Below the Radar Transcript

Episode 199 | Live Recording: VoTS Podcast at Horizons

Speakers: Kathy Feng, Paige Smith, Julia Aoki, Yvonne Mark

[theme music]

Kathy Feng  0:06 
Hello listeners. I'm Kathy Fang and you're listening to a special live event recording on Below the Radar. Below the Radar is a knowledge democracy podcast recorded on the territories of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh peoples. Please enjoy this special conversation between our teammate, Paige Smith, and Megaphone Magazine's Julia Aoki and Yvonne Mark, as they discuss the creation of the Voices of the Street podcast, which was featured on Below the Radar the previous year. This is a recording from the presentation at SFU's Community Engaged Research Initiative's academic conference, Horizons: Crisis and Social Transformation in Community-Engaged Research, which was recorded live and in person on May 28th of 2022. Julia, Yvonne, and Paige discuss the goals of the podcasting project, the power of auditory community storytelling, and how podcasting can be an accessible form of knowledge sharing. I hope you enjoy the episode.

[theme music fades]

Paige Smith  1:14 
Thanks everyone for joining us. First off, the reason for this lovely apparatus is that we're going to be talking about a podcast project we did. So this is hopefully going to be a special episode for our podcast. So it's a live recording. Thanks all for being here. I thought today, I would just start off by giving a land acknowledgement. So we've talked about land acknowledgments probably throughout the whole conference. But I just wanted to say that today we're all meeting on the unceded territory of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh peoples, and that it's really important that we like, think about that. And I think it's something that was thought about a lot throughout this project.

Paige Smith  1:53 
So yeah, we're going to talk about the project we did called the Voices of the Street podcast. And I'm going to introduce the project first, if that's okay, and then I'll tell you about us if that makes sense. So today, I'm going to be doing the presentation with my lovely colleagues, Julia Aoki, and Yvonne Mark. And that was, we were all collaborators on this podcast project. And it was a collaboration between Megaphone, which both of these lovely folks are from and then SFU's Vancity Office of Community Engagement, which is where I'm from. So yeah, the podcast project was a six episode podcast series, which featured interviews from writers here in the Downtown Eastside. And they were all writers with Megaphone Magazine, which we'll learn about more later. And the project was, well it involved a mentorship of audio storytelling with people from Megaphone Magazine, and then publishing the episodes themselves. So just to kind of, I think the best way to kind of understand what the project is, is to just show you a clip from it. So I'm just gonna play a trailer we made, and Yvonne's voice in it, and, and a few of the other participants and it explains the podcast and then we'll get into it.

[Transition music]

Paige Smith  3:16 
Launching February 15th. A special podcast series, titled Voices of the Street, will be premiering on Below the Radar. This six part series is curated and hosted by Megaphone Magazine storytellers and features writers from their 2021 Voices of the Street Anthology. Tune in to hear from these talented storytellers as the series moves through immersive soundscapes, poetics and creative prose, alongside critical conversations about poverty, incarceration, indigeneity, and connections to home, land, and relations. Keep listening right now to hear clips from these upcoming episodes.

[Transition music]

Jules Chapman  3:51 
How many times
have I put pen to paper,
to make note of something,
only to come back to it later?

How many times have I wanted to write something,
but the words wouldn't come,
or my mind is blank,
and I feel really dumb?

Then there are times
when I can't write fast enough,
my thoughts racing through my head.
Trying to organize my thoughts is tough.

[Transition music]

Eva Takakanew  4:28 
What is reconciliation, right? Can they really reconcile with us?

Nicolas Crier  4:31
Exactly. Do you want the truth part of it in the reconciliation process? They didn’t even mention anything about the mass graves yet. They're like, now it's getting uncovered. And they're like, oh, yeah, that, right.

Eva Takakanew  4:41 
Truth and nothing but the truth needs to be told. 

Nicolas Crier  4:44

Eva Takakanew  4:44 
That's the first step to reconciliation. Will they ever tell the truth?

[Transition music]

Yvonne Mark  4:46 
Like I said earlier, this is my first time ever podcasting. So it's all new to me. I was very intrigued by your story when I read it. I was emotional. I was angry and mixed emotions about the injustice of our people. I didn't do much time, but the way I've been treated, I could relate to, you know, lock them up and throw away the key attitude that the judicial system has. Most of us, or a lot of us.

[Transition music]

Nicolas Crier  5:21 
Through all these years of wandering aimlessly,
Often not even caring if I ever catch
Whatever it is I so madly pursue,
So blindly,
Stumbling clumsily and confidently
Across endlessly lonesome alley nights
Of rain and rage, desperate, disgraced
Oblivious as to how obviously close I clamour
To my own tragically predictable,
yet preventable, demise,


I can at last, in absolute honesty, accept
That i choose to stay, simply,
because I refuse to accept that
Staying and struggling and suffering,
Somehow still standing in solidarity
sharing Love
is not, in fact,
what I am
supposed to do

[Transition music]

Angel Gates  6:10 
I have no idea what else to say.

Eva Takakanew  6:12 
I know, me neither.

Angel Gates  6:12 
I'm trying to use my radio voice here.

Eva Takakanew  6:14 
Here we go. Excellent. Alright, signing off.

[Transition music]

Paige Smith  6:17 
So, yeah, that's, that's the sample of what we created, just so you get a bit of what the whole project was about and everything. So now, I'm going to tell you just who we are. So you get a sense. And then the format of this little presentation is, I'm going to stop talking. And we're going to hear all from these lovely folks. So just to quickly state I'm Paige Smith. And like I said, I'm here at SFU's Vancity Office of Community Engagement. Our team supports creative engagement, knowledge democracy, and access to arts and culture through public programming, community partnerships, and community engaged research. And as part of that, we produce a weekly podcast called Below the Radar, which supports those key tenets of knowledge democracy, by amplifying the ideas and the voices that go unheard. So we do a lot of like interview-based podcasts. So I was really happy and proud to support this new model of collaboration for us. We've been partners, supported and been community partners with Megaphone for like 10 years, our office, but this was like a brand new way of collaborating with Megaphone, so it was really exciting for us at least.

Paige Smith  7:31 
So like I said, Yvonne Mark and Julia Aoki are here. So I'll just give you a quick intro to them. Yvonne Mark is a poet, storyteller, and a Megaphone vendor who was originally born in Haida Gwaii. Her outspoken advocacy for residents of the Downtown Eastside has had her involved in numerous community initiatives. She volunteers at the local Carnegie Community Center just down the road, and is a member of the Megaphone Speaker's Bureau, which we will, I'm sure, talk about more. And that the Bureau works to end stigma around substance use, and she's also participated in Megaphone's Community Journalism 101 Writing Workshop. So last summer, she was one of the participants that helped make these podcast episodes. So Yvonne has her own episode that she curated and hosted and like it was all what Yvonne wanted the episode to be. And she chose to have a conversation with one of the writers about anti-Indigenous discrimination and injustice within the Canadian court system.

Paige Smith  8:32 
And then Julia is from Megaphone as well. She is an administrator, writer, researcher, educator, and advocate, and she currently works as the Executive Director for Megaphone Magazine. She's also served previously as the General Manager and the Programming Director at the Powell Street Festival, the General Manager of VIVO Media Arts Center and has volunteered with advocacy groups and organizations, such as the Downtown Eastside SRO Collaborative. Her writing on cultural expressions and community formations that are overlooked and underserved by commercial and political mechanisms and practices can be found TOPIA, Space and Culture and a collection by Lexington Books.

Paige Smith  9:15 
So yeah, okay, so now to get to the meat of the whole thing. So, yeah, I really am happy that Julia and Yvonne could join today. And I thought it would be best if we could just talk about what Megaphone does. So Megaphone was the community partner and like the start of this whole project. So Julia, could you just tell us a little bit more about Megaphone and what the core mission is?

Julia Aoki  9:38 
Yes, absolutely. So it's probably mostly a Vancouver audience here. So some of you are probably familiar, but Megaphone Magazine is a street paper that began in 2008. We publish the magazine, of course, as well as a number of other publications. So this is our current issue. I can just pass it around. It's a small group. We also do a literary edition, Voices of the Street. Much of the writing comes through workshops that we run. We do special workshops, out of 312 Main where we're located as well as at Onsite, the detox center. And then we produced Hope and Shadows, a calendar that comes out of a community photo contest as well. And a few years ago, we also started the Speaker's Bureau, which, as you said, is a program to support people with lived experience, lived and living experience, of substance use, to deliver workshops largely to service providers and policymakers in order to sort of better understand how internalized stigma shows up. And we're hoping in some way to address that within our institution.

Julia Aoki  10:51 
So this is actually a model that perates all over the world, various publications. The best known is probably the Big Issue, which can be found in the UK, Australia. I think there's a number in Germany, which tends to be a little bit more commercial in its content. The way Megaphone has operated, we try to do work within the magazine that is addressing topics that relate to the sort of structural causes of poverty, and homelessness. I don't know if I actually said this. But so the core of the program is, as training people with lived experience of poverty to sell the magazine. I may have said that. So the content also addresses that, but alongside that, which is generally done by journalism students, young journalists, we also do publish content from the community. And recently, I'd say over the last maybe three years, what we've been thinking about is how we deepen the work that we do around storytelling with the community. And that has largely happened through a mentorship model. So for example, we did an illustration project, there's a publication that's being passed around, Yvonne was part of that. We have a community journalism mentorship, which it looks like it's now a permanent part of our programming. And that's yeah, really exciting with Langara. So every year, we get to send two folks from the community to do a Foundations of Journalism course. And then, you know, mentor other storytellers to start doing work on assignments for the magazine and also pitch their stories. And then this podcasting project was also a recent mentorship that we've done.

Paige Smith  12:35 
Yeah, it was the first time we've done something like this, right?

Julia Aoki  12:39 

Paige Smith  12:39 
Yeah. And I think a really key part of Megaphone is that storytelling component. So it's a huge part, right?

Julia Aoki  12:49 
Storytelling, yes. Storytelling is core to what we do. I picked this up from somewhere. This is not -  probably the previous executive director said, and I've just been repeating it, but I do think it was said in the last presentation that storytelling, art can sort of operate at a different level on the body. I think it can be truly transformative. So yeah, once you start to understand a person, their experiences, it really starts to strip away those kinds of internalized prejudices.

Paige Smith  13:23 
Yeah, and I think that's a great transition. I wanted to ask Yvonne about storytelling as well. So I know, we were talking about this earlier, that you've done a lot of projects with Megaphone. So I thought it was important to ask, like why do you think storytelling is so important?

Yvonne Mark  13:39 
Well, I definitely feel that our stories need to be told, to understand where we're coming from whether, for myself, I'm a recovering addict, and I abandoned my children due to drug addiction. My son Wayne died in 1988. And you know, people say they look at you, you're just a screwed up mother, how could you do that to your kids, but they don't know my story.

Paige Smith  14:12 

Yvonne Mark  14:13 
They don't know my story. And I'm not trying to give myself a pat on the back or anything, but I just thank God, I lived to tell, I lived to tell my story and, and I so needed to do it. And I had seven children and you kind of want that for my kids to understand also where I'm coming from.

Paige Smith  14:39 
That makes sense.

Yvonne Mark  14:39 
And I think storytelling, listening to other people too, to listen and share. I go to AA and we share our experience, strength and hope and there's times I'm always thinking, oh, that person that said, talked about this, you know, got it. You know, I wish I could memorize it word for word. So when you share your experience, it's that, someone talked about shame earlier. That's what I lived. I was so full of shame that it almost killed me. So to be blunt.

Paige Smith  14:39 
So the storytelling ...

Yvonne Mark  14:42 

Paige Smith  14:42 
Allows to ...

Yvonne Mark  15:16 
Very healing to me.

Paige Smith  15:18 
Right. That makes sense.

Julia Aoki  15:21 
Did you want to share your poem?

Paige Smith  15:23 
Yeah. Did you still want to do it?

Julia Aoki  15:25 
No pressure at all.

Yvonne Mark  15:27 
Okay. To be honest, I was part of this group. And I told him I said, I'm so much better on … visuals. So here's, so we did this. Where there's an artist that came in. And so I went and read my poem, usually people are looking at the magazine, I was part of it. I was so proud. One poem, and here I am in, I've been writing forever. It was AA that gave me the courage to read my poems. And they, I was just, I was in a meeting down in Port Moody, where I was part of a whole group, then scribbling a poem as usual and this guy came up and asked me, what are you doing Yvonne? Oh, just writing. And what are you writing? Just poetry. And he got me to read it. He wanted to read it? I said no, but I'll read it to you. And then he was crying. He has tears in his eyes. And he said, please, will you read it at the meeting. I said, no, no way, man. And he goes, please, Yvonne, it will help a lot of people. I didn't. I was so scared. I could feel my legs turn to rubber going up to the podium. And I could see people out there crying. And I've always been a writer, ever since I can remember, since I can remember. And I'm a self taught writer too. So, I'm gonna stand up. No, I can read it, I mean, I've memorized. It's called “A Letter to Myself”. And this is me in the in the alley of where I used to use I, my living room was behind the region hotel I was I was. Anyways, I'll just read my poem. It's called, “A Letter to Myself”.

Yvonne Mark  17:24 
I used to roam the alleys with only one thing on my mind
To stay in oblivion as the world was far from kind
I rarely passed a mirror to really see myself
As the reflection was too ugly & self-loathing TOPPED the shelf
If I had a place to live, it was empty and so bleak
And where my heart really was seemed too vast to seek
I longed for my children and hated the Bitch that I became
Lord help me help me please I suffer so much shame

Shame kept me in midst of a road that led to HELL
But today it’s oh so different, and I have a miracle inside this shell
The shell that I once wore — with an armour extra thick
That’s slowly unravelling although we want it quick

The quick fix doesn’t work & patience is a must
Let go & let God; surrender, then try to trust
Trust in yourself as you’re a new creation today
And be diligent with your gratitude & DON’T forget to pray

All my relations.


Yvonne Mark  18:59 
I don't know why I was crying.

Paige Smith  19:00 
Thank you. Thank you so much for reading that. Yeah. And this was a quote that you, we actually got interviewed by the CBC to talk about this. And Yvonne talked to them. And this was one of the quotes you said, Yvonne. It's only part of the quote, but you said, if one person can learn from this story, I'll tell it a million times. And like, that's the work you're doing Yvonne. It's really beautiful work.

Yvonne Mark  19:25 
Thank you.

Paige Smith  19:26 
Yeah. Thank you. Well, I wanted to ask Julia a little bit more. If you could talk about the podcast project. And if you could just talk about where the idea originally came from. Like what inspired, you know, you do all this storytelling and print and all this other work, where did audio come in? Why did the podcast make sense?

Julia Aoki  19:48 
I think it came from moments like that, where you're working with storytellers, these incredible, beautiful storytellers, and you get to hear them read work in person, sometimes in the hub, just down the road, folks will come in, hand over a poem, read it out loud. We get to hear that. We also do this Voices of the Street publication. I’m passing around the latest edition. And we actually have an event coming up. This is the first time we're doing it this year since COVID. But yeah, every year, we would hold this event and it's quite well attended. And clearly there's, you know, an interest in hearing people tell their stories. And again, I think it's just the way that it operates on the listener in a different way, to hear all of the textures of vocalization, is quite different, to hear the emotion. And, also, just like, I mean, the poetry is partly the rhythm, right. Like the way that you just read that was so stunning. So all of that can be conveyed in an audio format. And then of course, there's all the practical matters of putting something together like this. So we received funding from arts funders.

Julia Aoki  21:03 
I think it was actually serendipitous. I can't really remember, but maybe I even got an email from you, Paige, just asking about a partnership like, how can we, or Am, can we partner in a different way or something? Something happened, and it was like, oh, well, we've been thinking about this project. And it just worked out perfectly, because we do not in any way have the skills, the technical know how, the capacity to do any of this, it was just this idea. We're going to do a podcast, that must be possible? Like we must be able to pull that off. And it's so you approached us, we got the money. We partnered with Helena Krobath, who I worked with previously at the VIVO Media Arts Center. She's done podcasting mentorships in the past, and she put together the initial mentorship where it was designed through a number of workshops, she would bring in different artists podcasters to teach on, vocalizations, storytelling, editing, script writing, and all the while supporting the individual storytellers to develop their podcast. And then thankfully, with the partnership at SFU, it was, like, once that was done, it was handing over the material. Still, of course, with this kind of feedback loop of going back to the storytellers because there's something that happens in the work of editing, a lot of the storytelling comes through editing, to get their feedback on the podcast as well.

Paige Smith  22:29 
One thing, one tidbit I loved, so we really wanted the podcast to be created by the people making the, so Yvonne's episode is Yvonne's episode, you're not just the voice, it's your idea and everything. So you were saying earlier, you feel very uncomfortable with computers. So Helena did this wonderful thing where we took the transcript of the conversation Yvonne had with her guests, and then they took a marker and they were scratching, not that part, no, no, and then cutting the paper and moving it. So like, you know, even the editing, you were still there. We were just executing it, you know. That was the idea at least. But yeah, I think, maybe others, I thought this might be a question people would be interested in. Because a lot of us are, you know, not everyone at the conference, but a lot of us are working with or in universities. So I thought it'd be interesting, Julia, if you could just talk about what it is like working in partnership with a university? And I'm sure it can be really annoying with all the bureaucracy in some ways. So like, I just wondered, like, what makes a community/university partnership work? And then if there's things that hold it back at the same time?

Julia Aoki  23:43 
Yeah, definitely. It's a challenge. It's a challenge that we know ourselves as well, because we're a nonprofit, or charity. We have all of these external pressures on how we operate, that ultimately, I think the other presenters will know as well, like those institutional practices are so ingrained, and often are at odds with the work that we're trying to do. So, that's a huge challenge. An institution like SFU is a big institution with very fixed practices. And that can be quite hard. I will say like, just in general, yeah, we've been approached by a number of institutions, it happens all the time. And one of the biggest challenges is really understanding how much we need to slow down the work, that we can't be focused on hitting grant report deadlines or whatever. The funders need to be really flexible, and understand also, that the process really takes priority over the output, right. Like really focusing on supportive processes. We had one partnership recently where, you know, really tried to emphasize that, how, like, you know, we need to.

Julia Aoki  25:06 
Folks that we work with, you know, they're going through a lot in their day-to-day, right. And it seems like this is such a wonderful opportunity, like, you know, of course everything is going to work out, but like, there's stuff, real life happening every single day. And it means that, you know, sometimes a person can't show up, right? It means that we might need to delay the work slightly, it might mean that, you know, the way they felt when they first started the project shifts in the process. And it's very easy conceptually to understand that at the outset. But as it's happening, sometimes you're like re-educating your partners. And I'm not just saying this, because you're in the room, but it's been a really wonderful, long partnership with SFU. Where I think that's understood, I think it's implicitly understood that there's institutional limitations at SFU. You know, we want to pay as often as possible in cash, and we need to pay upfront. And there's just sort of an understanding, I think, around some of those administrative things.

Paige Smith  26:15 
Yeah. And I just, I'm aware of time. So I want to ask you, Yvonne, another question. Yvonne, in your episode, you spoke with Dennis Gates, who was an author with Megaphone as well. And you both talked about anti-Indigenous discrimination and injustice within the court systems. So I wanted to ask, why did you choose to chat with Dennis in the first place? And why was that topic important? Like, why did you think that was the episode you wanted to make?

Yvonne Mark  26:41 
Well, like I said, earlier, I didn't really do time. I didn't really know much about, from experience anyway, jails. But I could see I know what happens with our people, I know what happens, I see it and it really pisses me off. I look at it, and I just think how, you know, for what Dennis got, he got 10 years when the white guy with a longer record than him got two years less a day. And then he was screwed around too, promised all this stuff about halfway house, all these promises. He said it was worse, going to the halfway house than it was in jail. And I see it all the time. And it's not just the jail for you know, for crime. It's for the kids in care, too. That's mainly what. The kids in care, we're screwed, blued, and tattooed. We got a status number, then that's all they want. They don't give a damn. I worked fisheries, I worked …, regardless, no matter what, and we get the short end of the stick. And there are court appointed lawyers who treat us like we're dumb all the time. It's you know, like, you know, you sign this and you'll get your ...

Paige Smith  28:08 
Yeah, and if you get a chance, I really suggest you listen to the episode. I should have put a thing on where you find them. But I'll tell you at the end, but you're an amazing interviewer and listener as well. Like, you and Dennis have a really touching conversation. Yeah, I think we're almost out of time, right? Should, can I have one more question? Or should we have audience questions? What do you…

Staff  28:32 
It's up to you. We have five minutes.

Paige Smith  28:35 
What do you folks prefer? Do you want a question from me? Or from the audience? Does anyone have a pressing question?

Audience Member  28:45 
Why podcast and not video? Just personally, like I'm a regular listener. So you know, but I know a lot of my students talk about video. So why podcasts and not video or is that different?

Paige Smith  28:59 
Part of it is just that, I think podcasting takes a little bit less capacity than video. Like I was a film student and it just takes, you need more resources, more people to do it well. With podcasting you can do it well with less money, less people, I think is part of it.

Julia Aoki  29:18 
That's a big part of it. There's also just the, again, entering into something that we haven't done before and learning the layers of consent around different storytelling forms. Yeah, video would be a more complicated thing, I think.

Yvonne Mark  29:33 
I did want to say something. Megaphone, if it wasn't for Megaphone, I wouldn't be here writing. Period. It gave me the self-esteem, the courage to come in and write and all I did was go in and start to write. I thought I'd get to know my neighbors and next thing you know, I'm invited to this and I'm invited to that and I have very low self esteem. So, you know, because I’ve been rejected all my life. I'm almost 67 and I was 65 when I got my own website. I had become computer illiterate, I just went out and got it. And I just got someone to come in and to continue on. You know, and I really feel that to just even have a voice in what we want to put out there, you know, as a writer, as a storyteller, you know, and, Melanie Marks, my daughter. I look at that alone, you know, seven of my children, one died, they're all separated in foster care and everything and we've got a story to tell now. It's and I'm clean and sober. And if one person can get clean and sober from that, that's the way I see it. You know, cuz that was me out there on the street. People out there, no, that was me, 16 years ago.

Paige Smith  31:06 
Yeah. And then I think we're gonna have to wrap up, but just oh, yeah, please.

Audience Member  31:10 
Taking into consideration the technical challenges and that sort of thing. And particularly the environment, such as we are right now with the pandemic, and limits on gathering, how did you overcome those challenges of having to have people in the same room together to do the work?

Julia Aoki  31:26 
We actually delayed the project. I can't remember for how long, but for quite a while, and we did have a number of contingency plans. So yeah. Anyone who's operating a nonprofit will understand all the contingency plans you had to have for the last couple of years. And, yeah, it was a lot of work for sure. But I think we did manage to do it in a fairly, like, the provincial health orders were the bare minimum always. Sort of, what is the comfort level of the entire group and …

Paige Smith  32:00 
and it was a small group, too. It was just for …

Audience Member  32:05 
Singles and doubles.

Paige Smith  32:06 
Yeah, basically. Yeah. And it was summer last year. So it was a time when things were a little less bad because it was summer, I think was part of it too. But yeah, I just wanted to say thank you all for listening and thank you for speaking with us and I just wanted to say one more, and Yvonne is selling Megaphone too so if you if you want, now that you know what Megaphone is, Yvonne, you know, has copies.

Yvonne Mark  32:36 
That's the one I was published in.

Paige Smith  32:37 
Yeah. Thank you. You did great. Thank you.

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Kathy Feng  32:51 
Below the Radar is a knowledge democracy podcast created by SFU's Vancity Office of Community Engagement. Thanks for listening to this special episode documenting the conference presentation from SFU's Community Engaged Research Initiative, Horizons. To learn more about Megaphone Magazine and the Voices of the Street Series, head to the show notes below. Thanks again for listening and we'll catch you next time on Below the Radar.

[theme music fades]

Transcript auto-generated by and edited by the Below the Radar team.
January 17, 2023

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