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.

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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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