August 24, 2011

Don't Let Them Tell You It Can't Be Done!

Jack and his wife, Olivia Chow (1991)
I've got the big time sads. As in the emotion, not seasonal affected depression, just to clarify. For those non-Canadian fans of this blog, we lost a great politician last Monday to aggressive, tragic, Cancer. Jack Layton was a man of integrity, passion, kindness, and optimism. He was a champion of the people. And as you see by his support of science fiction, one cool dude. 

In my early University years, I was a student who wouldn't go to class (even though I was paying for it) because I was bored, powerless, and disengaged. Apathy is a hell of a drug. It becomes an identity to parade around while it slowly poisons you, cutting you off from the joys of the world.

And then I woke up. My innards were given a shake as I saw people jumping from buildings. I will never forget the silence and the tears of strangers in Boston Pizza, while the News projected a real-life Bruce Willis movie with no heroes.

While protesting the war, I hungered for more answers. Enter Jack Layton. A charismatic, down-to-Earth man with a white Tom Selleck upon his face, promoting rights for all citizens, and openly speaking out against the war, while other leaders stepped lightly and shuffled along. 
“Despite the lack of answers, the government continues spending billions of dollars on the war in Afghanistan – a war that the government refuses to explain. A war that has claimed dozens of Canadian lives, and left dozens of other Canadians wounded.
By participating in this aggressive counterinsurgency war, Liberals and Conservatives claim to be making Canada safer. But Canadians are asking themselves whether Canada's role in this war is actually making our country less secure. These are valid questions.
Our efforts in the region are overwhelmingly focused on military force - spending defence dollars on counter-insurgency. Prime Minister Harper need only look at the experience in Iraq to conclude that ill-conceived and unbalanced missions do not create the conditions for long-term peace. Why are we blindly following the defence policy prescriptions of the Bush administration?”
Thank you Jack, for the brains and the balls. 

Politics for me was like breathing for the first time. I became a youth leader and chair of the women's caucus of the youth faction of the New Democratic Party. I was intense about social change, feminist literature, radical thinking, protesting, and organizing. I now refer to this as my Jane Fonda days, although to compare myself to her is a dramatic stretch. But I can try.

Momma Jane would roll her eyes whenever I spoke of the patriarchy and not because she wasn't supportive, but because she too went through a "Marxist Phase" in university, but now saw that time for what it was: an excuse to drink, smoke, and be angry. YES sweet Jesus those were the days!!! But to be angry is also to give a shit about something, which in this world can be very difficult to do.

Yet I was a socialist stranded at the Rodeo! This is the Texas of Canada (no offense to the cool Texans stuck in that state... I feel your pain) so you can imagine the reaction when I spoke of same-sex marriage, support and development funding to artists, free post-secondary education... "Someone's been spending too much time at Ikea." That's what they said.

"Don't let them tell you it can't be done!" Jack would say. How true. I now live in the only socially progressive neighbourhood in the entire province of Alberta:

Can you even see that little orange speck in the center? That's it folks. That's the safe place. And just a few months ago, Jack Layton made history and brought the social democratic party to be the official opposition in the house of commons. UnHeardOF! That victory was a huge boost to artists, seniors, students, immigrants, gay/transgender/queers, single mothers, homeless... It was a very necessary affirmation that change can occur, we can be masters of our own domain - or at least have a say at the conference table.

Very rarely are we, the people, given someone worth listening to, worth supporting. And you'll never know how much you crave that until you're given it.

So my heart broke at the news of his death. I've been crying at every news paper stand. I'm going to his public memorial tonight to honour his memory. 

Jack  wrote this letter to Canadians just before he died. You can read it HERE. You might get a better idea of why his loss is felt around the country today.

"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) 



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