Stephanie Mayell, PhD candidate, Faculty of Arts & Science

Supervised by Anne-Emanuelle Birn, University of Toronto Scarborough and Bianca Dahl, University of Toronto Scarborough

Project Title: Community activism and COVID-19 policymaking: Social resistance addressing health needs of migrant agricultural workers in Ontario as a bridge across pandemic resilience and recovery

Project Summary: COVID-19 policy responses have been analyzed overwhelmingly in terms of policymaker decisions and actions. Yet throughout the pandemic, community groups and activist researchers – who are typically excluded from formal policymaking – have challenged decisionmakers and mobilized to fill gaps in government responses. Among the most vocal in COVID-19 times are activist researchers who advocate for the health and well-being of migrant agricultural workers. Decades-long resistance efforts to improve the working and living conditions, safety, and well-being of racialized migrants who participate in Canada’s Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP) provided impetus and knowhow alike. This study explores political mobilization by and around racialized migrant agricultural workers who experienced the pandemic in disproportionately harmful social, occupational, and health ways. This research asks: What steps have activist groups and researchers taken to address the health needs of migrant agricultural workers in the absence of effective pandemic policymaking? How have community mobilization efforts built on longstanding resistance/resilience efforts to push for policymaking impacts that generate bona fide recovery? Employing a decolonial approach, this study draws on interviews with activists, policymakers, and other key stakeholders involved in COVID-19 responses and actions, contributing to scholarship on pandemic resilience and recovery, policymaking, and social justice mobilization.