Thursday, August 24, 2017
Documenting Activism: A Practical Guide for Organizers
On August 22, 2017, I presented this workshop on Documenting Activism for the conference Ignite Change: Global Gathering for Human Rights, organized by the John Humphrey Centre for Peace and Human Rights. The session was attended by people from Edmonton, Vancouver, and Toronto. Below is a video recording of my presentation, as well as my notes.
Ignite Change Presentation
Documenting Activism: A Practical Guide for Organizers
Overview of Me and My Work
I showed up to my first peace rally in September of 2005 and asked permission to take photos. I just thought it might be an interesting thing to do. I posted the photos later on, on a blog I had, and the reaction to them online was so huge, the server crashed. I realized that I might be on to something – that no one at that point was documenting the local activist scene and that there was a demand for it – a desire to see photos from events afterwards. I got a better website with more server space, and began to hone my skills in photography and social media, and a short time later, videography. I document through photography and videos, and share my work using social media.
The importance of documentation has several facets. First of all, it is capturing history, perhaps a part of Edmonton's history that is not and has not been widely examined. It keeps a record of what happened, when, and why. It creates something tangible that can be shared with others, both locally and elsewhere, and perhaps even help to form connections between organizations and individuals. I also view what I do as having an artistic element to it – art and activism are very closely connected in my beliefs, as both communicate messages in visual ways. Also, documenting visually, unless someone intentionally sets about using photoshop or some other program in nefarious ways, are ways of presenting the truth of what happens. For example, I videoed Jane Fonda's talk during a panel discussion on pipelines. A number of people expressed their dismay to local media that a celebrity should come up here and be disrespectful, and were basically criticizing what she said, without actually listening to what she said. I gave them that opportunity.
I use YouTube and Flickr for videos and photos, respectively. I find them both intuitive to use and make my work easy to share. I post my work, then share it on Twitter and Facebook. The sharing/retweeting capacities of these social media platforms help spread my work to a wide number of people in a relatively short period of time. I have been using Instagram more and more, because I like how it enables someone to take a photo then send it out to a number of social media platforms at once. For blogging and simple websites, I really like Wordpress because it is so intuitive, but I have also used Blogger.
There have been conversations about the efficacy of the use of social media when it comes to activism. There is agreement about it being a great way to get messages out, but also it's important to be cautious: such as, not accepting any and all friend requests, being careful about sharing personal information, and issues of privacy and permission (photographing people in public places taking part in public events in fair game in Canada (mostly – laws are different in Quebec), but there may be times when it would be appropriate to ask permission. Also, photographing the police is fine as long as you're not interfering with their ability to do their work. Laws can be different in different parts of the world – be sure to research and know before you whip out a camera at a protest somewhere else, to avoid getting into legal trouble.). And there have been conversations about the subject matter itself, discussing different sides of the issues, which is really what we want to do: foster discussion about issues concerning conflict and human rights.
a) In June of 2015 Justin Trudeau was in Edmonton to help launch the campaign of Amarjeet Sohi, who was running for MP as a Liberal in Edmonton-Mill Woods (he was subsequently elected). The Edmonton Coalition Against War and Racism (ECAWAR for short), of which I am a part, was organizing a series of pickets against Bill C-51, which the Liberals voted in favour of, with the promise that if elected, they would revise some of the more problematic parts of the bill (we're still waiting for this to happen). All of the media was inside the banquet hall – except me. I was filming the protest. All of a sudden, I heard a lot of screaming coming from behind me, and I turned around, and there was Justin Trudeau himself. He engaged in an argument with Peggy Morton, and ECAWAR organizer, and I got the whole thing on video and it went viral across the country – I was doing interviews about it with media outlets, and that video is still doing well. This experience really hit home to me the importance of what I was doing – no one else captured this moment – and also how a large part of doing this job I am doing is simply showing up and being in the right place at the right time.
b) I was a co-organizer of the Women's March on Washington – Edmonton Solidarity Event on January 21. If anything shows the power of social media, it is this. Combined with the international media coverage the sister marches were getting (the main march was in Washington, of course), our event page, Twitter, and Instagram went viral. Documenting this was also important to us, so I was doing triple duty as an emcee, videographer, and photographer (we did have an official photographer as well). We saw the numbers on Facebook getting bigger and bigger up until the day itself, when over 4000 people packed the north side of the Legislature grounds. I and one of the other co-organizers, have decided to try to keep the momentum created by the march going and are using social media with a new Facebook page, new Twitter and Instagram accounts (@wmwyeg), and a website (wmwyeg.org).
Documentation, the way that I do it, gives every day citizens a voice and a platform they may not otherwise have had. Mainstream media often does not cover progressive and activist events at great length, if at all. I am putting up entire speeches or at least more than just 30-second soundbites. This also impacts the community in that it creates resources for future actions and the ability to start dialogues on the different issues presented.
Documentation: The Practical Stuff
Photos and Videos
Photos: General (this can be applied to video as well)
Questions & Answers
Workshop: Ask how many people have smartphones. Break into pairs, with those who don't have smartphones teamed with those who do, where applicable. Take pictures of the room, each other, whatever is going on, video each other talking about what aspects of social justice are important to them. Upload to the social media platforms of your choice, with the hashtag #ignitechange2017.