Author Archives: Lila Asher

About Lila Asher

Lila Asher is a graduate of the University of Toronto with a BA in Equity Studies and Environmental Studies. A travelling ice show performer and aspiring urban planner, she spends a lot of time thinking about how different cities structure communities and how we can live more sustainably. Lila loves cycling, reading, being outdoors, and of course, writing. You can find her at

South of the Border

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My car sits idle in the driveway of my parents’ house, spring pollen coating it undisturbed. I have not left for more than a bike ride since March ground to a halt, and I’m one of the lucky ones. Lucky that I’m not required to risk my life at work. Lucky that losing my part-time job doesn’t land me on the streets, since my parents can support me temporarily. Strangely, lucky that an injury ended my short career as a touring performer months ago, so that I’d already retreated home to regroup before this crisis began. Lucky that no one I know personally has yet caught the virus.

I am desperate to spread my bubble of safety, to help those less lucky than myself, but remain paralyzed by the awareness that I could be carrying COVID19. My mom is a healthcare worker, so everyday the coronavirus has a pathway into our house. Instead of assistance, I could be spreading infection. Without a way to be certain, I stay home, clinging to my guilt-ridden safety, aware that the tiniest twinge in the universe could endanger my mom and put my family in a different position entirely.

Outside my window, the world’s timeline has fractured. All bridges over the swirling chaos of the pandemic began several weeks ago, their hazy structures now barely discernible above us. America has always been the more bombastic sibling, discarding all pretense of equality in the election of Donald Trump. While Canada’s struggles with COVID19 are very real, threatening vulnerable populations, major cities, and my closest friends, America has amplified every aspect of the crisis. The reverberations ripple the air even in my parents’ placid suburban neighbourhood.

Until recently, I lived in Toronto, and I meant to stay there forever. Now my fate seems oddly tied to that of the birth country I thought I had left behind. Almost all of my friends still live in Canada, and in some ways we’re closer now that at any point since I moved away: sharing the mundane struggles of social distancing, inhabiting Zoom as if it were our living room. But increasingly, the numbers show that we are living in two different realities, the borders firmly shut between the country weathering a terrible storm and an empire in what might be its death throes.

Though I’ve never been one to harbour any illusions about the greatness of a country built through slavery on stolen Indigenous land, I fear for America. I lie awake at night thinking about the sheer number of people who will die as our infrastructure fails us, the chaos and danger that might ensue if the government collapses, and the inequities that will sharply worsen as austerity measures follow the huge bailouts. A feel our collective post-Cold War hubris giving way to a chill of panic, our already-precarious hegemony slipping away. The system was always broken, but now it lies shattered on the floor.

Coronavirus is a turning point, a massive boulder colliding with the arc of history and forever altering its path. It cannot change for the better: there is no way to be better off from a pandemic which is causing hundreds of thousands of deaths. However, we have a collective responsibility to do what we can while the future is malleable. Before the dust settles, we must have plans in place to protect each other and the planet and prevent the spread of authoritarianism. If we don’t seize the moment, we can’t be sure who will.

On both sides of the 49th parallel and around the world, this is the crucial time to come together, even as we must physically stay apart. I am thirsty for stories of community strength. Today, Amazon and Instacart workers are striking. People are checking in on their neighbours. Some jurisdictions have enacted rent freezes and other measures to protect the vulnerable. Tiny seeds of progressive change are taking root in the social cracks widened by the pandemic. Together, we can change the current of this pandemic, forcing our way from the whirlpool of destruction into a more compassionate future.

South of the Border

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My car sits idle in the driveway of my parents’ house, spring pollen coating it undisturbed. I have not left for more than a bike ride since March ground to a halt, and I’m one of the lucky ones. Lucky that I’m not required to risk my life at work. Lucky that losing my part-time job doesn’t land me on the streets, since my parents can support me temporarily. Strangely, lucky that an injury ended my short career as a touring performer months ago, so that I’d already retreated home to regroup before this crisis began. Lucky that no one I know personally has yet caught the virus.

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High School by Tegan and Sara

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cover of High School

Dancing (or crying) to songs by Tegan and Sara is practically a rite of passage for queer women and girls in Canada and beyond. Both Vancouver-based twins have been open about their sexuality since their music career took off in 1998 and they quickly became icons for the LGBTQ+ community. But before “Closer,” before “Boyfriend,” before the Grammy nomination and the inception of their LGBTQ+ advocacy foundation, Sara and Tegan Quin were just everyday sisters growing up in Calgary, Alberta. Their new memoir, High School (Simon & Schuster, 2019), guides readers through the tumultuous halls of Crescent Heights High as the sisters find love, drop acid, and pick up the guitar.

Told in alternating perspectives—one chapter is Tegan’s, the next Sara’s—the memoir spans grades 10 through 12. By the end, the Quin sisters are beginning to emerge as the queer rock stars that we know today. Though the conclusion is no surprise for Tegan and Sara fans, the raw emotion and honesty of their shared memoir never fail to captivate. The stories that earned High School a 2020 Alex Award (given to adult books with special relevance to teens) offer comfort to people who may be having similar experiences and are as relatable as the duo’s hit songs.

Continue Reading High School by Tegan and Sara


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Hers was probably the fiftieth or sixtieth door I knocked on that afternoon. The sun had set enough that the white doors on the east side of the street were no longer too bright to look at. A dog barked inside her house, so I knew at least someone heard my knock. It’s always a guessing game: how long to wait before I accept that no one is coming. Thankfully, she answered quickly. She had a go-away face, though, her eyes hard and a tension around her mouth as if she were trying to spit me out.

I introduced myself and my organization and moved into the opening of my pitch before she could cut me off. “We’re a local non-profit that does a lot of environmental advocacy at city council and we’re in your neighbourhood doing some outreach this afternoon. I was wondering if you’re concerned about environmental issues?”

Her eyes hardened even further as I spoke, but her mouth relaxed to form the words with which she planned to send me away. “Well of course I am. Everyone is. But I don’t have time right now, so goodbye.” She shut the door before I could say anything more.

Hardly anyone has time to talk, so I was accustomed to this sort of rejection, especially at “cold doors” where the residents were not already on our member list. The closed door did not bother me, but as I moved on to the next house I pondered this woman’s assumption that of course she’s concerned, everyone is. Because everyone isn’t. That is one thing you learn when you try to talk to all the people on one street.

There were some houses I canvassed where the resident (often an older man) told me that he thinks we need more pipelines or, in one case, that he supports Donald Trump. These are the houses where we are trained to say, “Okay, have a nice day,” and move on, because the chances of recruiting them as supporters are slim. I wonder how the woman at the door that morning would have reacted if she encountered this kind of opposition from her neighbours. Would she have left her door open longer to prove that she’s on my side? Or kept it closed, satisfied that at least she cares, and that ought to be enough?

The vast majority of people seem to stop at caring, alleging sympathy, while still ushering me away claiming that this isn’t a good time. These are people with dinner on the stove or on the table, who are trying to bathe their kids, who just got home from a long day at work, who are trying to watch the game on TV. People who have someone on the phone, who are doing housework, who are just heading out, who aren’t feeling well today, and who don’t feel obligated to make excuses to a stranger. These people are me sometimes too, as I rush past a blue-vested street canvasser with my headphones in, pretending that I’m late to class.

Digital art by Katarna Marinic showing a composite being with arms, legs, eyes.

Composite Hybrid by Katarina Marinic

The present is sabotaging the future, and it terrifies me. Yes, the system is rigged by fossil fuel companies and powerful climate-science deniers, but on the local scale, “I don’t have time right now so goodbye” is also a substantial threat to environmental progress. People are so caught up in the quotidian details of getting by that they have no time left to step back and think about solutions to problems that will make it harder to put food on the table and be secure in their home and maintain their health in the not-so-distant future. It’s easier to just avoid the rabbit hole of anxiety. This is both a major obstacle and a call to action for activists.

As another dozen doors shut in my face, or as I burrow deeper into my hood to avoid being stopped for a sidewalk survey, I can’t help but wonder if capitalism did this on purpose. I really do have to get to class on time, just as my canvassees really do have to get their kids to soccer practice. Society pushes us towards fulfilling our individual responsibilities in a way that makes coming together for systemic change highly inconvenient. We are barraged with alarm bells through every form of media, on the streets and in our houses. To breathe, we shut them out.

When I began to get involved in environmental activism in my first year of university, I thought it was about yelling. Get out in the streets with as many people as you can muster! Sneak banners into strategic locations and be disruptive! That way, everyone would have to remember how dire the situation is. It baffled me how people could just go about their lives and not be (outwardly) concerned about climate change. Don’t they know, I thought, that if we don’t do something right now we’re quite possibly going to destroy the planet forever?!  The more I talked to people both in my daily life and while canvassing at their doors, I realized that most people do know, yet they oscillate between denial and feeling overwhelmed. Instead of feeling the urgency of action, they just want the chatter to stop.

Imagine silence. No one pressing for solutions, as climate change lurks in the shadows. It would feel unbalanced, a chasm of potential waiting to be filled with the floodwater on its way to our doors. As activists, we are compelled to lead the charge, banners flapping behind us as we rush to stem the tide, echoes of our rallying cry emphasizing the emptiness behind us and in the pits of our stomachs.

No one will follow us if they only hear our alarm but don’t feel heard themselves.

To grow our movement, we can’t rely on simply convincing people, adding more anxiety into their already-busy lives. Yelling louder won’t cut through the noise. I used to go into conversations with potential supporters as if they were stubborn legislators: a verbal bulldozer, determined to stick to my position and not back down. But effective activism is really about listening. When I listen to people’s concerns, I find that most people already have the motivation to do something.

At the door, it was my job to show people how giving to my organization was one way to make a small contribution to environmental work, and that’s not untrue: for those with more money than time, donations to community organizations are vital to move the cause forward. But off the clock, there are so many other things that people can do. They can vote. They can vote with their money. They can get out and protest. They can go to a beach cleanup. They can have a car-free day or a meatless Monday or bring a reusable mug and cutlery in their bag. Deep into a conversation with one young mom about her efforts to avoid disposable diapers, I fumbled for any information that she didn’t already know, afraid of losing her interest. But in the end, she donated not because I led her to care, but because I stood with her in her struggle to work out her path, accidentally managing to assure her that we are in this fight together.

Yelling about how everyone needs to be actively involved in the solution often rips the environmental movement apart. We are caught in the paradox between being palatable to centrists and acting fast enough to protect marginalized communities. Ironically, these arguments can keep us from both immediate action and slowing down to listen to our neighbours.

As activists, we can’t get so caught up in our own concerns that, just like the woman I met at the door, we don’t have time when people want to talk. As a movement, we can’t let the climate crisis become our everything, causing us to shut out the other parts of life that threaten to overwhelm us. We can’t assume that we have the support of the entire left without doing anything to include them. Closing the door keeps us from building support and making progress. Instead, let’s take a breath. Lock eyes. And listen to how we can move forward together.