Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Words Pictures Music

I hung my first shingle on the Internet in 1997, when I started my freelance writing business. Since then, my work has expanded to include editing, photography, videography, website design and content, and, most recently, social media.

As well, photography, painting, and poetry consume much of my non-working time. In an effort to bring everything I do together, I started a personal website called My Name Is Paula a couple of years later. However, it did not take long for my work to be scattered all over the Internet on various different website.

Over the years my skills have developed, yet the two main websites I was using to promote myself and my work appeared almost stagnant. I would update the content of course, the but the designs were out of date and difficult to update. Changing times bring, well, changes. So, last week I decided to purchase a new domain and Wordpress my way to a brand new website combining everything still relevant. Behold: Words Pictures Music

Words, pictures, and music pretty well sum up who I am and what I do. Although I tend to loathe the term "branding" as it applies to a person (as opposed to a corporation), a rebranding was definitely in order. There is also a blog at the site, but it will only deal with work and creative projects. My social commentaries will remain here.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Zionism and Religion: A Progressive Jewish Observation

What does it mean to be Jewish? Many people of Jewish background, myself included, were raised to believe that one's Jewishness and loyalty to Israel are inextricably tied together. To question the actions of Israel's government is an act of disloyalty, and one of the few topics that are not open to debate in Jewish circles.

I tend to look at social justice from a faith perspective, and the situation in the Middle East is no different. When I began to question what was going on in Israel/Palestine, I began to question beliefs that were at the core of my Jewish self. Here are some conclusions from a religious viewpoint as to why a Jewish person cannot just blindly accept that Israel is blameless, perfect, pristine, and an example to the international community.

First of all the, so-called "Jewish state" was not founded on religious principles. It was founded by socialist, working class Holocaust survivors. Which is perhaps by, at first, the modern political State of Israel was rejected by many religious branches of Judaism. Zionism was seen as a political, secular movement - not a religious one.

Over time, the Orthodox took over, and Orthodox law is what rules in Israel today. As a result, all cycle of life events have to be overseen by Orthodox auspices, conversions that are not Orthodox are not accepted, and neither is patrilineal descent. In other words, the version of Judaism that the fewest Jews around the world follow is what rules in Israel. So, if you are someone who identifies as Jewish but converted through Conservative or reform (or are the child of a mother who converted as such), or have a Jewish father and was raised Jewish but have a non-Jewish mother, guess what? You are not considered Jewish in Israel. Oh, and only religious marriages are valid, so if your spouse is not Jewish, in Israel you are single.

Yes, a government gets to decide a person's religion. Although Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East, that doesn't speak of freedom to me. Here is another one: Messianic Jews (Jews who believe that Jesus is the Messiah) are not considered Jewish under the Israeli Law of return, even if they are Halachically Jewish (born to a Jewish mother who is considered Jewish under Orthodox law). Now, I know this is a very contentious issue, and I am not intending to start an argument on whether or not Jesus is the Messiah, but I am a firm believer that people have the right to believe whatever they want (even if they are being meshuggah (crazy)). Apparently, the powers that be in Israel don't share that attitude. How ironic, considering how Zionist the Messianic movement is. So, if you are a Messianic Jew, heed my words: Israel does not want you.

Israel does love Evangelical Christians, though. Those same Christians who believe that Jews are going to hell (well, the ones who don't believe in Jesus, anyways). There is a prophecy that Jesus will return if the global Jewish population makes aliyah (moves to Israel). Evangelicals support Israel financially and politically. Israel appreciates this and welcomes them - except for the Jewish Christians/Messianic Jews. Those guys are religious traitors, after all. Yeah, like the Evangelicals putting money and time into conversion efforts against Jews isn't intrusive and borderline anti-Semitic. What a paradox.

As a member of Independent Jewish Voices I am glad I have an outlet for my views on the Middle East and social justice from a Jewish perspective - a progressive Jewish perspective. If you are Jewish and interested in true religious freedom, social justice, and human rights, I hope you will consider joining.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

My Al Quds Speech

Here is the text of my speech delivered on August 2, 2013 at the Al Quds event in Edmonton.

I grew up in a fairly traditional Jewish home, where I often equated Judaism with Israel. Much later on as I began to explore issues concerning the Middle East, I realized that I had only been presented with one side of the story. I began to question why, if Israel is only defending itself from supposed enemy attacks, why the victims of Israeli aggression seemed to disproportionately be women and children. I began to question why I, as a Jewish woman, could get automatic citizenship to a country where I had never set foot, when people who have been living there for generations don't even have basic human rights. And, I began to question why questioning these sorts of things seemed to be such a touchy issues in the organized Jewish community.

A little while after this, in an effort to reach out to like-minded people, I joined Independent Jewish Voices. Independent Jewish Voices is a grassroots organization of concerned Canadian Jewish citizens who are against the unjust, illegal, and immoral occupation of the Palestinian territories. We come from diverse backgrounds, occupations, and affiliations but have in common a strong commitment to social justice and universal human rights. We come together in the belief that the broad spectrum of opinion amongst the Jewish population of this country is not reflected by those institutions which claim authority to represent the Jewish community as a whole. We further believe that individuals and groups within all communities should feel free to express their views on any issue of public concern without incurring accusations of disloyalty. Independent Jewish Voices is also the first national Jewish organization in the world which formally adopted BDS (Boycott Divestment Sanctions) in 2009.

My practise of Judaism includes values such as compassion, social justice, and Tikkun Olam, which is the Jewish concept of healing or repairing the world. The occupation of the Palestinian people violates these principles. Ironically, like many other Jewish people who are also against the occupation, I have been called self-hating and anti-Semitic. I have learned that, besides being absurd (someone who self-identifies as being Jewish is hardly “self-hating”), these are tactics to try to discredit dissenting viewpoints and to try to shut the conversation down.

In the Jewish community, there is a lot of misinformation about the connection between Judaism and Zionism. The bottom line is that the spiritual and cultural practise of Judaism and the political philosophy of Zionism are not intrinsically connected. Historically, Zionism was opposed by almost all organized branches of Judaism. Today, there are some very strong Jewish voices from within Israel who have remained fierce critics of Israeli colonial settlement policy in the Occupied Territories for many years.

I try to communicate to other Jewish people that they should examine the situation in the Middle East from an objective point of view. They should be concerned that human rights violations and murder are being committed in our name. They should be concerned that, despite our culture of intellectualism and open debate, that when it comes to this issue, dissent is discouraged. It is my sincere hope that a new generation of Jewish people is coming of age that is more open to questioning these important issues and not blindly following the Jewish establishment.

Independent Jewish Voices in Alberta

I joined Independent Jewish Voices a few years ago when I became frustrated with the situation in the Middle East, and how, if you are Jewish, you are expected to think a certain way politically. I also disagree with the way politics and faith are purposely interconnected on this issue: if you are Jewish, you are expected to support Israel unconditionally. Finally, and probably the most concerning, is that fact that any debate on the issue of Israel - any disagreement - is immediately shot down in conversation and the person branded as a self-hating Jew or an anti-Semite (a ridiculous accusation to someone who self-identifies as being Jewish).

Independent Jewish Voices (IJV) provides an alternative voice for Canadian Jews like me. It is a political organization that counters groups like B'nai Brith and the Canadian Jewish Congress, which are political (not religious) organizations claiming to speak for the entire Jewish population in this country.

Over the last couple of years I have spoken for IJV at a number of rallies concerning human rights for Palestinians. Most recently, I spoke at Al Quds Day on August 2. What I say in this video pretty well sums up my views and the purpose of IJV:

IJV has chapters in individual cities, with representatives on a national steering committee which shapes the direction of the organization. I decided it was time for more of a voice from the Prairies and recently joined the IJV steering committee as the representative for Alberta. With a few members in Calgary and Edmonton combined, it made more sense to have a province-wide chapter rather than one for both cities.

I have been spending some time trying to attract new members. It's not easy - even amongst "progressive" Jewish people, there can be fear of retribution over speaking out, as well as ambivalence on the whole topic itself. Non-Jewish people are also welcome to join - the only difference is that non-Jews cannot join the steering committee or vote at an AGM. The reason for this is for IJV to maintain its identity as a Jewish but non-Zionist organization.

Membership is confidential (unless one chooses to make it public, like I did) and requires very little in the way of a time commitment. Mostly, members receive emails that contain information about current BDS campaigns (SodaStream is the big one right now), news items of concern, and petitions. BDS, to explain for those who don't know, means Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions. IJV is the first national organization in the world to adopt BDS, in 2009.

I will be starting up a low-traffic email list for Alberta members, and possibly organizing one or two in-person events over the coming months (likely discussion circles over coffee). However, for now, if you are someone who is concerned about the one-sided viewpoint concerning the actions of Israel that is propagated by the mainstream; if you are concerned about the human rights violations of the Palestinian people; if you believe in truth, social justice, and peace: please consider joining IJV.

On a personal note, for the record, I am not anti-Israel and have never spoken against Israel's right to exist as a country. I believe that most of the people who live there want peace and that the actions of the Israeli government and IDF are to blame for much of the suffering that continues in that region.

Monday, July 01, 2013

Creating Sacred Spaces

A couple of weeks ago I attended a service at Garneau United Church, which is part of the United Church of Canada. I have been impressed with the United Church for a while because of its commitment to social justice from a spiritual perspective.

Jim Graves and his drum.

The reason why I attended this particular service was because a friend was leading the service as a layperson that Sunday. According to the United Church's calendar, it was Aboriginal Sunday and I have a feeling this was why my friend took this particular service.

Patti Goodstriker calling the Four Directions.

For a while, Jim has been involved with reconciliation between First Nations and the United Church, particularly as it pertains to the return of the Manitou Stone. As a result, much of the service incorporated aspects of Aboriginal culture, including smudging, calling the Four Directions, reading a poem about reconciliation, and (my personal favourite part) sharing bannock at the end.

Jim holding up the Unity Candle, an important symbol in the United Church.

There were also other spiritual aspects that came into play here. A cleansing and purification ceremony with salt and water, to wash away concerns. A "grounding" which fostered a connectedness to our bodies and the earth. Examining crystals and rocks and other elements of the earth with the children in the congregation. A Unity Candle which was lit, each level of colour being attributed a musical tone (and which was lit upside down from its usual position).
Jim wielding a large cross.

Of course, there were a lot of Christian elements to the service, particularly in the form of hymns and Scripture readings. The short sermon tied everything together, talking about creating sacred spaces and then handing the pulpit over to someone actively involved in the Manitou Stone repatriation process.

Anna Faulds talking about the Manitou Stone and a cycle of ceremonies.

What I took away from the service is how we can make sacred spaces in our lives, whether they are physical places, our minds, our bodies, or a connectedness between ourselves and the world around us. The elements of different traditions and cultures helped create bridges between that understanding and the diverse array of people who attended the service - including me, who got a really warm reception after introducing myself as a Jewish person.

The sacred surrounds us. It is just a matter of us realizing it and then calling upon it. And when we realize that much of who we are what what surrounds us is sacred, the importance of social justice, reconciliation between cultures, and other issues can be more effectively dealt with.

Jim and the children.

Here is a video of the service, which has been condensed into approximately a half hour:

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Citizen Edmonton

interVivos is an organization that seeks to mentor young leaders and professionals. In doing so, it holds a number of events on various topics of relevance to the NextGen age group (usually considered to be under 40).

I was invited to be a panelist at interVivos' event on June 18 at The Common. Citizen Edmonton examined different kinds of citizen engagement. My official title for the event as stated in my bio was "Social Activist":

Paula is a freelance communications professional, musician, and activist. She was born and raised in Edmonton where she has a special interest in community and independent media. Paula is the editor and a volunteer coordinator with Boyle McCauley News, and inner city community newspaper, and also works with numerous non-profits, NGOs, and small businesses to provide for their communications needs including writing, editing, photography, videography, and social media. In addition, she is an organizer in the local peace community, performs original songs about social justice at a number of festivals and events, and has been independently documenting Edmonton's activist scene since 2005 at her website

We got started with each of us telling a little about ourselves, and then answering one question from the event's MC. We then did small group speed networking, where the panelists rotated between tables for five minutes each, until we had visited all of the tables. It was a great way to meet a lot of different people and answer their questions in a smaller setting, but those five minutes really flew by!

I found taking part in this even to be very valuable because it was such as a different group of people than normally to which I speak or perform. As a result, I was asked a lot of really excellent questions about who I am and what I do and how others can be more engaged in terms of their involvements with non-profits and activism.

What are some challenges you have faced in activism?
Probably getting the word out there about events and especially getting the media involved. From a personal perspective, I think that my politics often overshadow my persona, in that people who have never met me in real life and only know me from the photos and videos I post, from promoting events, or from standpoints I have taken, expect me to be some kind of crazy, left-wing, granola crunching, tree hugging, hippy. Which is why being invited to an event like Citizen Edmonton was so important to me - because I got a chance to reach out to a different crowd and perhaps dispel some myths about activists. Here are some questions that really stood out for me.

What are some of the issues that tend to attract protests and protesters?
It really depends what current events are hot topics. We've seen recently lots of protests concerning education, cuts to programs for PDD, and the huge March Against Monsanto. People are more likely to attend a protest if they feel a personal connection to the issue, which is why we often see larger attendance at rallies that deal with civic or provincial issues. So, a way to attract people to events is to try to highlight that connection; how an issue affects all of us, even if it is something having to do with Canada's foreign policy or something else seemingly more detached from our daily lives.

How can people protect themselves legally at protests?
Carry a phone that can record photos and video, and be prepared to use it if you see something going on that does not seem right. Be aware of your surroundings, and if someone else appears to be acting strangely or being an instigator, disassociate from them immediately.

How can you tell if you are being effective through your efforts?
This can be measured in different ways. Attendance is one. Getting the message out there is another. Protests seek to attract attention about a topic, so whatever way you can get the message out increases that efficacy. And this is a large reason why I started Radical Citizen Media: to make sure that when protests happen, that they are documented properly so that people can see for themselves what was said, how many people were there, and what the issue is really about - all things that the mainstream media often do not cover in depth.

What role does the media play? How do you connect with the media?
Press releases are often sent out to media outlets prior to a protest, at least in my experience. What happens next is often out of our hands. Mainstream media is often run by advertising, so hands are tied when a protest involves a sponsor or advertiser. Independent media, like Radical Citizen Media, does not have those constraints, but we also don't have the resources, so it can be a Catch-22. However, we do have an effect on the media, because in situations where, for example, attendance is under-reported, we use our photos and videos to show what actually happened, and this has resulted in retractions.

What are the three biggest obstacles in the activist community?
Communication, or the lack thereof - misunderstandings and other inter-personal situations often result in certain groups of people or organizations not speaking to each other or preventing them from working together effectively.
Organizers being disorganized - making sure people know what they are responsible for doing and seeing that it gets done.
Becoming activist elitists - only hanging out with other activist, only going to activist events, cutting ourselves off from the rest of society where we seek to effect change: this is very counter-productive.

I am going to whip out my chequebook and write three cheques. Where are the biggest needs?
I could not answer that effectively without knowing the financial situation of ever non-profit in Edmonton, but I would encourage someone to contribute to whatever organizations they are passionate about rather than just seeking out non-profits based on financial need. That being said, there are also many organizations that have needs beyond money - inner city organizations like Bissell Centre or The Mustard Seed often need practical items.

I was far too busy to take photos or video at Citizen Edmonton, but several professionals were there to take care of that. I'll post them when they become available.

On a final note, interVivos made an announcement that it now has a forest in Manning, Alberta. The trees will be named for the people who speak at event, and the seven of us who were panelists last night are the first seven seedlings. I hope to get out there one day to visit my tree! Maybe I will even hug it.

Taking Back Our Education

Last week, I attended a rally at the Alberta Legislature concerning cuts to education, organized by high school students. Taking Back Our Education saw students abruptly leave classes at 11 a.m., board buses, and head to the Legislature.

Aided by several unions, #TBOE (as it was also called) was a huge success. Hundreds of students and those in solidarity filled the area around the fountain. It was a moment where I could really feel my age. It was also a moment that caused me to reflect upon how I have ended up in life where I am now.

Many people know who I am and what I do, but don't know much about my background. I graduated from the University of Alberta with a B.Ed in Secondary Education (English major and Music minor). I wanted to become a junior high Language Arts teacher. Although I was already into writing and photography, and had actually been doing those things professionally as early as high school and throughout university, I viewed teaching as stable and something I could fall back on if my writing career did not pan out.

Well, there is an old Yiddish saying along the lines of "People make plans and God laughs." And I am sure the Almighty viewed this one as a gooder. I graduated in the mid-90s, in the midst of the Klein government's ravages to education. I, like numerous of my classmates, never made it into a classroom. There were simply no jobs to be had. Those who were lucky enough to find a job often lost it if they did not yet have their permanent contract.

Fifteen or so years later, the Conservative government is still in power and are responsible for more education cuts which will result in the loss of teaching jobs. I can empathize with those young teachers and those who are just graduating with their B.Ed degrees about the uncertainty of their futures.

On the silver lining side of things, those of you who appreciate what I do should thank the Conservative government for the fact I am the activist I have become. If I had landed a teaching job, I probably would not have the time to go out and document protests against all the incredibly destructive things this government has done. And the sheer number of rallies I attend are testament to the fact that this government does a lot of really destructive things.

Wanting to become a teacher should not be a pipe dream. Cutting teaching positions equates to larger classroom sizes, lack of personal attention to students with special needs, and just a lower quality of education overall. We apparently have a government that does not realize that its greatest asset is not actually the environmentally destructive tar sands. It is our future generations. Attending #TBOE gives me hope that a generation of voters (most of the students were in grade 12, so were 18 or almost 18) is coming up who will really be able to effect some tangible changes in the near future.

Sunday, June 02, 2013

A Tale of Two Rallies: Idle No More and Walk for Values

Idle No More Solidarity Summer

On Saturday, June 1, I went to Gazebo Park with the intention of attending a rally relating to Idle No More and Occupy Edmonton. The topic was questionable actions made by the Harper government, and their effects on the country's indigenous population and the population in general.

When I arrived at the park, I noticed another, larger rally taking place. Walk For Values, I learned, is an annual event and supports values like peace, love, and right conduct and is organized by Edmonton's Sai Baba community.

I got very excited when one of my friends in Occupy told me that the rallies would be marching together. After all, they stood for similar values. Solidarity and working towards common goals is part of what movements like Idle No More and Occupy are all about.

As I filmed the Walk for Values people starting their march, I noticed the Idle No More folks were staying behind. Instead of following Walk for Values to Whyte Avenue, I went back to find out what was going on. After all, I have been documenting both Occupy and Idle No More since their inceptions, and that was the main reason I was there.

Walk For Values

The person with Occupy who had originally told me that they had been invited to join Walk for Values now said the invitation had been rescinded on the explanation that they were "political." I found this rather odd considering speakers with Walk for Values were talking about the life and teachings of Mahatma Gandhi - someone who preached non-violence but was very political.

The Idle No More/Occupy rally began and I grew even more disturbed when an elder spoke, saying she had asked an organizer with Walk for Values if she could take the microphone for three minutes just to welcome everyone to Treaty 6 territory. She was refused and said she was told the person "did not care" when she tried to explain that this event was indeed on Aboriginal land. I was not privy to this conversation, but I do respect and trust this woman and totally believe her when she explained to the smaller rally how disrespected she felt.

Idle No More Solidarity Summer

Later on, as a woman from the NWT spoke, the Walk for Values group returned, blaring music (as it was when it left). I think someone realized there was another rally going on and the music got lower and was then totally shut off. I believe that this was done out of respect by someone who realized it was the right thing to do. This redeemed the Walk for Values in my eyes somewhat.

While I admit I am not familiar with the Walk for Values, and an hesitant to paint an entire group on the actions of one or two individuals, I do question the way the elder was treated to the point that I question the entire event. There are many who give peace, love, and other values lip service because, well, it's the right thing to do. When it comes time to walk the talk, things change. Actions do speak louder than words and an organizer should represent what a group is all about.

Walk For Values

At the same time, I have been involved with organizing numerous events where people or organizations try to jump in on the agenda - with their own. This is why an agenda is often referred to as "set" and a reason why sometimes open mics are not a good idea. However, what happened at Walk for Values is somewhat of a different situation, whereby another group was invited to join, so naturally the elder thought it appropriate to speak and according to her, she told the organizer what she intended to say. All things taken into consideration, from what I know of the events, I definitely felt like there was hypocrisy in action.

This is what I think needs to happen: the organizer in question needs to apologize to the elder. The groups involved need to dialogue with each other to emphasize points of commonality and to plan ways in which they can work together in the future. Focus on the common goals - not the politics behind them. If a group that says it stands for "right conduct" does so in a way that excludes other groups, something is wrong.

Idle No More Solidarity Summer

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

A Video Milestone

When I began filming Edmonton's activist scene back in 2006 (I began photographing it in 2005 but did not acquire a video camera until about six months later), I had no idea this would become something of a second career for me.

2013 marks two milestones for my videography. My main YouTube site broke the million view mark, and over this past weekend I uploaded video #1000. Yes, 1000 videos documenting peace marches, environmental rallies, political actions, and other events pertaining to social justice and human rights.

In the beginning, I was also filming and posting videos from festivals, cultural events, and other happenings around Edmonton. A couple of years ago I decided to dedicate the channel exclusively to activism and set up a second channel for music, culture, and festivals in Edmonton. I also have another YouTube channel just for my own music, which has over half a million video views and apparently I am quite popular in Argentina.

However, my "baby" when it comes to my film work will always be my activism channel, which I link up to my independent media site Radical Citizen Media, a photo and video blog of all things progressive, left leaning, and activist in Edmonton.

Just for interest's sake, I am on my third video camera, lost count of how many digital still cameras I have owned over the years, and regularly use my iPhone for photos and videos as well. I am sure those of you who own similar technology do as well. Anyone can become the media.

Friday, April 12, 2013

The Manitou Stone

The Manitou Stone

I became aware of the Manitou Stone through new friends I have made from attending Idle No More events. The Stone is a meteorite that is very sacred to Alberta's First Nations, was stolen by clergy, and now resides at the Royal Alberta Museum awaiting repatriation.

‪Here is some history: The Manitou Stone is part of a meteorite that fell to earth centuries ago in the Iron Creek area near the Alberta-Saskatchewan border. Consisting mostly of iron, the Stone was taken to the Pakan Mission near Smoky Lake by Methodist minister Rev. George McDougall in the 1860s, then was moved to Lac Ste. Anne. ‬‪In 1886, the Stone headed east to Victoria University in Cobourg, Ontario, followed by Toronto's Royal Ontario Museum. In the early 70s, Minister Horst Schmidt requested that the Stone be loaned to the Royal Alberta Museum, where it has resided since 1972. It is currently on display as part of the RAM's Aboriginal gallery.‬

‪Today, the Manitou Stone is still considered a very sacred object in Canadian Aboriginal culture, viewed as coming from the Creator and a symbol of protection. ‬Some draw a connection between the removal of the Stone and war between the Cree and Blackfoot Nations, the near-extinction of the buffalo, and the smallpox outbreak which ravaged the population -- including two of Rev. George McDougall's daughters.

One of the distinguishing features of the Stone is that from a certain angle, it looks sort of like a buffalo head. The way it is displayed at the RAM certainly does not do it justice, as the metal braces obstruct its view.

A pipe ceremony to pray for the repatriation of the Manitou Stone was held at the Royal Alberta Museum on March 22, 2013. The ceremony was followed by an information session where invited speakers and community members could share about their thoughts and experiences concerning the stone.

This ceremony and information session is of utmost importance because it brought together members of both the Aboriginal community and the United Church in an effort towards healing and reconciliation. The connections between faith, culture, and social issues were definitely reasons why the Manitou Stone interests me so much.

Here is a film I edited of the information session, which highlights the most relevant points of discussion and also serves as a good introduction to people not yet familiar with the Stone.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

How To Change Our Rape Culture

Preventing Violence Against Women/Reclaiming Our Safety

Teenage girl gets drunk with some of her high school's football players, passes out, and is sexually violated. The high school football players are charged, tried, and convicted of rape. The sympathies of much of the town, schoolmates, and even the media is given to the convicted rapists.

Yes, this is what has happened in Steubenville, Ohio, in a case resonating throughout the world. Oh, the poor young men whose lives have been ruined by this conviction. They had such bright futures.

What about the victim? Well, most of the attention was on the fact that "Jane Doe" was drunk. Yes, she was. Which makes these boys' actions even more despicable, taking such physical power over her in such a vulnerable state.

This isn't a Steubenville problem. It is a problem of our entire society which blames the victim and slut-shames and puts jocks up on pedestals. Somehow, the ability to run fast or catch a ball or slide around on ice chasing after a compressed chunk of rubber makes a person superior. Physical prowess is upheld as an attribute of masculinity.

Preventing Violence Against Women/Reclaiming Our Safety

If only we cared as much about developing sensitivity and respect in young men, especially towards those who may be vulnerable. If only we taught boys not to rape, instead of only teaching girls how to avoid being raped.

We live in a rape culture. How can change happen? When emotional and intellectual traits in men are venerated as much as physical power. When a victim can be a victim without blame. When victims can come forward without fear of retribution on her reputation.

International Women's Day March 2013

Sunday, March 03, 2013

Re-Victimizing Victims

Preventing Violence Against Women/Reclaiming Our Safety

A major news story in Edmonton last week involved a young Aboriginal woman who called the police to report an assault. The EPS who arrived at the motel room decided to act upon an old warrant and arrest her. According to the youth court worker who visited her in custody, the signs of her assault were visible. As well, he attests that the violations for which she was being held should not have resulted in jail time (read his blog post on the matter here.)

It was this youth court worker who broke the story on Twitter. His series of tweets resulted in much discussion and outrage, and yet the mainstream media ignored it. APTN did, however, and the rest of the media followed suit shortly thereafter.

Regardless of how the actions of the EPS are explained or justified, what happened is a major public relations faux pas on a number of levels. First of all, the subject in question is a young Aboriginal woman. This incident furthers a public perception that there are two levels of justice: one for Aboriginals, and one for everyone else. One need to only recall the incidents concerning Randy Frying Pan and the "sweatbox" case.

Secondly, what happened last week is an example of how a victim tries to access services, only to be re-victimized by those who should be helping her. Having a criminal record or a warrant should not be a barrier to access. I shudder to think that there are potentially those who are afraid to get help because they might get in trouble.

Re-victimizing victims is nothing new. Think of the sexual assault survivor who no one believes. The bullied child who is told she is just being overly-sensitive. The abused spouse who finds no community or social support in leaving the situation.

Policing is a difficult job which often involves making decisions on one's feet. I have known situations where the police have been wonderful and truly helpful. However, in this case, their actions and the resulting ripple effect is damaging and dangerous.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Tolerating Intolerance: What Idle No More Says About (Some) Canadians

Idle No More WEM Grand Entry

I wrote a post yesterday explaining why Idle No More works so well as a movement and what community organizers can learn from it. On the flip side of the positive aspects of INM is the shocking reactions to the movement by many Canadians.

Perhaps it is because it is such a high-profile movement, but lots of people are giving their two cents about INM on social media and in comments to article appearing online. Speaking from my own experiences, of all of the videos I have posted on YouTube, ones relating to INM have received the most comments, and some of them, quite frankly, are sickening. Tweets and Facebook posts I am also seeing display a level of ignorance, racism, and the redneck attitude that has stereotyped Canadians, particularly from the Prairies.

From racial epithets aimed at First Nations to the claims that "they get everything for free and don't pay taxes" to comments about having so much time to be "idle" and partake in protests - to me, as a non-Aboriginal ally to the movement, these comments are embarassing and infuriating. And yet, such sentiments appear to be tolerated. Even from on high, the Harper government has been shockingly silent about the movement in general, thus fostering this racism.

At the same time, we don't hear these same voices proclaiming their outrage over those owners of corporations who are in the top income bracket in the country, yet pay little or not taxes thanks to breaks aimed directly at them. Ones who rake in the profits while paying their workers barely above a living wage (and who actually have to pay taxes on their meager earnings). Ones who have these benefits thanks to the government in power, the same one all but ignoring the Idle No More movement. In other words, the Conservative government under Harper. If anyone wants to complain about people not being fairly taxed or receiving money off of the hard work of others, think about those corporations. Then, think about Stephen Harper. Then, when the next federal election comes along vote, and don't vote for the Conservatives.

If anything, the frightening undercurrent of racism pervasive in our society which INM is revealing demonstrates just how marginalized Aboriginal, First Nations, Inuit, Metis peoples actually are. It is yet another layer of proof (sad as it is) that INM is necessary.

Here are some excellent resources to explain some of the myths and fallacies concerning First Nations taxation and related issues:

  • First Nations taxation
  • The Free Housing for Natives Myth
  • Idle No More commenters could use some lessons in critical thinking
  • What if Natives Stop Subsidizing Canada?

  • Friday, January 18, 2013

    Why Idle No More Works

    Idle No More - Global Day of Action

    The Idle No More movement has been making waves in the media since its first day of action on December 10, 2012. Since then, flash mobs, round dances, marches, rallies, and other forms of protests have been springing up all over the country - and beyond. Support for this grassroots, Indigenous movement is coming from our neighbour to the south as well as overseas.

    Whether one agrees or disagrees with the motivation behind Idle No More, or the tactics being employed, the movement has become an unqualified success. I have attended a number of INM events as an ally and citizen media reporter and witnessed first hand how well-organized and well-attended they are.

    As a community organizer in the peace movement, I would dare to say that those of us who are activists have a lot to learn from INM in very practical ways. Here is a list of reasons why INM is working so well - and what we can learn from it.

  • Organization: The events are well-organized. Speakers are contacted well ahead of time. Events start at the advertised time and end within a reasonable amount of time. Things don't drag on. This is especially important with winter outdoor events.

  • Social Media Revolution: INM a social media revolution. Facebook and Twitter are being used to their maximum potential to promote events. The crowds are rife with people taking pictures and videos, posting them online afterwards on YouTube, Flickr, Facebook, and Twitter. If you are online at all, INM cannot be ignored.

  • Media Connections: There has been lots of media at INM events. This can be attributed to the fact that news of these events get around quickly (see above) and also it is important to have an up to date media list with press releases sent out in a timely fashion. I can't say for sure that this is what has been happening, but the results speak volumes. At first it was like pulling teeth getting media out to INM events- it was almost like there was a media blackout. Now they come out in droves. Yes, a lot of the reporting is a smear campaign, but some of it is balanced, and some even in favour. As well, never discount the importance of citizen media.

  • Attitude is Everything: The atmosphere at many INM events is welcoming, warm, and inclusive. Organizers take the time to speak with people attending, especially "settlers" and allies from other organizations. A major statement of the INM movement is that Bill c-45 is not just about Aboriginal issues - it affects all Canadians, regardless of race. Hey - clean water is important to me and I am a first generation Canadian.

  • Momentum: A priority of INM seems to be keeping its issues in the public eye and up for discussion. Organizers are tirelessly planning the next event, event after the drums and cants from the previous ones are still echoing.

  • Variety: INM events include rallies, speeches, round dances, flash mobs, drumming, singing, chanting, and speakers - sometimes all within the same event. This keeps things from getting dry and losing audience attention.

  • Leadership: One of the reasons why Occupy fell apart in some places, was the lack of clear leadership. Too many people were going off in different directions or trying to co-opt the movement for their own purposes. While the leadership in INM is not strictly formal, there appears to be groups of organizers regarded as leaders through whom decisions are made concerning event planning. Again, this appears to be a very inclusive process, with people being able to bring concerns and ideas forward.

  • R-E-S-P-E-C-T: While many ethnic and social groups are fragmented by politics, the people involved with INM appear to respect each other - even when they disagree. Case in point: an elder disagreed with the location of a major INM event and expressed why. Although the event took place as planned, it led to dialogue and an understanding of that person's perspective.

  • Focus: When I attend an INM event, I come away with a clearer idea of what the issues are. Many have dealt with Bill C-45. Some are specifically to support Theresa Spence. These are not rallies for the sake of having rallies. The shorter events, like the flash mob round dances, are more for raising awareness and getting attention.