Where we are
We live, gather, and organize on the traditional territories of the Anishinaabe Nation and the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, the Senecas, the Huron-Wendat, the Petun, and the present-day Treaty Lands and Territory of the Mississaugas of the Credit who are stewards of this land.
The land on which we organize is governed by the Dish With One Spoon Treaty, made between the Anishinaabe and Haudenosaunee as a commitment to share responsibilities of care-taking of the land around what is now Southern Ontario. The Dish (or bowl) represents the land in this region, and the One Spoon represents the notion that all peoples should be able to share in the resources of the land equally, without any knives being present that may lead to bloodshed. Over time, subsequent Indigenous nations and peoples, and settlers have been invited into this treaty in the spirit of peace and respect. (Source: John Burrows, Anthony Hall, Darlene Johnson, Leanne Simpson)
This land has also been the subject of the 1613 Two Row Wampum Belt Convenant between the Haudenosaunee Confederacy and Dutch settlers in this region. This covenant outlined the relations as being equal, and parallel. According to Kanien’kehá:ka historian Ray Fadden, the Haudenosaunee rejected this notion and instead proposed:
“We will not be like Father and Son, but like Brothers. [Our treaties] symbolize two paths or two vessels, travelling down the same river together. One, a birchbark canoe, will be for the Indian People, their laws, their customs, and their ways. The other, a ship, will be for the white people and their laws, their customs, and their ways. We shall each travel the river together, side by side, but in our own boat. Neither of us will make compulsory laws nor interfere in the internal affairs of the other. Neither of us will try to steer the other’s vessel.” (Source: A Short Introduction to the Two Row Wampum, Tom Keefer)
As we organize around anti-racism and decolonization, we recognize the ways in which our presence on this land upholds colonialism and reproduces dispossession and violence for Indigenous people. For those of us who are settlers, we commit to working and learning more about how we can prioritize upholding conditions of the treaties that govern this land.
ASL Vlog on SURJ Toronto for more information. We are committed to supporting Deaf leadership and participation:
Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) is an international network of groups and individuals organizing white people for racial justice. Through community organizing, mobilizing, and education, SURJ moves white people to act as part of a multi-racial majority for justice with accountability. SURJ Toronto is committed to undermining white support for white supremacist systems and institutions. For those of us who are settlers on Indigenous land, we commit to working towards decolonization and Indigenous sovereignty. We connect people across Turtle Island (North America) while supporting and collaborating with local and national racial justice and decolonization organizing efforts led by Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour (BIPOC) organizers. SURJ Toronto will provide a space to develop consciousness, political education, skills, and political analysis to act for change under BIPOC-led organizing. SURJ Toronto aims to carry out this mission within Toronto and beyond, with a specific focus on issues and action related to the GTA and Canada more broadly.
We envision a society where we struggle together with love, for justice, human dignity and a sustainable world.
Shared Values (Adapted from surj national)
Calling people in, not calling people out
The focus of our energy is on working with white people who are already in motion. While in many activist circles, there can be a culture of shame and blame, we want to bring as many white people into taking ongoing action for racial justice and decolonization as possible. This means that we work toward building a culture of care in order to build a sustainable movement.
Take risks, make mistakes, learn, and keep going
We know that we will have to take risks. Every day, BIPOC take risks in living their lives with full dignity and right now we are in a moment where Indigenous communities face ongoing colonization and young Black people are taking risks every day. We challenge ourselves and other white people to take risks as well, to stand up against a racist system, actions, and structures every day. We know that in that process, we will make mistakes. Our goal is to learn from those mistakes and keep showing up again and again for what is right and for racial justice.
Tap into mutual interest
We use the term mutual interest to help us move from the idea of helping others, or just thinking about what is good for us, to understanding that our own liberation as white people, our own humanity, is inextricably linked to racial justice. Mutual interest means we cannot overcome the challenges we face unless we work for racial justice and decolonization. It means our own freedom is bound up in the freedom of People of Colour and Indigenous communities. For Anne & Carl Braden, it was mutual interest that caused them to desegregate an all-white neighborhood in Louisville, Kentucky in 1954. It was a belief in what was right and the idea of showing up again and again for justice.
Accountability through collective action
There can be an impulse for white people to try to get it right -- to have the right analysis, language, friends, etc. What SURJ was called upon to do at our founding in 2009 was to take action -- to show up when there are racist attacks, when the police attack and murder BIPOC in the street, their homes, our communities, in challenging structural racism and colonialism, as well as immigrant oppression. We maintain ongoing relationships, individually and organizationally with leaders and organizations led by BIPOC. We also know it is our work to organize other white people and we are committed to moving more white people for collective action. We can't re-build the world we want alone -- we must build powerful, loving movements of millions taking action for racial justice.
One more thing: You may not get the validation you hunger for. Stepping outside of the smoke and mirrors of racial privilege is hard, but so is living within the electrified fences of racial oppression – and no one gets cookies for that. The thing is that when you help put out a fire the people whose home was in flames may be too upset to thank and praise you – especially when you look a lot like the folks who set the fire. That’s OK. This is about something so much bigger than that.
Enough for everyone
One of the things that dominant white culture teaches us is to feel isolation and scarcity in everything we do. SURJ believes that there is enough for all of us, but it is unequally distributed and structurally contained to keep resources scarce. We can fight the idea and the structures that limit and control global capital by creating a different world together. We believe that part of our role as white people is to raise resources to support BIPOC-led efforts AND to engage more white people in racial justice. Together we can make the world we want and need.
Growing is good
Sometimes we get afraid that if we bring in new people who do not talk our talk or “do it right” it will mess up what we are building. However, if we do not bring in new people, our work cannot grow. And if our work does not grow, we cannot bring the numbers of white people needed to undermine white supremacy and join BIPOC-led efforts for fundamental change. Longtime white southern civil rights activist Anne Braden once said that we have to stop believing that we are the only special ones who can be part of the work for racial justice. We must grow our groups and our movement, understanding that welcoming people in, even at the risk of it being messy, is deeply part of what we are being called to do.
Why We Organize
We live in a time of great hope and possibility, yet the potential for a just world for all of us is not possible when racism, colonialism, and other forms of oppression keep us divided. This can make us forget how closely connected we truly are. Racism is still present throughout all of our contemporary institutions and structures. Racism has very tangible impacts on Black, Indigenous, and POC (BIPOC) communities and is closely intertwined with all systems of oppression. It robs all of us -- BIPOC and white people -- of our humanity. We honour and learn from the long history of BIPOC and white people who have been unrelenting in their struggles for racial justice, decolonization, and ending all systems of oppression. It is our job to dismantle white supremacy. Beyond interactions with our friends and loved ones, we must organize to disrupt and undermine the power of white supremacist institutions and systems. We are showing up to take our responsibility as white people to act collectively and publicly to challenge the manipulation of racist fear by the white ruling class and corporate elite. We know that to transform this country we must be part of building a powerful multi-racial majority to challenge racism in all its forms.
Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) believes in collective liberation – and that none of us can be free until we end white supremacy.
SURJ’s role as part of a multi-racial movement is to undermine white support for white supremacy and to help build a racially just society.
That work cannot be done in isolation from or disconnected from the powerful leadership of communities of colour. It is one part of a multi-racial, cross-class movement centring Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour leadership.
Therefore, SURJ believes in resourcing organizing led by people of colour, and maintaining strong accountability relationships with organizers and communities of colour as central part of our theory of change.
SURJ believes that we must ground our organizing in a framework of “mutual interest” -- white supremacy is integral to economic injustice, to maintaining patriarchy and other forms of oppression. Racism and white supremacy keep the many divided for the benefit of the few. We must have an inclusive, open-hearted approach to organizing, calling people into this work rather than creating barriers to participation while maintaining a clear political line. When those of us who are white realize that racial justice is core to our liberation as well, then masses of white people will withdraw support from white supremacy. Together, as part of a powerful multi-racial, cross-class movement for collective liberation we can force the system of white supremacy to crumble.
In order to activate this theory of change, we employ three core strategies:
Delegitimize racist institutions
Fight for a fair economy that refuses to pit communities against each other
Shift culture (meaning the underlying beliefs folks have about people and the world) in a way that undermines support for white supremacy
These strategies are dependent on multi-racial organizing and a specific focus on deepening, amplifying, and centring the leadership and organizing of poor and working-class folks, and rural communities.
Within this framework, our network is using a number of tactics, including leading and participating in campaigns, base-building, direct action, relationship-building, communications work and more.