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Who do you think you are?

February 1st, 2008     by piKe krpan     Comments

Faced with choosing one of 600 odd channels on my sister’s satellite dish last night (and I thought I had choices to make in my pathetic TV-free life), we decided on a CBC show called Who Do You Think You Are?. The show is a genealogical exploration of 13 Canadian celebrities, one per half-hour episode. It’s part detective story, part biography, and part big-picture Canadian history. Lucky me, I caught the show on Avi Lewis. Avi Lewis, well-known Canadian “journalist-activist” and son of AIDS in Africa crusader Stephen Lewis, uncovered more of his politician grandfather David Lewis’s past. He discovered that the RCMP and CSIS kept scrupulous records on his grandfather’s activities, but couldn’t get many of the records released. He traces his grandfather’s passion for political change all the way back to his membership in a socialist, labour-focused, Jewish political party in Svisloch (now a part of modern Belarus). Much of the information was unknown even to Avi’s father.

So it turns out that Avi’s passion for social justice goes way back. Pretty cool, huh? What I found inspiring about this story is that we never get to see old histories of resistance, in our familes and otherwise…how many feminists back can you trace in your family, for example? These are the stories that aren’t often documented enough. Their site also offers a chance to see the methods used on the show and uncover your own family tree.

Other celebrities on the show include Don Cherry, Scott Thompson, Mary Walsh, Shaun Majumder, Margaret Trudeau, and notably Chantal Kreviazuk - who explored her family’s big unspoken secret of Metis heritage.

Oh yeah - and Avi is partnered with Naomi Klein, most recently the author of The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. When she spoke at my university a few years back, she organized a meeting with a bunch of us student activists and made sure to centrally mention our struggle against our university’s administration in her very public speech later that evening. The university’s president looked none too impressed. We were pretty happy to have a high-profile author and intellectual on our side!

(OK, I admit it: afterwards we watched the first hour of The Celebrity Apprentice. I swear it was my first time.)

Tags: activist report, arts

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