A Dream I Had: Incoming Birthday Pancakes!

Photo by Jane Gregory.

Weirdly perfect photo by Jane Gregory.

In this dream I had recently I am sitting in a Cosmic Diner.

I’ve never been to this place in real life.

I get the vibes there’s Space outside.

Image from Deep Space Diner VR Game.

My waitress is cosmically large and insubstantial. It occurs to me now she is like Jupiter the gas giant. She is glorious.

She yells INCOMING BIRTHDAY PANCAKES and pancakes fly like UFO’s out of the kitchen window, across the Cosmic Diner and onto my plate.

Incidentally, I’m not me, I’m my friend who is a badass lawyer I admire. But I’m also me. And I’m not surprised by the hovering arrival of birthday pancakes.

Because apparently: I am a regular in the Cosmic Diner.

The waitress is not thrilled by the flying pancakes in her way, but I dig in, and she says:


(I am a messy eater, but take this to mean it’s OK.)

And the pancakes are the best I have ever had.

In 1961 there was a UFO encounter involving pancakes.

Image from Butterfly Language.


End Of Poverty: Getting Basic Income Right In Canada – My Opening and Closing Remarks

Poster by Maryanna Hardy

Poster by Maryanna Hardy

I recently co-organized and moderated a public event aiming to advance the conversation around Basic Income in Canada. The video from the livestream of that event is available here, and wanted to keep a record of my opening and closing remarks as well, so here they are.


As we begin, we’d like to acknowledge that McGill University is located on unceded Indigenous lands. The Kanien’kehá:ka Nation is recognized as the custodians of the lands and waters we now call Montreal. Tiohtiá:ke (Montreal) is historically known as a gathering place for many First Nations. Today, it is home to a diverse population of Indigenous and other peoples. We respect the continued connections with the past, present and future in our ongoing relationships with Indigenous and other peoples within the Montreal community.

My name is Risa Dickens, I’ll be your host and moderator this evening. On behalf of myself and my collaborators in the Asian Women for Equality Society who bring you this event, I want to welcome you and thank you so much for coming.

I am both thrilled and nervous to get to stand in front of you today.

I’m thrilled to even get to meet these badass women, let alone to have a conversation with them about ending poverty in Canada, on today, the United Nations’ International Day for the Eradication of Poverty.

I think even saying the words out loud: that we aim to end poverty, has power.

And I’m moved to see so many of you here, with so many different and, let’s be honest sometimes conflicting passions and interests and stories and backgrounds, united in this project: tackling an end to poverty.

I’d love to know what brings each of you here. For myself there are a couple clear thoughts that motivate me: My grandfather had to leave school, and leave home at the age of 16 because the family farm in Smith’s Falls Ontario couldn’t support him anymore. Just a kid on his own he had to abandon his dream of becoming a teacher and he carried that loss his whole life.

Myself, end of grad school, I lived a couple years in increasingly bad financial straits that I worked hard to hide from anyone who knew me, until it reached a climax when I was unable to pay the rent, hiding from the landlord, as black kitchen waste literally bubbled up in the bathtub.

There was the time my dad pulled his own tooth because he couldn’t afford dental surgery, or when I found out that the hardest kids to deal with at my day camp job weren’t getting breakfast before coming, or when a man I loved stole 5000$ from me rather than appear a failure to his parents.

I could go on. I think we all could.

Who here would experience immediate emotional and practical relief by the grant of a basic income?

Please raise your hand if you would quit your current job? (Or just wink if your employer is here) Raise your hand if you would care for a family member? Raise your hand if you would dedicate yourself to a creative practice? Raise your hand if you would dedicate yourself to a cause? Raise your hand if you would get more education? Raise your hand if you would seek a different kind of employment? Raise your hand if you would live closer to nature?
Thank you. We see you.

When Sarah and I started to talk about this event we agreed that what we wanted to contribute to the Basic Income conversation in Canada was one: Feminist, and two: Practical.

Feminist because it’s Sarah’s experience as a rape crisis worker that brought her to working on Basic Income in the first place.

And because according to the Transition Home Survey, on a single day in Canada, 4,645 women were residing in shelters across Canada, 71% of them were escaping abuse.

We don’t have clear statistics on gender identity and homelessness in Canada; but we know up to 40 percent of youth experiencing homelessness identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, or two-spirited, whereas only approximately 7 percent of the general youth population identifies as LGBTQQ2. In other words, our young people face poverty to be who they are.

Gender roles and money are all tied up together, for everyone.

Men account for three-quarters of suicides in Canada. Going back to the Great Depression scholars see spikes in suicides immediately after a market crash. Canadian men between the ages of 50 and 69 had the highest suicide rate across both genders and all age groups in 2012. And reports show that job and money concerns – their identities are providers – are the most common causes of their stress.

Patriarchy and poverty fuck with us all.

We also wanted this conversation to be practical. Our question is: how can Basic Income be designed to benefit everyone? How do we get it, how do we pay for it, and how we make sure it isn’t used to justify austerity cuts that gut still-necessary social programs, or push economic inequality down harder onto undocumented workers in Canada, or labour markets in countries that don’t have a basic income guarantee?

So we worked on and circulated questions with our community partners and our esteemed panel and they will touch on these in the presentations and discussion which follow.

Before I introduce our panel, I want to note that we are honoured to have with us Community Respondents from End Poverty Now, Revenu de Base Quebec, Indigenous Women Against the Sex Industry, and Mouvement Contre le Viol et L’inceste, who have generously taken the time to prepare a few words and a question for the panel.

And we would love to bring your questions to the panel as well. In the interest of time please write these – as legibly and succinctly as you can – on the cue cards being gathered by our volunteers. We’ll do our best to get through them, and we also invite you to gather in the bar downstairs after our event wraps at 9pm to continue the conversation.

From the panel, I am so pleased to be able to introduce you to Dr. Evelyn L. Forget. Dr Forget is kind of the reason that contemporary conversations about Basic Income are happening at all.

She is the researcher who found and analyzed archived data from the landmark ‘Mincome Experiment,’ nearly 30 years after it was discontinued in Dauphin, Manitoba.

She wrote: “The Town with No Poverty—Using Health Administration Data to Revisit Outcomes of a Canadian Guaranteed Annual Income Field Experiment” among numerous publications, about the potential impact of basic income on health.

Dr Forget is an economist, professor in the Department of Community Health Sciences at the University of Manitoba, and Academic Director of the Manitoba Research Data Centre.

She is an adjunct scientist with the Manitoba Centre for Health Policy and a research associate with the MB First Nations Centre for Aboriginal Health Research.

Her current research focuses on the health and social consequences of antipoverty interventions.

Dr Forget, thank you so much for being here.

Next I’d like to warmly welcome Senator Kim Pate.

Senator Pate has spent the last 35 years working in and around the legal and penal systems of Canada. She has worked with and on behalf of some of the most marginalized, criminalized and institutionalized women and girls as the executive director of the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies.

Senator Pate is a member of the Order of Canada, a recipient of the Governor General’s Award, and five honourary doctorates, and numerous other awards. Her extensive list of publications, national and international speaking engagements, and her strategic intervention and advocacy for substantive equality speak to her commitment to social, economic and cultural change.

She has strongly advocated for a guaranteed livable income including in a speech today on the floor of the senate.

Senator, thank you for your voice and for your work and thank you so much for being here.

Lastly on our panel today is my collaborator in creating this event, and a representative of front lines anti-poverty work in Canada, Sarah M Mah. Sarah produced this event while preparing for her final Phd thesis defense here at McGill.

Sarah is a third generation Canadian-born Chinese woman raised in Vancouver, BC. Her family was among the early Chinese immigrants levied the head tax in the late 1800’s, as well as those who left rural China in the 1950’s in search of a better life in Canada.

Formally trained in biology, epidemiology, and geography to examine the geo-social determinants of health, her feminist activism began as a front-line anti-violence worker at a rape crisis centre and transition house in BC. Sarah continues her work as a member of the Asian Women for Equality Society – for which basic income remains a central campaign to help to end sexualized racism and achieve women’s equality and economic security.

Sarah, thanks for being here and for all your hard work over the past months.

Our panelists have prepared thoughts to share with you so let’s jump right in…


Since it is 8:55 we are going to end now with a quick thank you and closing remarks before inviting you to join us downstairs.

Firstly, myself and the Asian Women for Equality Society would like to thank the panelists for your work, and your time, and your generous effort to come to Montreal to join us.

Dr Forget, Senator Pate, you were at the very top of our dream list when we began planning this event, and the warmth with which you received our invitation helped us believe in the possibility not only of pulling this event together, but in the actual goal of ending poverty, so thanks for your courage and example.

If folks are interested in getting to learn more please note, Dr Forget will speak at the Institute for Health and Social Policy tomorrow October 18th, at 10 am, there will even be a light lunch served! Information on attending can be found on the Facebook event for today’s panel.

We would also like to thank

  • Our community respondents
  • Those groups and and individuals who attended consultation meeting
  • The Institute for Health and Social Policy for helping us bring Evelyn here
  • Bliss and Sonia and the staff of Thomson House.

Our simultaneous interpreters:

Doris, Sophie, Peter

Our friend and artist collaborator, Maryanna Hardy who created the image for this event.

The 12 incredible humans who are volunteering here with us tonight at the door, on photography and video, and more.

Personally I’d like to thank Sarah Mah for her passionate and joyful and tireless work.

And lastly, and again, thank you for coming.


I want to send you off with a rallying cry. I want to arm you with a promise you can carry with you when you face the work of dismantling inequality. I hope you’ll remember we are with you.


These words by Leonard Cohen always give me courage:


Any system you contrive without us

will be brought down

We warned you before

and nothing that you built has stood

Hear it as you lean over you blueprint

Hear it as you roll up your sleeve

Hear it once again

Any system you contrive without us

will be brought down

You have your drugs

You have your guns

You have your Pyramids your Pentagons

With all your grass and bullets

you cannot hunt us any more

All that we disclose of ourselves forever

is this warning

Nothing that you built has stood

Any system you contrive without us

will be brought down.


That Time I Was In Pain For 10 Years

In the last couple years I’ve gained weird insight into the constant chronic pain that defined my life from 15 to about 25. I’m 36 now, which is part of what makes it weird to me. I guess it’s incredibly normal and prosaic actually, you know: hey! We do learn things as we get older. Surprise! But also what’s weird is that the information seems so simple now. The pain was so all soul-consuming and perspective-distorting it is unbelievable and annoying that part of what caused it to continue was so simple and, worse, caused by my own brain and body trying to protect me. But there are mega magical lessons in this for me, despite how infuriating it is, so figured I’d share.

In a nutshell what happened was I got injured on my neck near a nerve that runs a lot of the communications and paperwork up in the brainal area and across the feelings system (technical terms). And that nerve hit the red button, danger!, and all my bones and muscles complied to come to the rescue. From what I can tell, they tried hard to build a fort around the back of my neck, bending vertebrae backwards to make a wall, dragging shoulder blades up to the ears, yanking the back of the head down and curling the spine ducked low. In pain I went to a thousand specialists of various flavours and tried to uncurl myself too hard in the opposite direction: yanking up and straight, arms tight next to the body, ribs pulled in close to the heart. And the nerves kept shuddering in fear, and getting twisted and plucked, the left side of my face and lungs jerking in pain like strings on fire, like a heart attack, etc.

Someday I’ll tell you the story of how it stopped, but for now it feels kind of boring especially since I didn’t really understand what had worked. Suffice for now to say, it involved a bunch of stuff most notably Alexander training, and after 10 years it lifted. And then, just last year around this time, it happened again. Not the migraine, thank goddddd; when I feel like that might come back I get all weepy and freaked out. 10 years is a long time to live with that and it’s made me jumpy with fear that it might come back someday for good. No, last year it was just the return of the bright gold line of pain along my left side from my spine to across my heart, like a band that won’t let me breathe. I went to the hospital and stayed while they did all the tests. Not a heart attack, good you checked, etc. The same old answer: it’s nerves and we can’t see nerves, or do much to help you with them when they go so subtly, so spectacularly awry.

What helped was to ignore the dictates of my red alert brain screaming hold still or else, screaming you are dying, screaming incoherently – a message that makes total sense in the face of nerve pain. But ignoring it in favor of a gentle jiggle changed everything. Bear with me. Shaking the pelvic floor (booty), shimmying the shoulders in defiance of the feeling that everything would shatter, wobbling the heavy head until it felt allowed to lift off of the top of the spine and float as it is miraculously designed to do… with a gentle vibration the knife loosened. The body escaped the constraints of the freaking-out mind. The infinitely vast and delicate nerves remembered how to find their way back into place. When that particular pain comes now I can literally shake it gently off. And the neurons begin to learn a new post-trauma pathway.


Here are some of the lessons I try to carry with me from this experience: thinking about small repeated gestures and systems and tweaking them in the tiniest, goofiest ways changes stuff, sometimes in a big way; gentleness and joyful small action can defeat even decades of pain. Being angry that something so small and stupid could keep me imprisoned is not a good reason to stay there. Being grateful for any breath I get is not at all unreasonable. Sharing as much love and fun and as many ideas as I can while I have clarity, while I can find any perspective beyond a shadowing circle of pain, is just plain common sense.

Mega caveat: I know people who have lived with chronic pain so long and profound that this idea of changing it with posture, dance, and different kinds of thought about body is probably exhausting and insulting. Fair enough. If you know anyone like this too: please love them as hard as you can and lend them your strength, because they are using all theirs all the time in ways you can’t see. If you live with this, I love you and I’m thinking of you every day. Everything about my experience was probably different from yours except this bit: in pain you are in isolation. I know you are doing what you can just to make it to the next minute, but I also believe this: there are secrets in your mindbodyheart, secrets the world can benefit from if you can share your own weird world, and especially the stories of your seeking for ways out of the labyrinth. So much of the world is in pain, the stories of how we face and fight and are defeated and triumph and fight again are alchemical and will be how we unlock new ways forward… even if it’s just by one screaming dancing bloody two step at a time.







Intersections: Ville et Numérique


Below is the event description, full text (in French) and slides for my presentation at the first #Intersections. I was thrilled but nervous to be included: it was my first time giving a presentation at this level entirely in my second language, and I had written my talk from a deeply emotional place following the US elections. But after the talk I had some really inspiring conversations with leaders in Montreal who are moved to use their positions and their know-how to create digital and community links aimed at the greatest challenges we face. So let’s keep our hopes held high, keep reaching for each other, caring for each other, facing our fears, and building systems that reflect our values. It’s all we can do, and it’s everything.

Le Printemps numérique vous invite le mardi 29 novembre au Centre Canadien d’Architecture / Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA) pour la première édition de sa nouvelle série de 5 à 9 : #intersections / transformations numériques. → intersectionsmtl.com

Montréal ville à l’honneur : Dans le cadre de cette première édition dédiée à la ville et au numérique, panélistes et participants sont invités à échanger sur la façon dont le numérique transforme nos villes, nos réalités urbaines et nos rapports aux autres. Le panel rassemblera 5 experts montréalais:
► Patrick Gagné, Associé et Chef de produit, Taxelco / Téo Taxi
► Stéphane Goyette, Directeur du Bureau de la ville intelligente et numérique, Montréal, intelligente et numérique
► Albert Dang-Vu, Président directeur général, Mirego
► Risa Dickens, Directrice de marketing et de communauté sénior, Yelp
► Jean Bérubé, Directeur du développement, Montréal en Histoires.

La discussion sera animée par Marika Laforest, Chargée de projet pour Plan culturel numérique et Lab culturel à Culture pour tous.


Pour être honnête, je me débattais sur ce que je pouvais contribuer aujourd’hui. Je travail du côté de l’engagement communautaire avec des plateformes numériques – donc ma perspective n’est pas celle d’un ingénieur ou urbaniste.

Mais la chose la plus difficile pour moi c’est jours-ci c’est le climat politique dans lequel nous nous retrouvons suivant l’élection américaine. Quand le racisme, le sexisme et l’anti-environnementalisme prennent place au pouvoir, il me semble essentiel de se recentrer, se questionner, pour s’assurer que le travail que nous faisons s’enligne avec nos valeurs.


La journée suivant l’élection, le PDG de Yelp, Jeremy Stoppleman, nous a envoyé un courriel qui disait en partie:

Nous ne pouvons pas permettre à la rhétorique politique de taire notre voix ou de vaciller notre confiance…Tous les jours, nous aidons des millions de consommateurs à connecter avec les “autres”, à qui ils n’auraient pas nécessairement confié leurs santé, leurs maisons et leurs estomacs. Bien que nous ne pouvons réaligner le pays ou le relever de son angoisse du jour au lendemain, nous pouvons encore construire des liens humains positifs à travers Yelp – un par un, personne à personne.

Pour moi, ceci est l’essence de ce qu’on fait chez Yelp, et que je crois dirige les projets ayant le plus d’impact sur une ville numérique. Bâtir la confiance, les nouvelles connaissances, bâtir des relations, bâtir la compréhension.


Les projets “villes numeriques” ou “intelligentes” ne parviennent ni à capter l’imagination du public ni à avoir un impact positif et durable lorsqu’ils se résument à la collecte de données de surveillance, et ainsi accroître la segmentation et la division des villes.

Ce qui compte le plus pour moi c’est quand le numérique nous attire dans le réel d’une nouvelle manière. Ou, selon le point de vue de Yelp, quand les interactions numériques peuvent nous attirer vers des nouvelles parties de la ville, dans de nouveaux coins jamais visités, aux portes de petits commerces ou des humains, comme nous, travaillent d’arrache pied, non seulement pour gagner leur pain, mais pour rassembler les gens autour d’un festin inventée par leurs parents, leurs grands parents.


Quand j’ai commencé avec Yelp il y a 5 ans on venait de dépasser 20 millions d’avis. Cette année, nous avons atteint 115 millions. 80% des clients qui utilisent Yelp pour chercher un commerce effectuent un achat, guidé par cette recherche, dans la même semaine. Une étude réalisée par Le Boston Consulting Group a révélé qu’une entreprise qui revendique sa page Yelp d’entreprise gratuite a, en moyenne, vu son revenu augmenter de 8000$.


Une caractéristique moins connue mais essentielle à la croissance de Yelp en Amérique du nord a été le programme de gestionnaires de communauté. Sois à temps partiel ou à temps plein, des employés des quatre coins de l’amérique du nord sont charger de créer des nouveau liens dans leurs villes.


Les gestionnaires de communautés de Yelp commanditent les festivals locaux – nous sommes heureux d’être partenaires avec Roller Derby de Montréal, MTL a Table, Fierté MTL… la liste est longue. Nous mettons en vedette ces partenaires et des commerces locaux dans notre bulletin électronique et à travers des médias sociaux.


Aussi, nous organisons mensuellement des événements pour rassembler notre communauté hors ligne. Tout ça pour dire: nous explorons nos villes ensemble.


J’organise ça localement, avec l’aide de Mariko et Géraldine, alors venez nous saluer et nous trouverons ensemble des moyens d’amplifier ce travail de connection en ligne et hors ligne.

En terminant, j’aimerais partager 2 projets Data de Yelp auxquels je suis particulièrement intéressé pour leur impact sur la communauté. Ensuite je ferai une petite annonce à propos d’une compétition locale que nous organiserons ici en 2017, et finalement je vous conterai une petite histoire personnelle et un peu embarrassante… just to keep it interesting.


Donc premièrement, les projets de data: Il y a quelques années, Yelp a travaillé en partenariat avec le gouvernement des États-Unis pour lancer LIVES open data standard – une nouvelle norme de data ouvertes. Maintenant, des millions de consommateurs trouvent les points d’inspection des restaurants lorsque cette information est pertinente: lors d’une décision dans le choix de restaurant. Des études démontre que la mise en évidence de ces informations a un impact positif – les entreprises et les clients les utilisent pour faire des choix plus sains. I would love to see more Canadian cities adopt this standard.


Yelp a aussi collaboré avec ProPublica pour intégrer les statistiques sur les soins de santé sur les pages Yelp des établissement médicaux. C’est en faisant un survol des pages d’entreprises de milliers d’hôpitaux, de foyers pour personnes âgées et de cliniques de dialyse que s’expliquent les statistiques, notamment le temps d’attente dans les salles d’urgence…Avec ça, les millions d’utilisateurs de Yelp ont plus d’information quand il sont au milieu des décisions les plus critiques de leurs vies.

Je suis super inspirée par ce qu’on peut faire prochainement avec la base de données et la communaute d’utilisateurs de Yelp.


Depuis 2 ans, j’organise le seul hackathon de Yelp basé dans la communauté, et c’est ici à Montréal. Cette année, à partir du mois d’avril, nous allons mettre en vedette les meilleures applications locales. Nous inviterons les projets montréalaises d’intégré le API Yelp et à partager leurs innovations en ligne. Le public votera et les favoris seront célébré au gala Yelp le 8 juin au musée McCord.


Donc, c’était ça mon annonce et voici ma dernière histoire à propos du monde numérique et de la ville. Comme plusieurs montréalais, j’ai vécu ici la majeure partie de ma vie sans avoir un médecin de famille. J’ai appelé d’innombrables endroits, mis mon nom sur plusieurs listes- en ligne, dans le système créé pour ca – et j’avais l’impression de crier dans le vide. Le sentiment de ne pas parvenir à prendre soin de soi-même peut vraiment nous rentrer dedans. Donc, j’ai fait ce que tout être raisonnable, presque Milléniaux, ferait, j’ai publié un appel à l’aide sur Facebook. J’ai reçu près d’une trentaine de commentaires inutiles, ainsi qu’un message très inattendu d’un gars que j’avais rencontré via Ok Cupid il y a genre 5 ans. Après 5 ans de silence, ce rendez-vous OkCupid m’a présenté à une jeune femme super cool, qui est devenue ma médecin de famille.

Je vous conte tout ça parce que j’aime bien rendre les choses personnelles et inconfortables. Non, je vous raconte cette experience parce qu’il m’a été essentiel dans mon travaille de me rappeler que la communauté est agnostique des platformes.


La vie et la connection en ligne est comme la vie en forêt, il trouve un chemin. Et si nous construisons des systèmes qui ne correspondent pas aux chemins naturels et diversifiés de la vie, alors la vie va tout simplement contourner les systèmes que nous avons bâti en les laissant vides.

Les gens se retrouveront: sur Ok Cupid, dans des groupes Facebook, dans les sous-sols d’églises. Les systèmes qu’on créeit reflètent le caractère de la culture qui les constitue: si nous construisons des systèmes d’une maniere ouverts et réactifs; axés sur les valeurs; visant à rompre l’isolement, à mettre fin à la pauvreté; des systèmes suffisamment flexibles pour écouter et s’adapter aux endroits où les gens sont réellement, à qui ils sont réellement; les endroits de rencontre entre la ville et la numérique vont etre vibrant et plein de vie.



Building Community With Bad Dinner Parties


Something I have come to accept about myself is that I am sort of a weird hostess. I’ve been known to have a pile of people over and then get them to help me figure out a meal, and even send them running out to grab things we’re missing. Like some sort of disorganized dinner party dictator. I like to invite lots of people, strange crossovers of people, people who have never met but who I think should be friends. For a  while I just invited women, and though I’ve come to think of these as power lady parties, it wasn’t really intentional. I just like seeing these particular kinds of connection happen: amazing women meeting in a non-competitive environment full of love and excitement. I like to introduce people by listing the things they do that I admire, and then leaving them all blushing and interested in each other. I like to have men over too, don’t get me wrong, and my favourite thing is when everyone coaches each other along to make something amazing that has no recipe, and then we all sit and eat together, and drink out of mismatched cups.

I started letting people help me clean up, and that changed my life for real. One of the hardest parts of hosting used to be that moment when everyone would leave and I would feel happy but drained and then I would look around at the hurricane disaster and wonder if it had been worth it. But I was the one who would say no to offers of help, and hustle people away from the dish piles when they tried. And one day instead of doing that I just… did the opposite. I let one person help and we did the dishes together. Quickly other people came into our orbit. They laughed and tidied and it all went quickly. And we had strangely intimate conversations, I think different kinds of conversations are allowed to happen when you are sharing in a mess and a project, and because you are allowing people to give back to you for the moment you have made, and they feel anchored by purpose, and it brings everyone closer.

Over time this makes a wide net of friends who have met each other, and made food together, and danced in the kitchen late night as we cleaned up together and confessed our secrets. Community happens in all kinds of ways and places but bad dinner parties are, in my disorganized dictator opinion, one of the best.