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|Occupation||Writer, scholar, activist, community organizer|
|Subject||Urban Studies, Alternative Education|
Matt Hern is a community organizer, independent scholar, writer and activist based in East Vancouver, British Columbia (Coast Salish Territories) who is known for his work in radical urbanism, community development, ecology and alternative forms of education. He has founded a wide range of community projects, initiatives and institutions including: the Eastside Learning Centre, the Purple Thistle Centre, Car Free Vancouver Day, Groundswell: Grassroots Economic Alternatives. He is currently the co-founder and co-director of a creative production co-operative with and for refugee and recently-arrived youth called 2+10 Industries. Hern teaches at multiple universities, lectures globally and is widely-referenced in radical political and social discourses. His writing has been published on all six continents and translated into fourteen languages.
Early life and education
Hern was born in Victoria and grew up in rural British Columbia. After attending Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, he briefly worked in journalism in New York City before moving to East Vancouver, in Coast Salish Territories, working as a sportswriter for a number of years. Hern was a student at the Institute for Social Ecology in Plainfield, Vermont where he completed an MA, and shortly after became a faculty member. Hern holds a PhD in Urban Studies from the Union Institute & University, completed in 1997.
Hern is well known for his books, articles and lectures, and he speaks widely in various forums and media. His 2016 book What a City is For (MIT Press) interrogates and charts the ongoing aggressive dispersal of Portland’s black community in the context of perhaps North America’s most liberal, and certainly whitest, city. The book is a grappling with sovereignty: an attempt to reconcile Agamben/Deleuzian notions of post-sovereignty with arguments in favour of alternative understandings of sovereignties in the context of racialized histories of dispossession. The book has found wide acclaim among community and anti-gentrification activists and scholars.
Hern has published seven earlier books, including: One Game at a Time (AK Press, 2014) which is a radical critique and defense of sports, Common Ground in a Liquid City: Essays in Defense of an Urban Future (AK Press, 2009) which explores participatory urbanism in the context of his home city, Field Day (New Star, 2003), and Watch Yourself (New Star, 2007). He has also edited three collections including: Stay Solid: A Radical Handbook for Youth (AK Press, 2013), Everywhere All The Time (AK Press, 2008), and Deschooling Our Lives (New Star, 1996).
Hern's forthcoming book is titled Global Warming and the Sweetness of Life: In Search of an Ecological Future (MIT Press, 2018). The book is co-authored with Am Johal and features cartoons and drawings by Joe Sacco. The book charts multiple trips through the tar sands of northern Alberta and affected Indigenous communities and Hern, Johal and Sacco offer new forms of thinking about global warming and ecological perils in the context of class and decolonial politics. Hern also has several other books in preparation for publication in 2018 and continues to publish widely in a variety of journals and magazines.
Running parallel to his scholarship and writing, Hern has founded and directed a number of community institutions. After running a small alternative school for low-income elementary-aged children, Hern and his partner Selena Couture worked at Windsor House Alternative School, then opened the Purple Thistle Centre in 2000 in East Vancouver with seven teenage friends. The Thistle since flourished and expanded significantly into a major community center for several hundred participants, run collectively by a group of youth. Hern acted as mentor, fundraiser, friend and organizer who worked closely with the collective. Building on this experience, Hern founded Groundswell: Grassroots Economic Alternatives, a training institute for low-income youth to develop co-ops, collectives, non-profits and social ventures. The project derives inspiration from co-operative and autonomist movements, and seeks to build an alternative economic logic with youth. Currently Hern is working with a new project he has co-founded: 2+10 Industries, a creative production co-operative and creative hub with gang-engaged refugee and immigrant youth.
Hern has also founded a number of other community projects and initiatives, the best-known of which is Car-Free Day Vancouver. In 2005, Hern co-founded the Commercial Drive Car-Free Festival. Quickly the project expanded into a huge event, closing down a major arterial street with a celebration of radical politics, urban sustainability and social ecology, drawing up to 50,000 people per day. Then in 2008 Hern founded Car Free Vancouver, which has spread the festival to four major Vancouver neighbourhoods, draws 250,000 people annually to call for a sustainable city with fewer cars and more community.
Hern also runs frequent major trips with teenagers – up to 25 teens camping for a month at a time in Montana, Utah, California and elsewhere. In 2002, Hern, his partner and a colleague started a Youth Exchange Program between East Vancouver and Fort Good Hope (Radeli Ko) in the Northwest Territories. The exchanges are organized explicitly with the goal of getting native and non-native kids together to travel and stay in each other's homes. The central goal of this project is to move past simple tolerance and towards comprehension, hospitality and solidarity.
Hern lives in East Vancouver, Coast Salish Territories with his partner, daughters, adopted children and extended family.
- Global Warming and the Sweetness of Life: A Tar Sands Tale, MIT Press 2018
- What a City is For: Remaking the Politics of Displacement, MIT Press, 2016
- One Game at a Time: Why Sports Matter, AK Press, 2013.
- Stay Solid: A Radical Handbook for Youth. AK Press, 2012. (Editor).
- Common Ground in a Liquid City: Essays in Defense of an Urban Future, AK Press, 2009.
- Everywhere All the Time: A New Deschooling Reader, AK Press, 2008. (Editor).
- Watch Yourself: Why Safer Isn't Always Better, New Star Books, 2007.
- Field Day: Getting Society Out of School, New Star Books, 2003.
- Deschooling Our Lives, New Society Publishers, 1996. (Editor).
Selected Articles, Essays, Interviews
- "Did the Olympics Make Vancouver a Better City?", The Tyee, February 11, 2011
- "Ready to Rumble: UFC Comes to Vancouver", Vancouver Magazine, Nov 1, 2009.
- "Citizen Hern" (Feature on Matt Hern), Vancouver Magazine, Mar 1, 2008
- "Matt Hern talk on car free days", COPE Ideas Conference, December 1, 2007.
- "Georgia Straight Interview with Matt Hern, The Georgia Straight, September 20, 2007.