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Troster loves hands-on activism

'Conference calls are not activism'

'Conference calls are not activism.' Ariel Troster works by day for the Council of Canadians, and organizes protests and writes a blog in her spare time. Credit: Pat Croteau

Ariel Troster, yes like the mermaid, may be a gentle, feminine, bookish type but she is anything but a damsel in distress.

The 27-year-old has an impressive history of activism at such a young age, and there’s more to come. “I’m just getting started,” she says with a sharp twinkle in her eye.

She is frank, upright and anything but wishy-washy.

All her life she has been surrounded by smart, professional women so a sense of social justice grew in her like all her other organs. She has always been an activist at heart.

But her activist activities started in 1998 when Mike Harris was, as Troster says, pillaging Ontario’s education system. Troster hopped on a bus from her high school in Thornhill to downtown Toronto with dozens of other student protestors and walked the picket line with her teachers.

“I have a cemented belief that street protests are the public’s access to their political reality,” says Troster.

After graduation she attended Concordia University for journalism and found herself at the centre of a political firestorm working on The Link, their weekly campus newspaper.

The campus was in a hotbed of activism from both Palestinian and Israeli groups and the newspaper became the eye of the storm.

She became disillusioned after that, especially after four years of seeing straight, white males running the show. Academic activism left a bad taste in her mouth and Troster wanted to get back to grassroots activism. So she stayed in Montreal and worked at the community level, helping with the food bank and food security projects where she felt really needed.

“I needed to get back to working with people,” says Troster.

She moved to Ottawa in 2004 when she landed a job with the Council of Canadians. Founded in 1985, this is a non-profit citizen watchdog organization that promotes progressive policies on social and economic issues such as safe water and food, public health care and fair trade.

As publications manager, she edits their quarterly magazine, Canadian Perspectives. She also writes for Capital Xtra and has a blog called Dykes Against Harper and has written for many other publications. So that tough journalism experience actually paid off. She loves the alternative press and says she will always be involved.

Troster felt driven to start her blog during the recent federal election because of the “frightening rightwing swing underway in Canada.” Queers will be targeted by the swing, she reasoned, so now’s the time to begin fighting back–and building coalitions with others who will also be targeted.

We have a common enemy now and maybe that’s what we need. We can’t be dampened down by our fear of Harper,” says Troster with the vigour of a town crier.

She talks about social injustices with the intensity of a cat stalking a bird. And she’s conscious of social injustices around the world, from homelessness in Ottawa to Middle East human rights violations.

Troster is a busy woman. She recently volunteered at Capital Pride after having had an alarming case of déjà vu–the board of directors of Egale Canada, where she had been serving for about 18 months, had become like strife-torn The Link during her time at Concordia. Troster is most happy when she’s working with people to do something concrete. She felt too caught up in the organization of Egale and felt that the board wasn’t focussing on the issues and people as much as they should.

“Conference calls are not activism,” says Troster. “The board seemed to be focussed on staffing issues and administration rather than the battle itself.”

It didn’t feel like anything was getting done, she explains, because change is often incremental in an organization. She left.

Troster says she does too much writing and policy work in her daily life and wants to get back to hands-on activism, like fundraising and organizing events. Still, she continues to tackle the big picture in her blog. “I want to fully commit to everything I’m doing,” she laughs.

Her sentiment is noble and comes from the infinite number of activists she has seen who are trying to carve out a small bubble of justice so that there will be room for others. After all, Troster’s even sheltered a few roaming activists in her basement. Talk about grassroots.

Her heroes are strong women, like veteran activist Maude Barlow and author Naomi Klein, who have real tenacity.

“I admire people who are able to express radical ideas in a mainstream setting.”