Warm up winter with activism


The sixth annual Apathy into Action conference brought together more than 250 participants, and opened the discussion to many important issues

Sophie Long
News Writer

The Regina Public Interest Research Group (RPIRG) held its 6th annual social justice conference last week – Apathy into Action. The conference featured talks and workshops that considered both local and global issues, all led by members of the community. The conference was held over three days, Jan. 17 to 19, and consisted of two days of drop-in seminars, followed by a full day of professional development workshops on Saturday Jan. 19. Some of the topics covered throughout the three days included immigration laws, the gender binary, Idle No More, and the importance of local activism in the city.

Apathy into Action has been running for many years, but some aspects of the conference were done differently this time around. Halena Seiferling, one of the event coordinators at RPIRG, described some of the changes.

“This year it’s a longer event, which is the first important thing. I didn’t organize the past few years, but in the past it’s always been one [full day] on the Friday, which [included] different sessions about what’s happening on campus, and in the community and globally. This year, our board of directors for RPIRG decided we wanted to expand it and really try to include more issues, if we could,” she said.

And expand the conference they did. Altogether, Apathy into Action hosted ten information sessions, and two development workshops, all covering a wide range of issues.

“We wanted more students involved. In the past years, there were a lot of presentations by professors or adults who were more ‘experts’ in the areas. We wanted to see if there were students that would be interested in doing presentations that also have a lot of knowledge in those areas, and work with those issues every day,” Seiferling said.

There were a few presentations done by students and student organizations this year, such as the session titled ‘Education, Immigration and Social Justice’ presented by Dr. Michelle Stewart, and the student group WUSC on Thursday, as well as the session titled ‘Common(s) Rights: Our Community Pastures’ presented by RPIRG executive director Naomi Beingessner, done on Friday.

“We’re hoping that by including students, we can see more diversity in the opinions presented,” Seiferling said.

The presentation on immigrant’s rights was one of the highlights, Seiferling noted, due to the recent conflict of two University of Regina students who are facing deportation. She also added that the session on the Idle No More movement was of big interest to several of the participants.

“We’re hoping that by including students, we can see more diversity in the opinions presented,” Seiferling said.

“I’ve heard about Idle No More, and I took the opportunity to learn about it,” U of R student Kaylee Elfore said.

Seiferling explained that RPIRG wanted to keep the conference current, which was a driving point for many of the sessions offered.

“I would say that the theme this year is that everything is really pressing,” she said. “Obviously we want it to be things that are current issues, because people will recognize them and come, also because then we’re more able to act upon them afterwards. It’s something that’s happening right now, and it’s not too late. I can join the movement and help with it if I want to.”

In past years, there have been petitions and activism groups formed in response to the conference, and this year was no different. Anonymous evaluations of the event included comments such as: "Thanks for the opportunity to listen to and meet so many inspiring peeps," and "I get goosebumps when I think about how fortunate I feel to have met these incredible women! Wow!"

“We have a diversity of topics covered, there’s everything from gender issues, health and poverty, refugee rights and everything included in there,” Seiferling said.

The general focus of this year’s Apathy into Action conference was on things and actions Regina citizens can do to make changes in the world around them. One of the features of the conference was the opening presentation done by Dr. Marc Spooner, a U of R education professor, who talked about the importance of “being an activist right now in Regina.”

One student, Joylyn Roberts, said “Idle No More was definitely a highlight, as well as Dr. Spooner‘s talk yesterday on being an activist in Regina … I’m involved in the community a lot, so it was amazing to hear those things they have to contribute.”

Students were not the only participants to the conference. Many members of the community also came out, to keep up with local activism, and to hear about some new issues.

Brenda Tamaki, commented that, “I enjoyed that I could learn something for my own use. I liked Idle No More, and although I’m not Native I’m interested. I like seeing if I can help with problems in the community.”

Over the course of the Thursday and Friday, many participants stopped in, and by the end of Friday, all of the spaces for the weekend workshops were filled.

More than 250 people attended the conference, with Idle No More being the most popular session of the three days. Another session that drew in a large crowd was "Health and Poverty in Saskatchewan," which was presented by local doctor, Ryan Meili, and Student Energy in Action for Regina Community Health (SEARCH).

At the end of each session, participants had the opportunity to ask the seminar leaders some questions and to leave their comments.

Students and community members alike were left with a sense of purpose, and as one anonymous evaluator commented, most found the event "very enlightening and bringing hope."

While the Saskatchewan winter tends to breed a sense of hopelessness, Apathy into Action brought a refreshing perspective for students and offered new opportunities to make changes.

Photo courtesy of RPIRG/ Kay Neidermayer

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