New digital project highlights Canadian social movements

Elisa Birnbaum spoke to former prime minister Paul Martin about marriage equality.
Elisa Birnbaum spoke to former prime minister Paul Martin about marriage equality

SEE Change Magazine editor Elisa Birnbaum said she hopes the multimedia project she produced, which explores Canadian history through the lens of 10 20th-century social change movements, will help Canadians have a better understanding of where they come from and where they’re heading.

The Canadian History of Social Change encompasses an e-book, digital stories, and video interviews about 10 social movements including aboriginal rights, multiculturalism and immigration, suffrage, the environmental movement, marriage equality, social entrepreneurship – or aligning economic activities with social values – and health care.

Birnbaum explained that when she learned last year that Heritage Canada, a government organization that awards grants to publications, was looking for historical content, she saw an opportunity to do something big.

“It was perfect because I was already sort of delving into the whole concept of social change and social movements and how they’ve impacted Canada and how it impacts who we are today. I was already looking into that stuff so when they put up this call for historical-based projects, I thought, well that’s perfect,” Birnbaum said.

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Among those featured in the multimedia project is former prime minister Paul Martin, with whom Birnbaum explored the issue of marriage equality, as well as former Chief of Tsawwassen First Nation Kim Baird who has worked to help Canada’s Aboriginal communities move towards empowerment and self-governance.

“We looked at the evolution of the social movement and how it adapted and changed things,” she said.

She said they chose to focus on social movements from the 20th century onward because “if we looked at social movements prior to that we’d be drowning” in material.

“That is the reason we only focused on 10 social movements. There could have been 20… narrowing it down to 10 was difficult… As we moved forward, we realized that there was so much more we could be doing. If we get more funding, I could see it developing into something bigger. And in terms of that interactive element, educational element, I see that it could evolve,” Birnbaum added.

“I still feel like it’s a work in progress… the videos and digital stories and podcasts are all sitting on their own on a micro site called a”

She said for each chapter, or each movement featured in the book, there are two digital stories.

“At the end there is a link that takes you back to the main website, where you can see video interviews, podcasts, and things like that.”

Birnbaum said that the project, in addition to the ongoing work she does as editor of SEE Change Magazine, is very much in line with the Jewish concept of tikkun olam.

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“I think the whole concept of tikkun olam is important… especially with one of the movements featured about multiculturalism and immigration. I just think it is so timely,” she said.

“I think it is important that we understand our environment, and the social movement is a big part of who we are and where we come from. By extension it is a big part of understanding where we want to go next, and the challenges we face. I think Jews have a particular understanding of that. As a community, we know how important it is to remember where we come from, especially as we struggle and look to where we want to go next.”

The e-book is available for sale here, with proceeds going to support Lifeline Syria.