Pint-size visionary

Tooker Gomberg in July 2003, volunteering and participating at a grassroots music festival in rural Ontario.

ONE of Canada’s leading environmental activists is dead at the age of 48. Tooker Gomberg was a vibrant, pint-size visionary who believed passionately in social justice and environmental sanity. In the midst of his relentless activism Tooker had battled the dark demon of depression for years. In a note he left for his partner, Angela Bischoff, he wrote simply that he had lost his chutzpah. Gomberg had a brilliant sense of political theatre and was famous for his ability to bring environmental concerns to the attention of the public and the media. He put his convictions on the line time and time again. For Tooker, facing arrest was simply the price you paid for declaring your convictions publicly.

Once in Montreal, on a sunny spring day, he camped out on an abandoned couch at the side of a busy downtown street to make the point that streets belong to the people, not to cars. He was a passionate cycling advocate, a regular fixture at Critical Mass rides on his bike festooned with procycling banners.

As a city councillor in Edmonton in 1994 Tooker suggested the city flood the streets so people could skate to work instead of driving. Later in 2000 he ran an extraordinary, issuesfocused campaign for Mayor of Toronto where he challenged the listless incumbent to debate him by throwing an old ice-hockey glove in front of the Mayor. ‘I’m just throwing down the gauntlet,’ he quipped. At the UN Climate Change Conference in the Netherlands he burned his passport to protest Canada’s ‘shameful’ failure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. He then went out and got arrested for trespassing at a nuclear weapons base. In the Dutch jail he used the opportunity to speak to the press by cellphone and made front-page headlines back in Canada. He never went anywhere without a backpack full of leaflets and in recent years his trusty video-camera. You could say he was a tireless activist but that would not be nearly strong enough. He ‘walked the talk’ as one of his admirers said after hearing of his death.

He was a great friend of the NI, a gifted journalist and raconteur. Once he phoned the NI Toronto office from his cellphone while on a bus to a nearby city for a demonstration. He wanted to tell us about a visiting Mexican journalist beside him who was reading the No- Nonsense Guide to Globalization. ‘He says it’s the best thing he’s read on the subject,’ Tooker yelled down the line. ‘Wait a minute, I’ll let you talk to him.’ Vintage Tooker.

‘There’s so much cynicism out there about politics,’ he told an interviewer shortly before his death. ‘And I think that the cynicism tends to feed on itself because as people become cynical they give up on the political process. That’s when the politicians can really do whatever they want because there aren’t enough people going after them and keeping them honest.’

Tooker kept them honest.

For a sample of Tooker Gomberg’s writing and a chronicle of his activism see his website:

New Internationalist issue 376 magazine cover This article is from the March 2005 issue of New Internationalist.
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