Fried Squirrels

It’s a crisp, foggy November Saturday morning in the south side of the city. Seventeen people sit in the large open area at the back end of an organic fair trade coffee shop run by a workers’ co-op inspired by the Mondragon movement in Spain. Meet-ups like this are quite common in this shop.

The male and female co-facilitators move briskly through the agenda with the help of the nodding volunteer maintaining the speakers list. There are sporadic jazz-hand gestures, common from the Occupy Movement, as well as a strict yet comfortable group norm of only one person speaking at a time, and succinctly, because of the elaborately carved talking stick that moves around the room.

This is the weekly meeting of the Fried Squirrels, who meet every Saturday morning in 27 cities across the country. It never lasts more than exactly 90 minutes and is disturbed only by one of the childcare professionals in the play corner bringing the odd hungry baby to her mother in the circle for a feeding.

The agenda is diverse and extremely compelling. At the top was a discussion of next month’s random flashmob that will occupy the large boulevard beside the strip mall where the provincial labour minister’s constituency office is. There is a government liquor store there, too, with lots of customers eager to receive the information picket material about new anti-worker bills in the legislature. Three-hundred-and-eighty-five people showed up for the event last month, rotating their presence over the six-hour action.

Next up are the final plans for the information pickets outside the Canadian Tire and Shopper’s Drug Mart, which are ramping up leading into the holiday season. There is an organizing drive at the Canadian Tire and re-certification effort at Shoppers. It looks like there will be 15-20 people at each site at all times over eight hours each Saturday and Sunday, through the Boxing Week sales and into 2014.

The next agenda item is an update on the next First Monday night Fried Squirrel panel at the college. It will include someone with an update on housing at Attawapiskat and three other First Nations communities with precarious housing, an American union organizer Skyping in with an update on best practices and lessons from the U.S. fast food “strikes;” and the Council of Canadians’ national water campaigner updating everyone on the increasingly successful campaign getting cities and universities to ban bottled water.

The rest of the agenda includes the following: planning for church, mosque and synagogue presentations on the living wage campaign; the ongoing efforts to enumerate the often hidden domestic workers; coordination with Idle No More events; a day-long music festival to raise funds for the battered women’s shelter; plans for a province-wide one-day study session for provincial government payroll staff threatened with being contracted out; and the related protests at all government constituency offices.

This week’s meeting has representatives from three public sector unions, two private sector unions, the Council of Canadians, the Canadian Labour Congress and provincial federation of labour, the living wage campaign, rape relief, Occupy, Shit Harper Did, green energy advocacy, proportional representation, affordable housing organizations, and the Mennonite Central Committee.

There are a dozen other organizations without representatives present today, but they check in on the agenda and minutes posted briskly on the Fried Squirrels website. The website maintains records and plans for all meetings and activities across the country. It hosts a bulletin board; a chatroom with participants around the clock; links to the Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest portals; interfaces for audio and video conferencing; an archive of Fried Squirrel lectures and panels from around the country and event photos and videos; and links to online petitions and advocacy organizations around the country and contact people in every city.

Beyond their organizational affiliations, the people in the cafe this morning include retired union activists, a few 30-something moms, a Juno-nominated folk singer, three Raging Grannies, a former Olympian, several immigrants and temporary foreign workers, two firefighters, siblings of two local NHL players, and a host of “ordinary” people who do most of the living and dying in the community.

The Fried Squirrels formed a year before the end of Stephen Harper’s first term with a majority government. People simply realized the necessity for labour, social, environmental, faith, advocacy and other groups to join in common cause to defeat widespread attacks on the fabric of Canada.

Harper once said, “You won’t recognize Canada when I get through with it.” It was always a mystery as to why it took seven years of him governing for people to believe he meant what he said. But when the Flying Squirrels first formed, they grew very quickly, in part because of the name. Two satirical Raging Granny poets coined the term “Flying Squirrels” in a song, starting with “flying squads,” adding the flying squirrel image, and then “fried,” from Friedrich Engels, who is generally considered the first to use the term flying squad. From that, the Raging Grannies spread the name around the country and the rest is history.

Or, more precisely, not yet history.

The Fried Squirrels don’t exist in Canada. Not yet, anyway. But the tools for creating this movement have been with us for years. All it takes is someone to convene the first meeting and let the membership, agenda, actions and organizational structure emerge. And if we’re clever, we’ll start now. There’s a federal election brewing!

This also appears in the current issue of Our Times magazine.

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Stephen Elliott-Buckley

Post-partisan eco-socialist.
Stephen Elliott-Buckley is a husband, father, former suburban Vancouver high school English and Social Studies teacher who changed careers because the BC Liberal Party has been working hard to ruin public education. He has various English and Political Science degrees and has been writing political, social and economic editorials since November 2002. Stephen is in Twitter, Miro and iTunes, and the email thing, and at his website, dgiVista.org.

2 thoughts on “Fried Squirrels”

  1. I agree with the goals; but I can’t stand the methods. “Sporadic jazz-hand gestures”? Please, don’t make me hurl. Where are we, in Orwell’s 1984? The Fried Squirrels sounds like a bureaucrat’s wet-dream. Yes, let’s have more meetings, and another meeting to talk about that meeting. Look at any of our “beloved” institutions and you’ll see agendas stacked with time-wasting meetings, minutes, records, plans – you’ll find there, too, stifling of originality and the main source of inertia to actually getting anything done.
    To me, the FriedSquirrels/Occupy movement reeks of timidity. It’s the easy way out, a way to pretend to be rebels without stepping on anyone’s toes. Since the last Occupy, the world goes on as if nothing happened. The movement is derided for its complete lack of focus and ineffectiveness.
    By being so politically-correct about everything, the movement reveals its weakness: do no harm. Unfortunately, life by its very nature is harmful. Even low-impact vegans consume plant life and excrete pollution. Those that consume our planet for their own profit laugh at such meekness. Capitalism is inherently destructive, it doesn’t calculate the external costs to any transaction, and those that profit remain willfully ignorant of the harm they cause to billions of people daily. Harm on such a massive scale requires an equal response…with all the disruptive force and self-sacrifice that may require. The 1% won’t just hand over their billions or stop destroying the planet, they won’t go down without using all the weapons at their disposal, including governments, police forces, the media and psychological warfare.
    Our strategies need to be global, diverse, subversive, individual and collective – but they need to be effective. Camping downtown isn’t effective. Waving hands and human loudspeakers aren’t effective. Trying to be nice to everyone isn’t effective.
    In order to live, to have a future, we have to use our anger and step on as many toes as necessary.

    1. have you attended an occupy meeting/assembly to see the efficiency/value of the jazz hands?

      it’s designed to express affirmation without having to clap [which slows things down] or speaking to say me too [which slows things down], and gives everyone a sense of the mood of the room/assembly.

      sure, it’s silly-looking, but it sure is effective.

      the fried squirrels piece documented a meeting, a meeting which detailed maaaaany actual actions going on. the 90 minute time limit was part of a recognition that it’s not actually/all about the meetings.

      and again, i’d ask if you have been to any occupy meetings?

      some of them have been labouriously time-consuming. in part, because people didn’t get the flow. though that comes with time. and once people get up to speed i’ve seen meetings just truck right along. so i know it can work.

      so yeah, if i were only advocating for having meetings, it would be pretty useless without actions, effective action.

      thanks for weighing in.

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