.

c. It is possible to bring to life an intercultural and interdisciplinary project.

d. The most difficult is coordinating the group; the amplitude of interconnected problems in relation to health and environment, and the great number of possibilities for points of intervention.

e. The value of shared work. It’s important to recognize that the postures of the North are distinct from those of the South and it is fundamentally important to put those differences on the table.

f. That our abilities, experiences and commitments exist primarily in how each of us is working toward social change, and this collective effort makes up an important part of transnational labour and community. I see a lot of potential in this group and I commit my
energies. Thanks!

g. That it is possible and necessary that we form our own collective, that this is very real and deserving of commitment–I felt this way before the workshop and I feel it even stronger now.

h. Seeing a bit more what the process of arriving at a proposal looks like.

2. Strengths you contributed to the process?

a. Listening, the oral expression, my emotion for working together and bringing new actions that contribute to change toward a dignified life.

b. Introducing an anti-conference dimension to our principles.

c. I contributed to the design, facilitation, and administrative organization of the workshop.

d. Facilitation and design of sessions.

e. The experience of community and participation.

f. I contributed an experience from Colombia, and experience in solidarity with social movements, and facilitation.

g. A vision from the local. The necessity to work on aspects punctually in the day to day. The politicization of the problem.

h. The experience with direct networking with peasant collectives
and rural workers.

3. Least comfortable moments?

a. In the delay right before starting the workshop; in the logistics of group facilitated activities with colleagues.

b. When we delayed the start of the first session.

c. When we did not follow the planned schedule of activities; when I felt I was taking up too much space myself. I’m worried I imposed my expectations on the group, and that my expectations weren’t realistic.

d. Facilitating when things don’t go as planned.

e. Overall I felt comfortable all the time.

f. I felt least comfortable when at times my suggestions were misinterpreted as criticism. In those moments I felt like I did not communicate well, and unfortunately some people may have felt criticized. I’m not sure if this was the case or not. At times my way of
being can be interpreted as aggressive, it a personal development thing I’m working on.

g. Never. We’re very “democratic”.

h. A little bit when I didn’t understand the logistics of the workshop–this is important for each person to understand.

4. Is this worth it?

a. Of course; to the point that I would do it by myself if there weren’t groups already working on this. But I get a lot out of the group work: I learn, I strengthen my ideas, my abilities.

b. Yes it’s worth it, we already have some concrete products.

c. I think so, but I believe we must develop a meeting agreement to set better guidelines for working together, division of labour, etc.

d. In a certain sense yes, but I think we need to rethink the design and the difficulties of working with a heterogeneous group.

e. Obviously yes.

f. Not only is our work worth it, it’s important, urgent, and hopeful.

g. Yes! It will always be important and we must persist.

h. All work that seeks solutions to grave problems that affect millions of people is very important.

5. What questions do you have now?

a. How do we feed the group? Internal group: feeding our understanding of the world and constructing an internal solidarity.

b. I want to know more about cognitive capitalism.

c. What is our strategy and what can we expect to realistically achieve with it?

e. How to link the agenda of academia with the agenda of social
movements is a big challenge.

f. I have thousands of questions still, but let’s go one step at a time.

g. Many! Will we focus on popular education? Academia? How to link
with popular-masses? The work will give us the answers.

h. Like all work there will be obstacles and difficulties, so how do we
find the unity?


a. I’m grateful for the contributions of each one just to get us here together in Medellin and all that we’ve worked on together these past days.


c. Group name suggestion: Estes Subcomandantes Sur-Norte

d. Name suggestion: Movimiento Colibrí / Frente Colibrí; we need to improve the design and perhaps start with less open-ended objectives.

e. I believe we have concretized proposals into specific tasks and this is key to moving forward.

f. Movimiento Colibrí. Thanks to the “organizing group” for all the time, sensitivity, and effort that you put into this gathering. I appreciate a lot the opportunity to be here with you. Hasta la victoria.

g. We will always value the work we put into something. Let’s disseminate our knowledge each day by way of example.

h. Group name: Compromiso Social Americano.

7. Next Steps

Deepen and document the conversations we had at the workshop; develop our practice and vision of international solidarity; and advance our projects in small groups.

A Public Workshop presented in Toronto, March 10, 2016

“Digging up justice: When mining reaches the university.” A workshop supported by the Antipode Foundation, hosted at Beit Zatoun, 10 March 2016, Toronto, Ontario.

This three-hour public workshop was designed to open a conversation between activists, scholars, and various nongovernmental organizations about how Canadian mining companies are funding university research despite accusations of human rights abuses and environmental degradation across Latin America. Along with a panel discussion about precarious academic labour, and the role of research in relation to details about the Munk School of Global Affairs (University of Toronto) and the Canadian International Resources and Development Institute (CIRDI), over half of the workshop time was dedicated to small group discussion, analysis, and strategic planning around the core organizing work for confronting the present situation. It was attended by about 40 people.

Objectives: 1) to bring together a wide range of activists and scholars concerned about different aspects of extractivism, the corporate university, and resistance; 2) to stimulate questions and discussion about the current/potential role of university research/expertise in extractivism; 3) to invite actors into a planning process for developing next steps in solidarity across sectors, knowledges, nations, and cultures.

Evaluations from workshop participants:

1. What did you find most useful about tonight’s workshop?

A. The range of ideas, idealism, problem solving, sharing; Good to see your commitment, enthusiasm, initiative

B. Great learning further about the connection between corporations and universities; interesting workshop in brainstorming ideas to raise awareness about these issues and ways to address them

C. Issue- focused, multigenerational, sense of agency

D. Discussion with people with different experiences

E. Level of analysis was great focused on something on the ground kept it grounded and useful

F. Sense of ranging people involved; thoughtful design of evening

G. The general discussion at the end

H. Small group time; brief presentations

I. Interesting brainstorm session

J. Panel

K. I loved that you moved from intros to a panel to small discussions to large discussion. It kept my energy up and (I think) helped people open up and feel comfortable in discussion

L. The variety of viewpoints presented

M. Linking individual dialogue in the final discussion

2. What did you feel was missing?

A. Activist groups, human rights reps

B. Further conversation about the entire corporate invasion of universities, rather than the specific mining industry

C. Structures focus: why are we here, who are the organizers, what are you asking of us?

D. A more clear guideline for discussion

E. I’d like to have a FB page to the question member only; also a number of us when we do groups don’t leave us to pick own groups–force us to mix it up with new people

F. Link between specific university focus and broader questions

G. More time for general discussion

H. Time to strategize with others from the same university

I. More specific proposals; more focused discussion of specific strategies

J. More informative content and solid end goals

K. Honestly nothing, I think it was a great event!


M. A bit time crunched

3. Please provide any further thoughts or comments, including ideas for future events or collaborations:

A. Need discussions on human reduction in consumption, changing economic system away from consumer destruction of planetary ecological systems

B. Involving the Aboriginal communities of Canada; reclaiming Turtle Island

C. Cut it down one hour, less breakout groups

D. Collaboration with other mining injustice or indigenous groups

E. Let’s do it again and get info to me directly so I can share it with my colleagues at the university

F. Plan for Calgary Congress on these themes

G. Reading groups, letters to MPs; Also: I edit an undergraduate magazine, and we would love to do a collaborative series of articles and podcasts on mining and health


I. Online presence / website? Work with other regulatory groups at university to model regulatory group / university funding sources

J. May need to prioritize local native issues

K. I think skills-building workshops (ex. FDI requests, media literacy, campaigning) would be great

L. Possibly events that look at Canadian public policy more broadly as it relates to mining, and how this links back to universities


*         *         *

digging up justice

Open invitation to graduate students, activists, scholars, and the general public – Workshop discussion on extractivism

Canadian mining companies are funding university research, despite accusations of human rights violations and environmental degradation across Latin America.

We’d like to invite you to a workshop discussion on corporate involvement with university research. The event will provide a platform to learn more and contribute to critical conversations on an issue that involves us all in unexpected ways.

About us – We are a group of scholars and activists concerned about environmental and health impacts of large-scale extractivism; we are affiliated with universities in Canada, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Colombia, and sponsored by the Antipode Foundation.

– March 10 @ 6:00 pm9:00 pm; Beit Zatoun, 612 Markham St., Toronto, ON  M6G 2L8

– Doors open at 5:50 pm

– Free

– Food and refreshments provided

– Accessible on demand via portable ramp; washrooms not accessible

– Please avoid using strong-scented products due to sensitivities

“The Role of Activists and Academics in Addressing Health and Environmental Issues Associated with Extractive Industries in Latin America and Canada”

Universidad de Antioquia, Medellin, Colombia
18-26 August 2015

***You can read one of the first outputs from the workshop here***

In this workshop, a group of young scholars from Canada and Latin America will draw on the breadth and depth of their own expertise to ask: what does democratisation mean across North­-South relations? The workshop, hosted by the Universidad de Antioquia, Medellin, Colombia (and supported by an Antipode Foundation International Workshop Award) aims to open a space for exploring critical issues including: (1) theorising the political ecology of knowledge in neoliberal times; (2) democratising the role of academic expertise across North-South relations; and (3) practising what international solidarity looks like in addressing health and sustainability issues associated with the extraction industries.

To get involved or for more information, please contact Matt Feagan (University of Toronto): [email protected]