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.
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.
I was invited to speak at the International Women’s Day Celebration organized by Chris Nielsen, MLA Edmonton-Decore, on March 9. I was asked to speak about my activism in the context of the Edmonton Women’s March. Here is my speech.
Thank you to Chris Nielsen for inviting me to speak today, and I would like to acknowledge that we are on Treaty 6 territory.
I was hanging out with a friend in November of 2016, when she mentioned that there was going to be a Women’s March on Washington the day after the inauguration, and asked if there was going to be any sort of action here in Edmonton. At the time I had not heard of anything, but went online and found that yes, in fact there were women organizing “sister marches” in cities throughout Canada and throughout the world, and I was connected with the women who were organizing here in the city. Together, we planned the Edmonton Women’s March and on January 21, 2017 4000 people showed up at the Alberta Legislature to proclaim that Women’s Rights are Human Rights.
One of the other organizers, Alison Poste, and I decided that we wanted to continue organizing as a grassroots team, and so we have been doing that under the banner of the March On Edmonton Collective. Most recently, we organized an anniversary event of the Women’s March, which had 1000 people come out again to the Legislature on January 20.
As someone who has been an activist for much of my adult life, I have been drawn to issues such as peace, social justice, human rights, Indigenous rights, the environment, and, of course, women’s rights. I think in some ways, many of these issues are interconnected. There is a saying in activist circles that if one person or group is oppressed, then we are all oppressed. I believe there is truth to that. And certainly, women have been at the forefront of social justice struggles throughout history.
Yet when it came to the Edmonton Women’s March, especially the first time around, we got a lot of questions about why we were going ahead with a march. After all, the Women’s March on Washington was directly in response to the election of #45. What did this have to do with us up here in Canada, in Alberta, or in Edmonton?
I responded then, and continue to now, that we have uniquely Canadian, Albertan, and Edmontonian reasons to march. In many ways, the election of #45 emboldened people who hold intolerant, racist, and sexist beliefs to feel free to spew their venom. We wanted to fight back against a trickle-up effect here in Alberta. We are seeking to raise the level of public discourse in our province, where women in politics and other aspects of public life are free from verbal abuse, harassment, and bullying. We are raising awareness and support for survivors of gender-based violence, as well as the issue of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. And, of course, there is the issue of pay equity in the workplace, as Alberta is the only province in Canada that does not have equal pay legislation. These are all ongoing, important, local issues.
In the year since the first Women’s March, gender-based violence and harassment has come to the forefront in the news and social media. #MeToo has actually been around since 2006 – the term was created by an American activist named Tarana Burke. But suddenly, in the last year, it’s everywhere.I strongly believe that the #MeToo and #TimesUp movement has become so prominent because women feel more empowered to speak up directly because of the Women’s March movement.
The Women’s March was the largest global protest in history, and we are seeing the ongoing effects of that. Women’s voices matter, and now that we have the ability to speak out and support each other through social media, the ability to organize and mobilize is easier than ever. The challenge now is to move beyond the hashtag and into concrete action.
What does that look like? Sexual assault centres are understaffed and underfunded. People who are seeking help often have to wait weeks or even months before they can speak to a counsellor. Private counselling services can be too expensive to access for many. We also have to acknowledge and deal with institutionalized racism that is endemic in our society. Women of colour and Indigenous women are far more likely to be victims of violence. Shelters that protect women and children need more support, as always.
We also need to see more women represented in public places. When it comes to public art, sculptures, monuments, murals, and even place names, women are woefully under-represented. Where women are depicted, it is often a fictional woman in a stereotypical role or presented in an unrealistic way (such as in terms of their body poses and proportions). Completing the Story is a grassroots initiative that started here in Edmonton and seeks to increase and improve the visual representation of women in public spaces. As a social media campaign, using the hashtag #CompletingTheStory, we point out examples of both good and bad representation, or where it is lacking, in Edmonton and throughout Canada. This is important because when a group is not visible, or not as visible as it should be, it is easier to marginalize that group. Representation matters. Girls need to learn from an early age that they can be and do anything.
And there is much to be hopeful for. Progress is happening. I applaud the government for its legislation clearing the way for renters to break leases in order to flee violence. The announcement this week of more funding for sexual assault centres is amazing and will have such a positive impact. I am encouraged when I see a provincial caucus and cabinet with gender parity, that this will inspire women to run for office or get involved with public life in other ways, such as government boards.
The fact that so many people came out to the Women’s March in 2017 and again in 2018 – crowds which included many people who don’t normally attend protests and rallies, and including not just women, but also men and boys – means that we’re dealing with issues that resonate with a lot of people from all walks of life. This is why we continue to proclaim that Women’s Rights Are Human Rights – because when it comes down to it, the issues that we are dealing with are all parts of working towards a safe, equitable society for everyone.
March 8 was International Women’s Day, as well as the date for the fifth annual #girlbossYEG event organized by InterVivos, a non-profit organization that seeks to mentor young professionals in Edmonton. I was one of 10 panelists who went from table to table (in increments of 10 minutes) at the new London Villas Hub in McCauley to talk about the topic of how to achieve gender equality in the workplace. This is a very timely topic, especially in light of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements where women are speaking out about harassment.
I would start at each table with a brief introduction of myself as one of the co-organizers of Edmonton’s Women’s March as well as a freelance communications professional and digital content strategist. As a result, my workplace is not a traditional office as I am meeting clients and working out of various locations. Most of the issues I have had with workplace harassment involves online bullying – including troll attacks on the March On Edmonton Collective’s Facebook event page leading up to the Women’s Anniversary March on January 10 of this year.
Since I don’t work in a traditional office setting, I am only making a personal statement that a healthy workplace is one with open communication. We need to be open to having difficult, sometimes uncomfortable conversations about boundaries, respect, harassment, and other gender issues, whether they happen organically between workers over lunch breaks or going out after work, or the HR department organizing something. I realize that this is an ideal situation and that not all corporate cultures function like this.
The following is a point-by-point summary of responses to some of the questions I was asked in the discussions.
This wasn’t my first time taking part in an InterVivos event. A few years ago I took part in a panel discussion with a similar format called Citizen Edmonton, to talk about how young professionals can get more engaged with their communities.
I found out today that my song “Summer” is a finalist in the International Songwriting Competition. The song is about a homeless woman, and I am beyond excited that my work is being recognized in this way. In addition to the judges’ decision, there is a People’s Voice award. Please vote for me – you can vote daily until April 3:
On February 23, I began a position with the Canadian Freelance Union as a member organizer in Edmonton. I will be reaching out to current, former, and potential members of the CFU, while helping the union develop its communication and online outreach strategies.
The CFU is a community chapter of Unifor, and is the only labour union in Canada working for economic, political, and social justice for freelancers in the media and information sectors. It’s been around for a while (I have been a member for about four years) but many do not know of its existence. We’re trying to change that.
If you are a freelancer from Edmonton (or beyond, in Canada) and would like more information about the Canadian Freelance Union, please contact me.
March On Canada was invited to give a workshop on grassroots, cross-country organizing at the 2018 NDP Federal Convention in Ottawa. I recorded a video that was included in the presentation, about organizing the women’s march in Edmonton in 2017 and 2018, as well as Completing the Story, a partner campaign of March On.
Hi everyone. I hope you are enjoying the presentation from Sam and Bianca! I wish I could be there with you. My name is Paula Kirman, and I am an NDP member from Edmonton Centre. I am also one of the grassroots organizers locally with March On.
4000 people outside the Alberta Legislature on a cold January day in Edmonton. It was a sight that was overwhelming and unforgettable. There was an energy in the air that was palpable, and many of the people in the crowd had never been to a such a gathering before.
We were there to proclaim that Women’s Rights Are Human Rights, and that we had reasons to gather that were specifically Albertan: to raise the level of public discourse and stop the bullying of women in political office and public life. To support survivors of gender-based violence and the families of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. And, to continue the struggle for equal pay in the workforce. Since January 21, 2017, the March On Edmonton Collective has continued to be active in amplifying the voices of women and other marginalized groups through our social media, our presence at events, and our continued organizing.
For me personally, I have had the opportunity to lead workshops and mentor others, as well as speak to a variety of groups about grassroots activism and the importance of making our voices be heard. I am also very involved with Completing the Story which March On Canada took on as a campaign. Completing the Story seeks to increase and improve the visual representation of women in public spaces – things like public art, statues, monuments, murals, and place names. This is important because representation matters. Lack of visibility leads to marginalization. Girls need to learn from an early age that they can be and do anything.
On a local level we are also gearing up for International Women’s Day, to be a presence at several events as participants and speakers. And we are currently organizing a #MeToo rally to support survivors and look at ways to go beyond the hashtag.
March On Canada organized anniversary events in cities throughout the country on January 20, 2018. In Edmonton, 1000 people came out on another very cold day. March On is continuing to keep women’s rights at the forefront by raising awareness and initiating important discussions about what a safe and equitable society should look like, and how we can all work towards those goals.
Thank you very much. Enjoy the rest of the presentation. March On!
On February 2, 2018, I presented this workshop as part of the University of Alberta’s International Week.
Documenting Activism: A Practical Guide for Organizers
Overview of Me and My Work
How and why I started doing this
I showed up to my first peace rally in September of 2005 and asked permission to take photos. I just thought it might be an interesting thing to do. I posted the photos later on, on a blog I had, and the reaction to them online was so huge, the server crashed. I realized that I might be on to something – that no one at that point was documenting the local activist scene and that there was a demand for it – a desire to see photos from events afterwards. I got a better website with more server space, and began to hone my skills in photography and social media, and a short time later, videography. I document through photography and videos, and share my work using social media.
Why documentation is important
The importance of documentation has several facets. First of all, it is capturing history, perhaps a part of Edmonton’s history that is not and has not been widely examined. It keeps a record of what happened, when, and why. It creates something tangible that can be shared with others, both locally and elsewhere, and perhaps even help to form connections between organizations and individuals. I also view what I do as having an artistic element to it – art and activism are very closely connected in my beliefs, as both communicate messages in visual ways. Also, documenting visually, unless someone intentionally sets about using Photoshop or some other program in nefarious ways, are ways of presenting the truth of what happens. For example, I videoed Jane Fonda’s talk last year during a panel discussion on pipelines. A number of people expressed their dismay to local media that a celebrity should come up here and be disrespectful, and were basically criticizing what she said, without actually listening to what she said. I gave them that opportunity.
What I use
I use YouTube and Flickr for videos and photos, respectively. I find them both intuitive to use and make my work easy to share. I post my work, then share it on Twitter and Facebook. The sharing/retweeting capacities of these social media platforms help spread my work to a wide number of people in a relatively short period of time. I have been using Instagram more and more, because I like how it enables someone to take a photo then send it out to a number of social media platforms at once. For blogging and simple websites, I really like WordPress because it is so intuitive, but I have also used Blogger.
There have been conversations about the efficacy of the use of social media when it comes to activism. There is agreement about it being a great way to get messages out, but also it’s important to be cautious: such as, not accepting any and all friend requests, being careful about sharing personal information, and issues of privacy and permission (photographing people in public places taking part in public events in fair game in Canada (mostly – laws are different in Quebec), but there may be times when it would be appropriate to ask permission. Also, photographing the police is fine as long as you’re not interfering with their ability to do their work. Laws can be different in different parts of the world – be sure to research and know before you whip out a camera at a protest somewhere else, to avoid getting into legal trouble.). And there have been conversations about the subject matter itself, discussing different sides of the issues, which is really what we want to do: foster discussion about issues concerning conflict and human rights.
Concrete examples of my work and its impact
a) In June of 2015 Justin Trudeau (before he was Prime Minister) was in Edmonton to help launch the campaign of Amarjeet Sohi, who was running for MP as a Liberal in Edmonton-Mill Woods (he was subsequently elected). The Edmonton Coalition Against War and Racism (ECAWAR for short), of which I am a part, was organizing a series of pickets against Bill C-51, which the Liberals voted in favour of, with the promise that if elected, they would revise some of the more problematic parts of the bill (we’re still waiting for this to happen). All of the media was inside the banquet hall – except me. I was filming the protest. All of a sudden, I heard a lot of screaming coming from behind me, and I turned around, and there was Justin Trudeau himself. He engaged in an argument with Peggy Morton, and ECAWAR organizer, and I got the whole thing on video and it went viral across the country – I was doing interviews about it with media outlets, and that video is still doing well. This experience really hit home to me the importance of what I was doing – no one else captured this moment – and also how a large part of doing this job I am doing is simply showing up and being in the right place at the right time.
b) I was a co-organizer of the Women’s March on Washington – Edmonton Solidarity Event on January 21, 2017. If anything shows the power of social media, it is this. Combined with the international media coverage the sister marches were getting (the main march was in Washington, of course), our event page, Twitter, and Instagram went viral. Documenting this was also important to us, so I was doing triple duty as an emcee, videographer, and photographer (we did have an official photographer as well). We saw the numbers on Facebook getting bigger and bigger up until the day itself, when over 4000 people packed the north side of the Legislature grounds. I and one of the other co-organizers, decided to try to keep the momentum created by the march going and are using social media on Facebook page, Twitter and Instagram (@wmwyeg), and a website (wmwyeg.org).
How documentation impacts the community
Documentation, the way that I do it, gives every day citizens a voice and a platform they may not otherwise have had. Mainstream media often does not cover progressive and activist events at great length, if at all. I am putting up entire speeches or at least more than just 30-second soundbites. This also impacts the community in that it creates resources for future actions and the ability to start dialogues on the different issues presented.
Documentation: The Practical Stuff