Hedge's Keynote Sparks Controversy

Susan MacVittie

Watershed Sentinel left our Vancouver Island home last weekend and attended the State of Extraction conference held at Simon Fraser University in downtown Vancouver, BC, March 27 and 28. The conference brought together indigenous leaders from BC, Latin America, Africa, and the Philippines, artists, activists, academics, including keynote speaker Chris Hedges, as well as the general public, to discuss resource capitalism in Canada and its influence on the world.

Besides being an informative event that allowed many people affected by resource extraction a chance to tell their story and network with others who are working on the issues, the event wasn’t without controversy. (Which is not an unusual outcome when you get a group of radical idealists and progressive thinkers together).

A few weeks before the event an article that Chris Hedges wrote in his Truthdig column titled, The Whoredom of the Left, sparked controversy amongst conference organizers, which threatened to overshadow the conference. In the article, Hedges speaks of prostitution as the “quintessential expression of global capitalism” and is in support of long-time former staff member at Vancouver Rape Relief & Women’s Shelter, Lee Lakeman’s view – to decriminalize those who are prostituted (women & children) and criminalize those who exploit them, (mostly men). Since December the purchase of sex has been illegal in Canada and the law has triggered opposition. The legalization of prostitution in Germany and the Netherlands, Hedges writes, “has expanded trafficking and led to an explosion in child prostitution in those two countries.”

And so the debate began (again) –  the criminalization of prostitution vs the legalization of prostitution. Advocates from both camps chimed in online, some radical feminists denounced Hedges, and a few State of Extraction organizers tried to cancel his opening address.  But attend he did, and as to be expected from an unbridled social critic, Hedge’s keynote address on Friday night continued to rattle some chains. Eloquently and with the rolling cadence of a seasoned preacher, Hedges described how the extraction industry gives predatory power to men and launched into a graphic account of sexual exploitation of women and girls, (particularly those of color), under global capitalism. He gave a callout to men and the left to “stand with all who are turned into objects, especially girls and women.”

“What is done to girls and women through prostitution is a version of what is done to all of those who do not sign on to the demented project of global capitalism. And if we have any chance of fighting back, we will have to stand up for all the oppressed, all of those who have become prey. To fail to do this will be to commit moral and finally political suicide. To turn our backs on some of the oppressed is to fracture our power. It is to obliterate our moral authority. It is to fail to see that the entire system of predatory exploitation seeks to swallow and devour us all. To be a radical is to stand with all who are turned into objects, especially girls and women whom the global community, and much of the left, has abandoned.”

Afterwards there was applause, criticism, skepticism, bewilderment, anger and of course … more commentary.

People have various viewpoints on how to address the issue of  prostitution and violence against women, and while discussion will no doubt continue on how to solve the problem, Hedge’s brought the ugly truth to light.

A provocative person was invited, and he did not disappoint. He may not have said it in a way we wanted to hear it, but Hedges said what needed to be said.

*An adaptation from Chris Hedge’s keynote speech, Noone is Free Until We Are All Free, can be found: HERE

Toxic Tour March

To coincide with the State of Extraction, hundreds marched through the streets on Saturday, March 28 as part of a Toxic Tour showcasing Canadian mining company offices. The guided tour stopped outside major Canadian extractive industry headquarters and speakers gave information on human rights and other abuses by Canadian resource companies like Chevron, Goldcorp and Barrick Gold.

Vancouver is home to over 800 global mining and mineral companies and Canadian based companies are often embroiled in disputes related to the social and environmental impacts of their activities in Canada, Latin America, South America, and Africa. Communities affected by Canadian extractive projects increasingly report conflict, environmental devastation, water toxicity and scarcity, violations of indigenous rights, and other human rights abuses including violent repression — even murder — of residents who speak out in opposition to extractive projects. Instead of regulating extractive practices, Canada’s government assists extractive corporations with tax breaks, subsidies, lax stock market regulations, diplomatic support, and immunity from prosecution for abuses overseas.

In November, three Eritrean men filed a civil lawsuit in a Vancouver court against Nevsun Resources Limited over the use of slave labour at Nevsun’s Bisha Mine in Eritrea. The BC case follows the filing of a similar Vancouver lawsuit in June 2014 against Tahoe Resources for the shooting of protestors in Guatemala. The suit against Nevsun represents the fifth active case of its kind in Canadian courts, in addition to an action now before the Supreme Court of Canada to enforce a multi-billion dollar judgment obtained in Ecuador against Chevron for environmental destruction.

“Survivors of abuses associated with Canadian mining companies are increasingly frustrated and vocal about the lack of redress in Canada because there is no meaningful government regulation or process to seek remedies from Canadian corporations,” said Matt Eisenbrandt, Canadian Center for International Justice’s Legal Director. “Survivors are turning to civil lawsuits as the only means for accountability and compensation.”



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