Then they came for me

By now I shouldn’t have to tell you what Kony2012 is. And I may not even have to tell you that no sooner than that 30 minute promo documentary was released every political scientist and/or annoyed Facebook user had some sharp criticisms and were begging people to disengage from the movement.

I understand the criticisms. I really do. You may remember this blog in which I proposed similar ideas. I’ve read a lot of the criticisms like this from a fellow Canadian and this. And to them I say :

YES!  I couldn’t agree more.

YES!– Most NGOs or notable charitable organizations take a huge chunk of proceeds towards salaries and administration.

YES! – Foreign intervention is usually either linked to national security or economic interest, not purely humanitarian.

YES! – Playing the part of the white privileged westerner saving Africa is not only ineffective, it’s colonial and dangerous.

I agree with all of it. And despite this, I’m asking you to actually engage MORE with the movement. I’ll tell you why and unlike every other global politics blogger, I’ll give you some ideas HOW .

First, I think it’s important to note that Invisible Children is an ADVOCACY group. Their mandate is to spread awareness. There are many other wonderful advocacy groups (Amnesty international, Oxfam etc) but IC has embraced something that other organizations have fallen short on: Presenting causes in an accessible language with an accessible medium. Having an unpaid volunteer stand on a street corner trying to sign you up for donations during rush hour is outdated, and lets face it, a bit annoying.  By using social media and creating a documentary that went viral, Kony2012 has been viewed across age groups, borders, political interests etc. (my mum viewed the doc and rebuked my brothers critical status update before I even watched).

WHY we should embrace this movement: We have only recently tapped into an incredible medium for resistance and change: the internet. Call it ‘slacktivism’ but we have no idea how potentially powerful a role social media can play in bringing about change.

In the last year:

Twitter helped usher the Arab Spring – a revolution that started in Egypt and eventually dismantled their dictator. These revolutions spread to other Arab countries (Most notably Tunisia, Libya and Yemen) and fear that it would spread throughout Europe kept policy makers on their toes

Reddit started an online protest against the controversial SOPA/PIPA bills in the US which successfully halted their legislation.

Alternative news source Adbusters birthed the Occupy movement Ustream broadcasted it 24/7 and Don’t get me started on how many instances of police brutality and agent provacatuers were caught on Youtube during peaceful protests.

Now, none of these movements have been perfect, a lot of them had major flaws, and there are a lot of questionable strategies with Kony2012 too, but you can’t expect a baby to walk in it’s first days of life. We need to give it room, let it grow, let it stumble and maybe fall a bit. But that’s how we’re going to achieve.

A western dominated military mission usually ends up causing more harm than good. Grassroots movements lack resources and mobility. Theorizing is important but not without conduct; It’s time to get creative and forge new paths. And that’s what I hope we can MINDFULLY embrace.

So, you don’t agree with the movement, or you have concerns. Maybe I have not convinced you of anything. Great-  you should question and research everything. But don’t disengage engage MORE. How, you say? (I took political science in school so I could CRITIQUE not offer SOLUTIONS but here goes…)

The same  social media sites that made this movement go viral are the same social media sites you have equal access to.

So help shape it.

 1) Blog! or comment on blogs, air your concerns, have others weigh in, do others share your same concerns? send a group email to IC expressing this.
2) HASHTAG! disagree with the allocation of IC funds? #invisiblechildren80 military mission? #kony2012peace (I actually don’t hashtag…these are horrible examples but you get the idea, right?). Or read other critiquing hashtags and simply Retweet.

3) Tell yourself that being passive is not an option. Donate to a grassroots movement, volunteer some time advocating. Create an email template that you and your community can send to your MP. Don’t sit at your computer and repost a critical piece, which by the way are filled with their own rhetoric and false information.

I know it seems overwhelming. What can you actually do? We don’t know yet. But we do know there are power in numbers so let’s breathe some life into it.


It takes a village

I was walking to the gym after work yesterday and right outside there was a boy, maybe 10 years old, trying to sell what was obviously the surplus of his halloween candy to passers-by. I have a soft spot for kids, they could sell me anything. That boy could have been selling me 10 pounds that would instantly be added to my hips and I probably would still oblige.

Despite my intentions of burning off the surplus candy I had previously eaten,  I gave the kid a quarter and took a tiny box of smarties. Now, this kid caught me right after work and before eating dinner, which is that liminal time where I will tell anyone just what I’m thinking. I looked at this kid and said “You will undoubtedly be a very entrepreneurial and successful adult, but when you are, remember that you did not get there on your own.” He probably doesn’t know what entrepreneurial means, and probably considers me ‘the crazy lady’ rather than ‘the sage spirit guide” but what I said is true. I didn’t need the smarties, I just was getting behind this kid who was doing something that didn’t involve pokemon or video games.

Almost every rich or successful person I’ve had contact with always tells of how they had no help and did it all on their own. They have some ‘pulling up by the boot straps’ story that paints them as not only the hero, but the sole actor in their success story. Not only is this perspective untrue, it creates a feeling of entitlement to every excess thing you have and holds others to an impossible standard (impossible because, again, it’s a distorted lens with which to view your success). There are so many factors that got you where you are. They may be structural (gender, race, economic background) or they may be based on how much the community around you invested into you. And this is why community is a great thing to get involved in.

This isn’t just a finger pointing rant, in fact, this is more an expression of my gratitude. When I look back over the last decade I notice that by some amazing grace I have lived a life of provision and I recognize that even though I work hard, any success I have is covered in the fingerprints of the community of people around me. Just recently I got offered a new job. The amount of people who played a part in me achieving this far outweighs how well I typed up my resume or performed during my interview (now that I think about it, I also had help typing up my resume).

In the same way that we need to recognize what people and factors contribute to where we find our place in society, I’m urged to think about how I can further invest in the people in my community.

Is it too early for new years resolutions? for 2012 I resolve to give more freely and cheerfully of my time and finances so that others can experience the awesome provision of community.

One for the trash.

I love efficiency.  On my morning commute I never walk slow, stand stationary on escalators or take the scenic route; I love a straight and orderly queue. I get personal satisfaction when I can arrive at work in under a half hour and display an uncharacteristic rage when there is a transit delay or if someone takes the elevator up only one floor.

Doing things efficiently can save time, energy, money and is over all convenient. It’s the Western way. We judge the value of everything against how efficient it is in hopes of having the ideal well-oiled and cost effective machine. In fact, as I write this I read the last two paragraphs over and over to see if there is anything that I can cut so I can get to the point sooner.

Here it is:

I’m afraid we’ve made efficiency a false idol.

Efficiency reigns supreme over everything we do and some most times it shouldn’t. Like when it comes to personal relationships…and Government services.

I work in Government services so I’m aware of my bias, but I’m also aware that more often than not people are more concerned with how long it takes and how much red tape there is rather than whether they are receiving the most out of the services they are eligible for and pay for through taxes.

This week the Toronto City Council voted to outsource garbage collection. The company who won the bid promises to offer the service for  $11.2 million a year less than unionized city workers AND with 30 less trucks.

The city sings Handel’s Hallelujah chorus in perfect harmony.

It seems people (outside of my circle) unanimously think this is the best thing to happen to Toronto since they erected that giant tower tourists love. Not because through thoughtful consideration of facts and figures it was revealed that outsourcing would a) have any tangible cost savings to citizens b) be more convenient and reliable or c) make Toronto a better and more livable city.

This motion was passed as payback for a legal strike the city workers (including garbage collectors) had in 2009. The union didn’t have the support of the general public* and the general public was generally pissed off that they had to deal with their own garbage- that they created and up until then had magically whisked away each week- that they couldn’t wait to give the union a spanking.

So what now? Well, Mayor Rob Ford is RAVING about the outsourced garbage collection in the borough of Etobicoke. I was looking through some jobs with a client today and my jaw almost dropped when I saw this.

I would say for dealing with waste during all types of weather, garbage collectors deserve their wage, which probably allows them to own a home, take their family on vacation and enjoy a pretty status quo life. But $12 an hour? how is anyone to support life on that wage?

I also come from a town that recently privatized their garbage collection. There were no tangible tax savings to citizens. Not only that but the company started allowing only one bag free and charging $2 per bag of garbage after that. Probably a good sustainable idea but NOT the cost savings the citizenry were looking for.

Friends, I love efficiency, but the associated- albeit questionable- capital savings just does not outweigh the human cost. We WANT good paying jobs in this city! without them it is a race to the bottom to see how much everyone’s wages can deflate.

*One of the main issues was the right to bank sick days. Very few people considered the fact that banking sick days was a concession for having a salary freeze for over 10 years, very few people also considered the fact that the length of the strike was caused just as much by management refusing to follow through on negotiations as it was the unions.

Layton’s Grandchildren

This article has been circulating around the internet lately and it’s really all I’ve been thinking about while trying to absorb the news that Jack Layton has died.

For those who skipped clicking the hyperlink, or would just like a brief synopsis, the author describes the rioting youth in London as the legacy of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Thatcher is best known for the idiom “There is no such thing as Society” as well as absolving most government services that helped provide for the most disadvantaged and adopted policies that destroyed the regulation of labour, causing a race to the bottom for wages across most sectors.  It was a decade of tearing down and building dividing walls. And the eventual outcome? “The rioters are Thatcher’s grandchildren”.

We’ve seen a lot of tearing down lately in our own political landscape; A return to Thatcher-era politics in Canada, in Ontario and in Toronto.  It’s easy to criticize the politics of anger and of tearing down because we know it doesn’t work (and just makes things worse). It’s enough to disappoint a romantic to the point of blogging almost exclusively about it (I’m holding up a mirror).

So, why has this article been on my mind upon hearing the sad news? Well, in part to avoid crying in public, but mostly it’s because Jack Layton helped usher in a movement with the complete opposite message. Society, and most of all community, is everything. There was a running joke in Toronto that where a community of 2 or more are gathered, Jack Layton is there. I don’t want to over-eulogize him, but his optimism and his advocacy for community and working people was so evident in his public and personal life (which were separated by a blurred line), he fought for the little guy (and we are all ‘the little guy’), he promoted good ideas instead of just criticizing bad ones and he didn’t play upon fear or populism to get votes. He was about building something better and finding new ways for us to take care of each other better, because in the end isn’t that all that matters? And he did so not with blind idealism or naivete but with the understanding that tearing down and criticizing won’t create a great country. (He also has a political science degree…which helps)

Layton’s legacy is an important one, and it’s a legacy that whiney lefties like myself sometimes fail to catch onto completely. Let’s face it, we’re really good at opposition but we kinda suck at proposition, Layton showed that these should not be mutually exclusive.  We (I) need to focus on bringing people out of the fringe, out of their mythical anger and into a community that has the common goal of making things better for everyone. It’s not utopian, it’s basic ecology.

If the grandchildren of Thatcher are rioting, what will the grandchildren of Layton be doing?

“My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful, and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.” – Jack Layton, 1950-2011

Londons burning and I live by the river.

In true fashion to my blogs lets start with a disclaimer:

Through a lot of learning this year, I’ve made a conscious decision to embrace pacifism.  Note that pacifism does not mean being PASSIVE, but actively living IN the tension and creating peace in violent situations. It’s not a hippy cop-out, it’s a dangerous, vulnerable and frightening way of life, but something I try and live out when possible.

That being said, embracing pacifism has made me learn a whole lot more about violence.  Most notably, that I am able to be a pacifist because I’m in a position of power (however meagre) that I can choose to reject the use of violence.

There are a lot of people in a similar position, although they may not know it. They tend to disagree with violence, unless it’s JUSTIFIED (ie. sold to them in a palatable way- war on terror, or not overtly physical such as economic, social and cultural violence) To these people acts of violence, especially in a riot- type setting, is viewed as hooliganism and infantile. I was probably one of those people too. But I’m learning, and what I’m learning is this: we need to take a few steps back.

Rich white soccer player Wayne rooney's recent tweet

I’ve been following the protests-turned-riots in Tottenham, England these last few days.  Unlike other riots I’ve seen lately, there hasn’t actually been any specific policy or issue being protested. But this doesn’t make it any less important. Tottenham is a disenfranchised part of London and that’s important to remember. Watching all the BBC images and anti-rioting sentiments I thought of a quote from civil rights activist, James Forman

“If we can’t sit at the table [of democracy], let’s knock the fucking legs off!”

Violence is reactionary; it is cause and effect.  The stats in this article are hard to digest but may help point to the trigger: In these boroughs the unemployment rate is twice the national average, combine that with the recent austerity measures in a country where the richest 10% are 100 times better off than those that live in these boroughs, and an already fixed resentment towards the police and you can start to see why and how desperation turns into anger; turns into dissent; turns into violence.

Does desperation justify violence? I don’t think I’m in a position to say, However, when we start seeing this TYPE of violence for what it actually is: counter-violence against a state structure that pushes people to desperation, I think we can begin to understand and shift our sympathies towards those who are the actual victims. At the very least we shouldn’t act so surprised; When you take candy from one kid and give it to another kid that you consistently favour with lots of candy, expect some kicking and screaming.

I’m not prepared to condone the use of violence in protests because it’s broad in spectrum from those who target specific institutions to those who just go a’ lootin’. However, when we see these riots, and we will see many, many more, our frustrations should be towards the things that exclude people to the POINT of violence. We should be criticizing those who create situations that push people to the fringe and we should be advocating for these people-maybe not their violence, or looting, or what have you- but we should be actively living in that tension and finding ways to promote the basic needs of people (ourselves included).  If not, we can’t act so shocked when the legs of the table are kicked out from under us.

Get better soon, England.

…well…we’ll see.

ideology of spite

So, you consider yourself a ‘fiscal conservative’ EH?

Ok, to be clear — you believe that we should not be spending money we don’t have, which means finding wasteful things to cut and paying off debt with the end goal of a balanced budget.

Those are great personal principles. That’s actually how I plan my own finances and  also believe that living below my means is a great way to live (though not necessarily a great way to govern. More on that another time).

Some  people think that the best way to balance a  budget is to find more revenue ie.  investing. And that’s the (grossly simplified) difference between the left and right ideology (very, terribly absolutely simplified, but for the purpose of this post)

I currently live in a  liberal city lead by a (supposedly) Conservative mayor. But I’m not seeing conservatism, or even policy based on conservative ideology.Everything that comes out of a city council meeting seems to be tabled out of spite towards certain groups of people READ: most groups of people, or as a way of acting contrary to the former ‘pinko’ mayor.

Last week the Mayor voted to remove bike lanes on an artery road, voted against accepting 2 public health nurses for community outreach paid by the province and was the sole vote against grant funding for multitude of community groups  such as those that help to alleviate HIV/AIDs.

This stuff aint gravy, this is the beans and rice of our city. So, why the backlash?

There’s a deep seated myth of reverse victimization  in this city which, despite being  untrue, is a great campaign tactic to run with. If you can convince people that there is such a thing as reverse- racism, reverse-sexism, or more tangibly in the city of T.O: a war on the car; a war on the tax payer or a war on the average joe, then you can narrow and channel that anger into a protest vote allowing you 4 years of finding and eliminating the ‘gravy train’ READ: eliminating anything you want including 53K city jobs, city infrastructure and community groups.

In one of the world’s most multicultural cities, with a growing population of new immigrants looking to transfer their skills, increasing homelessness and lack of affordable housing, Toronto’s victims are car driving suburban folk  and Mayor Ford is ready to proclaim their rage from the tops of the mountains through irrational voting during council meetings and unexamined policies. Focus has shifted from city building to pandering the self entitlement of the few who live outside the city limits.

Don’t get me wrong. Anger can be a powerful and useful tool in mobilizing the disenfranchised, but if your biggest fit of rage is about how bike lanes will make you 4 minutes late for your family dinner, (as per the stats) you cannot count yourself among the suffering.

White people problems

In Ford’s Toronto no one wins and that’s because he doesn’t choose to see how interdependent we all are. We rely on city workers for services. As we realized a few years ago during the garbage strike and as we realize every winter during those huge down falls of snow- we are not prepared to deal with our own mess. We rely on good paying stable jobs to pay into the tax base (revenue!) and so people will have enough money to buy what ever silly thing you’re selling on Etsy instead of going to Walmart. We rely on people riding bikes so that we can breathe, and that there is less gridlock for those who have to drive.

I could go on and on.  The point is, yes, saving money is good; wasting money is bad, however you can never be too sure how the spending (or cutting the spending) will effect you and your community; some ‘waste’ is investment. There will always be some who take advantage of the system- hear me- ALWAYS! but there are a lot more people who benefit from city spending and give back in return.

By constantly and mindlessly cutting spending, instead of trying to generate more revenue, what will this city look like in 4  years? Well, one thing we can be sure of: There will be a lot less graffiti.

On Earth as it is in Heaven

Not an angle I normally take on my blog; I really hate discussing religion, mostly because I have a fear of being ‘caricatured’ and misunderstood. I also truly believe faith is an inside-out process and something to be displayed first and then discussed… with hot beverages and in person. Blogs or the internetz in general are not fruitful forums.

I can’t stop thinking about the people who have quit their jobs and given their life savings to help preach the messages that May 21st is Judgment Day. More than half of me wants to mock, but you know when you mock a family member than an outsider joins in and you all of a sudden feel defensive or sympathetic?

I kinda feel that way right now because I’ve experienced having to reassess everything I once believed to be true because of bad teaching. Continually. It’s a painful process. It’s like being cut to the root and forced to regrow. Have you? Taking ownership of all the stupid things you thought, or worst of all PROCLAIMED is humiliating but finding out it was UNTRUE is heartbreaking.

Based upon all the science and theology I know READ: knew, had to unknow, then relearn, and keep learning. there will be some people who are completely destroyed tomorrow if, in fact, they are not raptured up. Not Mr. Camping, he can simply PR his way out, blame it on a wrong calculation, come up with a new date, but the people who truly long to be redeemed to heaven, whether they be devout followers or those who long to escape their situations, whatever they may be, will be forced into the same position where they will be cut at the root. Some may give up all together, some may reassess and move along. Either way there is going to be a lot of hurt, anger and confusion (humiliation, heart break etc).

So, what do we do? How do we respond to this multitude of people who believed a lie? Okay, yes my first thought was to mock them to their senses too. Serves them right, they probably deserve a bit of shame, right? but I’ve been giving it a bit more thought and let me tell you, it’s hard to be empathetic let alone SYMPATHETIC to people you initially think are stupid.

I’ve watched a number of advertisements for May 21st and the thought that keeps resonating is “we are not meeting the needs of people”. I mean, it’s one thing to long for heaven and redemption, don’t we all kinda want to be in a place where we are at perfect peace and no suffering? I really do. However there are some (maybe most, maybe all) SO DESPERATE that they would sell everything and follow the first person who tells them it’s all going to be over soon based on….math? (Again, I sympathize. As a professional ‘math failure’ you could list numbers and patterns and I’d nod all throughout as if I wasn’t actually thinking about what I was going to eat for dinner.)

Call it ‘dumb as sheep’ or call it ‘the opiate of the masses’ (or, opiated sheep) I hope When Sunday May 22nd/2011 rolls around they remember where they kept their donation receipt and hopefully we can be a bit understanding of their heartbreak.