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Did social media really save the DTES? A review of "With Glowing Hearts," two years on

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Did social media really save the DTES? A review of "With Glowing Hearts," two years on

It was over a year ago that With Glowing Hearts (, a documentary about the W2 media project, celebrated it's premiere in the GoldCorp theater, a space in the Woodward's building funded by Canada's second largest gold mining company.

As an independent media maker active during the Olympics, I knew I had to watch the film, but it took me until just recently to work myself up to it. Finally, I sat down with Bineshii, a VMC contributor who both owns a DVD player and has choice words about the W2, to see what was up.

I want to make one thing really clear: this blog is a critique of the film With Glowing Hearts (WGH), and not the W2.

In sum, the W2 Media and Cultural House brings together a number of projects in one place. In a city where radical activists and artists lack space, it provides one in the downtown east side (DTES) - central and right where the action is. Its executive director Irwin Oostindie calls it a community media arts center, a place where different marginalized groups such as aboriginal youth that have no technology access can do exactly what they want in terms of media and arts.

As you can imagine, W2 is controversial, and difficult for many to speak openly about because of their own reliance on the space, because of friendships, or otherwise. Previous critiques of W2 are already in circulation and don’t want to keep at it. However, With Glowing Hearts becomes an embodiment of the space, and this is where the challenge lies.

The film begins with an introduction to quite a cast of characters. We have of course Oostindie, W2's Executive Director, who really wants to set up a cultural and media space in the new Woodwards building in order to take it back as a space for the DTES. In what Bineshii called true Kony2012-esque style, Oostindie talks for a good bit about his daughter and how he lives in the ‘hood to establish cred.

Oostindie is flanked by April - someone who made a name for herself in the DTES through AHA Media - and DTES activist Garvin Snider. These are two very hard-working people and their presence in the film makes it instantly easy to empathize with the project and very hard to question the film’s argument that the W2 was a final result of resistance to the Olympics. However, both activists have specific projects - respectively AHA Media and Megaphone Magazine - the latter of which is an old fashioned street newspaper - which, though linked to W2, are not the W2 itself.

And then there’s the rest of the cast, which can accurately be summed up in the following phrase: white dudes talking about social media and cultural bollocks. At one point I told Bineshii that I was actually having a difficult time distinguishing all of these dudes. “Yeah, these white social media douchebags all look the same,” she said, without hesitation.

So what the hell is WGH trying to say?

Well, there are doubtless some important stories. April tells us “I don’t want to be a stat” and how she feels seen when she is on Twitter, that she actually matters. Garvin invokes struggles such as those over Eagle Ridge Bluffs. Through their stories we are exposed to some really important issues, from the DTES to the outer areas of BC.

Interspersed into these are some of the most disturbing forms of technological determinism. Somewhere along the way, academic Andy Miah ponders whether or not we can celebrate the Olympic Games and critique them at the same time. Dave Olson from True North Media House talks about “owning the culture of the Olympics” as citizens (as a non-citizen I hate this nationalist crap) rather than letting corporations control it. Also featured are activists such as Alissa Westergard-Thorpe explaining the situation around poverty in Vancouver, and VMC contributor Lauren Gill speaking against the Olympics.

At about this point in the film, activist Garth Mullins talks to a crowd of protesters and mentions the title of the film, about how with glowing hearts the demonstrators are going to go out there and make a point. This was also the moment when Bineshii told me something I hadn't realized:  With Glowing Hearts is part of the Canadian national anthem. That was nausea point for me. Cut in with these protest clips are video and pictures from the actual Games and celebrations as well.

So what does it mean to mix these dichotomous images of celebration and protest? A rewriting of history, and one that's rather smartly done. We see a space that is set up to both celebrate and protest the Olympics, and thereby bring everyone together.

And somewhere along the way, W2 and its affiliates' coverage is meant to bring social justice, or as April says, “help Vancouver become a better place.” No one specifies exactly how this will happen.

It was about halfway through the film that I realized that this social justice, this big win from fighting the Olympics, is actually the setup of the W2. I saw this as the tension built from when the City went back on its promise regarding how quickly W2 would be built and how much space would be allocated to it; at this point in the film Oostindie almost cries. Hence the W2 not only becomes the big win of the Woodward squats, but also of the Olympics (along with Canada winning the gold and people in the Olympic Tent Village getting housing).

The disturbing thing here is how social media can create its own self-fulfilling prophesy. If the idea is that the setup of a social media center was a victory, and that by being there the center has helped achieve social justice, then you can’t critique this cyclical process. You can however very clearly critique the kind of thinking that pushes this idea forward.

So there we are Vancouver activists and anyone else fighting colonialism and capitalism: this is how your fight is being re-told.

Don’t take it too personally though: the film goes into such detail about the each participant's media projects that, as Bineshii pointed out, the film itself becomes another deliverable and very little else.

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was that a film review or some horizontal violence?

Isaac you say your film review is not a review of W2, but then you slam W2 using the film as your medium. W2 was not involved in the film... we and a few others were a subject of it.

It's views on the Olympics and Woodsquat are not the same as W2's. I am sad you use a film that we are not involved with—editorially or production-wise—as a vehicle to frame an attack of our media and community work, and the question of Woodward's legacy.

We can tell you about Woodward's, the DTES, and media production. Do you want our opinion on the subject of social media and the olympics? Please do your work as a journalist; as a member of Vancouver's small progressive media production community; allow us to speak for ourselves. Don't interpret our work thru the lens of filmmakers who are not from our project and not living in our neighbourhood.

Folks can check us out for themselves... weekdays on our FM radio show broadcast on 102.7FM 6-8am with Democracy Now and W2 Morning Radio Project 7-8am. We are currently hiring for an editor and producer for the morning program and we pay a living wage. If you have an anti-capitalist perspective and want part-time work that pays a living wage as an activist journalist,  check out:

Come by our community-run cafe; check us out online. We're proud of our work and our vision, and we can speak for ourselves. Don't need sectarian critics or 2009/2010 film crews to speak for us.


Irwin Oostindie
on behalf of W2
111 West Hastings


Olympic sloganeering

"With Glowing Hearts" was trademarked by Vanoc as an Olympic slogan (nausea-inducing on several levels, indeed). When Mullins (not affiliated with the film) quotes the line, it is a sarcastic dig at the idiotic slogan and the jingoism of the games, not an exhortation to do anything with truly glowing hearts.

Calling your critics "Sectarian" doesn't make them go away

You keep accusing people on VMC for not doing their work as a journalist every time there's a negative article on W2, and you keep calling your critics sectarian as if the differences between W2, which tries to claim activism as a sort of window dressing as it tries to absorb anything that would give the space cred. Considering that your most vocal critics are with the Vancouver Media Coop, which tries its best to be actually independent.  I don't consider this a minor difference at all.  In fact, I think it's an extremely significant and large one.

While the film's views of Woodsquat and the Olympics aren't the same as W2's views on the Olympics, it's clear that the film's view of these events are probably more closely tied to W2s views than to the views of the VMC, or any of the actual people who took to the street against the Olympics or squatted in Woodsquat.

Furthermore, it's really sad that there are so few people interested in running your radio show that you have to hire people to work on it.  Seriously, if you can't run your hour, I'm sure that Co-Op Radio has other programmers who are willing to take the timeslot that your show currently uses.  I wonder how the other programmers at Co-Op feel about you paying someone to do your show for you? 

We want accountable dialogue not petty attacks

W2 Morning Radio Project produces 5 hours every week of original activist media, broadcast live from 7-8am on 102.7FM Coop Radio. It is produced by a half dozen senior activist journalists, supported by a network of 25 contributors, and 2 part-time staffers. One of those staffers works directly for W2 and the other (Public Affairs Coordinator) directly for Coop Radio. The latter position supports both Coop Radio shows and the W2 morning show. Producing 5 hours/week of content is a massive undertaking.  Why you are critiquing a hiring in your derisive comment is really weird, given VMC and The Dominion both posted editorial coordinator positions at the same time as W2 did.    

W2 Media and VMC are both journalism projects. If/when activist journalists with either project were to create critical text about the other project in attempt to build a stronger activist media environment out here on the west coast, how it does those critiques is important. (Following protocols of airing movement debates) Healthy debate and fair criticism should be informed, not off the cuff or gossipy. That's why i refer to it as very unhealthy for movement building. There are differences in tactics, not as many differences in ideology between VMC and W2. Our movement would be stronger if those debates were fairly constructed, and we could all move forward better informed, with better analysis, and better strategies. 

Sectarian and puritan attacks like yours are very dysfunctional and harmful for unity in our small community.  Personally, you earn a wage from the technology industry working for a profit-oriented proprietary company that is totally inconsistent with your purported political values you push online here. But the people in W2 projects are supposed to be 100% without contradiction to meet the litmus test of yourself and VMC editorial members, while you are - as we all are - ripe with contradictions living/resisting in this society. The readers only get your biased attacks, because VMCers like Isaac and yourself don't even bother to ask questions about why or what the choices are for our work. It's all distant assumptions and petty puritan gossip. It's not good enough. 

You claim to know what our thoughts are on the gentrification of Woodwards and the neighbourhood, you claim to represent our views on the film reviewed, you tell us how we are wrong - and yet you have never investigated these questions directly with us. 

This email comment  is only offered not to win an arguement with you. but to defend our work to readers who dont get any objectvity in your writing.

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