How do you find time for the projects that you are invested in but aren’t part of your job? In today’s episode I’m talking about passion projects and the work that I do off the side of my desk that brings me a lot of joy.
I’ve been thinking a lot about signal-boosting as a form of activism recently. This has in part come from conversations around what work settlers can engage in following the verdict which found Gerald Stanley not guilty in the shooting death of a twenty-two year old Cree man, Colten Boushie. For folks looking for resources on that particular topic I suggest The Keyboard Warriors Handbook to #JusticeforColten and the Idle No More Discussion Guide: Justice for Colten Boushie. There is a lot more to be done than simply signal-boosting this issue. I would suggest folks think about how they can support communities and engage in meaningful work around this cause.
What is signal-boosting?
I was actually pleasantly surprised to find that the Oxford English Dictionary has a definition for signal-boost: “Share (another person’s post or other online content) with one’s own followers or friends on social media so as to raise awareness of an issue, event, etc.” Essentially signal-boost is using your place of privileged to amplify the messages and voices of others. It is often discussed in the context of uplifting the voices of marginalized and emerging scholars, activists, and community folks. Signal-boosting can be a way to gain public awareness of an issue, garner media attention, or generate community support for a cause. It’s about moving causes from the fringes into the public eye and bringing issues into mainstream conversation.
For me signal-boosting is part of doing the work. It is about being part of communities I care for, supporting those who need it, and leaving space for marginalized folks to speak. Signal-boosting is also about listening. It is about bolstering the voices and experiences of oppressed communities and using my privilege as a white able-bodied settler to uplift the work of others. I may not have much of a platform but I do have online communities and personal networks who I can share material with.
Signal-boosting can also be a way you can engage with an issue even if you aren’t physically able to march, protest, or attend rallies. It is a way folks can help with a cause they care about even if they are not physically or mentally able to handle front lines activism. For more on the topic of supporting a cause while facing illness I recommend folks read “How To Help The Cause When You Need Help Yourself” by Carrie Cutforth. I love her argument that, “If the only thing you can do is retweet when you are too unwell to do otherwise, you have taken part.” Sometimes activism means prioritizing your own well-being and doing what you can. Signal-boosting is important and meaningful work and taking it up as a call is worthwhile.
Pitch to the Platform
Knowing your platform is an important part of signal-boosting. For example, there is a good chance your audiences between Facebook and Twitter vary greatly. Personally, my Facebook tends to be a space for family and friends whereas my Twitter account is more professional and far reaching. Additionally, each site has its own algorithm and understanding what works best on each platform is important. Photo heavy, personal stories do better on Facebook. Whereas text only posts can still have a wide reach on Twitter if they are linked to the right group of folks. Learning about hashtags, joining groups of like minded folks online, and reading up on outreach trends can all help you signal-boost.
Do you signal-boost? Do you have advice to folks engaging in signal-boosting as activism for the first time?
Earlier this week Skylee-Storm Hogan and I were invited to speak as part of an ongoing faculty professional development series focusing on collaboration. Our session focused on ways faculty can collaborate with archives, how archives can be brought into the classroom, and using archives across disciplines.
The workshop was relatively informal with Skylee-Storm and I briefly talking about our experience working with archives in classroom spaces, how to engage students with primary source research, and past successful collaborations. The rest of the workshop was spent discussing potential collaboration opportunities, approaches to teaching site and national specific history, and creative engagement possibilities.
One of the things our conversation touched on a number of times was the idea of archives as interdisciplinary and that archival work can be skill building for students across programs. This point is something I’ve talked about before, but I do really believe that the skills that students learn through engagement with archival material can be far reaching. During our presentation Skylee-Storm hogan talked about the development of primary source research skills, community outreach techniques, curatorial skills, writing, and presentation skills that were developed through engagement with archival material. These skills are not tied to a single discipline and are often connected to tangible projects as part of course work or employment.
During the session we also spent a considerable amount of time discussing community engaged research. This involved thinking about how a grassroots community based archives can be used to teach research methods, foster community connections, and how to build classroom examples around the archive.
Overall the conversation was heartening and really reminded me of the uniqueness of the archives that I work in. The Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre archive is deeply connected to a marginalized community. The survivor community has played a fundamental role in the development of programming and holdings since the establishment of the SRSC archive. This Indigenous community led approach to research and collecting is something unique and is something worth talking about. In an era where more and more institutions are looking at ways to integrate Indigenous content and Indigenous voices into the classroom space the holdings of the SRSC are increasingly important when talking about preserving the legacy of residential schools, community based healing, and teaching history from an Indigenous perspective.
The session also reminded me of the ongoing need to educate and advocate for archives. Even internally there is always more work that can be done to raise awareness about the extent of holdings and what services archives offer. That outreach piece is something that often feels like treading water – you might be repeatedly having the same conversation with different people – but eventually it does result in progress and if all goes well increased awareness and use.