CW: Islamophobia, violence
On March 19, hundreds of students, faculty and staff filled the McMaster University Student Centre courtyard to mourn the victims of the Christchurch massacre.
The terrorist attack was committed on March 15 by a white supremacist who opened fire in two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, killing a total of 50 people and injuring 50 others.
The attack was considered the worst mass shooting in New Zealand’s recent history.
The vigil was organized by the McMaster Muslim Students Association in collaboration with the McMaster Muslims for Peace and Justice and the McMaster Womanists. The three groups brought 15 speakers from various parts of the community to speak.
The vigil began with a recitation from the Quran.
In a particularly poignant moment following the recitation, the organizers honoured and read out the names of the 50 who died due to the attack.
A theme echoed throughout the vigil was that the attack reflected a larger movement of white supremacy, Islamophobia and bigotry across the globe.
“White supremacy exists, toxic masculinity exists, misogyny exists. Xenophobia, racism and Islamophobia exist. These things exist in New Zealand, in the United States. They also exist right here in Canada, in Ontario, in Hamilton,” said Khadijeh Rakie, a staff member of the McMaster Equity and Inclusion Office.
Rakie encouraged Muslim people to grieve freely.
“I don’t think our strength or grief must be looked at in one way, or need to be performative or palatable or always available for public consumption,” said Rakie.
Speakers pointed out the connection between Christchurch and the 2017 Quebec mosque attack, completed by a white supremacist, which killed six people in prayer.
“Far-right populist leaders around the world and false media narratives have stoked the fires behind the dehumanization and demonization of Muslims worldwide, causing events like the one in Christchurch,” said one student speaker.
Many speakers also expressed appreciation for other faith groups who have supported and stood in solidarity with them since the attack.
Other speakers encouraged Muslim and non-Muslims alike to actively stand against discrimination in all its forms.
“As different societies face all forms of prejudice, persecution and rhetoric against immigrants, refugees, visitors and worshippers of all kinds of faith, backgrounds, and communities, we must all stand together against all forms of violence, ignorance and hatred,” said another student speaker.
Mahmood Haddara, the president of McMaster MSA, called for compassion and unity.
“We need at times like these to build those connections with each other, to turn towards each other, to remind ourselves of that love and that connection, to look at the person next to you regardless of their skin colour or their belief and remind yourself that they are your brother or sister in humanity,” said Haddara.
Following the speeches, the organizers held an open prayer in the MUSC atrium.
Gachi Issa, one of the organizers of the vigil, said she is grateful for the support from the McMaster community and hopes the vigil will also spark discussion about discrimination and Islamophobia in Hamilton and on the McMaster campus.
“The message is first and foremost to mourn these  and counting victims in New Zealand, but it’s also to localize it,” said Issa. “The same thing that has killed them affects us here.”
With International Women’s Day just behind us, several Hamilton organizations are taking the time to show their appreciation for the women in our community. One such organization is Never Gonna Stop, a youth initiative that is hosting Empower Me: A Women’s Appreciation Brunch on March 16 at the Hamilton Plaza Hotel and Conference Center.
In addition to brunch, the event will feature games, raffle prizes, a variety of visual and performing artists and speakers. The event is open to all ages and genders. It was important for the organizers that this communal appreciation of women be done by not just other women.
“[I]t's really important to have men to support women in our community. Men's voices are heard a lot more than just women’s [so] we're trying to get men to align with women… [W]hen we hear [about] domestic violence, usually it's men doing violence towards women, so… that's what I mean when I say we try to align men with women to support each other,” explained NGS member Gonca Aydin.
The brunch, which is now sold out, is free of cost. Making it free allowed the event to be accessible to everyone in the community. Reducing financial barriers is important for this organization, which is catered towards helping low-income youth.
NGS was created by David Lingisi, Saifon Diallo and Joshua Kiena, all of whom come from low-income backgrounds. They wanted to create an initiative that would provide physical and mental health-related activities for youth from the ages of 13 to 29.
“[W]e've seen how there's a lot of older people… that have talent basically wasted because they didn't have an opportunity… [A]s the younger generation, we basically want to help [youth] out to make their dreams come true. I want everyone to provide a platform for them, to give them an opportunity to… go to the league, allow them to become doctors and [whatever] they want to do,” said Lingisi.
Lingisi was born with sickle cell anemia and has spent his life in and out of the hospital while still working towards his dream of being a music producer. Each of the co-founders have underwent personal challenges, which fuel their desire to help others overcome obstacles. Growing up in immigrant families, they all faced culture shock in addition to financial barriers.
The initiative hopes to provide the support for low-income youth that they feel is missing in Hamilton. They want to support the artistic, athletic and academic talent of today’s youth by providing them with opportunities and the knowledge to succeed.
Since the creation of the initiative last summer, NGS has hosted a youth panel, a holiday food drive, an All-Star weekend basketball tournament and a talent and fashion show for Black History Month among other events. They are continuously planning new events in partnership with other organizations in the city.
They took on the Women’s Appreciation Brunch because it fits within their goal of creating community. NGS is proud to call themselves inclusive to all genders, races, religions or economic statuses. Setting aside space and time to celebrate women and promote the resources that women can access within the city fits within that mandate.
Most importantly, the Women’s Appreciation Brunch delivers the message of persistence directly to Hamilton’s women. They named the event Empower Me because they want women of all ages to know that they can accomplish any goal that they set out to reach.
“[K]eep following your dreams, whatever it is, don't ever stop, don't let anything stop you. You are able to make it no matter what you're going through, it doesn't matter the situation, just keep going as long as you get one more day… I just want to [say] that everybody's a part of NGS. I'm NGS, you're NGS, anybody going through anything but still fighting is NGS,” said Lingisi.
That is why they named themselves Never Gonna Stop. More than a name, it is a movement and source of encouragement for those involved. Knowing how hard life can be, NGS is focused on motivating others to work hard in order to achieve their wildest dreams.
On Feb 1, the Hamilton Student Mobilization Network, a local activist group, hosted a rally at Gore Park in downtown Hamilton to protest the government’s proposed changes to the Ontario Student Assistance Program.
The event featured various speakers including Angie Perez, president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees 3096, and Sandy Hudson, co-founder of Black Lives Matter Toronto.
“Students have gone to strike for less,” HSMN organizers said at the event.
— The Silhouette (@theSilhouette) February 1, 2019
Beyond the issue of OSAP, various speakers advocated for completely free tuition. All stressed the need to support grassroots student activism.
The protest downtown followed a protest in the McMaster University Student Centre on Jan. 31, where the HSMN called out the McMaster Students Union for failing to advocate for the student body effectively.
Multiple musicians and poets were also featured at the two-hour long rally, performing pieces on the issues of capitalism and gentrification.
Hudson stresses the power of students, pointing to the success of Quebec student organizers.
— The Silhouette (@theSilhouette) February 1, 2019
“It is a strong sense of solidarity, a strong sense of agitation, and a strong sense of annoyance,” one protester said when asked why he attended the rally.
After an hour of speakers and performers, the protest took to marching on the streets, stopping traffic around the downtown area.
The HSMN was launched in the first few weeks following the government’s announcement on Jan 17.
The organization strives to equip activists to mobilize against shared struggles and is mostly run by students and workers from McMaster University and Mohawk College who had already been organizing separately.
“We started having conversations about what it would look like if we came together on campus across campuses across the city and really bolstered a more cohesive body of resistance,” a HSMN organizer and McMaster student said.
Though the rally was centred on the changes to OSAP, the HSMN is also focused on the adverse effects that cutting tuition and student fees will have.
The student organizer pointed out that McMaster is set to lose $22 million in funding next year, with no additional funding from the government to offset the loss.
“We are looking at suffering quality of education given that there will probably be increases of class sizes. We are looking at part-time staff, faculty associate professors being made vulnerable, anyone that really does not have security or stability of tenure or status in the organization,” they said.
“There are a lot of communities being affected by this, not just students on OSAP,” they added.
Nonetheless, changes to OSAP will not make it easier to afford tuition anyway, according to the student organizer.
“The tuition cuts are very misleading,” they said. “If you cannot afford the tuition even with it reduced, you are still taking out higher loans, which means higher debts, higher interest rates, and in the long run, it is going to cost more.”
The HSMN is also very concerned that the option for students to opt-out of certain student fees will jeopardize some student services.
“We need to really come together as a community and realize that services we do not use today we might need tomorrow. We need to support services for each other and recognize that student fees help build a stronger, healthier community,” the student organizer said.
For the HSMN, the rally represents only the first step in what they hope will be sustained student mobilization and advocacy.
“It represents an entry point for a lot of students to mobilize around these changes and we are going to be having a sustained campaign,” they said.
The HSMN has not released any other planned actions to the public at this point.