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
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.