Photo courtesy of Alejandra Bravo
Mentor, trainer, facilitator, strategist, multilingual social activist, and political candidate — when it comes to progressive politics and community building, Alejandra Bravo is well versed. With over 25 years working with grassroots, immigrant, and labour groups for economic and social change, this fall Bravo made a run for Member of Parliament in Canada’s 2021 federal election.
Bravo spoke to The Edge about her career as a community organizer, and it’s clear that her fighting spirit and dedication to progressive activism transcends past politics in everything she commits to.
As Director of Leadership and Training at the Broadbent Institute and Director of the Power Lab, you’ve supported and built campaigns focused on empowering historically disadvantaged groups and spearheaded several progressive movements. What issues do you believe should be at the forefront of Canadian politics today?
Canada’s growing inequality crisis was finally revealed to all by the pandemic, and facing it is overdue. The labour market is increasingly characterized by precarious or gig work and low wages. Housing is so unaffordable in cities big and small that too many are living in substandard conditions while others increasingly become homeless. The disaster of climate change has repeatedly hit Canadians this year with wildfires and drought, while we witness growing threats all over the world. As a society, we are also facing the living legacy of colonization and seeing the extreme harm done to Indigenous people.
At this time, it is clear that decision makers need to take on structures and systems that create poverty and disadvantage, and they know they have the backing of a majority of Canadians to do so. We need to redefine economic growth, which means shifting to sustainability and equity as the metrics that will deliver us from the greatest threats to our society.
At Maytree, you designed and delivered political and civic training for emerging and diverse leaders. What advice would you give to the next generation of young diverse leaders looking to impact their communities?
Focus on the contribution you are best positioned to make, not on your deficits. Do more of what you’re good at. Build on your strengths. When people come together in this way, bringing true value to a shared campaign or effort, they become unstoppable as a collective.
Emerging leaders who seek my counsel don’t come from rich and established families that open doors to corridors of power. They need to diligently build their own connections. I advise them to volunteer on projects big and small, join boards, become active in a local school. I also urge people to get political — choose a party or a candidate reflecting your values and join a campaign, because there’s so much to be learned there. If you really want to shift civic and political culture, you need to grow your network and to think about power.
Your job isn’t to fix people. Everyone has inherent value and power, and if you’re a facilitative leader, you will help them find it and tap in so that every effort you join will be aided by a base of motivated people willing to act collectively.
Get good at difficult conversations. This is an essential and often neglected leadership practice. You get good at this by facing tensions and conflict head on. Eventually, you learn that relationships are built out of moments of discomfort.
You recently ran for Member of Parliament in the 2021 federal election. What inspired you to shift from community organizer to federal politics?
I unexpectedly felt called to run for Parliament this year after our former MP decided he wouldn’t run again. People in my riding, collaborators from different parts of the country, and members of the Latin American community asked me to go for it. I’ve never not been a political person because my very presence in Canada is the result of a military coup in my country of birth, Chile. Escaping a dictatorship and seeing the impact on my family have made risk-taking for principle something I value. The levers for making transformational change at the federal level are powerful. They touch on all the things that matter. Relying on the market to solve the greatest threats has proven not to work, from climate to housing. Governments have a leadership role to play.
You have been working towards progressive social changes for over 25 years. What part of your career are you most proud of?
What satisfies me most is seeing flourish the leadership of people who were previously excluded from corridors where decisions are made. I’ve invested energy in racialized leaders and activists, especially in the Black community, and sometimes I privately feel proud while recognizing that the accomplishments of individuals I’ve supported are all their own. The pride I feel is in the privilege of accompanying people as they walk the road to justice.
I feel exhilarated when I work with a group through the inevitable, and maybe even necessary, tensions that arise when people aspire to big changes and impact. Facilitation is one of my work’s greatest gifts. It’s about following the lead of the people most affected by a campaign, a policy, or a process — and never substituting their agency with my agenda. It’s truly exhilarating to know yourself useful in the moment people are recognizing their own rights and power.
The contributions that matter most to me are largely unseen and uncelebrated, and that is a private pleasure. When I go to bed at night, I know my life is about walking alongside people as they learn themselves to lead, to demand better, and to organize to win those improvements for themselves, their families, and their communities.
Carlie Doan | Editorial Assistant