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Touch Change

January 20, 2021

“We believe that artists should be at the table of every major conversation. As our staff contemplates the year ahead, and the events of the world around us, I asked artist & activist Syrus Marcus Ware to share with the community his call to action in 2021.” —Aislinn Rose, Artistic Director

In 2017, I worked on a play with The Theatre Centre—Liza Balkan’s brilliant Out the Window, directed by Sarah Garton Stanley and featuring an incredible cast. Through this play, we got to talk about policing, abolition, and defunding the police—three years before it would break onto the scene in our revolution of 2020, as we took to the streets to protest police killings and violence directed towards Black, Indigenous and Mad communities.

We are now in a moment of revolutionary action. Revolution is never a one-time event but rather a process, and we are definitely in the middle of this process right now. All over the world, there are cries to defund the police and reinvest in our communities. Collectively, we are making the conceptual leap to understand that policing does not make our communities safer or more secure. We are realizing that it is up to us to take care of each other. Indeed the cry “We Take Care of Each Other” has been a rallying cry for much of our 2020.

So what does it mean to take care of each other as we move into 2021?

2021. The year we’d been hoping for.

As 2021 approached, we were all tired from a year of change making, a year of quarantining, a year of living in the apocalypse. We were ready for change after a year of fighting in the streets, of online activism and from endless lockdowns. But rather than start out with a warm breeze, 2021 began with a white supremacist bang, as police forces colluded with white supremacists to storm the US Capitol building. Their participation in these acts of violence was similar to what we witnessed here in Mi’kmaqi—where RCMP officers stood by while white supremacists trashed Indigenous fishers’ hauls, knocked two fishers into a wall of caged lobsters and generally ran amok.

2021 is reminding us that our work is not over yet. A reminder that we don’t have the luxury of resting from this fight right now—change is coming and we are in the fires of the revolution right now. We are literally changing the world—it is emerging differently every week, a little different as many thousands of people get involved in touching changes, shaping change.

We will rest, we will root our work in a cripped, disability justice informed practice that allows all of us a chance to be involved in the revolution—from our homes, from our beds, and yes from the streets. The big questions of our age are being settled right now—what are we going to do about white supremacy? About systemic transphobia? About anti-Blackness writ large everywhere? How will we support Indigenous resurgence efforts? How will we support Land Back? Will we finally end slavery by ending the police and prison system? These huge questions require all of our input—now is the time to think the long thoughts, to talk with your circles about change, and to get involved in the revolution. It is happening around us right now. If you’ve ever wondered what you would be doing in the revolution, well, now is the time to find out. Support activism in your communities. Get involved in building the future worlds that you want to grow into. Create the worlds wherein we all thrive.

Assata Shakur told us that we would get there, that we could win our liberation. She said that we had to hold onto hope, and to not let ourselves fall into a “distorted subjective irrational fear”. We must be brave now and commit to change.

We are moving into the Octavia Butlerian futures that we’ve been reading about. The outcome of our book is yet to be determined. As Butler reminds us “all that you touch you change, all that you change, changes you. Touch change.”

It’s time. Touch change.

Syrus Marcus Ware is a Vanier Scholar, a visual artist, community activist, researcher, youth-advocate and educator. For 12 years, he was the Coordinator of the Art Gallery of Ontario Youth Program. Syrus is currently a facilitator/designer for the Cultural Leaders Lab (Toronto Arts Council & The Banff Centre). He is the inaugural artist-in-residence for Daniels Spectrum (2016/2017). Syrus is also a core team member of Black Lives Matter Toronto.