Friday, December 5, 2014

Nourish The Nation- Wage Solidarity

There are so many worthy causes to donate to today in the midst of this modern hail storm of internet crowd funding campaigns. It is so overwhelming that it almost seems unfair to pick just one cause to donate to.

I think all causes are worthy, but some certainly make more efficient use of funds than others. NGO’s (Non Government Organizations) are important, but at the end of they day they are large bureaucratic structures that have bills to pay and tend to create an industrial complexes in themselves. People make their living off of working for companies like Green Peace and WWF. NGO’s are essential for influencing public opinion and garnering much needed publicity, but wining any battle requires employing a diversity of tactics. When it comes time to put boots on the ground and physically stop companies like Kinder Morgan, Chevron, Enbridge, and TransCanada from destroying the planet, it is ALWAYS indigenous grass roots groups that answer the call.

NGO’s can lobby the public all they want, they can endorse green washed products, and can get celebrities to tow the line, and I don’t want to undermine the importance of any of that, but that is only one part of a much larger battle against climate change. No amount of letter writing is going to scare a multinational corporation away from a project that they have already millions in, however an occupation of hundreds of indigenous that have a constitutionally inherent right to jurisdiction over the land quite possibly will.

Donating money straight to camps blocking pipelines like Unist’to’ten is a great start, but once they spend that money it’s gone. Hopefully the funds make their way into the local economy and continue to spur autonomous growth in the area but once it’s gone, it’s gone.

One thing is for sure, food always needed. Food has the power to unite, motivate, and empower. As indigenous land defender Wolverine puts it, “You need two hands to fight the system. You can not have one hand asking for something and the other closed. You have to be able to fight with both hands”

You probably haven’t heard of Wolverine before, but the man is nothing short of a legend in a very dark and underreported nook of Canada's colonial history.

In 1995 Wolverine helped lead a 31 day stand off on unceded Secwepemc territory between Ts'peten Land Defenders and The RCMP with military support. The event is known as the Gustafsen Lake Standoff.  According to wikipedia no one was killed, but police fired 7, 000 rounds of ammunition, shot one woman, killed a dog, and detonated a road side bomb in what became the largest ever police operation on “Canadian” soil. Not only did Wolverine survive all that, but he was awarded with a medal and a tobacco pouch from the RCMP for bravery under fire.

Today, Wolverine is still very much on the front lines of land defence. At 84 years old, Wolverine now tends to an 8 acre plot of land everyday in which he grows organic food for protest camps, thus maintaining his support for the movement in the only way he can.

At the moment, Wolverine is trying to raise 30, 000 dollars to afford a new tractor, expand his irrigation, and hire a few helping hands so he can continue to feed camps that are blocking tar sands pipelines. This is the kind of brilliant solidarity that is desperately needed to empower indigenous communities, communities that are truly the last line of defence against a "dig, burn, and dump" economy.

Watch the video here

“It’s not just food that I’m giving them, but also life, also survival” Wolverine explains after showing off his open pollinated seeds. “When big seed companies buy up the little ones, they will be able to control people by the belly….people can not feed them selves. (They’ve) become dependant on multinationals”

This is so much more than supporting a farmer. This is food sovereignty. This is tar sands resistance. This is empowering indigenous autonomy. This brilliant form of solidarity is extremely effective at resisting neocolonialism at every level. This is a cause worthy of a couple bucks.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Opposition to Canadain Oil Ignites at Home and Abroad

It’s a pretty incredible and perhaps slightly overwhelming time to be a young person paying attention in Canada right now. For the first time ever, Canada is at a cross roads of immense importance to current and future generations around the world. The choices made in the next decade are going to have massive implications to not only Canada but the rest of the world. The decision to be made is nothing short of determining how we will power our societies. There is a desperate push underway from the petroleum industry to build pipelines that would transport tar sands bitumen from Alberta to any sea port possible so it can be shipped to overseas refineries. Opposition is igniting everywhere.


If you’re somehow not already familiar with the Alberta tar sands it's basically the death cry of the petroleum industry. The tar sands are not oil. Government and industry like to endearingly refer to it as the “oil sands” but thats a green washed public relations term. The tar sands is exactly that, it’s tar or bitumen. Its like pre-oil, it hasn’t yet decayed to the point of being crude oil, so it takes a massive industrial process to literally boil the frozen tundra to extract a substance thicker than peanut butter and full of sand. Once extracted, the bitumen is diluted with a top secret slurry of toxic chemicals that makes it sink in water and helps it flow though pipelines to the coast to be shipped to refineries in places that aren’t Canada. Apparently Canada doesn't want any more dirty oil refineries, they would rather leave that bit to third world countries like India and China.

Pipelines have been proposed in every direction. Endbridge’s Northern Gateway and Chevron’s Pacific Trails proposals would run though northern Alberta and BC, but they've ran into a road block in the from of an indigenous camp called Unist’ot’en that has boldly set up a completely sustainable camp on unceded lands directly in the GPS ordinates of the proposed pipeline. Every summer the camp hosts action training where land defenders come from all over the world come to learn how to block pipelines. They have a strict policy of no access without consent have been successfully kicking out surveying helicopters and threatening to confiscate equipment.

Kinder Morgan, a texas based multinational,  has proposed another controversial pipeline, one that would run through Southern BC and Alberta. The project is currently being stalled by a group called the “Care Takers of Burnaby Mountain” who have been locking themselves to equipment and literally jumping under the wheels of work vehicles attempting to survey the mountain. As I write this an injunction is going into effect to remove the protestors, though a mass rally has been delaying that too. Rumour has it that the stand off has a good chance of being on par with the the Clayoquot logging protests on Vancouver Island in 1993, which was the largest act of civil disobedience Canada had ever seen at that time.

This showed about half the crowd today. Nicely done, folks!!

the rally on Burnaby Mountain- photo courtesy AJ Klein

Another Kinder Morgan proposal, the KXL pipeline approved by the Canadian government, has garnered bit more media attention thanks to president Obama's opposition to the project. Just this week the the US Senate voted against the approval of the pipeline. Obama had threatened to veto the project had it gotten though, issuing this statement “Understand what this project is: It is providing the ability of Canada to pump their oil, send it through our land, down to the Gulf, where it will be sold everywhere else”

The largest and most audacious of the 14 pipelines that have been proposed since the explosion of the tar sands is TransCanada’s Energy East. This project would see a 40 year old natural gas pipeline converted and reversed to carry 1.1 million barrels of diluted bitumen each day from Alberta to St Johns, allowing the tar sands to continue exponential expansion. Though we have yet to see the same militant response to this proposal that other pipelines have seen, the project has already encountered some large road blocks. The Quebec National assembly unanimously passed a resolution recently that calls on the province to exercise it's environmental jurisdiction to ensure that climate change will be taken into account when assessing the environmental impact of the pipeline, arguing that the national regulatory process for energy projects is broken.

TransCanada has learned from the harsh opposition that every other pipeline has suffered and has taken a preemptive strike against opponents. Documents leaked by Greenpeace this week have exposed TransCanada's scheme to hire the worlds largest public relations firm, Edelman, to literally buy public support for Energy East and dig up dirt to discredit and distract activists though fake grass roots groups and digital publications, especially in Quebec.

Canadian government and industry is struggling to keep up with other countries in the race to create renewable economies and limit carbon emissions. The US and China literally left Canada playing in the (tar) sand last week as the two super powers surprised the world by signing a landmark deal to drastically limit carbon emissions in an effort to curb global warming. This, while Environment Canada withheld releasing their own annual report on carbon emission trends last week, probably because last years report completely missed it's international commitments.

Thankfully, I suppose, the position of the Canadian government on climate change does not reflect the position of most Canadians, especially young ones. Earlier this month students representing 11 major universities from across Canada met in Montreal for the Fossil Fuel Divestment Convergence to discuss tactics to ensure that their university tuition doesn't end up going to investments in fossil fuel companies. University of Toronto students then make good on the promise by organizing a 200 strong march on Presidents office with quite a realistic demand- complete fossil fuel divestment over the next five years.

A slightly more creative strategy was recently taken by the Yes Men when premiering their new film at TIFF which largely focused on the tar sands. After discovering that the film festival's main sponsor was RBC, a bank heavily invested in the tar sands, the political pranksters staged this flash mob/dance party for an indigenous activist who closed his account upon being let down by a teller who was unable to do anything regarding the the activists concerns about the banks investments. Hilarity ensues.
Radical approaches are being taken by activists everwhere. In Montreal three women locked themselves to Enbridge headquarters, in Vancouver 80 Chevron gas pumps were locked up by activists in masks, in Ontario activists shut down work on the Enbridge Line9 pipeline with a blockade.

While Canadians and the international community are beginning to speak up about Canada's failure to live up to it's own emission limits, the government and industry are in a state of complete denial. What we've seen so far is just the very beginning, the stage is set for anything.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Tar Sands Healing Walk 2014

This year I got the opportunity to attend the fifth and final Tar Sands Healing Walk, a 14k walk though a desert landscape of toxic tailing ponds, sand dunes, open pit mines, refineries, and man camps were pristine boreal forrest once stood. Organized and attended by grass roots volunteer's from all corners, the event was steeped in Aboriginal tradition and teachings. Colonialism, mining, and pipelines were among the topics discussed in workshops.

Having bussed and hitchhiked my way across the country twice now I've listened to just about every opinion on the tar sands. I don't always push the topic in conversation but the elephant in the room inevitably comes up and almost everyone over the age 20 has an opinion on it. I got rides from wellsite geologists, truck drivers, welders, steam fitters and alike who have all spent time working in the “patch”. I've yet to meet anyone who unflinchingly supports what is going on. Everyone admits that working there is a moral sacrifice, even those who have been coerced into referring to it as the "oil" sands.

Aside from being completely unsustainable, aside from the pollution, aside from global warming, aside from the pipelines, aside from all the obviously dire consequences that come along with tar sands, Im worried about the social impact it is having on our nation.

For years there has been a growing divide between those willing to make the moral sacrifice to go work on the rigs and those who are not. That duality has now evolved beyond a question of profession. As methods of dissent become more radical cracks emerge between those who used to stand together against a common fear. Neighbour became pitted against neighbour when a rash of "No Pipeline" graffiti emerged in Vancouver, dividing up those who believe the gravity of the situation justified the destruction of murals and those who  oppose that view.

Wether you are of the opinion that the ends are justified by the means matters not. It is very concerning that some folks are willing to give up their freedom for a cause, while others believe in the cause yet are critical of the method because they cannot stand to let it invade their neighbourhood with eye sore graffiti. This is the kind of division that can pull the thread on once tightly knit communities. 

With that being said, I’ll let you review the evidence and decide for your self. Do you support a diversity of tactics? When the forces that be are so inaccessible, so powerful, so unrelenting, how far are you willing to go? What are you willing to condone? Your backyard may not be a tailings pond, but someones is, and I bet that someone is willing to trade in your defaced mural for that tailings pond any day. 

Friday, May 2, 2014

Confessions of a Nightclub Photographer

Burkhardt Photo

Originally, club photography was never something I could have envisioned myself
doing. I hardly drink, even more rarely go to bars and had literally never been in a
club before my first job. Skateboarding was what originally sparked my interest in
photography, but when an old elementary school friend left for India for a few months
needing a cover, I decided it couldn't hurt to give taking photos of drunks for $100.00 a
night a whirl. Maybe I would even meet some nice females.

What originally began as something I thought was sort of cool quickly became a huge
moral dilemma for me. The purpose of club photography is to fill up clubs and sell drinks
by showcasing people having fun for club promoters, handing out business cards, and
making people feel like celebrities. Promoting a lifestyle of excessive drinking, spending
and womanizing eventually came into conflict with my higher than thou moral code.
See, my uncle drank himself to death and my mom is in recovery, something I help her
with on the daily since I live with her. After reading this VICE article on the reality of
addiction, and this blog on the brain chemistry behind it, I realized that I was promoting
drug use while simultaneously fighting a life and death battle with it.

RIP Uncle Dick

To be perfectly honest, addiction and alcoholism in particular was not something I understood
until this year, and for that reason I might have actually exacerbated my moms struggle by
getting frustrated with her. The drink that had taken my uncles life and helped break up my
family when I was only seven seemed so trivial, so pointless, just an easy way out of a chaotic,
depressing, and stressful world.

 Maybe it's because my first experience with mind altering substances came in the form of a 
bong toke, maybe because I hadn't grown up in a society where the only socially acceptable
escape from reality came from the bottom of a bottle. For whatever reason I was incapable of
sympathizing with this profound affliction for booze. Things came to a head last year when I
packed up and moved to Montreal, washing hands of the guilt I felt living in the same city as
the woman who birthed me but was struggling with something I couldn't comprehend. Luckily a
supportive girlfriend, a possible career in journalism, and a phone call from a stranger warning
me of something "very dark" happening to my mom if I left her in solitude won me back.

Shu Cheng photo

URBAN NIGHT: I only worked an urban night, or a “black club", once. But I must confess
 it didn’t suck as bad as the Eurocentric clubs. Not to bring down my fellow Gwai Los,
but people at urban night are for the most part much better dancers, more friendly, and the music doesn't seem to suck. The top 40 tunes they play at other clubs have given me a nasty case of PTSD whenever I find my self in a situation playing
the radio.

RACISM: Is sadly still very alive and well in the night club industry. I have actually
had promoters, let's just call them "ABC Lifestyle" for anonymity's sake, tell me to make
sure to shoot everyone, but only post photos of good looking "clean cut" white folk.
Apparently "clean cut crowd " is a beating-around-the-bush for no blacks, no Asians
and no "beat" chicks. That sure isn't the kind of "lifestyle" that exists in a beautifully
multiethnic city like Toronto.

MEDIC: This dude is a fixture at every popular club. You'll see him timidly waiting for a
brawl to end, coming to aid of some poor battered fool or drug overdose. I'm not sure
makes people who are supposed to be celebrating and having a good time so violently
aggressive. Maybe it's the booze bringing out the territorial, alpha male, feces throwing 
primate in them. Just sub-out territory for companionship and feces for sharp glass

GETTING PAID: My original inspiration for writing this article was actually to extort one of
my previous employers into paying me the $600.00 he owed me. You’d have to have
the mental capacity of a cabbage to rip off the photographers who promote your shitty
services on social media. Social media is the key to these half wits' success, but it can
also be their Achilles Tendon. Not paying a photographer might seem tempting but
might also result in a PR shit campaign on a par with Rob Ford's admitted appreciation
for crack rock. I would advise anyone considering this miserable occupation to ensure
that they are paid in full before shooting. Promoters are usually as greasy as the oil slick
they garnish their Jersey shore wanna-be hairdo with; no matter how much booze they
feed you in an attempt to show good will.

BOUNCERS: These guys usually lack in brain what they make up for in brawn. Some
of 'em are nice guys, and some are no better than the drug dealers who bribe them to
get into the club with drugs and weapons. Pretty much anyone can get into a club for
free simply by sporting a DSLR camera with a flash and casually walking by claiming to
be "working tonight".

I hung outside of a shit show club I used to work at to engage in some conversation with
the human I used to work with.

I came across a young man wearing an expensive looking peacoat and
slacks, appeared to be very high on some kind of stimulant drug with dilated
pupils, repeating him self and paranoid as all hell :

Nicky: How do you feel about how the clubbing lifestyle portrays alcoholism?

Young Man: As a young generation, you come out with your boys to get together.
Alcohol is a part of it but you're all coming out to be together. That being said, I
recognize at the same time that alcoholism is a problem. It's no easy process, booze
took the life of my own best friends father. Listen, alcoholism is a choice. Guys are
going to booze. Alcohol is legal, so when it comes down to it when people want to
go out and have a good time they're going to booze because nothing else is legal.

You wanna go out and rock marijuana? That’s illegal. You wanna go out and rock M
(MDMA)? That’s illegal. All this stuff is illegal. Drugs and alcohol are on the same level,
it's all about moderation. You want to abuse alcohol? You want to abuse drugs? It's the
same shit, it's all about moderation and choice.

If you're going to use alcoholism as an excuse than your going to use drugs as an
excuse too. Alcoholism is a choice. May be in the blood, may be in the genes. At the
end of the day it's all about choice. Everybody has a choice, life is about choices. I had
a poster on my dorm room wall in college of a gun, the bible, and some money. Life is
about choices. You control your choices regardless of genetics. If you want to make
it right, you do what's right. If you want to make it wrong, you do what's wrong. Life is
about choices. You want to talk alcoholism? Like I said my best friends father died of
it, do I see it in his genetics? Absolutely, at the same time is that a choice he wants to
make? Life is life. Does he want to go there? Hey, it's his choice. Life is about choices

Nicky: Have you heard of Phillip Seymore Hoffman's death? Heroine free for 23

Young Man: Yeah, I watch live city news all day long, it's my life.

Nicky: What about the notion that some people's brains are just wired differently? Do
you think it's possible that some people have a condition similar to post traumatic stress
disorder in that stress can activate a survival part of the brain that over rides the logical
part of the brain forcing them to loose their free will and ability to make choices based
on right and wrong?

Young Man: Well, buddy had a choice to go 23 years sober. He then runs into a
problem, he feels the slightest bit of depression, or anxiety, these things happen. At the
end of the day it's all about choices. It's your fucking choice.
Promoters aren't only drinkers, life has evolved. Its not about drinking anymore, It's
about going out and living the dream. This is the 2000's, but at the same time we've
gone back to the 60's. Booze ain't runnin' the show no more. Who do you think is
running the show for night clubs these day? The Guvernment, Union. What do you
think is running those shows? It's a promoter’s world. Take a look online. Read an
article about MDMA. M is not M anymore. What do you got on me right now? Besides
that iPhone voice recorder? Do you have my face anywhere? The world is running of
M. Promoters are making their life of M. M aint M. Listen, kill it (points to iPhone voice

I talked to a group of police officers supervising the entrance steps away
from the door. I'm not sure if Officer 2 realized the iPhone I was holding was
recording although I told them it was.

Nicky: Is it just you guys down here?

Officer 1: It is in the winter, but in the summer we ride around on bicycles with
medics. Due to the traffic they can't get ambulances down here, so it's a much faster
response time.

Nicky: What causes most of the fights?

Officer 1: "You touched my girlfriend"

Nicky: Do you have any crazy stories?

Officer 1: No, I'm not allowed to comment on any of that stuff.

Nicky: That’s terrible, you would think it would be good to shed some light on how bad
things are, no?

Officer 1: Well you’re a journalist, and you’re down here, I'm sure you will see
something. I think that if you're a happy person then you're a happy drunk, but if you’re
not a happy person then your not a happy drunk.

Officer 2 points of a beautiful yet scantily clad young female and laughs.

Officer 2: That’s gotta be cold, watch the back of her shirt, she's got a bare back. I
don't even know what the hell is holding the sides up

I approached a group of clubbers to see what they had to say about
their night.

Nicky: What brought you guys out tonight?

Female 1: A birthday

Nicky: Why a night club, why not go bowling?

Female 1 (Wearing a tube top, a skirt, and heels, visibly cold): We like
dancing, the music, and being with everybody, it's hard to dance with a bowling ball.

Nicky: Fair enough, what do you guys think of how this culture has glamorized drug

Male 2 (Wearing a Canada Goose jacket): Well…. its a tough call to make on that
one. I mean that's what’s going on in there and it isn't entirely right, but addiction exists
and it's part of life today.

Nicky: Do you think addiction is a disease or a choice?

Male 2: A choice.

Female 1: I don't think its a choice, I think your body become forceful almost, and then
you need it in a way.

Nicky: If you were to give a first timer advice on going to a nightclub what would it be?

Male 2: Always tip your waitress.

Female 1: Drink smart, know your limit, take it easy but have fun.

A second female chimes in wearing a beautiful dress and flats and her
boyfriends coat.

Female 2: I think that clubs are filled with thirsty guys who don't know what no means
and treat girls like shit. Basically I feel like a club would be a lot nicer if guys would treat
girls with more respect and not like property and know that we are here to dance and
not to hook up.

Nicky: What about addiction and alcoholism?

A third male chimes in (Wearing Jeans and a Canada Goose Jacket).

Male 3: I think alcoholism varies for everyone. You drink socially, other people have
addiction problems. I don't see massive addiction problems in any club I've been too,
more just people partying with friends. If you are addicted though I think you should
seek AA. A club is not a place to go to drink, cause it costs so much money. A shot is
what, 7 dollars? To feed you addiction? So if you want to feed your addiction the liquor
store is where it’s at

Female 2: I'm not going to lie, I do M. I'm not on it right now but it makes you have
such a great time. You just really have to know who you're buying it from because you
want to be safe. I go to University of Toronto for phsycology and they teach us that M
is less harmful that alcohol. My professor said in a lecture "your more likely to get hurt
horseback riding that your are doing M". So it's like your fine. Drinking fucks up your
liver and shit. M doesn't really do much, it just releases serotonin, so your fine. Sorry if I
promoted it but just saying it's not addictive, you can control it.

Male 2: I think it's all about culture and how you’re raised with it. Some European
families let little kids have wine with dinner, so it's all about your culture and how you
adapt to it as a child. If you just go binge in university and you've never had it before
you’re going to go ham (excessive). I think addiction varies for people depending on
culture, who you are, and where you’re from.

I switch groups and go talk to a third group, catching the eye of one
shivering young female in particular.

Nicky: That’s a beautiful outfit your wearing

Female 3: I'm so fucking cold

Nicky: Why not dress warmer? You're going to get pneumonia out here.

Female 3: It's all about adjustment, you dress a certain type of way and you stick
with it. It’s considered socially appropriate. If girls came in here and wore pants, do you
think they would get the same attention from males that they would if they were wearing
dresses? You look around at all the females standing here, they're doing it to be viewed
a certain way.

It's not socially acceptable to dress as the males do. You look at magazines and the
way that females are portrayed; we aren't supposed to be wearing jeans and covered
up. If we do then we're considered weird or different. Being different in society is never
a good thing. Having all this advertising with skinny females dressing in bikinis and
tight clothing, what kind of image does that portray to young girls? And I'm a result of it
and it's ironic if you think about it because I do it so people won't look at me as a weird
person. I need to blend in.

I wish I could change it but me dressing a certain way won't change anything except
giving me a bad reception. We do it for attention, it's true. We deny it, we say that "oh
we're just here to have a good time and have fun with our friends. It's all bullshit, we're
here to be received a certain way and it's really sad.
Personally I wish I could change it but I can't because I'm too insecure to fight the
norms of society. I’m too insecure to stand here and give people a positive perception
of what beauty is really like. But I can't change it, I'm too insecure to change it because
people put different things in your mind. If I am different what kind of future does that
give me? If I do different things and I riot and I go against what everyone expects then
what does that leave me with?

I walk over to the bouncer who over heard our conversation as the brutally
honest young woman walks away.

Nicky: What did you make of that?

Bouncer: They're all just sluts, just because they're doing for that reason doesn't make

So now it’s off my chest and I have made amends with my hypocritical past. I can
honestly say I will never put up with that trife shit again. Perhaps unless I find myself
single, broke, and I get the right offer to shoot an urban night. But even then, I would
rather spend my evening hitting the vape and listening to Terrence McKenna talk about 
psychedelics until I eventually succumb to a Cheeto induced kush coma.