This interview addresses feminist anti-racist organizing in the National Action Committee on the Status of Women (NAC) in the 1990s. It highlights the role of Black and racialized feminists, the strategies, and the election in 1993 of Sunera Thobani as NAC’s first racialized president. Founded in 1971 with a mandate to pressure the Canadian government into implementing the main recommendations of the Royal Commission on the Status of Women (1967), NAC became the largest feminist organization in Canada. (It dissolved in the late 2000s.) NAC’s lobbying efforts addressed such issues as daycare, birth control, maternity leave, and family law reform. While its membership expanded to include more working-class and immigrant women’s organizations, NAC entered the 1990s as a still predominantly white middle-class organization.
During the period 1992 to 1995, Beverly Bain served as NAC’s Executive Director. Already radicalized as a teenager in Trinidad before migrating to Canada in the early 1970s, Bain became an activist with deep roots in anti-racist organizing (including against police violence and killing of Black women and men), feminist organizing (including with women’s shelters), and queer organizing (Pride) in Toronto. Beverly recounts both her own formation as a feminist, anti-colonial, anti-capitalist, and queer activist and her experiences at NAC. She discusses the limitations of NAC’s liberal framework as well as its accomplishments under Thobani’s presidency. She recalls the racial tensions within the organization over Thobani’s election, as well as other tensions. She explains how the racism of the wider society served to demonize Thobani even when, as president, she presented NAC-membership endorsed positions on Canadian and international issues. Beverly reflects on the important political lessons learned from the anti-racist struggles within a centralized national organization like NAC—a product of its time—and suggests that, moving forward, a more decentralized approach to feminist organizing might prove more fruitful.
With Beverly Bain
Interviewed by Franca Iacovetta
Material From the Archive
- National Action Committee on the Status of Women
- Black Women’s Collective
- Image of Protest against police shooting of Sophia Cook (Dec 16, 1989) with speaker Leleti Tamu, Black Women’s Collective.
Material From the Web
This project has been made possible in part by Library and Archives Canada’s Documentary Heritage Communities Program.