What real political engagement looks like
Mark just pointed me at a post Tonya wrote this morning on the occasion of Rob Ford being elected mayor in Toronto. You should read the whole post. A couple of things resonated with me.
So, Rob Ford is Mayor. I’ve been sitting on Facebook (my social media of choice) and watching the pain, fear and sadness descend on my friends and colleagues. There is shock that this happened? How could it? What does this mean? Who did this to us? But, they hate us gay, Chinese, cycling, latte drinking intelligentsia? Should I move?
The reaction on Twitter last night was identical: hundreds (thousands? well, some number below electoral significance anyway) of people bitching about the dire state of "their city." It is the height of hypocrisy for so many of my friends and colleagues to claim one candidate as a tolerant everyman, and in so doing spew hatred and intolerance at the other, and anyone who voted for him. You can't have it both ways: either you are accepting of things you disagree with, or you're not. Can you take it when things don't go your way? No? That's fair; but don't expect the people who disagree with your views to be any different. If you can't model tolerance and acceptance, even when it hurts, don't preach it either.
I don't live in Toronto, and I don't wish to argue the merits of the mayor elect, or his opponents. I'm more interested in the reactions surrounding any victory (and therefore loss), and in what it should mean. On election day I heard a lot of people saying they were doing their "civic duty" and voting. Then when the result went the other way, they threw up their hands and were suddenly powerless. Your civic duty isn't about the few minutes you spend voting every four years. It's about all the days in between. Tonya nails it:
As many of you know, I have a healthy disdain for both politics and (so-called) democracy… I think that they are both over-rated and we use them as an excuse for inaction. Somehow we think that this is all we have to do. I believe that the real solutions are amongst us – among the citizens of this great city and our ability to work and co-create together.
The drive to invest a single person with the expectations of a community (or its opposite, scapegoating), is deeply human, and also deeply troubling. I am skeptical and cautious of group formation leading to institutional solutions and responses:
Think of the conversations and collaborations that we will be forced to have. And most importantly, think of the urgency that this deficit of progressive leadership will mean for new leadership to emerge. It will be up to us as citizens to create new solutions. It is up to us to engage and understand all perspectives. It is up to us to build solutions that transcend left-right politics.
The urgency is always there, and the fact that it gets masked sometimes by the "right" candidate getting elected is what puts so much of our society to sleep. Bitching on the web about how stupid people are is not political engagement. You're not part of anything when all you do is lob insults. If you're interested in more than just having people know that you voted and are aware of your political leaders' names, you'd do well to look at Tonya's response:
To start, I personally want to know more about who voted for Rob Ford and why? Ultimately, our solutions have to serve everyone. And I am feeling more ready than ever. The Centre for Social Innovation is working on creating a City Innovation Lab of sorts.
I don't believe in the kind of change that can only come with power. I'm much more interested in, and inspired by Tonya's example. If Toronto is going to continue to grow and improve as a city, it won't happen as a result of Ford/Smitherman politics, but as a result of the engagement and leadership of passionate community members like Tonya. Elections are only frustrating if you invest all of your power and voice in your vote. That's one important tool, but it's not the only one, and perhaps not the most important.