Sunday, October 19, 2014

Together, Creating a Better World: Workshop Notes

Together, Creating a Better World - Workshop

Together, Creating a Better World is the title of a handbook (written by long-time activist Jim Gurnett) and more recently, a workshop aimed at women who are new to community organizing. The event was organized by the same group responsible for Daughters Day and took place on October 18 at the Stanley A. Milner branch of the Edmonton Public Library. Four women presented about different aspects of community organizing to close to 30 women from a variety of backgrounds. First, we heard about identifying a social issue and analyzing it. The next presenter spoke about mobilizing the community around a social issue. Then, we learned about organizing a good event on a social issue. I was the final presenter, and spoke about communications: how to effectively get the word out about an event or working group on a particular cause, and documenting events, with an emphasis on the use of social media. Below are my notes from the session, with the hope they will be of value to women and basically anyone who is new to activism and using the technology that is available to organize, promote, and document citizen engagement.

About me:
  • Freelance communications professional who works in traditional and new media.
  • Activist, organizer in peace movement. With Edmonton Coalition Against War & Racism (ECAWAR).
  • For almost a decade been documenting the local activist community at
  • Connect with me on Facebook (search my name - personal and music page); Twitter.

    Why Social Media?
  • Traditional media still has its place: letters to the editor can be effective as well as placing free notices in listings in newspapers.
  • Social media more far-reaching to inform, document, and express concerning issues of social justice.
  • Benefits: Free (or low-cost); low learning curve; relatively simple.
  • Barriers: Not everyone can afford to have access to a computer or smartphone. Can be a classist issue. Not everyone is on social media - can be a generational thing where people are not as used to using a cell phone or computer. Lanaguge if English is not your first language.
  • Solutions: Libraries and some organizations have computers that are free to use. Even homeless people can sign up for an email account. You can post in your native language and reach people in your culture that way. Otherwise, your English does not have to be perfect and there is the opportunity to improve English by using it online.
  • Concerns: Privacy issues: don't post anything you would not feel comfortable with the whole world knowing. Don't post very personal details online. Corporate data mining - the price to pay for using a free service.
  • Smartphones can equal safety in activism: If something goes wrong, someone can photograph or film, and send to social media in real time.

    Integrated Use
  • Overview of the use of Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube, Instagram
  • Hashtags: mark Tweets to make searches specific, eg. #yeg for Edmonton. Create a hashtag for your event, eg. #DD2014yeg for Daughters Day 2014.
  • Facebook events: invite friends, get them to invite friends, etc.
  • Free blogging sites: Wordpress, Blogger
  • links up photos and videos into a blog.
  • Post links to photo albums, events on Twitter.
  • You might want to have a communications subcommittee where someone photographs, and other films, another posts online, due to workload.

    Success Stories
  • Occupy, Idle No More, and recent Palestine solidarity
  • Social media is becoming more accessible and commonly used.
  • Specific social media campaigns, like taking a selfie holding a sign with a message, and posting on Facebook or Twitter.

  • How many of you are familiar with Twitter and Facebook?
  • Have you ever used social media to organize? If so, for what?
  • What concerns do you have about using social media?

    This portion of the workshop was open to questions. Here are some of my comments in response to the excellent questions I was asked:
  • Documenting events can be beneficial if you seek future funding, as you have proof of your previous event and also provide the opportunity for sponsors to be recognized through your photos, etc.
  • If you are photographing a public event in a public space, you don't need direct consent from everyone in attendance to take pictures and post them. You can announce, as a courtesy, that you are filming/photographing and say if anyone has a problem with appearing in photos to let you know. Disclaimer: This is not legal advice. This is from my own experience and what I know of these situations.
  • Saturday, October 04, 2014

    Why I Left the Messianic Movement

    This is a post that is very difficult to write. First of all, I never anticipated that I would write such an entry. Second, it took me a long while to be able to collect my thoughts in a coherent way without airing "dirty laundry" so to speak. Finally, because of the stigma that surrounds Messianic Jews, I had doubts about "outing" myself like this. Although with regards to concerns of the latter, there is enough I have written here and posted elsewhere online that a good Internet search about me could probably reveal much.

    In my late 20s, I became involved with a Messianic church. I am not going to get into the details as to why I was led in this particular direction, other than to say that that is where I was in my life at the time. This church ended up splitting over a dispute concerning the employment of the pastor. I ended up going with the group that split, and formed another Messianic congregation in 2003. I attended there regularly for a little over five years. During that time I was on the board as the secretary, and was a Deacon doing everything from leading worship to giving sermons to sweeping between the pews. I led services when the pastor was absent. I got used to performing music in front of an audience. My knowledge of the Bible and my musical abilities grew, as did my leadership skills. Overall, it was a very positive experience which I look back on fondly, and do not regret.

    When I began getting involved in the local social justice movement I found myself attending less and less. A main reason for this was because activist events are often held on Saturdays. But I began seeing political connections in the church that no longer aligned with my beliefs. There is a huge emphasis on Israel as a nation. Without getting too theological here, I believe there is a difference between Eretz Yisroel as discussed in the Torah, and the modern political state of Israel. I also believe in the separation of church and state.

    I would have a problem with conservative congregations in general because of the "Israel, right or wrong" stance, as well as the interference in people's personal lives. Especially in a small congregation, there are no secrets. And in a large congregation, there is no accountability. As well, I have found that churches seem to be magnets for troubled people, especially in the Messianic movement. And for a compassionate person who can often have boundary issues, this can be dangerous.

    So, in some ways, I am saying that I am walking away from organized religion in general. I am not going to get into the specifics of my personal religious beliefs, because I think those are personal. That being said, a formal congregation does not interest me. I find my faith in nature, in social justice, in my love of others, in the creation of music, and in the many things that happen every day which astound and surprise me and help me grow.

    I still stand behind many of the things I have written about in the past. I don't think there is anything inherently wrong with a Jewish person believing that Jesus is the Messiah. I strongly disagree with Israel persecuting Messianic Jews. I believe people have the right to believe whatever they want as long as they are not harming others. And no one has the right to tell someone they are wrong or belittle them or exclude them because of those beliefs.

    Sometimes as we grow as people, where we are spiritually changes. Following a different path does not make us correct or make our former community wrong. It just means we are moving in different directions. Like I said at the beginning, I have no regrets, and I am not making any apologies for my choices. It is, however, a chapter of my life that has closed. I am looking forward to where my spirituality will take me next.

    Defining the Sacred

    We're in the midst of the Jewish High Holy Days at the moment, the time of year when we, as Jews, are supposed to account for our actions over the past year, atone for our sins, pray, fast, and eat (not necessarily in that order).

    Although I stopped being Shomer Shabbos (Sabbath observing) many years ago, and I don't follow all the laws of Kashruth (kosher diet), I do observe Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) to some extent. I have often explained to people who I won't eat something or do something on a particular day, citing my religious observance as the reason.

    Some find this odd. After all, I am not what one would call a religious person. But saying that you are doing something because of religion seems to label you as such.

    So, what gives?

    I used to say that I do a few token things that connect me with my heritage, because we live in a world where nothing is sacred.

    This was met with objection by someone once. She said she goes to environmental rallies because she holds the environment to be sacred, for example.

    I stood corrected. I was equating "sacred" with "religious."

    What is truly sacred in the world, is what is sacred to us.

    Over the years, I have found that attending rallies on social causes and taking a stand for social justice is a direct expression of my spirituality - even though such things are not part of the 613 Commandments that make up the Jewish Code of Law, for example.

    Social justice, to me, is sacred.

    Perhaps instead of nothing being sacred, nothing is universally sacred, as was pointed out to me this morning when chatting on this topic.

    What is sacred to you?