Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Speech for the Palestine Children's Relief Fund (PCRF)

I was scheduled to speak at a fundraiser for the Palestine Children's Relief Fund this month. Unfortunately, the event was cancelled. However, I decided to share my speech here, since I prepared it and hope that I can deliver it at a related event in the future.

I am the Alberta representative on the national steering committee of Independent Jewish Voices. IJV is a humanitarian organization that believes in human rights for all people, and especially a just resolution to the conflict in Israel and Palestine, a resolution that would result in peace and justice for all people in that region. We oppose the ongoing, illegal occupation and are the first (and as far as I know, the only) Canadian Jewish organization to endorse Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel.

I was asked to speak a bit about my perspective on the most recent Gaza incursion from a Jewish perspective. That is rather difficult to do because, as goes the story, if you have two Jewish people, you have three opinions. Jewish people are known for intellectual discourse, debate, examination of issues, and, of course, being opinionated. Except, however, when it comes to this issue. Jewish people who are level headed and willing to stand up for the rights of the downtrodden anywhere else in the world, may suddenly find themselves choking when the question of Palestine is raised. So much so, in fact, that there are national organizations that claim to speak on behalf of all Jews in Canada, such as B’nai Brith and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs.

Independent Jewish Voices exists to provide that alternative voice, to say that those organizations do not, in fact, speak for all Jews. As proof, our membership rose just recently during Operation Protective Edge. Our members were out in droves at the many anti-Zionist peace rallies held across Canada.

Indeed, Jewish people have many opinions, so I am going to speak a little about myself. I was raised in a fairly traditional, Modern Orthodox home, where our traditions and values were important. Unlike other Jewish families, Israel was not overly discussed or stressed, and I always had trouble wrapping my head around the conflict, since Jews and Arabs are both people of Abraham. Over the years I swung numerous ways on the issue and a few years ago, I think it was during Operation Cast Lead in 2008-2009, I became appalled at the number of civilian casualties the Palestinian people incurred, especially of children. It was disproportionate, inappropriate, and disgusting.

It was around then that I discovered and became a member of of Independent Jewish Voices and began speaking on their behalf at a number of events. As part of the Jewish community, the reaction has been mixed, from agreeing to disagree, to people outright walking out of my life as friends. However, I believe that no cause is worth standing up for if there is no threat of sacrifice, and if anything, my views separate the people in my life into two camps: those who are my real friends, and those who are not.

I am not a Torah scholar, but from a theological perspective I don't believe that the modern political State of Israel is the same as Eretz Yisroel which is described in the Torah. In fact, Israel was founded by working class, mostly Socialist Jewish people who had survived the Holocaust. It had nothing to do with religion, as such. As a Jewish person, I don't feel I need to have unwavering loyalty to a nation in order to maintain my Jewish identity.

However, this does not stop me from being accused of being a “self-hating Jew” or “anti-Semitic.” Both of these claims are absolutely ridiculous. First of all, I can't be a self-hating Jewish when I so openly identify with my Jewishness. The same applies to supposedly being anti-Semitic. And as far as that goes, Arabs are Semites also. So anyone who calls me anti-Semitic is actually being anti-semantic.

I am also not anti-Israel. I believe there needs to be a just peace for all people in that region. In fact, there is a growing, vocal peace movement from within Israel amongst Jewish people, such as the journalist Gideon Levy. Why? Peace is important for everyone’s security and safety. The occupation is bad for the future of both Israelis and Palestinians.

As a Jewish person, certain values are of utmost importance to me. One of these is the concept of Tikkun Olam, which refers to healing or repairing the world. The rift in the Middle East needs to be repaired or the world remains incomplete.

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?

    Tuesday, July 29, 2014

    Supporting Gaza from a Jewish Perspective

    Below is a video blog I recorded about why I support the people of Gaza, from a perspective drawn directly from Jewish religion and history. The purpose of this video is to debunk claims that Jewish people who support Palestine are "self-hating Jews." The text of the video follows under the screen.

    My name is Paula and I am with Independent Jewish Voices, on the national steering committee representing Alberta. Independent Jewish Voices is a national human rights organization whose mandate is to promote a just resolution to the dispute in Israel and Palestine through the application of international law and respect for the human rights of all parties.

    IJV is made up of Jewish people (and non-Jewish supporters) from across the country. We come from different walks of life, levels of religious observance, professions, and ages, but the one thing we have in common is that we believe that the occupation of Palestine is wrong and must stop. Politically, we provide an alternative to organizations such as B'nai B'rith and the Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee which claim to speak on behalf of all Canadian Jews. They don't.

    I want to talk a little about my perspective as a Canadian Jew. What I really want to say that what is happening in Gaza is not in my name. I am a Jewish person who grew up in an observant household. As such, I am one who takes the concept of Tikkun Olam (repairing the world) very seriously. I also, fortunately, have a tendency to like to question things, such as why a Jewish person – and our government - should have some kind of obligation to support Israel without question and why those Jewish people who speak out against the policies of the Israeli government are often branded as traitors and as self-hating Jews. The latter is utterly ridiculous because those of us who take a principled stand on the Middle East as Jews self-identify as such.

    As a Jewish woman, I believe that my religion and history demands me to stand up for the rights of all. A friend of mine on Facebook recently posted a status update that really summarized the things that Jewish people learn through our education while growing up that support my position concerning the massacre in Gaza, so I am going to paraphrase that here.

    From a religious perspective, when we look at the Jewish Scriptures, the story of Moses and the Exodus from Egypt teaches that a righteous person must seek to liberate people who are not free.

    The story of Queen Esther teaches about fighting bigotry, oppression, and genocide.

    The apocryphal story of Judah and the Maccabees teaches about the duty to resist an occupying power.

    From our history, when we look at those who fought in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, the Jewish Partisans, and the people who revolted in the Nazi concentration camps, it teaches about the need to honour people who are courageous enough to rise up against those who seek to destroy them, instead of just quietly awaiting their fate.

    The actions of the righteous gentiles who saved countless Jewish lives during the Nazi Holocaust teach the necessity of opposing your own people when they are doing wicked things.

    Finally, from the Talmud, the Oral Law of the Jewish people, we get the teaching from Hillel the Elder, who summarizes the commandments of the Torah, with one simple statement: “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbour. That is the whole Torah; the rest is commentary.”

    And that's exactly it: the Palestinians are the neighbours in question in this discussion. I find it hypocritical that I could move to Israel tomorrow and get citizenship automatically, when people who have lived there for generations are denied the most basic of human rights.

    I am not anti-Israel, I am not anti-Semitic, and I am not pro-Hamas, but I support Palestinian human rights first and foremost as a human, as a person, but as a Jew I feel very much called to take this stand, for the reasons I have discussed. Thanks for watching, and Shalom!

    Thursday, July 10, 2014

    Speaking Out Again on the Middle East

    On Tuesday evening, July 8, I spoke at an emergency rally concerning the situation in Israel and Palestine, on behalf of the Edmonton Coalition Against War and Racism and Independent Jewish Voices. The rally was a call for peace and a protest against the collective punishment of Gaza in retribution for the tragic deaths of three Israeli teenagers last week. Below is the text of my speech, as well as a video of me speaking.
    The Edmonton Coalition Against War and Racism condemns the collective punishment and violence against the Palestinian people by the government of Israel. We believe in the right to self-determination for all people without imperialistic interference, and this includes Palestine. We call on everyone to work for an anti-war government in Canada. There can be no solution without recognizing the rights of the Palestinian people.

    I am also the Alberta representative on the National Steering Committee of Independent Jewish Voices (IJV). Independent Jewish Voices is a national human rights organization whose mandate is to promote a just resolution to the dispute in Israel and Palestine through the application of international law and respect for the human rights of all parties.

    IJV is made up of Jewish people (and non-Jewish supporters) from across the country. We come from different walks of life, levels of religious observance, professions, and ages, but the one thing we have in common is that we believe that the occupation of Palestine is wrong and must stop. Politically, we provide an alternative to organizations such as B'nai B'rith and the Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee which claim to speak on behalf of all Canadian Jews. They don't.

    In light of the recent tragedies we are hearing more Jewish voices calling out for an end to the occupation, even within Israel itself. To quote Gideon Levy, who is a Jewish writer for the major Israeli newspaper Ha'Aretz: “In the Jewish state, there is no remnant of the biblical injunction to treat the minority or the stranger with justice. There are no more Jews left who marched with Martin Luther King or who sat in jail with Nelson Mandela. The Jewish state, which Israel insists the Palestinians recognize, must first recognize itself. At the end of the day, at the end of a terrible week, it seems that a Jewish state means a racist, nationalistic state, meant for Jews only.”

    My heart breaks at the recent, senseless, tragic murders of the three Israeli teenagers. It also breaks at the Palestinians who have been murdered by Israel in retribution, including a 16 year old who was burned while he was still alive. IJV takes the stand that all of these heinous crimes are the inevitable result of Israel’s brutal and illegal occupation of Palestine.

    In a press release that IJV issued last week, our spokesperson Tyler Levitan did not mince words. “Make no mistake, the burden of responsibility rests with the occupying power – Israel. The blood of these youth is also on Canada’s hands, as Canada’s government unconditionally supports Israel’s violent military occupation of the West Bank and siege of Gaza, which repeatedly fuels more violence,” he said.

    The bottom line is that the occupation is not only illegal and immoral, but bad for the futures of both Israelis and Palestinians. It is causing misery and death for both peoples, and they deserve better. It is time for Canada's government to stop supporting the policies of the Israeli government and to take a stand against the brutal occupation of the Palestinians. It is time for the Jewish community as a whole to open its eyes and accept that just because we have been oppressed does not give us the right to become or to support the oppression. We must stand up for the rights of all, including the Palestinians. Our religion and our history demands it.

    Finally, Canadians must put an end to the lawlessness of the Harper dictatorship which claims to stand for law and order but acts in defiance of international law - giving its support and even directly participating in illegal occupations, war crimes, collective punishment, use of banned weapons, and many other heinous crimes against the Palestinian people and humanity.


    Thursday, June 26, 2014

    Contemporary Peace Movement: Conference Notes

    On June 20, I was one of the featured speakers during a session of the Alberta Labour History Institute's conference Uniting in the Cause: Labour and Social Movements.

    The session in which I took part was a "story circle" on the topic of peace. It was a panel of different speakers who talked for five or so minutes, and then the floor was opened up for questions and discussion. My role was to talk about the contemporary peace movement in Edmonton, which for me is approximately from the time of the Iraq War through Afghanistan to the present day.

    The session was videoed and will appear on the ALHI's website at a future date. In the meantime, here are my notes from which I spoke.

    Contemporary Peace Movement

    1) Me - Introduction
    - Part of the Edmonton Coalition Against War & Racism (ECAWAR)
    - Trade unionist by choice: member of Unifor Local 2040 (Freelance Union of Canada)

    2) About ECAWAR:
    - Got together in late 2002 to organize against Canada going to war in Iraq
    - Resulted in two largest peace marches in Edmonton's history early the following year

    3) My involvement with ECAWAR
    - Started in 2005
    - Always been interested in issues of peace and human rights
    - Attributed to my personality and not some major event
    - However, Joan Baez and Bob Dylan played constantly in the home as a child!

    4) Afghanistan
    - Issue when I joined ECAWAR was Afghanistan
    - Continued for the next 9 or so years.

    5) ECAWAR: Unifying Points
    - We all believe war is wrong; peace is good
    - Opinions on fine points and how to achieve differ
    - Rallying cry: Canada Needs and Anti-War Government
    - Most recently: rallies, pickets against Harper government
    - ECAWAR supports the right to self-determination for all countries, without western interference (imperialism) eg. Syria

    6) Palestine
    - Am Alberta representative on national Steering Committee of Independent Jewish Voices (IJV): grassroots group of Canadian Jews who oppose the occupation in Israel/Palestine
    - Come from different social, economic, etc. backgrounds but all believe occupation is wrong
    - Again, differing opinions on specific issues (eg. one or two-state solution)

    7) Communication in the Peace Movement
    - A major change in the peace movement is how we communicate
    - Still use posters, phone, but now a lot of organizing is done via email and social media
    - This is perhaps where Labour organizing has changed as well
    - Brings in younger people
    - Makes people feel more involved and informed (can post essays and links to information when questions arise, as opposed to leaving everything for in-person meetings)
    - In-person meetings still important but now momentum can keep going

    8) Documentation and History
    - Since this is a conference about labour history
    - A major role I take in the community is photographing and filming events, posting to my own blog and social media
    - Keeps an historical record of events
    - In the beginning it was just me, but now the technology is more common (eg. phones that record and from which you can post instantly)
    - Labour can employ these methods as well (and I have done the same things at labour events I attend)

    Sunday, May 25, 2014

    Poverty in the City: It's Not the Agencies - It's All of Us

    I spent the day on Whyte Avenue on Saturday. I was accosted by a panhandler almost as soon as I got out of my cab. Throughout the day I witnessed homeless and transient people pushing full shopping carts, sitting on the sidewalk, staggering around drunk, and swearing loudly. I saw the evidence of their lives scattered throughout the area: litter, broken bottles, stains on the concrete from all kinds of bodily fluids (granted - some of this may be the result of bar hoppers needing to rid themselves of their last few drinks). Yet this is still considered a desirable area of Edmonton to live, work, and hang out.

    The next day, I took a walk through Chinatown, and saw pretty much the same things. However, in this case, many have come to expect problems in this area of the city with homelessness, addictions, and mental illness. Many of the city's agencies that serve this population are nearby. Some people blame the concentration of agencies for the problems. Some consider the inner city a much less desirable area to live, work, or hang out because of all of the social issues there. It is just an accepted fact that in that part of the city, excrement occurs (often literally).

    However, as I observed this past weekend, these problems are everywhere throughout the city. And where there is an agency, there is perceived blame. The Neighbour Centre is near Old Strathcona and according to a friend of mine who used to work there, the actual neighbours of the centre are none too pleased. Not from where I grew up, in the Jasper Gates area, the Jasper Place Health and Wellness Centre (and its associated social housing) has garnered many of the same complaints I have heard levied against places like the Boyle McCauley Health Centre. Heck, the first place I ever saw a man urinate outside was in the parking lot of the Jasper Gates shopping centre.

    The question is: what can be done about poverty and its resulting social disorder? There is no easy answer to such a complicated question. Yet it is so easy to point out the problems and complain about them - I myself am guilty of such behaviour - but not as simple to try to think of solutions. I am an activist with political leanings that are left of centre. This world view has shaped my perspective on social issues in general, and specific ones such as poverty and housing.

    In my mind, the first question that needs to be asked is why there is poverty and homelessness in such an affluent city in the first place? All poverty, everywhere in the city - it is not okay to just accept the unacceptable in a lower income, rougher area. The answer, my friend, is systemic and will require systemic changes. Basically, we have a political and economic system (the two are inextricably interconnected) that is based on greed. The rich are getting richer and the middle class is being eroded.

    So, the answer is not throwing more money at the problem. It's not further concentrating essential services and agencies in parts of the city that are already saturated. And it certainly is not gentrification. We - all of us - need to change the way we look at issues such as material wealth, consumerism, and the way we make a living. We need to question who we vote for and why, and try to effect change on a grassroots level.

    As an activist, I get very angry at seeing the inequalities in our society. But anger will only take someone so far and no more. Anger needs to lead to action. Otherwise, it just leads to ulcers and depression. Maybe I am being overly idealistic here, but if idealism can be a motivating force (along with anger!), then maybe that is the first step towards what we need to do.

    Tuesday, April 22, 2014

    Earth Day Talk: Activism, Slacktivism, and Clicktivism

    I am often asked to either sing or speak at events, but rarely am I asked to do both. This was precisely what I did at the Edmonton Earth Day Week Kickoff 2014 that took place on April 21 at the Alberta Avenue Community League. Organized by the local Green Party, I was asked to sing a couple of songs and also give a short talk discussing the differences between activism, slacktivism, and clicktivism. I have posted my notes here for others to learn whatever they would like to take away from such a discussion, as well as the actual video of my talk (and the song I chose to follow it up with).

    Activism vs. "Slacktivism" vs. "Clicktivism"

    A. Definitions

  • The Internet/modern technology has opened up new possibilities in activism.

    1. Clicktivism: online surveys, petitions, forwarding Facebook statuses, posting links on Twitter
  • Does not require much effort and can create inflated sense of accomplishment

    2. Slacktivism: Term started a few years ago when wearing the yellow "Livestrong" bracelets became popular
  • Wearing something with a message, possibly just because it is trendy. Che Guevara t-shirt joke (picture of him, underneath: "I don't even know who this is.")
  • All activists have t-shirts etc. with messages. Can be discussion starters.

    B. Criticism

  • I don't like these terms.
  • Lateral violence: criticising each other's methods and intentions when we should be working together towards common goals.
  • We need to respect each others' contributions to making a better world.
  • I am into rallies and marches: some people think they are ineffective. But they can raise awareness of others who see them, and get into media.
  • We can't always judge the effectiveness of methods.
  • Can be barriers to taking part in certain activities: sitting at the computer and doing things online may be all someone can do.

    C. Activism

  • I discovered activism online while looking for groups to connect with.
  • Activism = active.
  • Requires commitment, lifestyle changes, working towards systemic changes on underlying issues.

    D. Bottom Line

  • Avoid lateral violence.
  • Support each others' efforts.
  • Get involved in issues that speak to you.

  • Friday, April 11, 2014

    Community Journalism: Workshop Notes

    I recently gave a workshop on community journalism for a writing group in the McCauley neighbourhood. I thought I would share my notes here to try to encourage people to take part in community journalism and to inspire creative thoughts.

    A. What is Community Journalism?
  • It is hyper-local as opposed to just local
  • Geographically limited in scope (such as a neighbourhood newspaper)
  • Often produced by non-professional writers/photographers (citizen media)
  • Can go into depths of community events/news/opinions overlooked by other media
  • Gives a voice to the marginalized
  • Media can include newspapers, blogs, social media
  • Value of substance over style, because it is mostly being produced by non-professionals

    B. Why Community Journalism?
  • Cover topics/events ignored by mainstream, larger media
  • To give community members a voice
  • With regards to community newspapers, to present the reality of life in a specific neighbourhood (for example, in the inner city, the good is often overlooked by other media)
  • A good place to start building a portfolio because it is easier to get published; less competitive

    C. News Versus Opinion
  • One of the most misunderstood aspects of journalism
  • News: non-personal, fact-based, written in the third person. An article or column.
  • Opinion: Personal, feelings-based, written in the first person. Editorial or letter to the editor.

    D. Assignments
  • Five minutes each; share afterwards:

    1) List a choice of themes, and ask participants to write something on that theme.
    2) Write a short news piece on something going on in your community.
    3) Write an opinion on something in the community, such as a social issue or recent happening.
  • Wednesday, April 09, 2014

    Goddess Activism: Workshop Notes

    I was asked to give a talk about the connections between Goddess spirituality and activism at the Alberta Goddess Conference in the fall of 2013. Unfortunately, due to various logistical problems the conference did not happen. However, since I spent time researching and writing on this topic, which has opened up a world of interest in this particular spiritual viewpoint, I have decided to share my workshop notes here. As well, I would be available to give this workshop in Edmonton to interested groups.

    Welcome (is everyone okay with this being videoed?)
    Go around and introduce ourselves, and speak briefly as to why we’re here.

    Introduce myself
     - Freelance writer/editor/photographer involved with community and independent media. I document the local activist scene through my website Radical Citizen Media and am also an organizer with the Edmonton Coalition Against War & Racism, and a founder of the Daughters Day initiative, which celebrates the lives and achievements of women and girls while raising awareness of human rights abuses. I’m also a musician (a “protest singer”) and in 2012 I received the Salvos Prelorentzos Peace Award from Project Ploughshares, a peace organization.
    - I come from a traditional Jewish home, spent a while involved with a group that is essentially an Evangelical church that uses Jewish forms of worship and symbols, and am now exploring earth-based religion and seeing some natural connections between it and the religion of my origin. But today, I am here to talk about activism and Goddess spirituality.

    About Activism
    Part of spirituality is to celebrate our senses
    Activism = sense-itivity to the world around us
    Activism and spirituality are connected, regardless of which spirituality or religion one follows, activism are the actions that back up or support our beliefs, meditations, prayer, rituals. In Christianity, faith without works is dead, and there are similar sayings in other religions too.

    Activism involves a cause we believe deeply in. We often think of it as a global or large issue (foreign policy, peace, the environment,) but it can also be something small and affecting our lives locally (getting a traffic light installed in a busy intersection).

    Activism and Goddess spiritually most naturally and historically connects with feminism, and the modern Goddess movement is linked with feminism through celebrating our innate power as women. Alternately, feminism is a modern activist movement. But Goddess activism is not just limited to causes affecting those who identify as women. In the activist community, most people are known for favouring a specific cause, so to be an activist you just have to find a cause that resonates with you. Then, connect with others who share those values. Things have changed a lot in this regard – I had to get online and really dig around, but it’s easier now with social media like Facebook and Twitter being so prevalent.

    Empowerment of women is only one reason why Goddess or Earth-based spirituality in general is attractive to a growing number of people. Because there is no dogma, no central authority, no official leaders, and really no hard and set rules, Wicca and neo-Paganism can attract left-learning, anti-authoritarian kinds of people like anti-capitalists and anti-globalization activists.

    Being a Goddess activist has challenges. Some of these challenges are the same for all activists, but they can affect us as women in different ways. These include:
    Lateral violence: (gossip, backstabbing amongst other activists, rising from jealousy and other issues);
    Sexism: (for example, men hold the “leadership” positions but it’s actually the women doing all of the work. I read a stat a while back that 90% of volunteer work in churches and non-profits was done by women).
    Activist burn out: we have lives apart from activism, families, lovers, other interests, careers. Self care is important. The personal is political: if we are a bunch of burned out, unhappy people in our personal lives, we’re not going to be as effective as activists, as most importantly, be physically and emotionally healthy as people. This where our spirituality is important, as giving us a foundation and energy release.

    To discuss how Goddess spirituality can be applied to activism, I am picking two major activist themes that directly relate:

    A. Environment
    - In most writings about Goddess spirituality, Wicca, and Paganism, nature is considered sacred. Just read Starhawk, or any other major author that writes about this faith tradition.
    - Goddess spirituality is part of Earth-based religion. We are part of nature, we are guardians of nature, and we have to respect nature.

    B.  Peace
     - Just like nature is sacred, life is sacred. Cyclical: We are also part of nature. Spiritually and physically – regardless of one’s views of the afterlife, our physical bodies return to the earth one way or the other.
    - Our bodies are sacred space – how we treat each other is essential to peace. Behaviours like yelling and gossip are a form a personal violence. We will never be able to stop violence on a broader scale if we don’t treat each other with respect.
    - Threefold Law of return: Every action has a threefold return. So, activism is something that should be a regular part of our lives, because we’re sending out positivity and good vibes with our actions.
    - Activism does not always have to involve big, grand actions. Words have power. Making affirmations is important and can have a positive effect in changing the world.

    C. Animal Rights
    - Humans are sacred, but no more sacred than anything else on Earth. Humans and animals are equal. This is why Earth-based spiritual practitioners are often animal rights activists and vegetarians/vegans.

    Activism and Earth-based Goddess spirituality are interconnected. Not every activist is a Pagan or Wiccan, but a large proportion of Pagans and Wiccans are activists because of the connections between the sacred and the earth and our bodies.


    Thursday, January 02, 2014

    Telling Reich From Wrong

    My December included reading three books by Wilhelm Reich. It was a challenge from a friend who believes that Reich is still relevant, particularly in his views concerning sexuality and politics.

    I've linked to his Wikipedia page in the paragraph above, but to just provide a summary to introduce Reich: he was a student of Freud who wrote extensively in the 1930s. He developed a theory called "sex-economy" which basically says that all of the problems in society can be traced to sexual repression caused by overbearing family and religious situations. This, in turn, led to his theory concerning "orgone," an energy caused by orgasms. He developed a box that collected this orgasmic energy, which he then said helped cure people with a variety of psychology and physical illnesses. Despite the fantastic nature of these claims, he developed quite a following. On the other side of the equation, many considered him a quack and he ultimately ended up getting thrown in prison, where he died.

    Quite a character, indeed. Whether his theories were true or not, they are fascinating and I decided to probe further. What follows below are my initial thoughts concerning the respective books I read. Bear in mind that this is not a scholarly article. These are only my thoughts which are drawn from my background, which includes education, life coaching, and wide reading on issues pertaining to relationships and sexuality.

    The Sexual Revolution

    I think the general comment I have is that people should do what they are comfortable with in terms of their personal lives, and not worry about societal expectations. It’s when we feel coerced into something or doing something because it is expected of us, that’s when we run into trouble. I don’t think marriage and families in and of themselves are necessarily the problems: the problem is that people tend to get married for the wrong reasons. And then if/when things get unworkable, they stay together for the wrong reasons. “Romantic” love only lasts 2-4 years, so of course, getting married purely for the purpose of being able to have sex without religious or moral guilt is not a good idea, to that I do agree.

    Now, for some specific comments about issues he raises:

  • The “modern day” in which the book was written, and which is referenced throughout, is actually the 1930s. A lot has changed in the world of sexuality and psychology since then. Homosexuality was still considered a psychological disorder. HIV was not yet around. Women’s rights had a way to go (still do).

  • Masturbation can be a wonderful, healthy, sensual, incredible experience. Reich seems to downplay it as something lesser. This is definitely something that “modern day” experts now would disagree with.

  • Further, he seems to put penis-into-vagina penetrative sex on a higher pedestal than any other form of sexual activity. This is negating all of the wonderful things a couple can do together. It is also male-centric. Most women don’t reach orgasm during the act of penetration, due to the mechanics of things. Chalk it up, again, to the era in which it was written, and also because he was a student of Freud (who downplayed anything except “vaginal orgasms” which actually don’t exist, at least not the way he described them).

  • Putting male/female vaginal penetrative sex on a pedestal is also heteronormative or heterosexist. But then again, in that day and age, homosexuals were considered perverts. Also, what he discusses as “homosexuality” is actually homosexual behaviour as a result of circumstances (like prison), not actual homosexual orientation. Again, this is a generational sort of thing.

  • Psychological problems can be both nature and nurture. A person is born with his/her brain wiring, which can include tendencies towards neurosis, anxiety, or the brain chemistry necessary for problems like bipolar and schizophrenia. None of these things are the fault of someone’s family, other than the fact that it produced them. Stress in the home can exacerbate the problems, to that I agree. However, WR seems to make sweeping generalizations about families as being unhealthy. Some are, some aren’t. Things like PTSD and some forms of depression (which can co-exist with other psychological problems) can be caused by outright, severe abuse in the home, but that is an extreme, not the norm.

  • For women, sex tends to be much more of an emotionally bonding experience than for men. To a woman, if she is sleeping with someone, she thinks that person is her boyfriend (only to be very hurt to find out that actually is not the case, and said man is actually sleeping with a bunch of different people). Casual sex doesn’t work as well for us also because women are more prone to certain kinds of diseases, and yes, we are the ones who get pregnant. I think the way women are wired (as opposed to being conditioned) has a lot to do with is, because women are nurturers because we become mothers. Those of us who don’t become mothers, nurture in other ways (taking care of elderly parents, for example). Reich really doesn’t deal with any of this, likely because he was a man.

    The Function of the Orgasm

    I found WR’s conclusions a lot more agreeable here – it is definitely true that orgasms are healthy to have regularly, for a variety of reasons, both physical and mental. But I think he might be putting a little too much emphasis on them. There are plenty of people who suffer anxiety (the neurotic tendency he keeps coming back to with reference to what can happen if one does not orgasm regularly) who have active sex lives.

    Again, we have to remember the time period in which this was written. Blaming all neurotic tendencies on sexual repression is no longer done. Therapists did not know things back then the way they are known now. The tendency towards anxiety and other mental problems are wired in the brain – either we have them or we don’t. Problems, if one is prone, can become more apparent when one is under stress, which of course, an orgasm can greatly reduce. And yes, stress can cause physical illnesses. But orgasms, while important, are not the be-all, end-all. A person can have an orgasm and still feel anxious. Lots of sexually active people get ulcers and heart problems and cancer. And, he makes references to not having orgasms and being an alcoholic or drug addict as a result. Well, lots of sexually active people are substance abusers. And sex itself can be an addiction.

    While I know WR and Freud departed on a number of issues, WR was still very influenced by him and Freud placed heterosexual intercourse above any other kind of sexual activity. That is an attitude that nowadays has been widely debunked: most women don’t orgasm that way. It’s heteronormative. It debases wonderful things people can do together that don’t involve penetration. And worst of all, it negates the importance of masturbation.

    Remember, most people go for long stretches of time without a sexual partner. It is so great that we as humans have a way of release and at the same time can avoid the emotional complications of casual hook ups (not to mention the time involved in seeking out meaningless, casual sex), and resulting diseases, unwanted pregnancy, etc.

    The Mass Psychology Of Fascism

    I have to say I got the most into this one. It helped that I already read two of his book dealing with "sex-economy" or I would not have been able to follow a lot of what he was writing. I think this one holds up the best in terms of history. I know that is a short summary, but this was the third 400 page tome I had read in less than a month and I was starting to lose steam. Ah, memories of university . . .

    As a postscript, my friend disagreed with me on the issues I have raised here and said I was missing the point, possibly on purpose. However, he (yes, of course, a guy) has yet to tell me what exactly that point is. He believes that Reich's experiments were sound and scientific, and the fact Reich was imprisoned and his books burned indicative that he had found something important the government was trying to suppress.

    What is known is that the FDA went after Reich concerning his "orgone accumulators" considering his theories and practises to be fraudulent (and possibly crossing patient/therapist boundary lines). Could this have been a over reaction and censorship? Possibly. I personally would like to see where the empirical evidence exists that orgasms can cure anything (other than sexual tension). None of the three books I read got into orgone collection and distribution.

    That being said, this was an interesting exercise that made me think deeply about my views on family, religion, sexuality, and feminism. Agree or disagree, Wilhelm Reich stands, along with Freud, as an important early 20th century figure in the history of psychoanalysis.
  • Breathing On My Own: Yoga, Meditation, and Capitalism

    Many people I know are currently into two Eastern traditions that have gone very mainstream in recent years: yoga and meditation. It used to be that the only folks into these practices were antiquated hippies, health nuts, and people honestly exploring Eastern religions.

    Now, these practices are performed by soccer moms and CEOs and everyone in between. It is not uncommon to see a woman pushing a stroller with a yoga mat bag slung over her shoulder. There are yoga classes for moms with babies, athletes, couples, and all skill levels. You can go on yoga and meditation retreats locally and abroad.

    Is this cultural appropriation? Perhaps. However, western folks have been doing yoga and meditation for years. It's just that they are so popular now, that like most things that become popular, they have become multi-million dollar industries. From retreats to fancy studios to clothing, capitalists all across North America are making a pretty penny because of two spiritual practices that consist of stretching and breathing.

    Stretching and breathing. These are two things that everyone can do for free. I have an inexpensive yoga mat and instructional book. In the privacy of my own basement, wearing whatever comfortable rags I feel like, I stretch away.

    I wonder how many people doing yoga and meditation even know or care about the backgrounds of the practises, or if they are just going along with the popular thing at the moment like Pilates a few years ago, or Tai Bo, or any of the other fitness and wellness fads that have come and gone over the years.

    Ditto for meditation. Like yoga, I have taken the occasional class, and maintain a practise on my own, combined with study and reading. I have integrated it into my lifestyle, not as a social event but as a way of personal growth.

    Meditation is a serious spiritual practise that can be used to calm and focus the mind. Yoga is also a spiritual practise to focus the mind and body. They are elements of several world religions, not merely passing fads for privileged white people. Not as a way of bilking money out of gullible people who want to keep up appearances.