What is hope?
How do we define it? And, where can we find it?
In his latest book Always Hopeful: Lessons from a Lifetime of Activismauthor and activist Maude Barlow addresses these questions and provides much-needed answers to a younger generation that may not be aware of the long political battles that preceded them.
The book is also for us discouraged skeptics in search of meaning and motivation.
Barlow’s book follows his long and rich years of successful activism in Canada and abroad.
The book opens by emphasizing the importance of movement building. She writes about “the need for movements to have goals and plans”. She reminds us that movements are more than just campaigning or protesting.
Not to diminish the latter’s effectiveness, but a move is about being strategic, thinking long-term, and passing the fight down from one generation to the next.
“It’s not about winning a particular cause or even a campaign,” Barlow writes, “it’s about building a lasting movement.”
And she is absolutely right.
Perhaps today some people are unaware of the marches of black Americans on the streets of Selma in Montgomery Alabama. But everyone knows about the civil rights movement in America that gave black Americans the visibility and freedom they craved at the time.
Barlow’s book takes readers back and forth from the past to the future with some important stops marked by crucial milestones in his activism. The first stop is on feminism; Barlow candidly describes her own upbringing at a time when women had to fight for everything. There have been struggles for the freedom to choose education, careers and political engagement, all of which have posed particular challenges depending on the socio-economic background of women.
Following her own advice, Barlow does not stop at her own aspirations but extends her activism to other women around the world to fight against inequality and injustice.
Barlow understands that the fight for women’s rights is not just a Canadian affair, but that in reality the rights of women in the home are strongly linked to the socio-economic rights of other women around the world. It was the interconnection between women’s issues and economic issues that led Barlow to apply her approach in the corporate world. It aimed to stop the impact of globalization on small businesses and farmers in Canada and in the Global South.
In 1986, Barlow created the Council of Canadians and led it for three decades. “If activists are unaware of these forces of economic globalization, they are working with one arm behind their back.”
Barlow recounts the complexity and multi-layered aspects of these fights and the harsh consequences of free trade policies in the early 1980s.
I personally remember the terrible consequences for women after the implementation of the Structural Adjustment Program (SAP) in my home country, Tunisia, dictated by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Many have lost their jobs in textile factories due to globalization and thousands of decent unionized jobs in the transport sector, for example, have disappeared with the privatization that followed this wave of neoliberalism.
In Canada, Barlow and his activism became well known because his organization fiercely took the lead in opposing the Canada-United States Free Trade Agreement, better known as NAFTA. It is an agreement that has radically changed the socio-economic landscape in Canada, the United States and Mexico. Despite the passage of NAFTA with the election of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, the mobilization of existing and new opposition groups is seen as an important step that paved the way for many future campaigns and movements.
The removal of tariff barriers continued and, along with it, Barlow’s activism.
His work with many like-minded people opposed the creation of new trade agreements that threatened Canadian businesses and citizens, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership in 2008, and later the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for the Trans-Pacific Partnership. as well as Canada – European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) initiated in 2017.
Despite the noise that activists have made in the public sphere and international solidarity movements, these partnerships and agreements have been signed. But it was all this noise that brought the necessary changes to these agreements and rallied the opposition around them.
It is no coincidence that many voices today, even among the most fervent neoliberalists, are rethinking globalization. Both The Economist and the FinancialTimes published editorials stating ” globalization [is] dead.”
I think Barlow had a hand in that death.
The fourth milestone that marked Barlow’s activism is the fight for water justice. During his activist journey, Barlow realizes that one fight leads to another.
The seed of globalization has made the struggle for water justice flourish. Access to water is a privilege that many Canadians living in large cities take for granted. Tragically and sadly, many Indigenous communities struggle to get clean drinking water to their homes and continue to live with boil water advisories. Companies like Suez and Veolia, the world’s two largest private water operators with 8,500 water and sanitation facilities and systems around the world, are examples of how water, a commodity initially public and essential, has been privatized, owned by multinational securities-traded companies. markets and sold as a commodity on which profits and dividends are made.
Barlow tells readers that in 2020, her activism was instrumental in enshrining the right to water and sanitation in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights and deemed them “essential for the full enjoyment of the right to life”.
This is one of the many times we see how successful his fights, campaigns, and moves have been.
Activists will find many words of experience and wisdom in his book. What makes it even more interesting to read is that it is not simply a dive into his militant past but rather a thoughtful reflection on solutions for the future.
This book is so useful for young people discouraged by the lies and broken promises of the politicians of this world. A book where hope is not an abstract concept, Barlow offers us concrete and real stories that can only be inspiring and worth sharing with readers.