Myles Conner remembers the day a “JA Lady” (Junior Achievement) came to visit his classroom. She explained that democracy and the free market meant people could choose whatever they wanted to buy, and that communism meant having no choices. Myles knew differently.
“I was told that there’s another way,” he says, “and I was the only kid in that class that knew that there was a possible alternative as to how people can organize themselves.” He tried to tell them that communism was really a way to promote equity and equality between people, whereas democracy and the free market create an unjust hierarchy, but he couldn’t quite explain it. He was, after all, only in Grade 5.
Myles is the owner and operator of Renegade Apparel, a grassroots design and silk-screening business. [Editor’s note: Renegade Apparel is an advertiser with Electric City Magazine, and has made merch for us. Myles and Renegade Apparel had no financial involvement in this article; we just think he’s worth discussing.] He is also an organizer and active participant with Food Not Bombs Peterborough. a group whose existence locally he attributes to the efforts of his friend Rachelle Sauvé as “its spirit and driving force.” This group of devoted volunteers have continued to provide free community feasts every Monday night out in Confederation Square across from City Hall, all year long, for over 12 years.
That dedication didn’t come from out of nowhere. Myles credits a long line of friends, fellow artists and musicians, allies, and the support he received from others while growing up here.
“I think that I’ve been invested in by this community. And I see that, and I want to perpetuate that. So I want to invest back in the community… Ever since I actually developed a political opinion that I could try to vocalize I felt empowered to actually express it, and to engage that opinion or perspective. And also a really great supportive community that wanted to hear what I had to say, wanted to see me be able to think about and work on big issues.”
While his early knowledge of political theory came from his parents, don’t imagine they were steadfast Trotskyists readying him for his role in the permanent revolution. Though they’re certainly supportive, and his mom volunteers with Food Not Bombs now that she’s retired, he grants that part of his motivation for becoming more active came from seeing them as “kind of disempowered lefties.”
They had their reasons.
Myles recounts how in the 1970s a friend of his father’s engaged in an act of protest by chaining himself to a bench. During the confrontation with police that followed they “beat him in the head until he was a vegetable.” When Myles went to the Quebec City FTAA protest in 2001, his father feared for his life. But what may have dissuaded his parents seems to have fueled his search for better ways of organizing dissent.
“You can step into a tradition that has a history, that has a community that carries that history that will [say], yeah you’re angry. You wanna go do something? Let’s just think about that for a minute. Here, we have case examples. We have stats. We have strategy. You have a tactic, and anger. That’s not a strategy. Let’s get that and build it into a strategy, and actually develop something that’s gonna work.”
Much of what he does now began as an effort to create activist propaganda and swag for his band Knifehammer. A poster by the door at Renegade refers to them as “anarcho-punk weirdos.” When I asked Myles how he’d come to identify with social justice and alternative political philosophies there were many friendships and people in the community that have shaped his perspective, but one particular answer emerged:
“I don’t know…Blame Ferne Cristall, Dan Fewings, and Bill Gunson. Blame them! Those are three awesome high school teachers that I had; they’re all rad folks!”
‘Rad,’ as in radical. As a student at PCVS, Myles had a focus in his program on art and technology classes. Dan Fewings was his Sociology teacher, and included materials from Adbusters Magazine along with how to make “subvertisements;” spoofs of popular advertising that highlight the social impact of capitalism. Ferne Cristall taught World Issues, including lessons based on the works of Noam Chomsky. Myles recalls the impact the film Manufacturing Consent had on him: “I thought that was the greatest shit I’d ever seen!”
But he credits Bill Gunson with perhaps his most important realization. Through Drama, Gunson subtly revealed a new way of seeing: “He taught me to see power,” Myles explains. “Because a lot of people go through their life and they don’t see power…. You’re walking around with a sword in the dark, when you don’t know your own power, or you think that you don’t have any; but you’re fuckin’ waving it all over the place…. Even though Bill never said anything about anarchism, that’s what anarchism is about. It’s about having an analysis of power and trying to find justice within a world where there is different power.
“So you’ve got to level the playing field and create equity by seeing your power and being responsible to it, and not throwing it away, or using is unknowingly.”
Once you’ve seen things this way, you don’t un-see them. As Myles explains it to me, you know that you have a responsibility to the world, that everyone has that responsibility. That the effects of your words and actions might be more subtle and far-reaching than your immediate awareness tells you, so you should probably care about what you do. A struggle in a complicated world, yes—but also the chance to engage with your life as a real actor, as if the art of how you do things really matters.
So shine a light, Electric City. We need you. Let’s commit ourselves to less sword-fighting in the dark.
Cover photo by Christopher Wilton.