Our Story, To Date
Shake Up The Establishment (SUTE) was an idea borne out of the need to be able to have conversations about the future of our world without the barriers of partisanship. With the 2019 Federal election looming ahead, in April 2019, Manvi Bhalla, a recent graduate of the University of Guelph, started asking peers questions about which political party they felt had the best climate action plans. A surprising outcome that came of these conversations was that most individuals knew more about the U.S. election platforms than the Canadian ones, despite the fact that the U.S. election was over a year away at the time. This led to the idea of developing a non-partisan source for materials on the climate crisis and environmental degradation in a Canadian context, backed with the validity of scientific sources.
Through the teamwork of Manvi Bhalla, Janaya Campbell, Taro Halfnight and Cameron Fioret, in May 2019, a website was launched which contained a political party comparison chart that had the environment and climate change platforms of each of the major political parties in Canada. Within a month, Clara MacKinnon-Cabral joined the team, and helped to design content for, and manage, the team’s social media platforms. Clara also set the basis for SUTE’s brand through the design and creation of print materials/resources which were widely disseminated across the country. By July 2019, Christina Di Carlo and Sam Paton had joined the team as political and scientific researchers, respectively, and they contributed immensely to the organization’s resource pool. With Christina and Sam’s countless hours of work, SUTE moved beyond just being the host of a political party platform comparison chart, to instead being considered a resource hub with the potential to improve climate literacy through the creation of countless primers, or basic concept summaries.
In September 2019, this grassroots initiative championed by these 7 leaders launched a national campaign to promote the youth voter turnout. By October 2019, this collective, which had again since increased in numbers by a couple of new general volunteers, held collaborative awareness events with Patagonia surrounding the election and created a lasting impression on the climate action sector by creating a space for youth-led political climate advocacy. After the 2019 Federal election, the team realized that there was a continued niche that needed to be filled with diverse youth voices. Further, there was a great need to continue the important conversations that pushed for systems-based reforms outside of this election cycle. The team took a hiatus until January 2020, giving members time to reflect upon their involvement for the future of SUTE. During this period, some decided to move on from SUTE, as the original endeavor that they had signed on for had come to an end. The remaining team decided to incorporate SUTE into something bigger, and more sustainable. In February 2020, SUTE emerged as a registered, national not-for-profit organization. However, this is not where our story ends.
By the end of March 2020, the leadership decided that taking a human-centered approach towards addressing this crisis, and others that intertwined with it, needed to become our top priority. Between April to June 2020, our team reflected hard on what kind of organization we wanted to be in the long run, and what reforms were necessary to achieve that. After months of consultations, education and most importantly - conversations - we settled on expanding our mandate beyond just the niche of election-centric political advocacy and broadened our scope to encompass 3 realms:
climate justice and the use of equity-centred approaches to climate action,
non-partisan political advocacy for a equitable, sustainable and livable future, and
to continue to improve environment & climate literacy for all.
In doing so, we underwent major changes from the top-down in leadership, organizational structure, policies and procedures, and signed our justice mandate into effect. In addition to introducing increased transparency, accountability, continuing equity-centred education and the prioritization of upholding a safe workspace for all, we also shifted our recruitment practices from being institutional qualification-based to those that centre one’s lived experiences to enable the expansion of our team in a manner representative of diverse worldviews.
This important & transformational push of reforms was led by our Board of Directors, Manvi Bhalla, Janaya Campbell and Dr. Komil Bhalla, and our Executive Comittee members, Christina Di Carlo, John O’Connor and Samantha Casey, who have collectively worked to improve our platform to achieve what it looks like today, and who continue to seek ways to improve it beyond its present iteration. With these reforms, SUTE was truly re-borne.
These changes were inspired by the urgent need to personalize the narrative surrounding climate change, and recognize that the impacts of this crisis will not be borne equitably across all populations. Our organization’s members strongly feel that both our organization internally, and the work we share with the world externally, has since been greatly reflective of this change in priorities and focus. Alongside our Board of Directors who oversee the direction of the organization, and our Executive Committee who oversee operations across SUTE’s main departments, we celebrate the contributions of our collective of over 30 motivated general members (read: change makers!) who are each positioned in a team under one of these departments. These teams, ranging from scientific research, political research, outreach and events and communications are led by Rose Duncan, Aarisha Haider, Hayley Brackenridge, Alena Blanes, Stephanie Rosen and Sara Low. Collectively, these inspiring individuals work hard to create the resources which we are thrilled to share with you today.
In the Fall of 2020, SUTE partnered with Wilfrid Laurier University to onboard approximately 60 student researchers as part of the course PSY383: Environment, Psychology and Action. Their work was used to inform and provide foundational research for ongoing projects. While we were not able to publish all of the work, we were delighted to have engaged with the students and provide the opportunity to volunteer within the climate justice movement.