Do you know a social innovator or nonprofit leader with conviction?

If they are plodding forward, helping create the change they wish to see in the world through public opinion, education, and policy…they are being political.

Maybe not in the traditional political-party-partisan-campaign-voting sort of way (well, maybe they do that, too!) but they are civically engaged in public work. Perhaps they have veered into other political acts such as protests or petitions or letters to the editor or community organizing.

I want you to consider nominating at least one of these people for the Everyday Political Citizen contest (#EPCitizen) put on by Samara Canada, a non-partisan charity promoting democracy and civic engagement.

Everyday Political Citizen Contest logo

This year I’m proud to sit on the jury of the contest with well-known Canadian personalities such as Rick Mercer, and Shad, the new host of CBC’s q. And some amazing lesser-known folk of all ages and backgrounds working to create the change they wish to see in the world.

What do I need to nominate?

Not much!

  • Your and your nominee’s info: eg name, email, town, Twitter
  • Nominee’s age group (<18, 18-29, >30) and photo
  • 150 words on what makes your nominee a great Everyday Political Citizen

That’s about it! I’m especially interested in some great nominations from BC, so nominate someone or help me promote on social media! Just share this post on Twitter, Facebook, or your other favourite app!

Is what is reported what really happened?

As people we are selective about the information sources we listen to, and then selective about what we read, and selective about what we believe, and selective of what we share with others. We get a slice that reenforces our belief system.

And, before we even hear the news, or a research report, or a description of a situation, the information is filtered through those doing the reporting or the research.

Some places where information can get distorted

Interviewers: What are their beliefs going into the situation? How are they designing the research and the interview questions to reinforce those beliefs?

Interviewees: Are they honest and forthcoming? Are they providing accurate responses, or what they feel the interviewer wants them to say?

Writers: Are answers transcribed accurately? Does the report give a valid account of the main findings of the research/interviews? Does the report provide a full picture? What is the “truth” vs the (un)intentional (mis)direction provided by interviewers, interviewees, and writers?

I recently witnessed two people taking notes on a small group discussion. As they looked at the summary of their notes, they started editing out things they didn’t want to be brought up and deleted some of their notes. Just because an item doesn’t align with your strategy or your talking points or your hypothesis, doesn’t mean that voice shouldn’t be recorded.

If I’m observing a group or conducting an interview, I’m pretty good at capturing an accurate picture of what was said. But if I have a vested interest in a meeting — e.g. as a board member or other active team member — I am a HORRIBLE secretary/note taker.  I will take notes based on what I think people are trying to say. I will finish sentences before they have been spoken. I will pause when I don’t agree with something, and ask a question of the speaker that might result in notes not being taken.

Do you do research or reporting? How do you check your biases or hopes or opinions as you prepare information to share with others?

If I can make culture I must act responsibly

A while back I wrote about ranting vs. modelling, and how we can change the minds of others not just through protests and media, but through small actions.

Which is why I love the following quote

Far from despair, the idea that each of us recreates reality with each encounter fills me with a wondrous sense of hope, empowerment and community connection. If there is no absolute truth “out there” by which to create pristine “expert systems” which can somehow solve our problems mathematically; if I am who I am because you are who you are; both of us who we are because they are who they are; if we accept that when we enter into dialogue we both change; if its true we co-create reality, which in turn creates us, then we are called to a new kind of community. If I can make culture I must act responsibly and if I can only ever be part of the creation I must act humbly. (Maureen O’Hara, speaking about the potential of post-modern feminism)

If I can make culture I must act responsibly.

The words we use, the decisions we make, the thought and opinions we hold, the structures we create, the laws we enact, the people we vote for — these are all actions made by people, not amorphous non-human actors, and create our culture.

Our actions today, and tomorrow, as family members, as friends, as members of society, as fellow bus riders, sa fellow tourists, as fellow women, etc. — create our culture.

Creating a new, more just culture, and a new reality, might be a messy process, but an important and beautiful one.

I spoke to city council at city hall today. Here’s what happened.

Today the Standing Committee of Council on Planning, Transportation and  Environment (basically city council, but a committee so public comments can be heard) met, and one of the agenda items was re: voluntary campaign finance measures.

Compared to other levels of government, municipal campaign spending is crazy in Vancouver. Last election in 2011, two parties each spent over $2 million during the campaign period. Other parties spent much less. All parties had a majority of their contributions come from corporations and unions (i.e. not individual voters). In comparison, candidates for federal elections have a budget of approximately $100,000 during the official election period.

Up for discussion

The issue today wasn’t so much whether municipal campaign financing needs to be changed. Council already supports changes to the legislation (controlled by the BC provincial government) to rein in spending. However, the BC government isn’t playing along. The question today was whether council should create an all-party committee to encourage voluntary adoption of the campaign finance regulations council has already agreed to lobby the BC government on. You can read the entire original motion here. Part A was already adopted. Part B was up for debate today.

My involvement

Last night I decided to sign up to speak in front of the committee. (This is quite easy to do – just send an email and you’re on the list. Read more here and here.) It was a last minute decision triggered by an email I got from the Green Party of Vancouver, as good governance and a healthy democracy are important values I hold. [In the spirit of full disclosure, I am a new member of the Green Party of Vancouver. I also support much of what Vision Vancouver stands for, and have attended some Vision events, but the way that partisan politics works it’s hard to actively support more than one party. I have voted a mixture of Vision Vancouver, NPA, Green and COPE in the past. I am connected to Andrea Reimer and Adriane Carr in a non-partisan way through my volunteer work with Canadian Women Voters Congress.]


Overall the experience was a positive one for me. It was my first time (it seems that the three other speakers were regular visitors to committee) and I think the questions I received were fair and nonconfrontational. It was clear by the line of questions by councillors that their decisions had already been made going into the meeting. However, I don’t feel that in order to feel “heard” that councillors should have changed their minds. It’s possible to listen, and still disagree. I believe the value in speakers is the raising of issues and ideas that otherwise councillors may not hear. I suspect that council would really appreciate other first timers or non-regulars at their meetings.

Learning about council(lors)

Sitting in on the meeting, in council chambers, and listening to councillor questions to city staff, presentations by other citizens (there were four of us on the agenda), questions to those presenters, and the final “debate” (each councillor speaking for five minutes) was very educational. One, it was great to see the public side of council debate.

Two, I got a bit of a better sense of who the individual politicians were. Questions came most frequently from Councillors Affleck (NPA), Carr (Green), Stevenson (Vision), and Reimer (Vision). Councillors Affleck and Ball (NPA) came across as sympathetic to the issue, but concerned about possible implications. Not spindoctored. Councillor Carr (who originally put forward the motion) asked engaging questions. Vision folks, wow. I was so not impressed generally. So much fear mongering. So much worst case scenario. Leading questions that were more about grandstanding than an actual question. Steveson was a jerk. No questions at all from Councillors Jang, Tang, and Louie (Vision). Councillors Meggs and Deal (Vision) each asked a few questions, but I couldn’t see them from where I was sitting. Councillor Reimer was tough but fair (i.e. better have your facts straight) though she belittled one presenter who spoke about campaign disclosure statements being tough to find on the city website by stating that she pulled them up in two minutes while he was talking. [I did the test myself, and I agree with the presenter. I did a search for “2011 election spending” “2011 campaign spending” and “how much did political parties spend in 2011” with ZERO relevant results. After also trying to use website navigation to no luck, I tried “2011 campaign disclosure” and had success. However, the word disclosure is not a word an average citizen would know to use.]

My views

While I stand by my comments shared below, and spoke today to raise important issues in front of councillors, in reality I think the best method to get buy-in for voluntary measures is through a pledge drafted by a civil society organization that individual candidates, parties, and third parties can publicly sign on to. There might even be a role for negotiation (i.e. “we’ll sign on if they sign on”.) I don’t necessarily think that a committee of the City is the best venue for urging voluntary measures. However, I don’t think the world would fall apart (which, if you believed most councillors, it would) with voluntary measures. Most councillors (all NPA and Vision councillors voted against the motion) seemed interested in the answer to one question: “What is the worst that could happen if voluntary measures are urged by council?” I think three other important questions should also have been considered:

  • What is the best case scenario if voluntary measures are urged by council?
  • What is the worst case scenario if the status quo remains?
  • What is the best case scenario if the status quo remains?

These questions would get a much richer discussion.

My speaking notes

(Note: I fumbled a bit, so this may not exactly match what I actually said, but it’s pretty much the same.)

Thank you Madame Chair for the opportunity to speak today.

My name is Trina Isakson, and I am here to speak in support of part B of the motion. I will speak to the alignment of voluntary measures with recognized best practices in campaign finance regulation.

I speak today as an individual citizen and resident of the City of Vancouver.

I believe that, in the absence of amendments to the Vancouver Charter, the committee should urge parties, candidates, and third parties to agree to voluntary campaign finance reform measures, for three main reasons:

  1. to create an informed voter base,
  2. to support the successful political participation of women, people of colour, and others who face barriers in the electoral process, and
  3. to uphold Vancouver’s image as one of a progressive city that leads rather than follows in its progressive activities.

Firstly, the 2004 Supreme Court majority decision of Harper v. Canada indicated that, quote “the overarching objective of the spending limits is electoral fairness” end quote.

The decision later goes on to read, quote “In the absence of spending limits, it is possible for the affluent or a number of persons pooling their resources and acting in concert to dominate the political discourse, depriving their opponents of a reasonable opportunity to speak and be heard, and undermining the voter’s ability to be adequately informed of all views.  Equality in the political discourse is thus necessary for meaningful participation in the electoral process and ultimately enhances the right to vote” end quote.

The Mayor’s own Engaged City Task Force final report describes the drawbacks of unlimited campaign spending in relation to citizens’ interactions with City Hall. Quote “the large sums of money raised and spent in civic elections fosters cynicism towards City Hall’s decision-making process and discourages or prevents new voices from getting involved, particularly youth, newcomers and new immigrants” end quote.

If members of the committee support informed electoral participation, it will vote in favour of this motion and urge parties, individuals and third parties to opt in.

Secondly, a large determining factor for individuals’ decisions to run for elected office is personal financial resources and ability to attract money. This also is often a determining factor in political party’s support of and selection of candidates for general election.

In the publication Women in Parliament: Beyond Numbers, by the the Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, author Richard Matland states that, quote “personal ambition is tempered by an assessment of the resources the candidate can generate to help in the campaign” end quote.

People opt out of running for office when they don’t feel they have the necessary resources, including financial ones.

When there are no campaign spending limits, even when a candidate is supported by a party, the amount of money a political aspirant sees as necessary to bring in or contribute to a campaign goes up, excluding people with lower incomes.

Because of the weaker political and financial networks and resources had by women, people of colour, and other historically marginalized populations, the people who seek office do not accurately represent the people they wish to serve.

While political parties in Vancouver can be commended for putting forward diverse slates, this diversity does not accurately indicate the otherwise qualified individuals who opt out before even joining the campaign conversation, because of their lesser financial resources.

If members of the committee support social justice and diverse participation in elected municipal councils, it will vote in favour of this motion.

Finally, if the Provincial government doesn’t amend Bill 20 as requested, don’t let that stop us. The City of Vancouver has been voluntarily progressive through initiatives such as Greenest City 2020 and the Mayor’s Engaged City Task Force.

If members of the committee wish to uphold the City’s image and their parties’ images as progressive and ethic leaders, especially in times when not required to by law, it will vote in favour of this motion.

Based on the questions asked by many council members, it would seem many will dismiss this motion because it is non-enforceable. It seems there is an assumption that parties and third parties might opt-in then opt-out, or opt-in but not report until after the election that they didn’t follow the voluntary measures. I’d like to think more highly of our candidates and their supporters. It would seem the harm of voluntary measures would be to self-interest, not to democracy.

Thank you for your time.

Women: please steal this idea

I have way too many ideas that I don’t set free. Here’s one I know I won’t get to, but would love someone else to take on.

The nominators

The nominators is a group of diverse women (though not necessarioy just women) who dedicate time to nominating women for awards and speaking engagements. So many awards and panels and keynotes are dominated by men, and it perpetuates a cycle of a specific segment being seen as the “best” or as the “expert”.

Many people who hold conferences and awards lament that the reason we don’t see more women is that women are just not putting their names forward.

There are obviously many complexities that influence this issue, and many angles at which to attack this issue, but one approach is to straight up nominate more women.

I imagine a group of women spanning a variety of sectors and stages of career. They compile awards and key conferences in their professions, communities, etc. And on an ad-hoc basis, with the women of the group who know the award/conference theme well, they take these opportunities one by one and set plans forward to nominate multiple women.

I’m not (only) talking about awards and conferences that are designed for women (e.g. the YWCA Women of Distinction Awards), I mean all awards and conferences. And the group also needs to be conscious of promoting all types of women – no need to reproduce inequality by only putting forward white women, using the same excuses of “but we don’t get applications from women of colour/Aboriginal women/immigrant women [insert any marginalized group]”.

This requires nominees to be on board. It feels uncomfortable for some of us, but we need to convince more women for the sake of the “movement”.

I was nominated for a few things earlier this year, and have often complained about (or boycotted, looking at you TEDxVancouver)  events that are dominated by men. To be the change I wish to see, I’ve started taking a few actions personally – e.g. when calls for speakers come out, I put forward my own name along with a list of other possible women. For examples, I’m excited to see many fantastic women speaking at the upcoming Digital Nonprofit conference in Vancouver – kudos for Eli for pulling together a great line up.

Seriously, anyone want to take this on in Vancouver or elsewhere?

My name is Trina. And I’m a feminist.

No longer a member of Feminists Anonymous. Happy International Women’s Day.

Feminism is often equated with militant man hating, and I suspect that’s why it gets a bad rap and many women balk at the idea of referring to themselves as feminist.

But the feminist movement takes all types, and not everyone wants to refer to themselves as such. When a friend and I were talking a few years back, he described his expectations and desires that his daughter would have access to success, advancement, income, happiness etc irregardless of her gender—I let him in on the fact that he is, in actuality a feminist. It takes all types. Vancouver-based Lauren Bacon recently wrote for Quartz about the importance of pluralism in feminism and the feminist movement (and an additional, more personal, take on her own blog). Good reads.

I understand the aversion to the word itself. But the goals of the movement need support for all types, including men.

I was on a “meeting” last year (read: online dating first date) and I brought up feminism. Not a usual first date topic, but I specifically refer to being a feminist in my online profile, and in the back end of his profile he had indicated that his opinion of a person would go down if they identified as a feminist, so I was a bit confused as to why he has initiated communication. Let’s just say it led to a spirited conversation.

He talked about his hopes that the gender equality pendulum didn’t swing the other way, which would lead to “women biting men’s dicks off.” He equated my comment that policies intended to support certain disadvantaged demographics can’t take into account the situation of every single individual, and therefore yes, unfortunately sometimes individual white men who face barriers will get left behind—with Nazi social policies leading up to the Holocaust.  There wasn’t a second date.

(Now that I think of it, I had coffee both with this guy and Lauren Bacon at the same cafe, same table even).

A few years earlier I told another guy after a first “meeting” that not all women like men to focus solely on women’s physical attributes. He told me to “get my head out of those feminist books.” There wasn’t a second date.

(Don’t worry, there are actually many enlightened, progressive men out there).

If the feminist movement takes all types, what type are you?


Blend activism with volunteerism to keep young people engaged

Many volunteer roles filled by young people put them on the front lines of an organization. In some cases this can help connect them to the organization’s mission, but in many cases, it many lead to feelings of total disconnection from the big picture. In other ways, Millennials can be made to feel like they are just cheap labour, to be called upon when their hands are needed – again, leading to feelings of disconnection to the big change the organization wished to make in the world.

To help young people contribute in multiple ways to your cause and keep them engaged beyond their hands, include opportunities for activism in your communications with them. Here are a few ideas for blending activism with their volunteer roles (either in addition to or in between volunteer roles):

  • Check to see if they are following your org on Facebook or Twitter. Share articles, memes or petitions of interest for them to pass on to their networks, especially those not produced by your organization (connecting them to the bigger cause).
  • Share news articles and suggest opportunities to send a ‘letter to the editor’.
  • Ask them to provide quotes for press releases.
  • Ask them to serve on advisory bodies or board committee that focus on public policy or strategic planning.