Annual Professor Chin Banerjee Memorial Lecture in Anti-Racism

Chinmoy Banerjee (1940–2020) taught 18-century and Restoration English literature, literary criticism, and post-colonial studies at SFU for 35 years. An accomplished teacher, celebrated by students and colleagues, he was also an active and esteemed human rights and anti-racism activist in the Vancouver community for 45 years. This annual lecture is to commemorate the life, work, and political activism of Professor Chin Banerjee, who passed away on July 29, 2020.  

secular democracy

Past Speakers

The annual commemorative lecture is cohosted by the Institute for the Humanities, the Dr. Hari Sharma FoundationWest Coast Coalition Against Racism (WCCAR), and South Asian Network for Secularism and Democracy (SANSAD).

2023: Kshama Sawant

Kshama Sawant is the first elected socialist in Seattle in nearly a century. She was first elected to the Seattle City Council in 2013, running openly as a member of Socialist Alternative, long before Bernie Sanders and AOC were household names. She is currently the longest-serving sitting Seattle Councilmember. Kshama only accepts the average worker’s wage, and after taxes, donates the rest of her six-figure City Council salary to a solidarity fund for worker organizing and social movements.

An outspoken socialist who has taken no corporate campaign money, Kshama has won four elections defeating Seattle’s elite, corporate landlords, and some of the most powerful corporations in the world like Amazon, who have spent millions of dollars to try and unseat her. Winning these elections also meant overcoming the opposition of the city’s Democratic Party, who have attempted to defeat Kshama by running both big-business-backed and self-described “progressive” candidates against her. Socialist Alternative and Kshama have consistently clarified that despite their differences, both Democrats and Republicans serve the wealthy, and that working people need a new party of their own.

Socialist Alternative and Kshama have used her elected office to help lead movements that have won historic working-class victories. Alongside rank-and-file union members and other workers, they made Seattle the first major city to gain the $15/hour minimum wage in 2014, and won the Amazon Tax in 2020 on big business to fund affordable housing and Green New Deal programs.

As a socialist who herself has been a rank-and-file union member, Kshama has unwaveringly used her office to fight alongside rank-and-file union members and workers fighting for a union. Alongside Starbucks workers, Kshama’s office fought to win a unanimous City Council resolution in 2022 in support of the Starbucks union drive.

Kshama was the lone Councilmember who vocally stood with Seattle’s grocery workers fighting to keep their $4/hour pandemic hazard pay, against repeated attempts by Democrats to repeal it while themselves staying safe at home over Zoom meetings. Shamefully, it was a self-described “Labor Democrat” and Latina Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda who originally sponsored legislation to repeal this grocery worker hazard pay. As Kshama said during her vote, “Today is the seventh time the Democrats have put legislation to end hazard pay on the Council’s agenda since July 27 of last year… Compare this to how, in the last forty years, the Washington State Democrats have not once put ending the statewide ban on rent control up for a vote.”

By mobilizing renters and union members, Kshama’s office has spearheaded a whole series of landmark renters’ rights, such as requiring a six-month notice for rent increases, mandating landlords to pay relocation assistance of three months’ rent upon forcing tenants to leave due to rent increases over 10 percent, a ban on evictions in winter months, and a ban on evictions of schoolchildren and public school workers during the school year.

Her office has a long track record of building united working-class struggle against discrimination and oppression: replacing Seattle’s Columbus Day with Indigenous People’s Day; making Seattle the first-ever jurisdiction outside South Asia with a ban on caste discrimination; making Seattle and abortion sanctuary and fully funding abortion needs for anyone in the city, in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s repeal of Roe v. Wade; banning police use of chokeholds, chemical weapons, and other so-called “crowd control” devices, a victory won in the midst of the 2020 Black Lives Matter movement.

Nobody in Seattle has caused more headaches for big business, the billionaire class, and the political establishment over the past ten years than Kshama Sawant, Socialist Alternative, and the working-people’s movements they have built. Referring to the successful mobilization of rank-and-file renters, longtime corporate landlord lobbyist Jamie Durkan said that every dollar that corporate landlords had spent over the last decade lobbying the Seattle City Council was wasted because of “Sawant’s army.”

Every single one of the victories has been won by Socialist Alternative and Kshama’s office mobilizing rank-and-file union members and progressive labor unions, non-unionized workers, renters, and community members. They would not have been won by having illusions in the Democratic Party, which while is different from the openly anti-worker and right-wing Republican Party, is very hostile to working-class movements. “I wear the badge of socialist with honor,” she declared in her January 2014 inauguration speech. She promised at that time: “There will be no backroom deals with corporations or their political servants. There will be no rotten sell-out of the people I represent.” Now, after a decade in office, instead of running for reelection she is helping launch Workers Strike Back, an independent movement organizing in workplaces and on the streets against the bosses and their political servants.

2022: Robyn Maynard

Robyn Maynard is an author and scholar based in Toronto, where she holds the position of Assistant Professor of Black Feminisms in Canada at the University of Toronto-Scarborough in the Department of Historical and Cultural Studies. She is the author of Policing Black Lives: State violence in Canada from slavery to the present (Fernwood 2017). The book is a national bestseller, designated as one of the “best 100 books of 2017” by the Hill Times, listed in The Walrus‘s “best books of 2018,” shortlisted for an Atlantic Book Award, the Concordia University First Book Prize and the Mavis Gallant Prize for Non-fiction, and the winner of the 2017 Errol Sharpe Book Prize. Her most recent published work, co-authored with Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, is titled Rehearsals for LivingMaynard is the winner of the “2018 author of the year” award by Montreal’s Black History Month and was nominated for Writer’s Trust Dayne Ogilvie Prize for LGBTQ Emerging Writers. She has published writing in the Washington PostWorld Policy Journal, the Toronto StarTOPIA: Canadian Journal of Cultural StudiesCanadian Woman StudiesCritical Ethnic Studies JournalScholar & Feminist Journal, as well as an essay for Maisonneuve Magazine which was the “most-read essay of 2017”. Her writing on borders,  policing, abolition and Black feminism is taught widely in universities across Canada and the United States, including her most recent peer-reviewed publication “Police Abolition/Black Revolt,” published in TOPIA.