VICTORIA—The Fernwood Community Centre came alive on Sunday (September 23), with more than 100 local residents participating in the most high-spirited yet of CUPE BC’s annual “Include Me!” celebrations of cultural diversity and anti-racism.
The four-hour community event in B.C.’s capital was more interactive than previous versions held in Surrey, Prince George and Coquitlam. At times the gymnasium atmosphere was reminiscent of a spiritual gathering, rather than a typical union-sponsored event. Participants sang in unison with performers, rose from their seats, joined hands and moved together as one.
The two guests representing aboriginal culture were both present at last fall’s CUPE BC Aboriginal Gathering. For the opening blessing, the Esquimalt Dancers provided a dramatic start with a drum-and-chant ritual that recognized the unceded, Coast Salish territory where the event was being held. And Dana-Lynn Seaborne, representing the Metis people, followed up a brief speech earlier in the event with an acoustic guitar-and-vocal rendition of a humourous song about cultural diversity within one’s own life.
Throughout the event the mood swung wildly between the solemn and the jubilant, as the themes of struggle and celebration intersected.
Moussa Mougassa, an immigrant from Senegal speaking on behalf of UVic’s Equity and Human Rights organization, hushed the crowd as he recalled an incident years ago in Paris in which another man addressed him as “Negro”.
“There were two possible ways I could have reacted to this,” he said. “I chose to laugh. In all of Africa, there is no place called ‘Negro’.”
The day’s final act, the Stages Performing Arts school, performed a haunting dance to Pink and the Indigo Girls’s “Dear Mr. President” (“How can you sleep while the rest of us cry?”), a lament for the indifference of American policy makers to the tragic consequences of U.S. military presence in Iraq.
The Uminari Taiko Drummers, a multicultural troupe that performs traditional Japanese taiko pieces, rocked the Centre with powerful combinations of pounding rhythms and chanting, while the Power of Hope youth performers began with a rap song attacking racism in all its forms.
The group switched gears by chanting a Tibetan Buddhist mantra that prompted the entire crowd to join in, providing the first of two transcendent moments in the event.
The other occurred during a performance by the Gettin’ Higher Choir, when the choirmaster invited everyone to rise from their seats, join together at the centre of the gymnasium floor, and sing in three-section harmony led by the lines “We are one world/one voice/one heart beating.” Nearly everyone in the room participated.
This year’s “Include Me!” was organized by CUPE’s UVic human rights committee in conjunction with CUPE BC’s Committee Against Racism and Discrimination. Dale Whitford, of CUPE BC’s Aboriginal Working Group, served as event chair.
Victoria-Hillside MLA Rob Fleming and Victoria MP Denise Savoie were both in attendance and spoke briefly. Savoie, addressing the crowd later in the event, was visibly moved by the performances and the energy in the room. “This event has exceeded all my expectations, and we should all give ourselves a hand,” she said.
Community groups who set up booths included the Canadian Federation for the Blind, an organization that promotes self-advocacy and empowerment for the visually impaired; the UVic Pride Collective, which, due to the lack of community resources for gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, transgender and other sexual minorities in the Capital Region, frequently provides service or referrals for non-students as well as students; representatives of the Baha’i faith; the Victoria Intercultural Association; and the Vancouver Island Public Interest Research Group (VIPIRG).
VIPIRG’s spokesperson surprised the crowd by introducing Dr. Joel Kovel, the New York City-based author of the just-released Overcoming Zionism: Creating a Single Democratic State in Israel/Palestine. Kovel, scheduled to speak at UVic tonight, spoke of Zionism as a racist form of nationalism that has demonized the Palestinian people.
A sampling of finger foods, provided by the International Women’s Catering Co-op, was served throughout the event. To minimize garbage, organizers did not serve coffee, tea or soft drinks but provided water served in giveaway bottles courtesy of Island WaterWatch.
For more photos of the event, visit“New CUPE BC galleries”.