Monday, July 06, 2020

Problematic Monuments: Educate, Don’t Celebrate

I've been investigating the Ukrainian far-right for a number of years, particularly a couple of monuments in Edmonton that pay tribute to Nazis. Here is an article I wrote for the Canadian Jewish Record about one in particular:

KIRMAN: Problematic monuments in Edmonton Force Us to Question Our Community’s Core Values

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Why He Cries

I wrote this song almost 20 years ago. It’s a bit over the top, but I think it’s still relevant in light of current world events. You can give a listen here:

As the dawn brings a new day
Seems like no one has something good to say
Building walls around our hearts
Where’s the love when lives are torn apart?
Shouting names we can’t repeat
To those who we think are incomplete
And then somehow the truth gets masked in lies
And He watches
And we wonder why He cries

And we speak our words of hate
And we cast our cloak of fear
And we cut our hearts with pain
As our own demise draws near
And we neatly seal our fate
And no words of love we hear
And we beat and kill and maim
As He gently sheds His tears

Flip the channel to the news
It’s enough to give anyone the blues
I can’t bear to watch this pain
All this fighting just seems so insane
They say the war has to be won
But who wins when all is said and done?
Broken dreams, broken hearts, broken lives
And He watches
And we wonder why He cries

And we speak our words of hate
And we cast our cloak of fear
And we cut our hearts with pain
As our own demise draws near
And we neatly seal our fate
And no words of love we hear
And we beat and kill and maim
As He gently sheds His tears

It’s the way we choose to live
We can choose to take or choose to give
It’s what we have to demand
Come to grips with what we don’t understand
Never say it’s not their fault
They’re just acting upon what they’ve been taught
Bloody footprints on the ground and in our lives
And He watches
And we wonder why He cries

And we speak our words of hate
And we cast our cloak of fear
And we cut our hearts with pain
As our own demise draws near
And we neatly seal our fate
And no words of love we hear
And we beat and kill and maim
As He gently sheds His tears

And we rationalize our words
And we turn our heads in shame
And we think of all we’ve hurt
And we try to spread the blame
And we struggle with our deeds
And we try to hide our fear
And we’re sowing the wrong seeds
And He gently sheds his tears

Monday, December 02, 2019

Our Digital Future, C'est Ici

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, 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.
  • Friday, March 22, 2019

    A School Visit for the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

    On March 21, I was invited for the second time as a guest speaker for the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination on March 21 at Balwin School in north Edmonton. My talk was very similar to the one I gave last year, focussing on anti-bullying, anti-Semitism, and activism.

    This year, I added am emphasis on calling out and stopping racist and prejudicial comments immediately, to prevent them from becoming normalized and becoming the start of a path of hatred. We've seen what unchecked hatred can do with the recent terrorist attack at the mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, and at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh last year.

    Some of the young people in the multiracial class shared their experiences encountering racism, but also asked me a lot of questions about being Jewish, mostly about cultural and religious practices. I was apparently the first person most of them had ever met who self-identified as being Jewish. Even their teacher and the student teacher were asking me questions.

    Opportunities like this are really important because these young people now could put a face and name to the word "Jewish." Much racism and prejudice often comes from fear of the "other." Now, a Jewish person is no longer an "other" to them. When we get to meet people from different backgrounds, and we sincerely seek to learn about their lives and traditions, it helps to build intercultural understanding, peace, and harmony in our society.

    Monday, October 29, 2018

    A Safe Space for Activism: Talk and Music

    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." Below is a video of my talk and performance of four songs, as well as my notes. I ad libbed a bit in my talk as well, because I was responding to the previous speaker and adding a few things here and there as well.

    Safe Spaces and Self-Care

    I come from a Jewish background. In Judaism, as some of you probably already know, there is a concept called tikkun olam, which translates to healing or repairing the world. Much of my activism is rooted in this belief.

    There is a lot of talk about safe spaces in the activist community and beyond, especially now in light of the #MeToo movement. When it comes to establishing and maintaining my safe spaces, of course, the support of my family, friends, and community is important. Being able to confide, ask for advice, share experiences, and the opportunity to be accountable and hold others to account is part of having a healthy community. But like every part of society, the activist community is not immune from bullies and predators, which is why having a network of support is so important.

    Having safe spaces also includes finding a place and time for self-care. Activists often get so wrapped up in organizing and attending events, that they neglect their own needs, leading to burnout and mental and/or physical health issues. Not being at the best we can be physically and mentally can make us more vulnerable. We need to be safe to say no when we are stretched, and to have the space to explore our own self-care needs.

    Music is an integral part of my safe space and my self-care. Like my faith, music also was a formative part of my activism. Through my mother, I grew up listening to a steady stream of Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Buffy Sainte-Marie, and Peter, Paul and Marie. The folk music of the 60s helped shape my political beliefs and my own musical style, when I began learning how to play the guitar and write songs as a teenager. Music is part of my activism, writing songs about social justice issues and performing at rallies and protests (and events like this).

    For me, music is both a creative expression and a place of mental retreat. Putting on my headphones helps take me away from the stress of daily life, can calm anxiety, and sometimes even help me concentrate. Writing and performing music, whether in front of an audience or in the privacy of my home, also cuts through stress and helps me focus. I find that if I go more than a few days without playing music, I get very tense and feel incomplete. Then, as soon as I pick up a guitar and start singing, my sense of grounding and balance is restored. There are proven health benefits of singing, both physically and mentally (these can be researched online), and I can attest to many of them from first hand experience.

    Besides being a part of my safe space, music helps me reach out to audiences with messages of peace and love and social justice. I will be sharing some of these songs with you today, and I welcome you to join me in my place of sanctuary.