~~~~~~ Learning a better world ~~~~ with Greg Macdougall

The following ideas were presented by Bob Hackett, Carly Stasko , and Paul D. Boin at the Uncensoring Media Morphosis conference at Carleton University in 2004.


We have two main challenges in building independent media: .. how to make them sustaining (organizationally, economically) .. how not to be coopted or marginalized

We need to change the relationship between the audience and the media, and there are two main ways to do this: .. media education (a long-term process, can be coopted by media corps. if they’re involved) .. culture jamming

We can go through openings that present themselves in the dominant media. However, there are drawbacks to this approach: it can be too reactive; too difficult to change media frames once they’re set; can distort purpose of efforts as we work within structure; it leaves the problematic structure intact)

We can change the very institutions of media (this is ‘media reform’ and is targettted both towards corporations and the state). It looks at changing public policy, as well as overhauling the structure, content and distribution patterns of existing media. Media Reform needs to be elvated to the status of a movement, similar to civil rights or feminism.

One fundamentally important thing to do is to bring in the other groups of people (our allies) who would also benefit from having a healthier media environment. This is where we build the links to other social movements.

Independent media can be used both for media education, and for alternative voices (including as a voice for the media reform movement since mainstream media is not likely to be sympathetic).

We need community support, we can’t do it alone. However, recognize that empowering the individual to do their own thing is what independent media is all about, it is a form of empowerment and a fundamental shift in an individual’s relationship with the media.

One central aspect is distribution. This is where mainstream media have a tremendous advantage and where independent media are isolated and disconnected, we need to bring some unity / collectivity to this area.

The meaning of jamming, aligned with the purpose of independent media and what we’re doing, is threefold: .. stopping the machinery from functioning .. musical improvisation, playing off of what others are doing .. preserving sweet things, like making jam > >>> destruction, creation, preservation <<<<

Two fitting images of our situation: 1) Cutting the strings on the puppet, then realizing that’s not enough, we need to stand up on our own too 2) Playing a board game, we needn’t be confined by the game, we can make up our own new rules

Diversity is important for health, homogenization leads to stagnation. Understand that much of what happens with media, when people are becoming involved, they are unpaid / underpaid (often get burnt out and leave) .. this situation means that usually only certain people can get involved, can do without monetary compensation, such as students / youths / single people / wealthy people

Our challenge, how to create systems that are sustaining and supportive to the people who are creating the media?

When talking about survival of independent media, no worries, it’s not a sinking ship, seeing so many people and examples we can realize that, and realize also that it’s more about taking care of people and allowing them to keep doing it, doing it well, doing it in a healthy manner.

In our approach to reaching people, we need to have a good criticism / analysis of the current situation, but at same time need to be providing them with positive alternatives (remind them there’s hope).

Some things to do: .. support existing local & independent media .. share independent videos with friends (start a club) .. droplifting (get indy stuff in mainstream locations) .. donate indy materials to libraries .. change peoples’ homepages to indymedia (if they’re familiar with it, they’ll be ready to support if it’s under attack) .. communicate with the audience, share with them what we’re doing, what we’re up to

We need to not look at us as independent media as serving people, instead look at it as we’re partnering with others to do something together.

People will gravitate towards information / media that gives them something they can use or need. (reference: Herbert Ganswin) so will especially gravitate to better media as democracy becomes more participatory.

The concept of open-publishing poses some problems. While it is good to have a place for all people to put their stories, at the same time it can be overwhelming. Lots of people are only looking for good stuff and don’t want an ‘anything goes’ environment .. what could really help is some sort of summaries or reviews, or maybe some sort of good gatekeeper that ensures only quality material gets by. Some qualities people are looking for in stories: well written, concise, context, links, more entry points.

One important thing to realize is that various independent / alternative media could do a lot better job of things if they coordinated cooperation. Individually many groups can’t do a complete job, but feeding off each other it would be possible for more comprehensive coverage on stories. A suggestion was for story ‘primers’ to be sent around, from which one group could choose to cover one angle, another group could grab another aspect, etc.

For participatory media, we need to do skill sharing, to give people the tools and capabilities to make their own. We need to be creative in how we help people learn these skills. One thing that can really help in doing this is to provide an opportunity for audience, and for response / feedback on what people have done. This is a way for follow through, and for validation of what the person has created.

It’s important to realize that we’re in a formative process which includes the practise of visioning things into being. We’re creating new forms and new forums for people to communicate, create, educate, think, and learn how to think through participating.

Something vitally important is that as we build these alternatives, we come together to share the challenges we’ve encountered and that we share the strategies we’ve discovered for success. In this way we can all improve what we’re doing.

One example of a strategy was a play on speed dating, having people do short pairings up as a way to start meetings or otherwise build some personal connection-building into an activity.


>> the following ideas were presented by myself (Greg Macdougall) as a session at the Un-censoring: MediaMorphosis conference (March 4-6, 2004 at Carleton University)

Through personal experience working with Indymedia in Kitchener-Waterloo and provincially with IMC Ontario, I’ve found that we do not have or apply all the necessary skills to ensure success.

Areas like human resources, marketing, planning, organizing, project management are where we fall down. In K-W we began the Blind Spot newspaper with a lot of people, a lot of energy, but it narrowed down to two of us maintaning it. Some people tend to come in and then leave without finding a way they can stay involved, to consistently contribute.

It is frustrating to see so many people concentrating so much energy on the mainstream media. Once we’ve established that there are serious problems there, it doesn’t help to keep saying what is wrong with it. We can decide we need to build something new, then put our energy into that effort.

The strength of the IMC / Indymedia network is in it’s ability to be a central hub for all independent media. There are already a lot of independent media out there, the IMC is able to be a common meeting point for them all, globally as well as locally, a place where people could plug in and choose whatever media most suited their needs. For this to happen it requires work plus strategy (we need to be smart).

Some key strategies:

* start small, build base on strengths .. maybe focus on the web site as centre of IMC instead of trying to do a whole lot of projects at once, working on improving site / adding functionality / user friendliness

* provide something consistent, meaningful to people .. this could be a printed local event calendar / listings, weekly or biweekly

* guerilla tactics: use weaknesss as a strength .. corp. media has lots of resources to print and distribute centrally, we don’t, so design things in order to capitalize on what we do have, a network of people linked electronically (ex of project: print distribution through .pdf, lots of people do some copying, distribution/ posting, OR, regular update / summary emails sent out through email list, lots of people receive, fwd on to more people)

* decentralization .. no hierarchy, no central decision-making body, small group autonomy can be more effective

* grassroots and continuity .. power is in small, local meetings where people can input, come to decision, believe in decision .. need to come together regularly / often

* diversity / accessibility .. consists of recognizing barriers to involvement, understanding what diversity means, creativity in solutions to barriers .. what we are making is for use equally by all, make it accessible, listen to potential partners needs / concerns

* based in local community .. people want to know what’s happening in own area, also what effects their lives (what they need or can use) .. real world connection, not just online

* communicating the message of IMC .. able to say clearly to people what this is about .. able to frame issue in a way that gives them way to respond

>>>> critique / comments from sessions attendees:

  • can see how important it is to reach out into community, get support .. can’t do it all yourself
  • don’t be too hard on selves for lack of sucess, maybe we’re trying to do too much all at once
  • some key questions: .. how to get greater audience to move to IMC, how to make it more legitimate? .. how to make it viable / sustaining (financially)?
  • good place for journalism students to post (and others who are already producing content) .. would be good to target profs, so they could inform students


Photo from: ninafideles.blogspot.com

“Globalization and Social Movements”
A talk by João Pedro Stédile, Main Coordinator for the Landless Rural Workers Movement (MST) of Brazil
Oct 23, 2003 at the University of Ottawa
– notes by Greg Macdougall


There are three main things we need to do to move forward:

1) sharing experiences and ideas with others
2) listening to others’ experiences and ideas
3) discussion and dialogue: learning from each other, what lessons we’ve learned about how to advance forward

+ + + + +

– intro (above)
– changes in the nature of the movement
– two key challenges
– universalities of social struggle
– bonus

+ + + + +


1) the social classes have now mixed and can’t be defined so rigidly. this creates a need for new forms of social organization. across the world there are an infinite multiplicity of ways of working or organizing.

2) social movements now are operating autonomously, organizing horizontally, not needing to wait for word from a higher committee. it is very important that people learn this ideology, that we need not depend on others

3) new flexibility between members of the movement, when before there was often excessive bureaucratic organization.

4) the process of internationalization is increasingly a part of social movements, we are confronting exploitation on that level.

+ + + + +


1) capital is hegemonic.
we need to generate enough energy to bring us to next period of reemergence and growth of mass movements.

2) the movements are still very spread out.
we need to BUILD A MEETING POINT, some common political project.

+ + + + +


the key is to build autonomy within organizations: “do this and i’ll help you” attitude only exists at the world bank and in NGOs

1) incorporate grassroots work. having small local meetings – in schools, work places, community centres – where people discuss, make decisions, and believe in those decisions. strength comes from grassroots and regularity

2) train organizers. people need to know philosophy and idealogy. they are the skeleton that keeps the bones together, they need to understand the key things.

3) raise political awareness of the masses. this can be done through various means: media, conferences, public debates on issues of concern, etc.

4) struggle. no movement can grow if it doesn’t struggle. the struggle is where people learn.

+ + + + +


we are building a different kind of integration among people of different cultures. based on the accumulation and growth in strength of mass movements. instead of choosing from among the present choices, the point is to work on accumulating popular movement power and strength, creating new options from which to choose.

change will happen with the participation of all forms of social organizations, groups, churches, left political parties, all together creating the energy required to transform society

in all political situations there exists a situation of hegemony of the dominant class

I started taking a course on Freelance writing. It’s not so much a writing course as a ‘how-to’ course on the business of freelance writing, which does include the writing part to a degree, but much more too.

One of the first things that was stressed was how a very big thing in the business of freelancing, due to the nature of the business, is networking. It’s not what you know, but who you know. The class, and the bar sessions after the class, are times where we learn the craft but also where we develop relationships that could last long into our lives.

This is definitely true, but as I looked around the room I noticed a problem too. There were no visible minorities in our classroom. So if there are problems with diversity and representation in the journalism and freelancing fields, and then the networking is happening in places like this, can we identify some problems? Shortly after I’d thought this, a young black man came late into the class, but it’s still predominantly white.

The basic process of freelancing is fivefold:
1) come up with a story idea
2) do the preliminary research
3) do market research to see where could sell the story
4) sell the idea to an editor -> excite them
5) write the story

The spark that excites people is in the lead paragraph or two. Capture the interest of the reader there, or they might not read the rest of the story. The instructor talked about sometimes it’ll take him an hour or more to get the lead down, but then it could take only 10 minutes to write the rest of the story, that’s how things are.

+ + +

The difference between news reporting and freelancing:

News Reporting -> inverted triangle structure: the essence of the story, in the form of answers to all the basic questions (who, what, where, when, why, how), is contained in the lead paragraph or two and the headline. After that, the next most important element of the story is included, and then the next most important after that, and so on until you get to the end of the story.

Freelancing -> triangle structure: begins with the nub of the idea and then builds on it throughout the story. The nub could be a question, or a quotation, or some statement that defines what the story will focus on.

+ + +

It is interesting to consider where we get our ideas for stories. A general guide is that we write best about what we know, but we can learn to write about almost anything if we so desire -> this is the difference between a specialist and a generalist.

What is important is to have focus, purpose, and a goal -> to choose a direction and keep working on it.

Also, don’t lose sight of your ideas -> the idea of having a weekly freelance writing schedule was suggested, including an ‘idea-checking day’, and is something that could help you keep on top of what you’re doing.

The elements of the course (the different classes) are:

1) the basics of gathering information (ideas – to – researching)
2) types of articles / mechanics of submitting / business of writing
3) interviewing techniques
4) writing a good lead
5) writing and the markets
6) writing and the internet
7) query letters

The website of the instructor is www.anabelassociates.com and has a lot of writing resources, for the time being .. there is also an email list, The Writer’s Deadline, where you can plug in to a lot of really good information


The last class featured four experienced magazine editors speaking on some important things to know. They were Rosa Harris-Adler of Ottawa City magazine, Tom McGregor of the Canadian Legion magazine, Sylvia Barret of Canadian Geographic, and someone else who I didn’t catch the name of (formerly editor of University of Ottawa Gazette newspaper, also does lots of freelance in different media)



  • when starting to work as a freelance writer, you can choose to consider yourself unemployed or self-employed (guess which feels better?)
  • networking is very important!!
  • build a library of clippings, with a focus on quality not quantity .. when you’re starting out, don’t do it for the money, do it to be able to write good stories and build clippings (editors use these to judge your ability)
  • you can recycle stories, refresh them by making it for a new audience, then resell story
  • always make deadlines!! there are many writers out there who do
  • editors are interested in your idea, even if they say they don’t need any .. don’t be put off
  • you need to prove yourself at the beginning, so start small .. some editors will take a flyer on someone new, others won’t
  • magazines are a visual medium -> good graphics help make a story good .. stories are a collaborative effort b/w writer, editor, photographer (but as writer, you’re often working in dark)
  • know how much time to allocate on a story (generally based on pay you’re receiving, unless doing it more out of love) .. it’s not impolite to ask how much will get paid for story, plus if any expenses are being covered
  • do you want to be a specialist or a generalist? either way, know what’s good for you .. what do you envision for your career?



  • editors are looking for really original ideas, in a way that will catch attention
  • read one year of magazine to know it (type of articles, styles, tone, what articles have been done)
  • email queries are best way, can also do follow up same way
  • phone calls are good or bad depending on editor -> do background work, know production schedule, when best time would be to call if going to
  • do queries one at a time (can mention that you’d like to hear back so know if should take it to other publication)
  • get to the point real quick (not topic, but story -> refine idea)
  • convince editor your article would be good for them, that it’s focused, and that you’re in a unique position to write story (ex: who you’re going to interview, plus how you’re already connected)
  • 2 paragraphs to query letter: 1 is story idea, 1 is your credentials (don’t be shy, but don’t push it either)
  • editors want to know you’re a good writer, and what you’re capable of
  • maybe include a sample first page of what you’re writing (show them the lead, and the main crux of story) .. tailor it to the specific magazine
  • use timed follow-up to get response from editor, determine status of article
  • although writing an article ‘on spec’ (ie writing without having gotten go ahead or advice) is not widely a good idea, it can be used as a good calling card to get your foot in the door
  • make sure to follow up on any encouragement from an editor .. if they say they’d be interested in having you write something or in the future, they mean it (they’re busy people, they wouldn’t mention it otherwise)



  • STUDY THE MARKET!!!!! figure out where you, your story idea fit in .. what publications are right for you?
  • approx 80% of content in Cdn magazines is freelance
  • beware of ‘pay on publication’ instead of ‘pay on acceptance’
  • rights to what you right: common has been “1st-time serial” which means they have exclusive rights until magazine is off stands .. however electronic rights are now part of negotiations (paid extra for? can opt out of?)


  • looking for strong local angle, but not same coverage as in daily papers
  • 5 feature articles each month x bimonthly = 30 features per year
  • 3 lengthy features per month (2500-3500 words):
    .. profile of someone in community (well-known, notable, controversial, not done to death)
    .. service piece: useful to readers in a very practical way (ie buyer’s guide, how to)
    .. issues piece: something to do with city life (ex: traffic, universities, city hall, ..)
  • there are also columns: they are a bit shorter, covering range of topics (arts, sports, business, ..)
  • there are also portraits of people (800 words, would only need to interview individual themselves)
  • pay is 50-75 cents / word


  • 5  features x bimonthly = 30 per year
  • receive many, many queries
  • feature categories: wildlife, science / environmental research, history, social geography, adventure / travel / ..
  • $1 / word, most articles avg. 3000, range b/w 2000-4000


  •  circulation is 450,000 across country (veterans), six times per year
  • pay approx $500 per page (800-1000 words)

Healthy Roots was a community building conference in the fall of 2003 at the University of Guelph … offering an opportunity for dialogue and learning on community issues.  Specific topics covered: Anti-poverty organizing – Community Gardening – Media – The Native experience – Building Communities – Urban Sprawl.

—- Notes by Greg Macdougall —-


In November 1999, 50000 people gathered in Seattle to demonstrate against the World Trade Organization and the neoliberal agenda it imposes on the world. They were able to shut down the meetings, and the prognosis for the future looked hopeful.

This sparked a rise in the mass consciousness of what was happening, raising awareness of some of the key issues surrounding international relations, poverty, the environment, health, and more.

Now, four years later the World Trade Organization met in Cancun, Mexico and the ‘third world’ countries walked out of the talks on their own to protest the arrogance in which the wealthy countries were treating them.

But what has happened with the activist movement? In the lead up meetings in Montreal, only 1000 or 1500 people gathered to show their opposition. This is a huge difference to what had happened just over two years earlier, when a huge crowd demonstrated against the meetings in Quebec over the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas and were subjected to an overdose of tear gas and government police brutality.

Knowledge of the types of neo-liberal policies represented by Structural Adjustment Programs has grown, but resistance seems to have shrunk. It is not apparent on the nightly newscast; to the people living through their TVs, living isolated and/or overly demanding and stressful lives, there is no resistance. Hegemony rules and things are moving ahead as they should.

But in reality, the resistance is maturing, moving away from flashy action and consolidating strength in locally-centred, community-building initiatives.

Healthy Roots, a community building conference, was held September 13 2003 at the University of Guelph. It was organized as a replacement to more traditional frosh week activities where money was raised for groups in the community, instead offering an opportunity for dialogue and learning on community issues.

+ + +

Anti-poverty organizing

The day got off to a late start, as OCAP activists were delayed by an accident on the 401. John Clarke led a group discussion of organizing against poverty, beginning with a brief overview of some key points from the situation in Toronto.

They’ve found the key to organizing in poor communities is to be able to consistently demonstrate the ability to provide something of value to that community. When people need food for their kids or help to keep from being evicted, being told about a march happening next week is not going to meet their needs.

What OCAP does is direct-action casework, where a number of people get together and confront the problem head on, be it protesting at the Air Canada desk at Pearson to prevent a deportation, blockading a Shell gas station to get the company to stop withholding an employee’s pay, or showing up to stop an eviction or get someone to get their welfare check.

They also realize the importance of raising the level of public consciousness, building everyone’s awareness of what is actually happening to other people in their communities. This is what can help change the current pattern of general passivity and acceptance of acts against the poor.

Clarke used several examples to show how people can organize to change how things work.
In the 1930s during the depression, communities organized with wagons around the community. When furniture and belongings were going to be seized, the community would get there first and load everything into a wagon; when they’d arrive to seize the belongings, the house would be empty.

In another instance, a thousand people would be gathered in a very short amount without the use of telephones. Clarke explained how this type of action could change the whole concept of what an eviction means: from sending a sheriff out to remove a family from their apartment, into a whole different level of engagement requiring a large number of armed security to deal with the masses of people looking to stop it from happening. This would change how the decision to evict is made.

Clarke also talked of a recent incident involving the Somali community in Toronto, who’d been the victims of a series of robberies perpetrated by police who would take jewelry and money from people’s houses. A community meeting was being held when word came that a robbery was happening right then, and the people sprang into action. Many in the community drive taxis, and they helped shuttle the entire group over to where the incident was occurring. Soon the police were surrounded by a crowd of 200 to 300 people. This prompted calls for backup, and an ensuing melee with chemical weapons and arrests. The incident shook the police, and those officers responsible could no longer carry on in the same manner.

These examples illustrated how the way things work can be rearranged through mass community organizing, that we can come together to create significant change.

Clarke broke down the changes to poverty as resulting in three relatively recent changes: the deindustrialization of labour that reduced the availability of secure, higher-paying jobs; the cutback of social services which in real terms makes people more impoverished; and the gentrification of the low-income housing areas as richer people move in and form “militant” tenants associations looking to increase property values (with all the resulting effects).

In working to stop poverty, we are in a war. The states intentional redistribution of wealth from the poor to the rich must be viewed as an act of aggression on people’s lives. The slogan “your wealth comes from our impoverishment” is chosen deliberately, and means something.

The importance of understanding our fundamental objectives cannot be overstressed as we decide on the base upon which we are organizing and the nature of the movement we want.

We need to resist and disrupt the system that exploits us, in order to find and build our power.

We must not be coopted into the pervasive way of doing things, where our fundamental objectives are lost in the way things are done, or through the people and groups we are collaborating with.

In order to not be coopted, our organizing need to be independent and effective. This is accomplished in two ways: the base we build, and the way we work.

Some of the other points that were raised in the discussion: We need to get out in our own community to make links, to share our ideas and experiences, and to inspire more people to think critically and to act. To be successful, it helps to have people behind you, supporting what you are doing, especially in the form of community coalitions and sometimes even support from the City. Perhaps we need a new definition of poverty that looks beyond financial measures alone. And – maybe most importantly – we need to start small and build a solid foundation before we look bigger.

+ + +

After the poverty discussion there was a break, then smaller sessions. Here are reports from four of them:

+ + +

Community Gardening

Two facilitators involved in Community Gardens in Waterloo discussed community gardens, in particular how to go about setting one up in your locality. In Waterloo, …

Community gardens are shared plots of land where a number of people tend to growing produce. They are a way of building localized food security, reducing grocery bills, and connecting with both your neighbours and the land. They are an excellent way to build community, as people share time together on a common activity — creating opportunities for further interactions.

They are also an excellent therapeutic activity for people with mental health problems or without employment. They can involve a diverse group of people, spanning all ages and abilities.

Learning to grow food off the land, getting back in touch with where your meals come from, is an excellent activity all round, whether done on your own property or as part of a shared plot. A community garden affords an opportunity for those without the space where they live. It is also mroe conducive to getting those peopel out who might lack the motivation to do it all on their own, or who may lack the knowledge or confidence to do it themselves.

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An organizer and journalist from the Kitchener-Waterloo and Ontario Independent Media Centres led a discussion about media’s role in building communities.

A “McLuhan-ian” understanding of media is an important first step in designing a vision of the types of media we’d like to use, and how we can employ them in building community. This means examining different media as to their message (the characteristics of the media — degree of audience involvement and participation, diversity of views, the senses it engages, level of accessibility, and more — and the effects these characteristics have) as well as the most important messages we feel our media should convey.
Some suggestions for the messages our media could have were: to bring people together in a shared space; to establish opportunities for dialogue and two-way communication; and to have a diverse range of voices represented.

In deciding what media to use and how to best use it, it is important to look at the type of community being served. How is the community defined, and what is the base of cohesion – geographical, demographical, a certain interest, or something else.

Some comments on community from people in the workshop included how community can be measured on the inclusion of the most marginalized people, how aboriginal community is held together by traditional teachings, and how the definition of community need not be limited to people, but can instead be extended to include all aspects of life.

Comments on media included takes on music — on how we should be increasing the consumption of live local music instead of mass-marketed ‘monotopic’ music, and also on how one person’s preference was for silence, ‘which is truth’ — and also on movies, particulary Bowling For Columbine — which one on hand had an amazing effect in changing one person’s mother’s views on a wide variety of concepts, negating the effects of all her previous Hollywood intake, but at the same time it was pointed out that it is somewhat scary for one movie to have the ability to reformat someone’s whole conceptual frameworks, when it would hopefully take a more thorough and involved process instead of being fed these new ideas.

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The Native experience

Wendy Stewart gave a compelling presentation of the Native experience in Canada and on Turtle Island (North America), both an overview of what has taken place in the 511 years since ‘discovery’ and an individual’s experience (her own). She is Mohawk of Tyendinega.

To begin, everyone participated in a striking demonstration of the devastation unleashed upon Native communities. All 16 people present stood up to represent the pre-European Native population: half of us sat down to represent death from early contact with European expansionists through disease and violence (leaving 8). Those gone represented basket weavers, chiefs, medicine people, elders, and other important roles that needed to be covered in whatever way possible by those remaining. The residential schools were then introduced, robbing the community of a generation of its people; another half of us sat down (now 4 left). Then prisons and other elements of modern society took away another half, leaving just 2 people.

But the culture and the traditions have been kept alive. When the wampum belts – that held the stories of the community – were taken away, the traditions went underground and were nurtured until such a time when it was safe to openly resurrect them. For a long time people would be killed if they were found practicing the culture. In the 1930s Native people were treated worse than dogs in Canada. Being off the reserve without permission could mean a bullet in the head. A Native woman caught stealing bread might be brought back to her reserve, to be shot in front of her house, in front of her children.

Many people do not understand the residual effects, the lasting intergenerational legacy of the residential schools that has poisoned the Native community. Native children were taken away from their families and their communities, and kept away for a decade and a half. During that time they were taught that they and their culture were something to be ashamed of and that they needed to learn a “better way” of living and being. Plus there was physical and sexual abuse.

Then they were taken back to where they’d been taken from, after all that time. How did that affect the community? How did that affect their families? How did that affect those individual people? How has it affected (is it affecting) their children, the next generation?

Residential schools cannot be dismissed as being in the past – their impact is very much with us today.

Native children are still being taken away from their families and being given to non-Native foster parents where they grow up without knowing their culture and who they are. Part of Wendy’s tasks working in a group home was to advocate for the youth, to get them out of the criminal justice system and into an environment in accord with their own culture – otherwise they’d most likely be spending most of the rest of their lives behind bars.

When Native people talk about sovereignty, it’s not about repossessing the land everyone’s homes are built on. It’s more about self-determination and being able to govern themselves. The Canadian government’s proposed First Nations Governance Act, a replacement of the 135-year old Indian Act, provoked laughter from Wendy when she first saw it. It is fundamentally flawed and very similar to the bill that was attempted to be passed in the late 1960s.

The system does not work for Native people. Wendy gave examples of agencies and departments that will not provide the types of service in accordance with Native culture, and also talked about a distrust in places like mental health institutions, that would likely only make any problems worse.

There is a lack of cultural understanding in many institutions that claim to serve Natives, and there is sometimes only lip-service paid to creating that understanding.

There is a clash between two different world views – Relational and Linear – that can lead to conflict. Wendy presented a diagram that illustrated the relational worldview in the form of a medicine wheel. Underneath was a depiction of the linear worldview.

Cultural differences can cause conflict if they are not understood. Humour plays a very significant role in Native culture, one way which it is used is to deal with the stress and frustration that comes with living in this society. Also there is anger and a way of not directly expressing it, not putting it onto another person. Wendy talked of a time when she and another woman she was working with had a lot of problems because they had (and expected the other to have) different ways of managing their interpersonal relations – it was only through others who could see what was going on that they were able to understand what was happening and overcome it.

It is important to recognize the demographics of the present-day Native community: a huge percentage (40%) are youth, and only 4% are elders.

Wendy runs a private business with a partner and takes no funding from the government as a matter of principle. She refuses to be coopted; she says it is a constant struggle, and she doesn’t get to drive a fancy car, but is worth doing.

We all have gifts and a purpose in life – we are all sacred parts of Creation. None of us are here by accident.

If we are serious about creating healthy and vibrant communities, we need to look deep within ourselves.

+ + +

Building Communities

A coordinator from OPIRG-Guelph talked about what is involved in building communities, drawing on her experiences from her involvement in activism and communities in Iran, Kitchener-Waterloo and Guelph.

It is important that the process be understood by the community and the people involved as being gradual and developed as it unfolds. Time for reflection, to consolidate successes and improve methods of doing things, is important.

The community is the expert, and best able to identify problems and suggest solutions. Individuals acting as ‘experts’ who wish to impose their solutions will not contribute to genuine community building.

It is helpful to assess the situation when first starting out – to determine if there are groups already working on community building, and how they are approaching it.

It is also good to identify the groups active in the community and on what issues they are working. There’s also benefits to be found in making the connections between social, economic and environmental issues.

+ + +

Urban Sprawl

The last speaker had worked with the United Nations Environmental Program in Mexico City, working on capacity building with youth groups there. The basic approach utilized was to find out what the groups wanted and then to provide them with whatever it was.

The primary discussion was about the issue of urban sprawl. Problems created by the phenomenon included a lack of community, the takeover of farming land and encroachment on other farms, a break in the water cycle caused by too much asphalt not allowing water to return into the ground, and air pollution from excess car transportation.

Solutions appear to lie in pressuring levels of government, as well as to raise consciousness among potential homeowners about the harmful effects of urban sprawl. Actions targeted to bring pressure against projects like big box stores or to protect underdeveloped land can help.

Discussion also touched on the importance of supporting small community-based businesses in the face of the large-scale competition, as well as working with local food producers and helping develop symbiotic relationships.

General notes –  From The Ground Up: Building Healthy Communities forum in 2003 (Kitchener ON) compiled from the different speakers’ ideas – Valerie Gennings, Edwin Laryea, Susan Bryant, Lea Caragate, Rose Mailloux, Marc Xuereb, Wayne Roberts.

Printable PDF version here.

+ + + + +

Two important questions from which to base action:

1) What is required of an individual to make change happen?
notes: level of commitment, level of participation, willingness to challenge the status quo, and utilization of critical thinking skills to evaluate every experience

2) What are the determinants of health for an individual, organization, community?
notes: economic, environmental, and social factors

+ + + + +

Leading a movement:
-> focus on an issue that is something everyone can understand
-> how to frame issues so people will respond?

policy = the translation of priorities and principles into programs and courses of action

how to evaluate achievement
be accountable -> set of criteria

-> equitable, engage all sectors, build representativeness, inclusivity, stop disparity / disassociation, struggle to bring people in, to acknowledge their right to be there

balance broad range of interests of the community with own individual interests

we need spaces (social, physical -> inclusive)
spaces for community

how do institutions reflect the values of the dominant society, versus how do they challenge and subvert those ways of being?

the process of change
-> as people feel a part and feel included, they take ownership and they transform the norms / framework

change can happen from either:
direct confrontation
people acting together outside of dominant culture
-> create alternate realities (empowering)

it is up to us to decide what we want, and how to go about doing it

local grassroots advocacy is essential, the only way to change things -> “trickle up effect”

important that local people pass on knowledge, share the skills and how-to .. keep it going

we NEED TO FOCUS (decide on our focus), there are too many battles to take them all on

community organizations develop social capital
-> people comfortable to go and get help, etc

crisis-driven (event-driven) decision making points away from systemic, knocks our agenda off the table

the way the media frames issues (SARS, West Nile, September 11, etc) -> need to be asking different questions

historic change
-> now 2 world superpowers (US and people of world) .. “we need to start acting like a super power” overwhelming public opinion vs unreflective government policy

dealing with diversity
-> look past traditional defns of diversity, include different personality types etc
-> understand, appreciate, make room for all different contributions, things to do

we’re in competition with TV for a good night out
we need to make room for people
when people ask, what can ordinary people do, they’re asking, what can people not like you do

important: awareness change versus behaviour change

focus on policy change, not heavy lifting (doing all the hard work ourselves – e.g. food banks)
-> gov’t needs to row, people need to steer

be positive
-> look at things not as problems, but as opportunities for solutions
-> how to do that?

the power of one, as part of a community

invisible power in society is by DESIGN
(i.e. people rewarded more for doing wrong thing)
-> how do we get to these things, how to change the design?

More info on FTGU: ==> www.waterlooregion.org/healthy

Notes from different break out group discussions at the 2003 From The Ground Up: Building Healthy Communites forum in Kitchener, ON.



3 focuses:
-> barriers to involvement and participation
-> what is diversity?
-> solutions

– passive intimidation (language, tone, mannerisms, ..)
– time and energy limitations
– not being accepting of others
– lack of literacy, other skills
– not having control over personal circumstances
– lack of meaningful inclusion, being valued
– lack of committment, desire on part of organization

What do we mean by diversity?
(looking at, and beyond, conventional definitions)

<< valuing implementation / seeing successes >>
-creating positive / non-threatening spaces for all stakeholders (comfortable)
– include people in meaningful ways: multiple perspectives, lifestyles, interests, skills
– non-traditional approaches to membership
– communication
– intent -> devotion of resources
– taking small steps, one at a time
– shakeup the mindset of senior menagement (educate)
– creativity in recognizing the problems in accessibility
– ask more questions
– include diversity as an objective
– allow poeple to contribute in different ways
– accountability: audit / evaluate
– include affected people
– partnerships / allies / support / advocacy


– guide by your side, not sage on stage
– leadership is an art form
– validating people: for their contributions, as people


– questions re: SARS / West Nile
-> where are they coming from?
-> how do people react?
– how political / social funding setup puts people in passive roles, asking for fund, making requests, but not in decision-making positions
– other areas:
.. development (water, soil, ..)
.. food system (local connections)
.. education
– visionary versus here and now
– sense of intent, lead by example
– sense of ownership / meaningful
– actively create opportunities to dialogue
– develop our minds continually
– move across complexity, learn
– small steps / leading
– assets in community


– use for funding resources: $$, services, knowledge
– cooperation
– meshing together different priorities, shared interests
– how to find out about people
– partnership not as an idealogy
-> one approach but not only one
– situation specific
– strategic opportunism
– spontaneous, also more effort / Long Term
– serendipiduous planning
-> accidents / opportunities, taking advantage

IMC Ontario Workshop Feedback


Feedback from Anarchist Bookfair Workshop (October 2002) and other places



  1. part of a global network that is gaining prominence
  2. collaborative website, with many publishers, and more readers
  3. potential for many individuals working on various static pages for the website
  4. resources that can be cobbled together to create media centres for actions
  5. experience in covering protests and other issues
  6. experience in print, pictures, radio, and video
  7. interest in volunteering
  8. Gives everyone a sense of ownership. Anyone with access can post to Indymedia, and see their article or comment up shortly after.
  9. Has organic growth, independent of the website maintainers. This constant updating brings people back to the site, without too much work from the website maintainers.
  10. Brings previously unheard points of view to a public forum.
  11. Allows media makers to get their content out quickly, and have it quickly retrieved by independent publishers.
  12. Get many points of view, rather than filtered through world view of a small group.



  1. not striking a good balance between open publishing and comfortable web space for the environmental and social justice movements
    • lots of hate posts and other crap
    • no organization by topic or locale
    • few volunteer editors — not enough to cover policy
    • policy needs to be stronger, but needs software change to make that acceptable
  2. site could use a facelift
  3. needs more local coverage throughout Ontario (and people to do this)
  4. no ongoing training or support for volunteers
    • most potential volunteers are in the Toronto area; no collective to hook them up with
  5. no ongoing organization to deal with the issues; e-mail doesn’t seem to work for most discussion
  6. some anarchists don’t like the somewhat top-down nature of indymedia, and have serious (and legitimate) concerns about the global organization, which could be a barrier for working with allies
  7. open publishing allows the easy spread of disinformation, hate propaganda, etc. using our resources.
  8. legitimate work gets drowned out by off-the-cuff rants and asinine comments.
  9. because of power dynamics (including access to technology and time) and its free-for-all nature, the newswire becomes a white-male-dominated forum.
  10. because of the open nature, there is no coherent message from our website, and analysis loses out to sensationalism (just like the corporate media).
  11. stuff gets lost easily on the single newswire — hard to find what you want.
  12. People don’t understand the open publishing concept, and blame us for the content.


Possible Solutions:

  1. we need an organization in Toronto that meets regularly, or we need to be able to refer Toronto people to other groups to meet their needs
  2. web site and editorial policy need overhaul
  3. we need to figure out what IMC Ontario is, and whether it really can exist as an organization
  4. should we have regular spokescouncils, with active collectives sending a member, and at-large members also attending?
  5. for Ottawa, and people who can’t travel, should we do teleconferencing, computer IRC, or what?
  6. what services do we offer as IMC Ontario?
    • Is it the website?
    • e-mail lists?
    • special event media spaces?
    • other collaborative projects (like print)?
    • should we have major networking projects (building contact lists of media and activist groups)?
  7. Implement categorization by topic and locality, and have subgroups work on certain topic areas, with a separate set of features for each [TWiki handles this]
  8. Allow easier access to the editorial collective, but more accountability — each person has their own password, and must state reasons for their actions [Done — need to add to TWiki]
  9. We will clearly state that appeals should be directed to imc-ontario-editorial.
  10. We will revoke privileges for editors who abuse them, and review their decisions.
  11. Two levels of article hiding: First level will still have the article one click away, but not directly in your face (and will explain that it’s hidden and why). The second level will only be accessible for those with an editorial password only (for serious breaches of legality, etc.).
  12. More restrictive editorial policy (balanced by one-click hiding as mentioned above)
  13. In order to accomplish this, we could port our software to the San Francisco version of Active (or Baltimore’s DadaIMC?) [or TWiki], and do some custom programming to meet our needs. Later, when Active 2 is finished [if it ever is], we could port to that, and get more advanced features.


Feedback from Toronto Social Forum (January 2003)


Why has indymedia come to be?

  • people didn’t / don’t feel represented in the conventional media, they don’t see their feelings, sentiments, priorities reflected in the mass media
  • the media is controlled, by political ideology as well as by commercial interests
  • people took the energy they found in the indymedia convergence in seattle (and at other more recent protests) and took that back to the local level
  • the internet provided a new opportunity to communicate with people and link independent media organizations
  • video could be an effective means of communicating strategy, and creating energy and excitement around issues and possible tactics — you could draw on expertise from elsewhere.
  • a point was also made about the need for activist movements to DOCUMENT their struggles, and then to EVALUATE how they are working… which is why we carry news and opinion.


What does it mean to activists/movements/society?

  • it serves as a central hub of up-to-date activist information and coverage, emphasizing the interconnectedness of all the different issues
  • helps counter the overwhelmingness that people can feel by the huge number of websites related to specific groups / organizations / causes / etc, with one place that can link to all of those
  • opportunity for activists / movements to have control over the media coverage of their event / issue, and to decide what is emphasized in the coverage
  • opportunity to connect people and movements globally through the global indy network
  • generates excitement and interest in media-making (lots of people will be able to see whatever it is you make)
  • survey of range of diversities in social justice and environmental movements
  • we can’t have a real democracy without a democratic media, which means a participatory media, and so far this is as good as it gets, so lets get with it ;>
  • Indymedia helps the DOCUMENTATION and EVALUATION of activist struggles
  • Indymedia provides important LEGAL SUPPORT, supplying evidence that can get charges dropped
  • Indymedia has had success at bringing together hard-to-find resources. (e.g. the anti-Olympic movement in Australia)
  • hope. Coverage of concerned citizens, standing up for something, trying to make change, gives me hope. Just knowing so many people exist, and so many actions are being taken, makes me feel that my actions are not irrelevant.


Key Elements to be Healthy and Vibrant

  • having a strong internet presence, but also a strong real-world presence as well (print, radio, video)
  • presence in other media, to gain legitimacy, credibility, and to raise awareness among the general population
  • collaborative efforts with different groups (activist grooups, media groups, unions, NGOs, ..)
  • having different positions in place within the organization, where one or more people are responsible for a certain element of the overall work (doesn’t mean they are in control, or do it all, but are in charge of coordinating, and in charge of keeping track of plans, etc.)
  • have a large amount of cross-over participation, where people involved with different events / issues / groups also are active within the indymedia structure
  • need to be open, accountable, transparent in all our operations (.. what does that mean in practice?)
  • easy to participate and get involved with, to see where you can fit in
  • exposure: on streets, in public places, in businesses/workplaces, in homes, in different organizations, …
  • mix and interconnect virtual and real media (web, radio shows, video, print)
  • mix amateur and (para-)professional media makers
  • based on open source software (free software that can be freely modified and redistributed)
  • open publishing (anyone can post a story, and it is visible immediately)
  • collaboration with existing media (independent and corporate)
  • recruitment of volunteers (welcoming, inviting, exciting)
  • media studies students could be a good source
  • need strategies to ensure a good flow of high-quality content
  • people come when the goal is tangible!
  • action-hopping is popular; ongoing theoretical and organizational work less so
  • need to keep the personal interaction!


How do we implement these ideas?

  • in order to implement some good things with Indymedia, I think one thing to do is determine, what are the specific things we want to be doing
  • after doing that, I think we have one or two people take responsibility for each area, so that we can ensure we have someone focused on each initiative / effort
  • i think also that it is vital for us to tap into where the skills and resources already are. For instance, there is an Anti-Racism Media Education group in toronto (ARMEd) and maybe they’d want to help Indymedia with becoming more inclusive, and reflective of diversity
  • i think it is also vital to harness the passion and energy that is already out there, being devoted to whatever different causes (ie Iraq is a major one right now) .. i think to do this we need to show people how they can use that passion and energy to help make a difference, both for Indymedia, and for their cause through Indymedia


Feedback from Toronto Social Forum (March 2003)



  • not everyone is “on the web”
  • computers are useful tool for some news distribution, but the information must be converted to other forms that can be more widely used
  • uploading production quality material should be encouraged, with a lower-grade version available for personal previewing [done somewhat]
  • booths like “Speaker’s Corner” to create audio, video, pictures without web access.
  • more focus on outreach to minority groups
  • talk to people; understand the barriers better


Supports and Obstacles to Involvement

  • Need ways to involve people who don’t come to meetings, but want to be active
  • Needs to be fun
  • Need to have power dynamics that encourage a sense of ownership and involvement (lack of hierarchy)
  • Need to give a positive outlook — something empowering for people
  • Need to provide a local perspective on issues, to involve the community
  • Training can give people confidence, and give them skills that give the organization a positive image.
  • Organizational content in our media will encourage partnerships
  • Need more outreach (representatives meeting with community groups)
  • Fewer physical meetings with more content (see below)


Physical Meetings

  • Larger scale meetings, once or twice a year, would get more people out
  • These meetings can make major decisions on the direction of the organization
  • Training workshops can happen then
  • Collective creation of something over the given time period would be rewarding for those who attend