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 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. needed to be updated more and more frequently, and required more categories, better organization, and a cleaner look.

This week, 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.

KONY 2012 and Activist Strategies

Yesterday evening, I noticed that one of my younger Facebook friends had changed her Facebook profile picture to a red square saying KONY 2012. Upon further investigation, I was led a to video produced by the NGO Invisible Children, which explains the horrific actions of Joseph Kony, leader of a guerilla resistance group that he started in Uganda called the Lord's Resistance Army in the mid-80s. The Army's "recruits" are children, mostly 13 and under, who are stolen from their parents. The boys are forced to fight, while the girls are made into sex slaves. As a result, The Hague has indicted Kony for war crimes in 2005, but has managed to evade capture and arrest.

The KONY 2012 campaign seeks to secure Kony's arrest this year by making sure that influential policy makers know that there is outrage over Kony's actions. The United States has already deployed 100 military advisers to Uganda to train the legitimate army there in tactical matters to help track Kony. However, the concern is that if there is no public pressure, the continuation of the U.S. providing military support in a non-combative role as well as the necessary technology may be called off.

So, through an Internet campaign that has gone viral, KONY 2012 is making Joseph Kony famous in a way that will influence people to put pressure on the policy makers who can keep things going in the right direction. If the government sees that people care, it is in its best interests to do something, right? Some of the tactics encouraged by Invisible Children include wearing t-shirts, plastering posters and stickers in public places, and forwarding information through social media. Basically, the same things that many grassroots activists do concerning a variety of causes, perhaps without such a high profile.

If anything the KONY 2012 campaign is a testament to the current power of the Internet and social media. It is so far being the most successful in raising awareness of Joseph Kony and his horrific crimes, which without a doubt are worthy of his arrest and punishment. However, the campaign has also come under fire for reeking slightly of colonialism and White Man's Burden. Scepticism of the use of celebrities also comes into play (here comes Bono to the rescue - again!), as well as the fact that often issues are far more complicated than being a matter of simply wearing a wristband or hanging a poster. For instance, Kony uses his child soldiers as bodyguards, so as Political Science professor Chris Blattman points out, getting at him runs the risk of resulting in many children being killed.

I am personally not a fan of military solutions, even if there is a non-combative intention. First of all, sometimes the government is not exactly honest when it comes to portraying exactly what its military is doing overseas. Canada's role in Afghanistan was always referred to as a "mission" whereby the military was in a peacekeeping role, helping to build schools and protect the rights of women. However, given the civilian casualties and other politically motivated factors for our imperialistic presence, demonstrated that it was, in reality, a war. I am a pacifist. This was not acceptable in Afghanistant, and I would not find it acceptable in Africa either. Outside of the military, there have been activists working in Uganda to bring down Kony. What about the Ugandan government itself? Invisible Children has not really addressed this - just the military.

The other problem, as some of the links critical of the KONY 2012 campaign also explain, is that sometimes the "legitimate" army of a country where there is a rebellion going on, really is not all that legitimate after all. The Sudanese and Ugandan military also have accusations of rape and looting. A government has to be careful with whom it is making a military alliance, as a result. Unless, of course, it has something to gain - in which case, human rights abuses are often ignored. Plus, where there is a "bad guy" (as Kony is described to the filmmaker's toddler son), there are usually others just like him waiting in the wings.

Without a doubt, Joseph Kony needs to be stopped. With some hesitation, I do support the KONY 2012 campaign and have purchased an action kit. I think that the method the campaign proposes has flaws, but at the very least people need to be aware of what is going on and seek solutions. After all, as has been pointed out, if children in North America were being kidnapped and forced to kill or be raped, it would be all over the news.

However, we also need to learn about the criticism aimed at its direction and ask questions when necessary. I am always being told that activists are quick to hop on to any bandwagon or cause, without looking at all the issues first. Let's get involved, but be smart about it.

Friday, March 02, 2012

A Dubious Honour: Nestle Protest

An honorary degree is a very high accolade to bestow upon someone. Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, Chair of Nestle, received this honour yesterday from the University of Alberta.

The decision to award Brabeck-Letmathe in this way came with controversy since day one of it being announced. The outcry against the U of A's decision came to a head yesterday when a rally was held outside the Timms Centre for the Arts shortly before the ceremony was set to begin.

Breastfeeding advocates, almuni, experts in water security, students, parents, and professors spoke (in varying combinations,such as a breastfeeding advocate with five children of her own, and a professor who is an environmental specialist).

The bottom line was that Nestle has had a spotty record in its actions as a multinational corporation, particularly in two areas. First, by selling its baby formula to women in the Third World by saying it was better than breast milk. In these countries, water is scarce and often contaminated. Formula has to be mixed with water. Babies were getting sick and dying, and by the time the mothers realized what was wrong, their own breast milk had dried up.

The other thing is Nestle's treatment of water as a commodity. It views water as a foodstuff and is responsible for much of the waste that is bottled water.

One of the speakers raised some excellent questions, asking why precisely this person was chosen to receive an honorary degree instead of being recognized some other way. Why the highest honour a degree-granting institution can give?

The excellent turnout at the rally (I counted between 150-200 people at its peak) demonstrates that people are watching and people do care when it comes to the actions of the University of Alberta. The U of A has a history of excellence which would be painful to see overshadowed by it selling out to corporate interests.

Here is my photo set of the rally.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Attention Please: WCB Injured Workers Rally

You're a worker. You get injured on the job. You make a claim to the Workers Compensation Board. However, your claim is denied. Or, you are met with a maze of paperwork around every corner and doctor's appointment.

Yesterday was the first of three days of protest of injured workers who say that their have been treated unfairly by the WCB. The rally was organized by the workers themselves with support from Occupy Edmonton.

The workers spoke, telling their stories amongst speeches from MLAs and provincial candidates, the songs of the Raging Grannies, and some insight from a local psychologist who has worked on WCB cases.

With a provincial election a couple of months away, the operations of the WCB may become an issue for discussion. The conclusion of everyone who spoke was that the system is broken and in need of an immediate Provincial investigation and reform. Although I personally have never had any dealings with the WCB, I was quite concerned with what I was hearing and think that the stories of these workers is good fodder for some investigative journalism.

Here are the rest of my photos.