Problems and Purpose
Meet Me at the Bell Tower (MM@BT) is a community initiated started by the group Aboriginal Youth Opportunities based in Winnipeg, focusing on “bringing people together at the neighbourhood bell tower to demand an end to violence”. The initiative began in 2011 following high levels of crime and violence in Winnipeg, especially among young people.
Background History and Context
At the centre of MM@BT’s formation was the stabbing to death of a 15 year old boy, Clark Stevenson who was attacked in the North End. Meeting every week at the Bell Tower, the group aims to make the North End, a place known for high levels of crime and violence, “a better and safer place to live”.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
MM@BT is a grassroots initiative started and run by the founder of AYO! (Aboriginal Youth Opportunities), Michael Redhead Champagne. MM@BT is held each week and while it is primarily led by members of AYO!, participation is open to all. The event is entirely self-funded since AYO! is less an organization than a grassroots movement with no physical 'headquarters', no paid staff and no board of directors.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
MM@BT is a participatory initiative based in the North End of Winnipeg, which is primarily an Aboriginal community. It is designed to build confidence and solidarity among community members to address crime and rejuvenate positive race relations across Winnipeg. It aims to create a voluntary alternative to violence and provide examples and opportunities to participate in building a stronger, more peaceful, community.
Methods and Tools Used
MM@BT employs peaceful protest to advance the anti-violence movement in Winnipeg’s North End. The aim is to organize a rally in which local individuals have a platform to voice their thoughts and concerns in a public forum to their community at large. The role of children and youth are emphasized in an effort to limit the reach of intergenerational violence in both the North End as well as among Indigenous peoples.
The movement also offers a platform on their website upon which other groups can build participatory events to call attention to particular problems faced in other communities.
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
AYO has documented and made public the steps taken to turn each MM@BT even into a successful community building intiative. The first step is to identify an issue (for example, intergenerational violence) by bringing together a group of allies with deep understandings of the problem at hand. This group then writes a vision statement which they share with the wider community. Following this, the core group selects a meeting place that is sufficiently accessible (transportation-wise), is public and visible, and is safe for children. Ensuring the safety of the meeting place may include appointing child minders or having individuals act as lookouts. Finally, the organizers seek outside support for the meeting. The group reaches out to local businesses and community groups to engage in the rally through advertising or attendance. They cast a wide net and advocate inviting anyone who might want to help through creating posters, spreading the word through social media, cooking, performing etc.
By making their experience public, the group hopes to educate others on conducting similar rallies to that of MM@BT. According to the group, steps include the set-up, welcome and introduction, a speaker's corner, the "RING THE BELL!" moment, constructing a plan for individuals to take action in their own capacity after the rally and planning the next gathering. The instructions emphasize the importance of creating a positive and optimistic environment in which everyone is invited to share their thoughts and experiences.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
MM@BT has gained a wide following in Winnipeg. On Facebook 77,752 are “talking about this”, and nearly 3,000 people like the page. The Winnipeg Police Service have also been supportive of the gatherings. Times Magazine also included Michael Champaign in their series of “Next Generation Leaders”.
Aboriginal Youth Opportunities (AYO) was created by Champagne as an "anti-gang". Its website provides a platform for similar movements to engage Aboriginal youth including a section on local politics, child welfare and ways to get involved. In a section called “Bell Tower 101” they provide resources for others create their own community building events. The "Safety Plan" section details a community code of conduct as well as suggestions for future initiatives. Champagne is involved in kickstarting a similar meeting in the south end of the city.
MM@BT has also used its following to create awareness about other issues that impact Aboriginal people. Recently they have included members from Justice for the Peace Caravan and 1JustCity in the rallys. Champaign has also used his voice to speak out on issues like that of the media’s response to the fires in Shamattawa First Nation by partnering with Media Indigena podcast series.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
MM@BT aims to foster hope. This weekly gathering has been partially successful in reframing the conversation around violence in terms of success instead of failure. It has also given Aboriginal youth a voice, and a meaningful alternative to the violent lifestyles that permeate the north end.