We are fast approaching the Peterborough municipal election, which occurs on October 22. An election is not just a changing of the guard in leadership, but is also an ideal time to start a conversation about the kind of city, and the kind of future, we want to build. There are many challenges facing this city right now, many ideas about directions the city could go, and many opportunities to build towards those futures.
Recently, we have been speaking to local community organizers, thought-leaders, advocates, activists, and citizens about their visions for the Future of Peterborough. We will be publishing these interviews over the next weeks and months, and encouraging you, our readers and the citizens of Peterborough, to have your say.
Zoë Easton is a student at Trent University’s Women and Gender Studies program. She has worked in the women’s rights and LGBTQ+ communities in both Ottawa and Peterborough. She has been an Arthur contributor, a Trent Radio host (TBQ—Through Being Queer), and is currently helping to revamp the Trent University Centre for Women and Trans People (formerly the Centre for Gender and Social Justice).
What do you believe are the most important issues facing Peterborough right now?
I’m not sure if I’m qualified to assess what our biggest problem is in Peterborough, or if there’s a single answer to that question. I think Peterborough is small community with a number of big problems. Our community is touched by poverty, homelessness, and overflowing and overcrowded health care, mental health, and addictions services that are understaffed and underfunded. I see marginalized populations, such as queer and trans youth, people of colour and women as being overrepresented in the groups most affected by these problems.
What concerns me the most is the ways that political discourse is shifting towards austerity and budget cuts, rather than investing in the care that our communities need. It concerns me to see politicians framing social services as unnecessary expenses, when I see the good they do for everyone in our community, not just those who are most vulnerable.
I think more and more I no longer see anything as a single problem and single solution; instead I’m starting to see everything as a frustratingly entangled web.
What are you seeing in the community you’d like to see more of?
I think Peterborough is such an amazing community. I’ve lived in Ottawa and Toronto and I’ve never witnessed the same kind of community solidarity as I have here. I was blown away by what I saw during Solidarity Weekend—the sheer number of people who cared enough to show up was heartwarming.
More recently, seeing the number of people that campaigned so heavily with Sean Conway’s campaign really struck a chord with me. So many people, young and old, were united around similar values. I’m not sure if people realize how rare it is to live in a community that’s this interested in social change as a whole.
I hope that over the next four years we don’t lose that sense of solidarity and that refusal to accept the status quo.
What is your ideal vision for the future of Peterborough?
I’m someone that’s always dreaming about the future. In my mind, the future of Peterborough would address some fundamental problems like housing, poverty, and health care. Peterborough is such a beautifully connected and supportive community in so many ways, but many people still cannot find affordable housing and sustainable employment.
My dream for Peterborough would be that all our artists and writers don’t have to work multiple jobs to be able to afford the price of living. I’d love to see a version of Peterborough where our artists don’t have that urgency hanging over their heads and are able to focus on giving back to our community through their work without any lingering anxieties. I know there’s a certain rite of passage that comes with being a struggling artist, including young writers and journalists, but I’d love to see a world where we eliminate that struggle through better community services.
What do you believe we need to do to get there?
I think we need to keep up our momentum. We need to be resisting the kind of austerity that Doug Ford is proposing and continue to invest in community services. Those of us that can’t afford to be donating financially should be looking at ways we can donate our labour through volunteering and make a difference with those most marginalized in our community.
Trent has recently approved a new levy for the 2018-19 school year which will go to funding the YES shelter for youth and families. I’ve recently started working at YES and what I’ve noticed is how effectively every dollar is spent and how multi-functional every inch of space in the shelter is. And I think that philosophy is true of so many groups in our community—everyone is trying to stretch their budget so far because there’s so much need. Support like the levies that Trent donates to groups like YES and the Warming Room make a huge difference in our community, even off campus.
Beyond that, I think creating spaces on campus where marginalized students are able to meet and form meaningful connections is an essential act of resistance. We can’t help our communities when we feel isolated or disengaged. When we have space to learn from each other’s experiences and empower one another, that’s when we see more students taking that sentiment into the Peterborough community as a whole. Campus groups like the Centre for Women and Trans People (previously the Centre for Gender and Social Justice) allow us to not only provide resources that students may not receive elsewhere, like dental dams or information about harm reduction and safer queer sex, but it also allows students to explore their sense of self-identity and meet other like-minded individuals. I think that’s part of how good activism gets started—by meeting other people that inspire you.
How could the people of Peterborough help to accomplish this?
Maybe this is because I’m part of activist communities already, but I feel like Peterborough already has a lot of momentum towards a brighter future. I think that everywhere you go in Peterborough, there’s quiet resistance happening. All around us there are people who care enough about this community to try to make it even better.
I think we need to build on that momentum by also taking the time to talk to one another and consult on what’s needed. We need to be bringing in different voices and making sure that, as much as possible, we’re representing marginalized voices. I think it’s essential that all of us try to make room at the table and extend an invitation to new people whose experiences differ from our own, whether that be through race, gender, sexuality, or income, etc. Sometimes these conversations will force us to confront some uncomfortable truths, but I think that’s how growth happens and it’s nothing to be afraid of.
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