Posts Tagged: jack layton

pissing people off with peace love and understanding

Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal. – Martin Luther King, Jr.

I'm sorry to be bringing this up again, because I know that to most of the rest of the world, Canadian national concerns are not sexy.  I mean, we don’t have leadership candidates feeding us crazy-interesting sound bites like: hurricane Irene is god’s wrath at our spending too much money on our people.  (Seriously, I read that today.  Is that true?)  Our leaders are just not that interesting, even when they lie.  Anyway, for the most part, we don't care about your disinterest.

But I am compelled to write about the events of the last week because I think they're really significant. These events have triggered an expression of the desire in us to know a different public reality.  In this video you'll see the power of a message perpetuating that desire, from the only politician in the room who was dead.

Find in the video below a former politician and current humanitarian delivering that powerful message of hope and encouragement.  The message pissed a whole bunch of people off, but it inspired a whole bunch more.  

If you’re not Canadian, there are some things you should know before you watch:

This was a state funeral.  Jack Layton was the leader of Canada's official opposition to the government.  Our biggest dignitaries are all there. The Queen is represented by the Governor General. I make note that it's a state funeral because you might not think so seeing all that clapping and standing and cheering.

You also need to know that the reaction in that room is not just representative of Layton's party supporters who were present.  Thousands had collected outside and along the route of the funeral procession.  People showed up to City Hall in Toronto and on Parliament Hill in Ottawa and other cities to pay personal tribute all week. 

You need to know that everybody knew how sick Jack was, but when he died everybody was shocked anyway. Nobody anticipated the reaction to this loss because Canadians just don't act this way. 

What I see in this eulogy, and in the response to it, and in the response to Jack's death in general, is that I am not alone in my rejection of the anger and ugliness that has permeated our social and political realms.  What I see are people that are finished with it; we don't want to be held apart anymore.

Please watch; it’s Stephen Lewis, one of the most gifted and passionate orators alive, paying homage to a man's life work and ideals.  You'll be glad you did.

(And if you do I promise to shut up about it.)

(The Canadian politcs part, not the peace love and understanding part.)


some things I saw and did this week

I'm clinging to the waning summer like a security blanket.  Where I live, it's the most glorious and gentle changing of seasons, warm and sunshiny days lingering on and cooler nights sliding in.  I stood in the street the other day admiring the freshness after some spectacular thunderstorms the night previous, and imagined what it will look like in three or four months.  Then I told myself to STOP IT and get right back into NOW.  We're blessed with so much this time of year, and the older I get, the more I relish it for all I'm worth.

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Last Saturday my girls and I had a picnic in Kelsey's backyard under the canopy of grapevines. It was our favourite kind of meal – a hodgepodge of contributions from each of us: new potatoes roasted with rosemary and olive oil, corn on the cob, Greek salad, lentils and rice, cucumbers, cherries and chardonnay while we listened to Blue Rodeo songs, some of which we've been listening to since those girls were tiny.

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After dinner we jump in a taxi to go hook up with cousin Pati and a couple of her pals to see the very band play at their annual summer show in the Molson Ampitheatre on the grounds of Ontario Place.  It's a fun event – a very "Toronto" experience, with the local guys playing and lake behind us and the city skyline to the east and the just-opened Canadian National Exhibition (CNE – or "the Ex") to the west. 

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Pati and I agree that they knew what they were doing when they designed that stage with its giant windows showing those views behind the performers. Both audience and band are outsanding, as is supporting act Steve Earle.  There is a spitting rain, off and on, and nobody cares.  Little kids dance and run around, people lounge under umbrellas and drink beers sing along to favourites.

After the show we walk through the CNE and eat junk food and ride a ride.

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And we enjoy this rather spectacular view of the city from a quiet corner of Ontario Place.

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It's rainy off and on again the next day when we go to my sister's for supper.  As usual, Cathy and Stan lay on a gorgeous meal; this time: barbequed roast beef, corn on the cob, green and yellow beans, field tomato drizzled with olive oil and French bread.  Need I mention wine?  We try to grab a few moments outside but the impetuous stormy weather won't cooperate.  My sister does manage to take a few moments between raindrops to plant the Pearly Everlasting which she'd brought home from the Manitoulin Island the day previous. 

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My father had transplanted a hunk of it from what was his grandparents' farm to his cottage, and now my sister has this living family memento in her garden.

The other day after work I take the short walk over to City Hall to look at the ongoing tribute to Jack Layton.  The public response to his death has been remarkable.  

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Here in Toronto where he lived, and where he was an activist and member of the city council before he got into national politics, the tribute has taken the form of what started as a few chalked messages in the City Hall squre, and has grown to cover the square and the adjacent ramp up to the buildings. Where the rain washed messages away, they were soon replaced. 

The week was both happy and sad.  Thinking about the loss of one of the rare politicans who actually inspired people and the public's response to that loss makes me grateful for what I have, for being alive and for sharing these moments with my family.  And for the humanity we all share.  It's another reminder of how important it is to stay living in the NOW; after all, it's the only thing any of us can be certain of, isn't it?

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Chalk Love – Beautiful thing number sixty one. 

if you had one last thing to say to the world and you knew a lot of people would listen, what would you say?

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.)