After months of organizing and eager anticipation, the first Socialist Summer Camp organized by the Toronto Young New Democrats (TYND) finally happened over the weekend of August 20 to 22, and it proved to be a major success. About two dozen attended the camp at the family campground of Neezh Meegwunun on Georgina Island, owned by Chippewa First Nation. Georgina Island is about 90 minutes north of Toronto, accessible by ferry across Lake Simcoe. We all had a great time where we practiced the time-honoured Canadian tradition of camping, while discussing our political activities since the inception of the club eight months ago, our path for the future, educating ourselves about socialism. At the same time, we had loads of fun before this summer ends and work, politics and study begins in the fall. We even managed to organize a soccer tournament!
Talk of a summer camp organized by NDP youth members in Ontario had been going on for quite some time and the Toronto Young New Democrats finally made it happen. It happened precisely because TYND has focussed on activity since its inception. From the Cathy Crowe by-election to free transit, to the G20, TYND has been an active part of the political life of Toronto since its inception. On this active basis, we were able to organize this impressive camp, which we hope will be only the first and will attract more youth from across Ontario, not just Toronto, in the coming years.
Interest of youth in politics
The official line of the media and press usually go on and on about “apathy” of youth and their indifference to politics in Canada. If any of those who share that opinion had attended our camp, they would have been hit by a surprise.
Here were a sizable number of young people from different places across the GTA (with one guest from Montreal), who knew how to enjoy themselves, loved the opportunity to discuss politics, not only in the workshops but in discussions around the campfire many hours past midnight.
We organized two workshops. The first one, which happened on Saturday morning, was titled “What is Socialism?” Julian Benson, Co-Chair of TYND and ONDY executive member, presented the workshop. Julian started by talking about the miserable conditions that capitalism has enforced on billions of people around the world and went on to talk about the crisis of the system and the socialist alternative we could present to it. There followed a lively discussion where we talked about, among other things, revolutionary, as opposed to reformist, concepts of change and the socialist roots of our party, the NDP, as demonstrated in the Regina Manifesto of 1933, which advocates a socialist transformation of society and “eradication of capitalism”. The need for the party to once more adopt socialist policies and come to power to start abolishing capitalism was also discussed.
Later in the afternoon, we had the pleasure to hear our guest speaker, Alex Grant, unionist and NDPer from Toronto who edits a Marxist journal called Fightback. Alex’s chosen topic was “The history of the Canadian working class.” He started with the oft-forgotten fact that 500 years ago, the dominant mode of production in Canada was… communism! (Referring to the primitive communism of the First Nations before the arrival of European settlers). He then went on to tell us about the glorious history of the working class in Canada, which is nothing like the “calm” picture some try to paint. It was hard, at least for the author of these lines, not to go into tears when hearing about the glorious struggles of our class, from the Winnipeg general strike of 1919 to the Auto Wars of the mid 20th century, to the Common Front revolutionary general strike in the 1970s. It was especially worthwhile to remind ourselves that capitalists and bosses, and their bourgeois state, have never ever given anything to us for free and every aspect of “civilization” that we enjoy, from weekends to Medicare, are in fact gains won by the blood that workers have shed. The possibility of building a democratic socialist Canada by the working class was where Alex ended his talk and where the discussion began. People spoke about their favourite parts of the working-class history in Canada and thus we were able to share more insight on this history and how to learn from it in our struggles.
As it was mentioned earlier, more informal political discussions happened all around the camp and the consensus was that next year we should organize more workshops, as demonstrated by the prevalent interest within youth.
A truly Canadian presence: From Iranians to Ugandans
One of the factors that gave a special strength to discussions and to the camp in general, was how diverse and varied people’s backgrounds were. While “multiculturalism” for Liberals and Conservatives is usually a watchword for the most crass practice of communitarian politics, for us socialists, the presence of people with diverse backgrounds means richer discussions and indeed richer struggles. Present were people of Albanian, Arab, British, Chilean, Iranian, Jewish, Polish, Russian and Ugandan descent, many of them new-coming immigrants. This demonstrated itself most vividly at nights around the camp fire when in addition to revolutionary and labour songs from Canada, the United States and the British Isles, which were proudly sang by everybody, we had songs in French, Farsi, Albanian, Italian, and Spanish as well!
Especially notable was the presence of a large group of Iranian youth and this wasn’t accidental. TYND has actively supported Toronto’s Iranian community, especially in defence of the current revolution against the dictatorial Islamic regime in that country. These new links between the NDP and the Iranian community shows that immigrant and diasporic communities can be attracted to our party, away from cynic communalist politics of the Liberals and Tories. Offering a socialist solution to the problems faced by these communities brought many young activists towards the TYND.
In addition to this variety of national backgrounds, we had people from different communities across the GTA: Downtown Toronto, The Esplanade (where TYND has a solid base), St. Paul’s, Lawrence Heights, the Danforth, Richmond Hill, Thornhill, Markham, Unionville, and more.
Soccer tournament and other fun activities
Of course, as any other camp, it wasn’t only politics!
We organized the first “Georgina Island Socialist Soccer Tournament” which proved to be a very heated competition between three participating teams. In the end, it was won by the team from the Espalande community group, although the author of these lines still disputes a decision made by our young referee who didn’t seem to know that using your hand is not really permitted in soccer!
We also enjoyed canoeing around the island, some fished and some just hang out on the boating dock. The environment and wildlife around the camp was truly beautiful.
Also, of interest was walking in trails into the island, where we could see the old lifestyle of the Ojibwe (Chippewa) First Nations who had inhabited this island for hundreds of years. Chippewas of Georgina Island still have a living presence on the Island, as demonstrated by the name of the campground and its facilities: Neezh Meegwunun which means “Eagle with two feathers” which was the name of the owner of the campground and thus, a beautiful eagle decorated a few places around the camp. The warm manner by which they welcomed us made us determined to come back again and make this an annual tradition.
Come Sunday, we were all visibly sad that the camp had finished and we had to go home. The camp had been truly socialist in character in that it had brought us all closer together, a fact that will undeniably play a role in the advance of our coming struggles.
As we went on the Aazhaawe ferry to go back to the mainland and return to our homes, we vowed to make this an annual tradition where we could have more and more youth from across Ontario coming together to have fun and discuss socialist and working-class politics.
We should be thankful to the committed TYND activists who worked very hard to make this camp a reality, to our dear comrade Mohsen Rezvani who, even though couldn’t participate in the camp, helped us with getting cars and telling us about the very many socialist camps he has attended around the world, to Esplanade community group who not only made a good presence in the camp but, in a truly socialist manner, brought food for all to enjoy. You could say we had our very own Cooperative Commonwealth!
We proved that socialist politics are attractive to youth. With this perspective we can inspire thousands to fight to kick out the Conservatives and Liberals and bring in the NDP to make real change in the lives of working people.