Thursday, March 22, 2007

Eliminate voting age restrictions

I just found out about the Vote16 campaign to lower the voting age in Canada, and to encourage greater participation by youth in politics.

Democracy, fundamentally, should be about bringing together the diverse voices of the community to come to the most informed collective decision we can. By deliberately excluding an entire range of perspectives from the discussion, we reduce the quality of our decision making.

The excuses for excluding youth from voting closely parallel the excuses that were used for excluding women to vote. Prime examples:
“They’ll just vote the way their husbands/parents tell them to.”
“They don’t understand politics so won’t be able to make an informed choice.”

If we were going to exclude people from the dialogue because they’re not experts, we’d be left with only a handful of voters. Besides, I’ve known some kids who were way more informed (and interested) about politics than most adults in our society.

The Vote16 campaign is just targetting lowering the voting age to 16. Personally, I would like to eliminate age restrictions on voting altogether. Not surprisingly, I tend to get rather defensive arguments from people when I suggest this “extreme” viewpoint.

I get responses like “So you would let a two-year-old vote?!?” My answer is yes, if they choose to. Just as I would let an adult with a brain injury, a mental illness, alzheimer’s, etc., vote. Why should we be so afraid of different perspectives? Why should we be afraid of including all voices in the dialogue of our community?

We provide supportive voting for people with disabilities, for illiterate adults, etc. Why are we willing to go to extra effort to include their differing viewpoints and not the differing viewpoints of those who stand to have to deal the longest with the consequences of our decisions?

The children of today have the greatest stake in the decisions we make now, because they will still be dealing with the costs and benefits long after the current adult generation has passed on.

It is a tremendous loss to our community and our future to disenfranchise the youth of today. I believe the current generation is paying the price of the same failure on the part of previous generations. How much better off might our world have been if we had included those perspectives in the decisions of generations past?
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Monday, March 19, 2007

How to be a media darling in a thousand easy steps

My media saturation is getting ridiculous.

Today alone, I was in the Calgary Sun talking about rent control the National Post talking about the Revolutionary Knitting Circle, the Orlando Sentinal (Orlando?!?) being not entirely accurately presented in talking about the Revolutionary Knitting Circle (they got my name and the founding year of RKC wrong). I also was in a press scrum at City Hall after the morning session of the Land Use Bylaw hearings. I’m not sure what ran (or will run tomorrow) from that, but it seemed like all the local commercial tv, radio, and papers were there.

Tuesday’s Calgary Sun is to have an article where I talk about the city’s land-use bylaw. I’m also scheduled to appear on a CHQR 770AM talk show for about 20-30 minutes to talk about affordable housing issues (Just after the 3:00PM news on Tuesday). Then on Thursday (or maybe next week Thursday) FFWD is planning to run a profile of me.

How did it come to this?

The formula for getting this much media attention is relatively straight forward.
  • When the media asks for a statement, give them one.
  • When tv asks if you would be available for an on-camera interview, make time in your schedule to accommodate their schedule that day. Don’t forget to groom yourself and dress nicely. I’m generally lazy about shaving, but I try to always be clean shaven for the cameras.
  • When radio asks if you’d be willing to come to their studio for a pre-recorded or live-to-air show, show up a little early (even if it’s in the morning).
  • Speak clearly and concisely with good grammar. What you say has to read well and communicate well in isolated chunks (“sound-bites”).
  • Show up to things the media are interested in (such as city hall when there’s some “newsworthy” issue coming up, or a public event such as a large protest).
  • Get enough information on a sufficiently wide range of issues that you can sound authoritative—or at least present what comes across as “an informed opinion.” Never lie, though. If you don’t know, be honest and tell them that.
  • Get to know a wide range of people who really know the issues so you can refer reporters to them when the story needs more than you can give, or needs additional voices.
  • If you don’t have the information they’re asking for, offer to track it down. If they accept your offer, drop everything to get it for them within the hour (or sooner).
  • Consistently do the above over many years.
In summation, bend over backwards to give them what they want, when and where they want it. Make it as easy as you can for the media to get content from or through you. they’ll start to recognize that you are a reliable source of usable content and turn to you when they need a story.
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Sunday, March 18, 2007

A personal crusade against ageism

Someone I’ve met through local activism just connected with me over MySpace. Before you lash into me, let me say that, yes, I’m using Myspace—one of the worst designed and yet successful sites I’ve ever seen. I use it to try to connect with people for local activism since, unfortunately, there are so many people using it these days.

Anyway, my contact happened to notice that my MySpace profile page currently lists my age as 67.

Having met me, they naturally questioned the veracity of that number (since, I can say with full confidence that, I don’t look a day over 60). Here’s part of my response:
No, I’m probably not 67 :-) I don’t put my actual birthdate on websites because I’m on a personal crusade against ageism. I almost never tell my age and almost never ask anyone their’s.

We, as a society, find far too many ways (such as age, gender, finances, ethnicity, etc.) to separate and compartmentalize each other and I see that as being at the core of the problems in the world. We are divided and, therefore, conquered. Meaningful and sustainable social change can only come to the extent that we see each other as part of the same and come together, rather than as apart and separate.

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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Encouraging movement at First Calgary

First Calgary—ostensibly still a credit union—seems to be moving toward a more socially responsible practice. There’s still a very long way to go to bring it to the standards of Vancity—one of Canada’s most active in social change credit unions, and also one of the most profitable. However, the changes I’ve observed this decade are at least encouraging.

There has been a significant increase in the use of the language of corporate social responsibility by the executive and board members. While this has not yet translated into any signifiant structural change to the organization, that I’m aware of, it has made room for some small projects to emerge that point to some positive possibilities.

At this past evening’s AGM, a number of projects were highlighted that indicate an increased willingness to move toward efforts for positive social change. This is a stark contrast to the first First Calgary AGM I attended about 5 years ago where the only “social responsibility” discussed were some contributions to traditional charities (the bandage vs. cure problem).

All that said, there are still numerous major problems with the anti-democratic policies and practices of First Calgary. The board election campaign needs a significant overhaul in order to actively engage the membership in dialogue with the candidates.

Currently, candidates for the board are strictly prohibited from any campaigning outside of a measly 150 word printed statement (far less than a typical cover letter—let alone a resumé), and a one-minute video statement. There is no opportunity for members to ask any questions, or for candidates to fully present their personal background and their ideas for First Calgary’s direction.

How can one be expected to make an appropriate decision about who to vote for without such information and dialogue?

There are numerous other problems with the current board structure, but that’s enough for me tonight. In any case, I’m still more encouraged now about the possibility of moving First Calgary in a positive direction than I have been since I started working to change it some years ago.
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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The Kyoto Rally was Fantastic

Photo of Raging Grannies in the crowd The Canadians For Kyoto rally here in Calgary on Sunday was one of the most enjoyable protest events I’ve ever been to. All the participants seemed enthusiastic and energetic. I guess it helped that the weather was great, too.

Something that worked really well was going into a facilitated drum circle right away after the speakers were done. I’m going to push for us to do that at most of our rallies here from now on. It was a very positive and energizing way to close out the event.

You can check out all of my photos from the event.
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Saturday, March 10, 2007

Knitting Peace

Photo: Peace Knits banner at Nelson Knit-out in the Park I quite like yesterday’s Knitting peace post in the Sand gets in my eyes blog.

I completely agree that knitting can foster peace on many levels. These range from the calming and meditative effect it has on me personally (particularly in the more intense activist and political meetings I attend), to the larger social impacts groups like the Revolutionary Knitting Circle strive for.

(I’m quoted in the post.)
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More knitting celebrity

On Friday evening, I picked up the current issue (#34) of Bitch magazine, “feminist response to pop culture”, because I’m quoted in an article by Wendy Somerson on knitting and activism (“Knot In Our Name” pp.36-41—my stuff is on pp.40-41).

Having now read the article, it’s given me some stuff to think about—particularly regarding mainstream culture/media efforts to minimize the progressive aspects of the recent popularity of crafts, especially knitting. Hopefully I’ll manage to convince myself to write more about that once I’ve thought it through…
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Friday, March 9, 2007

First Calgary Board of Directors Election

Members of First Calgary (allegedly still a Credit Union) have until Saturday to vote for the board of directors. Voting takes place in the branches during regular business hours (note that the downtown branch is closed on Saturday).

I’m not running this year, but there are a couple of progressive candidates and I strongly encourage you to vote for both of them (and none of the other candidates). There are 4 seats up for election this year, but I encourage you to leave two of your votes blank to give stronger support to the two progressive candidates.

Given the extreme campaign restrictions imposed by First Calgary, I have to be careful about what I say or write publicly to avoid compromising the campaigns of candidates I support. So, if you want to know more about my views on First Calgary and these elections, you’ll have to talk to, or email, me privately.

Thanks.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Blog Against Sexism

Blog Against Sexism Day Today is Blog Against Sexism Day. This is my contribution…

When I was attending university, I participated in a consciousness raising group there called “Men Challenging Sexism.” That experience has played a big part in my activism and personal life ever since.

We would meet every week for a few hours on Friday afternoons to discuss sexism and patriarchy and our own roles and experiences in them. By taking a direct, personal, look at the impacts of sexism on our own lives and the people close to us (family, friends, partners), I came to a quite visceral understanding of the intensely negative impacts that patriarchy has had, and continues to have, on my life and on the lives of the people I care about in my life.

That patriarchy has devastatingly horrific effects on the lives of women in the world is enough reason to dedicate oneself to its erradication. However, many men fall for the lie that patriarchy somehow works out in their favour and so accept the oppression of women (and other non-male genders). This failure to recognize that patriarchy is also harmful to them is part of the failure to recognize what patriarchy is and how fundamentaly awful it is.

By understanding the terrible loss and harm patriarchy has caused me personally, and then understanding that it’s even worse for the women in my life (and all other women), I have held a motivation to work for the eradication of patriarchy that has carried me even through the worst “activist burnouts” I’ve experienced.

Once we make a personal connection with understanding these issues, it becomes almost impossible to walk away from the obligation to do what we can to make things better.
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Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Blog Against Sexism Day

Blog Against Sexism Day Tomorrow is Blog Against Sexism Day. I’m planning to contribute.
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Tuesday, March 6, 2007

More on work camps in Calgary

Following on from the CBC report, I was interviewed by Doug McIntyre at the Calgary Sun about the work camps proposal.

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Monday, March 5, 2007

Work camps in Calgary

I was interviewed by the CBC on Friday about the proposal for creating temporary work camps in Calgary (or the surrounding area).

Unfortunately, the resulting article used only one small statement and left out my damning indictment of the use of work camps and the failure to actually address the problem of long-term housing needs.

The only way I would consider looking at work camps as anything other than exploitation of workers’ desperation for companies’ short-term interests would be if at the same time, those companies were doing concrete work to build permanent housing for those workers.

Without permanent housing, we’ll just end up with a bunch more homeless people when the companies close down their work camps (such as when the next crash hits). We need to build up our permanent housing infrastructure now to ensure that everyone has a place to live. Now is the time because now we have the wealth and resources (although neither the political nor the public wills) to do it.

If we don’t take care of this critical infrastructure need now, then the next crash will be even more catstrophic. We need the politicians and the people of this province to take the long-term view to see that providing housing for all will give us a much more viable society and economy and bring us closer to sustainability so that our community can thrive well into the future.

Without working toward long-term housing solutions, work camps are just a mortgaging of the workers’ (and the community’s) futures.

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Thursday, March 1, 2007

My presentation at the Affordable Housing Task Force

This is a cleaned up transcript of my presentation, as coordinator of CHAI (Calgary Housing Action Initiative), to the Affordable Housing Task Force on February 28, 2007:

There are a few things I want to recommend today. Some of them are to address the immediate housing crisis and can be looked at as short term measures to deal with the fact that we’re having so many people forced out of their homes by the complete lack of regulation of our housing market. Those include moderated forms of rent control and a freeze on condoization. These are really critical to address the emergency today. And, frankly, ‘emergency’ is a bit of a mild word in my view.

Photo of Bill Phipps speaking at the task force. We heard earlier today from Bill Phipps talking about the moral imperitive that we have to deal with housing. Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights—to which Canada is a signatory and therefore obliged to follow—specifically identifies housing as a human right. We are failing to meet the human rights of people who live in our society.

One of the other things that we absolutely need to do is revise the MGA, Municipal Government Act (I know it’s currently under review) of the provincial government, which governs what municipalities can do. Because the municipalities, when we approach them to say “Okay, we need some measures to address the housing crisis,” we keep hearing from them “Well, our hands are tied—the Municipal Government Act doesn’t allow us to take these measures.”

So, they need to be freed up to do things. Particularly inclusionary zoning—which, I recognize, the ideology of our current government kind of rejects because the ideology of our current government is around the invisible god of the market. But, the reality is that, if we had inclusionary zoning in place twenty years ago, we would not be in this situation because there would be an adequate stock of diverse housing options to meet the changing needs of our society.

Inclusionary zoning isn’t just about affordable housing. It’s about accessible housing, and it’s about providing a diversity of options from single family units to multi-family units, to individuals, assisted needs, and so on. Those are very critical to our society as a whole because we have such a monocultural mode of development in our city now, where we have these cookie-cutter neighborhoods going up that do not meet the changing needs of our society. They may meet the needs of the exceedingly wealthy people at the top right now, but after the next crash what are we going to be doing to meet the needs of the diverse number of people in our society? Particularly when we’re experiencing record growth?

Diverse housing, I think, is really a key phrase here. Not just affordable housing—but a diversity of housing options.

The single family bungalow, these 2000 square foot things that are going up all over the place here, that’s not adequate to meet the needs of a healthy community. We need to change what we allow in terms of development in our city. We need to integrate it across the board. It can’t just be “Okay, we’ll make the inner-city diverse and the suburbs can be these monocultural monstrosities that the are now” No. We need this entire city to be diverse at all levels.

One of the things I consider to be a really critical point of view on this is that, currently, those in power in this society, are treating housing as something that is just part of the market and that to address anything about housing is a cost.

Photo of me speaking at the task force Housing is not a cost. Failure to ensure that everyone in our society is housed is a cost.

Housing is core infrastructure. We don’t scoff at the notion of paying for roads—that’s infrastructure to make sure we can get around. Well, we need infrastructure to ensure that we can actually survive in this community and, hopefully, thrive.

Someone who is in a shelter cannot thrive in this community. Someone who has a home has tremendous potential to thrive in this community. And we are wasting so much of our potential as a society.

So, again, I really want to emphasize the importance of integrated communities across the board. Every single community in this city should be seeing transformation toward inclusionary zoning.

We have to acknowledge our collective responsibility. This isn’t something where “oh, those poor people—maybe this charity will help them out.” No. This is us. We as a society are responsible for all of the members of this society.

Government is intended to be a collective voice and the collective action of our society. And our government, frankly, has failed miserably and is reflective that we as a society are barbarians. The way we treat—and we’ve heard stories today of the treatment of—children who are being shunted from church basement to church basement. That’s ridiculous. They don’t treat people like that in other societies, so why would we do that here when we are supposidly so rich?

But, we aren’t rich. We’re in terrible poverty.

Hopefully you will recommend some genuine actions that reflect the actual needs of our society. And some significant change not only to address the immediate crisis—which is critical—but also to address the underlying infrastructural needs so that we can move forward for the long term in a sustainable and diverse manner to meet the needs of all people in this society.

Thank-you.
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