Thoughts from a 23 year old campaign manager on the Toronto election

After a day of reflection (while taking down dozens of election signs) I have some thoughts to share about election we just had in Toronto. I’d like to start with linking to Morgan Baskin’s recent blog post “So What’s Next?” which I read last night after getting home from the election night party that my candidate of choice, Raymond Desilets had thrown for his supporters and volunteers. I was exhausted, and much of what I have read and done in the past week (especially after this past weekend of non-stop canvassing) has barely registered in my memory, yet I cannot stop thinking about Baskin’s post.

For those who don’t know, in a nutshell Baskin ran for mayor and gained some recognition (first in the mainstream media seemingly as a novelty, then in the view of a lot of people as a totally impressive and fantastic candidate). Morgan Baskin is awesome. I wish I had the courage when I was 18 (or 19) to do what she has done. I barely had the courage to do what I did this election. I have a LOT of feelings about this election, and to be quite honest I’m struggling to write this post so it’s both coherent and concise, so I’m going to try to focus in on my thoughts about it on the main theme I kept thinking of during. That is, my age.

I’m 23. In relation to Baskin my age seems (or just feels) to be so much older. I’ve been through university, where I grew up tremendously (I attribute this however more to the specific moment in time I went to a specific university however, not by virtue of going to university in general) and thinking about what is different for me now than when I was 18 is staggering. However, I’m just four years older than Baskin, which I know is nothing. I relate to her quite a bit, I was always the baby of the group wherever I went when I was her age, albeit I was working at Greenpeace not running for mayor. While I feel that my 18 self and 23 self are totally different, I know that four years isn’t really that big of a deal, which is evidenced by my friendships with workers and individuals in some cases decades older than me. Yet no matter how different I feel about myself in this four year period, I know that one thing hasn’t changed.

I’m still a young person. When I met with Ray Desilets I told him I would run and organize his canvass operations (I have a LOT of canvassing experience) and simply due to the fact I am unemployed I poured my free time into his campaign, and ended up taking on the title of “Campaign Manager”. This transition felt totally natural for Ray and I, it was just a title to reflect what I was doing. What that title also means is a new line for my CV now too, which is a constant obsession for me to gain credibility as an employable person. This past year I worked as a canvasser/pollcat for two other political campaigns (Jonah Schein’s re-election campaign in Davenport and Joe Cressy’s by-election campaign in Trinity-Spadina). To be perfectly blunt, I did it because I was unemployed and despite not ever wanting to knock on doors again (lots of experience as a fundraiser), I realized that if I both wanted work and wanted to create positive change, this was my immediate destiny. As I return now to hopefully short time of being both unemployed and mostly unoccupied I relate heavily to Baskin when she felt the need to point out she needs to get a job, something too many older folk keep forgetting our generation is finding to be extremely hard.

It was during my time at the Joe Cressy campaign I became incredibly disappointed that no good candidates have emerged in my ward, Ward 5, to run for council. We had no incumbent and with the provincial NDP doubling their vote share in the recent election I thought someone like me (a progressive) could win. On my last evening volunteering for the Cressy campaign multiple NDP workers who I look up to told me I need to continue doing political work, I was ecstatic. However despite this, I ultimately chickened out and hoped that a “real candidate” (read: someone who was a “real” adult) would emerge. This turned out to be Ray Desilets, and quite frankly his platform is far better than anything I would have come up with, I was excited that there was a serious local campaign I could focus my time and energy on. I have the utmost respect for Ray and I know he does for me as well, it was a fantastic working relationship.

During my time working for Ray I was assumed to be his son a few dozen times (despite the fact I would often mention “Ray has a son a year or two younger than me” when talking about him) or it was assumed I was a family friend. I was, and still am OK with these assumptions. It was a local campaign, and Ray’s son was out canvassing with us after all. What I’m not OK with is how sheepishly I would introduce myself as Ray’s campaign manager in turn. I was never afraid to send emails, using the veil of internet anonymity, with my title attached however. When I would tell people my title, the most common response was to gush about my age and to ask me a wave of personal questions (what I went to school for, what I want to do with my life, do I live with my parents still, etc). I was frustrated with and still am is that my age instantly became a novelty. The number of baby boomers who felt the need to tell me they’re so happy to “finally see a young person getting involved” was infuriating, especially when this was coming from someone much older than me who wasn’t even sure if we voted for city councillors before I knocked on their door. Yet, because of how I perceive myself as a young person I would be shy and anxious about this instead of feeling pride.

Last night however, after feeling pretty bummed not just at the results of the mayoral election and the council election in Ward 5, but at the results of all the other races I had invested so much hope into (namely Idil Burale in Ward 1, Andray Domise in Ward 2, Russ Ford in Ward 6 and Alejandra Bravo in Ward 17) I read Morgan Baskin’s blog post. It was at this point for the first time I think I truly felt pride all election, not just in myself, but for Baskin and all the other young people I know who worked their asses off in some way or another over these past ten months. It’s awesome, and we need to keep it up.

Leftist Martyrdom Syndrome

Last night I watched the movie Bidder 70 a film about Tim DeChristopher an American environmentalist who essentially placed fake bids during an auction of public lands to both bring attention to the auction and to prevent oil companies from owning and destroying the land. (I wont go into the details of his actions or case, the movie and the Wikipedia link I just gave does that fine) While the arrest and incarceration of DeChristopher was certainly unjust I kept getting distracted by the actions of other environmental activists in the movie, namely the ones suffering from Leftist Martyrdom Syndrome.

The movie paints a portrait of a young man who is so dedicated to the environmentalist movement he is willing to go to jail for it (which he ultimately does). Countless references are made to Martin Luther King Jr, Ghandi, and in general their and other non-violent protest movements that have happened in America and world wide. What is so heart breaking about the DeChristopher case, and the cases of other environmentalist and animal rights activists (see the SHAC 7 for another specific example) is that the US government will consistently make an example of individuals as to discourage others from committing similar actions…despite what public opinion is on the subject. So while DeChristopher was sent to jail for 2 years (he was possibly going for 10) the movie shows dozens of of his supporters and associates protesting and ultimately getting arrested.

I want to talk about these other arrested individuals, because the movie seemingly equates what DeChristopher did (and he alludes to this directly as well) with those of the protesters who got arrested for blocking traffic after his hearing. Of course what we all know is that they are not equal. Progressive issues of the past that lead to arrests of protesters were political, people of color were arrested for being a place they were not allowed and Vietnam protesters were arrested for burning their draft cards. The point of getting arrested for a protest is to point out that the very fact you are getting arrested for what you did is wrong.

When you are getting arrested for blocking traffic you are not helping, you’re suffering from Leftist Martyrdom Syndrome. Leftist Martyrdom Syndrome is what happens when a leftist (usually young and white) participates in a protest, or does something within a protest, with the explicit purpose of getting arrested. All leftists know this behavior, and while we may not all wish to admit it, we’ve all been overcome with it at least at one point in our lives (whether we followed through or not does not matter). Ingrained in our cultural memory is the idea that being arrested for protesting somehow equates to the ultimate good that a leftist can achieve. This however is not the reality we live in, as I stated above, being arrested as a result of your protest only has meaning when an outside viewpoint can look at your protest and agree you were in the right. One of the countless famous examples of this is Rosa Parks, a black woman who was arrested for sitting at the front of a bus and not giving up her seat to a white person. Parks’ actions have had such a historical resonance because the fact that she got arrested for her actions strikes us as a horrible injustice that is beyond the ridiculous (imagine if a white person asked a black person to move to the back of a bus today!).

Yet, when you have a group of environmentalist protesters take to the streets and sit down in front of automobile and streetcar traffic and refusing to move (as there is in one scene of Bidder 70) there is no possible conclusion to that action other than them being removed and probably arrested by police. Making signs and taking to the streets is certainly vital to most political and social movements in global history, but doing so with the explicit end goal of being arrested does not actually accomplish anything. The reason why the DeChristopher case is so compelling not because he got arrested, but because he did something awesome and righteous (and then got arrested for it). Until the Left understands that being arrested purely for doing something that will inevitably lead to arrest that has no other direct consequence we’re going to continue floundering, especially on issues of environmentalism and climate change.

 

[NOTE: The term and concept of “Lefist Martyrdom Syndrome” does not actually originate with me but rather a friend of mine, Albert Gaudio. I have used the term and expanded on it here without speaking to him first. I have used the term before (primarily describing the actions of many young protesters during the student movement in Quebec of 2012 which I participated in) and have tried to always not take credit for such a disturbingly apt term and description of a problem many of us on the Left suffer from more often than we ought to.]

The Canadian right’s racism and speciesism

stanley-harper-canada-first-cat-600x430This past Thursday Laureen Harper, the wife of Canada’s prime-minister Stephen Harper, hosted “Just for Cats: Internet Cat Video Festival”. The event was, as one can surmise from the name, a viewing of internet cat videos that was held to raise money for homeless cats. The event was overshadowed by Toronto’s mayor Rob Ford hosting his official re-election campaign launch event and if it were not for the work of a single activist the cat video festival would have faded from the collective memory of Canada very quickly.

Before I continue, I have to make it clear that the issue of homeless cats is indeed important. Basically anywhere there are cats in the world there is overpopulation, which in turn leads to the suffering of the cute little furry animals and the killing of millions of birds by what is essentially an invasive species. As I’ve talked about in previous blog posts it’s important for humans to rectify problems involving animals that are our fault, and we can solve this problem by spaying and neutering our cats, as well as stop breeding and selling them for profit. Especially when there are cats euthanized every day at shelters because no one will adopt them.

Now, with the above said, Laureen Harper’s event just seems odd. It’s well known that the Harper’s love kitties. Stephen Harper, a cold robot-like man who’s public appearance is of stone and, rumor has it, in private is actually paranoid and manipulative has benefited somewhat from the various pictures of him cuddling cats. What’s odd however is that at the same time of hosting an event for homeless cats, the Harper government has outright refused to put any efforts into investigating (let alone stopping) the hundreds of missing or murdered indigenous women across Canada. There’s not much need to go into the details of how Harper’s (and basically the entirety of Canada’s right) have completely terrible positions and track records when it comes to even acknowledging the issues that Canada’s indigenous peoples have been put through. If you are reading this and for whatever reason are unaware of Canada’s track record with the indigenous peoples then just Google “Idle No More”.

To put it quite bluntly, Stephen Harper and the rest of the Canadian right (and, unfortunately, some of the middle and left) do not care about the consistent and terrible injustice all indigenous peoples are subjected to in Canada…yet they care about cats. I find it extremely odd that someone can so consistently be challenged on their ridiculous terrible position towards a group of other humans and refuse to give ground, yet will put efforts into protecting another species. The only possible logical explanation for this is an extreme form of racism. When Laureen Harper was confronted about this by an activist during her event she responded with “That’s a great cause (missing or murdered indigenous women), but that’s for another night. Tonight we’re here for homeless cats.” I’m not much of a gambler, but I’m willing to bet pretty much anything that Laureen Harper will never host an event to benefit missing or murdered indigenous women.

All of this comes in the middle of two significant animal abuse stories coming out, the first being the abuse of baby chickens by Maple Leaf Foods employees including the boiling of chicks alive. The second being the deplorable conditions calves being raised for veal are put through, and the abuse they suffer. Related to this is the delays and opposition Harper’s government has taken to the proposed Bill C-232 that essentially would ensure animal abusers are sent to jail.

So for those keeping track, for the Harper’s and the rest of Canada’s right it goes: cats > indigenous peoples/all non-cat animals (it’s hard to determine if indigenous peoples are valued more than non-cat animals). While cats are certainly awesome, this hierarchy isn’t. It’s hypocritical and extremely racist and speciesist. The hierarchy isn’t arbitrary however as some would think, those who are valued are ones it’s easy to value. It’s just as convenient to ignore the abuse that happens to farmed animals while cuddling cats as it is to ignore the oppression of indigenous peoples.

The Millennials as the New New Left

I recently read Peter Beinart’s piece on The Daily Beast about the rise of the new new left in America and how Millennials (pretty much anyone under 30 at this point) are significantly more liberal than the rest of the country. It’s a long, well researched and cited as well as eye opening piece about my generation that I really recommend to anyone who A) Is a Millennial and is perhaps feeling a bit pessimistic or B) Not a millennial and thinks we’ll all grow out of it.

Beinart doesn’t touch on something major however that, at least for myself and others I know, that is a driving force in pushing me to the left; environmentalism. While he certainly references polls in which young people say they think corporations have too much control over their lives, he doesn’t mention that in virtually all polls (or at least all polls on the subject I can find) Millennials are significantly more likely to support or agree with environmentalist sentiments. This ranges from US Millennials more likely believing in climate change, as well as it being man made/influenced. Millennials more likely to support renewable energy research and implementation. The list goes on.

Many have stated that despite Millennials having strong feelings of environmentalism, they don’t do anything about it. This is skewed as Beinart points out, Millennials are in a recession right now and are probably trying to find work. Volunteers spend their time at organizations when they can, and I’m not convinced that Millennials have as much free time on their hands (or free money) as many would like to assume.

This apparent lack of activism can also be explained in a fundamental way which would support Beinart’s article, that being any real change of impact that has to be made in terms of protecting or benefiting the environment needs to arise from government. I worked with a fellow Millennial who described himself as a libertarian in all aspects, except that government is required to regulate business and protect the environment. My generation is not only more likely to think that environmentalism is good, but we also know from a lifetime of experience and observation (think of how many environmental disasters have happened since the early 1980s identified by the corporation responsible) that corporations are the biggest exploiters and biggest risk to the environment, and the only solution that seems viable is government intervention and regulation.

Of course, I’m not trying to claim that environmentalism has been the driving force of the “new new left” but it certainly has helped.

The Importance of Parks

via: http://tr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taksim_Gezi_Park

As anti-government protests continue in Turkey people all around the world are beginning to see that the people of Turkey are not just protesting the demolition of a city park, but rather protesting the government itself. The demolition and rebuilding of a commercial mall in the spot where Gezi Park now stands is, so to speak, the straw that broke the camels back for the Turkish protesters. As news agencies around the world so obviously point out, this isn’t just about a park.

Why can’t it be? I don’t want to attempt to even pretend that I have any extended knowledge of politics and history of Turkey that even makes me remotely qualified to comment on the protests – but I do think I am qualified to point out the importance of municipal parks. I’ve recently been staying with my partner and her father in an apartment that is a short walk away from Toronto’s High Park. Wandering through the park almost daily now, and drawing on research I have done of municipal parks in the past I have been thinking more and more on how important public natural spaces are to cities.

The practical reasons are numerous and varied. From examples such as Central Park being highly valued for cooling down New York City, as well as almost countless environmentalist reasons for having parks anywhere. Yet the social and political reasons are less general. While Central Park’s head designer, Frederick Law Olmsted had a certain vision of what his park would become, he was vocally opposed to what it became in reality. That is a public space for people of all classes and ethnicity’s to come together and use the park in various ways. While I would have to agree with Olmsted that children ought not to be allowed to trample around and pull out handfuls of plants as they please, his Victorian styled recreation intentions depart greatly from the reasons why I and most others enjoy public municipal parks.

Public parks are not only a space where one escapes from the hustle and bustle of city life, but as well from the socio-economic hierarchy that pervades it. While it is true that someone can drive into the park with their expensive sports car to find a parking spot, they are met with the reality that driving just isn’t fun at the twenty kilometers per hour speed limit that is enforced within High Park for example. It is also evident to anyone who has been to a municipal park on a sunny Saturday afternoon that driving, let alone trying to park, is nearly impossible which leads to most visitors to the park relying on public transportation no matter whether they have a car or not.

This lack of any social hierarchy is extended upon, especially among families. Weekend wear at the park is nearly uniform in its practicality, as well as its quality. Only a fool going to the park with their children would wear one of their “good shirts”, lest they wish to ruin it with ice cream, grass stains and who knows what else can happen in an afternoon in the sun. The philosophical value of public parks aside from the lack of social hierarchy can be best defended by looking at Martha Nussbaum’s defense of “Other Species” and “Play” being central capabilities within her capabilities approach to human development. Due to this I will not attempt to elaborate why public parks are important in this respect.

To return to Gezi Park in Turkey however, we have to see what the intention of turning a public park into a commercial retail space entails. To support such an action would be to devalue all the activities and events that happen in parks, it would also support the elimination of space where socio-economic hierarchy lacks power. I believe it obvious why a mall, opposed to a park, is highly dependent on as well as reproductive of further social divide as well as consumerism.

Within democratic elections all candidates should be asked what their opinion of public parks is. What Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has shown is that he does not value what parks are and do. It is because of this action alone that it is clear to me that the protesters in Turkey are just and the world ought to stand in solidarity with them. For anyone to devalue municipal parks so much that they would go so far as to remove them from the world are truly committing a wrong.

Sorry, You’re Not Really Progressive

I’m a Torontonian, born and raised (and now permanently living) so I took some interest in reading Mitchell Anderson’s piece that was essentially an anti-amalgamation piece about the city of Toronto. In a nutshell it argued that the massive central power that is now the City of Toronto is not only harmful to Toronto (in the purest, downtown sense) financially, but also politically. Those damn suburban conservatives keep mucking everything up! What the piece doesn’t blatantly say, but still is obvious is the doctrine of isolationism.

Over the past several years I’ve had my fair share of conversations with fellow leftists on the subject of what the source of the problem is with society, and a common opinion that pops up is that the problem is those damn reactionaryconservativereligiousrightwingbackwardscooks who are constantly fighting good positive progress, or even worse, reversing and making things more terrible for everyone but themselves. Then all too commonly my fellow leftist will propose decentralizing power, starting a commune, or in extreme cases giving up and becoming a libertarian.

Admittedly, I’ve had dreams of moving to some faraway socialist Scandinavian paradise. It could also be argued that my internet browsing habits are intellectual isolationism (or “filter bubbles”) but I don’t think I’ll move to Finland anytime soon, nor am I anywhere close to even considering internet communities hold the same importance as real life societies.

What the real life tendency towards isolationism reveals one of two things; A) giving up or B) the person speaking it is not really progressive. We all have obligations to one another, and isolating yourself from others and disavowing any responsibility to even interact with those who generally disagree with you (heck, let’s just even call them wrong) is completely missing the point of what progressive ideology is all about. Let’s return to the Toronto problem; you can disassociate yourself from all the idiots surrounding you…but your still surrounded by idiots. The belief that the terrible decision making that happens on the other side of some border, or on the other side of the world, does not effect you negatively is the exact belief that supposedly died out when liberalism won the West. Say what you will about liberalism, but let’s face it: the tragedy of the commons isn’t the non-preferential outcome it’s that we are all thrust into the commons whether we like it or not. Don’t even get me started on future generations, the moment you start condemning areas of the world as none of your concern, you are turning your back on children that could benefit from progressive policies being placed now.

Every time a fellow leftist of some kind advocates isolationism a part of me dies inside. The moment you start thinking “Well at least [insert group I belong to] will benefit!” and you disregard the consequences for other groups you are not being progressive, you’re being a reactionary asshole.

It’s not the problems, it’s the solutions that are the problem

This post is a response to Jonathan Haidt’s  TED Talk “How common threats can make common (political) ground” which can be found at http://www.ted.com/talks/jonathan_haidt_how_common_threats_can_make_common_political_ground.html

I’ve had a major problem with this guy since I first saw one of his TED Talks a while back. Without addressing the inherent problem with seeing centrists as some sort of divine onlookers who are the saviors of our civilization, simply looking at his four “asteroids” it goes: 1st one the left can see and the right can’t (environment), 2nd one the left can’t see and the right can (debt), 3rd one the left can see and the right can’t (inequality), 4th one the left can’t see and the right can (marriage). 

He then uses this even amount of seeing/not seeing from both sides to make an appeal to central political thinking (or in the American context, bi-partisan thinking). The issue is however, that leftists do indeed see a problem with growing debt (it would be impossible not to), and in many ways seek to counter this with raising taxes, which is a joint solution to asteroid 2 and 3 (for many at least) and a primary contention between the left and the right both in America and worldwide is that the left wishes to increase taxes and keep/increase services while the right want to cut taxes and keep/decrease services. 

Now looking at asteroid 4, the marriage issue. The proposal that marriage is somehow an equality issue is ridiculous. The divorce rate is still 50% (even among magical college attenders). Even if people of lower socio-economic classes were to marry and raise children together (his primary focus was on fathers taking up responsibility) he glosses over/ignores that just because people are married does not mean they are going to be able to raise the child any better, primarily due to the socio-economic class they belong to is a primary reason they cannot earn enough money to raise a child, as well as a significant factor in the chances of the father being imprisoned (thus completely nullifying whether or not the father and mother are married for the child, as the father can not provide in prison). So in other words, people aren’t poor because they don’t get married – they don’t get married because they’re poor (I’m using “people” not “persons” which is important to note).

But to get back to the whole asteroid problem, in reality we see three asteroids the left is willing to get behind (note that asteroid 2 is clearly an issue for the left), and just two the right is willing to get behind. Of course, someone could easily say that my critique of “asteroid” 4 is just my political bias showing, which is obvious. The promotion of marriage or “family” values is highly rooted in religious/non-secular morality which is a problem for the left in many cases. But even assuming that a promotion of marriage would turn out more well off children ignores that even if the children are going to be better off, they are still going to be significantly less well off than the children of married parents who are in higher socio-economic classes, so in reality asteroid 4 does not seem to be a true asteroid, but rather a minor contributing factor to asteroid 3 (inequality). Inequality will certainly not be solved by increasing marriage.

So looking at leftist politics we see that 4/4 asteroids can at the very least be addressed, which still leaves asteroid 1 which in no way is being addressed by the right. Ultimately however the issue with political divide is not disagreement over what are issues, but disagreement over how to solve those issues. Jonathan Haidt completely ignores this, which is evident by his argument about asteroid 2.