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Monday, March 09, 2009

edmonton ideafest a success.

Highlighting the power of online social media, Saturday's IDEAfest, which was largely organized through Facebook and Twitter, drew over 100 Edmontonians to the University of Alberta on a snowy Saturday in March. The event was open to the public, and saw three presenters in three different rooms present every half an hour on an idea or topic of their choice. A big congratulations to Michael Janz (@michaeljanz) for organizing the excellent day-long event.

There were many great presentations, but the two that stuck out in my mind were Andy Grabia's (@agrabia) presentation what the experience of listening music means to him on a personal level, and Alex Abboud's (@alexabboud) "15 Steps to Making Edmonton a Better City." Both were excellent, well-prepared, and very interesting. Other great IDEAfest presenters and participants included @zoomjer, @bingofuel, Colby Cosh (@colbycosh), @chrishenderson, Mack Male (@mastermaq), Walter Schwabe (@fusedlogic), Ian Bushfield (@thzatheist), Alain Saffel (@alainsaffel), Shawna McConechy (@out_inc), Cam Linke (@camlinke), @brendantrayner, and many more....

Thanks to everyone who showed up to my afternoon presentation, "The Fall of the Media Empires and Rise of Citizen Journalism." My presentation focused on the evolving nature of mainstream media, and the growing number of citizen journalists filling the gaps in community and political media coverage created by layoffs in the industry (which you can follow at @canmedialayoffs). Though some people may argue that examples like CanWest teetering on the brink of bankruptcy protection will herald the extinction to the mainstream media, I argued that the downfall of the major media corporations is simply an evolution of the media industry. I was glad to read that the event and my presentation were reported on in Sunday's Edmonton Journal (and I can understand why a CanWest-owned newspaper wouldn't want to include the main point of my presentation in their article).

While Chris Laboissiere (@chrislabossiere) and Ken Chapman (@kenchapman46) wrote some positive blog posts about the event, I was surprised to read a blog post by presenter Derek Warwick (@derekwarwick) in which he argues that the lack of gender or skin-colour diversity among the presenters was due to an "embedded racism" among those involved in the event. I should probably know better, but as someone who was involved in the event I feel the sheer ridiculousness of this accusation requires a response. Warwick's visual observation are fair, but his "embedded racism" theory doesn't seem to be grounded in any sort of reality. IDEAfest grew though a very open and organic word of mouth process (over 1,000 people were invited to the event over Facebook) and offered the opportunity for anyone interested to present on the idea or topic of their choice.


I could spend all day writing about the diverse range of topics and ideas covered in the presentations, but you will just have to come to the next IDEAfest (date to be announced) and enjoy it for yourself!


Denny said...

Sounds like it was awesome. It's too bad I missed out, I was planning on going, but I went out to Fort Saskatchewan Friday night, and I really didn't want to drive back to Edmonton on Saturday considering the weather.

I've heard rumors of a Spring/Summer edition though...

Anonymous said...

"embedded racism"?

And there are communists infesting our bathrooms. What a nutty idea.

Derek said...


I definitely see your point, and it's the one that whites are bringing up to defend the conference.

That said, it's my understanding (and please correct me if I'm wrong), that people were directly invited to the event.

I also understand that (probably) many were not invited, but signed up themselves, as was the case with myself.

With that said, though, I do believe that other measures should have been taken to ensure that we POC were better represented at the conference. There are plenty of intelligent POC with valuable insights that weren't there, and many who I'm sure never got word of the conference.

To be clear, the event was a success on many grounds, but it failed POC. And this is a case of embedded racism; the way the conference left out POC--intentionally or otherwise--is being excused by you and every other white person I've spoken with about the conference.

I'm bringing up this critique so future conferences can be improved. This isn't an attack on Michael or you or any other of the whites in attendance, but many of you need to own your privilege, and I don't see that happening. I think it's time to listen and learn something.

Lastly, it's not "skin-colour diversity" I want. It's POC and their unique histories and perspectives that white people can't bring to the table. I also feel that dismissing any POC's claim that something is racist as "ridiculous" is, in itself, racist, and reveals your lack of ownership of your privilege.

Check your privilege

daveberta said...


I understand what you are arguing, but you have yet to provide evidence to support your claims of embedded racism and embedded sexism by those who organized and attended the event.

You make the accusation that participants didn't attend your session on "Putting an End to Rape Culture: Challenging Attitudes and Misinformation" because of embedded sexism. I didn't attend your 2:00 pm presentation because I had been at the event since 8:30 am and needed to attend to other business, not because I have embedded sexist tendencies.

Also, the entire idea behind holding three presentations in three different rooms at the same time is so that people can attend sessions they are interested in. At the same time as your session was being held there were two other sessions that some attendees may have found more interesting.

As I wrote in my blog post, the event was largely advertised through word of mouth and gave the opportunity for anyone to present on a topic or idea of their choice. It was a completely open and organic process.

Is there room for future events like this to be improved? Absolutely. But labeling those involved in organizing and attending this event as harbouring embedded racist and sexist tendencies without providing any evidence, other than personal opinion, reads to me not like intelligent analysis, but armchair libel.


Jim said...

Here we have a case where some people, likely volunteers, put on a great event and offered the community as a whole a chance to do something good and interesting on an otherwise ordinary Saturday.

However because the organizers didn't provide extensive outreach to certain minorities, they are slagged for their "embedded racism".

So IDEAfest now has to wear the claim of "embedded racism". Way to go Derek, you have certainly done your part to ensure that there is less chance of this conference happening in the future.

I'm sure most of the organizers would rather not spend their time on such an endeavour if folks like you are just going to come along and slam it with poorly thought out labels.

If you thought there was something that needed changing or improving within this event, why didn't you just join the organizing committee and ensure those changes happened next time around? Wouldn't that have been far more productive than taking to the blogosphere airwaves with a smear campaign?

Ian said...

Jim: There was no "organizing committee" - 90% of the work was Michael Janz who is among the most progressive I know - however sometimes we forget to look for diversity. And Derek is not trying to kill future IDEAfests, but to make them an even greater success.

Are words like "sexist" and "racist" constructive? Unlikely, but it grabs the attention and makes you realize that there could have been a greater diversity of voices, and that's something that should be striven for in the future.

Anonymous said...

Hm When are people simply going to be referred to as people? Good post Dave and no organiser owes any one anything. If someone has a cause people will rally behind it. Sheesh nut bars galore.

Gauntlet said...

If what Derek is trying to say is that our institutional and societal structures tend to be organized around shared identities, and that creates a systematic lack of communication between people who identify differently, then he's right.

If he's trying to say, or if he's accidentally implying, that the individuals involved have any desire whatsoever to exclude anyone, then he's very, very wrong, and those people have every right to be offended.

I think he's trying to say the first thing, and is accidentally implying the second. But then again, I've never met the guy.

I saw the video of your presentation, Dave. Good stuff. It occurred to me this morning on the way into school that a good explanation for the move away from newspapers toward blogs might have more to do with interest targetting.

Newspapers and television stations, are necessarily geographical. They send their information to people in a particular place. Therefore, it has to consist of information that is likely to be of interest to a large enough segment of the people in that place.

So you end up with weather, sports, crime, politics, etc.

A blog, though, doesn't have an audience forced on it. It doesn't even necessarily have an audience! :)

So a blog can micro-target people with an interest in a particular thing in the entire english-speaking world, when the number of people in the greater edmonton region interested in that thing is not sufficient for the Edmonton Journal to justify assigning a reporter to it.

Newspapers pick the stories on the basis of the audience.

Blogs find an audience (or not) on the basis of the stories.

Just a thought.

Gauntlet said...

What I should have said is:

Blogs are to Newspapers as PVR and Cable is to Broadcast Television.

You get what you want, when you want it, even if no one else cares.

Denny said...

There's video of some of the presentations? Where can I find them?

Aaron said...

I agree with Gauntlet. I think by "embedded racism" Derick was only trying to point out how people of privilege (I include myself here as white and male) need to recognize that one reason oppression is so pervasive is because it is so freakin invisible to privileged people. So instead of getting insulted when people make a very simple observation, we should own that, give it some thought beyond a knee-jerk reaction, and go, "Ok, next time we'll do better" which I know some organizers of the event are now doing. The fact that it was "organically" organized speaks just as much to how our networks and sites of struggle often reflect people who look like us. It doesn't have to be affirmative action through laws (for you libertarians) or that everyone becomes so politically correct that we are not critical thinkers (for you free-speech types). I'm talking about reading a little history that isn't just about white aristocrats and liberals, understanding how oppression works, maybe taking a course on it (I could make some recommendations), recognizing it and calling people on it. So yeah, it takes a bit of an effort (and analysis) to make our movements more diverse (and stronger) but as people of privilege we need to own that and know that in a patriarchal, racist, capitalist system , diversity and equality do not just happen, they have to be consciously worked for.

Anonymous said...

Presentations on Video:

Walter Schwabe

Dave Cournoyer

Hank said...

Does this fall under "Stuff White People Like?"

Anonymous said...

I thought MIchael Janz had taken up Secular Judism?

Does he know he's going to have to give up #bacon?

Anonymous said...

Sheesh guys, didn't you remember that because your skin is white you are inherently evil oppressors of privilege?

How dare you not consider race in the planning of this event!

What were you thinking - that people's skin colours are irrelevant!?!

You need to realize that if we don't keep making an artificial issue out of things like race there will be no market for my Bachelor of Arts in Post-Modern Feminist-Marxist Theory.

Rich said...

As as "white person" I would like to learn how to take ownership of my privilege...unfortunately I was not able to learn this lesson from either my parents, or a woefully inadequate education system...

Derek, please teach me.

Anonymous said...

Wow, ignorance rears its ugly head. Welcome to Alberta!

Anonymous said...

Race is only an artificial or invisible issue to those who benefit from it.

Mona said...

I have to say thanks to Derek for pointing out these issues in a clear and coherent manner.

And Dave, don't take offense, you know as well as I do it takes extra effort and resources to bring forward marginalized peoples and ideas to the table and while I admire Janz and the other volunteers for putting together a fantastic event, in this area there was little to ensure the diverse viewpoints are represented.
Which I find quite unfortunate especially as we are seeing a huge rise in Aboriginal issues and activism . I believe many of these issues are going to become huge factors in environmentalism and Canada's place in the world, especially with the Olympics coming next year. Canada will be facing the same scrutiny as China, and we have not fared well in our handling of the situation. Anyway. Janzy it was a good conference from what I heard. Thanks for putting it together I hope it happens again.