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 RadicalCitizenMedia.com), I gave a very general overview on online hate and bullying. Some of my major talking points included:

  • The digital age can give anyone a public platform, which can be good - it means people who are marginalized but have access to electronics can have a voice - but there is a dark side.
  • People can feel emboldened behind a keyboard, and can even be anonymous, and say things they would never say in person.
  • Online media can also make recruiting people for hate groups easier, because people who are lonely, disenfranchised, vulnerable can be easier to reach.
  • Arguing with haters doesn't work. It just amplifies whatever was posted.
  • Block, delete, report, repeat. If reported enough, person/group may get banned from the service. They may come back with a different name, so be vigilant and keep reporting.
  • Same for bullying: report behaviour, and support the person being bullied. Send them public and private words of support.
  • Protect yourself: keep social media locked down to friends only, be particular about who you accept to friend/follow you, use a false name, don't use a photo of yourself as a profile picture.
  • Doxxing = posting a person's photo and personal information online with the intent of causing harassment. If you are doxxed report it to the online service, to authorities. Keep a record of all harassing calls, emails, posts.

    The questions and comments that followed were excellent. Here is a summary of the outcomes of those questions and comments:

  • While "block, delete, report, repeat" might seem like a band-aid solution, it's the first step. The goal is to get the groups/individuals off the Internet. This has been achieved through continuous reporting, but also posting about the people/group and their behaviour on public platforms, including screenshots/quotes.
  • Emotions cannot be banned. But if someone is posting harmful, inappropriate things, they have to be stopped. It would be great to channel that energy into something positive, but that usually comes from a person's work on themself and the intervention of the people around them. They also may not see their actions/words/ideology as negative. They think they are standing up for their country, their culture, or whatever. It's very difficult to have a rational discussion with someone of that mindset.
  • There are no laws specifically against doxxing (that I am aware of), but there are laws against criminal harassment. Document everything.
  • Social media has changed the way people do community organizing and activism, in terms of organizing events but also how they participate, to capture very visual or vocal multimedia posts to use on social media.
  • Social media has grown in importance in terms of allowing people to become citizen journalists, especially now when traditional media is dwindling.
  • It's important to be positive, even when social media is very sad and dark. Post about people in your community doing things to make the world a better place. Don't engage with the negativity if it is hate speech or trolls - work to get rid of it as described above, and add posts that are more positive in nature to your social media.
  • What should be done about "cancel culture" and/or "call-out culture"? If a person has made a mistake or done something inappropriate and you have access to them, talk to them first. Calling out as a first step is generally reserved for people to whom one doesn't have access, such as celebrities being called out as part of the #MeToo movement. Every situation is different and you need to use your own judgement, but in general, calling out should be a last resort.
  • How has documenting local activism changed since I began in 2005? When I started, I was one of the few doing it, but now since so many people have smartphones, lots of people are taking photos and shooting video and posting on social media.

    More information about the Thinkathons is here.
  • 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.

    Monday, October 01, 2018

    #HateFreeYEG Lanches

    #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.

    --

    Shalom and thank you for inviting me to speak this afternoon and to join my voice with all of us here who proclaim that hate is not welcome in Edmonton. I am with the Edmonton Coalition Against War and Racism and the Edmonton Interfaith Centre for Education. I am also a Jewish woman.

    As a Jewish woman, the growing resurgence of ultra right-wing hate groups concerns me greatly. My own community has been affected recently, with swastikas being spray painted on buildings in several southwest neighbourhoods. It stands to reason that the same kinds of people who would express hate towards immigrants, Muslims, and people of colour are the same kinds of people who would be anti-Jewish. Also, as a Jew I feel a need to stand up against hatred because of my roots and my faith. Many Jewish people of my generation are the descendants of immigrants and refugees. I am also vigilant against Islamophobia not only because hatred is just plain wrong, but also because of the shared Abrahamic roots of our faiths.

    In fact, my commitment to social justice and human rights stems largely from my Jewish background. In Judaism, there is a value called tikkun olam, which translates to healing or repairing the world. We all have that potential within us, regardless of our background, to make the world a better place. It doesn't have to be through grand gestures or high-profile acts – every day, we all have opportunities to make the world around us safer, and to fill it with more compassion, hope, and love.

    At various times in my life I have had experiences with anti-Semitism. It's often been a subtle undercurrent, sometimes taking the form of jokes or comments perpetuating various stereotypes like being cheap, or being part of some kind of power conspiracy. Anti-Semitism has sometimes crossed over into sentiments that are misogynist, like body shaming, or calling a Jewish woman a nag, or the ubiquitous Jewish mother jokes. I've been told at times I don't “look” Jewish, as though that is a compliment. It isn't. Some anti-Semitism I have faced or witnessed also crosses a line into been ableist, like being referred to as neurotic or controlling – attributing to one's culture symptoms of mental illness which may or may not actually be real. After all, you don't always know what someone might be struggling with.

    I recall when I was accosted by a man on an isolated street in the inner city. He had seen my Star of David around my neck, and thought it was appropriate to stop me – a complete stranger – and ask if I was Jewish. I said yes, keeping a wide physical distance from this person. He then proceeded to interrogate me, asking where I was from, and not accepting Edmonton as the answer. He finally backed off when I gave him some general response about my distant Eastern European heritage. After that experience, I have found myself feeling defensive when someone asks about my choice of jewelry. I enjoy meeting new people and talking about myself and learning about them, but being “othered” time and time again can sometimes make a person overly sensitive to inquiries about their background, which is unfortunate because having conversations about ourselves can lead to greater understanding.

    Planting the seeds against racism and hate need to start early. We also all know that kid from school who was always being picked on, pushed around, made fun of, teased, beaten up, and pushed around some more. I know – because I was that kid. I believe that a lot of my values towards kindness, love, and being against racism and hate comes from the fact that I was badly bullied as a child and teenager and I don't want to see that happen to anyone. When we see bullying, when we see people being made fun of because they are somehow different, when we see hatred in our midst we have an obligation to stand up, intervene and say that this is wrong.

    In closing, I also wanted to say that I am a board member with the Edmonton Interfaith Centre for Education and Action, and what we do is to seek to achieve peace and harmony and an end to racism in the world through teaching about different faiths, not from a religious point of view, but from an educational one. I encourage you to look us up and see what we have to offer, and to become a member and get involved.

    Monday, July 02, 2018

    Families Belong Together

    I helped organize the #FamiliesBelongTogether solidarity rally in Edmonton on June 30. Here is my speech and a video of my introductory words and chants.

    --

    Thank you for coming this afternoon. We respectfully acknowledge that we are located on Treaty 6 territory, a traditional gathering place for diverse Indigenous peoples including the Cree, Blackfoot, M├ętis, Nakota Sioux, Iroquois, Dene, Ojibway / Saulteaux / Anishinaabe, Inuit, and many others whose histories, languages, and cultures continue to influence our vibrant community.

    My name is Paula Kirman, and I am with the March On Edmonton Collective and the Edmonton Coalition Against War and Racism, the co-organizers of this event. We would also like to give thanks to the Alberta Federation of Labour for help with logistics, as well as Women for Rights and Empowerment, and No One Is Illegal.

    Please tweet and Instagram and Facebook from today and join the cities around the world who are all standing up for the rights of refugees and families today. The hashtags are #KeepFamiliesTogether #FamiliesBelongTogether #RefugeesWelcome as well as our local city #Yeg hashtag.

    We are here today to call upon the Canadian government to demand that the U.S. end child detention and to stop criminalizing refugees! Families belong together, and those who have been separated must be reunited. But we are hearing disturbing news that the location of many of these children who have been detained is unknown, that they are not receiving comfort or care, and are likely to be in physical danger due to lack of proper oversights. The emotional scars that these children are receiving will affect them for life.

    And the new Executive Order that was signed is not going to make things better. While supposedly ending detention of children, it has brought in indefinite detention of families – and indefinite detention is against international law. We are calling for an end to all refugee detention - not just those of children.

    Today and every day, we must call on Canada's federal government to:

  • Condemn the US's exclusionary, racist, and unjust detention and deportation policies in the strongest terms.
  • Scrap the Safe Third Country Agreement
  • Scrap the Designated Country of Origin list, and end the quota restrictions on refugee claimants and asylum seekers
  • End immigration detention and deportation in Canada.
  • Grant Permanent Resident Status to all undocumented and migrant people in Canada, including everyone who has crossed over from the United States.
  • Reckon with all its historic and current practice of family separation of Indigenous, Black and Brown children from their families through slavery and colonization.

    Indeed, we also stand here today to acknowledge Canada's role in separating families, through the history of residential schools, the 60s Scoop, and the continued practise of removing children from Indigenous families and placing them into foster care. In addition, we must examine our country's own treatment of refugee children. In 2016-2017, Canada jailed 162 minors, 11 of whom were unaccompanied. In 2015-2016, the number was 201, 20 of whom were unaccompanied. At least six people have died in immigration detention custody since Prime Minister Trudeau came to power.

    As well, today we have live-in-caregivers in Canada who are bureaucratically separated from their children back in the Philippines. Confusing changes were made in 2014 to Canadian immigration rules which has resulted in permanent resident status for live-in caregivers converting to possible citizenship being blocked, thus preventing family reunification. These changes were devised and implemented by Jason Kenney when he was in Stephen Harper's cabinet.

    What can we do? We need to keep pressure on our Prime Minister, Immigration Minister, and our MPs. Several people are here today handing out letters that you can sign and send. We also have sample wordings and links to the email addresses of federal politicians on our social media and Facebook event for today – we are @WMWYEG on all platforms if you want to connect and get more information.