Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Idle No More - It Matters on Christmas

Idle No More - ONE Heartbeat - Edmonton

Unless you have been living under a rock, you have likely heard of Idle No More. Or, at the very least, heard or seen those words in some context. If you have to ask the question, Idle No More is a movement originating with Canada's Indigenous peoples. It began as a reaction to the passing of Bill C-45 (also known as the "Omnibus Bill") which unilaterally affects Treaty agreements concerning protected water without the Harper government having had any consultations with First Nations.

Idle No More Flash Mob Round Dance at WEM

However, in the rallies and flash mobs that have been springing up all over the country and beyond, Idle No More has gained momentum that is relevant for all Canadians. This isn't just about Aboriginal rights, and it isn't just about Bill C-45 in and of itself. It is about the government being allowed to have a sweeping hand and changing laws without consultation, in effect taking away our democratic rights as a society. In that regard, what affects one group affects us all. One of the central issues to Idle No More is protected water - water is sacred to First Nations, but it is important to all of us. Without water, we cannot survive. As well, Idle No More is relevant to non-Aboriginals because all of us who were born here or are immigrants owe the existence of our country to those who settled the land long before we were here.

Idle No More

When the first Idle No More march and rally took place in Edmonton on December 10, around 2000 people showed up at Churchill Square. The energy was incredible. Unfortunately, an apparent media blackout did not show the rest of the city (and country) just how intense the burgeoning movement was. There was little to no media coverage at all. However, Idle No More in many ways is a social media revolution - people's photos, tweets, Facebook updates, videos on YouTube, and other efforts has made Idle No More go viral and international.

The video above, which I shot at West Edmonton Mall on December 18, was of one of the first round dance flash mobs held in shopping malls across Canada. Within days it already had tens of thousands of viewers and the views continue to grow. People are commenting on it from all over the world. This is something that traditional media simply cannot accomplish.

Idle No More

You may be wondering why I am writing this on Christmas Day. Well, as many of us enjoy a big dinner and sweet treats, Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence is in her fifteenth day of a hunger strike. She wants to meet with Prime Minister Stephen Harper to discuss treaty issues and to negotiate better living conditions for many of the nation's Indigenous population. Senator Patrick Brazeau attempted to meet with her yesterday - showing up unannounced on Christmas Eve after slagging her on national television last week, saying she was not "setting a good example" for Aboriginal youth. If being willing to die for your beliefs is not being a good example, I want to know what is.

Solidarity is now coming in from the United States and around the world. Idle No More is a movement whose time has come. Seeing all of these beautiful Aboriginal people standing up for the land that is rightfully theirs is awesome and inspirational. More and more "migrants" and "settlers" are joining in - after all, this is really about human rights and the environment at its core.

Idle No More - ONE Heartbeat - Edmonton

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and may the new year bring revolution.

Monday, December 03, 2012

A Decade of Memories - Peace Activism with ECAWAR

Pan-Canadian Day of Action

On December 1, the Edmonton Coalition Against War and Racism (ECAWAR) celebrated a decade of peace activism in the city. The organization got together in December of 2002 when a number of people who were already involved in anti-war activities in Edmonton decided to join forces to plan protests about the war in Iraq - particularly urging the Canadian government not to get involved. As a result, the two largest peace protests in Edmonton's history took place in February and March of 2003, with tens of thousands of people taking to the streets.

Ten years later, ECAWAR is still marching for peace, organizing rallies, hosting teach-ins, and teaming up with other organizations for emergency actions. Our anniversary event was filled with memories, reflections, and plans for the future.

I became involved with ECAWAR in September of 2005 when I showed up at a peace rally with a camera and started taking pictures. A slideshow of my photos ran continually projected on a large screen. It took me an entire afternoon to cull the collection down to around 200 photos.

A couple of years after I became involved with ECAWAR, I began writing and performing political protest songs. I played a set of three of my best-known songs at the anniversary - it was great to play them inside on a stage; a real change from usually performing them outside in all weather!

One of my favourite parts of the event was when people were invited to share their memories of ECAWAR. The event was already running over and I felt I spent enough time on the stage, so I decided against getting up there and sharing a memory or two. My first one is, of course, my first peace rally. I showed up with my camera and then asked one of the organizers if I could take pictures. I was happy that Peggy Morton said yes. We have since worked together to organize many peace events that I have captured on film.

Perhaps my favourite memory is from the peace march on March 17, 2007. Before we headed down Whyte Avenue from Corbett Hall, we decided to join in a movement taking place around that time of forming a human peace sign. Andrew Fraser, another avid photographer and ECAWAR member who now lives in Toronto, and I were the assigned photographers. In order to get the photo, we had to climb up seven flights of stairs to the top of the parkade. Then, we had to lean over the concrete wall and angle our cameras down to ensure the entire peace symbol got into the picture. I was totally winded from running up seven flights of stairs, and in addition, I am terrified of heights. So, needless to say, this was not an easy task. Plus, we had to try to steer everyone from up there, without megaphones.

After the mission was accomplished, we raced down the stairs to join the march, which had started without us. I had asked Peggy to please not have everyone start marching until we were down, but I guess you can't stop a couple hundred enthusiastic peaceniks. So, winded again from running down the stairs, I had to take my position alongside the group and start running to keep up, as I often have to do when I am photographing and filming.

"How do you feel?" I was asked shortly after I descended, by someone who knows just how queasy heights make me.

"I'm only slightly nauseous!" I yelled, loud enough for everyone around me to hear - and share in a laugh.

Okay, so maybe you had to be there. But take a look at the photo at the top of this post. The ends certainly justified the scary means.

I am totally looking forward to more peace activities with ECAWAR in the coming future.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

A Novel Triumph

For the second year in a row, I took part in National Novel Writing Month - better known by its acronym NaNoWriMo.

With the philosophy that inside everyone is at least one novel, the goal is to write 50,000 words in 30 days during the month of November. That is an average of around 1667 words per day. Results are entirely self-reported. There is no outside verification. What one writes does not have to make sense, or even be any good. A suggestion often repeated is if you get stuck, add ninjas.

The daily word count may not seem like a lot, but when you are sitting there trying to think something up, it can be daunting. I am someone with a lot of flexibility in my schedule - I have no idea how someone with a typical job can do this.

I wasn't even going to do it this year. Last year, I have personal reasons for taking part. I had a few things I needed to work out of my system, and I chose to do it through writing. This year, I was blank. Blank, until I woke up in the wee hours of November 1 with an idea. An idea that was too good to let go of. So far, this has been the biggest advantage of morning insomnia.

In general, I have mixed feelings about NaNoWriMo. The sheer speed with which the novel has to be produced probably results in a lot of unreadable manuscripts forever to be hidden on a hard drive. Does encouraging people to write page after page of crap accomplish anything? I think so, ultimately. Writing for the sake of writing is wonderful, and if it gets people thinking creatively, then it's all good.

How much did I write? The final word count came in at 50,456 completed on November 28. The most I wrote in one day was around 4000 words. The least I wrote was around 300. On average, I wrote around 2000 words, which was my goal.

As someone who writes and edits for a living, I wanted to write something that actually flowed and made sense. While it is going to require some extensive editing, I feel I have accomplished that. I know you're probably wondering what I wrote. It's an erotic novel that goes places 50 Shades of Grey doesn't, in several regards (I am talking about both the storyline itself and, ahem, "activities"). In addition to many scenes of a sexual nature, there is actually a strong storyline that delves into issues of life, love, and identity. If you are a literary agent who would like to have a look, please contact me.

I hope everyone taking part in NaNoWriMo this year had a meaningful experience!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Involuntary Anti-Semitism: Confronting Ignorance

I like to think that we live in a more enlightened age, where people are cognizant of speech that is offensive. Racial slurs, comments pertaining to sexual orientation in a derogatory manner, jokes about women (or men, for that matter) - these are all things that a modern, intelligent, education person should know are not acceptable.

You would think, right? Something happened to me today that made me wonder how prejudicial language could become normalized to the point where the person speaking the language has no clue that he or she is being offensive.

I was shopping with a friend of mine for an item in a store that was having a "buy one, get one half off" kind of sale. At first, he was going to get something, and then I was going to get another item with the discount. My friend changed his mind and decided to get two things for himself.

Our young, bubbly salesperson who up until that point was being very helpful, looked at me and said in her cartoon-ish voice, "Looks like you're getting jewed."

My friend and I were silent. Did I hear her correctly? She gave me another chance to clarify. "Yup, he jewed you." I still could not believe what I was hearing.

"Did she just say, 'jewed'?" I asked my friend, in a whisper. He nodded.

Let me explain that this young woman was very, how shall I put it? - unsophisticated. I had shopped in this store before, found her very friendly, albeit a bit chatty to a point of being somewhat too personal. I chalked it up to a personality thing combined with perhaps bad boundaries. In any case, she did nothing to put me off coming back to the store, which specializes in the particular item of which we were in search.

I had a sneaking suspicion that she honestly had no idea that the term she just used was offensive. She also had no idea that the customer she happened to say that too was Jewish. I have a degree in secondary education. This was what we would call a 'teachable moment.'

When it came time to pay, she noticed my friend had by now left the store, appearing to have stuck me with the bill. Actually, he has been suffering from a leg problem and needed to go somewhere to sit down, but I played along. Guess what she said? "Looks like he jewed you again."

"I have some friendly advice for you," I began. "Using the term 'jew' in that manner is offensive. I happen to be Jewish and I wanted to let you know this, because somewhere along the line you're going to say that to someone and they are going to get very upset."

She was immediately apologetic. "I am so sorry," she said. "To me, it is just a word used to mean what I was saying." She meant that my friend screwed me over. Usually, that particular epithet is also used to refer to someone who is cheap.

I compared her use of the word 'jew' to the way my classmates and I used to use the word 'gay' in elementary school, to refer to someone being stupid. At that point, I did not realize that the word also referred to a group of people and as such, using the word in that manner was insulting to them.

Apparently there are people still left in the world who also don't realize that using 'jew' as a verb is offensive. They don't understand that using the word in that manner is offensive to Jewish people (and should be offensive to everyone, for that matter). A close friend of mine used to use the word in that manner, until he met my brother and later me. He told me that we were the first Jewish people he had ever met, and suddenly 'jew' had a face and a name. It wasn't just some word any more to mean a cheap swindler or a method of haggling.

Back to the young woman in question. She kept going on and on that she did not mean anything bad by saying that, and that we're all the same people of flesh and blood and she actually is not prejudiced against anyone. And you know what? I believe her. I believe that she just seriously did not know that what she was saying was inappropriate. I shudder to think what could have happened if she happened to use those lines on someone other than me.

My friend later told me that he at first did not know if he was hearing her correctly, and was shocked. He was also concerned for how I was going to react. I told him how I handled the situation and he agreed that it was the appropriate thing to do.

I could have reacted in a number of different ways. I could have asked my friend to quietly put down our merchandise and leave the store, never to return. I could have lost my temper and thrown a fit. I could have ignored it and done absolutely nothing. I could have contacted the store's management when I returned home.

Of utmost importance to me was making sure the young woman knew her language was offensive, why it was offensive, and to hopefully ensure it never happens again. Everything happens for a reason, and I think that is why we ended up at this store and she just coincidentally happened to speak that way to a Jewish person (in case you are wondering, my coat was concealing my Star of David - there was no way she would have known I was Jewish).

When we are confronted with ignorance, we have a responsibility to speak up. In most cases, the other person is not a hardcore racist or anti-Semite. Just like this young woman, they are most likely just unaware. Usually, all we have to do is make a simple statement identifying someone's words or behaviour as not acceptable. If we remain silent, we're being just as ignorant as the offender.

Postscript: I purposely did not name the store, the shopping centre where it is located, or the items for which we were shopping. I honestly believe this woman meant no malice and I feel the situation has been resolved appropriately. So, if you ask, I am not going to tell.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

A Dubious Honour: My Reaction to Being on the Masada 2000 S.H.I.T. List

Me Juggling

My name now appears on the Masada 2000 S.H.I.T. List. I have officially arrived.

Now, most of you are scratching your heads wondering, "What on Earth is the Masada 2000 S.H.I.T. List?" The list of over 8000 names (and counting) is compiled by the people behind the Masada2000.org website, of Jews who are "Self-Hating and/or Israel Threatening" (can you see where they got the S.H.I.T. acronymn from now?).

Organized alphabetically, names include many well-known Jewish people who take a stance against colonial Zionism and support Palestinian rights. People like Norman Finkelstein, Noam Chomsky, Naomi Klein, Ilan Pappe, and even people who are quite moderate and working towards a just world full of peace, like Rabbi Michael Lerner. Even Woody Allen and Roseanne Barr are on the list.

In fact, it's really a Who's Who of the Jews - and now, I am part of it! Just follow this link to get to the 'K' page, and scroll down to find my name. There, you will find several photos of me, an extremely vitriolic ad hominum attack, links to my websites, and a couple of my email addresses.

At first, I was surprised at how much space they gave me. They put more photos of me and more information about myself than almost anyone else (at least on the 'K' page), including Naomi Klein and Henry Kissinger! They certainly must view me as a real threat. Little, old me. Who'da thunk it? Obviously, my activism must be very effective if I am pissing people off.

What also struck me is that these people have nothing really to say against my point of view. They do not engage in critical arguments. Instead, they engage in ad hominum attacks. This is a form of bullying.

That being said, let me address a few of the things said on the site. First of all, yes, I am a stick juggler. They are actually called devil sticks, or flower sticks (if they have tassels). I have been juggling since my last year of university, for exercise and stress relief. I am a huge hit at picnics and children's birthday parties. I have even had offers to perform at carnival-types of events and to teach classes to children as part of physical education.

They refer to me as "plump and unattractive" and that one should feel pity for me. Rather than debating my point of view, they try to discredit me by attacking my looks? What is this - junior high? Does my mother also wear army boots? I am the first one to admit that I am not a piece of calendar art, but to attack someone based on something having nothing to do with the issue at hand is bullying, plain and simple. But I have to say, about the accusation of being 'plump' - I'm not plump! I'm just so awesome, I am supersized!

In fact, much of what is said in their blurb about me resembles comments made about me a while back on YouTube. These were people who were obviously not using their real names or photos and saying thinks about my weight, looks, and perceived sexual orientation. I can't help but think that these people are the ones who need pity, having nothing better to do than troll the Internet stirring up trouble.

The quote that the Masada people used from me does indeed contain a spelling error. However, their website is not exactly error-free. I found several. Now, I do editing work on a per-hour basis and would normally offer to help out with something like this. However, I don't work for projects that promote hatred.

One of the pictures shows me "sucking up" to "an Arab in a kuffiyeh." That was taken at an emergency rally concerning the Gaza Freedom Flotilla that was attacked by the Israeli military in 2010. What more beautiful, peace-inspiring image could there be but of a Jewish woman and an Arab man, side by side, sharing a musical moment? Except, in this case, the man holding my microphone (a mic stand was not available) is not an Arab. He's Persian. Just because someone is brown-skinned and wearing a kuffiyah does not automatically mean the person is an Arab. Generalization, much?

I guess I should not be surprised. Prejudicial views run rampant at Masada. To the people at Masada, Jewish values apparently include sexism. Most of the women mentioned on the list are made fun of for their looks in one way or the other. I did not notice the same treatment being given to the men. However, homophobia and transgender phobia are also prevalent. If someone is gay, lesbian, or transgender, that fact is held against them and in a mocking way. Finally, the site is incredibly racist and Islamophobic. I went to the main page of the site in an attempt to figure out who these people are. It's a good thing I had not recently eaten. The hatred against Muslims is just disgusting. If another website spoke about Jews the way they speak about Muslims, they would be the first to accuse it of anti-Semitism.

Yet ironically, people like the ones behind this site accuse Jews like me of being anti-Semitic and self-hating. They, in fact, are the ones who are anti-Semitic. I have never said anything against public and personally against another Jewish brother or sister. However, this list insults just about every Jewish intellectual, academic, and artist who has made any sort of impact, especially within the last century.

As far as the accusation of being 'self-hating' goes, I like myself just fine. Let's face it - you have to have just a little bit of an ego to get up in front of large groups of people and sing and speak. I am also very proud of being Jewish. I have never hidden my religious identity in any situation and always wear a Star of David or Chai pendant. Although I am no longer Orthodox, I still observe many of the holidays and dietary laws. On the contrary, it is people like the Masada folks who turn others off from Judaism.

This is is currently at over 8000 people and is growing all the time. If the people behind the site would get their heads out of their right-wing extremist asses, they would see that that number speaks for itself - that more and more Jews are speaking out against the actions of the Israeli government and military. We are not anti-Israel in terms of the people or the existence of Israel itself. We just believe that violence begets more violence. Attitudes like the one promoted on the Masada site do nothing to promote a world of peace and justice.

I personally view the people behind the Masada site not only as bullies, but as cowards. Who are they? I see no names, no faces. My name (my real name) and often my image (my real image) is associated with what I put online. I realize I am putting myself out there and expect criticism. Constructive criticism and intelligent debate are welcome. But if the best you have are personal attacks that have nothing to do with my politics, let alone my religion, it reflects worse on you than it does on me.

To be named in the company of so many people I admire is an honour. In fact, I have heard reports that to be included on the Masada 2000 S.H.I.T. list is indeed an achievement, and people have contacted the site to try to get on (where they found contact information, I have no idea). My first reaction was something like, "Yay!" followed by intense laughter. Look that the photo of "evil me" juxtaposed near the one of me juggling.

However, I am not sure when my name was added to the list. In any case, they have missed such up to date information as to my involvement with Independent Jewish Voices, having spoken on the organization's behalf at several recent rallies. I also tweet on behalf of Norman Finkelstein. There are photos of me wearing a kuffiyeh. These people really need to stay up to date. After all, I am apparently so important to them.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Emergency Gaza Rally - A Jewish Perspective

An emergency rally for the people of Gaza was held in Edmonton on November 17. Organized by the Edmonton Coalition Against War & Racism (ECAWAR) and the Palestine Solidarity Network, the rally joined others that have been taking place around the world over the past few days in light of Israeli aggression against Gaza. What else can the world expect - there is an election coming up in Israel, and Netanyahu has to play the big man now, responding with force far times greater than the rockets being fired into Israel. While I certainly don't agree with aggression on either side of this conflict, it is hard for me to understand the concept of Israel's argument of self-defense. When a people who are under an illegal and inhumane blockade rise up in arms against those who put them in that situation, the argument that Israel is defending itself it almost ridiculous.

I was asked to speak on behalf of Independent Jewish Voices as well as sing. Unfortunately, the temperatures were a bit cold to play the guitar outside, so I recited the lyrics to one of my songs about the Middle East conflict called "The Side of Peace." Below is my speech and poem. For a full set of photos from the event, click here. For videos, click here.

Independent Jewish Voices has chapters in eight cities across the country and consists of Canadian Jews from diverse backgrounds who share a strong commitment to social justice and universal human rights, to reclaim the tradition of Jewish support for universal freedoms, human rights, and social justice. In fact, we believe that the broad spectrum of opinion amongst the Jewish population of this country is not reflected by institutions that claim to represent Jewish communities as a whole. We believe that individuals and groups should feel free to express their views on any issue of public concern without incurring accusations of disloyalty and we are compelled to speak out because of the lessons we have learned from our own history.

As such, Independent Jewish Voices condemns Israel’s latest attack on the Palestinians trapped in Gaza by Israel’s illegal blockade. Israel has euphemistically dubbed the operation “Pillar of Defense” (alternately Pillar of Cloud).

However, as one IJV Steering Committee member, Dylan Penner, has pointed out, “Israel’s latest attack on Gaza is not a ‘Pillar of Defense.’ It’s a Pillar of War Crimes, which we have a moral obligation to oppose.” He also goes on to say that, “This latest atrocity is compounded by the fact that, thanks to Israel’s illegal and inhumane blockade, for the people who live in Gaza there is no escape.”

Just look at recent history - four years ago, Israel launched its “Operation Cast Lead” on the Gaza Strip. Over 1400 Palestinians were killed — over a third of whom were innocent women and children. Israel claimed moral righteousness while committing this massacre, but the United Nations later found that Israel committed war crimes and possible crimes against humanity and that “the assault was designed to humiliate and terrorize a civilian population.” Amnesty International concluded that Israel’s aggression amounted to “22 days of death and destruction.”

I am a Canadian-born Jewish woman who believes strongly in the Jewish value of tikkun olam, which means healing or repairing the world. When I see the devastating and inhumane and illegal treatment of the Palestinian people by a government and military supposedly representing my religion and culture, it is with a deeply broken heart.

The actions of the Israeli government and military is antithetical to the true values of Judaism which include compassion, reason, and social justice. It is for these reasons that I cannot support such actions. I find it horribly offensive for any of the brutality in Palestine to be attributed to being in my name – it is not in my name. It tarnishes my religion and culture.

I encourage other Jewish people to really look at the situation objectively and not through the idealized notions of Israel with which many of us were raised. To blindly support a nation and its government because of misplaced nationalistic fervour or perceived ownership based on selective Biblical interpretation is illogical.

Zionism and Judaism are not the same thing. Historically Zionism was opposed by almost all organized branches of Judaism. Even today, not all Jews are Zionists. Actually, Zionism’s strongest cheerleaders today are Christians. So, accusations that anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism are very much unfounded and merely a way of stirring up trouble towards those people who are critics of Israel.

In fact, there are many Jewish voices from within Israel and around the world who are opposed to the Israeli colonial settlement policy in the Occupied Territories and those voices are getting stronger. Thank you.

The Side of Peace I’ve marched in Gaza rallies
And sung for Arab crowds
Though some of my relations
Think I should not be allowed.
I’m asked why do I do it?
Or if I’m scared at the very least;
The only answer that I have,
Is I’m on the side of Peace.

I always say I’m Jewish,
It’s part of who I am.
So is speaking out
For human rights as best I can.
This conflict is immoral
I want it all to cease
And that is why I take a stand
On the side of Peace.

When innocent civilians
Are killed day after day
By military massacres
I have the right to say
Collective punishment is wrong
As the death tolls increase.
The only way to save lives
Is on the side of Peace.

Unlike so many others
I can’t support a nation
When it’s so horrific towards
Part of the population
Yes, the leaders are not innocent
But the children are, indeed
So are all the others who
Are on the side of Peace.

It’s easy to be silent
Or toe the party line
Complicity is for cowards
Who are part of the crime.
I will never be accused
Of groveling on my knees
I stand with my conscience
On the side of Peace.

© 2009 Paula E. Kirman

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Social Media and Social Responsibility - Salvos Prelorentzos Peace Award

Salvos Prelorentzos Peace Awards 2012 by raise my voice

On November 6, 2012 I received the Salvos Prelorentzos Peace Award from Project Ploughshares at City Hall. In its 17th year, the award is given annually to someone in Edmonton who has worked towards the goals of peace and social justice but who has not yet been formally recognized for their work. I was chosen for my pioneering efforts in documenting the local activist scene and using social media and other online tools to share and connect. This is my acceptance speech. For a full set of photos, click here. For all of the videos, here is the playlist.

Social Media and Social Responsibility
Salvos Prelorentzos Award Acceptance Speech
Paula Kirman
November 6, 2012

When Jim Gurnett called me back in January to inform me that I had been chosen as this year’s recipient, I was at a loss for words – and for someone like myself who makes a living with words, that is indeed very rare. Then, I found myself in a similar situation when I sat down to write my words of acceptance.

So, let me begin by giving thanks. Thank you to Project Ploughshares for making this event possible. Thank you to the award’s organizing committee for selecting me, especially to Alison Scott-Prelorentzos for honouring her late husband in this manner. Thank you to David Climenhaga for speaking tonight, and to Terry Morrison for gracing us with her wonderful music. Congratulations to Mr. Kalia for his lifetime service award. And thank you to all of you for coming out this evening. It really does mean a lot to me, more than I could express.

I am very honoured and humbled to have been chosen as this year’s recipient, especially when I reflect upon the incredible people and organizations who stood up here in past years, many of whom I am privileged to call my friends and my brothers and sisters in our common struggle to bring about a world of peace and justice.

Now, I will tell you a bit about myself. As a child, I made an impassioned plea to my parents for two things: a camera and a guitar. I am fortunate that my parents indulged me, although I have to admit that the guitar took a little more convincing.

Communication is what I do professionally, and there is a need for communication about peace and matters of social justice between organizations, individuals, and the world. We have the technology at our fingertips to do this. I am fortunate to be part of a generation to embrace social media as well as the technological gadgets that make archiving and sharing possible.

Then, it was just a matter of connecting with the local peace community – something I did not know existed until I purposely went about looking for it. When I found it, I showed up at a peace rally with a digital camera and started taking pictures. At that time, I was really the only person taking pictures at these sorts of events, and then the first to get the images online to be shared.

When I saw the possibilities to really show the rest of Edmonton and beyond that the city really does have an active, engaged peace community, this expanded into acquiring a video camera, learning to edit film footage, as well as increasing the number of social networks upon which I share my work while getting into more sophisticated forms of blogging and website design.

I am now so enthusiastic to see others showing up to events with cameras and getting online and sharing and commenting. Those of us who are privileged enough to be able to access and use technology have a choice to use developments like social media for the good of society. It gives us the opportunity to become independent citizen journalists and present our perspectives in a widely public forum but in a way that is very real with a human element.

Equally important to presenting and showcasing the city’s activist movement is sustaining it. In order to make sure the city has a peace movement that stays active, it has to stay relevant and attract younger people. Love it or hate it, the so-called “new media” is how to make this happen. When I do things like get Project Ploughshares onto Facebook and reviving the website for the Edmonton Coalition Against War and Racism it is with a sense of excitement for the future.

Now, about that guitar - when I got involved in the local peace movement, it was a natural transition to write songs with social meaning. I was, after all, raised on a steady diet of Joan Baez and Bob Dylan. It was also a way of being more directly involved with events rather than always just standing on the sidelines with a camera. And again, thanks to social media, I’ve been able to reach an audience far beyond just the people who show up at the events.

At the same time, thanks to social media, my activism has been very public and that is not without its challenges, personally and professionally. But like I said earlier, we have the tools at our fingertips to share and build our movement. It comes down to a matter of choice, and I have considered working towards peace to be a personal responsibility.

And on that note, I will end with the chorus of the song I wrote about choosing to stand up for peace in the face of resistance, called “Walls”:

I can’t sit on the fence anymore
When I have to choose between peace and war
And object to oppression where it arises
No matter what else it is disguised as

I hope that we can all make similar choices in our lives. Thank you.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

New Arena: Cease and Desist

Yesterday, Edmonton's City Council voted to cease all negotiations with the Katz Group.

Apparently, they finally saw the light after years of spending time and money on negotiations with a private company that ultimately proved fruitless. Katz tried to change the terms of the deal, used the media to make these statements of change, and then refused to meet with City Council.

Did City Council make the right decision in this instance? Yes. Do they deserve applause?


We protest-types who were against the private-public partnership deal with the Katz Group from the beginning turned out to be right all along. Katz could not be trusted. Public money should not go to a private enterprise for its own profit.

City Council spent way too much time and resources trying to appeal someone who really, in the long run, doesn't give a rat's posterior about Edmonton. Daryl Katz is a businessman who cares about the bottom line - his bottom line - not what is good for the city.

Will there ever be a new arena? We don't know. If there is, it will hopefully be structured economically so that all profits go back to the City - not into the pockets of a billionaire.

I am still of the mindset that Edmonton doesn't need a new arena. Rexall Place is doing us just fine (though admittedly it will need a facelift at some point) and there is more to life than hockey.

In the meantime, there are roads that need to be repaired, neighbourhoods in need of revitalization, and an LRT that needs to be expanded. Let's spend OUR money on things that are important and will really make Edmonton a better place to live.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Extreme Bullying and Extreme Measures

The recent suicide of B.C. teenager Amanda Todd has made bullying a major topic of conversation for many. This tragedy is an extreme example of what bullying can lead to. It is also an example of the danger of online predators, which is another angle to the situation.

But let's look at the bullying aspect of things. Now, school boards, parent groups, and other advocacy organizations are standing up and saying that enough is enough. Measures must be taken to prevent bullying behaviour. Adults must set examples and there must be consequences.

My question is: why has it taken so long? Why has another young person had to take her life in order for these bold statements to be made. Amanda Todd is certainly not the first teenager to commit suicide as a result of bullying.

Perhaps it is because of the age in which we live. Thanks to social media, Amanada Todd was able to tell some of her story before her death, after which Facebook and the Twitter-verse was overloaded with shock and horror.

Maybe if I had Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter when I was a younger person, my story could have been different. I was the victim of severe bullying in late elementary school and for the first year or so of junior high. On an almost daily basis I was the subject of assaults on my person emotionally, verbally, physically, and sexually.

The administration of my school was made aware of what was happening. My parents met with the principal. So did I. I was told that I should stop wearing certain fashion accessories which the other kids were making fun of. Once I took off my studded leather bracelet, the torture was sure to stop.

Well, it didn't, even after I removed the "magic bracelet." It was a less enlightened time. The seriousness of bullying just wasn't appreciated - at least, not by a lazy school administration. My parents took it seriously though. A long time afterwards, my father told me of a phone call that he answered at the house. The anonymous person at the other end went into a vile diatribe about how awful I was. My parents were afraid of what I would have done to myself, had I found out about it. They also knew that I was vulnerable, and would likely have done anything to have been accepted by the other kids, even if it meant doing some nasty stuff I would not have done otherwise.

These are the sorts of things that parents of bullied children have been trying to communicate for years. Why has no one listened? Why did a beautiful young woman have to take her life in order for anyone to hear? I still suffer some of the emotional scars of my experiences. I have tried to talk about them, often to the reaction of something like, "It happened 20 years ago. Get over it already."

I feel hopefuly when I see attitudes changing, when bullying is not just written off as boys being boys or girls being mean - or even worse, as a sign of affection ("He's hitting you because he really likes you" - like that hasn't led to abusive relationships in the future, when such behaviour is normalized).

But for some, it is too little, too late. Any movement to help prevent bullying is important. It is just so sad it took this extreme of an incident to effect change.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Love Is All There Is

Activism is about love. Love for the world, for our fellow humans, for animals, for the environment, for peace.

I recently read a book by Evangelical author Rob Bell called Love Wins. His views are controversial because he argues that the concepts of heaven and hell are not just for the after life - they exist here on earth. We make choices that can literally lead to hell on earth or make the world more like heaven.

Activism is about trying to make the world a little better. Maybe we won't make it into heaven, but there certainly is enough hell out there created by a number of forces of greed and power to try to overturn.

More and more, the terms "conservative" and "Christian" are being used in the same phrase. Yet conservative politics often espouse values that are far removed from Jesus' teachings. Cutting social programs, removing health benefits for refugee claimants, an imperialistic foreign policy, tax breaks for the rich and corporations - where are Jesus' values of compassion, loving thy neighbour, caring for the sick and poor - in other words, where is the love?

When you give love, you get love. This is as true for activists as for anyone else. I don't know anyone who doesn't want to be loved. We form a community, we organize events together, we work together for a common cause. That takes almost as much commitment as a long-term relationship.

It's the kind of love that can change the world, both on a large scale and between us as individuals. After all, isn't love all that matters?

Friday, October 12, 2012

Activist Self Care and Community

Wanting to heal the world is sometimes an extension of wanting to heal ourselves.

We see the injustice and suffering around us and do what we can in our own forms of activism, and can grow despondent when constantly surrounding ourselves with images and facts of this brokenness in the world, growing even more despondent when our efforts don't appear to bear much fruit (at least not immediately, or at first glance).

Brokenness in the world can manifest as brokenness in ourselves.

We take to the streets with chants of, "Health care, child care, anything but warfare."

Self-care should be added to that list. Too many activists don't practise it, or enough.

There is a reason why depression and despair runs rampant in activist circles, and why it too often leads to tragedy. People who are passionate and creative can often lean towards depression and anxiety in the first place, and when you factor in the way that being a community organizer can consume one's life, emotions can be hard to deal with.

After the rally, when the placards are put away and the sound system is broken down, there is isolation. Maintaining a satisfying personal life is hard when you are being run in what seems like 15 different directions. Then there is the time necessary to spend working. It does not leave a lot of time to simply unwind, meditate, go to church, take a trip, or do whatever it takes to find balance.

Factor in personal problems (breakups, issues with parents), work problems, and a host of other day to day stressors, and the combination can be lethal.

I notice that many activists are spiritual - not necessarily religious, but have some sort of appreciation for something bigger than ourselves, something beyond the physical world. Working towards ideals of social justice is a way of putting that spirituality in action. But there has to be a way to put some of that energy that we send out into the world, back into ourselves.

It takes more than a warm bubble bath to soothe loneliness. And yes, even when you're surrounded by hundreds of like-minded, chanting peaceniks, you can still feel lonely. It takes more than watching a movie (or two; comedies of course) to erase thoughts that maybe what you're doing isn't going to mean a whole lot in the long run.

Healthy lifestyle choices, socializing (for non-activist purposes), and just doing things for ourselves takes time and effort - the bulk of which we usually reserve for our activism. But that is not where we make the biggest mistake.

Our biggest mistake is not reaching out to our comrades. We need to look after ourselves and each other. That is why it is called an activist "community." Pay attention to when you may not be feeling well, and for signs in others - which may often be subtle.

We won't be able to save the world if we can't save ourselves.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Of Sanctions and Sanity

Hands Off Iran! Peace Rally

On October 6, I was privileged to take part in an anti-war rally with my colleagues of the Edmonton Coalition Against War and Racism (ECAWAR). It was the International Day of Action entitled Hands Off Iran! Similar rallies across the country called for the Canadian government to end its current sanctions against Iran and not to go to war with that country.

ECAWAR expanded that mandate to also call for an end to sanctions against Syria and for Canadians to press for a true anti-war government.

Why end the sanctions? Sanctions against a country is usually an early step in an escalation leading to full-on military intervention. ECAWAR believes in the right of self-determination for all countries, and for diplomatic rather than military solutions.

A couple of days after the rally I got an email from someone who attended, asking why we would also want to end sanctions against Syria, with its tyrannical leader who is mercilessly slaughtering people there.

Supporting the right of self-determination to the people of a country does not mean that we also support the leadership of that country or condone its actions. Sanctions tend to hurt the people of a country more than the leaders. And if there is foreign military intervention with the intention of removing that government, it will lead to the deaths of thousands of civilians (just like in Iraq and Afghanistan).

I have also been challenged a few times on the issue of Iran because, after all, they are making nukes. Really? Like those weapons of mass destruction that were never found in Iraq? Like the ones in the United States - the country with the most nuclear weapons in the world? Oh, but Iran is going to use those weapons against Israel. When it comes to the Middle East, Israel has had nuclear weapons for years - it may be a small country, but Israel can certainly take care of itself.

The truth of the matter is (and I am going to paraphrase a meme I found on Facebook the other day): if there is war in a country and a US drone kills a child, the father of that child is going to go to war against the US, regardless of his religion, affiliation, or ideology. Violence begets violence and war begets war. It's a cycle we need to break.

Monday, October 08, 2012

Pure Fantasy

Last week, I was invited to the Purity Driven Conference by one of my Christian Facebook friends. These sorts of conferences pop up every so often in Edmonton, under names like "The Right to Wear White." The purpose of these conferences is to encourage young people to abstain from sex until they are legally married.

Let me preface this by saying there is nothing wrong with choosing to abstain from sex until marriage. Such a decision should be upheld by one's family and community and should never be mocked - just like any other personal decision about one's lifestyle.

However, the problem I have with these sorts of conferences is the pervasive message that those whose vows of chastity have "slipped" or "broken" (just like the condoms that are often erroneously discussed with exaggerated failure rates) are somehow not "pure." It's only logical, that if pre-marital virginity equals purity, then pre-marital non-virginity equals defilement.

What an awful message to send to those young people who may have made mistakes, who may have been coerced into something they were not ready for, who may have given in to the messages of our hyper-sexualized society. And what an awful message to those who made a conscious decision to share an intimate part of themselves with someone they love in the absence of a wedding ring.

The message is also two-sided: sex before marriage makes one "impure" while after marriage you are as pure as the driven snow, even if you're going at it three times and day and four times on Sunday. Yet the damage has been done - the minds of young people are like sponges soaking everything up. Will the "purity switch" really be flipped on the wedding night, or will guilt and shame join the couple between the sheets?

Another issue I have with "purity conferences" is that a lot of the message is aimed at young women. It is as though a large part of our self-worth should be tied up in whether or not our hymens are still intact. If not, we might not have the "right to wear white." Of course that is aimed at girls - men usually don't wear white to their weddings.

Young people are best taught to respect themselves, to respect each other, and to make choices that are right for them.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Omar Khadr Repatriated

After ten years, Canada has finally repatriated child soldier Omar Khadr.

Ten years.

A decade.

Canada, known as a haven for compassion and human rights was the only country not to take its own citizen back from Guantanamo.

This isn't about whether or not Khadr is guilty of anything. Courts here are capable of deciding that and deciding what to do about it.

It's about allowing a citizen to remain in a prison that in and of itself is illegal. The use of torture against prisoners is illegal under the Geneva Convention. By allowing Khadr to remain there, Canada was complicit.

For shame.

Those who say that although he was only 15 at the time of his alleged crime (a child under the law) he was old enough to know right from wrong. That he already had a "terrorist" frame of mind because of his upbringing. What do you think ten years in a torture chamber likely did to his way of thinking?

The racist, mean-spirited comments that have been directed towards Khadr. For shame.

Ten years is a long time. The repercussions of this entire fiasco will last much longer.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Big Trucks and the Downtown Arena

A friend of mine jokes every time he sees someone driving an oversized pickup truck. "Compensation issues," he says, while chuckling.

Daryl Katz has compensation issues, and the truck he is driving are the constant threats he makes of moving the Oilers out of Edmonton if he doesn't get his way with the City for the funding of his pet project: the downtown arena.

By now, most of you in Edmonton probably know that the Katzmeister dropped another wrench into negotiations, by insisting the City provide a $6 million annual subsidy for the operations of the arena. Let me clarify the indignity of this: the man is a billionaire, and he is asking for a subsidy? For his own project? That will be making him a profit?

I am one of the crowd who was against public funds for the arena in the first place. One of my concerns (shared by others) was that as plans moved along, Katz would keep finding reasons for needing more and more City money. Well, I hate to say "I told you so," but - I told you so. At least the City has not acquiesced yet. Yet.

This week's bombshell from Katz should be enough to prove to City Council that he cannot be trusted. Yes, he is going to go before Council to "explain himself" - but really, if anything was a warning sign, this is it. What is to stop him from, after ground is broken and construction begins, from finding some reason why more public funds are needed? Or from him pulling out altogether and leaving taxpayers to deal with the fall out?

The threat of Katz moving the Oilers - that big truck he is driving - seems real, and is a motivator. Even as someone who is not a sports person, I know losing the Oilers would hurt Edmonton. First of all, I don't think a team can be moved without the administration of the NHL approving the move. The market is saturated and there really are not a lot of places the Oilers could go.

The NHL is in the midst of a lock out. No hockey season at the moment. Are cities who actually have NHL teams that win games no longer "world class"? I think not. If Edmonton had no team, it would make us no less world class than we are now. Something else would rise to fill the void. The city is more than hockey.

In fact, an arena really makes no difference either to downtown revitalization or the city's standing as "world class" (which I put in quotation marks because, really - what does that mean? Who decides what "world class" actually is? And does it have to be the same for each city?). Over the next couple of months, Bob Dylan and Paul McCartney respectively will be performing at the Rexall. In the world of musical entertainment, it doesn't get much bigger than those two. And Edmonton attracted them - without an arena. Who would have thought it?

City Council should call Katz's bluff. This isn't "Katzmonton." A billionnaire should not be trying to push City Council around, regardless of how big his truck is. because in the end, the truck is just a prop.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Dis-Organizing Religion

When I first became involved with a church (in fact, one which I planted nearly a decade ago), I often would encounter Christians who were burned out on church. They still believed in God, still read their Bibles, but were frustrated with the organizational structure of houses of worship because of the focus on money

In most Protestant denominations (yes, I am Jewish, and the "church" in question was a fusion of both Jewish and Christian belief, but for the sake of illustration let's just stick with the Evangelical Protestant model) there is a pastor who is accountable to a board who is made up of congregational members. There is a set of bylaw, often referred to as a "Constitution" which is like a code of conduct for everyone involved, outlines the church's mission, and sets accountability. It is necessary to have such a document for the purposes of gaining charitable status with the Canadian government.

The pastor is paid from the tithes collected from the congregation - the proportion of the tithes set aside for staff salaries is usually outlined in the Constitution, with the rest of the money going for things like rent and other administrative costs.

Being a pastor is an incredibly stressful job physically, emotionally, and spiritually. To be in full-time ministry is not feasible in today's society unless you are getting paid. In addition, your life (as well as those of your family members) is constantly held up to scrutiny. The same holds true for many in church leadership like elders and deacons. I believe this is a reason why there is so much "moral failure" amongst church leaders - they simply cracked under the pressure, grabbed the secretary, and headed for the broom closet. I am over-simplifying, but I think you know what I am getting at.

I also know a number of people who fled churches and synagogues, becoming involved with home fellowships where they studied the Bible, sang, and shared. People felt more free to talk about issues that concerned them, they got to connect with the others more intimately (I never understood why people would want to attend "Megachurches" where the only people you get to know, if any, are in whatever small group you choose to take part in), and, best of all, no one's hands are in anyone's pockets.

Tithing is Scriptural (Leviticus 27:30; Malachi 3:9) in terms of the amount and also to give joyfully. Most churches harp on the amount and not the joyful part. Another aspect of tithing not spoken of as often is the fact that you give your 10% *after* you have paid your rent, groceries, and other essential bills. It's net, not gross.

But when an institution that is supposed to focus on spirituality becomes driven by money, other messages get lost also. While sermon after sermon harp on issues like homosexuality or abortion, other issues laid out by the Bible are rarely, if ever, touched upon. When was the last time you heard a sermon about business people who lie in order to score a deal? Or CEOs of corporations who profit from the labour of others? Or government leaders who are dishonest with their constituents and engage in foreign policy that leads to the murders of millions overseas? Probably not recently.

I'll tell you why not: because church leadership cannot afford to risk alienating the rich business people and Conservative government supporters who may be in the congregation. People who will pick up and take themselves (and their tithes) elsewhere. When a church is run as a business, business decisions have to be made that are in its best interests, and this filters down to the messages that are presented.

It should thus be no surprise that faith and politics are so intertwined. The US is heading towards an election, and all kinds of messages are coming from both Christian and Jewish leaders about the need to elect the "right" candidate (no pun intended). A government that supports corporations and big business and imperialistic foreign policy serves those who benefit from it the best (the rich), and the more rich people in a congregation, the richer the church will be.

Mega-churches (and whatever the Jewish synagogue equivalent is) are really corporations unto themselves operating under the guise of spirituality. Smaller churches also are affected by similar issues (rich congregants = more tithes) although at least there is some more accountability on the parts of everyone involved, since more people within the church itself are likely to know each other (which leads to another problem of everyone knowing everyone else's business, but I digress).

Because of all of these issues, I have found myself really wanting to connect spiritually in a house environment, or even just amongst two or three others, or even one on one, depending on the situation. Why does worship and study have to be in a set place and time? Where does it say in the Bible that we have to be in a structured church with a paid leader? No one paid Jesus. Instead, He paid in the end. And that should be the ultimate lesson to us all.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Feminism and Paradigm Shifts

I recently helped organize an event called Daughters Day, the purpose of which was to celebrate the lives and achievements of girls and young women, while raising awareness of human rights abuses against them.

One of the comments I met again and again was that, in order for a better quality of life and equality for all girls and young women to be achieved, there needs to be a paradigm shift in society. We can decry human rights abuses and lack of equality all we want, but unless there is systemic change, things will remain the same.

These comments seem vague. Digging deeper, here are the two major issues that need to be addressed by society as a whole to make things better for one half of it.

Attitudes of Men

Early on, a woman leader in the Aboriginal community emphasized the need for men to take a stand on issues pertaining to women's rights. In Edmonton, there are two major walks for missing and murdered Aboriginal women - both organized by women. Both featuring mostly women speakers. In fact, most protests and rallies dealing with women's issues feature a program of women.

This is why the organizers of Daughters Day specifically asked a male Aboriginal activist to be a speaker (Lewis Cardinal), about being a role model and the need for men to speak up.

We were very encouraged that so many men attended Daughters Day and brought their daughters - and sons - with them. A question I was personally asked frequently in interviews was if boys and young men would have anything to gain from Daughters Day. I said yes - part of the mission of Daughters Day is education and hopefully we are contributing towards raising a next generation of men who will be more enlightened and in a better position to stand up for their sisters, aunts, cousins, mothers - and, of course, their own daughters, eventually.

Popular Culture

Popular culture has always been a woman's worst enemy. From airbrushed photos to models who are painfully thin, girls internalize an impossible (and unrealistic) standard of beauty from a young age.

Exposure to media that glorifies feminine weakness and abuse is also a rampant problem. Look at what movie and book series is very popular with "tweens" right now: Twilight. At the centre of the story is a relationship between a female human and male vampire that is physically and emotionally abusive on a number of levels. I have to admit I have not read any of the books, but I have seen all of the movies thus far (don't judge me).

Why do so many young women think that this is okay? For some, it started when boys started teasing or hitting them. When they complained to an adult they were told that boys acted that way when they "like" a girl. I know - this was told to me numerous times. Later on, when a man is ignoring or stalking or yelling at or hitting a woman, it is just seen as an extension of that childish behaviour. Adults should never condone bullying in any way, especially when boys are picking on girls, because of how this can set the tone for the rest of life.

Just look at all of the women falling head over heels for the fictional character of Christian Grey in the best-selling novel 50 Shades of Grey. I am currently reading it (don't judge me - okay, judge me) and besides the atrocious writing and plot that is barely beyond pornography (and badly written porn, at that), is the character of a woman who abandons her morals, values, and seemingly her brain just because she meets someone who is "ridiculously" good looking (and well-endowed, as she learns later).

I'll tell you what is ridiculous - the fact that so many grown women are joining in the swooning. Swooning over a man with a broken character who takes advantage of a woman simply because he knows how to charm her - well, this is buying into the old stereotype that women care about looks and money (Christian's wealth is mentioned ad nauseum - which is a good description of how I often feel after reading the detailed sexual exploits described in the novel).

If this is the kind of literature (and I use that term loosely) we women glorify, we really have not come far at all. I challenge women who enjoy 50 Shades of Grey to read something - anything - that features strong girls and women. Books like Anne of Green Gables, Little Women, and anything by Jane Austen should be required reading in schools. Personally, I'd love to see a novel featuring a hot, sexual relationship that is between two people who are equals - and which is not pornographic. Anyone have any suggestions?

In Conclusion

Women will move closer towards equality when society experiences paradigm shifts in terms of how men treat and stand up for us, as well as how popular culture portrays us. We have a role to play in helping to educate our brothers while not glorifying media that continues to expound bad stereotypes and glorify abuse as romance or eroticism.

Friday, September 07, 2012

Bicycle Commuting Vent

***Language Warning***

I am an avid bicycle commuter. I ride my bike to do everything from short errands around my neighbourhood, to attend events, to get to work-related activities. Sometimes I ride on quiet side streets; sometimes along service roads; and, occasionally I have to venture on to a major artery.

Like many serious cyclists in Edmonton, I cringed with horror when a young man was killed last week when riding on Whyte Avenue. The young man, 21 year old Isaak Kornelsen, bumped a truck's rear view mirror, lost his balance, and fell under a full cement truck. He died instantly. Whyte is one of those major arteries, like Stony Plain Road and Jasper Avenue, that I try to avoid.

But even when riding on a bike path or quieter street, accidents still happen. A few years ago, I was involved in an accident on 102 Avenue near 122 Street - ironically, a route often used by cyclists to avoid the traffic of the aforementioned Stony Plain Road or Jasper Avenue. A driver had opened her driver's side door without checking first, just as I was passing. My upper right arm made contact with the edge of the door. I lost my balance and fell onto the pavement, narrowly avoiding hitting my head (I was wearing a helmet). Had there been a car right behind me, my fate would likely have been the same as Kornelsen's. I was lucky.

Although I had to miss the Critical Mass bike ride held in Kornelsen's honour last Friday due to preparations for a major event with which I was involved last weekend, I have thought about him every time I have mounted my bike this past week. Especially this afternoon. I did one of my "monster commutes" between my home in the west end and Little Italy, where I work much of the time. This involves riding along 102 Avenue, including past Railtown on 109 Street, where things can get interesting. That part of 102 Avenue, stretching to past Churchill Square, is a major traffic and bus route. I try to get off of it as quickly as possible, taking detours along 96 Street and through the LRT pedestrian/bike path.

While I am the first to admit that many cyclists make mistakes when riding, either out of ignorance or audacity, so do pedestrians and motorists. I encountered plenty of both today, and decided to make note of it, right here, as a list of shame.

For Motorists
  • Park your vehicle no more than 50 cm from the curb. Please. You don't realize how far some of your equipment (like, for instance, a rear view mirror) juts out.
  • Do a shoulder check before opening your door. For the love of all things good and holy, it only takes an extra second or so.
  • When you open the driver's side door, don't keep it open perpetually. Close the fucking thing when you're the done whatever the fuck you're doing. Don't make me have to weave around you.
  • You have turning signals. Use them. How else am I supposed to anticipate your next move? Don't make me take that risk. You are surrounded by three tons of metal. I am not.
  • I got to the red light first. You will just have to wait until you take your fucking right turn. It is ILLEGAL to drive around me like you are entitled to take your turn right then and there, cutting me off when the light finally does turn green. Be patient and burn your fossil fuels when it's YOUR FUCKING TURN.
  • Don't even think of honking, yelling, or otherwise exhibit obnoxious behaviour when you are behind me. It's distracting, and besides - you're wrong. A bicycle is a vehicle and I have every right to be on the road, same as you. So shut the fuck up.

    For Pedestrians
  • When you are crossing an intersection whilst smoking, please don't blow your stinking crap in my face. Your shit fills my lungs and I can't fucking breath. Unlike you, I am trying to make healthy choices and I don't need your fucking second hand smoke.
  • You are not supposed to start crossing at an intersection when the hand is blinking. You know what is going to happen? The light is going to turn green, I am going to be stuck there waiting for you to get to the other side, and the vehicles behind me are going to get pissed off. This creates a very stressful situation. And it's all your fault.
  • When I am on a shared sidewalk/trail and you are ahead of me, I will do whatever I can to warn you of my impending presence. I will ring my little bell and shout that I am passing. I will keep doing this until I get your attention. Note: in order for me to get your attention, you have to be paying attention. Stop yammering to the person beside you for a second. Don't walk around with the music so loud in your headphones that you can't hear. And when you do hear me: MOVE! What the fuck do you think the bell means? I'm not a fucking ice cream truck.

    It is not often that I curse out loud, but this is a very emotional issue and a matter of life and death, so I decided not to self-censor. As we move towards a world where more and more people are choosing a sustainable lifestyle, there will be even more bicycles on the road (I hope). There is no room on the road for stupidity - from anyone.
  • Alberta Street News' New Website

    I used to always post about my new projects here, pretty much as soon as possible after the project was finished or went live. However, these past few months have been absolutely crushingly busy.

    One project I definitely want to mention briefly is that I designed a new website for Alberta Street News. I had worked on a very scaled-down site for its previous incarnation, Edmonton Street News, since 2009.

    However, when the paper expanded into Calgary last year, a change was in order. Hence, the birth of the new site. As well, I brought the paper further into the social media world with its own Facebook page. ASN has been on Twitter for some time now.

    I am a huge fan of street newspapers. They are a way for the marginalized to earn a living while giving them an outlet for their thoughts and creativity. I was involved for a while with the now-defunct Our Voice, and made the transition to Edmonton Street News shortly thereafter.

    Enjoy the new site, and be sure to buy a physical copy of Alberta Street News from a badged vendor.

    Daughters Day Celebrates and Makes History

    Daughters Day

    On September 1, history was made in Edmonton.

    The first ever Daughters Day took place in Churchill Square. Organized by a grassroots group of community members from different cultures and walks of life, Daughters Day was in the making for over a year. Its purpose is to celebrate the lives and achievements of girls and young women, while raising awareness of human rights abuses against them. The idea actually materialized amongst some older men in the Indo-Canadian community, and it was not hard to get support from other groups and organizations.

    Almost an entirely volunteer effort, we met regularly to plan the event, as well as two community engagement sessions leading up to it. The first took place on March 8 (International Women's Day) and had an Aboriginal theme. The Carrot Community Coffeehouse was packed to listen to Phyllis Sinclair sing, and then get advice about life from a session of "Ask Your Auntie."

    The second was closer to Mother's Day. "Rebuilding Lives" featured a panel of immigrant women discussing their experiences, moderated by Global's Lesley MacDonald, as well as a main talk from REACH Edmonton's Jan Fox. Held at NorQuest, it was also well-attended.

    However, September 1 was the main event. We got a lot of buzz from the media in the two weeks leading up to it. Two days before that Saturday, we got word that Premier Redford would be attending with her daughter Sarah. This shot the buzz to an entirely new level. Over 400 people attended the event, we got lots of media coverage, and lots of positive feedback.

    What happened? Well, greetings were brought from the different levels of government and organizations like the EPS and RCMP. Four women were awarded as "Daughters of the Year," including our keynote speaker, Karina Pillay-Kinnee, the mayor of Slave Lake. There were performances of dance, drama, and music. I had the privilege of performing the official Daughters Day theme song I wrote especially for the event.

    Daughters Day is important to anyone who is or has a daughter. All women, regardless of who we are or how old are are, are someone's daughter. We need to keep striving for equality and human rights, especially now in current events where women are being told by men how and why their bodies work - something very "akin" to ignorance. The organizing committee is currently reviewing the event and making decisions about where to go from here. To learn more about our future plans, join our Facebook page, follow us on Twitter or keep checking back at our website, which is going to be revamped in the near future.

    Sunday, August 19, 2012

    An Independent Jewish Voice

    On Friday, August 17, I took part in a rally at the Alberta Legislature to support the people of Palestine. The date of August 17 was significant as it was Al-Quds Day, the final day of the month of Ramadan observed by Muslims. Rallies were held throughout the world.

    I was asked to speak as a representative of Independent Jewish Voices. The organizers wanted someone who was Jewish to speak on the subject of Zionism and Judaism not being the same thing. The Edmonton Coalition of War and Racism was also contacted for speakers, and since I am also part of that organization, I was the natural choice.

    Admittedly, I was quite nervous. Although I have written a couple of songs about this topic, I have never given a speech on it before and I had no idea how well I would be received. Thanks to some sage advice from both IJV and friends at ECAWAR, I was able to succinctly summarize my stance and discuss what IJV is all about. Afterwards, numerous people came up to me and said they appreciated my words and presence.

    Here is my speech, and below it a video of my giving it at the event. Here is a playlist of most of the speeches from the rally, and photos from the event are here.


    I am with IJV as well as ECAWAR. I’m an example of someone who grew up seeing the Middle East in a certain way, and then reexamining it and realizing that there is another side that includes many contradictions and inconsistencies out of line with the idealized representation of the supposed land of milk and honey. Here is an example: I was born and raised in Canada, and have never been to the Middle East. Yet because I am Jewish, if I ever moved to Israel I would get automatic citizenship, just because I happen to be Jewish. However, there are people who have lived there all their lives, for generations even, who don’t even have basic human rights. That, to me, just doesn’t make sense.

    However, I also soon learned that challenging the status quo is often suppressed and marginalized by organizations that consider themselves the Jewish establishment and claim to speak for the entire Jewish community, including on a national level.

    Independent Jewish Voices offers another perspective. Independent Jewish Voices consists of Canadian Jews who share a strong commitment to social justice and universal human rights. Although we come from diverse backgrounds, occupations, and affiliations, we all believe that the broad spectrum of opinion among the Jewish population of this country is not reflected by institutions that claim to represent Jewish communities as a whole. We further believe that individuals and groups should feel free to express their views on any issue of public concern without incurring accusations of disloyalty.

    We have therefore resolved to promote the expression of alternative Jewish voices, particularly in respect to the grave situation in the Middle East, which threatens the future of Palestinians and Israelis as well as the stability of the whole region. We hereby reclaim the tradition of Jewish support for universal freedoms, human rights, and social justice. The lessons we have learned from our own history compel us to speak out.

    Independent Jewish Voices is also the first national Jewish organization in the world which formally adopted BDS (Boycott Divestment Sanctions) in 2009. We exist to stand in solidarity with Palestinian rights which have been systematically violated by Israel and by Zionist forces since before the founding of Israel. Zionism does not equal Judaism (and vice versa), and historically Zionism was opposed by almost all organized branches of Judaism. And, in fact, there are some very strong Jewish voices today from within Israel who have remained fierce critics of Israeli colonial settlement policy in the Occupied Territories for many years.

    True Judaism represents diversity of opinion, intelligence of thought, and a commitment towards values that include social justice. There is a principle in Judaism called Tikkun Olam, which means “healing the world” or “repairing the world.” As a Jewish woman, I would be a hypocrite if my effort at Tikkun Olam did not extend to the Palestinian people, and as part of this, speaking out about the contradictions and inconsistencies in what is supposedly our promised land. Thank you.

    Wednesday, July 18, 2012

    Buena Vista/Sir Wilfrid Laurier Park Master Plan: Share the Trails

    Buena Vista Dog Park by raise my voice
    Dog walkers and cyclists need to cooperate. The future of the Buena Vista off leash area is at stake.
    The City of Edmonton is proposing some pretty significant changes to the Buena Vista/Sir Wilfrid Laurier Park area in the west end. Buena Vista in particular is significant because it is an off leash park that is very popular with dog owners.

    I have often enjoyed riding my bike around Sir Wilfrid Laurier Park and attending picnics there. Other than maybe some road upgrades and modernization of the washroom facilities, I don't really have any complaints.

    I do have some concerns with the plans for the Buena Vista area. They include adding lots of parking stalls, paving trails, and building fences to separate dog walkers and cyclists.

    Buena Vista is one of the few areas of natural green space in the city. There are some places where you can stand amongst the trees and bushes, and it literally feels like you are out in the countryside. Adding a plethora of parking will diminish this green space. As Joni MItchell sings, they plan to "pave paradise and put up a parking lot."

    Paving the trails and building separation boundaries seems to favour cyclists. I personally enjoy riding on the gravel trails - again, it makes me feel like I am somewhere else. I can ride on paved roads almost anywhere else in the city.

    What the area needs is more cooperation between the dog walkers and cyclists. As a cyclist, it pains me to say that there are many irresponsible people on two wheels riding through Buena Vista. They speed through there with little regard for anyone else, and paving the trails will only encourage this behaviour.

    Instead of separations, education and communication aimed at sharing the area is needed. The City should not be trying to change something that is already wonderful - I am also a dog walker, and most of the people I have spoken to down there are not in favour of the changes at all.

    The one change I support are adding washrooms to the Buena Vista off leash area. There are a couple of porta potties here and there, which are not sufficient for a park of that size and usage.

    The City should better use its planners and funds to improve the road leading down to Buena Vista, Sir Wilfried Laurier Park, and the Valley Zoo. It is in terrible condition and is an embarassment to the City, that people heading to one of Edmonton's main attractions should have to experience it. As a cyclist, I find all of the potholes and unevenness dangerous.

    The City is asking stakeholders to complete a survey by August 3. Dog walkers and those otherwise not in favour of what could potentially happen are being encouraged to support Concept 1 (more off leash to the north) and oppose Concepts 2 and 3. Be sure to fill out the comments and explain why dramatically changing the face of Buena Vista is a bad idea.

    Friday, June 01, 2012

    Absolute Zero

    I am shrugging my shoulders and rolling my eyes like an unimpressed teenager, at my alma mater Ross Sheppard Composite High School.

    The school has apparently adopted a "no zero" policy over the past few years. One teacher, Lynden Dorval, has chosen to continue giving zeros to students who do not complete or turn in assignments, and has been suspended as a result. Here is a link to the article at the Edmonton Journal concerning this situation.

    According to the Edmonton Public School Board, the no zero policy varies from school to school and is not an official policy of the EPSB. On a post on its Facebook page, it also claims that the reason for Mr. Dorval's suspension had to do with a more serious disciplinary issue and could not comment further.

    Perhaps something more serious is at issue here. I don't know Mr. Dorval personally, but I am gleaning from the media reports I am reading that if his violation of Shep's no zero policy is not the only reason he was suspended, it was a major one. It took a lot of courage for him to come out so publicly against a policy clearly against his principles as a teacher with 35 years' experience.

    As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I spent my high school years at Ross Sheppard. And, I am willing to admit, I got a zero on an assignment. It was a biology lab report that I failed to turn in on time because I misheard the teacher's instructions. Or maybe I was not paying close enough attention; I don't remember. However, I did not argue with him - I made a mistake, which proved costly to my final average, but it was my mistake. I took responsibility for it. I worked extra hard to try to compensate for it.

    Advocates of the no zero policy claim that a zero is often a behavioural issue, not a knowledge one, and should be dealt with as such. I am pretty sure my lab report represented my understanding of the topic, and had I handed it in on time, I would have gotten a decent grade. Was my zero due to a behavioural issue? Maybe - maybe I was not paying enough attention. I was a teenager - it was possible. Whatever way I choose to analyze it, I lacked knowledge of the proper instructions. So it was both a behaviour and a knowledge issue. The consequence was a zero.

    Learning to follow instructions is part of a well rounded education, regardless of the specific class subject matter. I did not follow the instructions. Learning to take responsibility for your actions is another part of getting an education. In my biology class, the lesson was learned. The fact I can remember as much of it as I do now means it made an important impact.

    By the way, I went in to the University of Alberta and earned a Bachelor of Education a few years later. The idea of avoiding giving a student a zero never came up either in my classroom work or student teaching.

    I will be watching with interest as the future of Mr. Dorval's teaching career is decided, as well as the future of this policy. If anything, Mr. Dorval has brought attention to a school policy that does not help students for the real world. And isn't that supposed to be one of the major functions of our educational system? If it isn't, it should be.

    Sunday, March 25, 2012

    Raise My Voice Becomes Radical Citizen Media

    In September of 2005 I attended a peace march. I brought a camera and took pictures. I posted those pictures online. This behaviour became a habit.

    People looked at the photos. They looked a lot. So much, in fact, that the server I posted them on, crashed.

    As a result, I purchased a domain and hosting plan. The website was called RaiseMyVoice.com and became a portal to the photos and videos I shot at rallies and events concerning human rights, social justice, the environment, women's issues, poverty, and a host of other topics, mostly from progressive and left of centre viewpoints.

    After a while, the website became one of the largest historical archives of citizen engagement in Edmonton at such events. RaiseMyVoice.com needed to be updated more and more frequently, and required more categories, better organization, and a cleaner look.

    This week, RaiseMyVoice.com got the overhaul it needed. It was such an overhaul that I decided to change the website entirely.

    With the new look comes a new name: Radical Citizen Media.

    There are more events organized by subject matter than ever. More categories. The videos are easier to find. Photo sets lost and broken have been found and fixed. The design is cleaner, navigation is easier, and updates now include embedded photos and videos.

    I have been called Edmonton's Indymedia because of my commitment to documenting progressive and left-wing citizen engagement in Edmonton. That commitment is going to be met even better moving forward. Radical Citizen Media is now both a serious part of Edmonton's media scene and valuable historical archive.

    Wednesday, March 21, 2012

    Introducing Friends of Church Street

    The horse-drawn wagon depicted above is winding its way through Church Street. To the left is Queen of Martyrs Vietnamese Catholic Church, and on the right is Sacred Heart Church of the First Peoples.

    Church Street is one of Edmonton's most valuable historic resources. Although not officially called that - yet - Church Street is located along and around 96 Street in the McCauley neighbourhood, part of the inner city which is currently undergoing revitalization efforts.

    Friends of Church Street is a new organization seeking to promote the historical significance of the area. It all started in the fall of 2010 when I was a Community Animator for McCauley with Action for Healthy Communities. Part of my job was to encourage and facilitate residents in grassroots community initiatives. One such initiative was the McCauley Connects Coffeehouse, which regularly features local talent.

    The other initiative came from a woman named Colleen Chapman, who also happens to share Volunteer Coordinator duties with me at Boyle McCauley News. Church Street was in the process of being honoured by the Edmonton Historical Society and Colleen thought it would be great to have a Church Street Fair in the summer of 2011.

    Planning an event of this magnitude proved to be too much for just a few months, so the event ended up getting pushed ahead to 2013. However, in the meantime, Colleen gathered together a group of community members and boosters to form Friends of Church Street. I am the Communications Director, and in addition to planning the Fair, we seek to raise awareness of and attention towards the history, architecture, and importance of Church Street.

    The City of Edmonton is indeed taking notice of just how important the area is. This article, published in the February 27 issue of the Edmonton Journal, reveals that the City may very well make the name Church Street official.

    Church Street is a boost to both McCauley's revitalization and the City in general. There is a rich history behind many of the churches, and the architecture is spectacular. In fact, Church Street has put Edmonton in the Guinness Book of World Records - 96 Street still holds the record for the highest concentration of churches within the few blocks it spans.

    We launched our website today and are also on Facebook and Twitter (@ChurchStreet96).

    What are some of your ideas concerning Church Street? Any suggestions for the fair? Walking tours? Souvenirs? Contact us and get involved!

    Wednesday, March 07, 2012

    Freedom to Read is Freedom to Live

    Books - glorious books. We often take for granted our ability to walk into a book store or library and acquire pretty much any title we wish. At various points in history, and in other parts of the world, others have not been as fortunate. If we live in a society of censorship and inability to access resources we want and need, this affects our quality of life. It affects our freedom not only to read, but our freedom to be full, functioning citizens.

    Freedom to Read Week recently concluded. As a closing speaker, the Edmonton Public Library brought in David Barsamian, host of Alternative Radio to speak on March 3. Barsamian spoke about the importance of language when trying to discuss and influence the political scene.

    Barsamian began his talk about speaking a bit about the robocall scandal that has come to light in recent weeks. He followed that up by pointing out that people tend to know more about what is going on in the world of sports rather than politics.It reminded me of an in-joke between myself and a few friends. "How was the game?" we would ask each other, with sarcasm, whenever we pretended to imitate what we considered to be a citizen oblivious of current events.

    David then spent some time talking about what libraries mean to him. He claims that they literally saved his life, as he described his parents as "country bumpkins" who were ignorant of literature and history. He found his own learning endeavours more fruitful than from formal education, describing schools as "holding pens" and "daycare centre" (especially the younger grades).

    Taking a fair amount of time discussing books that influenced him, Orwell's 1984 and Animal Farm were quoted numerous times. He also spoke about language and memory, citing the state control of learning through what he called "inverted language." As an example, he used an editorial from the Calgary Herald referring to the Alberta tarsands with the much sanitized term "oilsands. This manipulation of language can also be described as "greenwashing" and "astroturfing." He emphasized the need for the correct terms to be used (like "capitalism" instead of "free market," and "imperialism" instead of "foreign policy" as other examples). Referring to the U.S. as the "United States of Amnesia," Barsamian warned against the use of the passive voice because it avoids responsibility. For example, "Bombs were launched" - but by who? He recommended that all writers read Orwell's "Politics and the English Language" and referred to many journalists as simply "agents of mass distraction" and "lapdogs with laptops."

    Another warning was the citizens are vulnerable if they cannot break down terms of propaganda and see through "coded language." "We have neighbourhoods - we have strongholds," for example. He also explained how "stupidity is constructed" through such means as getting people to believe things through constant repetition. Barsamian also explained the history and definition of propaganda, discussing the father of the term, Edward Bernays, before talking more about censorship.

    David Barsamian's talk reinforced my belief in citizens educating themselves by seeking out alternative forms of news and communications rather than mainstream media, and to really think about the messages that bombard us during day to day life. It was also a reminder to head to your local library and read as much as you can on topics that are important. Other than sports, that is.

    To view all of the videos of David Barsamian's talk that I filmed, click here.