The Ottawa Panhandlers’ Union kicked off their Black Ribbon campaign on MayDay where they marched downtown against the ongoing attack on public space as well as against the city’s anti-poor mayor, Larry O’Brien.
Why are we paying to keep panhandlers in jail cells? Why have street artists, novelty vendors, and buskers vanished from city streets? Why are we allowing business in this city to use the police department as their PRIVATE security on PUBLIC streets?
It’s time to take back OUR STREETS!
Join the Ottawa Panhandlers’ Union on Friday, May 1st as we kick off our Black Ribbon campaign to reclaim public space for ALL of us, not just the ones wearing suits and ties.
Friday, May 1st
Human Rights Monument (Elgin and Lisgar)
For more information, please contact the Ottawa Panhandlers’ Union at 613-748-0460
The University of Ottawa fired Denis Rancourt, a physics professor, renowned researcher, and IWW member on March 31, 2009, while he was speaking at an academic freedom conference in New York City.
The university sought to dismiss him on the basis that he had awarded high grades to a graduate level physics class, which Rancourt says he did in order to remove competition and performance as they are obstacles to learning. The university claimed that Rancourt’s marking damaged the institution’s credibility as an academic institution.
Rancourt has said that the university’s board fired him before an April 1 deadline to submit a legal brief in his defense and that it ignored his submission of his students’ exams as proof that he was evaluating students properly. The university disregarded the union’s collective agreement and the grievance procedure by firing Rancourt without allowing him due process in his defense.
The Association of Professors (APUO), a registered trade union that represents university faculty, has announced it will launch an inquiry and it will likely appeal the firing in court.
The IWW General Defense Committee Local 6 is calling for all workers –especially education workers— to take a stand for Denis Rancourt.
Send a message protesting this unfair and unreasonable firing to University of Ottawa President Allan Rock firstname.lastname@example.org and send a copy to the chair of the defense committee email@example.com.
Rancourt’s defense committee is also asking people to sign its online petition http://rancourt.academicfreedom.ca/petitions/online-petition.html to reinstate Denis Rancourt
Come check out Joey Only and Anne Feeney’s Ottawa leg of their Ontario tour. Featuring Ottawa’s own (by way of the ‘peg) Matt McLennan.
The IWW will also be tabling at this event, so now’s your chance to pick up some of those classic (and new) wobbly titles we just know you’ve been dying to read!
Place: Rainbow Bistro
Date: Wednesday, April 8
Cost: $6-$20, sliding-scale (pay what you can)
This whole shindig is brought to by your friendly neighbourhood Industrial Workers of the World.
The IWW, firing bosses since 1905.
March 29, 2009
Dear Hon. Allan Rock,
The Ottawa-Outaouais General Membership Branch of the Industrial Workers of the World write in protest of the University of Ottawa’s intention to dismiss Professor Denis Rancourt.
The university’s stated grounds for dismissal—saying he was awarding high grades to all at the beginning of one course—do not justify his removal. Instead, we see this move to fire Dr. Rancourt, an outstanding teacher, academic and researcher by all standards, as a pretext for removing a passionate academic reformer and advocate for pedagogy that does not rely on the carrot-and-stick approach of the current system.
Dr. Rancourt’s dismissal is not only an attack on academic freedom, but it is an attack on academic workers’ rights. The university’s argument that Dr. Rancourt put the reputation and credibility of the university at risk is not credible. Indeed, the university’s brutal treatment of Dr. Rancourt and its insistence on his dismissal is the gravest threat to the university’s reputation as a place for critical thinking and respect for academic staff.
We demand the University of Ottawa Board of Governors and President reinstate Dr. Rancourt without penalty and ensure he has the academic freedom and respect for his rights as a worker to provide education worth having to this and subsequent generations.
In solidarity with Dr. Rancourt,
IWW Ottawa-Outaouais General Membership Branch
PO Box 52003,
298 Dalhousie St.,
Ottawa, ON K1N 1S0
The University of Ottawa in Canada is planning to fire Denis Rancourt, physics professor, IWW member, and renowned researcher, today, March 31, 2009 .
The university claims it is firing Denis because he announced that all of his students would get A+ grades on the first day of the physics class so that they could get on with learning, rather than compete and perform for grades. The university claims this educational approach damages its reputation and credibility as well as that of its students. In short, grades equal credibility.
The IWW General Defense Committee Local 6 (GDC Local 6) rejects this pretext as an exaggeration that does not justify the university’s repressive approach, which is a threat against academic freedom and education workers’ rights.
More information about Denis’ case is online at the Academic Freedom and Governance at the University of Ottawa weblog http://www.academicfreedom.ca/
We urge all GDC and IWW members to adapt the sample letter below and email it today to University of Ottawa President Allan Rock firstname.lastname@example.org and please be sure to copy the chair of Denis’ defense committee email@example.com. Your email can help save Denis’ job so send it today and keep up the pressure.
To: University of Ottawa President Allan Rock (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Cc: email@example.com (defense committee chair)
March 31, 2009
Dear President Rock,
I am writing to protest the University of Ottawa ’s planned dismissal of Professor Denis Rancourt. The university’s claim that Dr. Rancourt’s assignment of high grades on the first day of one of his classes damages the university’s credibility is an exaggerated pretext for removing a passionate professor dedicated to high quality teaching and research as well as academic reform.
To fire Dr. Rancourt on these weak grounds is a signal that education workers’ rights and academic freedom at the University of Ottawa are under threat. We are gravely concerned that removing Dr. Rancourt will intimidate both faculty and students from speaking up, being creative and taking the initiative in the future.
I urge the university to accept Dr. Rancourt’s offer to resolve this conflict through mediation. I also demand that the University of Ottawa end its suspension of Dr. Rancourt and restore him to his position immediately with no penalty.
For the reinstatement of Dr. Rancourt,
From the Industrial Worker
Shortly before midnight on April 30, 2008, police arrested Ottawa IWW Panhandlers’ Union organizer Andrew Nellis and searched his bag. Inside the bag, they found several packaged locks and a lock cutter. They charged him with mischief under $5,000 and possession of break and enter tools, the latter a felony charge.
Police alleged that he planned to cut the lock off of a recently constructed fence built in the underpass on Rideau and Sussex streets in downtown Ottawa to prevent the homeless from taking shelter, socializing, and panhandling there. The underpass was the site of previous panhandler protests and meetings.
Nellis told the Industrial Worker that he wanted to replace the city’s lock with a panhandlers’ lock and then distribute key copies to Ottawa’s homeless at the May Day rally the next day.
Prosecutors have since dropped all of the charges.
Nellis’ attorney had pushed for a jury trial and said he would file a constitutional challenge to the City of Ottawa’s right to strip access to shelter on public property from its homeless population. The city had previously fenced off spots under the Mackenzie bridge near a mall and the Rideau Street-Colonel By Drive underpass.
Nellis said he was “disappointed” that the city had dropped the charges against him. He is now planning to sue the City of Ottawa for “vexatious harassment” and false arrest. Nellis spent five days at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre on Innes Road, a prison well known for its poor conditions. Nellis organized the prisoners to protest their “inhumane” conditions, resulting in citywide and national media coverage. The combined inside-outside pressure resulted in immediate improvements for prisoners.
He has petitioned the IWW General Defence Committee Local 6, based in Ottawa, for support in raising funds for his legal fees. To donate, send a cheque or money order to GDC Local 6, PO Box 52003, 298 Dalhousie St., Ottawa, Ontario K1N 1S0, Canada.
From the Industrial Worker
Ottawa-Outaouais IWW members and community supporters won $2,500 owed to member Miguel Yanes Lobaina. Lobaina, who had worked as a dishwasher before being fired, had won a Superior Court of Canada ruling on March 5 ordering Hooley’s restaurant to pay him, but it refused to comply. On August 6, 20 picketers marched in front of its doors, with IWWs holding signs saying, “Pay What’s Owed.” It took less than an hour for the owner to ask for a meeting with the picketers and sign a cheque to pay Lobaina. It didn’t bounce either.
From the Industrial Worker
“Capitalism cannot be reformed” reads the French banner of the Ottawa-
Outaouais IWW branch which came out to support the IWW Ottawa Panhandlers Union on May 1. A tea party and march to impeach the anti-panhandler Ottawa Mayor Larry O’Brien proceeded, despite the early morning arrest of organizer, Andrew Nellis. Protesters were thrown out of the court building before Nellis’ bail hearing. Nellis was released with minimal bail conditions.
Dave interviewed Ottawa anarchist Andrew Nellis for Linchpin. Andrew is an organizer with the Ottawa Panhandlers Union.
Q. What is the Ottawa Panhandlers Union and how was it started?
A. The Ottawa Panhandlers Union is a shop of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). It’s a real union. What we do is run by the panhandlers themselves. The IWW has one paid member for the entire union. It’s entirely member run. The idea is to empower people on the street to fight for themselves.
Ideally despite coming in as an outside organizer I’ll be able to step out of the picture once the organization is up and running and there’s a structure in place to ensure that the organization continues. I was on the street myself. I’m not on the street now. So I do know something about the milieu in which I’m working.
Ideally it [the Panhandlers Union] should be run by people who are actually on the street but in practice we find that our most valuable members are those who have just come off the street or are in the process of getting off the streets. Their lives are somewhat less chaotic than people who are actually on the street although we do have some [key] people who are hardcore street. It always impresses me. I’m so proud of all of these people. For example, the guy who writes our press releases has to leave the room every 15 minutes or so to take a sip of hand sanitizer As you may be aware people who are heavily addicted to alcohol stand a one in three chance of death if they go through withdrawal so they have to drink alcohol continuously just to survive The fact that someone who is dealing with this many crises in his own life is capable of not only functioning but contributing something to the welfare of others around him. It’s just really humbling for me to work with someone like that considering the many sacrifices that he’s got to be making in his own life are so much larger than anything I’m expected to give.
Q. Could you give some examples of some of the problems that are faced by panhandlers and homeless people in Ottawa that the Panhandlers Union was formed to help resist.
A. I can tell you that although things were bad before the new police chief, they’ve become infinitely worse since. The new police chief has the “broken windows” philosophy. He believes that you can stop big crimes by stopping little crimes. He’s ordered his police officers to stop issuing tickets and begin arresting panhandlers. It costs $185 a day to keep someone in jail and they’re more than willing to pay that to keep panhandlers off the street than providing supported housing is infinitely cheaper they prefer using enforcement for something it was never designed to do.
We were forced to start a Copwatch program because the police are openly and blatantly breaking the law. We have had many cases where its been reported to us that the police have stolen the panhandlers’ money, roughed them up, and told them not to come back or they’d be beaten. One night I had to start guard under the bridge by the Rideau Centre because the street kids there had been informed by a police officer that if they were there when he came back he was going to – and I quote – “boot-fuck” them. So I went there with a recorder and I warned the police that I’d be there all night with my recorder. This is the kind of stuff that we do.
We do a lot of advocacy work. We have one member who is schizophrenic and he was picked up in an ambulance and he was [held] involuntarily at the Montfort Hospital in their psychiatric wing. And he requested our assistance in getting his doctors to agree to let him go to school since he has a law degree from Russia and he’s in the process of updating his credentials here in Canada. His doctors were concerned about letting him go by himself to his classes so we went there to tell them that we’d have a person willing to go with him to the classes if necessary to assure them that he wouldn’t be a danger to himself or others. What was particularly gratifying for me was that while the doctors did not want to talk to us, it took us several hours to buttonhole the doctor, once he heard the name Industrial Workers of the World, he was at great pains to assure us that that they very sensitive to his cultural and religious needs, and that they were not discriminating against him. When I tried to get a word in edgewise to assure him we were not there to complain about his treatment but to make sure that he was able to attend his classes.
This is the kind of work that we do. A lot of it is in the background. A lot of people think that because our most visible efforts revolve around things like marching in the street, or egging the BIA that this is [all of] what we do. In fact 99% of what we do is just quiet support work for the streets that particularly teaches people where to go, how to wend their way through the paperwork of police complaints, to make sure they turn in their tickets [under the Safe Streets Act] to the Ticket Defense Program and see benefits of what standing together can do.
We have one member right now who is an organizer with the IWW. He came to us because he had been beaten up by Rideau Centre security. Immediately after getting out of the hospital, he contacted us. We got our video cameras and documented his injuries, I got him in contact with a lawyer, Yavar Hamid. As a result, we sued the Rideau Centre in superior court for $70,000. The Rideau Centre settled.
Q. How is the Panhandlers Union structured internally?
A. The IWW is not an anarchist organization. Our constitution actually forbids us as members from promoting and political or anti- political party. The organization itself runs in an anarchist manner. We have no hierarchy. At meetings everybody takes turns, everybody is expected to be either ther chair or recording secretary and at every meeting it changes so that everybody gets to see and develop the skills necessary for running a meeting. It’s very important for the continuation of the kinds of traditions that we are trying to build for the organization.
For many people this the first time they’ve ever had any responsibility in a social sense, and its very gratifying to see someone who started out at the beginning of a meeting very nervous and unsure of themselves actually telling someone like me to shut up and let other people talk.
Q. Earlier [before the interview] we were talking about the backlash that has been felt by the Panhandlers Union and yourself. Could tell me a little about that?
A. We’ve experienced some amount of backlash from the police towards the organization. It’s become particularly bad lately since we’ve started the Copwatch program. It started in earnest perhaps a year ago when someone logging in from the Regional Municipality of Ottawa Carleton [IP address] vandalized Panhandlers Union Wikipedia article saying that “Mr. Nellis,” that is myself, “really, really, really needs to get a life” and saying that the members of this union are a “parasitical blight on the city of Ottawa.” These changes were edited back fairly quickly but it was only discovered as a result of the release of the Wiki Scanner tool. The official response from City Hall was “No Comment.” I’ve subsequently discovered that the police use the same system that City Hall do. Whoever made these changes might well have been within the police station as well as inside City Hall.
Since then there have been posters put up on Ottawa city streets saying things like “Don’t feed the human pigeons” This is in response to Mayor Larry O’Brien’s statement in which he compared panhandlers to pigeons stating that if you don’t feed them they’ll go away. During the election campaign he [O’Brien] compared panhandlers to seagulls at the Carp Dump saying that in order to keep the seagulls away, occasionally you have to shoot one.
The second set of posters that went up, we believe by the same people, featured myself with a gun in my mouth in a circle with a line through it saying “Panhandlers follow your leader” with [a picture of] the mayor standing in the background grinning. I can only take this as a death threat.
We’ve recently had the Panhandlers Union [Wikipedia] articles deleted by a false flag campaign launched by someone who also we believe hijacked my internet account. Someone contacted Sympatico, my ISP, identified themselves as me and asked for my password. We know that that the first time this did not work because Sympatico Security contacted me to tell me my password which I informed at the time them that it was not me [requesting the information]. We put a special password on my account which was supposed to prevent anything like this from happening and which would require the person to give a password to identify themselves as me if they called. Apparently this did not work because within a couple of weeks someone had hijacked my e-mail, deleted a week worth of personal e-mail, vandalized my blog, attacked an anarchist IRC channel I founded and helped facilitate, and generally made my life very miserable on the internet. Whoever did this used servers they had hijacked in Pakistan and Hong Kong.
The Wikipedia campaign to delete the Panhandlers Union article – someone identified themselves in the discussion as a member of the Panhandlers Union, gave details of his arrest records, the fact that he was Hepatitis C positive, details that only the police would know about this man. We know it was not the panhandler himself who posted this because he was at the time homeless. And we know that whoever posted this was [also] using servers in Pakistan and Hong Kong. We have reason to believe it was the same person [who hacked Andrew’s internet account] who posted these messages. And in these messages he ranted about fascists and police and said that he had voted numerous times to keep the article. This gave Wikipedia administrators the excuse to delete the article out of hand by ignoring all calls to keep it. The Wikipedia article is currently deleted and no record of it ever having existed remains including the evidence that the City of Ottawa or the police had vandalized it.
Q. Do you think that the Panhandlers Union in Ottawa is a model that could be applied to other cities? Has there been interest in trying to develop Panhandlers Unions in other cities?
A. Yes. In fact I’ve been in a number of presentations on street organizing. It’s a very different milieu from what most organizers are used to. The street has its own rules. It’s stylized and ritualized not all that different than lets say a medieval Chinese court. It’s a very different place.
When you’re dealing with people as oppressed as people on the street are, it’s extremely important not to come across as an authority figure. Often the temptation is there to present yourself as leader and this must be resisted at all costs because the street will try to turn a person into a personality and it will become a cult of personality in which the personality is more important than the movement. While there can be short term results, eventually the organization falls apart when this person leaves.
The street is extremely hierarchical. There is usually a dominant alpha male. It’s very patriarchal. Often it’s racist and homophobic. I should add that it’s probably no more so than any other sector of society but because people live much closer to the bone there’s not as much lying about it. People are very straightforward about their prejudices.
So because of all these things which exist on the street, it’s important that the organizer establish from the very beginning that its about the organizational structure and that its not about the individual. If it’s about the individual, the structure is never going to survive. The reason to have an organizer when one is organizing on the street is to make sure that there is a structure.
The entire reason [many] people are on the street is that they cannot live in a highly structured scenario. There is nothing wrong with this but it is very difficult to keep an organization going when there is no structure to it. In order to ensure that it survives it’s necessary to create a tradition. And this takes many, many years. There is no short way to do this. And the way you do this is by giving people successes, by showing them that what you’re doing works. On the street people don’t have enough resources to take risks so they tend to do what works for them. If its already working they are loathe to change it. In a very real sense they are very conservative. In order to break through this it is necessary to give them successes and show them that working together is better than working by themselves. The only way to do that is by slowly building people’s trust and to show them that if they work together there is an advantage to them personally.
Q. Could you tell me a about your own politics and how you became an anarchist?
A. I identify as an anarcho-syndicalist and I am a member of the IWW. I believe that the union structure provides a very viable means of building resistance to the current system. Anarcho-syndicalism I believe is important because it will not only allow us to build an army within capitalism itself while continuing to function but will allow us to create a structure which will continue to exist when capitalism will have been destroyed.
A lot of the problem we face is that there’s always a sense of immediacy. We’re always looking at the next battle and never at the longer strategic plan. And we see the results of that in what’s happened thus far in anarchist movements. For example in Spain and the Ukraine where people were no careful about who they chose as allies and were crushed as a result. Anarchists have a history of winning on the battlefield and losing in the halls of power. I think its very important that we develop long-term strategic plans for dealing with our success rather than planning for our failures.
Q. What do you see as some of the strengths and weaknesses of anarchist organizing in Ottawa?
A. It’s interesting. I often get the feeling from anarchists that they really don’t believe that anarchism works. It’s a strange thing to say but often people seem to feel that anarchism is something you need to weave life into, that it requires extra effort to put a slather of anarchism across whatever structure it is that they create but it gives me a feeling that people don’t have faith that anarchism itself works. It’s not a chore that you need to apply to whatever it is you’re actually doing. Anarchism works. I’ve seen it in action. I’ve seen people who are oppressed and beaten down and frightened empowered by what anarchism has done for them. I’ve seen people on the street who’ve literally been beaten down. We have a man who was beaten so badly be Rideau Centre security that he nearly lost the use of his eye and yet through solidarity through what he saw anarchism was able to do for him he is now today an anarchist organizer himself. And its gratifying to see that he’s taken control of his life. He has a good paying job. He has a permanent home. And he’s using these advantages now to teach other people the value of anarchist organizing. These techniques don’t need to be grudgingly applied. They need to be lovingly embraced. They work. If you actually use them they work. It is such a thrill the first time you see it actually working, not just in theory but in practice. It’s easy to see why those original anarchists were so passionate why they continued to work into their eighties and nineties why they sang on the gallows, because anarchism is a revolutionary idea in every sense of the word. It gives a person such joy to see that it is capable of empowering people to take control of their own lives.
Abbie Hoffman said that a revolution in consciousness is an empty high without a revolution in the distribution of power and that’s perfectly true and valid but the opposite is also true. A revolution in the distribution of power will be meaningless unless there’s also a revolution in consciousness, it starts inside and continues on into the world outside of us.
A shorter version of this interview appears to Linchpin 2.