150+ Canadians Day 96: Naomi Klein

Image: Kourosh Keshiri via naomiklein.org

Naomi Klein, activist, author and filmmaker contributed to peace by influencing mainstream discussion of capitalism and globalization. #Canada 150

Newsweek acclaimed Klein as one of the World’s Most Influential Women in 2010. She was born in Montreal on May 8, 1970, and brought up in a Jewish family of peace activists. Her American parents were Vietnam War resisters that moved to Montreal in 1967. Her mother, Bonnie Klein, a documentary film maker is best known for her anti-pornography documentary “Not a Love Story.” Her father, Michael, a medical doctor, is a member of Physicians for Social Responsibility.  Her brother, Seth, is director of the BC office of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

Klein’s husband, Avi Lewis, (son of Stephen Lewis, politician and diplomate to the UN and journalist and activist, Michelle Landsberg), is also an activist and documentary filmmaker.

As a young teenager, Naomi was caught up in consumerism and designer labels, and was embarrassed with her mother’s strong feminist views. Then her mother had a stroke and became severely disabled. Naomi’s life changed as she and her family cared for her mother.  When she entered university in 1989, the Ecole Polytechnique massacre of female engineering students proved a wake-up call to feminism.

Her writing career began, with contributions to U of T’s student newspaper, The Varsity, where she served as editor-in-chief. Eventually she left academia for journalism. Her first book No Logo, published in 2000, became for many a manifesto in opposition to the corporate globalization movement.  In it, she attacks brand-oriented consumer culture and the operations of large corporations. She also accused several corporations of unethically exploiting workers in the world’s poorest countries in pursuit of greater profits. It became an international best seller, selling over a million copies in 28 languages. Her next book, Fences and Windows (2002) is a collection of her articles and speeches written on behalf of the anti-globalization movement.

Naomi and her husband, Avi Lewis made a documentary film called “The Take” (2004) about factory workers in Argentina who took over a closed plant and resumed production, operating as a collective.

Her third book, The Shock Doctrine, The Rise of Disastrous Capitalism, (2007) became a New York Time best seller, translated into 28 languages. Central to the book’s thesis is the contention that those who wish to implement unpopular policies now routinely do so by taking advantage of certain features of the aftermath of major disasters, be they economic, political, military or natural. The suggestion is that when a society experiences a major ‘shock’ there is a widespread desire for a rapid and decisive response to correct the situation; this desire for bold and immediate action provides an opportunity for unscrupulous actors to implement policies which go far beyond a legitimate response to disaster. The book suggests that when the rush to act means the specifics of a response will go un-scrutinized, that is the moment when unpopular and unrelated policies will intentionally be rushed into effect. The book posits that these shocks are in some cases intentionally encouraged or even manufactured. The Shock Doctrine was adapted into a short film of the same name.

Since 2009, Klein’s attention has turned to environmentalism, with particular focus on climate change. Klein’s fourth book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism versus the Climate was published in September 2014. The book puts forth the argument that the power of neoliberal market fundamentalism is blocking any serious reforms to halt climate change and protect the environment. The book won the 2014 Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction and was a shortlisted nominee for the 2015 Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing. Then in 2015 with Jason Box, Naomi wrote, Why a Climate Deal is the Best Hope for Peace.

Since This Changes Everything was published, Klein’s primary focus has been on putting its ideas into action. She is one of the organizers and authors of Canada’s Leap Manifesto, a blueprint for a rapid and justice-based transition off fossil fuels. The Leap has been endorsed by over 200 organizations, tens of thousands of individuals, and has inspired similar climate justice initiatives around the world.

Klein is a member of the board of directors for climate-action group 350.org, and took part in their “Do the Math” tour in 2013, encouraging a divestment movement. In 2015, she was invited to speak at the Vatican to help launch Pope Francis’s historic encyclical on ecology, Laudato si’.

In 2017, Klein became Senior Correspondent for The Intercept.  She is also a Puffin Foundation Writing Fellow at The Nation Institute and contributor to the Nation Magazine. Recent articles have also appeared in The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Boston Globe, The Guardian, the London Review of Books and Le Monde.

Awards and Honours:

  • International Studies Association’s IPE Outstanding Activist-Scholar Award 2014
  • Sydney Peace Prize
  • Holds multiple honourary degrees 

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