What the heck is CivicCamp?

October 15, 2013 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Calgary, Politics 

Who’s behind these pencils? Where do pencils get their funding from? Pencils are nothing but a left-wing propaganda machine. One pencil wrote in cursive once so all pencils obviously can only be used the same way!

I’m sorry, but I can’t help but play this game whenever I hear some folks talk about CivicCamp in an accusatorial way. Basically you replace the word “CivicCamp” with the word “pencil”. You see, in some circles there is a mis-understanding about what CivicCamp is, which that it is simply a tool. Like a pencil.

It’s not the fault of these folks that they don’t know what CivicCamp actually is. I don’t think CivicCampers – those who use the tool – have done a very good job explaining how it works. Certainly on the CivicCamp website you can read the values and even the operating manual for CivicCamp, but this info doesn’t always provide context needed for everyone to understand. I often think CivicCamp is a “you have to be part of it to understand it” or “those who get it, get it.” But that’s not fair to those who don’t or haven’t. So I thought I’d pen this to help give some more detailed information to those who might find it useful.

Who he heck are you?

I’m DJ. Just an average guy, I think. A citizen of Calgary. I don’t belong to any political party. I, like most everyone, want to live in the best place possible for my family and I. I happen to think CivicCamp is a good tool to help Calgarians have conversations about what we each mean by “best” and to organize some efforts to help achieve that.

I attended the first CivicCamp event and then got involved with the “Governance Cabin”, which was a group talking about how City Hall worked and improvements that could be made – transparency, accountability, citizen engagement, etc. Under the CivicCamp banner I’ve worked on organizing forums for the 2010 and 2013 municipal elections, helping create ‘CivicCamp in a box’ (literally a box with supplies and instructions on how any group can use the methods of CivicCamp to have a conversation with a large group of people and then get the stuff done the group wants to do), leading #yycdata Camp which was done under the banner of CivicCamp and sponsored by The City of Calgary, and two large CivicCamp events (CivicCamp 2.0 and CivicCamp 3D). I’m about as “in” as a CivicCamp insider can be.

A little history

It’s important to note that CivicCamp started in April 2009 not as an “organization” but as an event. (The term “camp” comes from the grassroots tech sector’s usage – i.e. DemoCamp, etc.) The idea for the camp was the brainchild of a few of Calgary’s more active community advocates who realized they could be more effective if they worked together. But how to determine what project they should work on together? After inviting a few more friends to the discussion table they decided why not invite everyone in their networks to an event and ask them what they’d like to see happen in Calgary? And wouldn’t it be even better if all those folks were given a chance to not just talk, but to plan how they wanted to work together? So they did.

At that event, known as “CivicCamp”, 150 or so Calgarians showed up and had a BIG conversation following the Open Spaces or “unconference” conversation model – which basically means there was no agenda for the day other than the morning was about figuring out what to talk about, then lunch, then the afternoon was about talking and planning what should happen around that issue. There were activists, politicians, community members, people just curious, etc. Everyone was asked to put aside whatever hat they normally wear and just participate as a citizen; everyone being equal. Ten topics were picked by the group in the morning and off they went in the afternoon to plan. Then everyone got back together at the end of the day and shared what they talked about. That was CivicCamp. Done.

However as you might expect the event energized the attendees and they wanted to keep the dialogue going after they went home. They said they needed help to action the plans they started making that day. A new group of volunteers – comprised mainly of attendees and volunteers who helped facilitate the original Camp – stepped up to help do that and the organizers of the original event basically said “here’s the CivicCamp name, logo and mailing list; have at it.” (Some of the original organizers – often now called “the founders” – did stay involved at this stage, but not all.)

Most of the individual groups had in person meetings to continue the talking about what “a great city for everyone” meant to them. To use the Camp metaphor, these groups became known as the “cabins” – i.e. the Public Spaces Cabin, Sustainable Environment Cabin, etc.

Who is CivicCamp?

This is the point in the story that is the beginning of CivicCamp as most know it now. Ten “cabins”, each self organizing and working on the issue that interested them most, kept the conversations going, but how to keep track of the chaos of ten independent, BIG picture, conversations?

Another small group of volunteers saw the potential of all these discussions, as well as all the new people showing up, and knew someone was going to have to put some structure around everything to keep it workable in the future. Those volunteers created a website and an online discussion forum, which the event attendees – and others who began to show an interest – started using to keep themselves organized. Another group drafted a charter (based on the topics of discussion at the original event and finalized at the CivicCamp 2.0 event then voted on by everyone) and an operating manual to help explain how this democratic, non-traditional, everyone is in charge, format works. These groups/volunteers eventually got together and called themselves the “Logistics Tent” (the metaphor being a tent is smaller and less important than a cabin, where the real work was happening). Basically this was the group who checked the email account and had the password to the website so you knew who to contact if you needed something posted or sent out.

An email list was built and eventually everyone who was working on any project in one of the Cabins just became known as a CivicCamper. People came to meetings (or didn’t), people participated in discussions (or didn’t) and people volunteered to work on projects that were of interest to them (or didn’t). It’s all very unofficial – in a vote with your feet kind of way. The people coming and going from each one of the cabins was not controlled. It didn’t need to be. New cabins popped up once enough people wanted to work on something together and old cabins disappeared when the volunteers no longer did work.

So, WHO is CivicCamp? The short answer is: I don’t know and no one does. The official answer is: whomever shows up or works on something under the CivicCamp banner. The most practical answer probably is: whomever is signed up on the e-newsletter list.

Who’s in charge?

The website says no one is in charge. This is of course hard to believe for anyone who’s ever tried to do any advocacy, but it actually is true. Or I guess you could say everyone is in charge.

I myself have pushed VERY hard at every opportunity to ensure CivicCamp does not become a registered entity because the moment you do this means that someone has to be listed as a board of directors and having a small group of people steering the ship, even if elected, is NOT how CivicCamp should work in my opinion. We have enough groups in Calgary doing that. I think CivicCamp should be a tool anyone can use provided you have enough support from other Campers to make it happen. No person, or persons, should have the ability to tell them their idea or work is not worth-while. If they think it is, then it is. (The charter of values is as far as CivicCamp has gone to define its boundaries. And, yes, I was against doing that, but I didn’t sway enough people to my thinking and that group did. That’s democracy. That’s how an open organization works. And I now follow the charter as best I can because those are the rules people have chosen to govern themselves by. I have to – and do – respect that.)

I guess some people could consider the Logistics Tent as the people who are “in charge”, but all they really do is update the website, Facebook and Twitter with info from the Cabins; reply to emails, tweets and Facebook posts; and pose questions to the larger group when they arise. I’m a member of this group and I sure don’t feel “in charge” of anything. If anything I feel like I serve the greater group. What they need I try to help provide.

There’s also currently another group called the “Upgrade Project” who are examining the future organization of CivicCamp. They’ll be making recommendations to the larger group, so I guess you could consider them “in charge” too if steering the organization to prepare for the future is more your definition of “in charge”.

But you do STUFF. Someone has to be in charge of that!

From time to time when an issue arises a group of volunteers step up to organize others to their cause. As they go about their work that group probably has people who are “in charge”. For example right now the Elections Group is very active and myself, Jeremy Zhao and Peter Rishaug would probably be the ones considered “in charge”, but that’s only because we’re doing the lion’s share of the big picture organizing. At the forums themselves the logistics lead or the moderator would be the person “in charge” depending on what function you are talking about. They’re making all the decisions.

The other thing that’s important to remember is that the membership of each of these groups is fluid and constantly changing. I may be partially “in charge” of the Elections Group, but I can’t really tell you who’s working on the forums. I can tell you who’s come to meetings and who’s signed up for shifts, but once you’ve done your forum shifts does that mean you are still a member of the group? I guess so, but it really doesn’t matter because the work you volunteered to get done you got done. What good does the label of “group member” serve beyond that? Usually these labels are only useful for keeping track of who’s who in your organization, but with the CivicCamp organizational model it just doesn’t matter. You’re a member of the group if you’re working on something, not because your name is on a list somewhere.

What has CivicCamp done?

Different cabins have done different things. One group organized citizens to attend a Council Public Hearing to speak in favour of Plan It. One group organized citizens to attend another Public Hearing to speak in favour of the City’s Bike Strategy. Groups could have just as easily been organized to speak against these documents, but either no one tried to organize a group to their cause or they weren’t successful in rallying enough people. (In this way, different people are part of different initiatives. Personally I participated in the Plan It group’s activities, but could have cared less about the work of the group advocating for the Bike Strategy. I wasn’t against it, but it didn’t interest me enough to participate.)

One group organized election forums to give Calgarians a chance to hear from their candidates because they didn’t think it was right that several wards didn’t even have one forum in 2007 and they didn’t like that the questions for forums were selected by the organizers with no input from the public.

One group spun off and began using the camp model to hold further conversations about transit related issues.

The first thing “CivicCamp” ever did was born right at the first event. One attendee stood up in front of the room and asked for help in voicing support the Bow River Flow festival. His argument was there were people complaining about the road closure and the only way to counteract that was to have people praising the road closure for the event. Enough people must have agreed with him because – in my recollection – the next week the media stories began to change a bit and the event went forward. Was this the best use of the new tool? I don’t know, but I’ll defend their right to use it that way. (And, yes, the festival happened for a couple years before the organizers of it decided to end it.)

Currently a group of people who believe municipal election campaign finance rules are not stringent enough are actively asking 2013 candidates to release their donors prior to election day – and prior to the legally mandated deadline. They’ve created a website for candidates to disclose their donors via to boot. Many of the same members of that group earlier created an online tool to help crowdsource the data entry of 2010 campaign donations and then crowdsource information about each of those donors (individual, organization, industry, etc). Just recently they released an online tool to visualize high level summaries of that information.

Basically, people used the CivicCamp name and tool set to help further whatever cause they rallied enough people to help pursue.

There have also been a few other big gatherings similar to the original CivicCamp event to help bring people together again and see if they chart different paths or kindle a passion for something after being in the same room together.

Who pays for all this?

Perhaps the biggest myth out there is that CivicCamp has money. They don’t. They don’t even have a bank account. (You can’t get one if you’re not even a registered organization.) But then again, none of this really costs anything if you can rally people to help.

Most funding for CivicCamp is for a specific project. At the same time CivicCamp is a master at keeping costs to a bare minimum. Not to mention if you’re rallying people to a specific cause you’d be amazed how many hours volunteers will donate or services other organizations will donate.

For example the 2013 Elections Group is hosting 18 forums. One is at MRU’s Wyckham House, two are in UofC’s MacHall Ballroom, two are in malls and the rest are at community associations or churches. Pretty much all the venues were donated because those organizations agree it’s important for citizens to have a chance to listen to candidates answers to questions. A lectern, sound system, display banner, time keeping clock and even advertisements are all needed. Most of these are donated or have had their cost reduced by the supplier because they also believe in forums are useful. A forum needs to be designed, a script written, publicity, ads designed, candidates contacted, etc. Volunteers have done all of this. Then someone needs to set everything up, keep track of time, move all the equipment from venue to venue, and moderate the forums. Again, volunteers have done all this. In all the forums are budgeted to cost about $2,000. In this case the funding for those bills we couldn’t avoid are coming from a Calgary Foundation Neighbour Grant – a grant that can be applied for by non-charitable organizations.

The day to day operations of CivicCamp don’t cost much. The website hosting and domain registration cost maybe $200 per year. I think this is paid for by being under budget on the projects, but we’ve also had volunteers step up and say, “I’ll pay for it.” It’s such a small amount, really. Other than that it’s about being financially wise in your spending. CivicCamp uses lots of open source tools that don’t cost anything. It’s the most cost efficient organization I’ve ever been a part of.

CivicCamp is biased

There’s no getting around this one: yes it is, but not in the way you might think. I wish it wasn’t, but it’s impossible to eliminate anyone’s bias, which is based on your experiences. If you eliminate your experiences you’re left with nothing. For example, good journalists can’t eliminate their own biases entirely so they try to at least be aware of their biases and counterbalance them. I often say CivicCampers are not asked to eliminate their own biases – whatever they may be – instead they are asked to consider the totality of everyone participating over just their own opinion. In this way CivicCamp becomes the collective bias of everyone participating. And in my opinion, on many issues, that totality appears to be more “left leaning”.

However because the membership in any group or on any project is so fluid that could change on any issue or over the course of time. CivicCamp is a tool and so far it’s just been those individuals who have wielded the tool. I look forward to a future CivicCamp project where there are two groups – both aligned with the CivicCamp values; just with different solutions for achieving them – who are working in opposite directions on the same issue. This is after all democracy and CivicCamp’s format is the most democratic one I’ve seen for deciding what to work on.

For example, one of the values is great public spaces. I’m confident even the most strident libertarian and communist will agree public spaces should be places people enjoy being in. I’m also confident they’ll have entirely different suggestions for how to create those spaces. Both are valid arguments and, just like any democracy, if you can rally enough people to your way of thinking, then you’re probably going to get your way. And that’s how CivicCamp works.

The one myth I’d like to dispel about CivicCamp and it’s “bias” – or the best example I can give of this “bias averaging” I’m talking about – is around the election forums. I’ve heard the odd person say the questions are biased etc. In reality the questions are sourced online from anyone with a question they think should be asked. Then anyone can vote on the questions they prefer be asked at the forums. In the end the questions that get the top votes are asked. No one edits them and no one “selects” them beyond how many of the top voting getting questions can be asked given event time constraints. If the questions lean one way or another then that’s because that’s what the people who took the time to submit and vote on them thought. If you don’t agree with the questions being asked then the solution is simple (no, it’s not whining about it on Twitter), just go and ask your question and see if people vote for it. A great example of this is in 2010 the top vote getting question was about Race City – a topic I had never once heard mentioned at a CivicCamp meeting. Someone found the site, submitted a question and rallied their friends to vote it up. Yes, a “special interest” hijacked the process, but that’s democracy. If you didn’t like the Race City question you should have rallied more people to vote for your question instead. We are all special interest groups. Sometimes you’re even a group of one.

CivicCamp is the opposite side of the spectrum from the Manning Centre/UDI/etc

I suppose at a tertiary glance you could think that because of some of the projects Campers have chosen to work on, but given everything I’ve mentioned above hopefully you can see why that’s not always the case.

Personally, I’ve attended Manning Centre events and look forward to doing so again in the future. I really enjoyed their report about Council voting patterns and was dismayed by the bias shown in others. I saw their email invitation to participate in their campaign school events too late to sign up, because I would have! (One of those times that email filters hindered instead of helped.) None of this has anything to do with CivicCamp though.

Another note that might surprise some people is that Jeremy and I had a couple meetings with staff from the Urban Development Institute’s Vote Calgary program to see if we could find ways of working together during the 2013 election. Some CivicCampers may have found themselves disagreeing with UDI’s position on Plan It, but that doesn’t mean we can’t agree on wanting to inform voters of facts during an election. (Or that some CivicCampers didn’t agree with their Plan It position to begin with.)

Even when people disagree on some things they should still be able to live with one another after the discussion has ended. Maybe I’m naive but I just don’t see the world in that black and white, left versus right, winner take all way. We’re all Calgarians and we all want what’s best for Calgary. We just sometimes disagree on what that is.

Honestly, it’s kind of a badge of honour that a rag-tag group of loosely affiliated volunteers with little organizing skills on their own – most are just what I would call average Calgarians – are considered on equal scale to groups with offices and staff and hundreds of thousands or millions of dollar budgets. I’ve got an iPhone, some friends, and a little bit of free time after the kids go to bed.

CivicCamp is running a slate of candidates

This is about the only rumour I’ve heard about CivicCamp that irks me. They’re not and I have no idea where this crazy notion even comes from. Yes, CivicCamp is political, but it tries VERY hard to be non-partisan.

The groups working on elections in 2010 and 2013 both actually even decided, in order to eliminate any potential advantage to any candidate, that any volunteer working on any candidate’s campaign would not be allowed to work on the forums. That would not be fair. Everyone was asked to self identify and in both years we’ve had a couple volunteers step away because of it. (Man, it sucks losing volunteers, but it’s the right thing to do.)  In 2010 we actually had two people do so because they decided they were going to run for mayor instead.

There is only one moment I can remember where the idea of CivicCamp working with candidates was brought up. Someone at an event last fall suggested CivicCamp should endorse candidates. Then someone pointed out that would be against the charter; everyone nodded and that was the end of that.

CivicCamp is Nenshi’s puppet – it’s just a disguise for the “Purple Army”

Calgary’s current mayor, Naheed Nenshi, was one of the organizers of the original CivicCamp event. Following that event in April 2009 he participated in several “Governance Cabin” discussions as an volunteer, just like me and many others; however in the spring of 2010 he stepped away when he began his mayoral campaign.

The only involvement I have witnessed from Mayor Nenshi, aside from praising CivicCamp whenever the opportunity arises for it’s ability to get citizens involved in issues that affect them, is: 1) Shortly after he was first elected he created a “Mayor’s Civic Engagement Committee” and populated it’s membership with representatives from groups he believed were doing a good job at engaging Calgarians. CivicCamp was offered a spot and Cheri Macauley, CivicCamp’s most active volunteer, was selected, I believe by the mayor. 2) At the fourth anniversary party of CivicCamp the mayor was invited as a guest speaker. Other than those two occurrences I can’t remember him being directly involved.

I’ve heard some critics say that CivicCamp was given a seat at the civic planning table after the Plan It discussion, but I don’t know anything about this, other than metaphorically speaking as the group created it’s own relevancy in regards to mobilizing citizens in response to planning issues.

Again as I mentioned above it any volunteer who wanted to work on a campaign was asked to step away from CivicCamp so I’m confident there was no influence during from Nenshi’s campaign workers on CivicCamp’s activities. I’m sure some members voted for him, but odds are some members voted for other people too.

I know Naheed from before the election, consider him a friend even, but I really don’t care what he thinks about CivicCamp other than if he wants to show up and volunteer on an initiative just like dozens, even hundreds, of others who would have equal say in what gets done. It’s just plain false to say he controls CivicCamp’s activities in any way.

Did I miss anything?

I hope you found this useful. Sorry it was so long. It would have been easier to say, “CivicCamp is a group representing registered members and governed by a board of directors”, but it’s not. There’s little traditional about it’s structure. I’ve often joked it’s not an organization is a dis-organization. Is CivicCamp the future? Well, the internet has democratized communication to the point that CivicCamp is possible. It wouldn’t have been a few years ago. However I won’t pretend staying this loose and nimble isn’t hard. Running any organization is, but one that is in many ways nothing more than an act of will on behalf of it’s participants has got be be more so. But that is what keeps it as fair as possible and as useful as possible.

I’m sure CivicCamp will morph and change in the future, but this represents my knowledge of the organization as it currently stands.

I hope if you made it this far into the post you’ll have a bit of a sense as to why no one “from” CivicCamp has ever really responded to the criticism lobed at it. There was no one in charge and no project existed to address this criticism. I do get a sense now that some CivicCampers are starting to volunteer to do this. Heck, I wrote this post. A post went up on the CivicCamp website today providing transparency on who’s funding CivicCamp’s election initiatives and what the money is being spent on too.

In that interest of as much transparency as can possibly be offered, if you have any additional questions, please feel free to post them in the comments and I’ll do my best answer them for you. In between work, forums and putting the kids to bed of course.

Thanks for reading.

You need to stop telling people what to do

September 24, 2012 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Uncategorized 

Telling people what to do versus creating an environment that’s easy for them to figure out what they should do is probably the greatest leadership struggle I’ve encountered. I myself struggle with this nearly every single day and I’ve seen many, many others do the same.

The benefits of the latter far outweigh the former. It’s been proven time and time again that employees (or co-workers) who know the bigger picture – the vision and ultimate goal of the organization – are far better at acting to achieve that and proposing new ways to do it. Those who simply act on the instructions of an authority of some kind tend to only execute against what is asked of them, never striving beyond the limits of precisely what’s been requested.

Yet time and again I find myself trying to articulate what I want my team or co-workers or family to do. I know it’s not the best but it’s hard – we want the instantaneous result and giving direction, or setting a hard and fast rule, usually appears to be the shortest route between two points. Often I think we do this because we think of ourselves as the smartest person in the room. Often, but not always, we are. Until you realize that by giving round after round of detailed instructions, month after month or year after year, you’ve weeded out any additional intelligence the team might have brought to the table prior. Now you actually are the only smart person in the room. How is that better?! How are we more able to tackle the challenges that lay before us with only one smart person on the team?!

I may struggle with this mightily myself, but I am able to stick my head up every once in a while to see that the path doesn’t make sense. (Hence this post.) I can see that I should cringe when after seeing a company lament the lack of innovation and ‘thinking outside the box’ problem solving skills in their employees when their first day orientation introduces employees to the company’s code of conduct and spends the majority of its time instructing them primarily on how to comply. Is it any surprise they are not innovating and instead complying? That’s what you’ve taught them to do from day one!

So why don’t we – why don’t I – course correct? Yes, it’s hard, but it requires purposeful resoluteness. It requires discipline in ourselves. This is a massive issue. Especially when the mountain of work appears to be never ending. I/we end up taking the short term view and instead bark orders so we can move on to other matters as quickly as possible. (If I give you rule book and tell you to follow the rules that’s much faster than me saying “follow me around for a couple of months and watch how I’d like you to tackle issues”.) Plus let’s be honest, discipline, resoluteness and purposefulness aren’t exactly qualities we find laying around in spades. They are hard to develop and even harder to maintain.

The other part of this is it also requires trust in employees to do the right thing and trust in ourselves to show them the right thing without telling them the right thing.

I think one of the best ways to achieve this is for us to just flat out stop telling people WHAT to do and instead focus on HOW to do it and WHY to do it. After all, as I said above: An employee who understands WHY they are there is much better positioned to succeed than one who only understands WHAT they are there to do.

Around the office we’ve started calling this “focusing ON our work rather than focusing IN our work”.

Discipline and ‘stuff’

August 21, 2012 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Marketing 

Good ideas come and go. Some of us have difficulty with the ‘coming’ of ideas – we work hard at having good ones and thinking them through – however everyone has difficulty with the ‘going’ of ideas. Implementing has a way to make a quitter out of many. When the going gets tough, the tough get going… out the door… on to something else.

There are many, many, many things we could do. Many tools available to help achieve success, but only one tool matters most: discipline. The master tool.

Stick to your guns. Nose to the grindstone. Have the courage of your convictions. Never give up. Hang in there kitty. We call it many things, but it’s all the same: we have to have the discipline to achieve the goals we’ve set for ourselves.

However this also applies to setting the goals.

In organization after organization I want to let out an audible sigh when I see them just doing ‘stuff’. Don’t get me wrong, its GREAT stuff. Truly amazing, well executed, sometimes brilliant stuff. But it’s just ‘stuff’. Usually only tangentially related to helping achieve their goal in some vague “we’ll make it align later” kind of way.

In a world with only 24 hours in a day this makes me sad to see people ‘waste’ their time on ‘stuff’. Especially when those amazing talents that had to work so hard at dreaming up and executing that ‘stuff’ could create so much more if they could just be aligned more directly to goals.

At some point I’m sure someone wrote a list of goals for the people doing the ‘stuff’. I’m even sure it’s an impressively long list that keeps everyone so busy that they would give their left arm for more resources or people to help make their ‘stuff’ a reality. Many of these folks are even incredibly disciplined at executing their ‘stuff’ incredibly efficiently.

If only we had applied that same discipline to setting the goal in the first place.

Often setting a goal and its objectives can be a process that we feel we’re going through because someone told us we had to go through it. “You need to have a goal!” “I agree!” So goals are written.

And on the shelf they go. And off we go to do what we always do. More stuff.

Goals are useless unless we have the discipline to use them as the basis for EVERYTHING we do. We have to be willing to have the discipline to use them as a lens to evaluate what tasks to undertake and what are just ‘stuff’. Yes, this might mean you stop doing something you’ve been doing for ever. But if it wasn’t helping you achieve your goal, we have to ask ourselves, “then why waste my time doing it”?

If you can have the discipline to actually ensure everything you do helps achieve your goal, suddenly all those other tools we’re already so good at become much more effective.

However sadly, most people can’t even tell you what the big picture goal is. “That’s something some big forehead wrote and put on a shelf somewhere, right?” Probably, yes. And never had the discipline to make sure everything we do aligned to it. Distracted on to his or her own other ‘stuff’.

#abvote Predictions

April 23, 2012 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Alberta, Politics 

What’s an election without a couple of predictions? And to avoid any of that “I said that would happen!”/”No you didn’t!” stuff I thought I’d write down a few of mine. (And instead revel in the multiple “Boy, was that guy way off!” that will no doubt come my way.) So here are my thoughts as we head into the final hour of the Alberta provincial election every news outlet has already deemed “historic”.

Let’s start with the questions everyone will ask:

  • Who will win? My bet is the Wildrose Party.
  • Majority or minority? Minority.
  • Seat breakdown? Your guess is probably as good as mine, but I’ll go:
    • Wildrose: 40 (currently 4)
    • Progressive Conservative: 38 (currently 66)
    • Liberal: 5 (currently 8 ) – Some of those retiring seats won’t be replaced, many will go PC.
    • NDP: 3 (currently 2) – Brian and Rachel get a new co-worker. Who? Could be a few tight races in Edmonton, but I’ll guess David Eggen squeaks this one out finally.
    • Alberta Party: 1 (currently 1 who’s retiring) – I’ve got high hopes for Hinton mayor and party leader Glenn Taylor, so I’m willing to take a flyer on him.
    • Yes, that shows either the Liberals OR the NDP holding the balance of power. I dream of a raucous session as you can see.
  • Voter turnout? 65% (2008 was 40%, an all time low).

Now more fun predictions:

  • Who ever wins my riding of Calgary-Klein will form the government.
  • Win or lose Danielle Smith will take a shot at the PCs and their 41 years in government saying something like “FINALLY!” or “I’m disappointed we weren’t able to end it… yet.”
  • Alison Redford will be gracious, all the while looking like she’d like to stick the knife in the Wildrose and twist it. Win or lose.
  • Ron Leech doesn’t get the chance to speak for anyone other than himself.
  • Allan Hunsperger won’t “suffer the rest of eternity in the lake of fire”, AKA the Legislature, as voters accept he was born this way. But it will be close.
  • Tomorrow there will be a government. (A stretch, but after this campaign you’d be forgiven if you thought the opposite.)
  • It will take a looooonnnnnng time before final results are in and Twitter will be lit up with whiners wanting to go to bed.
  • Speaking of Twitter: someone will make a dumb mistake and click on one of the dozens of spam #abvote tweets that looks like it’s coming from a sexy lady who happens to tweet every 18 seconds.

There’s a couple of my predictions. I’ll add more if I think of them, but please add yours in the comments below. I’d love to hear them!

Tuesday, September 11, 2001

September 11, 2011 by · 3 Comments
Filed under: Uncategorized 

Every day has a story. But not every day has a story that changes so much in your life. For ten years I haven’t told my story because it’s not special or unique compared to anyone else’s, especially on that day. But I now realize that it’s an important story not compared to anyone else’s but because of the impact it had on me. I couldn’t have known it at the time, but I can look back now and realize just how impactful it was on me and the path it helped send me down. This is the story of my Tuesday, September 11, 2001 and what followed.

My alarm probably went off at 6:30am. I was still getting used to getting up that early. I had graduated from my theatre degree at the University of Calgary only a few months before, where I often had rehearsal until at least midnight. I had split my last “year” into two years so I could do as many shows as possible. (What can I say, I was in no hurry to join the working world, and university shows allowed by to add more to my resume. Plus, yes, I was having fun.) As a result I didn’t have many actual classes in my final semester in 2001 so it wasn’t uncommon for me to not wake up until 9 or 10 am. I also didn’t have a summer job that year – celebrating my final slice of freedom before joining the “real world”.

About two or three weeks earlier, in late August, I had begun my first post-university job: as an intern at Alberta Theatre Projects. The first show of the season was set to open one week later on September 18. We were in the final stretch of preparing for the Happy by Ronnie Burkett and I was loving every second of learning so much about the administrative side of the professional theatre world (having previously only worked on the technical, behind the scenes side in university and high school). I was doing a rotation in the marketing department, something I had more than a keen interest in and had tried to take classes in in university but could never get registered in because there were too many marketing majors in the business faculty. I was doing theatre AND marketing at the same time and soaking up all the knowledge I could. Life was good.

Because I was a couple weeks in already I had already learned the best way for me to wake up was to put the alarm on “radio” and let that wake me up over the course of up to an hour. I’d get up at 7:30 and be at work by 9am. A nice, easy morning with lots of time to have breakfast and catch the C-Train downtown.

So that morning the alarm went off at 6:30 and I dozed on to the sounds of Vibe 98.5’s music and their hosts The Pog, Fuzzy and JBo.

As 7 am approached I thought I was listening to them present the news, but it was too early. They told me a small plane had hit the World Trade Centre in New York City and it was on fire. Knowing how bizarre, unique and dangerous a thing this was, was up, out of bed – not in a rush, but in a quickened pace – putting on shorts and a t-shirt and out to the tv in our apartment to turn on CNN.

I was captivated. How does something like this happen? What a horrible tragedy. Not for the people in the building, but for the pilot of the small plane and for the people on the street where the debris must have fallen. But how could a small plane cause such a big hole and so much damage? Where did the plane go? Was it inside the World Trade Centre? I starred at CNN starting somewhere around 6:55am. Then I went down the hall to my roomate bedroom, knocked on the door and told an even more sleepy that me best friend that a plane had hit the World Trade Centre in New York. He too dressed, not quickly, but in at a hurried pace and joined me in front of the television, wondering what could have happened.

Then, 7:03 am.

CNN was interviewing a witness to the plane crash on the phone on the street a few blocks away. As they discussed and guessed what might have happened and what people on the street were doing, a large passenger jet appeared on the right hand side of the screen. It disappeared behind the burning tower. Then: a large fireball blows out the other side of the tower. I knew what had happened immediately: a second plane, this time clearly a large passenger jet, had hit the other tower. The host on CNN was thinking it was an explosion. Then he thought it was another small plane. Was I the only one who saw that? It wasn’t a small plane. It was clearly a full size passenger jet. It took them 3 minutes to catch up with what I had already witnessed.

“What are the odds?!” I thought. “How could this conceivably happen?!” Was something wrong with their navigation equipment and we were accidentally pathing planes directly into the World Trade Centre?! I didn’t really know what terrorism was – most of us didn’t, I don’t think, until later that day. And at any rate, terrorists blew up bombs or were suicide bombers. They did not cause this kind of damage. Two of the worlds tallest buildings on fire at the same time. Hit by two different passenger jets. It was litterally inconceivable what I was watching.

I continued to watch for a while longer. A new “eyewitness” thought it might have been a missile. We just kept watching CNN loop the second plane hitting in between shots of the smoke billowing out of both buildings. Eventually there were no new ideas. No one knew what had happened. There were lots of questions, but so far, no answers. It was time to go to work. I left the apartment still unaware that anything nefarious had happened, just something very very unfortunate.

The artistic director at Alberta Theatre Projects had a television in his office. We all had cubicles just outside his office on the second floor of the EPCOR CENTRE for the Performing Arts, pretty much right above the stage door and the loading dock. That plus everyone hitting “refresh” on CNN.com all morning gave us a constant flow updates. As the morning progressed the World Trade Centre was all anyone could talk about. By the time I got to work The White House and just about every other major government building in DC was evacuated and there was a fire in Washington, DC. It was believed another plane had hit that building too. One of the twin towers had even collapsed. What was going on?! Two cities? Three planes?! A building was entirely gone?! I was baffled.

I don’t remember what time I got to work. I don’t remember if both buildings had collapsed by the time I got there, but I do remember watching the video replay of the collapses in the Artistic Director’s office trying to make sense of it all. I couldn’t, and so work just went on. All without answers, but with newly founded thoughts of international hostilities fresh in our minds contrasted with concern for New Yorkers. I had never been to New York at the time, so as far as I knew, everyone in New York was in danger.

Around 11:45 I did what anyone else would have done on any normal day. I went for lunch.

Not knowing what to do on such a day, and with no one really “working”, earlier in the day I called my dad and asked him if he wanted to go for lunch. He agreed. I met him, probably at noon, at the Bear and Kilt Freehouse. We sat at the back – the northeast corner – next to a small television set against the north wall and talked about what was going on. He was just as confused as I was and I took both comfort in that and was a little more freaked out by it. We both had fish and chips, which were, and still are, exceptionally good at the Bear and Kilt. Lots of malt vinegar for both of us.

About half way through lunch I realized why my dad so readily accepted my offer to go for lunch. The CNN hosts were talking about “September 11th” being a day we wouldn’t soon forget. Ironically enough I had forgotten that date already that day. It was my dad’s birthday. It had totally slipped my mind with everything going on that morning. Although, to be honest, I had probably forgotten long before I got up that morning. I didn’t have a present for him, but I knew I would never forget his birthday ever again.

As I went back to the office, I had another new experience. I was handed the afternoon edition of the Calgary Herald with photos of the second plane hitting and the collapses. I had already seen all of this on TV, but I was amazed by the fact this event was important enough to warrant a second edition of a daily newspaper. I had heard of afternoon editions of the newspaper, but they had long since disappeared. As far as I knew, there hadn’t been an afternoon edition of a newspaper in over 100 years. It was old time-y stuff that just never happened any more. A part of living in the future, I guess. But there the afternoon edition was in my hand, and it stuck with me and helped solidify that this day was truly not like anything I had even heard of before. That small paper edition was how I knew life had changed – and not in the way we now think of when we talk about how September 11, 2001 changed us: airport security, American patriotism, racism and suspicion toward Muslims and “Arab-looking” people in general etc. No, it had changed things I knew to be true. Things in Calgary, thousands of miles from New York City. It may sound small to almost everyone, but it was profound to me in that moment.

At work we got the four major news papers at the time: Calgary Herald, Calgary Sun, Globe and Mail, and the National Post. Part of my job as an intern in the marketing department was go through each newspaper and clip any stories mentioning Alberta Theatre Projects or other arts companies with unique marketing ideas we could draw inspiration from (or just plain copy I guess).

The next day, September 12, 2001, I believe it was the National Post, had a two page spread showing a photo at the top of the page and a photo on the bottom half of the page. As I flipped through the paper I remember stopping at that photo spread and being captivated by it. Two identical pictures taken from the same spot on the other side of the river staring at the south end of Manhattan.

The photo at the top was the skyline we had all witnessed in dozens of movies – complete with the “twin towers” of the World Trade Centre slightly off from the centre of the picture. The second photo could have been a photocopy – with the same orange-y/yellow glow of a setting sun reflecting off the buildings – except the biggest reflectors of that sunset were missing. It was a striking reminder of what had actually changed and how quickly it had changed. In less than a couple of hours it was as if we had Photoshopped two of the largest structures in the world from that skyline. It was, in every way, surreal.

I pulled the photo spread from the paper and posted it on the wall of my cubicle as a reminder. I’m not sure a reminder of what, but I knew whatever it was, it was important to remember. How right I turned out to be.

Throughout the day and the months to come various coworkers and visitors would have similar reactions to the photo when they stopped by my desk. We’d talk about the strangeness of the photos; we’d talk about their eeriness; we’d have a shared, albeit fleeting, moment and then we’d get on with whatever the work at hand was, knowing that we really did live in a changed world. Everything was the same, but everything was different.

I moved desks several times during my time at Alberta Theatre Projects. I eventually was hired on permanently as the Marketing & Communications Coordinator – I had thought I’d be a state manager, but after finding out in January 2002 that that wasn’t the life for me I had gone back full circle in May 2002 and applied for, and accepted, a job in that first department I did a rotation in. The department I was working with in September 2001.

That photo spread from the newspaper hung on the wall of every cubicle I had during my time at Alberta Theatre Projects. I still have it, in a storage box somewhere, I’m sure. (Another sign of how we move on, but never really leave the past behind.)

It was okay to enjoy yourself, but not for others. Sporting events and comedy immediately became passe.

Baseball cancelled all games that week. I am, and was, a huge fan so this was a noticeable change for me and my daily ritual of watching the game on tv, probably in the background, when I got home.

The late-night comedy shows all cancelled their airings that week too. My roommate and I were avid watchers of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, a program recorded in New York City. When they went silent, again, my life was impacted in a small, seemingly unimportant, way that resonated. One half hour of my day, that was unintentionally scheduled weeks in advance now was suddenly free. Empty, really. I didn’t actually know what to do with myself during that “time slot”. I had been left to my own devices. Not that I wasn’t capable of filling the time, but the fact remained I had to do something else at 12:30am now. Life really had changed even though New York seemed far away. It wasn’t. I was on the same continent and it turned out the people there did have daily influence on me.

There nothing like the absence of something, to make you realize what it meant to have it when you did.

I was abandoned by two of the things I enjoyed most: baseball and smart comedy; as they took the personal time to try and make sense of what had happened too. They were inventions made up of people, just like me. And they were lost too. They didn’t have their “regularity” either.

After a week or so, you could tell everyone was starting to feel not just the sting from the attacks of September the 11th themselves, but the ripple effect caused by the shut down of some of our previously unknowingly important institutions. President Bush summed up the next steps perfectly when he asked Americans to go shopping again. I assume he was more concerned about the state of the economy – you don’t shut down air travel, tourism and offices all over the country without serious financial side-effects – but what I heard in his words was, “it’s time to get back to normal and get on with our lives.” And that’s what everyone slowly began to do.

The Blue Jays, my favourite team, played their first game following the tragedies on Tuesday, September 18 – only one week later. It was a win against the Baltimore Orioles, but that could have mattered less. What mattered was just the fact teams were playing and people could go to the games and watch them on tv. It took a while longer, but things really started to feel “normal” for me when the New York Yankees returned home and played their first game at the historic Yankee Stadium.

Yankee Stadium – the “House that Ruth Built” – opened in 1923. This I knew because the Blue Jays played in the same division as the Yankees and Red Sox, two of the teams with the oldest stadiums in all of sports. Their venerability I often found at odds with my favourite team which was founded in the year I was born. That’s perspective for you.

For Derek Jeter, Bernie Wiliams and the seemingly perpetual World Champion New York Yankees to return to a New York building that had stood for longer than all but a few of the most ancient of us have been alive, a building that had effected so many millions of people, I somehow felt comforted. Not every building was destroyed. The World Trade Center was imposing and appeared to be as solid a thing as humans could create. But if it was so easily wiped from the face of earth what does that say about our ability to be present, to make a home, to do important things? On Tuesday, September 25 when the Yankees hosted the Tampa Bay Devil Rays at Yankee Stadium, another of New York’s most famous buildings, a building that had stood for so much longer than the World Trade Center, I knew that history was not gone. We could still do important things. We could still have a home. We could still be present and occupy a space. Yankee Stadium still stood and had for generations, and would continue to.

(It was because of this I perhaps was hit harder than I should have been in 2008 when the Yankee’s played their last game at that stadium. It’s sheer existence had provided me so much comfort six years earlier and now it was to be demolished. Fortunately the blow was lessened by the new Yankee Stadium, looking much like the original, built right next door.)

Slowly our institutions returned to normal – but with a resolve that carried more gravitas for me than perhaps it deserved. Jon Stewart is a funny guy. It’s observance however that had me hooked starting with The Daily Show’s “InDecision 2000″ a little more than a year or so earlier. (It was their “InDecision 2004″ that most people remember The Daily Show for, but what they did in the first incarnation of this ongoing series is what began my relationship with the series. Don’t get me wrong, Craig Kilborn was funny, but when Stewart took over in 1998 and politics became more of a feature, I became a much more regular viewer.)

In a short period of time I had gotten used to Jon Stewart’s ability to look at a piece of news and dissect the crazy out of it. I had come to appreciate the insight this created for me. I would have really appreciated that lens as applied to the events of September 11, but it was nowhere to be found. Then, on September 20 The Daily Show went back on the air; one of the last, if not the last, late night comedy programs to do so. His opening monologue, sitting behind a desk, was exactly what I needed to hear.

“It’s the difference between closed and open; it’s the difference between free and burdened. And we don’t take that for granted here. Our show has changed, I don’t doubt that. What it has become I don’t know.”

That’s how I felt.

“I want to tell you why I grieve, but why I don’t despair.”

And he did. And I took solace. And I began to think I could laugh and it was okay to do so; I began to see how the recovery would make us – make me – stronger.

I had been watching Saturday Night Live for years. Some off and on, but regularly none-the-less. In my mind, they were my link to New York City. They were New York and New York was them as far as I was concerned. I, and almost everyone, knew their response following the attacks would be important. But how would they come back from that? The Daily Show was a faux news program, so they could sit behind a desk thus ease back into it because we had all gotten very used to seeing anchors talking about the recent events. SNL however didn’t have that luxury; they did sketches that had nothing to do with anything.

In the days following September 11, 2001 many took to following their President. I found nothing useful for me there however. I didn’t see how “punishing those who were responsible” would heal the wounds that I saw, and personally had developed. I had found a lead to follow in that of New York Mayor Rudy Guiliani however. He didn’t focus on the external, he focused on the internal, he focused on helping New Yorkers clean up and put the pieces of their lives back together. That seemed to me to be the right thing to do. The thing that needed our attention.

When the season of Saturday Night Live began with Rudy Guiliani standing in front members of the New York Fire Department and Police Department I listened. Following Paul Simon’s stirring musical tribute the camera returned to Guiliani who was standing with Lorne Michaels, SNL’s long time producer:

Lorne Michaels: On behalf of everyone here, I just want to thank you all for being here tonight, especially you, sir.

Mayor Rudolph Guiliani: Thank you, Lorne. Thank you very much. Having our city’s institutions up and running sends a message that New York City is open for business. “Saturday Night Live” is one of our great New York City institutions, and that’s why it’s important for you to do your show tonight.

Lorne Michaels: Can we be funny?

Mayor Rudolph Guiliani: Why start now? “Live, from New York! It’s Saturday Night!”

And with that, the first joke had been cast. And by the very person I felt to be most at the centre of the recovery. If he felt it was okay to poke fun, it was okay. And life began again.

With ten years experience to review, I can now draw a much more vivid portrait of how September 11, 2001 affected me.

I learned that what we do elsewhere in the world can effect us at home. I learned what happens elsewhere in the world can affect us at home. I learned what happens or what we do elsewhere in the world can have effects on people you never would have intended it to.

I learned more about community and strength of character and actions speaking louder than words in the response of New York City’s citizens and especially their first responders. I had never experienced war, that was something that happened far away. On that day however I saw what someone stepping up, not questioning what needed to be done, instead just knowing, and doing it, looked like. I learned what “finest” and “bravest” actually meant. I learned unwavering dedication to that which needs to be done.

From Major League Baseball, The Daily Show, Saturday Night Live and the individuals involved in each of those groups at the time, I learned what resolve is. I learned moving on doesn’t mean forgetting. I learned what strength actually is and discipline.

I learned I don’t have all the answers and never will. And no one else will either. And that that is okay; it’s not a bad thing. It’s just the way it is; and there is a beauty in that.

Most importantly, I learned that I can play a role in shaping the world. So can everyone. The world can change at the drop of a hat – or something more sinister. Vigilance is not about living in fear, it’s about being aware of where the change points are and setting us up for more good outcomes than bad.

I also learned that there are people – although not many of them – that will try to work in the opposite direction, sometimes even when they think they are doing the right thing. No one thinks they’re evil; we all think we’re doing the right thing. Sometimes we’re wrong about that though. I learned things can get distorted if you lose sight of the big picture and focus on the here and now. I learned we can spend years of time and energy on things that make us feel better, when the answer could have been simple and easy.

I learned I shape my own path and it is my interpretation of events that defines that path.

These were my events and this is my path.

As I said, what happened to me on Tuesday, September 11, 2001 wasn’t unique or special, except that it was unique and special to me. So that’s my story.

Thanks for taking the time to read. I hope there aren’t too many grammatical or spelling errors here. I wrote this post in one stream of thought starting at 10:30 last night and starting again at 8am or so today and did not go back to edit except in some minor spots. Perhaps someday I will and I’ll edit to make it flow better, but for now, it’s a beautiful September the 11th outside, very similar to the one we had 10 years ago strangely enough. Today I’m going to go outside and enjoy it. I hope you do the same too.

Moving on doesn’t mean you have to forget.

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