Sammy's Legacy: Building a Community Response to Police Impunity

By Zoey

On Saturday July 27, 2013, eighteen year old Sammy Yatim, a resident of Toronto, died at the hands of the Toronto police. A video of the incident posted to youtube reveals Sammy, armed with a small knife and seemingly intoxicated, occupying an empty street car near Trinity Bellwoods park surrounded by a group of roughly ten officers. With barely a warning, a particularly overzealous cop fired nine shots into Sammy's body; shortly thereafter, a second officer tasered him as he lay fatally wounded. A single police officer, Constable James Forcillo, has been suspended with pay. According to the Sunshine List (a list of public sector employees making over $100,000 per year), James Forcillo's annual salary is just under $107,000. Clearly, commitment to one's role as a vendor of human misery and suffering doesn't come cheap.

Although in many cases it is perfectly reasonable and indeed necessary for workers to fight for and expect to be paid during any work-related suspension, as anarchists we must draw a hard line when it comes to agents of state repression, such as police officers and prison guards. We also must note the obvious reality that it is extremely unlikely that other workers, unionized or not, would enjoy such a privilege were they to be caught on camera committing a brazen act of murder. While some online commentators have made the argument that the police were just “doing their job”, the passionate community response that has followed quickly on the heels of Sammy's death clearly demonstrates that this type of reasoning is at odds with public conceptions of justice and due process.


The first volume of Mortar, Common Cause's brand new theoretical journal, is now available online. Inside you will find an editorial introduction, along with five collectively written articles covering subjects such as building community power, disability and dual consciousness, militancy, false conceptions of democracy and anarchist perspectives on gentrification.

Run This Town: Building Class Power in the City

By Three Hamilton Members, One Toronto Member

The Marxist urbanist Henri Lefebvre wrote that the working class is made out of urban material. His point was that to understand the working class and to organize it, one had to look at everyday working class life from the totality of urban life, not only at the part of it that occurs on the factory floor. Further, one had to look at the totality of the urban working class, not only at its industrial or factory segment.

David Harvey, another Marxist urbanist, points out that most Marxists have largely not taken Lefebvre’s lessons to heart, and have instead tended to ignore both working class life outside the factory and working class segments outside of the industrial proletariat. This point is less true of anarchism as a whole. Anarchists have historically theorized about and organized amongst the full range of working class and dispossessed groups, such as the peasantry and indigenous people. Neither the anarchist canon nor anarchism in practice identified the industrial working class as the indisputable vanguard segment of the dispossessed.

Indeed, since the revival of anarchism in the 1990s, a great deal of anarchist theory and practice has focused on the terrain of urban class struggle; particularly, in the form of squatting, anti-police and anti-racist organizing, local food security, struggles against ecologically destructive and colonialist urbanization, building counter-cultural spaces in the city, and building urban sanctuaries for migrant workers. This is especially true in North America where the link with the broader anarchist tradition has been almost completely broken.

What Wears us Down: Dual Consciousness and Disability at Work

By Two Toronto Members, One Hamilton Member

Anarchists have in recent years taken up the topic of disability in our political analysis and activism, which is a positive development. The historical resistance of disabled people to segregation, institutionalization, poverty, and oppression has yielded strong political theory from which we can learn, and social movements in which we should participate. To avoid confronting disableism ignores its profound implications for the entire working class.

Historically and presently, anarchist orientations toward disability are extremely varied. While a clear refutation of Social Darwinism and eugenics can be found in Kropotkin’s writings on Mutual Aid, some of his contemporaries and followers promoted these backwards and vicious ideas. Presently, anarchist orientations range from the extreme disableism embedded within anarchoprimitivist thought, to an almost exclusive emphasis on identity politics and intersectionality from the social movement activist milieu, to the vulgar class reductionism often encountered within the anarchist communist tradition. Our goal is an understanding of disability that avoids class reductionism, while remaining firmly based in class struggle politics.

There remains a great deal of ambivalence, discomfort, and contradiction in our actions surrounding disability. Able-bodied working class people often times actively participate in the oppression of disabled people, while at other times standing in solidarity with their struggles. In working toward building strong working class resistance, these divisions and contradictions within the working class must not be stepped around, but examined and addressed head-on. Stating ‘we are all disabled’, or ‘we may all be disabled some day’ are insufficient; what’s needed is an examination of disableism’s broad manifestations in the class.

The Nature of Militancy

One Toronto Member, One KW Member

It is a truism common among Western anarchists, and the revolutionary left more generally, that militancy is in short supply these days. This sentiment is often expressed in a rather offhanded way, as a lazy excuse to rationalize decades of working-class defeats, or else through fiery polemics denouncing the cautious reformism exhibited by trade unions, “progressives”, liberals and social democrats. Far too infrequently is an honest attempt made to clarify precisely what we mean by the term militancy—or better yet, how we can help qualitatively develop this characteristic within movements struggling for social and economic justice. Instead, militancy is often presented uncritically, as though it were some sort of esoteric derivative of political ideology, a synonym for violent tactics, or even as a tactic unto itself—a vital and yet somehow unattainable sine qua non of radical change.

In this article we will attempt to clear up some of this confusion by providing a working definition of the term militancy, and an answer to the related question of what it means to be a militant. We will then move on to explore the contentious 'diversity of tactics' debate that emerged within the anti-globalization movement, and continues to this day—a disagreement rooted in the heterogeneous political composition of the movement's participants, and two opposing, yet ultimately liberal conceptions of violence. Finally, we will offer a brief study of past movements that have exhibited a high level of militancy and political cohesion, with an eye to distilling common characteristics that could potentially aid in the development of a contemporary North American movement able to effectively wage war on the forces of neoliberal capitalism currently embodied under the rubric of austerity.

I: Mapping the Terrain: Towards a Common Conception of Militancy

Some Assembly Required: Beyond False Conceptions of Democracy

By Two Toronto Members

Democracy is a term of primary importance to liberals and radicals alike, used as a means of justifying the legitimacy of their power or political position. Whether the ability of all citizens to make decisions extends only to allowing them to periodically vote for their leaders, or whether it reaches the perceived-radical level of people directly making decisions on issues that affect them, it is democracy nevertheless. Similar to politicians who justify the legitimacy of their rule by pointing to a successful election result, the left points to our positions being the will of the people – or at least it would be, leftists tell themselves, if the working class ever had the opportunity to make decisions for themselves.

In this radical race to the most-democratic democracy, anarchists claim that directly democratic structures are the best way for the working class to make decisions according to their collective class interests. As anarchist communists, we herald a federated structure of assemblies and councils who provide delegates carrying directly-determined mandates to higher-scale decision-making bodies as the ideal decision-making structure, both as a way to bolster the class in workers’ bodies under capitalism, and the way to run a post-revolutionary society.

Short Circuit: Towards an Anarchist Approach to Gentrification

By Two Toronto Members

I. Defining Gentrification

No matter how different the reasons may be, the result is everywhere the same: the scandalous alleys and lanes disappear to the accompaniment of lavish self-praise from the bourgeoisie on account of this tremendous success—but they appear again immediately somewhere else, and often in the immediate neighbourhood.
- Freidrich Engels, The Housing Question

Gentrification, etymologically speaking, is a relatively new word, coined in 1964 by the English Marxist sociologist Ruth Glass. Conceptually, some would claim that it has been a feature of urban life for hundreds of years. Between 1853 and 1870, for instance, the Haussmannization of Paris forced thousands of poor people from the centre of the city, where rents had traditionally been cheaper, to the urban periphery; these migrations were the forced results of structural changes Baron Haussmann had proposed to the city’s urban geography, and rapidly increasing rents. We might anachronistically consider displacements such as these an example of gentrification, but, as we will explore below, the term has some specificity and nuance that such comparisons fail to capture.

Keeping up the Fight for Reproductive Rights

By Zoey

On May 29, Dr. Henry Morgentaler, renowned for the key role he played in the abortion movement in Canada, died at 90 years old. Morgentaler, a Holocaust survivor who moved to Canada in the 1950's, used legal and illegal avenues to contend with anti-abortion laws that had been in place since the passing of the nation's first criminal code in 1892. In 1969 Morgentaler defied this law to open up an abortion clinic in Montreal, the first of a series of abortion clinics in major Canadian cities. These clinics became the target of twenty years worth of aggression and legal battles, until January 1988, when the Supreme Court of Canada struck down Canada's existing abortion laws as unconstitutional—citing violation of section 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms for infringing upon a woman's right to "life, liberty and security of person."

Although Dr. Morgentaler certainly played an important role in the fight for reproductive justice in Canada that culminated in the legal expansion of abortion services, it's important not to credit him entirely for a mobilization whose most dedicated constituents—namely working class women—worked tirelessly to lay the foundation for less fettered access to abortion. Some of this work took the form of the Abortion Caravan, which in the 1970's was Canada's first national feminist protest. The Abortion Caravan embarked on a cross-country tour that culminated in a demonstration in the House of Commons on May 11, 1970. Beyond the demonstration itself, the caravan served the important role of galvanizing and emboldening supporters Canada-wide in the protest against restrictive access to abortions.

Movement for Justice in el Barrio: 2013 Southern Ontario Speaking Tour

The Movement for Justice in El Barrio was founded by immigrants and low-income people of color of East Harlem to fight for dignity and against neoliberal displacement.

Movement operates on a commitment to self-determination, autonomy, and participatory democracy.

Driven by multi-national corporations and profit-seeking landlords,and facilitated by city officials, gentrification has swept New York City, causing the wholesale displacement of low-income people of color and immigrants from their communities. East Harlem is experiencing a wave of harassment, abuse, and intimidation as greedy landlords attempt to evict the community from their homes in order to raise rents and increase profits. With over 750 members, Movement has gone door-to-door, building-to-building, and block-to-block to organize with their fellow neighbors to build a neighborhood-wide movement for dignity and justice.

Deeply inspired by the Zapatistas, Movement has organized in the heart of NYC through community-led, horizontal, grassroots participatory democracy.

•Through their “Consultas del Barrio” process, thousands of
community members participate directly in community-wide votes and town hall meetings.

• Movement has organized local and international "Encuentros" where representatives of groups have participated from across the world to share their struggles against neoliberal displacement.


Best Power to the people movement in New York City
- The Village Voice

It is real grassroots democracy, and it is being practiced by the immigrants who live in East Harlem
- New York Daily News


Speaking Tour Dates:

Towards a Militant Feminist Movement: Confronting Men’s Rights Organizing

By a Common Cause Toronto member

On the eve of International Women’s Day, so-called men’s rights advocates at the University of Toronto hosted an event confronting women’s studies and academic feminism. This was a follow-up to their event in November featuring self-proclaimed ex-feminist Warren Farrell, author of the book the Myth of Male Power. Warren Farrell is best known for his statements about women making false accusations of rape and his argument that incest can be a positive experience, if only women were not socialized to be victims. Though figures like this, who have written that, “before we called this date rape and date fraud, we called it exciting”, make it tempting to point to these inflammatory quotes to justify our outrage at these groups, it is their fundamental discourse that we must contend with.

Men’s Rights Associations have sprung up at universities across southern Ontario, including Guelph, Waterloo, McMaster and multiple campuses in Toronto. Their main position is that the hardships of men have been caused by women, the women’s rights movement and in particular, feminists. They express this position with rhetoric ranging from downright reasonable-sounding to blatantly misogynistic, but by only focusing on the latter, we risk normalizing their fundamental message that feminism oppresses men. The exploitation and increased incarceration or suicide rates of men have not been created by feminism. Some of the supposed facts that they present, such as the prevalence of false rape accusations are simply untrue, but those about drop-out rates, incarceration and suicide of men often approximate truth. We do not need to negate these facts to contend with them, but instead, must place them in an accurate political context, that of capitalism, patriarchy, and white supremacy.