(photo by Eagleclaw Thom, intro by Brenda Jackson)
Even if you don’t already know her, if you live in Saskatoon, your quality of life is better because of Tracey Mitchell. Her community involvement is vast, as a facilitator, coordinator for Next Up (a program that basically trains young leaders how to save the world), peer support mentoring for mental health and addictions, and countless hours assisting progressive political campaigns, including helping to spearhead the Bus Riders of Saskatoon.
Anytime I start to feel like the whole world is going down the toilet, it’s usually because I haven’t spent enough time with Tracey, because when I do, she fills me with hope and excitement for the future. Passionate about the environment, feminism, human rights, food security, and sustainability; for every crappy thing I read on the internet, Tracey knows someone who is doing something about it.
Writing this introduction has reaffirmed how much I love Tracey. Despite her jam-packed schedule, she still prioritizes spending time with friends like me, for which I am always grateful.
KC: What kinds of projects are you involved in right now?
I’m involved in climate justice organizing. I worked with a great group of folks to organize a climate march in Saskatoon in November, and have helped out with some previous climate organizing here and there. It feels like we are gaining momentum in Saskatchewan on addressing climate change. The potential for a new economy is exciting because the necessity of responding to climate change creates an opportunity to reshape everything to be not only more environmentally responsible but also to bring about more social and economic justice.
I am also involved in Bus Riders of Saskatoon, which works for easier, more accessible, more reliable public transportation in Saskatoon. We are always working on a bunch of fronts in that organization but one that I have been involved in lately is organizing a community conversation about safety on buses, and specifically confronting sexual assault on buses.
Mostly, I look for projects that address the connections between social and environmental justice, that focus on long-term, deep, upstream solutions to problems, but that also acknowledge the importance of smaller actions that improve people’s lives in the short-term while we work to bring about more fundamental change.
And in my personal life, I do some art journaling and scrapbooking that help me to take care of myself and to process big issues in creative ways.
KC: What’s your day job? What do you like about it? What’s challenging?
I have two! I work for Next Up Saskatchewan, a leadership training program for young people committed to social and environmental justice. We work with 18-32 year-olds to help them build skills, knowledge, networks, and confidence, to be able to do the kind of work they want to do in the world. My other job is with a peer support program where people with lived experience of mental health and/or addiction challenges who have gone through peer support training help others to work toward their goals. Both jobs involve helping people build the confidence and skills to take leadership in their communities and support others to do the same.
I love the aha! moments when I see people catch on to a concept that really helps them move forward with something. I love watching people jam on projects or ideas together who might not have known each other without the Next Up program or the peer support program. And I love when people surprise themselves and go further than they imagined possible.
The biggest challenge is maintaining my ideals while tempering my expectations so that I am not painfully disappointed. All of my work is based in social and environmental justice, which involves some exciting victories but also a lot of grief and loss. I do the peer support work because I struggle with depression myself and I have had to learn to work for my strongly held ideals from a place of hope, while keeping my expectations low in the short-term. That’s hard to do, but I am learning.
KC: What’s important to you?
Building a world rooted in justice, love and compassion is important to me. Doing so will require engaging more people. I would like to see the kind of community work that many of us are involved in become the norm rather than the exception. I don’t want to do community organizing that creates windows for people to gaze through and see the activists. Rather, I want to be involved in organizing that creates mirrors in which people see themselves reflected and invited to participate. I hear so many people say that they want to get more involved, and I hear so many others say that they are too busy or are burning out. I want to find better ways of helping people feel welcome and capable because there is much work to be done and fun to be had in social change work.
KC: What do you like most/least about Saskatoon?
What I like most about Saskatoon are the people, the river, the incredible teachers and mentors I’ve had, and the Treaties which allow me to share this land with Indigenous peoples and other settlers.
What I like least about Saskatoon is the racism and inequity that we find here all too often.
KC: What is your impression of Regina?
I grew up in Moose Jaw, so Regina was the place we went for fun in high school…though usually that just meant going to movies that weren’t yet at the theatre in Moose Jaw! Regina is still a place that I like to visit and there are awesome people there doing phenomenal work. I am continually impressed with what the community there accomplishes and how welcoming they are to new people who move there. I have seen several friends, and my brother, fall in love with the Regina activist/arts community after moving there with some initial hesitation.
I often hear Regina activists lament that there isn’t as much happening in their community as there is in Saskatoon, but I have also heard Saskatoon people say the same thing about Regina. The Students in Sanctuary/Let Them Stay campaign to support students from Nigeria who were being deported for working at Walmart was a fine moment for Regina. As was Regina Water Watch and the effort to prevent privatization of the wastewater treatment plant. You win some, you lose some, but Regina activists are a strategic, generous and formidable bunch.
At Next Up, we are planning to expand our leadership program to Regina and I am so lucky to work with some amazing people there to help make that happen. I’m really excited about the potential to build relationships between Regina, Saskatoon, and other communities in the province.
KC: How do you survive the winters?
I haven’t always survived them that well. After a couple of winters where my depression really flared up, last winter, I created a winter challenge for myself inspired by a blog where a woman set 30 goals for the year she turned 30 (https://erindoeschapterthirty.wordpress.com/). It worked really well for me last year so I am doing it again this year. It’s basically a set of 20 goals in a countdown format. So this year, mine includes 19 aquafit classes, 15 crafternoons or creativenings, 12 dates with my partner, trying out or creating 9 healthy recipes, etc. The worst things I can do for myself in the winter are to isolate myself and stop exercising, so the list really emphasizes exercise and socializing and other things that help me feel good.
KC: (From the Proust Questionnaire) What is your motto?
“What can we do today so that tomorrow we can do what we are unable to do today?” - Paulo Freire.