Thursday, December 24, 2009

A parent’s perspective on the disability funding cuts

In this video from the “Not a Bake Sale” rally, the parent of an adult with a developmental disability speaks out on the devastating impacts the cuts to funding for people with disabilities would have on his son and himself.

Please join Albertans Who Care, across this province, in taking action to oppose the Conservative cuts.

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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Fighting Disability Cuts - Now Closed-Captioned

I’ve posted Another video from the “Not a Bake Sale” rally opposing the life-wrecking funding cuts to people with developmental disabilities in Alberta. This time, specific calls to action that all Albertans can participate in to oppose the cuts.

Please join Albertans Who Care, across this province, in taking action to oppose the Conservative cuts.

Closed-Captioning for the hearing-impaired

YouTube has made it pretty simple to add captions or multi-lingual subtitles to videos. They’ve posted a guide on how to create and add captions to videos you have posted on their site.

While adding captions makes your videos more accessible to the hearing-impaired (or people with non-functioning audio on their computers), it also makes your videos more “findable” by providing more text that can be searched.

You can also use this mechanism to add subtitles in different languages.

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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Ryan Geake from the “Not a Bake Sale” rally

Another video from the “Not a Bake Sale” rally opposing the dastardly funding cuts to people with developmental disabilities in Alberta. This time, Ryan Geake introduces the million-dollar bake sale items.


Please join Albertans Who Care, across this province, in taking action to oppose the Conservative cuts.

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Monday, December 21, 2009

Alberta’s Conservative government threatens the well-being of people with disabilities

The Conservative government of Alberta is trying to take back money they had committed to provide needed supports for people with disabilities in our province ($12 million in the last part of the year for People with Developmental Disabilities across Alberta). The Conservatives are endangering the welfare of some of our most vulnerable citizens at the same time they are giving billions of dollars to private oil and gas companies — the wealthiest industry in our province.

Please join Albertans Who Care, across this province, in taking action to oppose the Conservative cuts.

In Calgary, there was a public rally held on December 18, 2009, to oppose the vicious funding cuts. Called the “Not a Bake Sale”, the rally featured such items as a million-dollar cupcake (which, oddly enough, no one bought).

In this video from the rally, Elaine Yost, Executive Director of Options, speaks to the impacts the funding cuts would have on the programs and services provided by agencies that provide support to people with disabilities.

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Friday, September 4, 2009

The immorality of most personal motor vehicles

In terms of individual human activities, private motor vehicles have one of the highest — if not the highest — rates of killing people who are not in the vehicle causing the accident (such as pedestrians, cyclists and people in other vehicles).

From a moral standpoint, using a private motor vehicle — when there is a safer alternative available — means valuing personal convenience over the lives of others.

To be clear: Given that most travel and transport could be done with safer alternatives, the vast majority of drivers and their passengers are effectively saying that they are willing to endanger the lives of other people for their own, selfish, convenience.

That’s without even getting into the awful environmental, social and economic impacts of a society that supports personal motor vehicles when there could be viable alternatives.

Please note that I am careful to not make this a value judgement against every single driver or personal motorized vehicle. There are situations where there aren’t viable alternatives (such as for many emergency vehicles, some rural usage and some transportation of the physically impaired). There are also situations where it is a community or society as a whole that is responsible for failing to support alternatives. In those cases, the individual who does not have a viable alternative may not be acting immorally in driving a personal vehicle, but they do hold the moral responsibility to do everything they can to push their society to change for the better.

I am also very specifically referring to personal motor vehicles, such as cars and trucks. Mass-transit, while often using motor-vehicles, has a much lower rate of injury and death than private motor vehicles.

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Thursday, August 27, 2009

Why I’m quitting the critical mass bike rides

For me, the fundamental goal of the critical mass rides is pretty straight forward, and can be summed up with a frequent chant from the rides here:
More bikes; less cars!
We’ve been coming together as a bunch of cyclists in Calgary every month since the late 1990’s to try to show that bikes belong on the road, to encourage people to get out of their cars and onto bikes, and to encourage cyclists to feel confident about riding streets suitable for commuting.

Critical Mass: Nice ShadowWhat has become clear to me is that some of the people who show up to the critical mass rides don’t share that goal. Their goal is to express their anger at cars. This results in some riders trying to block traffic by spreading out to take up all lanes (even when there’s just a few of us in the ride), riding aggravatingly slow specifically to annoy the drivers behind them, and even shouting obscenities at drivers.

Last month, my tolerance for this abusive behaviour and willingness to expend effort to try to mitigate it — after almost a decade participating in the Calgary rides — finally ended.

Hostility isn’t helpful


Being abusive toward drivers may be a “release” for the individuals who do it, but it harms the cause. Drivers who are angered by the harassment are not going to be inspired to drive more safely around bikes, they are not going to see cycling as a positive mode of transportation, they are not going to be inclined to ride a bike instead. Rather, they will dig in their heals and become more aggressive in their driving.

I have seen very direct and immediate results of this with the few occasions where angered drivers have hit critical mass riders from behind (thankfully, these attacks have so far been not enough to knock the bike over or cause injury, but that can be put down to luck that is sure to eventually run out). There was even at least one case where an angered driver threw a non-empty plastic water bottle at a rider.

Even if folks don’t care about angering the drivers and pushing them away from cycling, the harassment of drivers that some individuals take it upon themselves to do during the critical mass rides puts their fellow riders in immediate danger.

My activism centres around reducing (ideally, eliminating) harm in the world. Anyone who is adding harm is not an ally.

I believe the first priority of anyone in the rides needs to be the safety of the other riders. Anything that compromises that is not appropriate.

Another cost: Fewer participants


Another big area of impact from the hostility of some individual riders is that it keeps a lot of potential riders away. In the countless discussions I’ve had with people at and away from the rides, it’s clear that the hostility is probably the biggest factor in keeping the participant numbers down (Calgary has among the smallest critical mass rides of any of the cities participating — quite possibly the smallest per-capita).

Being in a hostile situation is not most people’s idea of a good time.

Critical mass can’t be “fixed”


All that said, critical mass is a “happening,” not an organization. No one has any authority, there is no decision making body or way to set down rules. That’s all well and good when all the riders share a constructive intention but, when some individuals who don’t care about others’ well-being infiltrate the ride, it can end up doing more damage than good.

I and no one else is in any position to exclude the damaging behaviours from the critical mass ride. I’ve tried for years now to use “moral persuasion” and leading by example, but that has proven to be unable to stop the un-compassionate individualistic mindset.

So, I decided part-way through last months ride, when I again saw a few individuals take it upon themselves to endanger their fellow riders, that that was my very last critical mass ride.

After almost a decade in the rides, you could say I’m more than a little disappointed.

An alternative?


Calgary Critical Mass — June 2009At the same time I decided to quit critical mass, I also decided to pursue an alternative for advancing cycling. I want some other form of mass ride that overcomes the harms associated with critical mass.

Here are the things I want to see in a ride:
  • Safety as the clear top priority for everyone.
  • Showing that cycling is fun.
  • Taking the old slogan to heart in our practice: “We’re not blocking traffic; we are traffic!”

I want a ride where parents look forward to bringing their kids, where seniors feel welcome and embraced, where the types of cyclists who are nowhere to be seen at critical mass show up in droves because they know to expect a safe, fun and constructive event.

I want a ride where cyclists we pass, pedestrians and people in cars will end up thinking “that looks like fun — I wish I was riding a bike.”

Interestingly enough, within a week of my decision to quit critical mass, I came across the similarly motivated Critical Manners movement. There are some ideas from those rides that might apply to a new ride here.

Dealing with disruptions

One of the key differences from critical mass would be in the approach to anyone engaging in hostility during a ride. I think we need to have a clear set of rules, and a clear set of responses to violations.

For example, if an individual or a few decide to try to block traffic by taking all the lanes (or the like), the group of riders could first ask them to stop that. Failing that, the ride could pull over to the side, stop, and wait for the hostile riders to leave. Not so much fun, but the hostiles would hopefully soon learn that they don’t have the right to impose their individual will on the rest of the riders.

Where to from here?


My intention now is to try to get a first ride happening in September — not on critical mass night. I am also actively discouraging people from participating in the critical mass rides. I’m hoping, sadly, that it will die out here so that it won’t continue to create more harm for cyclists.

I encourage folks to chat me up on this in person. You can also post comments here or on the Calgary Critical Mass discussion board.

What are your ideas for making a successful ride that will engage a wide range of cyclists and promote cycling in our city?

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Friday, August 7, 2009

Introducing Calgary MediaCamp

With all the video production I’ve been doing lately, my recent experiences at CivicCamp and TransitCamp, and with the reminder that Media Democracy Day is coming up in October, I’ve been thinking about what we could do in Calgary to advance local media.

Over the past week, I’ve talked with a number of folks who work on their own projects or with local organizations producing media. The idea of holding a “MediaCamp” unconference is starting to come together.

MediaCamp would be an opportunity for people to share existing and new media projects, build new collaborations, and advance the state of media democracy in our city. It would bring together people in the city who are working on — or wanting to work on — media, especially (but not exclusively) independent and non-commercial.

This is to have a pretty broad scope, welcoming people with all manner of media involvement: Advocates, arts, bloggers, books, commentators, documentaries, editors, hosts, journalists, podcasts, print, publishers, radio, reporters, television, videographers, web, etc.

I’m starting to pull together planning meetings this month. If you have ideas for this and want to get involved, please check out the Calgary MediaCamp group I’ve set up for the organizing.

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Friday, July 24, 2009

Connecting with urban agriculture in Calgary

Blog: Calgary Urban Agriculture is a blog I contribute to. Links to articles, guides, videos, commentary and other resources, as well as notices of events and local actions.

Email: Calgary Urban Agriculture Google Group is an email list of announcements, planning and discussion for people wanting to work on and advance urban agriculture in Calgary.

Facebook: Urban Agriculture Calgary is for connecting people who are on Facebook.

Meetup: Calgary Community Gardens Meetup Group.

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Thursday, July 23, 2009

The many shortcomings of the City of Calgary’s website

With the push toward open data at Calgary City Hall, and complaints about some members of council setting up their own, individual, websites to communicate with their constituents, the many limitations of the calgary.ca website are coming to the fore.

From slow update times, difficult navigation and the lack of a lot of information people might actually reasonably want from the city, to the use of proprietary content formats (such as Microsoft’s painful Windows Media Player format for city council streaming webcasts) and unintelligible and difficult to share URLs like:
http://www.calgary.ca/portal/server.pt/
gateway/PTARGS_0_0_771_200_0_43/
http%3B/content.calgary.ca/CCA/
City+Hall/Municipal+Government/
Office+of+the+Aldermen/
Office+of+the+Aldermen.htm
There is, as they say, lots of room for improvement.

Some commentators have been complaining about the websites set up by individual council members, portraying them as just self-promotion for those politicians. While there may be some of that at play, the question that really concerns me in this is: Why did those councillors feel the calgary.ca website wasn’t adequate?

I’ve had my own speculations for a while now; primarily around bureaucracy and difficulty of use. Today, however, I got the chance to ask some of the council members directly. There were some points that stood out in those discussions. The administration of the existing site has very restrictive content policies, limiting what can be posted; the councillors do not have the ability to just post information for their constituents. There can be considerable delays in content going through the required channels before appearing on the site, greatly limiting the capacity for the timely sharing of the information that is allowed. The site is awkward for end users meaning that even if the information is somewhere on it, many users won’t be able to find it.

There are, however, some cracks in the tower of the City’s web infrastructure. The existence of the individual council websites is one part of that, putting pressure for change by embarrassing the main site. The new “Calgary City News Blog” produced by some staff at the City and the City of Calgary’s Twitter feed are providing avenues that are opening up the City’s flow of information a bit, but which also end up highlighting inadequacies of the calgary.ca site.

I think we may, finally, be hitting the point where the City may be ready to begin replacing the old, inaccessible and restrictive, calgary.ca website with internet access for citizens that opens things up not just to rapid information flow and access, but also to citizen input in the vein of so-called “Government 2.0”.

This is looking to be quite exciting, and could potentially contribute to a real advance for local democracy. Colour me actually hopeful.

This could be an amazing project to be a part of. I actually envy those folks at the city who will get to be a part of designing and building the new systems. (Now, who do I have to talk to to get them to hire me as a project lead on designing this new web infrastructure? [he said with a sigh…] )

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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Essential reading on why rape jokes perpetuate harm

For people who are not survivors of rape, get ready for some seriously valuable learning about rape in our society. This is such essential reading in my view, that the only people who I think can reasonably skip it are rape survivors (given that it has lots of trigger potential) — although many survivors may still find it very worth reading.

A woman walks into a rape, uh, bar” is an excellent exploration of the way the use of “humour” (in quotes because it’s not really funny) is used to reinforce the acceptance of rape in our culture. I don’t really have anything to add to it, so I’ll just say: Please read the article now.

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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Brian Pincott discusses the coming election year for Calgary City Council

Here’s news that’s sure to shock all of… nobody. Brian Pincott, city councillor for Calgary Ward 11, “revealed” to me in an interview yesterday that he intends to run for re-election in the next municipal election (October, 2010).

Not much of a scoop, I know, but it’s my first. I had to agree not to take the scoop on a more surprising tidbit he revealed to me in the interview because another buddy gets to announce that one. I’ve prepped the video, though, and will post it once the announcement is made. Actually quite exciting to me.

Here’s the video clip of Brian talking about the coming “election year” and his intention to run:


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Monday, July 20, 2009

Counterintuitive, but true: Reducing lanes improves traffic flow

It’s easy to make the assumption that if you reduce the number of lanes on busy roads that you’ll get greater congestion. It’s harder to comprehend that the reality can be quite the opposite.

In New York, a city notorious for high levels of traffic congestion, an experiment with car-free squares on Broadway (not what you would call low-traffic or a side-street) has had a very positive impact on traffic flow, in addition to the expected benefits to pedestrians and cyclists.

What is also impressive is how quickly a relatively simple and inexpensive realignment of roadways can transform things.

This short video from Streetfilms really highlights the positive impact of road closures for almost everyone affected.


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Sunday, July 19, 2009

Videos: Friends of Medicare rally from May

Earlier this month, I finally posted videos from the Friends of Medicare rally for public healthcare that was held at the Alberta Legislature, in Edmonton, on May 5, 2009.

People drove and bussed in from many communities around the province. Along with a variety of speakers, the rally featured a few different musical groups: A rock band who’s name I didn’t catch, Edmonton’s Raging Grannies, and Notre Dame des Bananes.

I didn’t post everything from the rally, but here is what I did put up:

Speakers

Music




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Thursday, May 21, 2009

How to actually get to fill out the FFWD Best of Calgary survey

A few people have contacted me asking how they can actually get to fill out the survey. Here are my very detailed directions, hopefully specific enough for those who remain quite uncomfortable with computers. The deadline is Wednesday, May 27, 2009.
  1. First, you need to be registered with the FFWD website. You can do that at their “Register” link. (You can use this registration again in future, so should not ever need to repeat this step). They might send you a confirmation email which you'll need to click a link from to verify your email.
  2. Once you have submitted your registration, make sure you are logged-in to their website (you probably will be, but just in case you are not, you can use their “Login” link.)
  3. Then go to their “Best of Calgary” link.
  4. For each section of the survey (the sections are listed in big text at the bottom of the page) you will need to click the "disclosure triangle" to the left of the section title to reveal the questions.
  5. For questions that have multiple choices, click the small square box beside the word “Other”, then put your answer in the wide rectangular text box. For questions with just a text box, just put your answer in the text box
  6. Finally, submit your survey answers with the button at the bottom.

Related Posts:
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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Why I think politicians should not become judges

With Alberta’s Deputy Premier Ron Stevens leaving his position mid-term to become a judge, I made the comment on twitter that “Having a politician (Ron Stevens) become a judge calls into question, for me at least, the neutrality of the judiciary.” That garnered a short exchange between myself and Ken Chapman:
@KenChapman46: Why? They recuse themselves from any matter where a conflict may arise.
@grant: “Justice must be seen to be done.” The appearance (real or not) of a politically biased perspective diminishes trust.
@KenChapman46: With that logic a divorced judge should not hear divorce matters. They hear the evidence, weigh it and then apply the laws.

I strongly disagree with Ken’s equating of divorcees’ bias with politicians’ bias. The only bias we can assume from a divorcee is that they think divorce can be an appropriate choice. Heck, we probably can’t even assume that since they might have been divorced against their wishes. We can, however, assume that someone who spent years working, and getting paid, to promote a politically biased agenda might well carry those biases long after hanging up their official hat as a politician. One need only look at the examples of the political activities of the ‘retired’ politicians we hear about to see that continuation of bias in practice.

Regardless of whether such a person is able to “put on the hat of neutrality”, they carry such a strong image of holding a political bias that the perception of the continuation political bias will remain (even if that perception is wrong).

The separation of the government and the judiciary is very important as both a check & balance, but also for encouraging public trust in our system of government. The perception (again, whether right or not) of taking the political agenda into the judicial system compromises the public’s ability to trust the system.

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Monday, May 18, 2009

Explanations of my choices for FFWD’s Best of Calgary survey

I’ve had questions about some of my recommendations for the FFWD Best of Calgary 2009 survey. So, here are some explanations:

Best New Trend: More street festivals

There has been some negativity in this city — instigated by right-wing politicians on City Council — around using major streets for anything other than cars. Street festivals bring people together and highlight alternatives for our communities. They also diversify our approaches to city living.

Worst new trend: Bush regime visits

That there are people in this city who happily pay war criminals to come give speeches here — particularly when the Bush regime did a lot to suppress free speech in their own country and around the world — is appalling.

Best kept Calgary secret: All the progressive activism

You wouldn’t know it from the corporate media or the stereotypes about this city but, Calgary is actually a hotbed of progressive activism. It just tends to come in the form of tiny projects, events and groups who don’t get much attention.

Scariest Intersection: The federal and provincial Conservatives

The provincial Conservatives are bad enough for social justice and the environment. When the Conservatives are also in power federally — it’s an outright disaster.

Best place to tie the knot: Gay bar

Even for “straight” couples, celebrating diversity and the human rights of everyone is a great foundation for a marriage, in my books.

Best places to snag Stampede Breakfast: Sunrise Community Link

The only stampede breakfast I’ve ever been to where I could actually get a decent breakfast (since I don’t eat meat, eggs or sugar). Sunrise puts on (or is part of?) an international-flavoured Stampede Breakfast in Forest Lawn that has a wide variety of dishes from all sorts of different cultures. Yum!

Best Local Charity: The Women’s Centre

The Women’s Centre of Calgary meshes the charitable response to immediate needs with supporting efforts for social change to address root causes. An empowering and inspiring organization.

Calgary’s claim to shame: NIMBYism

“Not In My Back Yard” is so often the response to most efforts to make a positive difference in this city. Whether it’s addressing poverty and homelessness, crime, the environment or whatever — so many individuals and neighbourhoods fight against sharing in our collective responsibility to take care of each other.

Best use of local tax dollars: Public Library

There cannot be democracy without libraries. The libraries serve as a connecting point for all manner of ideas and communities in our city. An amazing and powerful institution that is worth every cent and more.

Worst use of local tax dollars: Water fluoridation

So, let me get this straight. We are paying for reprocessed industrial effluent to be disposed of in our water supply. This is ostensibly for a supposed health benefit for a small portion of the population who could readily receive that treatment through other means. Meanwhile, the vast majority of the fluoride ends up in people who don’t need or want it, in our soil and in our water systems (rivers, aquifers, etc.). Oh, and there can be negative health effects from exposure to fluoride (such as “dental fluorosis”). Even if fluoride were actually good for kids teeth (a point which remains a matter of controversy), this is a very wasteful and inefficient way to deliver it.

Most embarrassing Calgarian: Ric McIver

I don’t object to right-wing, corporatist, perspectives being represented in government (in balance with all the other perspectives). This is supposed to be a democracy, after all. But McIver has taken to grand-standing and making very misleading and deceptive statements in what seems to be a concerted effort to try to falsely discredit and belittle people he apparently sees as opponents. This is vicious politics and would have no place in a genuine democracy.

Most dedicated activist: Genevieve Balogun

I explained why I hope Genevieve wins this category in a previous post.

Sexiest Man: Grant Neufeld

I also explained this one in that previous post but, to reiterate, this is an opportunity to encourage activism by identifying being an activist with being sexy :-)

Sexiest Woman: Druh Farrell

Druh has been targeted by a deceptive and misleading campaign to discredit her in the eyes of the public. It’s part of a right-wing agenda to crush any progressive voices on our city council. This vote is a small opportunity to try to counter that.

Best Bike Shop: Good-Life Community Bikes

Co-operatively run by folks who are advocating for bike culture in our city. Good-Life has provided space for community and activist efforts beyond just bicycling. They have also been very supportive of the critical mass bike rides.

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Saturday, May 16, 2009

More on the takeover of the Alberta Greens

The former Chief Financial Officer of the Alberta Greens, David Crowe, has posted some documentation that contradicts the statements of the folks who took over the party.

David discusses the new executive’s arbitrary purging of all party memberships and their mishandling of the party’s financial reporting. The new executive have blamed him for their problems with reporting and issuing tax receipts, but a conversation David recorded with their accountant indicates that they failed to pass on a key database file that he had provided for them when he left the executive last year.

You can read his documentation, with many links to related documents and articles, along with an audio file (MP3) of his conversation with the accountant (and a transcript).

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Friday, May 15, 2009

How I’m voting in the FFWD Best of Calgary survey

Here are a list of my recommendations on voting in the FFWD Best of Calgary 2009 survey. By section:

The City

Best New Trend: More street festivals
Worst new trend: Bush regime visits
Best kept Calgary secret: All the progressive activism
Scariest Intersection: The federal and provincial Conservatives
Best place to tie the knot: Gay bar
Best places to snag Stampede Breakfast: Sunrise Community Link
Best Local Charity: The Women’s Centre
Calgary’s claim to shame: NIMBYism
Best use of local tax dollars: Public Library
Worst use of local tax dollars: Water fluoridation

Urban Life

Most embarrassing Calgarian: Ric McIver
Most dedicated activist: Genevieve Balogun
Sexiest Man: Grant Neufeld
Sexiest Woman: Druh Farrell

Shopping

Best Bike Shop: Good-Life Community Bikes

You can vote online at FFWD’s Best of Calgary 2009.

Update: I’ve posted detailed explanations for each of my recommendations.

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Don’t vote for me (but please vote for me)

For the past couple of year’s, I’ve been given the “Most Active Activist” label in FFWD Weekly’s “Best of Calgary” survey.

I’ve always felt awkward about awards, and this one in particular. It’s a lot easier for me to be the “most active” than it is for most people engaged in activism. I have a tremendous bundle of privileges that give me more opportunities than most (male privilege, white privilege, economic security, etc., etc.…).

Looking back on the people who have been identified as “most active activist”, and runners-up, over the year’s FFWD has been running the survey, I’m pretty sure we’re all a bunch of non-impoverished, adult (but not “too old”), white males. This stands in stark contrast to what I see in the activism in this city.

The reality is, there are a tremendous number of people in this city, with very diverse backgrounds, doing some amazing activism.

There are tons of people in this city who — in the face of challenges my privileges shield me from — are doing amazing work for positive social change. I think we would be better served by creating ways of recognizing their contributions.

A couple months back, I sent a request to FFWD to change the name of the “Most Active Activist” category to “Most Dedicated Activist”. I’m pleased to see that they have taken that advice — thank-you FFWD!

It may seem a subtle difference, but I think it’s really important. It’s probably true that I’m the most “active” in this city, given the insane number of projects and groups I support and the hours my privilege (and insanity) enables me to put in on this work. But I don’t see myself as the most dedicated. There are many people I’ve met and worked with who have shown wonderful dedication, but who are not able to be as active because of various forms of oppression and other diminished opportunities they face in their lives.

These are the people who I would like to see recognized.

Please vote for Genevieve Balogun

I am making a specific nomination recommendation this year, but would like us, as those engaged in progressive activism in this city, to talk over this coming year about how we want to recognize those who show real dedication to the work.

I am encouraging everyone to vote for Genevieve Balogun for “Most Dedicated Activist”, a long-time powerhouse of activism in this city who made a real difference in people’s lives over the years. Genevieve passed away last month, but her impact continues and I’m sure it will be felt for years to come.

You can vote online for the Best of Calgary 2009.

If you want to recognize me

I think activism is sexy. If you agree, let’s use the FFWD poll to try to make that point. Please vote for me as “Sexiest Man” (in the Urban Life section). Maybe this will even help me finally get a date!

(I’ve posted my list of recommendations for various categories in a follow-up blog post here.)

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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Are protests effective?

Over my many, many (many), years of attending and organizing protests, I have periodically heard some folks complain that “protests don’t achieve anything” or the like.

Today, a friend posted a status update online in support of the protest in Calgary against the war criminal Condoleeza Rice’s visit. A friend of that friend posted this comment:
What good is that going to do? Protests are horrendously ineffective.

My response was:
Tell that to the people who protested for the abolition of slavery in Europe and the U.S. Tell that to the people who protested for the passage of a civil rights amendment in the U.S. Tell that to the women and their supporters who protested for women to get the right to vote. Tell that to the people of India who protested for an end to British rule. Tell that to the people of South Africa and their supporters around the world who protested for an end to apartheid. Tell that to the most celebrated heroes of the twentieth century, MLK and Gandhi, who are celebrated because of their activism and protesting for social change.

They followed up with:
It's great that you're able to conflate waving a few placards with massive social movements with real impacts. Bravo.
Perhaps I should have made it clear: Waving signs at Miss Rice isn't going to change what she did, nor will it punish her for what she did. Much better methods exist than that. What they are, I don't know, necessarily.

To which I wrote this lengthy response:

First off, I was responding to your statement that “Protests are horrendously ineffective.” I believe that to be entirely inaccurate (as amply illustrated by my previous examples).

Secondly, do you honestly believe that leaving this war criminal’s paid visit to Calgary completely unremarked would not have sent the unacceptable signal that Canadians don’t care about her war crimes?

Sometimes protests are not about making things better, they can be just about trying to prevent things from getting worse.

What did this particular protest accomplish? It made sure that there was acknowledgement that not everyone in our city accepts the use of torture and other human rights violations. It drew attention, on the street and in the media (and online such as right here), to the issues around the Bush regime and our current Canadian government’s acceptance (and I would go so far as to say embracing) of state terror. It connected some new people in with local organizing for peace and social justice, and increased connections for others.

In other words, it was a step toward making things better.

Is that enough? No. Which is why so many of us are engaged in a wide variety of additional efforts to address these issues. (Things such as petitions, letter-writing, education campaigns, lobbying, political campaigns, legal proceedings, producing documentaries, writing articles & books, building alternatives, etc., etc.)

If all we did was protest, we probably wouldn’t get very far overall. But if we never protested, we probably wouldn’t get very far, either. Protest is a necessary (but far from the only) part of democratic efforts for social change.

Over the years, I’ve been to extremely tiny protests and I’ve been to protests with too many thousands of people to properly count (and various sizes between). Every single one of the big protests came about after years of tiny protests leading up to them. Without the tiny protests, there would never be any big protests. Without tiny efforts, there would never be any massive change in this world.

It was not a waste to “wave a few placards”. It was another piece in a very big puzzle of getting us to a better world.

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Thursday, May 7, 2009

The outcomes from the vote on my projects

I’ve posted a video update on the outcomes from the vote I held on projects I can work on:

This is still a bit long, but I did cut a lot out — my original recording was about 23 minutes of me going on about this stuff, and no one wants to sit through all that :-)

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Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Video: Druh Farrell on the Memorial Drive promenade

I interviewed Druh Farrell, Calgary city councillor for Ward 7, about the Memorial Drive promenade. Here’s the video:

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Thursday, April 30, 2009

Facebook users: Get your events in iCal and other calendar apps

A quick tip…

To have your Facebook events show up in iCal (or other iCalendar compatible program):
  1. Go to your Facebook Events page.
  2. Select “Export Events” (link near the top left).
  3. Copy the link they give you.
  4. Switch to iCal (or your other calendar application).
  5. Select “Subscribe…” from the “Calendar” menu (or the equivalent for non-iCal apps) and paste in the link from Facebook. Then select the “Subscribe” button to add the Facebook events to your calendar.

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Friday, April 24, 2009

Jim Stanford talk at Arusha Centre [video]

Jim Stanford gave a good presentation, on Wednesday at the Arusha Centre, about the economic crisis and what led to it.

He has a book out Economics for Everyone: A Short Guide to the Economics of Capitalism (available at the public library).

I’ve posted an unedited video of the talk. Unfortunately, I missed the first chunk, but it’s still interesting and understandable.


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Thursday, April 23, 2009

Another experiment: Calgary’s Random Marching Band — no experience required

[photo by tanakawho]
Photo by tanakawho.
After reading a tweet from Calgary Arts Development about an “Improv marching band” being organized in San Francisco, I figured this would be a super-fun thing to do in Calgary. So, in the near-instantaneous response time that the internet has given us, Calgary’s Random Marching Band was born. (Please sign-up on the Facebook event, and come out on May 17 to participate. No musical talent, whatsoever, is required.)

It really is fantastic how easily events, actions and other projects can come together. Last week’s CBC Rally in Calgary was mostly organized in under an hour on Twitter (we ended up having just one organizing meeting over drinks — mine was orange juice — the evening before, to finalize details).

This reduction in the distance between ideas and actions means we can experiment a lot more. At CivicCamp, during discussions, it struck me that one of the key things we can do to make things better in our communities, our city and the world in general is to foster a culture of experimentation (so I jotted that down on the big sticky pictured here).

When we are willing to try things out, to step outside the status quo, we can figure out better ways to do things. But, we have to embrace failure as a necessary part of the process.

The modern fear of failure (ingrained in children through punishments for “failing” in school, among many other influences) is incredibly destructive. People — especially governments — would rather continue on self-destructive paths than risk any experiment that might fail. In essence, we have largely given up our willingness to learn.

Risk, failure, change — these are all things we have to embrace if we are going to learn anything and if we are going to get to the proverbial “better place”. Any real success is usually an outcome of a long string of failures (e.g., evolution).

I imagine the response to the Memorial Drive promenade proposal would have been radically different if this was a city of innovators that celebrated experimentation and welcomed failure as part of the path to success — instead of the fear-driven, change-averse, culture that dominates.

I hope we can change this.

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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Canada is not helping the women of Afghanistan

[photo of Malalai Joya]
Photo by AfghanKabul.
The false excuse most often brought out by those in favour of Canada’s continued military actions in Afghanistan is that we are somehow making things better for women in that country.

Malalai Joya, the woman who was elected to Afghan’s new parliament after the post-9/11 invasion, who has been viciously attacked by her fellow parliamentarians (many of whom are warlords and drug-runners), and who is under constant threat of assassination, speaks out against the falsehood of Afghani women having been “liberated” by the invasion and occupation. She writes:
“Under the nose of NATO troops and Canadian troops, the situation of women is getting worse day by day.”
Please see her statement “Malalai Joya: Canada should change its policy on Afghanistan” published by RAWA, the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan. RAWA is the most credible source on the state of human rights for women in Afghanistan.

(Former Canadian Member of Parliament, Alexa McDonough, has also written about Canada’s role in Afghanistan.)

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Monday, April 20, 2009

In support of a Sunday promenade on Memorial Drive

One of the latest examples, of the senselessly polarizing approach of some members of Calgary City Council, is the harsh disinformation they are putting out about the proposal to take a couple lanes of a short strip of Memorial Drive on a few Sundays this August, and make a temporary promenade for pedestrians, cyclists and local businesses.

The anti-civic minded councillors refer to it as a road closure — misleading people into thinking the whole road will be blocked off when there will still be two-way traffic in the north lanes (so, instead of 2 lanes of traffic in each direction, it will be 1 lane of traffic each). There are ridiculous cries of how terrible this will be for car traffic — when these same city councillors happily rubber-stamp practically every developer request to shut down multiple lanes of traffic for extended periods (not just on low-traffic Sundays) or even entire road closures requiring massive traffic diversions (such as for The Bow project downtown).

This is a shameful hypocrisy.

Sadly, much of our local media are going along with the false messages of these grandstanding councillors.

It doesn’t have to be this way. We can change the message.

Please Take Action

At CivicCamp this weekend, a proposal was brought forward for collective action, as a test of our ability “to change the public discourse on one topic, to see how much a group of committed citizens can do with small actions.”

The idea is to have a whole bunch of people contact city council and the local media in support of the Memorial Drive promenade proposal. The outcome we’re after is a shift in messaging away from the disinformation and toward the positives about the proposal.

I am asking everyone in Calgary who is reading this to do at least one quick thing to make this happen. Here are a few suggestions:
  1. Write a simple paragraph expressing your support for the temporary closure of Memorial Drive on Sundays in August. (There is some more background below that you can reference.) It does not have to be fancy, and it should be personal – you can talk about places you have lived or visited that do this kind of project, or about how you might use the space this summer, or about how it doesn’t hurt to experiment a little bit on issues around quality of life. For example, Byron is going to attach a picture of his last trip to Paris, showing a major street on the Seine converted into a beach.
  2. Send your paragraph around. You can submit it as a letter to the editor (under 150-200 words if you’d like to be published) or to a “talkback” feature on various media shows. Or you can write directly to politicians and bypass the media. All the email addresses you need are attached to this email.
  3. Let your friends know. Send your letter with a little note (“I just sent this letter to my alderman! Let me know what you think.”) to your email address book, post it on your Facebook profile, talk about it over coffee.
  4. Please Cc: the mayor (themayor@calgary.ca) and the aldermen (alderweb@calgary.ca) on every message. Also, please Bcc: civiccamp@gmail.com.

Here’s what I wrote (please use your own words):

I am highly in favour of the proposal to turn a couple of lanes of Memorial Drive into a Sunday promenade this summer. It is a wonderful way to get people out into the community together, and a way to energize the city core which so often empties out outside of work hours.

I find the extreme negativity against this wonderful project by some members of council, and other commentators, to be very disappointing and misguided. We need only look at the examples of this type of thing in cities around the world to see how it benefits those communities, including their local businesses. I was fortunate to be able to attend a Sunday road closure in Ottawa back in the 1990’s (where they actually closed down the whole road to traffic, not just a couple lanes, and for a distance many times longer than is proposed for Memorial Drive) and it was amazing to see so many people out on foot, bicycle, skateboard — even wheelchairs — all enjoying a sunny stroll.

We need only to look at the annual Lilac Festival for an example of how closing a road to car traffic can bring Calgarians out in mass numbers.

Contact Information

Politicians
Mayor: themayor@calgary.ca

All aldermen: alderweb@calgary.ca

Individual aldermen in Ward order (See what ward you live in):
Ward 1: dale.hodges@calgary.ca
Ward 2: gord.lowe@calgary.ca
Ward 3: jim.stevenson@calgary.ca
Ward 4: bob.hawkesworth@calgary.ca
Ward 5: rjones@calgary.ca
Ward 6: joe.connelly@calgary.ca
Ward 7: druh.farrell@calgary.ca
Ward 8: john.mar@calgary.ca
Ward 9: joe.ceci@calgary.ca
Ward 10: andre.chabot@calgary.ca
Ward 11: brian.pincott@calgary.ca
Ward 12: ric.mciver@calgary.ca
Ward 13: diane.colley-urquhart@calgary.ca
Ward 14: linda.fox-mellway@calgary.ca

Media
Letters to the Editor:
Calgary Herald: letters@theherald.canwest.com
Calgary Sun: callet@calgarysun.com
Metro: (no email address, but they have a website contact form)
FFWD: try letters@ffwd.greatwest.com

CBC Radio One: eyeopener@calgary.cbc.ca, homestretch@calgary.cbc.ca, wrc@cbc.ca

AM 770 CHQR: Peter.Watts@corusent.com, Bruce.Kenyon@corusent.com, Greg.Bonhert@corusent.com, mike.blanchard@corusent.com, rob.breakenridge@corusent.com

Other radio and tv (less likely to be published/broadcast, but may change the tone of media reports if you email them):
mike.mckeown@chumtv.com, shawtv.cal@sjrb.ca, Kevin.Rich@ctv.ca, globalnews.calgary@globaltv.com, kirk.heuser@cbc.ca, gavin.tucker@rci.rogers.com, bj@XL103Calgary.com, smeyers@cjay92.com, chris.allen@ckua.com, phil.kallsen@corusent.com, jennifer.enns@rci.rogers.com, garth.ross@corusent.com, chad@vibe985.com, andy@FUELCalgary.com, npoon@rawlco.com, radiounderdog@gmail.com, tips@660news.com

Background on Memorial Drive issue

  • It has been proposed that there be a street fair/block party atmosphere created for four Sunday mornings in August (a total of 16 hours) along the north side of the Bow River.
  • This includes closing two of four lanes of Memorial Drive for this time.
  • The event may include family activities, ice cream trucks, street vendors in a carnival atmosphere.
  • Cities all over the world do this in the summer. Examples include Ottawa, Winnipeg, New York (year-round roving flea markets in Manhattan), Los Angeles, etc. etc. etc. Paris has been building three artificial beaches along the Seine and closing roads since 2002.
  • Memorial Drive is often closed for events with minimal to no impact on traffic across the city. For example, it has been closed on the first Sunday of Stampede for the Calgary Marathon (now moved to late May). Indeed, for most of the last year, two lanes of traffic have been closed outside of rush hour for construction. A friend drove through this several times a week, and reports that he still made it to work on time.
  • There’s an audio clip (unfortunately, it requires RealAudio Player) from CBC’s Wildrose Country last week, where they talked about this issue. (This is the YouTube video they’re discussing. It will make you smile.)

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Wednesday, January 7, 2009

New Alberta Greens executive declares: Blue is the new Green

Alberta Greens Logo Comparison: Blue is the new Green
Top: The new, blue, logo,
Bottom: The original logo.
The new executive of the Alberta Greens seem to be dipping into either the realm of surrealism or the realm of Orwell’s “Big Brother” — or maybe someone is colour-blind. The new party website that appeared online yesterday features a revised party logo where the word “greens” shows up in the colour blue.

One might wonder if this portends new policy directions for the party under the new regime. Perhaps they shall declare that 2 + 2 = 5.

There has long been a slogan associated with the Green movement and Green Parties: “Not right, not left, but forward.” This has represented the Green rejection of ideology as a basis for organizing, and instead the willingness to consider all sides and aspects of issues to look for the best directions to take. This is an informed rationalist approach, rather than an ideological approach.

In a province where the colour blue is solidly associated in politics with right-wing, capital-C Conservatism, the change of colour from green to blue in the new Alberta Greens logo sends a strong message that those now in charge of the party intend a shift to the political right. (If that message was somehow unintentional, one would have to question the political awareness of those now running the party.)

If true, this signals that the party organization is no longer part of the movement the that so many have worked so hard to build in this province.

The movement, however, continues — in spite of this apparent setback. Though we no longer have the support of the organization still called “Alberta Greens”, Greens in Alberta are still working together to advance the Green principles.

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Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Alberta Greens shifts away from democracy

The executive of the Alberta Greens is now in the hands of people who seem to me to not respect the democratic principles the party was built on.

I have posted documentation on the events leading up to, and including, the September 27, 2008, AGM where the efforts to make this significant change in party leadership was initiated, including my extensive overview, analysis and commentary on the situation.

Subsequent to the date of the AGM, there was much controversy as to which meeting was the “real” one and who had the right to claim themselves to be the party executive.

On December 21, 2008, control of the party executive transferred to Joe Anglin and his associates. The process by which the transfer came about did not reflect the will or interests of the majority of party members, and was pushed through in a manner that I personally find reprehensible.

Key among the tactics used was a legal suit against financially vulnerable members of the now previous party executive. While I remain firmly convinced that Mr. Anglin, and his co-plaintiff Connie Jensen, would have lost the case in court if it had proceeded, the case threatened to drag out for years and create untenable financial, temporal and emotional strains on the members of the old executive who were named as defendants. That would have effectively halted, or at least greatly diminished, the work of advancing the Green movement in this province.

I’m not privy to the terms of the settlement that we can assume was arrived at to avoid the court proceedings, but it clearly involved the resignations of at least 2 or 3 of the now previous members of the executive, and the acceptance by the executive of the decisions of the meeting on September 27, 2008, where Mr. Anglin and his associates have claimed to have been elected. I, personally, still hold that that meeting was not legitimately constituted as a General Meeting of the party and should not have any formal standing.

What’s particularly frustrating for me (and I’m sure many of the other party members) is that subsequent to the September AGM, the party executive initiated a process whereby the full membership of the party could decide the controversy in a fully democratic manner. Mail-in ballots and a General Meeting were to be used to give every member a chance to have a say in deciding the future of the party. That process was cancelled and what I have seen from the new executive strongly indicates that they have no intention of resuming it.

Instead, without consulting the members, control of the party was taken by Mr. Anglin and his associates in large part due to the application of the threat of a protracted legal battle.

That is thoroughly anti-democratic in my books.

Coming up: Blue is the new Green, changing the party from anti-authoritarian to command & control, and opportunities for hope for real Greens in Alberta.

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