I love this building at the corner of Richmond and Spadina and its picturesque spot for a coffee shop tucked in the corner, off the street. That pink bike is part of a multi-location art installation; day-glo painted bikes which are a tribute to cyclists who have been killed in the city streets. Toronto is not a bike friendly city. As timing would have it, in the last two days the city has been working to remove bike lanes from a downtown north-south artery, spending much more money to remove them than the previous administration did to install them. Ostensibly the bike lanes are being removed to improve traffic flow. Funny thing though – just as the bike lanes are being removed, parking metres are being added. I can't work out how parked cars in what was once a bike lane will improve traffic flow, but then I'm not a civil engineer am I? Let's just hope there aren't any of those day-glo bikes erected for cyclists now navigating traffic amongst the parked cars and improved traffic flow.
Re-posting. Not because of any (tanking) mayor. Because we're still remembering an awful night and thinking a certain critical and creative mind would be welcome today.
Yesterday an entertainer in a Pepto Bismol coloured suit stood up in Toronto’s city council and ranted and raged about “left wing pinkos” to show his support for our new mayor. It seems the mayor requested that this person – a national celebrity who has been known to rant his bigoted views on what is probably the nation’s most popular television show, causing many to question the soundness of his mind and his relevance on a show watched by many, many children – be the one to introduce him and decorate him with the chain of office on the first official day of the new council.
Yesterday’s show tipped the “cringe-o-meter” for many thinking people. Here we had an entertainer in a pink suit taking that deplorable political tool – the sound bite – to a new low in stirring up anger and divisiveness, and helping this mayor move our city from world-class to class-less.
The same night over dinner my daughters and I had a conversation about John Lennon. I said that the pink clad entertainer would call Lennon a “left wing pinko” with great glee. Carly and Kelsey, in their 20s, had never heard the term “pinko” before yesterday; Carly said she'd Googled it. I thought it was funny that a great many of the people the guy in pink was trying to insult would have had to research what exactly his dusty old slur meant since it hadn't been seen in a number of decades.
My girls – both intelligent, thoughtful, reasonable young women – were saying that they feel Lennon’s murderer robbed their generation of knowing a fine critical mind and thought-provoking artist. He died before they were both born – but it just doesn’t seem like it – thirty years on Lennon’s persona looms still. He angered many, but he inspired many more. And that’s because he was a man with big ideas, and he worked them out and expressed them in truly original (and sometimes groundbreaking) ways. None of his protest art included name-calling or trite clichés or sound bites, although the media loved to take sound bites out of his statements, like the infamous “we’re bigger than Jesus…”
Sound bites water ideas down to single layered messages. Sound bites take bits of language and turn them into a symbol. Given that humans process symbols before they process language, it’s not surprising marketers and politicians have turned it into a remarkably effective tool for persuasion. We see the symbol – we don’t have to bother to think – the meaning is handed to us in a neat little package.
Fortunately, many of us still like to use our brains. Many of us – like my daughters – stop and think about what is in, around and behind a message and work out its meaning for ourselves based on our learning and experiences.
One might say War is Over was a John Lennon sound bite. But it was one of many layers – of contradiction, optimism, questioning the status quo, change, motivation, suggestive selling, opportunity, no, yes, maybe… Lennon’s War is Over might have made you think about a hundred things. The point is, it was intended to make you think – not relieve you of the need to do so.
What were the layers of meaning in the “left-wing pinko” sound bite? I don’t think more than one meaning was intended – it simply meant “the other side.” It was easy for that guy’s fans, or the angry supporters of the angry mayor. Who needs to think? Yahoo – take that you Other Side!
Lots of Toronto people though – like my critical minded daughters – are wearing Left-Wing Pinko as a badge of honour today. Especially given that it’s also the day in which many of us are thinking about one particular left-wing pinko and what might have been another thirty years of ideas and music and art – robbed, from a world that could really use them, in one violent moment.
John – I really wish my girls could have lived in the same world you did for a little while. But your messages are not lost on them. If you were here today, you might be as encouraged as I am that there are lots young people around who are able, like you once were, to think beyond a sound bite and imagine a world in which anything is possible.
A favourite song dedicated to the young fellas talking in my office this morning about "just a bunch of damn hippies in a useless 'non-demonstration who didn't have the sense to show up on a weekday.'"
Funny thing was, thirty minutes previous [on this Monday] I'd been waving to the second round of today's march in the "non-demonstration" from the windows of my yoga studio, a few blocks away from our office on Bay Street in Toronto's financial district. And Saturday's "non-demonstration" was, from what I saw, part of a global "non-demonstration" against a kind of insanity no sane person could deny.
And despite all the folks who refuse to look out their windows, peace, love and understanding are beautiful things number sixy-seven, sixty-eight and sixty-nine.
How much do I LOVE this gal? She's has to be the smartest, most insightful, ascerbic, funny and talented writer I know. Slide the video ahead to 5:38 or so and you'll see her in all her marvellousness.
(THEN – after you've enjoyed Tricia extolling the value of finding beauty, wind back and enjoy Hippie News. Hippie News rocks.)
Tricia and Winston and all the folks at Hippie News – beautiful thing number 60.
I don’t let politics get on my blog much. Once in awhile I might let go a little rant on this space, because in real life I have strong opinions about social and political concerns, and everyone who knows me knows pretty much what my stand on things is. That stand hasn’t changed much in the 40 or so years since I started to pay attention.
But I decided a long time ago that this space isn’t going to be about people I don’t like. And I’m sorry to say, I don’t like most politicians, and I sure as hell don’t like what politics has become.
Public service is an honourable calling. Politicking turned it ugly. These days you rarely see an elite politician behaving honourably; it’s all about the win. Politics has become a tool of power, and those who get it will do anything to hang on to it, even if it means fucking over the people who have hired them to govern. The recent debacle over the debt ceiling in the US is a spectacular example of that.
For one day here at home today it wasn’t ugly. Today politicians of all stripes and people of all beliefs mourned the loss of Jack Layton, leader of the New Democratic Party, who died of cancer early this morning. Despite that he looked emaciated and weak last time he showed up on TV a month ago, everyone was shocked.
Jack was widely liked and respected for his principles and determination. He was fearless and unrelenting in his message and people were inspired by that. You never felt like he was playing you. Don’t think this popularity came up in his death; in the past four years, he took a party that clung to a few measly seats, hanging on the brink of irrelevance, to one that swept past the most dominant party in our history to become the official opposition for the first time in history.
Jack made us remember people like Tommy Douglas and Ed Broadbent and how they connected to people; he made us look past the conservative rhetoric and think “well yeah, it CAN be done.” Jack made us remember that it was the NDP that shaped a large part of who we believe we are. He was another feisty NDP leader who rose up out of seemingly nothing against the bigger, older, louder, more moneyed old school parties. The right and extreme right parties in this country might have merged their money and forces and won a majority, but we yeah we also got an opposition with balls to keep them in check. We sure felt a lot better than we would have if the lamo liberals had taken that spot.
This afternoon my dear New York pal Sheryl posted on my facebook: “I wish we had more like him here.” I replied that I thought it was sad that politicians who actually inspire people are rare anywhere.
Jack’s not getting on my blog because he’s dead. He’s getting on my blog because of the message he left with Canadians in life, and in a letter he wrote in these last dying days:
“…consider the alternatives; and consider that we can be a better, fairer, more equal country by working together. Don’t let them tell you it can’t be done.
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.”
That’s the kind of political messaging that gets on my blog.
Now go say something nice to your neighbour.
(A country coming together to celebrate a true public servant and inspiring leader: beautiful thing number fifty nine.)
Paul McAdams at A Change is Coming: Travels and Human Rights reminded me that today is International Day of Peace. Go read his piece – I love his reflection on this day, that maybe we could look inside and recognize the peace we might find there, and then take a look around and show some kindness to people who might not be so lucky. Maybe like that couple I wrote about this morning.
Here's my little playlist of some of my favourite peace songs, in honour of the day. If you care to listen why not give some thought about what you would do, if you could, to perpetuate the spirit of the day.
People all around the world have been doing that today. Imagining peace. Can you feel it?