Heather Conn Blogs

spoutin’ about by the sea

Gibsons, BC teen celebrated at Reel Youth Film Festival

The following article appeared on April 9 on the online newsmagazine Sustainable Coast:

A lesbian version of Barbie squeezes a gal-pal doll to her chest. A quirky caravan of animated gypsies, wandering in silhouette amid birds and animals, rattles across the screen to a Polish folk song. Hank, an accident-prone nerd, suffers comic misadventures while rebuffing co-worker Patricia, the secret object of his longings.

These delightful images were among 24 memorable short films screened April 3 in Gibsons as part of the touring Reel Youth Film Festival. Open to filmmakers age 19 or younger from around the world, the eclectic exhibition showcases talent in stop-motion animation and live-action drama and documentary.

Collectively, the films brought inspiration, provocation, social justice messages, and humour to the half-filled Gibsons Heritage Theatre. The simple animated Welcome Home, from Slovania, visually summarized in just one minute the impact of corporate greed and organized religion on human rights: money piled high while a boss sat, overseeing toiling workers.

In Drugs at the Disco, a 60-second flick from Italy, a cool dude behind a counter popped a pill. But when he tried to add one to each empty cup lined on a counter, the first cup refused, repeatedly moving to dodge his efforts in compelling stop-motion. The young man ended up surrounded by a dozen cups, as if in a threatening stand-off.

With no dialogue, the film’s ingenious don’t-try-drugs warning carried far more effective punch than the bland “Just say no” slogan used in the so-called U.S. war on drugs in the 1980s and early 1990s. As the film’s summary says in the festival program: “When the mind is animated, you don’t need drugs.”

Hosted by Gibsons artist and designer Kez Sherwood, the evening event saluted her son, local filmmaker Dexter Sherwood. (For each Reel Youth festival screening, up to one-quarter of the films are made by local filmmakers.) His 10-minute Phlegm Noir featured a fun take on the shady, black-and-white world of film noir. It starred Dexter as a cough-stricken, sick man, home alone, who wrestled with his alter ego, an ominous fedora-capped smoker, also played by Dexter. (During question period, a young audience member asked: “Did your mom let you smoke cigarettes for the film?” Dexter replied: “No. I faked it.”)

Billie Carroll, of Rhizome up! Media, publisher of Sustainable Coast magazine, presented Dexter with a gift certificate for London Drugs as tribute to his filmmaking achievement. (To view Dexter’s film, click here.)

During intermission, information tables were staffed by Sandy Buck, director of education and community outreach for the Deer Crossing the Art Farm in Gibsons, BC, and me, representing Powell River Digital Film School. (I teach screenwriting at the school and do publicity and outreach for it.)

Powell River Digital Film School features an intensive five-month, hands-on film program that’s free to grade 12 students in B.C. Led by founder Tony Papa, an award-winning filmmaker and producer, the school offers a film camp, guest appearances by industry professionals, and opportunities for solo and group film projects.

The school, which takes a maximum of 15 students, is in its seventh year. Graduates gain preferential treatment when applying to the Capilano University film program, and earn three credits towards Emily Carr University. Students in the program have had their films screened in the Reel Youth Film Festival in the past. For more information, see www.prdfs.ca.

Youth on the Lower Sunshine Coast who want to learn more about film or video have a variety of options: the student-run television station, operated for school credit at Elphinstone Secondary School in Gibsons; a once-a-week program, held over four months by local filmmakers, at Roberts Creek Elementary School; and a film and video program for grades 11 and 12 at Chatelech High in Sechelt.

The Reel Youth Film Festival is an initiative of the non-profit organization Reel Youth, which has offices in B.C., Ontario, and Alberta. Using artist mentors, it offers programs ranging from video production and photography to music videos and stop-motion animation.

For the festival, a youth jury selects the films based on their entertainment value, technical quality, and message. Launched each year at the Vancouver International Film Festival, the festival tours its films in partnership with high schools, community groups, youth media organizations, and other established film festivals.

Reel Youth has produced more than 1,000 films with 4,000 participants in western Canada, the Yukon and Northwest Territories, Morocco, Vietnam, India and Nepal.

Click here to read the original article as it appears on the Sustainable Coast website

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April 17, 2014 at 2:15 pm Comments (0)

Social media on the Camino: barrier or portal?

After hours of walking the Camino every day, I always felt grateful to arrive at a café or restaurant to rest and have a drink or snack. But too often, outdoor tables were full of people texting or talking on their cell phone. It seemed that for many pilgrims, finding a place with free Wifi was more important than food or drink.

Some pilgrims accessed the internet on their phone to find out the weather in the next main town along the route. While sitting at the table, they sometimes shared facts about this upcoming location, such as population, current temperature, and historical points of trivia, which they had just found online. Although I appreciated hearing more about certain places, this new knowledge also seemed to remove the mystery of the experience for me. There was no more joy of discovery—much had already been revealed.

pilgrim symbols low-res 985

Universal symbols require no technology or language to communicate their message.
At one roadside eatery, I enjoyed seeing the pilgrim icons
used to identify the respective washroom for men and women.

Others on the Camino used email to contact pilgrims they had met, to arrange where they would meet up or agree to stay that night. This seemed practical to me, but at the same time, it imposed planning on a process that I liked to keep more open-ended. Whether it’s on the Camino or in daily life, we all choose how much control we want to impose on what we do. We each find the balance that works for us. How much are we letting go and allowing life to come and meet us—making room for the Unknown—and how much are we trying to shape it ourselves ahead of time?

It jarred me to hear Spanish people talking on their phones as they walked. This occurred only a few times, thankfully, since the chatter of a voice ruined the serenity and silence of a moment. Yet, when I felt irritated by these occasional disruptions, I reminded myself: These people are not far from home. Their friends and loved ones are readily accessible. Why resent their desire to stay connected? Maybe I just needed to learn more tolerance.

 

After all, I was carrying an iPhone, which I used to send and receive emails and for taking photographs. How was my behaviour any different?

editing notice low-res 906

As an editor, I chuckled at these multi-language instructions in one Camino washroom, which included others’ attempts
to correct vocabulary and syntax.

 

Like most Camino pilgrims, I daily searched for outlets at albergues to recharge my iPhone. At one hostel, all were constantly in use, and I was unable to recharge it. The next day, I walked a whole morning without being able to take photos. It surprised me how unnerving this felt; I could not seem to let go of the sense that I was missing out on one-of-a-kind visual opportunities. I was more attached to my identity as a photographer than I thought.

 

Although I enjoy taking pictures, I recognized that to stop on the path, find a place to put down my poles, take off my gloves, dig my iPhone out of my zippered fanny pack, and take a picture—often when it was so bright that I could barely see more than a faint silhouette on the screen and didn’t even know if the image was in focus—I was disrupting the flow of my walking journey.

 

Holding up an iPhone to take a picture of someone or something creates a barrier to direct experience. I was stepping into the role of recorder, framing and capturing the image inside a tiny rectangle rather than observing it with my own eyes. I wanted the picture as a memory of the scene, yet I was removing myself from the event to do this. The immediate connection to a moment was gone.

 

John Brierley, author of the popular Camino guidebook that I used, recommends not bringing a camera on the pilgrimage. He writes: “[D]on’t forget that you can’t photograph an inner experience, so don’t set up a disappointment for yourself! . . . The camera . . .insulates the photographer from the reality of the experience.”

 

Strangely, I did not consider my writing process (jotting words in my notebook along the way) as the same form of separation from a moment. For me, this writing felt more like an extension of my inner thoughts, sometimes the result of an inner experience. Usually, I just wrote a few lines or a quick paragraph to jog my memory in the evening, when I would write in more detail in my journal. Yet while doing this, I was still stopping along the way and removing myself from those around me.

 

altered state low-res 175

Without pen, camera, phone or any other distraction,
I found nothing more exhilarating than directly experiencing
Oneness with Nature, as if an altered state.

 

Some Camino pilgrims bring along iPads and share their comments and photos as they go, either on email or on Facebook. I think that’s great to stay in such constant contact with people, but I chose not to do that. Consciously, I knew that I wanted to write about my experiences after my return, not en route. Before leaving, I told my husband that I would email him when I got a chance, but not to expect daily communication.

 

In that sense, I was creating separation. I realize now that my view of a spiritual journey, ultimately, is a solo one. While on the Camino, I sought out others with whom to share my spiritual self and related perceptions, appreciating that sense of community. But in a given moment, there was nothing more exhilarating than tapping directly into Nature’s energetic essence, stopping to feel this everpresent sense of Oneness. No technology is required for that at all — it only gets in the way.

 

December 20, 2013 at 6:32 pm Comments (3)

What kind of change agent are you?

Awareness. Commitment. Action. One person alone can’t alter an entire economic system, but working with others who are committed to take action to change it can make a difference. That’s one of the messages of The Story of Change, the latest in environmental activist Annie Leonard’s animated video series The Story of Stuff.

 

In this six-minute short, Leonard blames bad policies and business practices for our current western economy, which values profits over people and the planet, and creates enormous inequities in taxation and income. It’s not enough, she says, to be a smart shopper and stop buying stuff that you don’t need that will end up in a landfill. We need to demand changes from politicians, regulators, and manufacturers.

 

The movie explores what effective change-making has looked like over time, presenting two world examples of successful mass change: the U.S. civil rights movement under Martin Luther King Jr., and India’s shift to independence, spurred by Mahatma Gandhi. Neither of these pivotal events of social transformation would have happened, Leonard says, if the respective leaders, King and Gandhi, had pursued their quest as loners.

Annie Leonard

She emphasizes that any significant effort to build a better future shares three key factors: a big idea, a commitment to work together, and the ability to turn the big idea and commitment into action.

 

I wholly agree, and yet the movie fails to acknowledge the value and power of inner growth and change, which often creates the launching pad for external action. The spiritual beliefs of both King and Gandhi were major influences behind their desire for change and their commitment to peaceful resistance. If King and Gandhi were themselves violent people, they could not have inspired and led others towards peace and dramatic social change. Their inner change had to come first.

 

That’s one reason, in my view, why many collective attempts at change fail. The so-called leaders haven’t done enough inner growth work (whether it’s in aid of maturity, anger management, compassion, forgiveness, love etc) to walk the talk and inspire others without creating emotional meltdowns, hatred, resentments, and disillusionment. The resulting hypocrisy and contradictions between their espoused views and goals and their daily behavior become too discordant for many followers, who often quit in disgust.

 

 

As they say: Never underestimate the power of one human being to make a difference. As Gandhi said: “We must be the change we want to see in the world.” Someone’s presence, demeanour, and attitude, even with no words spoken, can alter any atmosphere or group.

 

I believe in the approach Heal Yourself, Heal the World. Yet, as Leonard points out, it’s not enough to remain isolated after changing yourself for the good. Only when you join with like-minded others for a larger cause can widespread change take place.

 

What kind of change agent are you — networker or nurturer, builder or resister? Discover your “changemaker personality type” (communicator, builder, networker, nurturer, investigator or resister) in the short quiz following the video.

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July 23, 2012 at 8:15 pm Comment (1)

In the wake of the passage of Bill C-38: “A moment of alchemy beckons”

 

Jamie Biggar and Julia Pope of Leadnow.ca address crowd in Sechelt last week

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is the best thing that ever happened to activism in Canada, says Leadnow.ca spokesperson Jamie Biggar.

 

“He’s over-reaching catastrophically for his own causes,” Biggar told about 100+ Sunshine Coasters at the Seaside Centre in Sechelt, BC last week. “He’s the greatest organizing opportunity. People understand this.”

 

But more about that later.

 

Today, I mourn the passage of federal Bill C-38 and all that it means to Canada’s democratic process, environmental future, and habitat protection. (I won’t recap these issues here, since media pundits have already thoroughly covered them.)

 

Last week, I joined dozens of concerned Sunshine Coasters to hear Leadnow.ca activists Jamie Biggar and Julia Pope ask: “What does YOUR Canada look like?” The visiting duo, rooted in a vision of hope, positive action, and collective organizing, asked the crowd to each write down a personal view of Canada, articulating the values and traditions that have made the nation special to our hearts. Biggar then urged us to mail these handwritten notes to our local MP John Weston and Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

 

I dutifully complied, easily stating the qualities that have made me proud of Canada, from its tradition of an open democratic process to freedom of speech and dissent. I mailed my letter to Weston the next day. Yet, it was obvious when reading Weston’s subsequent editorials in local media, in direct response to the correspondence that he had received, that he has neither truly listened to, nor respected, his constituency.

 

The paternalistic tone of his writings essentially insisted that Bill C-38 will help the environment. He did not once acknowledge the validity of any countering viewpoint; his opinion pieces, instead, held this implied thread: “Listen, you poor misguided souls: The sooner you realize that I know best and will move ahead regardless, the easier it will be for all of us.”

Biggar inspires an audience of multi-ages at Seaside Centre

At the Sechelt gathering full of activist spirits (with regular faces like George Smith, Rick O’Neill, Jack Stein, Caitlin Hicks and others) it was easy to feel hopeful about the power of group action and speaking out. Yet, what struck me visually as I sat on the aisle next to the audience’s microphone were the number of white-haired seniors in the audience. Indeed, they were the majority, embodied in the leadership of Jef Keighley, chair of the Sunshine Coast Senior Citizens.

 

These seniors weren’t radical naysayers and hippie extremists, as Weston likes to portray anyone who disagrees with his stance on the environment and other positions. Weston, this is what democracy looks like.

 

“The energy is out there,” said Biggar, who refered to online and on-site activist momentum as “a wave.” “We built a surfboard for that wave.”

 

Buoyed by Biggar’s praise – he said that the Sunshine Coast’s rally at Weston’s office the week before had been the best turnout (200 people) in the country, along with the Yukon’s, of 75 similar actions nation-wide – the group agreed to form an alliance of diverse activist groups on the Coast.

 

“You’re an inspiration for the rest of the country,” said Biggar.

 

I think that such action is essential and I applaud it. Yet, when I consider how patently Harper and Weston ignore the voices of grassroots democracy and public process and discourse – even in our highest political body, federal Parliament – I grieve for this country. As Canada’s current stance at the Rio+20 summit reinforces, at the political level of official decision-making, our nation is going backwards.

 

“There’s been a fundamental eruption in our democracy,” said Biggar. “It was a rupture, a wound. We’re trying to go back to that moment and heal that fabric of democracy.”

 

Today’s democratic protest movement needs more youthful energy, said many people at the Sechelt event. They’re the ones who are media and technology savvy and can easily use social media as communication and organizing tools. (A few students from Elphinstone Secondary were present.) That’s why groups like Leadnow.ca and visionary catalysts like Biggar need our support.

 

For next steps, Biggar offered his own suggestions and those he recapped after listening to speakers at the mike:

  • Make moveon.org a good model for action. This U.S. group built “democratic muscle” against the Iraq war, as one success story.
  • Use “unscripted opposition” (not protest form letters) because it’s more vigorous and can change political calculations.
  • Build a community of activists. Engage people face-to-face and integrate art and fun into public actions.
  • Ask young people what they care about.
  • “You need to ask for what you want and back it up with mobilization.”

 

Biggar reminded us: “Success looks like changing the national conversation.” He added: “We want you to be powerful. It is a moment of alchemy. It’s time to meet the anti-democratic with a groundswell of democratic revitalization.”

 

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June 21, 2012 at 6:34 pm Comments (0)

Are you helping to shape Roberts Creek’s future?

This past weekend, Global TV highlighted Roberts Creek on its weekly Saturday morning news feature Small Town BC. The station shared photos sent in by Creekers, showcasing some of what makes our community such a glorious place to live: the beach at sunset; the mandala and pier; the Gumboot Café; the Hall; the Roberts Creek Daze parade; and creative ingenuity, like the person who filled a local pothole with wood chips, daffodils, and other flowers.

 

Yet, we don’t need to see the Creek celebrated on television to know what a special place this is – all you have to do is live here. A friend who’s writing a feature on Roberts Creek for a newspaper in Germany told me this morning: “Doing this article has reinforced all the more to me what a great place this is.”

 

For me, the attraction of our community lies in its outstanding beauty and social/cultural values: tolerance; honouring the earth with organic gardens and markets and food security; private and public creativity; a laid-back lifestyle; independence and self-sufficiency; political and environmental activism; and the talent and expertise of our residents.

 

We need to protect these values to prevent the Creek from becoming an over-crowded, over-extended place without sufficient infrastructure and agricultural land to maintain a high quality of life for its current and future residents. That’s why I was glad to attend the recent open house regarding the Roberts Creek Official Community Plan (OCP) review. (An OCP, drafted by volunteer residents, uses a long-term view to outline goals and policies for the community, to guide decisions on planning and land-use management.)

 

The Sunshine Coast Regional District invited local residents to provide feedback on various aspects of the OCP vision, including transportation, the town core, density, and agricultural land. Many people shared passionate comments, criticisms, and suggestions at the microphone while others wrote feedback on large sheets at a series of display tables.

 

Such public process is a vital part of community participation, democracy, and collaborative decision-making. If you don’t share your views with those who have the power to effect change, then don’t complain if and when your vision never happens. Act now. Be part of the future you want to create.

 

Send your comments to David Rafael, Senior Planner at the Sunshine Coast Regional District: 604-885-6804, ext. 4 or david.rafael@scrd.ca.

April 9, 2012 at 5:27 pm Comments (0)

Anti-bullying Day: How much do we value women and children?

I never thought that I’d write a post that promotes Lady Gaga, but I love the dance that Sunshine Coast elementary students did this week to her song Born This Way. (Click here to see it on YouTube.) What a tremendous way for kids to learn self-acceptance and to celebrate Anti-bullying Day!

 

More than a hundred children from Roberts Creek Elementary, Churchill and David Lloyd George schools gathered at the mandala at Roberts Creek pier in a choreographed dance, wearing T-shirts that read “ACCEPTANCE Born This Way.”

 

With the youngest kids in front, the group giggled and gyrated, arms skyward and hips jiggling, to lyrics like

 

Don’t hide yourself in regret

Just love yourself and you’re set . . .

 

In the religion of the insecure

I must be myself, respect my youth . . .

 

Whether you’re broke or evergreen

You’re black, white, beige, chola descent

You’re Lebanese, You’re orient

Whether life’s disabilities

Left you outcast, bullied or teased

Rejoice and love yourself today

’Cause baby you were born this way

Lesbian, transgendered life

I’m on the right track baby

I was born to survive

 

Whether you think Lady Gaga is an appropriate role model or not, you can’t argue the overwhelming impact that today’s popular culture has on young minds. This song and its message will reach far more children than any self-help book or class on self-esteem. Yet every effort, big or small, that gives kids the sense that they’re lovable and worthy just the way they are is invaluable.

 

Where has childhood gone in today’s world? Bullied kids, gay or straight, are committing suicide. Mothers are pushing their tots to compete as mini-sexpots in so-called beauty and talent pageants. Advertising is sexualizing young girls as more and more get anorexia at a younger age and struggle with a poor sense of body image. Increasingly, children must face their self-esteem issues on their own, as their parents bow to the influences of sex-sells media, the image-is-everything credo, and neoconservative, traditional values that make being gay or “different” an abomination.

 

At the extreme, we face the exploitation of children across the globe, including in North America, as sex and domestic slaves, child brides, and prostitutes. Whether they’re waving weapons, ordered to kill or maim their loved ones to prove their loyalty to sadistic ethnic and rebel causes, or facing death and torture as helpless pawns in the political wars of adult greed and power, children need the support of healthy and courageous adults who will help them thrive and survive, not suffer and die. They need to feel valued and loved, as we all do. (Groups such as Free the Children and Me to We are serving a vital role of support in this area across the globe. I’m not going to get into the recent Invisible Children debate.)

 

Children around the world are dying without access to basic medical care. Here in B.C., with the highest child poverty rate in Canada, we have kids going hungry and getting sick in families who can’t afford specialized medical or dental care. We have babies born with AIDS and fetal alcohol syndrome. How much do we really value children in the West?

 

Originally, I was going to write this week about International Women’s Day and the attempt by neocon yahoos like Rush Limbaugh and U.S. Republican candidates like Rick Santorum to keep women in domestic slave status. Their efforts to thwart women’s self-determination regarding birth control, reproductive rights, family and career roles are truly appalling. How far have we truly come in a half-century, since feminism gained a popular voice in the late 1960s?

 

Then I realized that the power and rights of women and children are deeply interconnected. As long as patriarchal values and controls determine laws and social customs at all levels, from the family to the world, the rights of women and children will remain devalued. Heck, it’s been 83 years since women were legally declared people in Canada. How long will it take before they have true equality with men, and most adults recognize children as our future, worthy in their own right? The young and the female have stayed invisible and silent for too long.

 

I’m glad that in Roberts Creek this week, at least, educators and parents gave children a public voice.

 

 

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March 11, 2012 at 2:43 pm Comments (0)

Simple spiritual writing can reach all ages

Recently, I was invited to be a guest contributor to the blog Spiritually Speaking, which I didn’t even know existed. It’s produced through the Times Colonist in Victoria, BC. I decided to write about my children’s book and the challenges of expressing spiritual concepts in simple, concrete terms that will be meaningful to kids.

If you’d like to read my post, please click here. I invite you to leave a comment on this blog and/or the Spiritually Speaking one.

In the adult realm, I wrote an essay several years ago called Dharma by the Dozen: The Art of Spiritual Writing. Whether writing fiction or nonfiction, here are a few suggestions for tackling this genre, in particular:

  • Embrace metaphors and similes that relate to the natural world.
  • Apply a light touch.
  • Use simple language.
  • Draw from personal experience.
  • Create images of beauty and resonance.
  • Write to inspire.

 

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February 11, 2012 at 2:45 pm Comments (0)

The Northern Gateway Project: Which conversation of “facts” will you join?

This week, The Vancouver Sun ran in multiple papers a three-quarter-page ad from Enbridge, the U.S. corporation behind the Northern Gateway project. Enbridge plans to build 1,200 kilometres of pipeline across northern B.C. from Alberta’s Tar Sands project to Kitimat on the coast. This would end British Columbia’s current moratorium on related tanker traffic and open up a vast, pristine area, including the Great Bear Rainforest, to more than 200 oil tankers a year.

(For more background on this project, see my archived post “No oil tankers on B.C. coast,” Dec. 1, 2009 under Environment on this blog.)

These ads are a prelude to the public hearings about the Northern Gateway project, to be held from January to March 2012 in some of the northern communities situated along the suggested pipeline route.

I wrote a letter to The Sun in response to these ads, which I didn’t really expect them to publish, since it criticizes an advertiser. Here’s what I said:

“I wanted to point out how your repeat ad from Enbridge executive vice-president Janet Holder is a wonderful example of doublespeak. The most telling line is the following: ‘We fully accept the responsibility of earning your trust and confidence regarding the high standards and expectations of this project.’ This phrase implies that the go-ahead for the Northern Gateway oil pipeline is already a fait accompli. Therefore, the invitation to ‘join the conversation’ is really just another way of saying: ‘We want you to see it our way.’

 

“I applaud the initiative to host public hearings and have open dialogue. However, this so-called open letter by no means gives the impression that if enough people speak out against the Northern Gateway project at the hearings, Enbridge will not move forward with it. Sure, the company might have ‘a long tradition of listening to all opinions,’ but how many of those opinions made them stop their actions? Such use of language would make even Orwell blush, if he was still around. In response, I offer a simple saying learned in the schoolyard: ‘Say what you mean and mean what you say.’

 

The letter by Holder says: “I invite you to engage in the conversation based on informed, knowledge-based opinions, which are grounded in balanced facts and realities.” This means “facts” like those presented on the Northern Gateway Facts website, facts like “the chances of a marine mishap are very unlikely.”

 

Is that less or more unlikely than the Michigan oil spill caused by Enbridge  in July 2010? The rupture of a 30-inch piece of pipeline released 819,000 gallons into the Kalamazoo River and carried oil 30 miles downstream this Lake Michigan tributary.

 

For real facts on the Northern Gateway project, I recommend the book Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent by Andrew Nikiforuk and any of his related articles. To learn more about the impact of this pipeline project on marine life, fragile waterways, and First Nations livelihoods, please see the website for Pacific Wild.

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December 23, 2011 at 4:35 pm Comments (0)

Occupy Vancouver: 3,000+ bring power to the people

 

“First they ignore you

Then they laugh at you

Then they fight you

Then you win” – Gandhi

(on a sign at Occupy Vancouver)

 

“In times of universal deceit,

Telling the truth is a revolutionary act”

— George Orwell

(on a sign at Occupy Vancouver)

 

Under the menacing glare of gargoyles perched high on the corners of Hotel Vancouver, across from looming RBC and HSBC buildings, we gathered downtown, 3,000+ strong on Oct. 15. This Occupy Vancouver movement, spawned by weeks of Occupy Wall Street activism in New York City, had set up a sprawling camp of tents, plus tents for food, first aid, public education, and a children’s area, in front of the art gallery.

 

                                                                                                               — photos by Heather Conn

A handful of friends and I from British Columbia’s Sunshine Coast sat on the edge of the mosaic fountain in front of the Vancouver Art Gallery, surrounded by people of every age, ethnicity, and background: infants, white-haired grandmothers, laid-off workers, disgruntled professionals, business people in suits, women in high heels and fashionable dress, bohemians in masks and costumes . . .They were all a highly visible part of the 99 per cent of western society seeking to be heard and counted as banks, corporations, and governments have gained hugely skewed levels of power, making decisions with little accountability over issues that affect the earth, the public good, and livelihoods. As activist Naomi Klein said a week earlier as part of Occupy Wall Street: “Our system is crashing economically and ecologically.” As one of the dozens and dozens of homemade signs in Vancouver, held high among the throng, said on this day: “Another world is possible.”

 

I was heartened to see more than a thousand people gathered by 10 a.m., after premier Christy Clark and others had dismissively predicted that few would appear at the event. More and more people kept arriving, until at least 3,000 (some reports claimed 5,000) marched peacefully in a square along four downtown blocks, starting northward at Georgia and Howe. No one smashed windows, threw food at cops, or yelled verbal abuse at passersby. Cars honked in support of the moving crowd. A police officer wore an orange flower in his lapel. The sea of signs gave heart and meaning to what was a living, growing statement (not “a protest”) shared with others who were organizing publicly on the same day in 1,000 cities across the globe:

 

“One World, One Humanity, Share the World’s Resources”

“Serve the people”

“Close the gap”

“Vancouver wakes up”

“A fair taxation system is overdue”

“We’re the #1 Highest Child Poverty Rate in Canada – Way to go B.C.”

In the first general assembly that morning, various speakers, as part of a moderating team, stood on the art gallery steps and explained the proposed working model for consensus. As defined in the handout provided to the crowd: “A consensus is a decision-making process that attempts to be inclusive and accommodating of the desires and needs of an entire group.” Workers in Venezuela and other Latin American countries have used such models for decision-making in factories and collectives. As one of the moderators pointed out: “It’s not pretty.” It was slow, tedious, and the process bumbling. We were all new at this; our capitalist system had not created models for such forms of decision-making. People would holler out occasionally: “This is what democracy looks like.”

 

Eager for action and group-based agreements, I grew impatient as different speakers read through the consensus document, word for word, using the mike and then having people within the crowd repeat each phrase in a “human mike” format. Requests went out for translators in a host of languages, from Farsi to Spanish. Hand gestures were given as symbols for how each participant could indicate whether he or she agreed with a proposal, had reservations, would stand aside (“I cannot support this proposal and will not help implement it but do not want to stop the group or block the proposal”) or would block it (“I have a fundamental disagreement with the proposal that must be addressed and has not been resolved”). This repetitive process took an hour and a half.

 

I was soon growing bored and frustrated. I had to examine my own impatience and desire for a quick outcome, over the inclusion of all questions and requests for something to be repeated. Rather than feeling energized, hopeful, and excited, this process left me feeling deflated and in limbo. But the non-stop stream of informal speakers from the crowd, who took turns at the microphone, helped to draw me back to the power of a group assembly. (The maximum time allotment for each speaker, decided by the group as a whole, was five minutes.) A speaker asked: “Do you trust the system?”

“No,” the crowd roared back. If the group thought that someone was going on too long or the remarks were too self-serving, they hooted or called “Wrap it up” or made the accompanying hand signal. Here is a selection of those who spoke, besides David Eby of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association and Seth Klein (Naomi’s brother) of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives:

 

  • Bob, a unionized meter reader for BC Hydro, who will be replaced by a smart meter within a year, after receiving only a 1% pay increase in a decade: “Gordo (former premier Gordon Campbell) exempted smart meters from due process”;

 

  • an artist from Montreal: “We’re losing our neighbourhoods”;

 

  • Paul Grignon, creator of animated films such as Money as Debt;

 

  • a representative from Zeitgeist Vancouver, part of the Zeitgeist world movement: “What are the root problems?”

 

  • Activist and grandmother Betty Krawczyk: “Our environment is going, our wild salmon are going. We won’t tolerate it. Their (government/corporate) power comes with our permission, from our acquiescence. True power is in our hands. The power belongs to us, always and forever.” That brought on loud cheers.

 

  • The Raging Grannies: “Your right is to be heard.”

 

Later that day, after meeting a client and some of his medical colleagues for lunch at upscale Shaughnessy Restaurant, I was heartened (again) to hear that one of them, a successful doctor, had wanted to join the Occupy Vancouver events himself. He said that he had felt like going down there and throwing something. I was surprised to hear such a remark in that context from such a professional; you never know where you’ll find someone of like mind.

The day’s events did not topple any existing structures or result in resounding changes. However, the simple act of people coming together in peace in a public space to voice discontent and seek more compassionate and inclusive alternatives was a powerful reminder that the power of the people lies innately with the people and in democratic process. We are the power of the majority and we control how much of that we choose to keep or give up.

After returning home just before the seven p.m. general assembly, my husband and I stopped to watch an astounding natural sight: thousands upon thousands of crows were flying, seemingly without end, through the sky. They kept coming and coming, a sprawling black flap of wings across blue, heading east above the Commercial Drive SkyTrain station. They appeared to be coming from downtown. I thought to myself: “Maybe they had their own gathering.” I had never seen such a massive group of crows in my life. I took it as a sign.

 

Click here for a Buddhist perspective on Occupy Wall Street, by Buddhist teacher and psychotherapist Michael Stone, author of Awake in the World: Teachings From Yoga and Buddhism for Living an Engaged Life.

 

Click here to watch U.S. news commentator Keith Olbermann outline what Wall Street protesters want (October 05, 2011)

 



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October 18, 2011 at 12:50 pm Comments (5)

Social media: Have we forgotten the “real” world?

At a social media seminar I attended this week in Vancouver, one of the presenters said: “The real world is so key.” She was referring to live-blogging events. I had to laugh at the irony. We have to be reminded to participate in activities that occur beyond cyber-reality? How sad.

As a writer and communicator, I firmly acknowledge the value of the Internet and social media in connecting with others and sharing information. But if this activity ends up alienating and isolating us from the flesh-and-blood world, it’s ultimately substracting from, rather than adding to, our lives. Do we chat with a near-stranger online, or visit a real friend face-to-face in a cafe? Do we choose to email rather than phone someone? Are personal encounters diminishing, replaced by Tweets and cyber-dialogue?

I think of family trips we took when I was a child. While driving through spectacular scenery, from the Petrified Forest and Painted Desert in the U.S. to the orange-red canyons and mesas of Arizona, my mom had to repeatedly urge my sisters and I to look out the window and admire the view. We were often too engrossed in some card game or crossword puzzle in the back seat to even notice what was around us. Unwittingly, we were shutting out the world and our relationship to nature. (This was many decades before the term “nature deficit disorder” was coined.)

Social media can create the same real-life siloing. On the same night as the seminar, I attended a talk and reading by musician/author Sylvia Tyson at the Festival of the Written Arts in Sechelt, BC. She read from her new novel Joyner’s Dream, which reinforces one family’s connection to music through multi-generations. In the Q&A afterwards, someone asked Tyson if she was on Facebook.

“I’m one of the original Luddites,” she replied. (That was a no.) Applause followed from at least one-quarter of the sold-out audience of several hundred. I assumed that those who clapped were honouring the value of person-to-person sharing, the kind of connection that Tyson created that night through her spoken word and recorded music.

I don’t advocate shunning the digital world. Let’s just keep it in perspective. To me, nothing beats the unadulterated, non-enhanced connection, in person, with people and nature. Once we’ve stopped valuing that relationship, and making time for it, we might as well become heartless cyborgs.

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August 6, 2011 at 10:49 am Comment (1)

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