A Safe Space for Activism

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.

#NoHateYEG Launches

#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.

Speech: International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

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.

Reflections on the Edmonton Women’s March for IWD 2018

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.

#girlbossYEG

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.

  • Don’t amplify the trolls. They are not there for an honest debate – they want to tie up your energy and wear you down.
  • Freedom of speech does not mean freedom from consequences. You have the right to delete materials and block people acting inappropriately on your social media.
  • Mantra when it comes to trolls on social media: Block – Delete – Report – Repeat
  • Your personal space extends to your social media accounts.
  • If someone came to your home and started behaving inappropriately you would ask them to leave. Your social media accounts = your house, your rules.
  • Self-care is important when it comes to staying revitalized and not burning out.
  • My activism informs my art because social issues inspire me.
  • Harassment in the activism community happens in-person as well, because sometimes you get people coming to meetings and events who may not be as enlightened as we would hope (for example, older men preying on younger women).
  • Being open to having difficult conversations can also include having boundaries within them, and being allowed not to talk about something if one is uncomfortable or not ready.

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.

NDP Federal Convention Workshop

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!

Documenting Activism: A Practical Guide for Organizers – U of A International Week

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.

Documentation conversations
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.

https://youtu.be/wmLwjjcvIeQ?t=6m30s

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).

https://youtu.be/ojY-PG7vFoQ?t=4m58s

We just organized an anniversary event on January 20, which had about 1000 people come out, and we continued to use social media to promote the event, which definitely contributed to its success.

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
Why document?

  • To have a historical record.
  • To protect yourself/colleagues by having recorded details that the memory may otherwise lose.
  • To share your movement and experiences online and connect with like-minded groups/individuals and grow beyond your borders.
  • Helps build grassroots community locally and beyond through the sharing of resources.
  • Helps attract others to the movement by presenting who you are and what you do. Pictures (and videos) speak volumes beyond just written descriptions (but writing is important too, as we will discuss later).
  • Be the media: cover important gaps in coverage. Citizen journalism is a “thing” – there are unprecedented opportunities in today’s world for our voices to be heard.
  • For yourself: just like there are those people who always take pictures at family gatherings, events and protests can make important memories for us as well.
Photos and Videos
  • Can be an issue of access/privilege (equipment – you need a camera, and ideally you need a computer).
  • However, one does not need a fancy camera – a smartphone/tablet can suffice. Technology has come a long way.
  • Most phones can also take video, most cameras (DSLR and point-and-shoot) can take video, and some video cameras can also take decent stills.
  • Benefit of the above: items can be shared immediately via data or wifi (be careful about eating up your data plan). You can even edit in your phone or tablet now with apps.
  • Instagram & Flickr, Facebook & Twitter, YouTube – all places to post immediately. Don’t forget to tag and add hashtags. Tags are like keywords; hashtags use the # symbol and also work as keywords that can be clicked on to be taken to materials using that same term. Eg. #yeg in Twitter for Edmonton-related posts.
  • Photos should tell a story. Include backdrops, crowds. Don’t always focus in on individuals without context or else you end up with photos that look like they could have been taken anywhere. Eg. Festival photo of family on grass that could have been taken anywhere.
  • No issues in Canada taking photos and videos at, and posting photos from, public gatherings on public space (the rules are different in Quebec). However, respect it if a colleague does not want his/her photo taken and posted. Could be a job-related issue, family issue etc. Or, maybe they just don’t like their picture being taken. Legal issues vs. moral/ethical issues in this case err on the side of caution.
  • Children: if singled out in a photo, always a good idea to get permission from parents/guardians. Again, morality/ethics should take precedence over legality.
  • In Canada, police/law enforcement can be photographed. They, nor anyone else, have the right to tell you to delete photos. Just don’t get in the way of them doing their job. Again, there might be some difference on this in Quebec. Always check the rules of where you are first, if you are travelling to document something.
  • I’m not a lawyer – my information comes from my experience and what I believe to be true, but don’t take anything I have said here as legal advice.
  • Editing: I try to shoot in a way that would require minimal editing, if at all, afterwards. Depends what you are trying to do. Documentation, to me, means being true to what I see, so I don’t want to change or enhance it much. You can crop and make some adjustments right in your phone. Most computer operating systems come with a basic photo editor (as well as a video editor).
Writing
  • Captures the moments, describes them, another way of sharing information.
  • Photo captions/descriptions.
  • Blogs: WordPress, Blogger. WordPress is better for making full-fledged websites. If you just want a plain blog, Blogger might be more intuitive to use for some.
  • Facebook posts: keep succinct, add hashtags (a more recent development on FB)
  • You don’t have to be an English major or wonderful writer.
  • Be descriptive, be succinct.
  • Letters to the Editor at newspapers – don’t be surprised if you don’t get published or it gets edited way down. Keep as short as possible – increases chances of getting printed.
  • Contributions to activist websites. Usually are hungry for submissions because they can’t pay.
  • Work as a team; have someone edit your work.
  • Be careful what you write: “say it and forget it, write it and regret it.” Nothing ever really permanently vanishes from the Internet (eg. Deborah Drever). You don’t want something coming back at you down the road.
  • Published work online usually has a unique link that can be shared on social media.
Best Practices
Photos: General (this can be applied to video as well)
  • Seems like common sense: make sure batteries in phone and cameras are charged.
  • Carry charger and battery packs for phones.
  • Some camera batteries are proprietary; have a spare (if economical) and/or make sure it is charged in advance.
Photos: Instagram
  • Good descriptions
  • Lots of hashtags
  • Settings to share on other social media like FB and Twitter
  • But whenever possible try to post separately on Twitter because when you auto-send from Instagram, it creates another link the user has to open. And sometimes people won’t.
Photos: Facebook
  • Don’t tag people who are not in photos. Pet peeve of many; good way to get de-friended.
  • Respect it when people don’t want to be tagged. Easier now that people can remove tags themselves.
Photos: Flickr
  • Same as the above with regard to descriptions, keywords, sharing, adding people (the equivalent of tagging).
Writing/Blogging
  • Keywords
  • Have someone else edit your work
  • Fact check
  • Share links to your work on social media
Questions & Answers

Reconciliation at Garneau United Church

On September 17, 2017, I was invited to speak to Church in the World monthly session at Garneau United Church. This is a session over lunch following a Sunday morning service, dealing with some aspect of social justice. My topic was Reconciliation and what Edmonton United Churches are doing to address the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action. I presented my short talk in the context of Moving Forward with Reconciliation, a group I have been involved with for a couple of years. Below is a video, as well as the notes from my talk and a summary of the responses to the questions I was asked afterwards.

My work: I have an interest in documentation and communication, particularly bringing groups together that have a common cause or interest. To that end, I have been documenting local activism in Edmonton and posting on social media, which is building greater awareness of progressive movements in the city. This extends to Indigenous issues and Reconciliation.

I’ve been involved with a group called Moving Forward with Reconciliation for a couple of years. It’s a ministry of Edmonton Presbytery and we have members from a number of Edmonton United Church congregations. I got involved with the group through a woman named Debbie Hubbard. Debbie and I knew each other through Palestine solidarity work, and I later found out she had formed the Moving Forward group and was facilitating it at the time. I was also writing for an Indigenous newspaper (I’m a multi-media journalist by profession) and was following what the group was doing, which was working on building bridges between the United Church and Indigenous communities, through meetings, events, dialogues – all of this was in the planning stages at the time but I started to attend planning meetings of the working group.

A large part of Moving Forward was the building of an email list to send out announcements concerning events relating to Reconciliation and Indigenous education that are open to non-Indigenous people. Last summer, Debbie moved to Kelowna with her husband, and needed someone to take over the list. She felt I was the natural person to that given my background with communications and, although I am not of a United Church background, I am involved with the United Church on a professional basis as Marketing Project Coordinator with Mill Woods United Church, where I assist the congregation with its website and social media. So, I did indeed take over the email list after she moved.

What I have built: The email list has grown quite a bit since last year. I send out more event notices than in the past, although I try to limit to one per day because it is quite a large list. I also built a Facebook page where the events, which mostly have Facebook event pages associated with them, are also posted. People were requesting this, particularly younger people who tend to check Facebook more than their email. Some kind of list of events was also requested, so that people did not have to go back-tracking through their email to look something up, so I built a Reconciliation Calendar as part of the Mill Woods website. (I am paid an honorarium for my Moving Forward work through a grant that is administrated through Mill Woods, hence it being the logical connection). Many of the events I post I find on Facebook – I spend time searching through pages of Indigenous and Reconciliation-related organizations – and also I am contacted personally with request to post information and events.

Ongoing work/integration: The working group itself continues to be dynamic and finding its way in terms of mission and purpose, while its members are a presence at many events as participants and volunteers. Why are we doing this? As we know, the United Church has been responding to the Calls for Action and there is an excellent section of the main United Church website that deals with Reconciliation:

The response to the email list is overwhelmingly positive. A resource such as the Moving Forward list is a relatively simple, inexpensive way to make church people aware of events and bring people out in greater numbers. Reconciliation can’t happen in a vacuum – it’s definitely great to have church-based discussion groups because there are many things that need to be discussed on a church level in terms of what the role in Reconciliation should be, and people’s experiences and such, but in order to take it to the next level (so to speak), we really need to be out there at events and learning and volunteering and taking part.

Speaking of which, we need people from Garneau to be involved. The church is on the email list, as are a number of you, and I notice a number of the items I post make it into your weekly newsletter, but the only person who was attending meetings regularly was Jim Graves, who as we all know was very passionate about reconciliation. Since he passed away in April, there has been no official representation from Garneau. We miss Jim terribly, and know that he would want someone from Garneau to be a part of Moving Forward.

Here are some issues and information that have been raised in previous talks I have given on this topic.

The Calls to Action pertaining to the Churches are 58-61.

58. We call upon the Pope to issue an apology to Survivors, their families, and communities for the Roman Catholic Church’s role in the spiritual, cultural, emotional, physical, and sexual abuse of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis children in Catholic-run residential schools. We call for that apology to be similar to the 2010 apology issued to Irish victims of abuse and to occur within one year of the issuing of this Report and to be delivered by the Pope in Canada.

59. “We call upon church parties to the Settlement Agreement to develop ongoing education strategies to ensure that their respective congregations learn about their church’s role in colonization, the history and legacy of residential schools, and why apologies to former residential school students, their families, and communities were necessary.

60. We call upon leaders of the church parties to the Settlement Agreement and all other faiths, in collaboration with Indigenous spiritual leaders, Survivors, schools of theology, seminaries, and other religious training centres, to develop and teach curriculum for all student clergy, and all clergy and staff who work in Aboriginal communities, on the need to respect Indigenous spirituality in its own right, the history and legacy of residential schools and the roles of the church parties in that system, the history and legacy of religious conflict in Aboriginal families and communities, and the responsibility that churches have to mitigate such conflicts and prevent spiritual violence.

61. We call upon church parties to the Settlement Agreement, in collaboration with Survivors and representatives of Aboriginal organizations, to establish permanent funding to Aboriginal people for:

i. Community-controlled healing and reconciliation projects.

ii. Community-controlled culture- and language revitalization projects.

iii. Community-controlled education and relationship building projects.

iv. Regional dialogues for Indigenous spiritual leaders and youth to discuss Indigenous spirituality, self-determination, and reconciliation.

Apologies need action. Saying you’re sorry and acknowledging what you did wrong is the first step – but what are you going to do, moving forward, to effect change?

Go to events and listen and learn. Offer to volunteer, where appropriate.

Have conversations. Get to know people as individuals, where they are at. We all have different backgrounds and stories. When we get to know people, we stop seeing them as “other.”

Ask questions. If you are unsure if something is cultural appropriation, or if you can take photographs, or in any situation where you don’t know how to proceed – ask. Asking shows respect.


Questions/Answers

I made my main presentation short on purpose, because Reconciliation needs to have discussions, not some white person talking non-stop for an hour. Several people in the congregation spoke about their experiences learning about residential schools and with Indigenous people, such as a retired physician who worked for a time in an Indigenous community and witnessed a high rate of tuberculosis there.

I was asked what churches are doing specifically to address Reconciliation in Edmonton, and the answer is that it is really a church-by-church sort of thing. Each congregation is doing different things, some more than others, in terms of events and such.

I was also asked about how seminaries and theological schools are addressing Call to Action #60. I am definitely not in the loop when it comes to what is being taught in seminaries, but I did say that when I was growing up as a student in Edmonton’s public school system, I never learned anything about residential schools. It was only more recently, when I attended the final TRC event in Edmonton in 2014 on assignment for a newspaper I was writing for at the time, that I learned about them. My mind was blown when I found out that the last residential school closed in the mid-90s. And I felt angry that such a gap existed in my education, and that what I received was a sanitized version of history. A younger man in the audience said that he learned about residential schools, so this is something that is changing with the generations. Someone added that this has indeed been added to the curriculum.

The conversation shifted at one point to the current controversy surrounding the removal of monuments and the changing of place names because of a historical figure’s attitudes and actions towards Indigenous people and others. I acknowledged that this is a complicated issue, and that one way to deal with it is, instead of removing something, to add to a monument by indicating those negative actions and beliefs – complete the story, so to speak, instead of replacing it. Also, the practise of naming places and things after people is inherently flawed, because in many cases people have beliefs or have done things that do not stand the test of history. I discussed this in the context of my involvement with Completing the Story, which seeks to increase the visual representation of women in public places.

Finally, someone mentioned about having to be careful when it comes to building things where it is known there are sacred burial grounds, as well as building tributes to Elders. My response is that any project that is about Indigenous people should involve Indigenous people.

Journeys of Faith – Paths of Resistance

I am the Marketing/Social Media Coordinator for Mill Woods United Church. On September 3, I presented a reflection on my faith journey and the work I do for the church.


Subtitle: Activism and Spirituality, or, “What’s a Nice Jewish Girl Doing In the United Church?”

I was asked to make a presentation about my spiritual journey, activism, and accomplishments, in the context of what exactly I do for Mill Woods United, in approximately 20 minutes or less. So, please fasten your seat belts. Here we go.

I recall my job interview in the spring of 2016 with Ian, Brian, Mary-Anne, and Janice. It was going pretty well, but there was something I had to fess up to: I wasn’t from a United Church background. In fact – get ready for it – I’m Jewish. “That’s okay,” replied Ian, “So is our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” I tell this story quite often and it always elicits laughter.

Many of you also know me as being involved as the email list and social media coordinator with the Moving Forward with Reconciliation group which is comprised of members from a number of Edmonton’s United Churches. So, how did a nice Jewish girl end up working with the United Church?

I was raised in a fairly traditional Modern Orthodox family. Saturday was the Sabbath. We observed all of the Jewish holy days: the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashana (also known as the “Jewish New Year”) and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement and the holiest day on the Jewish calendar), but also Passover and the other feasts and festivals as well. It was fun – I got to take a lot of days off of school for “religious observance.” We also strictly observed the dietary laws, the most well-known of which are no pork products and no shellfish (Levitical restrictions), both of which I still observe to this day.

Then came the teenage years of rebellion, and I, like many of my peers, fell away from the faith of my family. I still always identified as being Jewish but stopped being as observant. Saturday became just another day. I considered myself secular. I didn’t need a spiritual life as such. And so my teens became my 20s and I started to feel a spiritual longing that led me on a path that included everything from east to west, from Buddhism to even a time spent in the Messianic Jewish movement, which is basically Evangelical Christians who celebrate the Jewish roots of Christianity, and Jewish people interested in exploring Christianity in a Jewish context.

It was ironically during my time in this extremely right-wing, Zionist movement that I became interested in getting involved in Edmonton’s activist community – and by activist, I mean of the politically progressive kind. I had always been interested in issues of human rights and social justice but never found a way to connect. Enter the Internet, which I had been spending a lot of time on since my university days. I taught myself how to make web pages, and was starting to learn the ways of what was going to be known as social media.

Eventually, I connected with local groups that dealt with independent media, peace, the environment, women, and Indigenous issues, and as I left organized religion behind yet again I felt more affirmed in my Jewish identity as ever. There is a value in Judaism called Tikkun Olam, which roughly translates to “healing or repairing the world.” In many ways, activism has become a form of spiritual expression for me.

My role as an activist has largely been documenting local social movements through photography and video, posting my work online on my blog RadicalCitizenMedia.com as well as on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and more recently, Instagram. As a result, I have gained a large following online while learning the ins and outs of social media, which I have been able to apply to my work as a communications consultant who works largely with non-profits and NGOs.

For example, in my (just a little over a) year with Mill Woods, I have helped fix up the website, make sure it is updated regularly, while ensuring timely and relevant posts on Facebook, Twitter, and the Instagram account that I set up for the congregation. Ian’s reflections go up every week, announcements are posted, events are promoted, and at the same time I curate material to go online that pertain to the work of the congregation and the wider United Church, particularly concerning Reconciliation and LGBTQ issues, since we are an affirming congregation. Numbers on social media are growing and hopefully this is translating into both communication to congregational members, and inspiring others to attend. In addition, I help proof newsletters and print/promotional materials when required. You get all of this and more, packed into what is now five hours per week.

I heard about the position, which was called Marketing Project Coordinator but is now simply referred to as Social Media, through my involvement with the Edmonton Interfaith Centre for Education and Action, where I am a board member. The building that hosts the Interfaith Centre’s office also houses Garneau United Church, where I occasionally attended as a guest, particularly to video the sermons of a friend of mine who occasionally led services as a layperson. Quite simply, I saw a posting for the job on the communal bulletin board and I applied. And so, here I am.

Last summer I also began working with the group Moving Forward with Reconciliation, which is made up of people from several Edmonton United Churches. I took over the email list announcing events in Edmonton and area pertaining to Reconciliation and Indigenous educational opportunities when the original founder of the group moved to another province. I wanted to enhance and augment the position, and created a Facebook page for the group, as well as a Reconciliation calendar that is now part of the Mill Woods website.

My work in social media, combined with my involvement in activism, started to receive recognition from my community in 2012, when I received the Salvos Prelorentzos Peace Award, an award annually given by Project Ploughshares Edmonton (historically an ecumenical Christian peace organization), to an individual or organization in Edmonton working for the cause of peace, who has not previously been honoured for their work. Around this time I began working with the founding steering committee for the annual Daughters Day event, held in City Hall to honour women and girls for their achievements, the first Daughters Day being held in September of 2012. In 2014, I was named one of the Daughters of the Year at that year’s Daughters Day event for my leadership and being an example to women in activism. Most recently, I was named a Human Rights Champion by the John Humphrey Centre for Peace and Human Rights in December of 2016, and was a co-organizer of the Women’s March on Washington Edmonton “sister march” on January 21, 2017, which saw over 4000 people converge at the Alberta Legislature grounds to proclaim and affirm that women’s rights are human rights.

Most recently, I have become involved with an initiative called Completing the Story. We’re a grassroots group of women who came together last year to address the lack of visual representation of women in public spaces, not only in Edmonton, but throughout Canada and elsewhere. It was a logical move from my experiences with Daughters Day and the Women’s March, to work on projects that work towards an equitable society.

So even though I don’t come from a United Church background, I have always been attracted to the United Church of Canada’s commitment to social justice and a better world. I’ve often told people that if I was Christian by birth, I would have chosen the United Church as my spiritual home. From peace to reconciliation with Canada’s First Nations, to a just resolution to the conflict in Israel/Palestine, the United Church has been a part of all of these struggles, and I am very grateful to have been welcomed into this congregation and to be able to serve you in the capacity of Social Media/Marketing Coordinator.

Documenting Activism: A Practical Guide for Organizers

On August 22, 2017, I presented this workshop on Documenting Activism for the conference Ignite Change: Global Gathering for Human Rights, organized by the John Humphrey Centre for Peace and Human Rights. The session was attended by people from Edmonton, Vancouver, and Toronto. Below is a video recording of my presentation, as well as my notes.
 
 
 
Ignite Change Presentation
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 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.
Documentation conversations
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 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. 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, have decided to try to keep the momentum created by the march going and are using social media with a new Facebook page, new Twitter and Instagram accounts (@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
Why document?
  • To have an historical record
  • To protect yourself/colleagues by having recorded details that the memory may otherwise lose
  • To share your movement and experiences online and connect with like-minded groups/individuals and grow beyond your borders
  • Helps build grassroots community locally and beyond through the sharing of resources.
  • Helps attract others to the movement by presenting who you are and what you do. Pictures (and videos) speak volumes beyond just written descriptions (but writing is important too, as we will discuss later).
  • Be the media: cover important gaps in coverage. Citizen journalism is a “thing” – there are unprecedented opportunities in today’s world for our voices to be heard.
  • For yourself: just like there are those people who always take pictures at family gatherings, events and protests can make important memories for us as well.
Photos and Videos
  • Can be an issue of access/privilege (equipment – you need a camera, and ideally you need a computer)
  • However, one does not need a fancy camera – a smartphone/tablet can suffice. Technology has come a long way.
  • Most phones can also take video, most cameras (DSLR and point-and-shoot) can take video, and some video cameras can also take decent stills.
  • Benefit of the above: items can be shared immediately via data or wifi (be careful about eating up data plan). You can even edit in your phone or tablet now with apps.
  • Instagram & Flickr, Facebook & Twitter, YouTube – all places to post immediately. Don’t forget to tag and add hashtags. Tags are like keywords; hashtags use the # symbol and also work as keywords that can be clicked on to be taken to materials using that same term. Eg. #yeg in Twitter for Edmonton-related posts.
  • Photos should tell a story. Include backdrops, crowds. Don’t always focus in one individuals without context or else you end up with photos that look like they could have been taken anywhere. Eg. Festival photo of family on grass that could have been taken anywhere.
  • No issues in Canada taking photos and videos at and posting photos from public gatherings on public space. However, respect it if a colleague does not want his/her photo taken and posted. Could be a job-related issue, family issue etc. Or, maybe they just don’t like their picture being taken. Legal issues vs. moral/ethical issues in this case err on the side of caution.
  • Children: if singled out in a photo, always a good idea to get permission from parents/guardians. Again, morality/ethics should take precedence over legality.
  • In Canada, police/law enforcement can be photographed. They, nor anyone else, have the right to tell you to delete photos.
  • I’m not a lawyer – my information comes from my experience and what I believe to be true, but don’t take anything I have said here as legal advice.
  • Editing: I try to shoot in a way that would require minimal editing, if at all, afterwards. Depends what you are trying to do. Documentation, to me, means being true to what I see, so I don’t want to change or enhance it much. You can crop and make some adjustments right in your phone. Most computer operating systems come with a basic photo editor (as well as a video editor).
Writing
  • Captures the moments, describes them, another way of sharing information.
  • Photo captions/descriptions
  • Blogs: WordPress, Blogger. WordPress is better for making full-fledged websites. If you just want a plain blog, Blogger might be more intuitive to use for some.
  • Facebook posts: keep succinct, add hashtags (a more recent development on FB)
  • You don’t have to be an English major or wonderful writer.
  • Be descriptive, be succinct.
  • Letters to the Editor at newspapers – don’t be surprised if you don’t get published or it gets edited way down. Keep as short as possible – increases chances of getting printed.
  • Contributions to activist websites. Usually are hungry for submissions because they can’t pay.
  • Work as a team; have someone edit your work
  • Be careful what you write: “say it and forget it, write it and regret it.” Nothing ever really permanently vanishes from the Internet (eg. Deborah Drever). You don’t want something coming back at you down the road.
  • Published work online usually has a unique link that can be shared on social media.
Best Practices
Photos: General (this can be applied to video as well)
  • Seems like common sense: make sure batteries in phone and cameras are charged.
  • Carry charger and battery packs for phones.
  • Some camera batteries are proprietary; have a spare (if economical) and/or make sure it is charged in advance.
Photos: Instagram
  • Good descriptions
  • Lots of hashtags
  • Settings to share on other social media like FB and Twitter
Photos: Facebook
  • Don’t tag people who are not in photos. Pet peeve of many; good way to get defriended.
  • Respect it when people don’t want to be tagged. Easier now that people can remove tags themselves.
Photos: Flickr
  • Same as the above with regard to descriptions, keywords, sharing, adding people (the equivalent of tagging).
Writing/Blogging
  • Keywords
  • Have someone else edit your work
  • Fact check
  • Share links to your work on social media
Questions & Answers

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Workshop: Ask how many people have smartphones. Break into pairs, with those who don’t have smartphones teamed with those who do, where applicable. Take pictures of the room, each other, whatever is going on, video each other talking about what aspects of social justice are important to them. Upload to the social media platforms of your choice, with the hashtag #ignitechange2017.