The democratization of the media

Typewriter

A few months ago, I was asked to speak in a sociology class at the University of Lethbridge. The topic was taking back the community and the media. At one point, the discussion turned to the democratization of the media.

At the time, the Alberta Legislature had recently banned what it had considered non-journalistic sources. The most noteworthy was the right-wing media outlet The Rebel, but other outlets, such as Daveberta, were also restricted from attending government press events.

Historically, media referred to large media outlets (such as TV and radio stations and newspapers). These media outlets were gatekeepers of the information and news we consumed: they decided what information to present and how to present it. Because such media outlets required large amounts of startup capital, they were controlled by a small number of people.

The media outlets grew used to the idea that they were an exclusive club, with exclusive access to exclusive events (such as media scrums and press conferences). That’s changing.

In July 2010, I (along with 6 other volunteers) launched a citizen journalism site called Lethbridge News. It’s defunct now, and I had stepped down (for personal reasons) as editor in chief about six months before it folded. Most of the traditional media outlets were unwelcoming to us; some were hostile even. We were constantly labelled as unaccredited, uncertified, and illegitimate. If you have an extra 20 minutes, you can watch the following presentation I gave toward the end of my tenure on this particular issue:

The problem with labelling citizen journalism as unaccredited, uncertified, and illegitimate is that it implies that a mechanism exists with which to accredit, certify, and legitimize media outlets. This is the stance the Government of Alberta took in February of this year. In reality, such a mechanism does not exist. There is no certifying body for media outlets. Anyone can create one.

And we had. A successful one at that. We had the largest social media following of any local media outlet at the time, and we garnered far more engagement on the stories we published than other outlets. I boldly assert that we changed how local news outlets used social media.

When the government says they are banning a group of journalists from a media event because they aren’t from a legitimate media outlet, they are using an arbitrary measure to do so. It is code for restricting access to information to an elite group of people.

The future of media is in the democratization of it. Putting information in the hands of the people is something any democratically elected government should value. By limiting who receives information and thus who disseminates it and how they disseminate it, we infringe on two basic freedoms: freedom of the press and freedom of speech.

I am far from being one of The Rebel’s target market, but the slant they take in their news stories is irrelevant to me. What is relevant to me on this issue is that any government shouldn’t be silencing the press, whatever form that press should take.

How I finally admitted to being a communist

Christian Communism symbol of yellow sickle and cross on red background

It may come as a surprise to many that I’m a communist. Actually, given my left leanings as of recent, some people may not be that surprised.

I know it’s already too late, but before you start prejudging me, you may want to realize that you probably misunderstand what communism is, and subsequently, you probably misunderstand what it means when I say that I’m a communist.

It all started about 4 years ago.

A close friend of mine perpetrated a violent act—an explicitly violent act—that resulted in the death of four people. I was numb. So were a lot of others I knew who were close to him. I had known him for about a decade and was shocked that he had done something like this. Every word I heard him say and every act I saw him do was antithetical to what he did this time.

As a result, in the period immediately following this event, I became repulsed by the portrayal of violence in the media—the news, television shows, film, video games, and so on. I grew sick inside every time I saw someone killing someone else on the screen.

In addition to fostering a sense of abhorrence toward violence within me, it convinced me that we, the public, are too quick to judge a person based on a single act of theirs.

If the news reports someone having committed theft, we label him a thief. If the news reports someone having lied, we label him a liar. If the news reports someone having killed, we label him a killer.

Pigeonholing people allows us to forget a person’s history, goals, family, personality, talents, accomplishments, and a host of other aspects that go into what makes a person. Reducing someone to a superficial representation makes it easier to judge the person and makes it easier to distance ourselves from the reality of how close we are to being able to commit wrongful acts.

Those two ideas—our culture’s obsession with violence and its tendency to judge others—began to influence my worldview over the next four years.

About a year later, I became a seminary teacher, a position I filled for two school years. A year after I finished teaching seminary, I became a Sunday school teacher. These two positions presented me with great opportunities, as part of the curriculum I was to teach, to study the life and teachings of Jesus.

What became clear to me is that Jesus clearly taught us to abhor violence and to not judge others. He admonished us to love everyone, no matter who they were or what they had done.

Take Matthew 5—the opening of the Sermon on the Mount—for example:

“Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment . . . Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. . . . Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” (vv. 21–22, 38–39, 43–44)

Or his response to the Pharisees when asked what the greatest commandment was:

Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. (Matt 22:37–39)

Or the new commandment he gave to his apostles during the last supper to love one another as he has loved us (see John 13:34).

These teaching experiences underscored the feelings I had been experiencing, and I found myself drawn toward pacifism. I grew more disgusted with war, racism, and sexism. I had become convinced that as a Christian, I was duty bound to embrace love and equality and reject anything in opposition to that.

As an extension of this conversion to pacifism, I underwent another moral change. Sometime early last year, I noticed an emerging emotion. I began feeling guilt—and ultimately remorse—every time I ate meat, particularly meat that more closely resembled the animal from which it came (roasted poultry, baked whole fish, etc). As the months wore on, the feelings of guilt and remorse intensified, and ultimately culminated in my becoming vegetarian last October, primarily as a result of my opposition to the intentional killing of other people coming to include animals.

Now onto politics.

My feelings toward the importance of increasing our love toward others and decreasing our hatred toward others had continued to grow. As it did, I became disenchanted with the partisanship of the political parties in this year’s provincial and federal elections.

I have long considered myself a non-partisan voter, not finding a party I could closely identify with. As candidates became more partisan this election  and bitterness and rhetoric intensified, I began distancing myself even more from the main parties. So I began researching some of the lesser known parties.

One party I came across—and I don’t recall the circumstances that inspired me to investigate it specifically—was the Communist Party of Canada. As I reviewed their platform, I was surprised at how much of it resonated with me, far more than the platforms of any other party ever had.

Here is a non-exhaustive list of some things that stood out to me:

  • Guarantee decent benefits for all, including part-time, home-based and contract workers.
  • Establish a publicly financed and administered system of universal, quality, affordable childcare with Canada-wide standards.
  • Adopt an independent Canadian foreign policy of peace and disarmament, and for environmental sustainability.
  • Immediately end Canadian participation in the war in Iraq and Syria, and the internal conflict in Ukraine, and oppose any new military aggression.
  • Adopt a People’s Energy Plan, including public ownership and democratic control of all energy and natural resource extraction, production and distribution.
  • Reverse the privatization and contracting-out of public programs, services and energy utilities.
  • Halt attempts to privatize Canada Post – restore home mail delivery services.
  • Reverse the privatization of Air Canada, PetroCanada and CN Rail.
  • Expand employment in industry by nationalizing the steel and auto industries, building a Canadian car, and expanding rapid transit production.
  • Use tariff, currency exchange and other trade controls, plus plant closure legislation with teeth (including fines or public takeover), to protect jobs.
  • Expand the public Medicare system to include universal pharmacare, dental and eye care, and long-term care, home and continuing care.
  • Enact progressive tax reform based on ability to pay
  • Eliminate taxes on incomes under $35,000/year
  • Substantially expand urban mass transit, and eliminate bus and transit fares.
  • Oppose all forms of racism and discrimination.
  • Ban all discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity and expression
  • Rollback and eliminate tuition fees for post-secondary education
  • Shift from loans to grants for student assistance

And so on.

This experience prompted me to read The Communist Manifesto. This foundational document wasn’t new to me. I had studied it cursorily for an undergraduate paper I wrote on the effect communism had on Russian theatre. Prior to that, I was only superficially familiar with communism. This second time through the document, so much stuck out to me. Given Marx’s insistence on revolution to bring power to the proletariat, I didn’t see myself as a Marxist (although some historians, such as Reza Aslan, make compelling arguments that Jesus was a revolutionary). Even so, several of his points resonated with me:

The bourgeoisie has stripped of its halo every occupation hitherto honoured and looked up to with reverent awe. It has converted the physician, the lawyer, the priest, the poet, the man of science, into its paid wage labourers.

. . .

In proportion as the bourgeoisie, i.e., capital, is developed, in the same proportion is the proletariat, the modern working class, developed—a class of labourers, who live only so long as they find work, and who find work only so long as their labour increases capital. These labourers, who must sell themselves piece-meal, are a commodity, like every other article of commerce, and are consequently exposed to all the vicissitudes of competition, to all the fluctuations of the market.

But the price of a commodity, and therefore also of labour, is equal to its cost of production. In proportion therefore, as the repulsiveness of the work increases, the wage decreases. Nay more, in proportion as the use of machinery and division of labour increases, in the same proportion the burden of toil also increases, whether by prolongation of the working hours, by increase of the work exacted in a given time or by increased speed of the machinery, etc.

. . .

The lower strata of the middle class—the small tradespeople, shopkeepers, retired tradesmen generally, the handicraftsmen and peasants—all these sink gradually into the proletariat, partly because their diminutive capital does not suffice for the scale on which Modern Industry is carried on, and is swamped in the competition with the large capitalists, partly because their specialized skill is rendered worthless by the new methods of production. Thus the proletariat is recruited from all classes of the population.

. . .

But does wage-labour create any property for the labourer? Not a bit. It creates capital, i.e., that kind of property which exploits wage-labour, and which cannot increase except upon condition of begetting a new supply of wage-labour for fresh exploitation. Property, in its present form, is based on the antagonism of capital and wage-labour.

. . .

Communism deprives no man of the power to appropriate the products of society; all that it does is to deprive him of the power to subjugate the labour of others by means of such appropriation.

. . .

Bourgeois society ought long ago to have gone to the dogs through sheer idleness; for those of its members who work, acquire nothing, and those who acquire anything, do not work.

In short, as Marx said in Critique of the Gotha Program: From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.

As I mulled over what I came across on the party website and in the Communist Manifesto, I started to realize how my recent paradigm shift aligned with general communist principles.

At this point, I must highlight that what the typical person thinks is communism isn’t. China isn’t communist. Cuba isn’t communist. North Korea isn’t communist. Soviet Russia wasn’t communist. East Germany wasn’t communist.

In fact, technically speaking, “communist government” is an oxymoron. In a communist society, there is no government. Everyone has everything in common, and there’s no need for the government to equalize anything.

As Nikolai Bukharin wrote in The ABC of Communism:

In a communist society there will be no classes. But if there will be no classes, this implies that in communist society there will likewise be no State.

What most people think of as communism is actually totalitarian regimes. Stalinism isn’t communism; Maoism isn’t communism; Trotskyism isn’t communism; and so on. While they may theorize that state control is a necessary component of moving toward communism, such control isn’t actually communism.

I knew that coming out as a communist would be met with eye rolling, misunderstanding, and even derision, so I put it off for a few weeks. I used that time to reconcile my political and religious beliefs.

As I compared principles of Mormonism and principles of communism, I noticed some similarities.

For example, think of the people described in 4 Nephi 1: a casteless society in which no one was poor or rich and no one was bond or free (v. 3); in which they lived in peace (v. 4); in which, despite there being no hierarchy, they still managed to produce, such as through building cities (v. 7); in which there was no contention (v. 13); and in which love dwelled in the hearts of everyone (v. 15). In fact, it wasn’t until this people no longer had common substance (v. 25) and had reintroduced castes (v. 26) that this communal society began to fall apart.

This communal Nephite society had parallels in early Christianity, as seen as Acts 2:44–45:

And all that believed were together, and had all things common; and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need.

and Acts 4:32–35

And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that bought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common. . . . Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, and laid them down at the apostles’ feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need.

Or how about King Benjamin’s counsel in Mosiah 4:26:

I would that ye should impart of your substance to the poor, every man according to that which he hath, such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and administering to their relief, both spiritually and temporally, according to their wants.

At their core, I think the lifestyle Jesus envisioned and the society idealized in 4 Nephi (and to some extent the societies of the early Mormon church, such as the United Order) parallel communism in its strictest sense. After weeks of introspection, I concluded that it isn’t incongruous to be Mormon and communist. In fact, I think being communist is more in line with Mormonism than capitalism or conservatism is.

Even with my explanation of what I actually believe and my dismissal of the myths of communism, I am confident that people will still misinterpret what I mean when I say that I’m communist. People will still think I idolize Che Guevara, favour totalitarian regimes, and embrace atheism. People will still think that one cannot be a Christian (or a Mormon) and a communist. Unfortunately, people will cling to their misunderstandings and refuse to educate themselves.

But there it is. For whatever it’s worth. I’m communist, and this was the journey I took to get there.

If my Facebook page gets 3,000 likes, I will run for Lethbridge city council.

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I need your help.

I’m hoping to run for Lethbridge city council this fall, but I have placed a limit on myself (for various reasons): I can’t run until my Facebook page gets 3000 likes.

I don’t want to get into the reason why I chose to do it this way or why I picked 3000. Just know that a lot of research and thought went into this.

Nomination day for Lethbridge city council candidates is 23 September 2013, so to be safe, I’d like my Facebook page to get 3,000 likes by 22 September.

Earlier today, my page passed a milestone: it had more total likes than any current candidate Facebook page. Things can only go forward from here.

I am only at 330 likes, so I pretty much still have 90% of my likes to go. Please like my page. Once you’ve liked it, please share it on your Facebook wall.

Thanks in advance for all your work.

6 reasons I’m voting Shannon Phillips for MLA of Lethbridge West

I hate the party system. Well, more specifically, I hate what it has done to our political system. We now live in a time where everything revolves around the party.

We cannot discuss politics without others assuming we belong to one party or another. Politicians represent their party to us instead of us to their party. The Senate has lost its way and is nothing more than an extension of the Parliament.

Anyone who knows me well, knows I am a non-partisan voter. I vote based on candidates, not the party they represent. It’s tough though because no one ever sees that; all they see is the party of the person I vote for. No one party ascribes to all principles that are important to me; each major party stands for things I believe in, but when I try to say such-and-such party stands for so-and-so, I am painted automatically as a supporter of that party. And that frustrates me.

After all, if I stand for gay rights, it doesn’t make me gay. If I defend women, it doesn’t make me a woman. If I try to speak for black people, it doesn’t make me black.

Until today, I have been undecided regarding who I would vote for, and I have struggled trying to make a decision. Some candidates made it easy. One candidate removed me as a friend on Facebook when I questioned one of his posts. Two candidates use the MLA position as a stepping stone to advance their political career. Two of the candidates, when asked what assurances they could give me that they would represent me over representing their parties, sent me to their parties’ websites for their stance on the issue.

That being said, it was still a tough decision, but here is why I finally buckled down today and made the decision to vote for Shannon Phillips.

First, Shannon was the only candidate who sought me out. She contacted me personally early in her campaign to actually sit down with me and discuss politics. No other candidate did that. I received no unsolicited, personal emails from any other candidates. I received no unsolicited, personal emails from any other candidates. No other candidates came to my door. Shannon was the only candidate who made me feel that my vote was actually important to her.

Second, when asked whether she would represent the constituency over the party, she said she would. Unlike some of the other candidates, who tried to slide out of answering the question by sending me to their parties’s websites, she actually outlined not only why she would do so, but why an environment exists to allow her to do so.

Third, her background in politics and policy means she is intimately familiar with the political process and how the Legislature works. She doesn’t need training. She is ready to hit the ground running. She isn’t using this opportunity to advance from alderman, to mayor, to MLA, to minister.

Fourth, last night, after the Chamber of Commerce forum ended, Shannon was the only one of 9 candidates who left the stage immediately to be at her table to meet with constituents. Everyone else stayed behind to chat with one another, as if it were an old boys club or something.

Fifth, she is intelligent, knowledgeable, and well-spoken.

Lastly, she is feisty. She is determined, and she has shown that she has real passion and a willingness to stand up for people. She works very hard and doesn’t expect to assume she has votes. She has a tenacity that assures me she will stand up for her constituents.

It took me a long time to decide who to vote for, and I nearly ran out of time, but I am confident I’m making the right choice for Lethbridge West.

Why I am voting Cheryl Meheden for mayor of Lethbridge

There’s only a week left until the municipal election here in Lethbridge, so this morning I figured it was high time I buckled down and finally choose someone to publicly support for mayor.

I knew right off the bat that it wouldn’t be Rajko Dodic. He has accused me of being partisan, and has done nothing to engage me as a voter, certainly not like Kay Adeniyi, James Frey, and Cheryl Meheden have. In addition, Dodic has shown in the forums that his solution to dealing with criticism and conflict is to either deny any issue exists or tear down the person criticizing. Besides, despite his claim to have experience, Dodic has never been mayor.

I don’t think Dennis Carrier or Adeniyi are solid candidates. Both of them fall apart at the forums and don’t have concrete solutions when asked difficult questions. Adeniyi has some great ideas, but he lacks real experience. That being said, he can be a solid candidate in the future if he works on getting more involved in the community and doing more thorough research on the issues.

Frankly, when it comes down to it, I have struggled between Frey and Meheden. This isn’t surprising really, since I originally had been helping them on their campaigns.

So, why did I end up choosing Meheden over Frey?

Last Tuesday, at the all-candidate forum at the Lethbridge Shelter and Resource Centre, when mayoral candidates were asked why they feel they are qualified for the job, Meheden said she was a PhD candidate in leadership. Because we have been quasi-following the Thomas Jefferson Education philosophy in homeschooling our children, this comment really caught my attention.

I decided to email her to get her to elaborate on this brief statement. Here’s what I learned from her response.

Meheden chose Walden University because of its focus on social responsibility. Such a focus encourages its graduates to ensure they contribute positively to society rather than simply going into the world to make lots of money. Her PhD has required her to extensively research leadership models and practices from a wide array of situations, understand their theoretical base, and apply them in her life.

A new mayor needs to be more than someone who can tell everyone how wonderful Lethbridge is. A new mayor needs to be more than someone who can rein in any dissenters in council. A new mayor needs to be a leader.

Meheden knows how to lead and has a lot of experience being a leader.

Something else that has impressed me about Meheden is her commitment to volunteerism. At the mayoral forum Friday night, she answered a question about her experience to lead the city by mentioning the thousands of hours of community service she has put into Lethbridge. When she has been asked as a mayoral candidate to attend an event by its organizers, she claimed she always asks what she can do to help out at the event. Many aldermanic and mayoral candidates are only concerned about politicking at public events, and seeing someone who would rather volunteer than hobnob really impressed me.

She has even opened her home to shelter young girls in need as part of a programme through the YWCA. She not only attends SACPA events, she has a SACPA membership. She not only comes out to London Road Neighbourhood events, she has an LRNA membership. She is someone who walks the talk.

I was talking with someone at church yesterday about the mayoral race, and she said she had decided on Carrier for mayor because he has business experience. As I thought about this yesterday, I realized Meheden also brings business experience to the table. In fact, she brings quite the variety of experience to the table. She ran her own business and saw it double its revenues every year for five years. She has taught at university, and chaired the School of Business at the Lethbridge College. She has served on the board of Economic Development Lethbridge for several years.

I have known Meheden for several years, and the thing I like the most about her campaign is that she is still the same. She is authentic. I have never felt like she is pandering to garner my vote. She has been just as approachable for me during this election as she ever was. As well, she is humble, easily admits when she is wrong. With Meheden, what you see is what you get.

So, in short, I am voting for Cheryl Meheden because she is a true leader, a committed volunteer, an experienced businessperson and educator, and an authentic person. And it doesn’t hurt that she takes the bus to work.

2007 Conservative Tax Plan

The Canadian government issued $60 billion in tax relief this week. Here’s a brief breakdown.

  • GST cut one percentage point to 5 per cent, effective 1 Jan 2008
  • Personal income tax cut retroactive to Jan. 1, 2007, cutting lowest marginal tax rate to 15 per cent from 15.5 per cent
  • Jump in basic personal exemption to $9,600, retroactive to 1 Jan 2007, increasing to $10,100 in 2009
  • $10-billion in federal debt relief
  • One percentage point cut in corporate tax to 20 per cent in 2008
  • Reduction in corporate tax rate to 15 per cent by 2012
  • Small business income tax reduced to 11 per cent by 2008

Overall, a good tax plan. Apply surplus to the debt, cut corporate tax, and reduce income tax.

A couple of comments though.

Generally, I agree with corporate tax cuts. I am especially intrigued by the plan to have the lowest corporate tax rate of any industrialized nation. I am just not so sure giving a blanket tax cut is th right idea. I believe what we need is more diversity in our economy. Our economy is still very heavy in manufacturing (despite the western boom in energy). Blanket tax cuts will encourage manufacturing companies (and export companies for that matter) to use the extra surplus to compete with our strong dollar. Hopefully, they’ll use the surplus to invest in mechanisms that will help them as the dollar pushes higher, but I am sceptical it will get used for much more than profit.

I’d like to see tax structures in place that encourage more economic diversity, so we can prosper no matter the position of our dollar.

The second comment was toward personal income tax. I am glad they are raising the personal exemption amount an decreasing income tax for the lowest tax bracket. when we consider, however, that they raised the income tax for the lowest tax bracket and lowered the exemption amount when they first took power, it’s hardly much of a cut. It brings us back to nearly what we were at when the Liberals were in power.

The GST cut is my last point. I disagree with it. I mean, honestly, 1% savings? How am I going to benefit from getting $1 back for every $100 I spend? Superstore gives me more back in coupons when I shop (e.g $30 for every $250 spent). The only way I can benefit from a smoke-and-mirrors cut like this is making large purchases like homes and vehicles, but these are not things I buy frequently.

How about cutting the lowest tax bracket to 14% and raising the cap to $40,000? Now, that would be a nice tax break. Oh, and make the universal child benefit tax-free.