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.