Vancouver’s social justice groups turn out for Justice Rocks 2009

Social activism's alive, well and on its way to changing the world.

Credit: Glenn Gaetz

Social activism is alive and well, and on its way to changing the world

Or at least that’s how I felt standing in the middle of Strathcona Park during last weekend’s Justice Rocks 2009 festival.

Organized by Pivot Legal Society, the annual Justice Rocks event brings together music, activism and fun outdoor socializing. The centrepiece of the festival is the stage, with various non-profits, unions and other organizations stationed around the perimeter, along with a dunk tank, food and skateboarding.

Justice Rocks 2009

Justice Rocks 2009

Justice Rocks 2009

Justice Rocks 2009

To its credit, Pivot really made an effort to bring youth into the event, both as attendees and volunteers, understanding that getting youth involved is vitally important in all social justice movements.

The music was great, ranging from Jess Hill’s folkiness to The Humans’ punk rock to the dirty fusion beats of BPM and so much in between. Electro-dance-freak-show The Heard finished out the day.

Besides the music, it was really great to see so many areas of social justice represented at the event. There were too many groups there to name, but here are some of the highlights:


Greenpeace Canada

Greenpeace has always made a strong and visual showing, in this case sending people out into the crowd to run around in fish and whale costumes. A lot of their info was focused on sustainable fishing and their campaign to get supermarkets to stop carrying unsustainable fish and other ocean animals.



Right next to our table was the BC PSAC, where I learned that students working for the federal government are not allowed to form unions. PSAC’s Student Worker Project is a campaign to get this changed so that students working for government call centres and in other positions can organize.


Ecojustice (formerly Sierra Legal Defence Fund)

Ecojustice had a booth with prizes, stickers (my new “Ecojustice likes this” sticker is on my bike) and water balloons to spread the word that the environment needs a good lawyer. From cleaning up the tar sands to protecting BC’s endangered whales, Ecojustice is committed to using the courts to protect Canada’s plants, animals and natural resources for future generations. Most recently, Ecojustice successfully forced the federal government to develop stricter clearance regulations for foreign vessels sending out seismic blasts.


Gallery Gachet

Gallery Gachet is a gallery in the DTES that focuses on art by “artists informed by mental health issues.” In addition to exhibiting art, they present classes and workshops, and have studio space and equipment available for neighborhood artists.



CUPE displayed mostly information about the paramedic strike, with information about how people could support the strike. They also had some information about their campaign opposing funding cuts for libraries.


No One is Illegal

No One is Illegal sent me home with a lot of enlightening information about the unfair treatment of immigrant workers in Canada. I was especially struck by the complete lack of rights of foreign farm workers here in Canada. They work long hours for little pay, little to no medical insurance, and can be sent home if they complain about any part of their work. And employers make it virtually impossible for them to organize and work together to demand better pay and conditions. As a fairly middle-class white Canadian/American, it helps to be reminded of what life is like for people who don’t have it so easy.



ForestEthics had information about the proposed oil pipeline that would carry oil from the tar sands—also known as “the dirtiest oil in the world”—across BC to the coast, which would bring tankers up the BC coast, risking a major environmental disaster.


Liberation BC

Liberation BC, the group I was representing, had a table there as well that was packed the whole time. Animal rights is a social justice issue too—though the animals get left out of so many discussions of social justice—and animal issues intersect with many human and environmental issues. We presented a range of info, including our latest leaflet about the impacts of a meat-centric diet on the planet (here’s the PDF). Many people were conscious of animal issues and were in transition to either a completely vegan diet or one that is at least plant-based. I got into some nice discussions about wool and dairy, too.

There were a number of other organizations at Justice Rocks; find them here.

Everyone I met at the event seemed so open to new ideas and to learning about new issues—and were wonderfully committed to making changes, both personally and in the world. If everyone there goes out and carries this on into their own lives—and influences others to do the same—I think we just might have a shot at saving the world.




Glenn Gaetz is a director of Liberation BC, a Vancouver-based animal rights group (website / blog). He grew up on a small homestead in Vermont with cows, pigs and goats. His experiences with animals led him to work toward bettering the lives of all animals used for human purposes. He has served as a director of Vancouver Rabbit Rescue and Advocacy and done volunteer work with many other animal rights and animal welfare groups. One of his fondest memories is of the time he spent as an intern at Farm Sanctuary’s California shelter, where he cared for all sorts of farm animals, including chickens, turkeys, pigs and goats.

Glenn and his wife raised a broiler rooster rescued from a slaughterhouse in their home for three months before placing him in a permanent home in a sanctuary.