Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Article on Women and Activism

At the end of March, an article I wrote about the challenges of being a woman involved in activism was published by FLURT, a website for and by young women. Confessions of a Female Activist was part autobiographical and part inspired by my female comrades in the struggle.

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Write the Power: Writing Workshop

I led a writing workshop on May 20 as part of the "Writing Quarters" series organized by E4C called "Write the Power: Words on Activism." Below are my notes, as well as the work I created during the writing exercises.
Writing Quarters
“Write the Power:” Words on Activism

I. Introduction (10 minutes) a. Introduce myself: Community/alternative journalist; activist; led a workshop last year on community journalism
b. Go around table and ask for introductions; why are you here?

II. Writing Prompts (10 minutes writing time each; sharing optional: 10-15 minutes each)
a. Slogan/Chant: Pick a social cause and write a 1-2 line slogan or chant.
(Examples: The people united will never be defeated.
Whose street? Our streets. Who decides? We decide.)

b. Poem/Song: Pick a social cause and write a verse or two of a poem (any style) that could be done as spoken word at a protest.

My example, inspired by protests against Bill C-51:

The clock is ticking
Human rights fading
Government taking
Our freedoms, our voices
Leaving us no choices

This is why we're fighting
To keep the fire igniting
Stand up and be counted
Take the power back

c. Meditation on “The Ideal World:” Activism is ultimately about making the world a better place, regardless of the cause. Describe the “ideal world” in verse or prose.

My example:

John Lennon's famous words "You might say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one" really resonated with me from the first time I ever heard the song "Imagine." I like to think of myself as a dreamer and my dream involved a world without war, hunger, or homelessness. Where people treat each other with respect and are not afraid to love. Changing the world means changing the world around us. It starts with the people in our daily lives and then hopefully creates a ripple effect. That is my dream, a dream of universal love leading to a more loving universe.

d. Open prompt: Take any of the three pieces created during the workshop thus far, and build on it. (write more slogans; a few more verses of the poem; expand the “Ideal World” theme.

I expanded the spoken word poem I wrote on Bill C-51:

Take the Power Back

The clock is ticking
Human rights fading
Government taking
Our freedoms, our voices
Leaving us no choices

This is why we're fighting
To keep the fire igniting
Stand up and be counted
Take the power back

There can't be justice
When all of those amongst us
Are hit with a label
Called terrorists, unstable
Can't gather without suspicion

Don't let them have that ammunition
Stand up and say no
Chart the direction we will go
Take the power back

Once our rights are lost they're gone
Don't let them think that they have won
We've got to stand up,
Stand and be strong
Make a right out of this wrong
And take the power back.

III. Conclusion
a. Encourage participants to stay in touch; share work on my blog.

Monday, June 01, 2015

Speaking Out Against Bill C-51

May 30 was the Third National Day of Action Against Bill C-51. Since it looks like the bill is going to pass the Senate, the emphasis of the protest was to encourage people to vote the Conservatives (who introduced the bill) out in the upcoming federal election. I spoke at the rally on behalf of Independent Jewish Voices.

My name is Paula Kirman. Take a good look at me: I am a peace activist whose activities trying to advocate for a better world make me potentially a criminal guilty of hate crimes. You see, I am the Alberta representative on the steering committee of Independent Jewish Voices of Canada. We are a grassroots group of Jewish Canadians who believe in working towards a just resolution to the conflict in Israel/Palestine. We are, of course, in favour of legitimate criticism of the government of Israel's actions. Because of this, our spokesperson has said that he believes that he and other members of our organization are under surveillance. But that is not enough for the Harper government.

According to a May 11 CBC News report, the Harper government is planning to use hate crime laws against Canadians who advocate boycotts of Israel in support of the rights of Palestinians. In 2014, hate speech laws were amended by the government to add the category of "national origin" to those protected under the legislation. This was widely seen as laying the groundwork to criminalize criticism of Israel.

The government's need to make such an amendment to advance its efforts to criminalize support for Palestinian rights indicates that it could find no legal basis upon which to accuse Canadians of racial or religious hatred, already protected in hate-speech laws.

In January of this year, Canada's then-foreign affairs minister, John Baird, signed a "memorandum of understanding" with Israeli authorities in Jerusalem, pledging to combat BDS (Boycotts, Divestments, Sanctions), referring to it as a form of “new” anti-Semitism. Even more recently, Conservative Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney has called for "zero tolerance" of criticism of Israel and that Canadian hate laws could be applied to those campaigning for BDS.

We find this ludicrous as BDS is a legitimate, peaceful, and non-violent way to express protest towards the government of Israel. It requires not doing something, not being complicit, and encouraging others to not do something: to not purchase goods from Israel, particularly those produced on disputed or occupied land. This is not much different than when I was in high school and there were boycotts against South Africa, which was still under apartheid. Even Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu has described Israel as an “apartheid state” and has said, “We learned in South Africa that the only way to end apartheid peacefully was to force the powerful to the table through economic pressure.”

IJV supports BDS in cooperation with the United Church's Unsettling Goods campaign, which also supports BDS. How many of you are members of the United Church of Canada? Now you are potentially criminals also, for the same reason.

IJV, in a press release, has asked that the government explain what “zero tolerance” for criticism of Israel actually means. Thus far, we have not gotten a clear response, nor has any other individual or group who have asked a similar question.

Bill C-51 would take the criminalization of dissent even further. Bill C-51 is an assault on our right to freedom of speech, thought, and conscience. Its definition of advocacy or promotion of “terrorism offences in general” is basically whatever Harper wants it to be. It has no defences for legitimate expression of political or religious thought.

It is designed to silence us, to instill fear about speaking out, to be afraid of indefinite detention and arrest without warrant. It creates a police state in Canada where CSIS can be “legally” authorized to conduct black ops and dirty tricks, including entrapment. It invades our privacy and allows CSIS and the RCMP to “share” information - as they did with Maher Arar.

The aim is to silence dissenting voices. I used to consider myself lucky to live in a country like Canada where we could be free to criticize the government without repercussions. Those days are sadly ending. Bill C-51 flies in the face of Canadian values of freedom and diverse opinions. The Conservatives are anti-Canadian – not protesters.

Why are Israel's critics being slammed? I believe this is a political move by Harper in anticipation of an election to try to court the evangelical Christian and right-wing Jewish vote. What can we do? There is an election coming. I've never been one to tell people how to vote, but we need to vote the Conservatives out. The Liberals, who supported Bill C-51, are no better. Vote for a party that will repeal Bill C-51 and, while perhaps not agree with everything each and every one of us may espouse, would at least protect our freedom of speech and expression. Once human rights are taken away, they are difficult to get back.

So, once again, take a good look at me – one of the faces of Harper's enemies - and hear me when I say that we are heading down a slippery slope and we have the power to change things. We did it in Alberta and we can do it federally. We have to.