Ever since CBC management locked its doors against my 5,500 colleagues and me across Canada five weeks ago, many, many things have broken my heart on a pretty near daily basis. In addition to walking the picket line, I've volunteered for other duties, most of them organizational, because I'm good at that, and it gives my brain something to do besides make grim forecasts about when I might be allowed to go back to work.
So, one of my responsibilities is to spend a few minutes each day compiling the list of that day's benefactors-people who donated money or food or services to us. And daily, doing this makes me almost cry. The woman who brought us apricots and peaches, "because you can't live on doughnuts," she said. The way the Donut Machine brings us a box or two of their great organic pastries every single day. The anonymous passers-by who give us 10 or 20 bucks toward our coffee fund. The generosity of strangers, strangers who would, were we on the air, be calling in to Maritime Noon, or entering contests to win DNTO t-shirts or making a song request on Weekend Mornings. This generosity slays me, every day.
The latest thing to make me almost cry was much, much bigger than a box of organic doughnuts. On Wednesday, musicians from the local branch of the Federation of Musicians gathered with their instruments at the CBC TV building on Bell Road. Playing "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" on banjo, saxophone, trombone, trumpet and a pile of snare drums, they marched down to the radio building on Sackville, and we marched with them. From there, we wound our way downtown, to the Grand Parade, for a wee lunchtime concert. The point? Those musicians—local musicians—are locked out of CBC for as long as the staff is. And more to the point—so are listeners.
I know these shows of solidarity are supposed to be the norm. But I was never much of a joiner before—kicked out of Girl Guides at the tender age of 11, a lapsed Catholic since not very long after that—and this kind of groupthink usually gives me the willies. But right now, it feels like community, the kind of community you're always searching for and hoping to create and facilitate when you're a radio producer.
And maybe I just think that because I can't go to work right now, because this particular community is rallying around me. Maybe it doesn't really exist beyond my solipsistic nose. But maybe it does.
There is a massive conversation happening online right now. The kind of conversation CBC radio producers can only dream of sparking—as good as we are as a radio service, what's happening online is even better. You've no doubt heard by now about the podcasts being created by locked out employees in cities across Canada. In Toronto, they're even producing a daily two-hour radio show, broadcast on CIUT, that features news, weather, sports and traffic, and it's hosted by Andy Barrie, who would otherwise be hosting Metro Morning from inside the broadcast centre. In Halifax, it's Soundtrack of Our (locked-out) Lives on CKDU, hosted by CBC radio reporter Laura Graham, and featuring locked out colleagues as guests every Tuesday afternoon.
And the blogs. Oh, the blogs. There are dozens, with a handful of new ones each week. Camera operators are posting picket line photo blogs. Some of my colleagues are taking a fantastically journalistic approach. One of my favourites, Robin Rowlands, is looking at the long-term implications of the lockout. Tod Maffin, who works with me at DNTO, is running perhaps the most comprehensive of the blogs, with news from both sides, a complete list of links, and even an email interview with probably the hottest of the bloggers: Ouimet. He or she claims to be a manager, blogging from inside the Toronto Broadcast Centre. Ouimet's entries are lively, well written and thought provoking. And then there are the comments. That's where the real community lives. So much of it is anonymous, so much of it could be lies or obfuscation. So much of it originates with people who hate the CBC and would like nothing more than to see this lockout kill it, slowly or quickly doesn't matter which.
But in the end, it's this kind of community I'm ultimately interested in, as a producer, and as a citizen. One that isn't homogenous, by any stretch of the imagination. One that takes ideas apart and puts them back together again, with ferocious curiosity. One that thrives on context, and longs for a larger conversation, a conversation with the whole country.
If what's happening online right now, right this second, is any indication of what CBC employees can do (and it is, of course it is), then management should quit harping on about flexibility and open the goddamn doors already. Because we're plenty flexible. And as for those of us locked out, we should take all of this passion and creativity back inside with us, where we should stop taking no for an answer.