|This past fall, Laila Vahed sat down with Rise Up Collective member Julia Aguiar to reflect on her time working as a Fundraising Assistant
with us in summer 2022. We’re happy to finally be sharing Laila’s farewell interview below.
The interview is interspersed with some of Laila’s favourite rally posters.
How did you come to your feminism?
Feminism for me became defined in grade seven – that was when I became really conscious of it as a movement. Interestingly enough, this was also the year that I got social media, and I can definitely say there was a correlation. I was always passionate about equality when I was growing up, but when my peers started to mobilize and go to protests in high school, that’s when it began to develop for me. University then gave me the opportunity to take my consciousness of feminism and activism, and apply it to my studies.
What did a typical day or week look like for you as a Fundraising Assistant at Rise Up? Can you tell us about some of the initiatives you took on?
It was a really self-directed experience, but the team was always there to offer support whenever I needed it. On a typical day or week, I was working on future fundraising event planning, grant writing, and preparing social media posts. I also created a report on past fundraising initiatives, where I got to scour past newsletters and collect data on the organization. It sounds nerdy, but I found it very exciting. I wasn’t expecting to, but I was asked to present the report at a Collective meeting, which gave me the chance to receive live feedback on my work and see the conversations that it sparked. I definitely made some amazing connections through opportunities like this. On top of that, throughout the summer, I really enjoyed how much space I was given to be creative.
How did working at Rise Up shape your understanding of the history of feminist activism in Canada?
I hadn’t previously explored the history of feminist activism in Canada specifically in the 70s, 80s, and 90s. Working at Rise Up, I got to really explore this era of feminism. It was interesting to see, through the archival material on the website, how it has evolved, and especially to see what has remained consistent even until now. I think one of the best examples of how feminism has progressed is the rally posters. Forty or fifty years ago, they invited people to protests and events with these printed posters distributed en masse, yet now it’s primarily driven by social media and virtual networks. But the same urgency and passion still exist. Rise Up showed me that we’re still talking to people who were involved in these different eras of activism – it’s not as detached as we think.
I took a historiography class in my first year of university that did an excellent job of teaching us that: a) the winners often write history and, b) there is an entirely different side to every single story, which is the history of the silenced. Archives do a brilliant job of unearthing the stories of those who were left out — it gives proof that these communities existed and that they mobilized.
A poster for a benefit performance and dance organized in 1979 by the Women’s Counselling Referral and Education Centre (WCREC). The event featured rock band Mama Quilla II.
Financial limitations aside, what type of content or projects would you like to see Rise Up take on?
One of my central roles was helping to plan future events, so I’d love to see those happen. Rise Up has a really amazing organizational team, so I think it would be great to do some workshops and/or speaker series that rally communities to come together and connect. I’d love to see Rise Up bring on more young people, more diverse people, and they’re already doing great work on this. I worked on a grant application for a public history project on reproductive justice. If we had all the money we needed, I’d love to see this project happen especially because we worked really hard on it. The reality of working in a non-profit is that there’s never enough time, people, or money, but they still somehow manage to make things happen.
What do you think young feminists and activists can learn from the historical material and subjects featured on Rise Up? In turn, how do you think young feminists and activists have deepened, challenged, and sustained the legacy of feminist activism?
Aside from learning about the history of feminism in Canada, young feminists can learn how to critically approach sources. Half the story is in what wasn’t written so I think more people need to understand that there’s more to things than what you’re seeing on the page. Social media can spread misinformation, so I think young feminists and activists need to learn how to critically approach history and the material they’re being shown. I think young feminists have done a really good job of creating community so that they don’t feel like it’s all on their shoulders.
The poster for the annual IWD march and rally in Toronto in 1987 focussed on the intersecting struggles against racism and sexism, including Indigenous self-determination, choice, affirmative action, employment equity, and housing.
What’s next for you?
I’m in my second year of university majoring in history, with a double minor in Diaspora and Transnational Studies (DTS) and Sexual Diversity Studies (SDS) at the University of Toronto. Rise Up has taught me that I really enjoy working in historical and activist spaces, so I’m interested in pursuing this further!
Thank you for all of your hard work this past summer, Laila! We miss you but we’re so excited about all the bright things in your future!