On Aziz Choudry


May 26, 2024, marks the third anniversary of the death of comrade and intellectual Aziz Choudry. His work and activism have inspired and influenced many social movements around the world, including many writers and editors at Upping the Anti. We are proud to feature this memorial written by his friend and collaborator Stefan Christoff.


Accounting for the full scope of lives lived by Aziz Choudry is impossible.

I remember well the warm smile Aziz would hold during quiet moments as we walked across the city in friendship. I can picture the long scarves that Aziz would wear beautifully while standing tall at street protests. I can still taste the delicious chai that Aziz would make at home and the deep emotional safety that I felt in the presence of Aziz, who could share empathy, even silently, through the presence of a generous spirit.

Before his tragic death in 2021, Aziz moved to South Africa where he briefly worked at the Centre for Education Rights and Transformation at the University of Johannesburg. Since his death, the humanity that Aziz embodied for many continues to resonate in individual and collective ways across many parts of the world. Aziz was an activist, a critical scholar, 1 a prolific author, 2 a grassroots educator, 3 a social movement facilitator, a great cook, and most importantly to many, a dear friend. Aziz held meaningful spaces for many in innumerable beautiful ways on this Earth.

Aziz, born in south London (UK) in 1966, was an international activist who also sustained a profound focus on the critical importance of local community organizing and worked at the intersection of various movements for justice and against colonialism. Aziz was on the board of various organizations, including GRAIN, the Immigrant Workers Centre in Montreal and the Global Justice Ecology Project. Aziz wrote constantly, often focused on lifting up both the experiences and ideas of social movements. He was a trusted organizer, a friend and a voice of clear insight within a multitude of movements.

A major focus of his work was popularizing the learning that takes place within social movements. He wrote and spoke on the ways that grassroots movements for transformative change are spaces for critical action and social spaces within and from which critical theory often emerges. Today, intersectional analysis of systemic injustice and the importance of identity politics 4 (first termed by the Combahee River Collective) have gained popularity in mainstream political discourse. Aziz was part of a group of activist scholars who consistently lifted up the intergenerational struggles that created the space for such ideas to flourish—locating such politics in revolutionary anti-colonial movements across generations of activists involved in grassroots protest movements. These ideas are prominent within multiple collected works that Aziz edited with friends and comrades around the world, including these important titles: Fight Back: Workplace Justice for Immigrants (2009); Learning from the Ground Up: Global Perspectives on Social Movements and Knowledge Production (2010); NGOization: Complicity, Contradictions and Prospects (2013); and, Learning Activism: The Intellectual Life of Contemporary Social Movements (2015) .

Sustaining meaningful and trusted personal connections across the globe was an important element of the immense ​​efforts that Aziz made to support and construct international grassroots organizing networks, which have lifted up contemporary freedom struggles for “the majority of humankind” 5 and challenged the domination of corporate and state-driven, 6 capitalist, colonial power relations. The countless real friendships that he actively maintained, within the often socially intense landscapes of political activism are a remarkable feat. Aziz built up a heartfelt network of friends and comrades around the world, in horizontal fashions, across thirty years 7 of organizing, and “collective” 8 action. He clearly recognized that focusing, with tenderness, on “the social dimension of life” 9 was essential to sustaining any possibility of impactful activism. Many people deeply trusted Aziz, and rightfully so.

This text on Aziz is shaped by personal reflections written with the goal of sharing a few stories to illuminate a big life lived by a vibrant, beautiful and heartfelt person. The life that he lived remains present in many people given the generosity that was central to the relationships he built. A major legacy of his life and contributions is understanding that radical and revolutionary work can be a space for critical analysis and action, as well as care. Aziz was very careful to take the time to talk to people and to share ideas about how best to approach the questions of our time. In many ways, he broke down multiple doors within institutional contexts of academia, which for generations were hostile to community activist insights. There still remains a major gap between the streets and academic spaces; but through his determined critiques and efforts to introduce activist ideas into academic spaces, Aziz created space for many. He constantly worked to support frontline organizations doing community organizing work, often against the odds, like the Immigrant Workers Centre in Montreal.

Ephemeral moments: Sustaining love and critical thinking within creative grassroots action

Aziz thrived in spaces that were “off the map,” where political intersections around grassroots activism and art were explored. I was often with Aziz at events at Casa del Popolo 10 on St. Laurent. One such event was the the launch of Kaie Kellough’s celebrated book on Montreal, Accordéon, 11 and the local launch of Understanding the Crash, 12 a beautiful book of illustrated essays by NYC authors Eric Laursen and Seth Tobocman. 13 These works 14 detail how the 2008 financial meltdown deeply impacted working class people, particularly racialized communities, south of the colonial border. At the Understanding the Crash launch, Aziz gave an insightful talk to the audience where he offered reflections, connecting the demands of the 2012 student strike protests in Quebec to other international social movements. Anti-austerity strike actions in Montreal 15 called for an end to “student debt” 16 and stood against state-driven moves towards neoliberalism and the corporatization of postsecondary education. 17 Aziz underlined how local protest movements were occurring as part of broader collective networks of struggle against the global capitalist 18 fundamentalisms of Wall Street and Bay Street. He spoke about the link between local political activism “in the everyday” 19 and larger global movements that challenge the systemic violence of financialization.

These contemporary neoliberal processes of deregulations, advocated by the Chicago school of economics, 20 are rooted in the legacies of colonial power. Aziz situated these contemporary struggles for social and economic justice in relation to the ideas and systemic critiques of “Indigenous and other colonized peoples” 21 who “are often at the forefront of both the analysis of and resistance to capitalist globalization.” 22 Aziz also spoke on the essential role of artistic expression within social movements, as illustrated in Understanding the Crash.

I remember a community panel discussion that I organized in 2004, in the basement of the School of Community and Public Affairs at Concordia University, with support from CKUT 90.3FM, 23 featuring Aziz and the late Arthur Manuel, 24 the celebrated Indigenous political activist, land defender, and author. I was blown away by the combined layers of analysis that the two speakers shared, from the intersecting reflections around systems of colonialism as manifested in our historical present to sharing tangible ideas on the ways to directly engage audience members in meaningful collective ways. A couple of days after that panel, I edited a recording of that talk and played it on an early morning broadcast on CKUT Radio. I remember getting email feedback on that 8am broadcast, with people asking if Arthur and Aziz had published books or articles that listeners could access.

In the following months, there was a series of protests calling for a boycott of Delta Hotels including at a location on Boulevard de Maisonneuve in Montreal. The actions were supported by the Indigenous Peoples Solidarity Movement, an activist collective organizing in the city at the time. The corporate hotel chain was directly investing in constructing new hotel units at a ski resort in BC (Sunpeaks) that was expanding into the traditional territories of the Secwépemc people (the nation that Arthur Manuel was from), 25 without the legal consent of the Indigenous people impacted. This hotel expansion was a violation of the Delgamuukw Supreme Court decision 26 and Indigenous sovereignty. I fondly remember Aziz joined some of those picket actions to support the Secwépemc people, wearing his signature leather jacket at the protests in those cool, windy, spring days in downtown Montreal.

Networks of resistance, local and global, as rooted in history

Aziz was indeed always international in building networks of resistance. 27 His work at the same time was also intensely locally linked to community organizations like the Immigrant Workers Centre (IWC) in Côte-Des-Neiges, Montreal, where Aziz was actively engaged as a board member for many years.

I write this text to also underline some memorable public works of Aziz, including many awesome books he either edited or wrote. There is the amazing joint photo book about Caribbean Quebecios networks of community activism that Aziz did with archivist Désirée Rochat, Caribbean life in Quebec: A Pictorial History of the 60s, 70s, and 80s. 28 Projects like this speak to the broad scope of Aziz’s incredible accomplishments, and to the major personal support role that he played in many lives and across many projects.

Aziz always focused on work around intersections between anti-colonial analyses of international systems of finance and politics, as they reflected and manifested in the local, propped up by legacies of colonialism. He thrived in supporting community groups, like the IWC 29 and many others, who addressed those intersections.

I first met Aziz in Montreal around the global Conference Against War, Imperialism and Racism 30 that took place at Concordia University in 2002, although I had been reading his articles on ZNet 31 for a couple years already. I distinctly recall feeling excited when a new text by Aziz was being circulated across activist email lists at the time. Aziz was one of the few activist writers that I remember fully taking the time to deeply read because of the historical arc of the writing and the ways he located the protest movements I was joining in Montreal within a larger trajectory of anti-colonial struggles and liberation movements around the world.

Aziz was often able to articulate broader meanings involved, giving important context to the protest actions that I was working on and invested in so deeply at a local level. The clarity and breadth of expressions of political reference points, Aziz made in his writing 32 was a big deal for a committed teenage activist stepping into serious organizing within anti-authoritarian activist groups, including the Anti-Capitalist Convergence (CLAC) 33 and the Peoples’ Global Action Network (PGA).

Aziz’s writing was often circulated and discussed on email lists and networks like the PGA. The PGA was a global network of radical activist collectives, movement organizations and individuals who were attempting to work in solidarity with “movements from the Global South.” 34 PGA came together “on the need not just to reform neoliberalism but to defeat capitalism completely, and to produce a resistance as transnational as capital.” 35 Texts by Aziz were often circulated and discussed on PGA email lists locally and globally. The PGA had emerged within Left networks globally through activist initiatives formed around the world to support the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) in Chiapas, Mexico and to organize anti-capitalist globalization protests around the world in opposition to the policies of institutions like the World Bank, IMF, and World Trade Organization (WTO). Chiapas, Mexico, existed as a point of resistance to this global neoliberal, colonial capitalist order that Aziz was writing against, a physical location that stood strong against neocolonialism. “A place off the map” 36 to western power. A place that, to the great surprise of colonial capitalist institutions, fought back creating a physical point of anti-colonial resistance directly on the map, especially after Zapatista armed rebels declared autonomy in 1994. Chiapas came to symbolize a geographical point of victorious rebellion that continues to inspire activists globally while also shaking the frameworks of what mainstream political power has deemed possible; a place where “there is no separation between who is governed and who is governing—they are one and the same.” 37

Aziz’s writing on corporate globalization, sweatshops, environmental destruction, and systemic racism that included the Zapatistas, worked to locate the opposition and rage that I felt while also providing a sense of meaning and power to the work that I was doing locally, connecting it to a broader global network rooted in history. Aziz referenced the autonomous Indigenous points of action like the Zapatistas, linking such points of contemporary territorial resistance to broader histories of anti colonial struggle.

Aziz was always critical of the gaps between the mainstream Left and the ways that this institutional discourse surrounding the anti-globalization movement ignored the historical arc of anti-colonial movements embodied by groups like the Zapatistas. His argument was reflected with what we were facing locally as activists in CLAC organizing to support the struggles of Indigenous groups and organizations like the Mohawk Warrior Society 38 and others.

In August 2001, Aziz wrote a stinging critique that spoke to the work that we were doing locally—targeting mainstream critics of globalization that failed to take the intersections of capitalism, colonialism, and corporate interests into account, work that failed to canter Indigenous voices. Aziz wrote, “Far too many times have I heard the history of globalization—and the resistance to it—compressed into the last two or three decades, and related in a way which downplays or ignores anti-imperialist movements in the South and especially the resistance of indigenous nations in territories claimed by Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and the USA.” 39

In this text and more broadly in Aziz’s work, the effort was to explore the root ideologies of neoliberalism and free trade agreements that were being protested globally at the time. Aziz’s goal was not to simply critique the framing of the mainstream NGOs—such as OXFAM that were often the public facing image to protests—but to deepen our collective understanding of the colonial roots of the economic systems that drive contemporary neoliberal economics and free market fundamentalisms. Aziz, as always, encouraged us to look deeper.

Global activism as rooted in the personal: Café Sarajevo

Trying to navigate my involvement in these hyper active networks of anti-colonial resistance, while figuring out life personally was always a major challenge and although Aziz articulated a broader context and rooted our work in history, Aziz was also there on a personal level and that created a connection special to my life. A connection that went beyond the political—a connection that modelled how to talk to and hear people who are outside of your personal or political circles.

It was smoky inside Café Sarajevo. In 2004, you could still smoke inside across Montreal in a bunch of places, particularly bars. In Café Sarajevo there was a big painting on the wall, portrait style of a family member of the owner Osman Koulenovitch, Balkan clothing represented in the big old frame set in the spot just beside the bar where there were a bunch of different types of the drink rakia.

Aziz Choudry is sitting across the table talking with my father, George, whose family were all immigrants from the Macedonian region of the Balkans, a territory that crosses a couple countries now, Bulgaria, Macedonia, and Greece. Aziz was of course a close friend from the activist world. I had learned so much speaking to Aziz, recording interviews with Aziz for CKUT 90.3FM campus community radio, on the many issues highlighted in this text already.

Also, at that moment, at Café Sarajevo, I was learning again. I was seeing Aziz connect with my father in a way that was real, but the conversation didn’t seem to be about ‘activism’, but more seemed to be about food culture and different cities. I could see what Aziz was doing, connecting with my father, something that I had struggled with.

Aziz was speaking to my dad in a way that seemed to make my father feel seen. Aziz was translating all sorts of cultural codes that I had struggled with. This was amazing to see. I was 23 years old and struggling to find a connection between my family, particularly between my father and my activist life. Aziz was illustrating in a small way, how to make it happen.

Thinking back today, to the many little lessons that I learned from Aziz, like this moment in Café Sarajevo, I think about how activism is always about the systemic, but also is intensely personal. After Aziz arrived in Montreal in 2003/2004 we became close friends. There were periods where we were in touch frequently, but other times I couldn’t manage to keep the connection. I felt embarrassed that I couldn’t figure out how to get my mental health together sometimes, the wear and tear, mentally, of a lot of frontline organizing around migrant justice, on campaigns against police brutality, in support of Palestine, was taking a personal toll. Aziz saw that and was always reaching out, but sometimes I couldn’t find the words, or didn’t know what to say. Always, Aziz kept reaching out, checking in.

I sincerely wish that I could have found more tangible ways to speak to Aziz about activist movement depression, about mental health tolls and about how Aziz was feeling, beyond the high level political analysis that Aziz shared.

Aziz has left an incredible legacy on this Earth and a social network of love, that is real and tangible in many parts of the world. Thousands of us are better for it. However, I, like many others around the world, collectively mourn the loss of comrade and beautiful friend Aziz Choudry.

Given Aziz’s passing, it is essential for us to address collectively within radical social movements the essential need to address mental health struggles that come with taking on systems of power. In the last months of Aziz’s life, I could feel strongly an effort by Aziz to reach out but also a deep sense of sadness and a lack of having the emotional capacity to really address openly the deep depression that Aziz was feeling. Aziz leaves us space to thrive as radical activists, as the space that Aziz created for the radical ideas of social movements remains. Aziz worked tirelessly to open space for the ideas of social movements. In return it is essential for us to continue to work to open space for the urgent need to address mental health struggles and break all the taboos surrounding the struggles of depression that are so common in our movements. There are no easy solutions to these questions, but the important point is to talk about these issues and to find room to try a multitude of tools to come to terms with this reality.*

  1. Aziz Choudry, PM Press Information, https://blog.pmpress.org/authors-artists-comrades/aziz-choudry/ ↩︎
  2. Aziz Choudry, Pluto Books Information, https://www.plutobooks.com/author/aziz-choudry ↩︎
  3. The Passing of Aziz Choudry, Global Labour Resource Centre, York University, https://glrc.info.yorku.ca/2021/05/the-passing-of-aziz-choudry/ ↩︎
  4. Combahee River Collective, “The Combahee River Collective Statement,” April 1977, copyright © 1978 by Zillah Eisenstein, https://americanstudies.yale.edu/sites/default/files/files/Keyword%20Coalition_Readings.pdf ↩︎
  5. Dipesh Chakrabarty, “Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference,” Princeton University Press; Revised edition (Nov. 18 2007), 29. ↩︎
  6. Shiri Pasternak, “Grounded Authority: The Algonquins of Barriere Lake Against the State,” Univ Of Minnesota Press; Illustrated edition (June 6 2017), 6. ↩︎
  7. Aziz Choudry, “Learning Activism: The Intellectual Life of Contemporary Social Movements,” University of Toronto Press, Higher Education Division; Illustrated edition (Sept. 30 2015), xii. ↩︎
  8. David Graeber, “Direct Action: An Ethnography,” AK Press (Sept. 1 2009), 11. ↩︎
  9. Brewster Kneen, “The Tyranny of Rights,” The Ram’s Horn Publishing, (2009), 10. ↩︎
  10. Cult MTL, “Casa del Popolo has reopened with a sweet new terrasse,” July 19, 2020, https://cultmtl.com/2020/07/montreal-music-venue-bar-restaurant-casa-del-popolo-has-reopened-with-a-sweet-new-terrasse/ ↩︎
  11. Kaie Kellough, “Accordéon,” ARP Books (Nov. 15 2016). ↩︎
  12. Eric Laursen and Seth Tobocman, “Understanding the Crash,” Soft Skull; 1st edition (June 8, 2010). ↩︎
  13. Seth Tobocman, https://www.sethtobocman.com ↩︎
  14. CKUT 90.3FM, “Eric Laursen on resonance of protests against the WEF, global inequality, war in post 9/11 NYC,” April 2021, https://soundcloud.com/freecityradio/27-author-eric-laursen-speaks-on ↩︎
  15. Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, “In Defiance,” Between the Lines (June 30 2015), xxv. ↩︎
  16. Jakob Jakobsen (Editor), “Wages for Students: Wages for Students / Sueldo para estudiantes / Des salaires pours les étudiants,” [English, Spanish, French trilingual edition], Common Notions; Multilingual edition (Aug. 11 2016), 64. ↩︎
  17. Ethan Cox, “Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois: On capitalism, Quebec politics and the student movement,” In edited collection, Red Squares, White Feathers, The Best of rabble.ca 2013 Edition, 22. ↩︎
  18. Slavoj Žižek, “Living in the End Times,” Verso; Revised ed. edition (April 18 2011), 168. ↩︎
  19. The Free Association, “Moments of Excess: Movements, Protest and Everyday Life,” PM Press (April 11 2011), 87. ↩︎
  20. Naomi Klein, “The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism,” Vintage Canada; Reprint edition (July 29 2008), 8. ↩︎
  21. Choudry, “Learning Activism,” 30. ↩︎
  22. Choudry, “Learning Activism,” 30. ↩︎
  23. CKUT 90.3FM, http://ckut.ca ↩︎
  24. Union of BC Indian Chiefs (UBCIC) Statement: Arthur Manuel’s Legacy, https://www.ubcic.bc.ca/arthurmanuel_legacy ↩︎
  25. Tyler McCreary & Suzanne Mills, “Skiing and Scheming at Sun Peaks,” Briarpatch Magazine, Nov 1, 2004, https://briarpatchmagazine.com/articles/view/skiing-and-scheming-at-sun-peaks-theyre-too-busy-tearing-up-the-mountain-to ↩︎
  26. Jon Hernandez, “‘We still have title’: How a landmark B.C. court case set the stage for Wet’suwet’en protests,” Feb 13, 2020 2:00 AM, https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/delgamuukw-court-ruling-significance-1.5461763 ↩︎
  27. Aziz Choudry, Jill Hanley, Eric Shragge, “Organize!: Building from the Local for Global Justice,” PM Press; 1st edition (May 30, 2012). ↩︎
  28. Désirée Rochat, “Caribbean life in Quebec: A Pictorial History of the 60s, 70s, and 80s,” https://caribbeanquebec.com/booklet ↩︎
  29. Immigrant Workers Centre, “What’s Wrong with Rights? Social movements, law and liberal imaginations,” https://iwc-cti.ca/whats-wrong-with-rights-social-movements-law-and-liberal-imaginations ↩︎
  30. Concordia’s Thursday Report, “Anti-war conference starts today,” May 9, 2002, http://ctr.concordia.ca/2001-02/May_9/22-InBrief/index.shtml ↩︎
  31. Author Aziz Choudry, ZNet, https://zcomm.org/author/azizchoudry ↩︎
  32. Aziz Choudry, “Satisfaction Not Guaranteed: WTO In Montreal,” Friday, August 1, 2003, https://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/HL0308/S00006/satisfaction-not-guaranteed-wto-in-montreal.htm ↩︎
  33. Convergence des luttes anticapitalistes (CLAC), https://www.clac-montreal.net ↩︎
  34. Laurence Cox, Lesley Wood, “An oral history of Peoples’ Global Action,” Interface: a journal for and about social movements, Volume 9 (1), P 357. ↩︎
  35. Cox & Wood, “An oral history of Peoples Global Action,” Interface, P 357. ↩︎
  36. Ramor Ryan, “Zapatista Spring: Anatomy of a Rebel Water Project & the Lessons of International Solidarity,” AK Press; Illustrated edition (Sept. 2 2011), P 10. ↩︎
  37. Ryan, Zapatista Spring, P 10. ↩︎
  38. Louis Karoniaktajeh Hall, “The Mohawk Warrior Society A Handbook on Sovereignty and Survival,” Between the Lines (2023). ↩︎
  39. Aziz Choudry, “Bringing It All Back Home,” August 3, 2001, ZNet, https://zcomm.org/zcommentary/bringing-it-all-back-home-by-aziz-choudry/ ↩︎