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