I love being a podcast guest! I recently had the pleasure of joining Andrew Scott and friends on their podcast “It’s a Conspiracy,” to talk about the history of Chanukah, the origin of the Vulcan salute, sing a song, and enjoy goodies from Bliss Bakery. Song is at about 10:53 and you get to hear me sing in Hebrew and in English.You can listen to the episode here.
A photo I took during a labour rally organized by the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees made its way onto the cover of the the January/February 2020 issue of Alberta Views Magazine. There is more of my work featured with the cover story on the inside.
On November 29 and 30, Studio 96 became home for about 30 young people, mostly in their late teens and early 20s, who took part in a 24-hour “Thinkathon.”
“Our Digital Future, C’est Ici” was organized by the Goethe-Institut Montreal, as well as the Goethe-Institut Toronto, Edmonton’s NextGen, European Union in Canada, and the CJD NDG, a non-profit organization in Montreal that helps young people enter the job market.
The Edmonton event was the second in a series of Thinkathons in six Canadian and six European cities between now and the end of 2020.
The project offers young citizens (18-30) an open, inclusive platform for a debate on our digital futures. During the 24 hours, participants co-created videos and social media campaigns, as well as recommendations, for Canadian and European politicians. The work took place both on-site and online, connecting with a Thinkathon happening at the same time in Milan, Italy.
The first Thinkathon took place in October in Montreal and Brussels, Belgium on the topic of Digital Citizenship 4.0.
I was especially excited to be asked to be one of the guest expert speakers at the Edmonton event. I was asked to speak because of my work in community and digital media, as well as community organizing. My topics were online hate, hate groups, and bullying in the digital age, particularly how to deal with it when encountered online and how to protect themselves (and each other) from such behaviours. I was also asked lots of questions about the current state of the media, and how the digital age has changed how we get our information and how we interact with social media and the Internet.
After introducing myself and explaining my work (focusing in particular on documenting social movements at RadicalCitizenMedia.com), I gave a very general overview on online hate and bullying. Some of my major talking points included:
- The digital age can give anyone a public platform, which can be good – it means people who are marginalized but have access to electronics can have a voice – but there is a dark side.
- People can feel emboldened behind a keyboard, and can even be anonymous, and say things they would never say in person.
- Online media can also make recruiting people for hate groups easier, because people who are lonely, disenfranchised, vulnerable can be easier to reach.
- Arguing with haters doesn’t work. It just amplifies whatever was posted.
- Block, delete, report, repeat. If reported enough, person/group may get banned from the service. They may come back with a different name, so be vigilant and keep reporting.
- Same for bullying: report behaviour, and support the person being bullied. Send them public and private words of support.
- Protect yourself: keep social media locked down to friends only, be particular about who you accept to friend/follow you, use a false name, don’t use a photo of yourself as a profile picture.
- Doxxing = posting a person’s photo and personal information online with the intent of causing harassment. If you are doxxed report it to the online service, to authorities. Keep a record of all harassing calls, emails, posts.
The questions and comments that followed were excellent. Here is a summary of the outcomes of those questions and comments:
- While “block, delete, report, repeat” might seem like a band-aid solution, it’s the first step. The goal is to get the groups/individuals off the Internet. This has been achieved through continuous reporting, but also posting about the people/group and their behaviour on public platforms, including screenshots/quotes.
- Emotions cannot be banned. But if someone is posting harmful, inappropriate things, they have to be stopped. It would be great to channel that energy into something positive, but that usually comes from a person’s work on themself and the intervention of the people around them. They also may not see their actions/words/ideology as negative. They think they are standing up for their country, their culture, or whatever. It’s very difficult to have a rational discussion with someone of that mindset.
- There are no laws specifically against doxxing (that I am aware of), but there are laws against criminal harassment. Document everything.
- Social media has changed the way people do community organizing and activism, in terms of organizing events but also how they participate, to capture very visual or vocal multimedia posts to use on social media.
- Social media has grown in importance in terms of allowing people to become citizen journalists, especially now when traditional media is dwindling.
- It’s important to be positive, even when social media is very sad and dark. Post about people in your community doing things to make the world a better place. Don’t engage with the negativity if it is hate speech or trolls – work to get rid of it as described above, and add posts that are more positive in nature to your social media.
- What should be done about “cancel culture” and/or “call-out culture”? If a person has made a mistake or done something inappropriate and you have access to them, talk to them first. Calling out as a first step is generally reserved for people to whom one doesn’t have access, such as celebrities being called out as part of the #MeToo movement. Every situation is different and you need to use your own judgement, but in general, calling out should be a last resort.
- How has documenting local activism changed since I began in 2005? When I started, I was one of the few doing it, but now since so many people have smartphones, lots of people are taking photos and shooting video and posting on social media.
More information about the Thinkathons is here.
Exciting news: A Monumental Secret, a film I co-produced, co-wrote, and filmed, is an official documentary selection at the Cinemaway/Kinomarshrut (Кіномаршрут) Film Festival in Lviv, Ukraine. I worked with director, co-producer, and co-writer Adam Bentley on the film, which also features a song by John Guliak.
Here is the trailer:
And the poster:
Last year, I worked as a co-producer, co-writer, and cinematographer on a film project called A Monumental Secret. Produced with the support of the Edmonton Arts Council, the short film explores a little-known aspect of Ukrainian history in Edmonton, and how two friends grapple with the reality of this information. I worked with fellow writer and producer Adam Bentley on the project, and my friend John Guliak has a new song featured in the film, which helps tie everything together in the end. The film stars the acting talents of Dan Moser and Griffin Cork. Here’s a look at the trailer.
I was invited to be the guest speaker and performer at the Unitarian Church of Edmonton for its quarterly “Social Justice Sunday” on October 28, 2018. The topic was “A Safe Space for Activism.” Visit my blog at Sacred Social Justice for a video of my talk and performance of four songs, as well as my notes.
#HateFreeYEG is a new grassroots community initiative to work towards eradicating Edmonton of hate and racism. The initiative launched on September 30, and I was asked to speak at the launch as a community organizer about how we can eliminate hate, as well as my own experiences with anti-Semitism. Here is a video of my talk, as well as my notes.
I was surprised and honoured to be voted “Best Activist” in VUE Weekly’s 2018 Best of Edmonton. It’s wonderful to be acknowledged by my community in this way.
It’s been a busy and exciting few weeks. I found out that a couple of my micropoems were selected for the Word On the Street project in the McCauley neighbourhood. One is on 107A Avenue near 95 Street, and the other is on 96 Street near 105 Avenue.
Then, on May 24 I received the Edmonton Social Planning Council’s Award of Merit for Advocacy of Social Justice. A major reason I received the award is my leadership at Boyle McCauley News for the past 12 years, as well as my involvement in social justice initiatives like the Women’s March in Edmonton. This photo was taken with Ward 4 City Councillor Aaron Paquette, who was the guest speaker (the event was also the ESPC’s AGM).
The following day, on May 25, I received the first ever MUSE Award from Edmonton Muse. To celebrate the online magazine’s first anniversary, the publisher decided to give back to the community by honouring people who are making a difference. I was thrilled to have my work with social justice initiatives recognized, such as Project Ploughshares, the Edmonton Coalition Against War & Racism, and #CompletingTheStory, as well as my songwriting.
I was invited as a guest speaker for the first annual student conference for the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination on March 21 at Balwin School (Belvedere School also participated). The event was organized by Chris Nielsen, MLA Edmonton-Decore. Below is my speech, which was geared to the grades 5-8 age group.
It’s not often that I get to talk to people your age. Usually it’s old people like me. But I am so happy to have this opportunity.
Something I find really exciting is how young people have a chance to make a difference. You have the chance to make a difference in other people’s lives. If you want to change the world, you need to start with the world around you.
I am an activist who believes in peaceful and non-violent ways of protesting. I have been interested in issues like human rights and peace since I was as young as you are. I never liked it when someone was treated unfairly or was bullied. I was bullied when I was a child. So, I don’t like to see other people hurting because it reminds me of how I felt when other people treated me badly.
Sometimes I was lucky and had a friend who would help me when someone was making fun of me. If you see someone being bullied, you can be that friend. Even when we become adults, we still have to look out for each other, because adults can be mean to each other too, and we need to stand up and say when someone’s behaviour is wrong.
I eventually wanted to get involved with organizations that had values I have, and work for social justice and human rights. I got on the Internet and searched until I found local groups to connect with. I was an adult when I did this – we didn’t have the Internet when I was a kid. We didn’t have phones that could take pictures and send emails and play movies. The phones just made phone calls. Yeah, kind of boring. You’re very fortunate that you have a lot of resources literally your fingertips and you can stay informed about what’s going on in the world almost any time. Social media like Facebook and Twitter make it easy to support an idea by sharing and liking. In the activist community, we call that “clicktivism.” It’s great because it is easy and helps people feel involved, like they are doing something important. But it is also important to be active in real life and take part in things with people face to face. And that begins with getting to know each other.
When I was in elementary school, I was the only Jewish kid in my class. It made me feel like an outsider. In grade one, my father (who is now a retired university professor) would visit our classroom a few times a year to explain Jewish customs and traditions, usually around the time of a Jewish holidays like Chanukah in winter or Passover in the spring. Those visits were really important because for most of the other kids in the class, I was the first Jewish person they had ever met and it gave them the opportunity to ask questions about why I celebrated different holidays or couldn’t eat certain kinds of foods.
I was always very shy. In high school, I hung out in the computer lab a lot and became good friends with the other people who hung out there too. One person was also friends with my older brother, and we’re still friends now. He told me that when he was growing up, he used to use the word “Jew” in a very bad way – to mean that someone was cheap with money. But in the social circle he was in, that was considered perfectly fine. He didn’t know that was a anti-Semitic thing to say. He also didn’t know any Jewish people. Then he met my brother, and then me, and suddenly “Jew” had a face and a name. And he realized that you can’t call people that, because it’s wrong. When you get to know people from other cultures and religions, it can open your eyes to just how much racism and anti-Semitism there is out there. Many people simply don’t know any better until they are corrected and they learn.
One of my jobs is editing a community newspaper in the Boyle Street and McCauley neighbourhoods. Much like here, the neighbourhoods are very multicultural. Children who grow up in neighbourhoods like this are very lucky because you get to know people from different backgrounds, and this will help you throughout life as you meet and interact with others in school, work, or wherever you may go. I mentioned earlier that I was the only Jewish kid in my elementary school class. Otherwise, most of the kids in that same class were white. I remember at one point we had a new student who was Lebanese. Sometimes he was made fun of because of the colour of his skin, I am thankful we had a teacher who put a stop to this right away. Racism had no place in her classroom. And I have never forgotten how she dealt with that situation.
We need to treat everyone with respect, dignity, and kindness. It is wrong to make fun of someone for any reason. I mentioned earlier that I was bullied a lot as a child. People made fun of all sorts of things about me: the way I walked, the way I talked, how I dressed, the music I listened to. I had really bad skin when I was a teenager and they made of that – something I had absolutely no control over. I felt terrible all the time, but I refused to change who I was to try to get other people to like me. I think what I went through is a reason I became an activist because I don’t like to see people treated unfairly, because of their religion, the colour of their skin, who they love, differing mental or physical abilities, or any reason. We are all unique, beautiful people and we deserve to be accepted for who we are.
But even when we become adults, we still make mistakes. Nobody is perfect or acts perfectly all the time. We say or do things that hurt other people’s feelings. The important thing is to be strong enough to apologize and learn and grow from the situation. Sometimes the other person may not want to hear an apology or talk about it, and that is their choice and you have to respect that too. Reconciliation cannot be forced. But as long as you are open to it, then you’re on the right path.
In my faith tradition, which is Judaism, we have a value that in Hebrew called tikkun olam, which translates to healing or repairing the world. I want to make the world a better place, and I want to show others how to make the world a better place – that’s you. And then, on your life journeys, even while you are still learning, you can teach others as well by how you treat each other and making a decision that you’re always going to try to do your best in every situation.