On Equity: An interview with Meenakshi Mannoe
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.
Welcome to the On Equity interview series!
We're excited to launch this series as part of our 2021 Community Summit Series: Towards Equity. As a companion to the public events we host as part of the summit, we want to further mobilize the knowledge of our partners, collaborators and others working on issues of equity and justice.
In these interviews, you’ll hear from people working towards equity, justice and systemic change from a variety of fields and perspectives, and learn how you can support them. We hope these interviews will inform and inspire your own conversations and actions towards equity.
For our very first interview, we are thrilled to feature Meenakshi Mannoe (she/her/hers), who works at Pivot Legal Society as a criminalization and policing campaigner, envisioning intersectional approaches to our criminal justice systems. Meenakshi is also a member of the Towards Equity Advisory Committee, whose insights and experiences have been pivotal in shaping our programming.
What do you want people to know about your work in pursuit of equity, justice and systemic change?
I do not believe that we can realize equity until systems such as settler colonialism, white supremacy and other intersecting oppressions are dismantled. I find myself working at the intersections of poverty, criminalization and incarceration in my day-to-day world. The pursuit of justice in these avenues continually reminds me of how little change comes through piecemeal reforms. We know that policing, prisons and other institutions of criminalization are inequitable—it is reflected in the stats that illustrate how Black, Indigenous, people of colour, survivors of violence, disabled folks and poor people are harmed by these systems at the highest rates.
How do we make systemic change?
I believe we all have capacity to make systemic change from where we are. Political and social change is often presented as something that comes from the top down, but I firmly believe in the power of the people. Systemic change can come from addressing stigmatizing comments or remarks in a social situation, or stepping out of your comfort zone to speak to government, or taking to the streets through protest and civil disobedience.
What does equity look like to you?
Equitable worlds are worlds where people cannot exercise oppressive power over people. Equity looks like cities where everyone is housed in homes that meet their needs, where people can access il/licit medicine and safe supply, where people can enjoy green space without worrying about anti-poor bylaws, and where people can generate income safely. Equity looks like Indigenous sovereignty and control over Indigenous territory.
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?
I believe that the global abolitionist movement that has mounted in the wake of ongoing police violence (including murder) invites us to actualize a world where we defund police and prisons. A just recovery means that prisoners are not locked up and deprived of health care and personal protective equipment (PPE), and that communities where folks are trying to survive do not need to fear police-led street sweeps or street stops.
What gives you hope? What inspires you?
I find hope in art and in connection. I find hope in the network of community coolers, free pantries and community fridges that keep cropping up. These acts of mutual aid and solidarity remind me that some folks are looking out for each other.
Do you think there is more potential for systemic change at this moment in time? Why?
I think the potential for systemic change has become a matter of survival—the earth is literally on fire.
What do you think is an overlooked challenge that more people should be paying attention to?
In order to defund police or abolish prisons, we have to confront the stories that we have been told about people who do harm, and why. We have to create more robust networks of community care and crisis intervention, and that means we have to figure out how to stop harm and hold harm-doers accountable. Prison is not working.
Many people are passionate and concerned, but also unsure of how best to take action. What can people do? Can you recommend actions to help our readers direct their energy?
I hope people look to the work of the Defund 604 Network, and specifically the People's Budget. I also recommend they find local mutual aid groups and see how they can contribute to them. If you happen to earn a living wage (or more), you absolutely must budget for monthly contributions to fundraisers and call-outs.
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 the topics surrounding equity and justice.
- Everyone Calls Themselves An Ally Until It Is Time To Do Some Real Ally Shit by Xhopakelxhit
- When Being An Ally Turns Into Being An Appropriator (Settler Conduct and Self Check) by Xhopakelxhit
- Voices: Indigenous Women on the Front Lines Speak (zine series)
- Prison Industrial Complex Explodes by Mercedes Eng
- Anything written by M. Gouldhawke
What individuals or organizations should we be paying attention to and supporting?
- Defund 604 Network
- Criminalization and Punishment Education Project
- Vancouver Prison Justice Day Committee
- Vines Art Festival
If this Towards Equity Community Summit Series had a playlist, what artists or songs would you want to see on it?
Who should we interview next?
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.