Maude Barlow is still hopeful – here’s why
Canada’s greatest social activist, Maude Barlow, taught me so much about working for peace and justice.
When I was an aspiring peace campaigner in Vancouver, Maude asked me to join the Council of Canadians as a regional organizer, and to set up her organization’s first office outside of Ottawa. It was an exciting role that introduced be to so many amazing people, including 41 busloads of Canadian activists who joined the “Battle of Seattle” against the World Trade Organization in 1999.
Maude published a new book this year, and the positive reviews are pouring in.
Titled, “Still Hopeful: Lessons from a Lifetime of Activism,” her publisher (ECW Press) describes it as a timely book, and “Barlow counters the prevailing atmosphere of pessimism that surrounds us and offers lessons of hope that she has learned from a lifetime of activism.” That’s an understatement.
Here’s what others are saying about “Still Hopeful: Lessons from a Lifetime of Activism,” by Maude Barlow.
Despite such significant victories, however, Barlow acknowledges that despair is not unreasonable in the face of the multiple existential crises that humanity is facing regarding democracy, our environment, growing inequality and poverty, and military conflict, to name a few.
Not surprisingly, it is younger people who are the most affected by these threats to our collective wellbeing. It is their futures especially that are in danger. Barlow asks what can be done to, “inspire young people to see that the life of an activist is a good life…find joy in the struggle to make a better world…help them not to be overwhelmed with the enormity of the task ahead?”
That was her primary motivation for writing Still Hopeful.
One of her insights is that we cannot depend on our “leaders” to do the work of creating a better world. In Barlow’s view, it is consistent, visible grassroots organizing, at both the local and national levels, has the best chance to lead to the kinds of change that could vastly improve our ecological, political, social, and economic realities.Peter G. Prontzos in Canadian Dimension
The writing in this book is hospitable, invitational. Barlow consciously avoids any sense of a bully pulpit or rant. “I promised myself I would spare the statistics,” she says. In contrast, Barlow’s activism is powered by relationships. Interspersed throughout are profiles of fellow eco-justice activists who have inspired her – people like union leader Oscar Olivera who led a successful grassroots fight against privatization of water in Bolivia; and Meera Karunananthan, director of the Blue Planet project, who works to support other grassroots movements fighting privatization. In addition to these alliances are countless stories of strangers who came to her aid in times of dire health crises while travelling as an activist – some crises exacerbated by drinking contaminated water. “Everywhere I needed help, strangers were there for me,” she says. She is inspired by the kindness of women in rural Mexico fighting for water justice who offered her their best rainwater in spite of living in crowded huts without access to running water or electricity. Barlow’s work as a passionate water defender has led her full circle back to women’s rights. In many parts of the world, she came to know, it is women and girls who walk miles to fetch water.Jannie Edwards in the Hamilton Review of Books
A couple of key themes emerge from Barlow’s accounts of global activism. One is that building coalitions, bridges between different groups, s hard but necessary work. Another is that success can’t be measured by the numbers of campaigns that are waged, or whether they’re won or lost. The true test is whether ongoing linkages between civil society groups, labour, faith-based communities and indeed all progressives have been created.
Barlow’s work on the water file, in both national and global campaigns, is impressive but also daunting. The scope of the challenge here is staggering. She writes about two billion citizens drinking contaminated water each day, and by 2025 two-thirds of the world’s population will live in water-stressed areas.
She outlines how even if climate change was somehow solved overnight, these critical water issues would remain.
Fighting the commodification of water has been a lifelong battle for Barlow, and her justified celebration of the UN General Assembly’s July 2010 vote to recognize water and sanitation as “essential for the full enjoyment of the right to life” is a moving testament to the global water movement she has been at the centre of.Paul Moist in Our Schools/Our Selves
Still Hopeful: Lessons from a Lifetime of Activism
Barlow, Maude (2022)
(Cover: OTTAWA, CANADA – SEPTEMBER 26, 2011: Maude Barlow, Canadian author and political activist, speaks at a protest against environmental impacts of oil sands development. Via Shutterstock.)