On Equity: An interview with Alexander Dirksen

August 31, 2021

Chloe Sjuberg
Communications Coordinator, SFU Public Square

The views and opinions expressed in SFU Public Square's On Equity interviews are those of the interviewees. They do not necessarily reflect the official position of Simon Fraser University, SFU Public Square or any other affiliated institutions in any way.

The On Equity interview series is part of our 2021 Community Summit Series: Towards Equity. In these interviews, you’ll get to know people working towards equity, justice and systemic change from a variety of fields and perspectives, and learn how you can support them. We hope they will inform and inspire your own conversations and actions towards equity.

Read on to hear from Alexander Dirksen, the director of programs and community accountability at CKX (the Community Knowledge Exchange), a proud member of Métis Nation BC, and a member of our Towards Equity advisory committee.

What do you want people to know about your work in pursuit of equity, justice and systemic change?

I seek to contribute to efforts that renew, recentre and reimagine. Over the course of my journey so far, I’ve come to see being in service of those (people, communities and movements) embodying worlds outside of the capitalist-colonial construct as the only way I can honestly and sincerely say that I’m working in pursuit of the principles of equity and justice.

 

How do we make systemic change?

I believe systemic change begins in community, first and foremost. Far too often, institutions assert themselves as being the agents of change, when in actuality it is often these forces that have undermined the ability and agency of communities to bring about the changes they seek to see in the world (or have necessitated the need for change in the first place). I believe a shift away from this is rooted in an unwavering commitment to decolonization in the fullest sense of that word—to actively strip away colonial systems and approaches, and to turn to those actively embodying more grounded, connected and just paths forward. This isn't to suggest that those working institutions can’t be a part of systemic change, but that it requires a deeper exploration of power, of who is being centred, and of what it looks like to work in true service of and solidarity with this work.

 

What does equity look like to you?

This is such an important question, because how we define and use terms can have huge implications for the type of change (or lack of change) we see as a result.

For myself, equity is rooted in reciprocity—of respect, understanding, care and commitment. To move closer to these ideals will require a deeper reckoning with the inequities that have existed and continue to exist in our societies—how these have come to be and continue to exist. And to the power of language, it will also require continued conversations around the types of change we’re collectively in pursuit of—are we pursuing equity within the current dominant/destructive systems, or equity within new or renewed visions of being in relationship?

 

We’d love to hear your thoughts on the guiding question for Towards Equity: What must we understand—and do—to recover equitably from the pandemic and reimagine our systems to confront the intersecting crises of inequality, systemic racism and climate change?

The notion of collective recovery can imply that there was a shared place that we started from or seek to return to—I think it’s really important to acknowledge and recognize that this isn’t the case. Shifting our systems will require us to name and confront the ways in which power held prior to and throughout the pandemic is now translating into the disproportionate influence of a select few in determining post-pandemic priorities. For those who hold this power (whether it be economic or political), there is oftentimes a vested interest in a pre-pandemic reality that was benefiting them at the expense of others (and the planet). But it’s not going to be enough to simply name and acknowledge this—we need to actively organize against the continued accumulation of power and support those things (whether they be community-rooted initiatives, collectives or social movements) that are presenting beautifully compelling alternatives to the status quo.

 

What gives you hope? What inspires you?

What gives me hope are those actively organizing and mobilizing against oppressive systems and toxic forms of power, while also articulating and embodying these alternate paths forward. I’m inspired by land defenders, abolitionist movements to defund the police, mutual aid initiatives, and all those who seek the full dignity, respect and justice of all living things.

 

Do you think there is more potential for systemic change at this moment in time? Why?

In Meenakshi Mannoe’s reflections for this series she spoke to both the enduring possibility for each of us to make a difference, as well as the stakes that we are currently confronting. It was so simply and powerfully put. While boys with billions play with their toys in space, the interconnectedness we hold with all living things grounds us in this place, and in the reciprocal care and responsibilities that exist at the heart of these relationships. I feel what has shifted over this past year is not the potential for systemic change, but perhaps a greater number of people who now see the systemic injustices that exist and the ways in which our actions, individually and collectively, either perpetuate or dismantle them. What remains to be seen is whether this translates to tangible and sustainable change, particularly as our broken systems lurch towards a “post-pandemic” reality (for privileged people in privileged colonial “states”).

 

What should we be reading? Watching? Listening to? Please recommend up to five books, articles, podcasts, films or other media you think people should read/hear/watch on topics surrounding equity and justice.

As We Have Always Done: Indigenous Freedom Through Radical Resistance by Leanne Betasamosake Simpson; They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us by Hanif Abdurraqib; and No Name in the Street by James Baldwin.

I also want to give a shout out to Noname Book Club, and to Black-owned and Indigenous-owned bookstores.

 

What individuals or organizations should we be paying attention to and how can we support them?

There are so many individuals and organizations doing critical and impactful work out in the world right now. A few that are top of mind and heart for me right now are those supporting survivors (the Indian Residential School Survivors Society and the Orange Shirt Society, amongst many others) and those working to deepen understanding, awareness and action (Decolonizing Practices and Future Ancestors Services, amongst many others).

 

If this Towards Equity Community Summit Series had a playlist, what artists or songs would you want to see on it?

“Sweeter” by Leon Bridges ft. Terrace Martin; “Here” by Briggs ft. Caiti Baker; “WE ARE” by Jon Batiste.

 

Who should we interview next?

Anthonia Ogundele of Ethọ́s Lab and Joleen Mitton of Vancouver Indigenous Fashion Week. Each is transforming the spaces they’re working in, holding space for a multitude of voices and perspectives to shine.

 

Who would you like to hear from in an upcoming interview? What other questions would you like us to ask interviewees? Let us know. Send your ideas to Chloe Sjuberg, Communications Coordinator, at chloe_s@sfu.ca.

Subscribe to our newsletter for announcements of new On Equity interviews and updates about future Towards Equity Community Summit events.

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