Berkley Staite found a like-minded community in a grassroots effort to put pressure on Canadian politicians over the war in Gaza.
Staite is among a group of people, sharing hummus and chips and political dialogue while writing letters to elected officials to call for a ceasefire in Gaza. They met last Tuesday for the tenth time at a house in Halifax.
Staite and his partner have been regular attendees at the Palestine rallies in Halifax and say they were eager to become more politically involved when they first discovered a letter-writing event on a poster at the Glitter Bean Café.
“We found it to be vibrant, full of lovely people,” Staite says, and also a nice way to take ”what’s often a solitary practice and make it shared.”
Staite was one of six participants at the letter-writing event. Dozens of participants such as Staite have been coming to the event every Tuesday night as a way to take action against the intensifying violence in the Middle East that has divided Canadian politicians and citizens.
The organizers and hosts of the letter-writing campaign are Dalhousie law student Christina Tellez and her partner, Em Bailey, who works as a doula. As the violence in Gaza and the West Bank escalated and the death toll of Palestinian citizens continued to rise, Tellez and Bailey initiated the campaign at their home as a way to demand action from government.
The group aims to let Canadian politicians, including Halifax MP Andy Fillmore, know a portion of their constituents wants a ceasefire in Gaza. The participants also want Canada to restore funding to the United Relief and Works Agency for Palestine refugees it suspended two weeks ago, following allegations several employees had been involved in the Oct. 7 attacks, which saw Hamas militants kill about 1,200 Israelis and take about 240 hostages.
The Israeli response since then has killed almost 28,000 Palestinians.
Tellez says small and local campaigns like these are essential to keep provincial and federal governments accountable to Canadians.
“Through the letter writing … we’ve been able to show politicians that there are community members who are really concerned about this and they are expecting them to take action,” Tellez said.
Tellez and Bailey print out a small information packet for each participant to use that includes the mailing addresses of each politician and a written template that can be used to compose a letter. The campaign, they say, has resulted in a couple of responses from Andy Fillmore, including phone calls with Tellez and Bailey, and written responses to other participants.
Since its formation, the letter-writing night has spawned related events that Tellez and Bailey have organized with other participants, including a recent protest at Fillmore’s office. They also held a virtual letter-writing session with participants across Canada, called Across Turtle Island Letter Writing Night. In total, Tellez says, participants have written more than 1,000 letters to government officials in the past 10 weeks.
For regular participants such as Marie Raynard, this group has become a collective that radiates optimism.
“Instead of being weighed down by despair,” Raynard said, she was able to reengage from “a place of hope.”
“I think that’s what communal effort does, it reminds us that we are connected to each other, and those connections are way more powerful than us alone,” she said.