Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Tape Recorders (for Robert Kroetsch)

I found out a few hours ago that legendary Alberta writer Robert Kroetsch was killed in a car accident at the age of 83. I have the privilege of interviewing Robert three times, corresponding with him via email, and occasionally seeing him at literary events. His wit, dry sense of humour, and profound way of looking at life are the things about him I will most remember - in addition to his literary works, of course. This poem came to me as I reflected upon our encounters and his life, which, while full, was taken too soon.

Tape Recorders (for Robert Kroetsch)

That day between classes in a café
where iced coffee sat between us as
you discussed poetry and hornbooks
as I transcribed conversation to paper
via a malfunctioning tape recorder only
springing to life through a booming voice
filled with history and humour.

My stories were many, or so you said;
there was a need for a good romance
or tales of the itinerant writer in the big city.
Encouragement for my short verse and to
extend the length of my thoughts were remembered,
but short is my style and long is your wisdom.

You saw the dark corners you said
upon which I shed light, although I
think at times the batteries were weaker than
they should have been, just like in that old tape
recorder that memorialized your stream of
post-modern wit and broke once and for all
a few years later.

The new one works in a similar fashion but
never met you in a coffee shop alongside
your talkative host from whom you feigned sleep
as she ferried you to your next engagement,
a full schedule requiring extra energy.

If those stories come to life which you suggested,
I can only hope they will have meaning,
but forgive the brevity of my verses;
they could never rise to the standards
of my aspirations.

(c) 2011 Paula E. Kirman

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Social Media and Advocacy in the Inner City

On Wednesday, June 15, I had the privilege of being invited to speak at the inner city discussion group of the Edmonton Inner City Health Research and Education Network (EICHREN). The topic of the evening was "Social Media and Advocacy," and the organizers felt that my work with Boyle McCauley News, my strong online presence (particularly on Facebook and Twitter), and passion for social causes made me an ideal person to share my knowledge.

Most of the people at the meeting were young doctors, medical students, nurses, and people involved in inner city organizations such as the Boyle McCauley Health Centre and George Spady Centre. They wanted to know how effective social media was and how they could use it in areas of advocacy with which they are involved, such as harm reduction, safe injection sites, and needle exchange programs. The group was split pretty much down the middle in terms of those who were familiar with social media, and those who had no idea how Twitter even worked.

I talked a little but about how I gave Boyle McCauley News a presence on social media and how such methods can be used for informing one's contact base of events and information. Besides some technical questions about how it all actually works, one of the main concerns was access. I pointed out that access to computers, as well as literacy (both towards computers and in the traditional sense) could be issues for certain groups in the inner city, such as the homeless. People who are not homeless but lower income may not own a computer. Some discussion ensued about allowing access to the Internet at various agencies, as it was felt that if the technology was available and a person was able to use it, they likely would.

Other discussion ensued about the efficacy of using social media over traditional kinds of advocacy (such as those done in person or writing physical letters as opposed to emails), citing Malcolm Gladwell's article in the New Yorker Small Change: Why the Revolution Will Not Be Tweeted.

Overall, EICHREN is a group that is just gaining momentum. How it will use social media and for what purposes are yet to be established. It already has a Twitter account. The fact that the people involved are interested in social media and asking the right questions shows promise for what is potentially a strong push for advocacy of inner city health issues.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Neighbourhood Festivals and Performing

I love neighbourhood celebrations. They give me a good excuse to visit other 'hoods and check out what is happening on a grassroots level: the shops, music, and foods that make the area unique. This past weekend, I was involved with two such events: Heart of the City and the Highlands Street Festival.

Heart of the City is a huge deal in McCauley and beyond. It is two days featuring music and visual artists who either live, work, volunteer, or go to school in the downtown/inner city area. All of these talented people are brought together at Giovanni Caboto Park, where free live music is performed, art is displayed, interactive art is there for all to contribute to, and workshops are held. Despite a very chilly Saturday, the brave musicians took to the stage to appreciative (although, unforunately sparse) audiences. Sunday was much warmer, and the number of people in the park reflected the sunshine.

This was my fifth time performing at Heart of the City. For the past four times, I was a part of the Song Circle, held on Saturday morning. A group of three or four musicians, usually solo artists, take to the stage at once and take turns performing their songs. This year, I got my own set, which was for 20 minutes on Sunday morning/afternoon (I started at 11:55 a.m.). It was wonderful to perform four of my songs with the always skillful Mike Tully working the sound system. I also joined another musician, Theresa Lightfoot, on stage to play percussion earlier that morning during her set. As always, I brought my juggling sticks and even had the chance to juggle with another stick juggler.

I'm also involved with Heart of the City in another capacity: I am the editor of Boyle McCauley News, the community newspaper serving the communities of Boyle Street and McCauley. The paper is also one of the festival's sponsors, and in addition to financial support, we give the festival a lot of press. It deserves it - it is one of the biggest events that takes place in the area, and brings in people from all over the city.

In the meantime that Sunday, June 5, a smaller festival was taking place in the north Edmonton neighbourhood of Highlands. The Highlands Street Festival is an annual outdoor market featuring local merchants, food, music, and a kids' area. I had never been to the event before, although I am familiar with the historic buildings and businesses in the area. Anyways, that morning I saw a tweet from local blues singer Paula Perro, who was supposed to be performing with a few band members on the main stage, which was located in the alley behind Mandolin Books. A few of her band members had to bow out, and she was looking for a replacement.

As coincidence would have it, Paula was the MC for the morning/early afternoon at Heart of the City. She encouraged me to head to Highlands that afternoon, find the sound guy, and offer to play. So I did. Paula's band woes were worked out and she was able to make her set, but I ended up playing for a half hour before she took the stage, as there was a gap in the program. I also managed to take a look around at the vendors and other festival goings-on. It was small, but quaint, and I enjoyed being there.

Here is my photo set from Heart of the City and from the Highlands Street Festival. As well, I put together two video compilations from Heart of the City, from day one and day two.

I will be posting videos from my performances at both events on my music YouTube channel in the near future.

Of Sluts and Slutwalks

Edmonton Slut Walk by raise my voice
Edmonton Slut Walk, a photo by raise my voice on Flickr.

The Edmonton Slut Walk took place on June 4. The protest raised a lot of controvery before it happened, for two reasons.

First of all, and most obviously, there was the name. Slut Walk. For those who don't know, the original Slut Walk took place in Toronto when a police officer made the unfortunate statement that if women did not dress like sluts, they would not get raped. The Slut Walk was created as a statement that women should be able to dress as they wish, go where they want, and be who they are, and that instead of blaming the victims, men should be taught not to rape.

A grassroots group of women in Edmonton decided to organize a Slut Walk here, and even though the background of its name was well publicized, it still raised eyebrows. There are those who do not want anything to do with an event with the word "slut" in the title, even if it upholding values they believe in like women's rights and no meaning no. The word "slut" carries with it all of the baggage of being a derogatory word for women, even if it is being used in a positive way. "Slut" has never had a positive meaning, and standing in the street holding a sign exclaiming slut pride is not going to change that.

But that really was not the point of the Slut Walk. It was to send a message that rape is wrong, and on that level, it was successful. As well, time was given to the fact that men are also raped and that not all men are rapists.

The other issue with the Edmonton Slut Walk had to do with the overwhelming response on the Facebook event page. More than 3000 people said they would be attending, which had the City of Edmonton somewhat worried about logistics. Originally, the protest was to start at the Legislature and participants would walk on the sidewalk to City Hall. However, thousands of people on the sidewalk is a bit much, and the City demanded $2000 from the organizers to close off the street. Not being in a position to cough up the cash, and not wanting to risk getting ticketed by ignoring the demand and just marching anyways, the Slut Walk's official line became that it would stay at the Legislature.

In the end, only about a tenth of the Facebook numbers actually showed up (which was a decent showing considering how unseasonably cold it was that morning). After about an hour of speeches, the Slut Walk moved to City Hall, mostly on the sidewalks. Mission accomplished.

Although I was a little aprehensive about the name at first, I enjoyed the Slut Walk and give kudos to the organizers for pulling the event together in the face of all of the challenges. The message that no means no and that victims are never to blame for rape came through clearly. Nothing is going to make me embrace the word "slut," but this was a case where the ends justified the means.

Here is my photo set from the event, a video showing the crowd and segments of some of the speeches, and another video of Kasia, the main organizer, reading a poem she wrote (language warning).