Labour: Edmonton and District Labour Council’s 28th Annual Labour Day BBQ for the Unemployed and Underemployed (September 4, 2017)
Faith and Social Justice: Journeys of Faith – Paths of Resistance (reflection at Mill Woods United Church, Sept. 3, 2017)
I am the Marketing/Social Media Coordinator for Mill Woods United Church. On September 3, I presented a reflection on my faith journey and the work I do for the church.
Subtitle: Activism and Spirituality, or, “What’s a Nice Jewish Girl Doing In the United Church?”
I was asked to make a presentation about my spiritual journey, activism, and accomplishments, in the context of what exactly I do for Mill Woods United, in approximately 20 minutes or less. So, please fasten your seat belts. Here we go.
I recall my job interview in the spring of 2016 with Ian, Brian, Mary-Anne, and Janice. It was going pretty well, but there was something I had to fess up to: I wasn’t from a United Church background. In fact – get ready for it – I’m Jewish. “That’s okay,” replied Ian, “So is our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” I tell this story quite often and it always elicits laughter.
Many of you also know me as being involved as the email list and social media coordinator with the Moving Forward with Reconciliation group which is comprised of members from a number of Edmonton’s United Churches. So, how did a nice Jewish girl end up working with the United Church?
I was raised in a fairly traditional Modern Orthodox family. Saturday was the Sabbath. We observed all of the Jewish holy days: the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashana (also known as the “Jewish New Year”) and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement and the holiest day on the Jewish calendar), but also Passover and the other feasts and festivals as well. It was fun – I got to take a lot of days off of school for “religious observance.” We also strictly observed the dietary laws, the most well-known of which are no pork products and no shellfish (Levitical restrictions), both of which I still observe to this day.
Then came the teenage years of rebellion, and I, like many of my peers, fell away from the faith of my family. I still always identified as being Jewish but stopped being as observant. Saturday became just another day. I considered myself secular. I didn’t need a spiritual life as such. And so my teens became my 20s and I started to feel a spiritual longing that led me on a path that included everything from east to west, from Buddhism to even a time spent in the Messianic Jewish movement, which is basically Evangelical Christians who celebrate the Jewish roots of Christianity, and Jewish people interested in exploring Christianity in a Jewish context.
It was ironically during my time in this extremely right-wing, Zionist movement that I became interested in getting involved in Edmonton’s activist community – and by activist, I mean of the politically progressive kind. I had always been interested in issues of human rights and social justice but never found a way to connect. Enter the Internet, which I had been spending a lot of time on since my university days. I taught myself how to make web pages, and was starting to learn the ways of what was going to be known as social media.
Eventually, I connected with local groups that dealt with independent media, peace, the environment, women, and Indigenous issues, and as I left organized religion behind yet again I felt more affirmed in my Jewish identity as ever. There is a value in Judaism called Tikkun Olam, which roughly translates to “healing or repairing the world.” In many ways, activism has become a form of spiritual expression for me.
My role as an activist has largely been documenting local social movements through photography and video, posting my work online on my blog RadicalCitizenMedia.com as well as on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and more recently, Instagram. As a result, I have gained a large following online while learning the ins and outs of social media, which I have been able to apply to my work as a communications consultant who works largely with non-profits and NGOs.
For example, in my (just a little over a) year with Mill Woods, I have helped fix up the website, make sure it is updated regularly, while ensuring timely and relevant posts on Facebook, Twitter, and the Instagram account that I set up for the congregation. Ian’s reflections go up every week, announcements are posted, events are promoted, and at the same time I curate material to go online that pertain to the work of the congregation and the wider United Church, particularly concerning Reconciliation and LGBTQ issues, since we are an affirming congregation. Numbers on social media are growing and hopefully this is translating into both communication to congregational members, and inspiring others to attend. In addition, I help proof newsletters and print/promotional materials when required. You get all of this and more, packed into what is now five hours per week.
I heard about the position, which was called Marketing Project Coordinator but is now simply referred to as Social Media, through my involvement with the Edmonton Interfaith Centre for Education and Action, where I am a board member. The building that hosts the Interfaith Centre’s office also houses Garneau United Church, where I occasionally attended as a guest, particularly to video the sermons of a friend of mine who occasionally led services as a layperson. Quite simply, I saw a posting for the job on the communal bulletin board and I applied. And so, here I am.
Last summer I also began working with the group Moving Forward with Reconciliation, which is made up of people from several Edmonton United Churches. I took over the email list announcing events in Edmonton and area pertaining to Reconciliation and Indigenous educational opportunities when the original founder of the group moved to another province. I wanted to enhance and augment the position, and created a Facebook page for the group, as well as a Reconciliation calendar that is now part of the Mill Woods website.
My work in social media, combined with my involvement in activism, started to receive recognition from my community in 2012, when I received the Salvos Prelorentzos Peace Award, an award annually given by Project Ploughshares Edmonton (historically an ecumenical Christian peace organization), to an individual or organization in Edmonton working for the cause of peace, who has not previously been honoured for their work. Around this time I began working with the founding steering committee for the annual Daughters Day event, held in City Hall to honour women and girls for their achievements, the first Daughters Day being held in September of 2012. In 2014, I was named one of the Daughters of the Year at that year’s Daughters Day event for my leadership and being an example to women in activism. Most recently, I was named a Human Rights Champion by the John Humphrey Centre for Peace and Human Rights in December of 2016, and was a co-organizer of the Women’s March on Washington Edmonton “sister march” on January 21, 2017, which saw over 4000 people converge at the Alberta Legislature grounds to proclaim and affirm that women’s rights are human rights.
Most recently, I have become involved with an initiative called Completing the Story. We’re a grassroots group of women who came together last year to address the lack of visual representation of women in public spaces, not only in Edmonton, but throughout Canada and elsewhere. It was a logical move from my experiences with Daughters Day and the Women’s March, to work on projects that work towards an equitable society.
So even though I don’t come from a United Church background, I have always been attracted to the United Church of Canada’s commitment to social justice and a better world. I’ve often told people that if I was Christian by birth, I would have chosen the United Church as my spiritual home. From peace to reconciliation with Canada’s First Nations, to a just resolution to the conflict in Israel/Palestine, the United Church has been a part of all of these struggles, and I am very grateful to have been welcomed into this congregation and to be able to serve you in the capacity of Social Media/Marketing Coordinator.
Media Activism: Documenting Activism – A Practical Guide for Organizers (August 22, 2017 – video only)On August 22, 2017, I presented this workshop on Documenting Activism for the conference Ignite Change: Global Gathering for Human Rights, organized by the John Humphrey Centre for Peace and Human Rights. The session was attended by people from Edmonton, Vancouver, and Toronto. Below is a video recording of my presentation, as well as my notes. — Ignite Change Presentation Documenting Activism: A Practical Guide for Organizers Overview of Me and My Work How and why I started doing this 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. Why documentation 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 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. What I use 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. Documentation conversations There have been conversations about the efficacy of the use of social media when it comes to activism. There is agreement about it being a great way to get messages out, but also it’s important to be cautious: such as, not accepting any and all friend requests, being careful about sharing personal information, and issues of privacy and permission (photographing people in public places taking part in public events in fair game in Canada (mostly – laws are different in Quebec), but there may be times when it would be appropriate to ask permission. Also, photographing the police is fine as long as you’re not interfering with their ability to do their work. Laws can be different in different parts of the world – be sure to research and know before you whip out a camera at a protest somewhere else, to avoid getting into legal trouble.). And there have been conversations about the subject matter itself, discussing different sides of the issues, which is really what we want to do: foster discussion about issues concerning conflict and human rights. Concrete examples of my work and its impact a) In June of 2015 Justin Trudeau was in Edmonton to help launch the campaign of Amarjeet Sohi, who was running for MP as a Liberal in Edmonton-Mill Woods (he was subsequently elected). The Edmonton Coalition Against War and Racism (ECAWAR for short), of which I am a part, was organizing a series of pickets against Bill C-51, which the Liberals voted in favour of, with the promise that if elected, they would revise some of the more problematic parts of the bill (we’re still waiting for this to happen). All of the media was inside the banquet hall – except me. I was filming the protest. All of a sudden, I heard a lot of screaming coming from behind me, and I turned around, and there was Justin Trudeau himself. He engaged in an argument with Peggy Morton, and ECAWAR organizer, and I got the whole thing on video and it went viral across the country – I was doing interviews about it with media outlets, and that video is still doing well. This experience really hit home to me the importance of what I was doing – no one else captured this moment – and also how a large part of doing this job I am doing is simply showing up and being in the right place at the right time. https://youtu.be/wmLwjjcvIeQ?t=6m30s b) I was a co-organizer of the Women’s March on Washington – Edmonton Solidarity Event on January 21. If anything shows the power of social media, it is this. Combined with the international media coverage the sister marches were getting (the main march was in Washington, of course), our event page, Twitter, and Instagram went viral. Documenting this was also important to us, so I was doing triple duty as an emcee, videographer, and photographer (we did have an official photographer as well). We saw the numbers on Facebook getting bigger and bigger up until the day itself, when over 4000 people packed the north side of the Legislature grounds. I and one of the other co-organizers, have decided to try to keep the momentum created by the march going and are using social media with a new Facebook page, new Twitter and Instagram accounts (@wmwyeg), and a website (wmwyeg.org). https://youtu.be/ojY-PG7vFoQ?t=4m58s https://youtu.be/373lc__Q2lg How documentation impacts the community Documentation, the way that I do it, gives every day citizens a voice and a platform they may not otherwise have had. Mainstream media often does not cover progressive and activist events at great length, if at all. I am putting up entire speeches or at least more than just 30-second soundbites. This also impacts the community in that it creates resources for future actions and the ability to start dialogues on the different issues presented. Documentation: The Practical Stuff Why document?
- To have an historical record
- To protect yourself/colleagues by having recorded details that the memory may otherwise lose
- To share your movement and experiences online and connect with like-minded groups/individuals and grow beyond your borders
- Helps build grassroots community locally and beyond through the sharing of resources.
- Helps attract others to the movement by presenting who you are and what you do. Pictures (and videos) speak volumes beyond just written descriptions (but writing is important too, as we will discuss later).
- Be the media: cover important gaps in coverage. Citizen journalism is a “thing” – there are unprecedented opportunities in today’s world for our voices to be heard.
- For yourself: just like there are those people who always take pictures at family gatherings, events and protests can make important memories for us as well.
- Can be an issue of access/privilege (equipment – you need a camera, and ideally you need a computer)
- However, one does not need a fancy camera – a smartphone/tablet can suffice. Technology has come a long way.
- Most phones can also take video, most cameras (DSLR and point-and-shoot) can take video, and some video cameras can also take decent stills.
- Benefit of the above: items can be shared immediately via data or wifi (be careful about eating up data plan). You can even edit in your phone or tablet now with apps.
- Instagram & Flickr, Facebook & Twitter, YouTube – all places to post immediately. Don’t forget to tag and add hashtags. Tags are like keywords; hashtags use the # symbol and also work as keywords that can be clicked on to be taken to materials using that same term. Eg. #yeg in Twitter for Edmonton-related posts.
- Photos should tell a story. Include backdrops, crowds. Don’t always focus in one individuals without context or else you end up with photos that look like they could have been taken anywhere. Eg. Festival photo of family on grass that could have been taken anywhere.
- No issues in Canada taking photos and videos at and posting photos from public gatherings on public space. However, respect it if a colleague does not want his/her photo taken and posted. Could be a job-related issue, family issue etc. Or, maybe they just don’t like their picture being taken. Legal issues vs. moral/ethical issues in this case err on the side of caution.
- Children: if singled out in a photo, always a good idea to get permission from parents/guardians. Again, morality/ethics should take precedence over legality.
- In Canada, police/law enforcement can be photographed. They, nor anyone else, have the right to tell you to delete photos.
- I’m not a lawyer – my information comes from my experience and what I believe to be true, but don’t take anything I have said here as legal advice.
- Editing: I try to shoot in a way that would require minimal editing, if at all, afterwards. Depends what you are trying to do. Documentation, to me, means being true to what I see, so I don’t want to change or enhance it much. You can crop and make some adjustments right in your phone. Most computer operating systems come with a basic photo editor (as well as a video editor).
- Captures the moments, describes them, another way of sharing information.
- Photo captions/descriptions
- Blogs: WordPress, Blogger. WordPress is better for making full-fledged websites. If you just want a plain blog, Blogger might be more intuitive to use for some.
- Facebook posts: keep succinct, add hashtags (a more recent development on FB)
- You don’t have to be an English major or wonderful writer.
- Be descriptive, be succinct.
- Letters to the Editor at newspapers – don’t be surprised if you don’t get published or it gets edited way down. Keep as short as possible – increases chances of getting printed.
- Contributions to activist websites. Usually are hungry for submissions because they can’t pay.
- Work as a team; have someone edit your work
- Be careful what you write: “say it and forget it, write it and regret it.” Nothing ever really permanently vanishes from the Internet (eg. Deborah Drever). You don’t want something coming back at you down the road.
- Published work online usually has a unique link that can be shared on social media.
- 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.
- Good descriptions
- Lots of hashtags
- Settings to share on other social media like FB and Twitter
- Don’t tag people who are not in photos. Pet peeve of many; good way to get defriended.
- Respect it when people don’t want to be tagged. Easier now that people can remove tags themselves.
- Same as the above with regard to descriptions, keywords, sharing, adding people (the equivalent of tagging).
- Have someone else edit your work
- Fact check
- Share links to your work on social media
–>Workshop: Ask how many people have smartphones. Break into pairs, with those who don’t have smartphones teamed with those who do, where applicable. Take pictures of the room, each other, whatever is going on, video each other talking about what aspects of social justice are important to them. Upload to the social media platforms of your choice, with the hashtag #ignitechange2017.
Local Issues: Black Lives Matter & EPS “Meeting” On Street Checks (“Carding”) (June 19, 2017)
Faith and Social Justice: Reconciliation and Edmonton’s United Churches (June 18, 2017)
On June 18, 2017, I was invited to speak to the Mission and Outreach Pod at Robertson Wesley United Church, a group that meets periodically after the service on Sundays. My topic was Reconciliation and what Edmonton United Churches are doing to address the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action. I presented my short talk in the context of Moving Forward with Reconciliation, a group I have been involved with for a couple of years. Below are the notes from my talk, as well as a summary of the responses to the questions I was asked afterwards.
My work: I have an interest in documentation and communication, particularly bringing groups together that have a common cause or interest. To that end, I have been documenting local activism in Edmonton and posting on social media, which is building greater awareness of progressive movements in the city. This extends to Indigenous issues and Reconciliation.
I’ve been involved with a group called Moving Forward with Reconciliation for a couple of years. It’s a ministry of Edmonton Presbytery and we have members from a number of Edmonton United Church congregations. I got involved with the group through a woman named Debbie Hubbard. Debbie and I knew each other through Palestine solidarity work, and I later found out she had formed the Moving Forward group and was facilitating it at the time. I was also writing for an Indigenous newspaper (I’m a multi-media journalist by profession) and was following what the group was doing, which was working on building bridges between the United Church and Indigenous communities, through meetings, events, dialogues – all of this was in the planning stages at the time but I started to attend planning meetings of the working group.
A large part of Moving Forward was the building of an email list to send out announcements concerning events relating to Reconciliation and Indigenous education that are open to non-Indigenous people. Last summer, Debbie moved to Kelowna with her husband, and needed someone to take over the list. She felt I was the natural person to that given my background with communications and, although I am not of a United Church background, I am involved with the United Church on a professional basis as Marketing Project Coordinator with Mill Woods United Church, where I assist the congregation with its website and social media. So, I did indeed take over the email list after she moved.
What I have built: The email list has grown quite a bit since last year. I send out more event notices than in the past, although I try to limit to one per day because it is quite a large list. I also built a Facebook page where the events, which mostly have Facebook event pages associated with them, are also posted. People were requesting this, particularly younger people who tend to check Facebook more than their email. Some kind of list of events was also requested, so that people did not have to go back-tracking through their email to look something up, so I built a Reconciliation Calendar as part of the Mill Woods United Church website. (I am paid an honorarium for my Moving Forward work through a grant that is administrated through Mill Woods, hence it being the logical connection). Many of the events I post I find on Facebook – I spend time searching through pages of Indigenous and Reconciliation-related organizations – and also I am contacted personally with request to post information and events.
Ongoing work/integration: The working group itself continues to be dynamic and finding its way in terms of mission and purpose, while its members are a presence at many events as participants and volunteers. Why are we doing this? As we know, the United Church has been responding to the Calls for Action and there is an excellent section of the main United Church website that deals with Reconciliation:
The response to the email list is overwhelmingly positive. A resource such as the Moving Forward list is a relatively simple, inexpensive way to make church people aware of events and bring people out in greater numbers. Reconciliation can’t happen in a vacuum – it’s definitely great to have church-based discussion groups because there are many things that need to be discussed on a church level in terms of what the role in Reconciliation should be, and people’s experiences and such, but in order to take it to the next level (so to speak), we really need to be out there at events and learning and volunteering and taking part.
So, I am going to leave it at that and just through the discussion open, in terms of where we’re at and where we may be going.
In the discussion that followed, I was asked numerous questions about the United Church and Reconciliation. Here is an attempt to summarize them for future reference.
The Calls to Action pertaining to the Churches are 58-61.
58. We call upon the Pope to issue an apology to Survivors, their families, and communities for the Roman Catholic Church’s role in the spiritual, cultural, emotional, physical, and sexual abuse of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis children in Catholic-run residential schools. We call for that apology to be similar to the 2010 apology issued to Irish victims of abuse and to occur within one year of the issuing of this Report and to be delivered by the Pope in Canada.
59. “We call upon church parties to the Settlement Agreement to develop ongoing education strategies to ensure that their respective congregations learn about their church’s role in colonization, the history and legacy of residential schools, and why apologies to former residential school students, their families, and communities were necessary.”
60. We call upon leaders of the church parties to the Settlement Agreement and all other faiths, in collaboration with Indigenous spiritual leaders, Survivors, schools of theology, seminaries, and other religious training centres, to develop and teach curriculum for all student clergy, and all clergy and staff who work in Aboriginal communities, on the need to respect Indigenous spirituality in its own right, the history and legacy of residential schools and the roles of the church parties in that system, the history and legacy of religious conflict in Aboriginal families and communities, and the responsibility that churches have to mitigate such conflicts and prevent spiritual violence.
61. We call upon church parties to the Settlement Agreement, in collaboration with Survivors and representatives of Aboriginal organizations, to establish permanent funding to Aboriginal people for:
i. Community-controlled healing and reconciliation projects.
ii. Community-controlled culture- and language revitalization projects.
ii. Community-controlled education and relationship building projects.
iv. Regional dialogues for Indigenous spiritual leaders and youth to discuss Indigenous spirituality, self-determination, and reconciliation.
Apologies need action. Saying you’re sorry and acknowledging what you did wrong is the first step – but what are you going to do, moving forward, to effect change?
Go to events and listen and learn. Offer to volunteer, where appropriate.
Have conversations. Get to know people as individuals, where they are at. We all have different backgrounds and stories. When we get to know people, we stop seeing them as “other.”
Ask questions. If you are unsure if something is cultural appropriation, or if you can take photographs, or in any situation where you don’t know how to proceed – ask. Asking shows respect.
Peace, Political Actions, & Organizations – ECAWAR: ECAWAR Info Picket – No to Increased Defence Spending (June 17, 2017)
Animal Advocacy: The Roaring Silence (May 6, 2017)
International Issues, Political Action, and Organizations: ECAWAR: ECAWAR Info Picket – Hands Off Syria (April 8, 2017)