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

This post is brought to you by the letter G and by the number 20 (why I will be protesting)

I have a confession to make: I am a protester. Not a well seasoned one, but I sometimes go to protests… and I protest.  According to most media outlets and mainstream opinion I am practically a terrorist, or at least an unemployed ingrate.

I understand the confusion.  Protesting is often looked at as an activity for the fringe, or according to a lot of hecklers “for the unemployed complainers who want to cause violence.”  I don’t really fit into any of those categories (perhaps ‘complainer’), nor do most of the protesters I see and meet (professors, journalists, factory workers, lawyers, artists, students etc) so I thought I’d try and clear the air. I hope this can be a starting point for people to understand why protesting is important, which requires one to think outside of their own fixed perceptions and measure from a different angle.  While protests are often portrayed as unruly and archaic meetings of destructive people,   I often compare organized protests to concerts: You may have the crazy aggressive people in the mosh pit but everyone behind that line is just there to participate peacefully.

We live in a liberal democracy, which means government is accountable to citizens and we need to make sure that they are working in the interest of citizens. When they are not, we are to speak up. This is what it means to be politically active; democracies don’t run on autopilot. To further enjoy the rights and freedoms we have, we must be constantly mindful of when we think those rights and freedoms are being compromised and by whom.  Unfortunately, we’ve been duped into thinking we only need to do this once every 4 years at election time. Protests are a great tool to let politicians know the needs of people and how they are falling short meeting those needs, as well as raise awareness for causes that the general public are disconnected from.

There seems to be a mainstream discourse that protests are violent, useless, archaic and irrelevant. If this is your opinion, then I’m singing this song to you, so hear me out.

Protests work.

Do the leaders of the summit swing open the windows and relent to the crowds? Nyet. But protests bring awareness to real issues and reveal information to the mainstream, which in turn sways public opinion and eventually brings change. Environmental issues, fair trade, gender equality and civil rights, to name a few, were all results of some “crazy fringe groups” protesting.  As a woman, I enjoy so many liberties that I wouldn’t have if  women before my time didn’t risk their reputations, and sometimes their lives, to protest their unequal treatment; I’m forever grateful that they did.

Obviously, not everyone wants protests to work.  Fair trade is bad for business, Environmental issues limit natural resource exploitation and gender and civil rights derail conventional power relations. Profit (most commonly referred to as ‘economic stability) is then considered more important than the people who actually create it.  It just so happens that the people who are effected by these issues coming to light, are the very people running our governments and economies (or the people/ corporations that fund them).  They rely on the failing (failed?) system we have in order please financial supporters, share holders etc. AKA: not you or I.

So how do you keep citizens from addressing their actual needs? you scare the crap outta them then tell them ‘everything is ok!”  Everyday the newspaper introduces a new weapon that will be used against the crowds, or the threats made by niche groups.  They play on the PERCEIVED threat of violence in order to contain dissenting citizens.  This is dangerous. When a threat is created based on not even a possibility but a perceived possibility, “preventive security” actually translates into “pre emptive agression to maintain security.”  Once everyone is good and scared you convince them that the protesters are crazy.  We somehow think that as long as nothing gets in the way of our lifesyle, everything is ok but we fail to recognize that our very lifestyles and the policies upheld by the G2o leaders can create and perpetuate the poverty of  others.  Since those ‘others’ just happen to be the people who grow our food, make our clothes and take the jobs we won’t do, it’s actually in EVERYONE’S interest if we recognize the interdependence and see that  they are healthy, educated and treated/paid fairly.

Anyone who knows me or has read my blogs can probably get an idea of why I’m protesting (you can also ask me if you don’t) but In short, I want to stand behind the dignity of the poor and oppressed by being their voice when another group denies them their dignity and renders them voiceless.  Not so I can boast in it and get a gold star of achievement, and not just when it’s safe and mainstream.  I’ve been granted the resources and the liberties to make their situations known and hold those in power accountable. To me, that translates as a responsibility and a duty to do so; Many others feel the same way.

So I encourage you to step back from the hype and recognize what protests actually are and the progress that has come from them. Ya, some protesters are violent and aggressive, but perhaps try and understand the reason behind her actions, learn more, get involved and NEVER  EVER give into fear that is impressed upon you. Question everything, look at every angle and follow the money trail.

I really encourage anyone to attend a protest, even just to dispel the condensed image of protests that are shown in the newspaper or on TV.  I hope to blog about the whole experience after this weekend (hopefully not from jail…but maybe, apparently someone just got arrested for putting up a flyer at the university of toronto…crazy)

I’ll leave you with this quote

please let me know your thoughts!

They came first for the Communists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Catholics,
and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant.
Then they came for me,
and by that time no one was left to speak up.

— Martin Niemöller (lutheran pastor and  nazi concentration camp survivor)