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Latest Update: Documenting Social Movements

Media Activism: Documenting Social Movements – John Humphrey Centre Peacebuilders (February 7, 2017 – video only)

I was invited to address the Peacebuilders group of the John Humphrey Centre for Peace and Human Rights at their meeting on February 7, to discuss documenting social movements to further discussion about peace and non-violence. Here is a video of my talk, as well as my notes.

1. Why did you start documenting events in your city?

I showed up to my first peace rally in September of 2005 and asked permission to take photos. I just thought it might be an interesting thing to do. I posted the photos later on, on a blog I had, and the reaction to them online was so huge, the server crashed. I realized that I might be on to something – that no one at that point was documenting the local activist scene and that there was a demand for it – a desire to see photos from events afterwards. I got a better website with more server space, and began to hone my skills in photography and social media, and a short time later, videography. I document through photography and videos, and share my work using social media.

2. Why did you think it is important?

The importance of documentation has several facets. First of all, it is capturing history, perhaps a part of Edmonton’s history that is not and has not been widely examined. It keeps a record of what happened, when, and why. It creates something tangible that can be shared with others, both locally and elsewhere, and perhaps even help to form connections between organizations and individuals. I also view what I do as having an artistic element to it – art and activism are very closely connected in my beliefs, as both communicate messages in visual ways. Also, documenting visually, unless someone intentionally sets about using photoshop or some other program in nefarious ways, are ways of presenting the truth of what happens. For example, I recently videoed Jane Fonda’s talk during a panel discussion on pipelines. A number of people expressed their dismay to local media that a celebrity should come up here and be disrespectful, and were basically criticizing what she said, without actually listening to what she said. I gave them that opportunity.

3. What are your favourite platforms on social media to use? Why?

I use YouTube and Flickr for videos and photos, respectively. I find them both intuitive to use and make my work easy to share. I post my work, then share it on Twitter and Facebook. The sharing/retweeting capacities of these social media platforms help spread my work to a wide number of people in a relatively short period of time. I have been using Instagram more and more, because I like how it enables someone to take a photo then send it out to a number of social media platforms at once. For blogging and simple websites, I really like WordPress because it is so intuitive, but I have also used Blogger.

4. What kinds of conversations have started due to your documentation?

There have been conversations about the efficacy of the use of social media when it comes to activism. There is agreement about it being a great way to get messages out, but also it’s important to be cautious: such as, not accepting any and all friend requests, being careful about sharing personal information, and issues of privacy and permission (photographing people in public places taking part in public events in fair game, but there may be times when it would be appropriate to ask permission). And there have been conversations about the subject matter itself, discussing different sides of the issues, which is really what we want to do: foster discussion about issues concerning conflict and human rights.

5. If you could provide 2 examples of your documentation (mini case studies) that have greatly impacted the work that you do?

a) In June of 2015 Justin Trudeau was in Edmonton to help launch the campaign of Amarjeet Sohi, who was running for MP as a Liberal in Edmonton-Mill Woods (he was subsequently elected). The Edmonton Coalition Against War and Racism, of which I am a part, was organizing a series of pickets against Bill C-51, which the Liberals voted in favour of, with the promise that if elected, they would revise some of the more problematic parts of the bill (we’re still waiting for this to happen). All of the media was inside the banquet hall – except me. I was filming the protest. All of a sudden, I heard a lot of screaming coming from behind me, and I turned around, and there was Justin Trudeau himself. He engaged in an argument with Peggy Morton, and ECAWAR organizer, and I got the whole thing on video and it went viral across the country – I was doing interviews about it with media outlets, and that video is still doing well. This experience really hit home to me the importance of what I was doing – no one else captured this moment – and also how a large part of doing this job I am doing is simply showing up and being in the right place at the right time.

b) I was a co-organizer of the recent Women’s March on Washington – Edmonton Solidarity Event on January 21. If anything shows the power of social media, it is this. Combined with the international media coverage the sister marches were getting (the main march was in Washington, of course), our event page, Twitter, and Instagram went viral. Documenting this was also important to us, so I was doing triple duty as an emcee, videographer, and photographer (we did have an official photographer as well). We saw the numbers on Facebook getting bigger and bigger up until the day itself, when over 4000 people packed the north side of the Legislature grounds. Myself and one of the other co-organizers, have decided to try to keep the momentum created by the march going and are using social media with a new Facebook page, new Twitter and Instagram accounts (@wmwyeg), and a new website (wmwyeg.org).

6. Do you think the voices of everyday citizens through your documentation have impacted the community? In what do you think the community has been impacted?

7. My documentation gives every day citizens a voice and a platform they may not otherwise have had. Mainstream media often does not cover progressive and activist events at great length, if at all. I am putting up entire speeches or at least more than just 30-second soundbites. This also impacts the community in that it creates resources for future actions and the ability to start dialogues on the different issues presented.

8. How important is the freedom of speech for you in Canada?

For all of our protests and rallies, I do acknowledge that we are lucky to be living in a country like Canada where there is freedom of speech. I think that what I am doing amplifies that – by taking words and actions, and bringing them to different and wider audiences.

9. Any words of advice for people who are wanting to start creating dialogues or using social media as a platform to create a more peaceful and respectful community?

Here are some best practices I always encourage. I already mentioned being careful about accepting friend requests and giving out too much personal information.

Photos/Videos

  • Seems like common sense: make sure batteries in phone and cameras are charged.
  • Carry charger and battery packs for phones.
  • Some camera batteries are proprietary; have a spare (if economical) and/or make sure it is charged in advance.

    Instagram

  • Good descriptions
  • Lots of hashtags
  • Settings to share on other social media like FB and Twitter

    Photos: Facebook

  • Don’t tag people who are not in photos. Pet peeve of many; good way to get de-friended.
  • Respect it when people don’t want to be tagged. Easier now that people can remove tags themselves.

    Writing/Blogging

  • Keywords
  • Have someone else edit your work
  • Fact check
  • Share links to your work on social media
  • Keep your emotions in check: say it and forget it, write it and regret it.

  • Latest Update: Reflections on Being an Active Citizen

    Faith & Social Justice: Reflections on Being an Active Citizen (February 5, 2017 – video only)

    I was invited by Southminster-Steinhauer United Church to speak as a guest during the service on February 5. I was asked to speak about my experience as an organizer of the Women’s March on Washington – Edmonton Solidarity Event, as well as activism in general. The theme of the service was “The Spirituality of Activism.” My talk was entitled, “Reflections on Being an Active Citizen.” Here is the text of my talk, as well as a video.

    Reflections on Being an Active Citizen

    In September of 2005 I showed up to my first peace march. I happened to have a camera with me, and I asked the organizers if it would be okay to take some photos. They said yes. I posted the photos that evening on some website space I happened to have, and announced that I had done so on an email listserv (remember those?). The response was so great that the website crashed. It was at that moment I realized the importance of documenting the activist and social justice movement in Edmonton not only for historical purposes, but as a way of communicating messages of peace, environmental stewardship, gender equality, LGBTQ rights, Indigenous issues, and so on.

    I also became involved with a few groups as an organizer, such as the Edmonton Coalition Against War and Racism, and so did double-duty at events on photos and videos, as well as sometimes being a musician or emcee.

    Flash forward to November of 2016. I heard about a Women’s March on Washington to happen the day after Trump’s inauguration. The friend who told me about it, asked if something similar would happen in Edmonton, since, after all, I am quite connected to the activist community. My inqueries online led me to a national organizing group overseeing the creation of “sister marches” in cities throughout the country, and I signed up to help with organizing in Edmonton. I was put in touch with two other women who had expressed similar interest, and together we organized one of the biggest rallies held in Edmonton in recent history: reports of 4000, maybe more, people crowded the north side of the Alberta Legislature on January 21, 2017. The experience for me was exhilarating. The energy was palpable. Even though I have never addressed a crowd that large before, any nervous feelings just slipped away when I got to the microphone. It was definitely a day I will never forget.

    What was my motivation for getting involved with the Women’s March in the first place? It’s similar to that which motivates me to be involved in social justice in general. From a faith perspective, I was raised in a Jewish household, and while I am not religiously observant in a traditional sense, save for some of the dietary laws, there are some aspects of the Jewish culture and philosophy that continue to shape my life. There is a Jewish value called tikkun olam, which means healing or repairing the world, and this has been a guiding force for me in activism.

    More specifically, I viewed the need for a Women’s March in Edmonton in a very local context. I have been appalled by the messages of hate and violence directed towards women politicians in this province. I recoil in horror at stories of Islamophobia directed at women who wear hijabs. In our world today, building love and hope and cooperation between people of all faiths and cultures and genders is more important than ever.

    That being said, we, the organizers, worked very hard to make the Edmonton sister march less about Trump himself, and more about the need for a society with civil discourse, where people can disagree without resorting to hate speech, and where there is equity for all people. What was so heartening about the event, was seeing so many men and boys there, standing in solidarity with their partners, daughters, sisters, and mothers.

    The question, which, of course, followed the march was: where do we go from here? I, and one of the other organizers, decided to keep the momentum going by building a Facebook page as an offshoot of the main event page, using it to promote local women’s initiatives and related events, and for any future events we may organize. The reaction was strong, and within a few days we had over 700 “likes” and it continues to grow – we’re close to 1000 at the time that I am preparing this talk. When people ask, “what is the lasting effect of something like the Women’s March?” I point out that the simple fact that so many people responded to the event and turned up, is proof in itself that more and more people are not willing to be complacent. That they want a world where gender-based violence, racism, and hatred of all kinds are not acceptable.

    I have been involved in activism and attending protests and rallies for over a decade. The main comment I get from naysayers is that protesting has no effect, no lasting result. From all early indications, when it comes to the Women’s March, this is simply not true. Also, “protest” does not necessarily mean standing in the street with a placard. It can mean taking action by writing letters, making phone calls, and being active online in promoting the kind of social justice and change you want to see in the world.

    If we want a world with gender equality – or any other form of social justice – we have to be willing to make a stand and put ourselves out there, in whatever way seems appropriate. Recent events in the world continue to demonstrate why we needed to march. To summarize, and to elaborate on a meme I saw recently on Facebook: sometimes we look back at history and think what we would have done had we been there. But we are here now. Whatever we’re doing at this point in history, is what we’re doing because we’re present. Don’t wait until you are looking back and wondering what you could have done. We all have a choice to be active citizens now.