Saturday, January 28, 2012

Framing protests in the media

This post is from a presentation I gave at the University of Toronto a few days ago, where I spoke about the media's role in social movements. In discussing how issues were framed, I compared two newspaper articles covering some arrests at a budget cuts rally in Toronto. One article was in the National Post (found here) the other was from the Toronto Media Co-op (here).

Here are the headlines of the articles... National Post is on left and Media co-op on the right

“Four arrested after Toronto budget-cuts protest turns violent”

“Police crack heads as major budget cuts reversed”

Just reading the headlines, you have an idea of who is to blame. Did the protest turn violent, suggesting protesters started it, or did the police crack heads?

As for how many people were there

More than 100 demonstrators

Approximately two hundred people were in chambers for the vote; almost ten times that number remained outside, prevented from entering by a line of police officers mixed with City Hall security.”

So, for those who read the National Post, this could seem like a really fringe thing... only 100 people... but if you read the media co-op, you would be told that there were move than 2000 in attendance, which gives the protest a lot more legitimacy.

What about the police officers... how threatening did they look?

officers clad in yellow rain jackets and black bicycle helmets”

“horse mounted riot squad”

I don't know about you, but I would be much more afraid of a riot squad than a few guys in raincoats and bicycle helmets... the power relations would be much more obvious.

Who started the violent acts?

demonstrators surged against the line of police”

”Attempts to enter the building for the vote were met with violence”

In both scenarios, protesters approach the officers, but it makes a huge difference if they were "surging against the line of police" or merely trying to enter a public building!

Lastly, were the police violent?

three male protesters had been handcuffed and lined up against the wall of the building — one bleeding from his head.”

“Several arrests were made, people were beaten and choked, and an elderly man was thrown to the ground. At least one person was taken to St. Michael's hospital.”

In one article, some guy is randomly bleeding and nobody knows how. In the other article, there are specific and precise accounts of violent acts done by the police. We can use the pictures included in the article to take that further...

Police punch Emily Noether in the face
This photo, from the media co-op, shows a clearly violent act by a police officer...

The image from the National Post shows some angry protesters yelling while police officers watch calmly
Matthew Sherwood for National Post

The National Post also mentioned disturbances arising among the "ranks of occupy Toronto protesters"... you know, just in case anyone had stopped being afraid of them.

Which of these stories are read influences what readers think about the issues, the specific event in question, and their conception of protests and protesters more generally. Unfortunately, the National Post has a wider readership than Toronto Media Co-op (which usually only goes to already leftist people).

In my presentation, one of the things I mentioned was that we need to demand leftist journalists within mainstream papers (actually, I think I said that for every Margaret Wente, we need a column by Karl Marx). We need to demand that right wing propaganda is corrected and the media is held accountable for misinformation. I think think that letter writing campaigns are helpful, but at this point we might need to go further than that. I am wondering how an occupy media campaign might look and where it could take us.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Blog for Choice 2012

For the past few years, I have been involved in blog for choice (see posts here and here).

This years' question disappoints me however. I received an email from the organizers of Blog for Choice day, and was asked to reflect on this question in my post

What will you do to help elect pro-choice candidates in 2012?

First of all, Blog for Choice day is the anniversary of the American Roe vs. Wade court decision, so it makes sense that it is a very US-centric day, but, in light of the American election in 2012, this question becomes especially important to many American pro-choice activists and much less relevant to those of us who do not live in a country that has a major election of any kind coming up (yes, I know we can continue to lobby and whatnot after an election, but that isn't helping candidates).

Anyway, the question becomes even more frustrating and problematic for people who do not support the supposedly democratic political system. I, personally, think that the electoral system is a joke... I believe that by giving us two (or three or even five) candidates, and calling a select group of people citizens and allowing them to vote, it presents the illusion that we actually have a choice. But if you look at the candidates, we are basically selecting from A, A or A.... maybe NDP or Green party candidates can sometimes make up something that almost represents choice B in Canada, but in very limited ways. The way politics is currently organized upholds heterosexist, racist, patriarchal capitalist social relations. Anyway, this critique is not new, so I won't go into any more detail on it right now.

But to answer the question, what will I do to help pro-choice candidates (or members of parliament) in 2012? Absolutely nothing. I will, however, continue to write letters to newspapers and giving presentations as well as helping to organize and attend rallies when I believe it is useful to do so (such as on this and this occasion). I will continue to blog about the importance of choice. I will also continue to call out Harper (here and here) when he makes asshole decisions that affect women's ability to access abortion all the while saying that he will not bring up the abortion debate in parliament. But I will not help political candidates because I refuse to participate and further legitimize what I think is an illegitimate system.

Also, here is a cute failbook picture because it makes me happy.

funny facebook fails - Un-Pregnant

Monday, January 16, 2012

Yet another offensive facebook comment conversation

I have been debating whether to post this or not because of thoughts I have been having about the ethics of posting about people in a blog that is no longer all that anonymous. This conversation was from facebook several months ago, and I have decided to go ahead and post it now because it still kind of bothers me and I find posting to be incredibly freeing in that once it is posted, it is no longer something that I think about.

Anyway, a friend on facebook updated their status asking if there were any men with a drivers license who needed a job, to which I asked if the work could be done by a woman (because I always seem to feel the need to comment on things that seem like they might be sexist). When I found out that it was for an actual company, I asked which one, so I could send some female friends down to apply, considering that sounds like a human rights violation.

One of her friends wrote

you must be gay!!! thats a gay woman's answer!!!

Because I guess only gay women care if men can apply for a job that they cannot. A mutual friend told them that their comment was totally uncalled for, to which this person responded

Am I wrong?????? If so I apologize. But I bet I'm right.

Why is it that he only has to apologize if I am not gay... if I am, then it is perfectly acceptable for him to talk about my sexuality on someone else's facebook wall based on a one sentence comment about why women couldn't apply for the job as well.

When I informed him that you don't have to be a lesbian to be a feminist (because I don't know when to walk away from an argument online) he responded with

it's ok really, i like pussy too.
Are you??? and i'm surprised you never spelled it " WOMYN"

So, I guess my point is if you think someone sounds queer in a facebook comment, great. But don't feel the need to post about it repeatedly. I was tempted for a while to comment on every post he wrote saying something like "you must be straight, with a comment like that" but figured it he wasn't worth the time and effort.

Also, am I the only person that seems to have repeated offensive conversations on facebook?

Monday, January 9, 2012

Trans woman turned away from YWCA

The Sudbury YWCA is facing a human rights complaint after turning away a transgender woman who needed a place to sleep after having problems with her partner (CBC's coverage of the story here - I can't seem to find any coverage in the local papers).

The executive director of the YWCA said that trans women are not allowed to stay at the women's shelter but they are directed to another safe space. Apparently, they do not do a very good job of it though, because the woman in question ended up spending the night at a downtown park.

Before turning her away, they subjected her to a series of questions about her genitals... whether she was pre or post-op, whether she urinated sitting down or standing up... questions that would never be tolerated if they were asked of a cis-woman.

I am not a trans person, and therefore am not really able to understand what she was going through, but I also cannot understand the position of turning away someone who needs these services just because the presence of a penis tells society that her own personal experiences of gender are not real (or something to that effect). I don't get it. And I don't think I want to understand that line of thinking, either.

It seems to me that people who don't conform to the gender binary should be allowed to decide whether a man's shelter or a women's shelter is a safer space for them (especially in the absence of non-gender specific spaces) and I am guessing for a trans woman, the safest place is probably a shelter for women.. please correct me if I'm wrong. And as someone who has spent time in a shelter for battered women, I don't think I would have felt in the least bit threatened by her presence.

Yet another example of how transphobia is still considered to be acceptable...