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Wanna hug?

Last week for the International Day of Peace I hit the streets with a few other huggers to give away Free Hugs. For those of you who don’t know about Free Hugs, watch the below video, it explains it all.
But how did I end up giving away Free Hugs for the International Day of Peace?
In surfing the pages of Facebook I came across an event for Free Hugs for World Peace, I checked to see if it was being done in Montreal and when I didn’t see anything I said to myself, “Why not?”
It seems I keep doing that these days!
I contacted Vincent Marx who had started this initiative through his site 1 True Spirit dedicated to revealing the 1 TRUE SPIRIT that exists in every one of us, in all life, and in all things and I was off to the races.
Actually, I was off to the art store to get poster paper and felt pens.
First I launched the event on Facebook, and then the night before (yes, I am one of those people that pulled all nighter before the exam), I enlisted the help of my friend Eric to make posters with me. Well he made the posters and I watched him.
Wednesday, September 21st 2011 was a beautiful day, not a cloud in the sky for the International Day of Peace. I packed up the car with my posters and my meditation pillow – I had organized a MedMob (Meditation FlashMob) from 12 to 12:30 and from 12:30 to 1 PM we would give away Free Hugs.
The location was in the centre of downtown Montreal (Phillips Square across from The Bay for any of you that know the city) and after negotiating with a band that was playing a little too loud for us to meditate, and finding a spot on the pavement between the kiosks and a photography exhibit that had popped up since I had first chosen the location, a group of twenty or so of us of sat in meditation.
After the meditation, I asked for anyone who wanted to join in for the Free Hugs. Anne, Marilyn and Karen were ready to give it a hug, and we hit the streets to offer a little free love to complete strangers during a busy lunchtime in Montreal.
I hope you can see from the video (thanks Carl and Joanne) we had a lot of fun. What you can’t see is what it feels like when someone you don’t know trusts you enough to let them take you in your arms and give them a real hug. What does it feel like? It just feels right. It feels like there is no fear, no hate, no anger, that we really are all brothers and sisters, from one family, and that there is one true spirit that exists in all of us.
We did this for the International Day of Peace, but I will tell you a secret, I kept the signs. You may just see me sometime standing on the corner giving out Free Hugs. If you see me, don’t be shy, come and get one, they are free, and I promise, they don’t hurt.
And by the way, you don’t need a sign to give a hug away. Why not give someone you know a hug today, you may be surprised at how good it feels.
For information on 1 TRUE SPIRIT, click here.

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Lest we forget

AIDS is a strange disease isn’t it? It descended on the world and took so many lives back in the eighties. Many of us watched as friends died a horrible and painful death. We did not stand by quietly. Some of us stood up and marched to fight for money for new drugs. Some of us stood up and fought to teach people about prevention and what could be done to stop the spread of AIDS. Some of us stood up to stop the discrimination that went with AIDS. And some of us stood up to help people living with AIDS. Ron Farha was one of those people. With the help of his family and those in the community he started the Farha Foundation to help people less fortunate than he was so that they could live out the end of their lives in as comfortable and humane a way as possible. He did whatever he could and did not stop until he had no choice and physically he could do no more. His short-term dream was to be able to help others; his long-term dream was of course to see the end of this horrible plague.

When Ron died, there were not the drugs and organizations to help people that there are today. AIDS was a death sentence. Period. It pushed people like Ron and his family, and many others to face things they did not want to face. It taught people about life as much as it taught people about death. It separated some families and it brought others closer together. Through the constant battles with governments, pharmaceutical companies, and with the help of the medical community, our society was able to change and grow to not only help the individual living with AIDS, but to build a structure and community of organizations that now deal with prevention and long term care. Ron’s dream to help has in many ways come true, but it does not mean we can stop the work that he started.

The war of AIDS is not over. If anything, the war is getting worse. Lest we forget is a phrase that comes from a war where hundreds of thousands died. Today we are fighting a different war, a war that has claimed over 20 million souls since 1981. Lest we forget why Ron started the Farha Foundation. Lest we forget that people are still becoming HIV+ every day. Lest we forget that this war is not over. If anything, the battlefield has only grown larger as the disease has spread across the world. Most important of all, lest we forget that we can make a difference.
Today, Sunday, September 18, 2011 is ÇA MARCHE, the AIDS walk in Montreal and it starts in a few hours in Parc Emlie-Gamelin. For any of you who knew Ron, I ask you to stop for a minute, just one minute at 10:30 when the walk starts and there is a moment of silence and remember him and all the others that have fought for this cause and for all those that have died from this disease. For any of you like me, who didn’t know Ron, take that same minute to be thankful for a man who has helped so many in our community, and again, remember those we have lost.

Then, let us all take another minute to take a step to do something in this fight against AIDS, for it is a fight that we have yet to win. Talk about this disease openly and honestly, protect yourselves always, and let Ron by your inspiration, as he has been mine, and do something to prevent this preventable disease. It is not too late to come and walk with us today.
For more information on the Foundation that Ron created or to make a donation, click here: Farha Foundation

Why me?

We did it Carl and I. We went out and took the photos for US versus THEM Friday morning for our group action in the INSIDE OUT Project.
We met for breakfast and stayed to have a few more cups of coffee so we didn’t have to leave. Didn’t have to start what we set out to do: take photos of the homeless.
But we did it. And it wasn’t photos of the homeless in the end. It was just photos of people. At least that was what we realized after we got going. We started with the owner of the diner where we had breakfast. She was ready to be part of this project. It made it easier. It let Carl figure out how he wanted to take the shots. And we got in the car and we headed out.

THERE’S ONE!

As we drove down Ste. Catherine street in Montreal we were on the look out for homeless people.
“He looks like one!”
“Where?”
“There – in front of the grocery store!”
We parked and got out. I carried the camera bag with the extra batteries and lenses. Something to hold, make me feel part of the experience. But I was the talker and I had to get my elevator speech down for what I was going to say.
By the time we got to the corner where I had seen the guy, he was gone. Carl took a few shots of me.
A girl walked by.
“Excuse me….we are taking photos for a project called INSIDE OUT. Have you heard of it? No? Well it was started by this guy in Paris and…..well, we are taking photos to show people that there is no difference between us and the homeless and I wondered if we could take your photo?”
“I am not homeless.”
“I know but….sure, sure….I understand. Thanks anyway.”

WHY NOT?

We get back in the car and kept going. We saw more homeless people and we parked.
I don’t have my words. I don’t understand what this is all about I realize. Not really. I thought I did, but I don’t.
We see a young guy sitting on the sidewalk with his dog.
“Hey bud, what’s up?” I say as I crouch down next to him and stick out my hand. My name is Simon, this is Carl.”
“Sebastien,” he says with a smile.
“We are taking photos of people for a project called INSIDE OUT. It was started by this guy in Paris name JR. We are going to take photos, send them off to them. They will blow them up into black and white photos that we can put up outside somewhere. They may end up on the net, in my blog, you cool with that? Can we take your photo? Just your face.”
We had the release forms in our bag.
“Sure man. Why not?”

RIGHT HERE RIGHT NOW

And so we started. We walked west on Ste. Catherine and we asked people to take their photos. I got my speech down.
“Hey bud, my name is Simon, this is Carl. We are taking photos, photos of all kinds of people here in Montreal between 9:30 and 12. The name of the project is INSIDE OUT, started in Paris by a guy named JR. We want to take a photo of your face, just your face. We will send all the photos to INSIDE OUT and they will send us back big posters that we will put up somewhere for a few days. We don’t know where yet. The idea behind this is that we are all the same. Our project is called US versus THEM, comment vois-tu le monde? How do you see the world? It’s all about our attitude. Can we take your photo?”
The responses were different and the same. The people living on the street said, “Sure, no problem. Cool idea. “ They heard what we were saying. They listened. They were right there with us. Present.
Those walking down the street were afraid, distrustful: “If I knew you maybe I would.”
Then we got lucky and a few people did say yes.
Half of the photos we took are of people that live on the street. Half are of people that don’t. If you notice, I am not writing “homeless” anymore. These people aren’t homeless; they are just people. Attitude matters for me too I learned.
We continued on. We were moved by what we saw in these people’s eyes and we were excited that we were doing what we had set out to do. We were touched by all those that said yes, we had to be.

PANIC IN EMILIE-GAMELIN PARK

Then we continued east to Emilie-Gamelin park and the world changed.
We parked the car and asked the first guy sitting on the steps of the bus station, “Hey bud….”
We looked into his eyes and the ‘no’ did not surprise us. The pain we saw only hurt us.
We crossed the street to the park and that excitement changed back to fear and then panic as we looked across the grass and saw groups of twos and threes with their sleeping bags. I took a deep breath and said, “Let’s go, let’s do it.”
We went up to the first two guys and I explained what we were doing. “I think I have seen you around,” Neuron said to me. That was his name he said: Neuron. I watched as he tried to tie a scarf around his wrist, his friend looking on to see what we were all about. “Can we take your photo?”
“Why me?”
I could only tell him the truth, “You were the first one in the park.”
Neuron was not in great shape. Neither was his friend. Neither were any of the people living in that park. Neuron didn’t say yes, he couldn’t have his photo out there like that. We kept going.
Carl and I walked around the park and we didn’t say too much to each other. We just walked and took it all in and we found it hard to breathe.
“I don’t think we can do this here,” I said.

INSIDE OUT

Why was this place different?
Was it because there were so many people all living here together? I think “hurting” together would be a better way of putting it.
We stopped in front of an old man and Carl started talking to him.
“How is your day going?”
I have to stop here. I had to stop there too. I had sat down next to Chamberland on the bench and reached out to shake his hand.
“Not too good,” he said.
We didn’t explain what we were doing at first, about the project, about INSIDE OUT. It didn’t matter. Not to him. At that point I don’t think either of us thought this project really mattered to anyone.
I said, “Can we take your photo?”
“Sure, no problem.”
Carl took his photo and I turned away and looked up at the sky. If you are ever in a situation where you are going to cry, raise your eyes up to the sky and it helps to stop the tears.
I went back and gave him a couple of bucks. He hadn’t asked for it. He thanked me and smiled. Not one of the people we took a photo of asked for money. Not once.
We continued to walk through the park. The air was gone in the park for us. We walked by a series of benches. Each one filled with groups of people. Some of them were talking, some of them were just sitting. The last guy lying there, asleep, was wet from pissing himself.
“I can’t do this anymore.”
“Me neither.”
We got back in the car.
We didn’t say much on the ride back.
We drove back to Carl’s office to download the photos and I could only say to myself, “Why me?”

For more information on the INSIDE OUT Project, click here.
If you would like to know when US versus THEM will be up in Montreal, please sign up for The Social Effect Newsletter: Sign up.

US versus THEM

This morning I am off to the streets with my friend Carl. We are off to take photos for INSIDE OUT. What is INSIDE OUT?
INSIDE OUT is a large-scale participatory art project that transforms messages of personal identity into pieces of artistic work. Upload a portrait. Receive a poster. Paste it for the world to see.
Watch this video and then you will get it. That’s what happened to me. That is why I am hitting the streets this morning. (The video is 24 minutes so find the time and take the time.)

It seems really simple to do this. You go to the site for INSIDE OUT, come up with a group name, a statement and a tag.
So here is ours:

Group name: US versus THEM
Statement: Comment vois-tu le monde? (How do you see the world?)
Tag: ATTITUDE

Our idea is to show that there is no difference between the homeless and the rest of us; only our circumstances are different and that inside of us we are all the same. It is really our attitude that makes the difference in how we look at the world and each other.

Cool right? It is not feeling so cool this morning. Carl and I are meeting for breakfast at 8:30 and then hitting the streets to ask people that live on the streets if we can take their photos. Then we are going to ask people like you if we can take yours. Then one day soon you will see your photo next to a homeless persons and people will hopefully ask……? Actually, what will people ask?

The idea was that in laying the photos up side by side we would not know who was living on the street and who wasn’t. Make us wonder who is the “US” and who is the “THEM”.
All I know is right now I am not looking forward to asking anybody to take their photo because I think I am the who is creating the division of “US” versus “THEM” by taking “THEIR” photo.
Let’s see what this morning teaches us.

For more information on INSIDE OUT, click here.
If you would like to participate and have your photo taken, please contact me at simon@thesocialeffect.ca. (You must live in Montreal to participate.)

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