Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Jack Is Not a Bandwagon

Ladies and gentlemen it was a year ago today that Jack Layton died.

Don’t zoom away thinking you are about to read a moaning gushing tome about how great Jack was or how we are all somehow less without his presence. I instead thought I would use this day to discuss what it was like last year at this time for me and my group of friends. Also I thought I’d use this day to talk about Canada since his death. 

My favourite picture of Jack and Olivia. Also what a surprisingly
accurate Tricorder. 
I will concede at the outset of this post that I am a card carrying paying member of the federal and provincial New Democratic Party. I am proud of this but this past year has really put tests upon my activism within the party. I’ll get to that later. First off, let me account what I was doing this time last year. 

It was the tail end of a summer that was a big change for me. I had just undergone a major upheaval and left my simple though stressful existence in Mississauga being a slave to acting training. I had just begun to grow roots in Toronto with a permanent real job, with decent hours and not bad pay. Also I had some semblance of a social life with some very decent buds I had acquired over my many trying years in scholarly struggle and we all were more or less enjoying our summer. Politically, the Conservative majority was fresh and hadn’t yet reared its ugly head of bigotry and corruption that we now see daily in the news (when it is not covering the Olympics or the gaffes of bigoted American politicians and their opinions on female genitalia.) Life was generally good, if a tad boring. 

The boredom of a Toronto summer was broken that morning when I went to CBC online and saw that Jack had passed. At first I was shocked. I knew full well the man was ill and had been following the recent leadership change in the party, but like many, I did not expect it to be a permanent change. I can recall actually screaming out in shock, (well as much as I can scream which sounds more like a short blast from an out of tune trombone then a legitimate cry of anguish. Let’s call it a manly yelp). I immediately flipped on my radio and it was confirmed by the dulcet tones of the lady reporting, I do not recall who, that Jack had indeed died. 

After confirming the event through various mediums I knew I had to get in contact with my NDP brother. I am a Leftist who happens to vote NDP when I am in Canada but In truth I hold beliefs that are generally further Left then the party. Since I am in Canada the NDP is my best and really only choice. On the other hand my NDP brother is a staunch supporter/zealot that has an unfailing faith in the party that I can’t even begin to possess. I knew this death was going to hit him like a ton of bricks. 

After some time I did get in contact with him and sure enough this event had brutalized him. He had already hiked out to Jack’s Danforth office and been mired in the grief and shock that was spewing forth. We met up later in the day and went down to City Hall to join in with the chalk writing and the other BS that was going on. I call these things BS because looking back, it was schlocky and sentimental, but I’ll save those observations for later. Anyway, this day was a tough day for me and a much tougher one for the many other NDPers who were more invested in Jack’s legacy then I. 
The week of Jack Grief passed by and I can recall reading tons of literature about Jack’s efforts for the party and how the NDP had grown under his leadership. This information is common knowledge to all those initiated enough to care so I won’t go into it in much detail. I will say that, I think it is safe to conclude that Jack Layton was the most important force in the NDP since Tommy Douglas. I don’t think this is exaggeration. It is only right that there was such an outpouring of sadness from the NDP. I don’t know if the outpouring from Canada as a whole was as warranted. Up until this point in the decade of Jack’s leadership he had largely been written off as an inconsequential third party candidate that was more like a spaniel nipping at the heals of the big dogs named Conservative and Liberal. Right up to his win as Leader of the Opposition, intelligent members of my circle, still were worried about the strategic vote and probably wasted their votes upon the Liberals in effort to stave off a Conservative clobber. I have no basis of fact for this assumption but many of them shared their opinions in the days before the election. There is no doubt in my mind that this voting out of fear played right into the hand of Harper’s majority. Vive la Belle Province is all I’ll say to that. Suddenly these same people who had been spending their summers thinking in fear were crying about the loss of this spaniel newly crowned ‘great man.’ 

I recall in the week of Layton Grief, I began to savor a sour taste in my mouth. Where were all those chalk writers when we needed them in the election? If we had the many who spent hours in Nathan Phillip’s Square and other places, vote NDP, maybe right at current we would not be under a Harper majority. 

The funeral came and went. It really was a wonderful expression of Canadian unity and one that I witnessed firsthand. My NDP brother and indeed our friends were legitimately broken up by the mass of grief and celebration at this funeral. It truly was a sight. 

Tom Mulcair. The William Riker of the NDP. Complete
with beard.
Memory of this sight dwindled fast for me as in the coming months we as NDPers had a choice to make and it was not going to be easy. At times this choice nearly pulled the party apart. Ed Broadbent deserves a half of the blame for this as he tried with all his might to schism the party and it nearly happened. I was not able to attend the full leadership convention as I was forced to make ends meet, but I was heavily involved in the Twitter sphere during the weekend before I came to witness the finale first hand. I tweeted the hell out of Twitter, beginning the day with 130 tweets to my name and finishing the day with 459 tweets. I was even caught in a small debate about Nathan Cullen that was covered by those voices of middle ground opinion; the CBC convention panel. I remember at one point in the day after the many votes, thinking the NDP had it’s chance really to lead nationally and was now squandering the good will of Canada, the titanic gain of support of the prior months, in a civil war. Though it was a long day, Tom Mulcair was chosen and all seemed like the party was ready to take on the new task of really leading the country (or trying to as much as an opposition party can in a majority government). This was not so. For the support of Canadians suddenly went silent. 

The silence was overwhelming as Tom took the reigns. People had retired from paying attention to politics. All the issues that they had at the funeral that caused a cacophony of passionate cries; party corruption, the environment and economic disparity, couldn’t even get a single ear in Canadian discourse. Scandals flowed like hot lava from the Conservatives. The Jet Scandal demonstrated that Conservatives were doctoring information and concocting blatant lies. Not a peep from those Summer Layton Lovers. Peter McKay and other Conservatives were using government services as their own private serfdom. Where were the Summer Layton Lovers? Still asleep even though Tom railed at them with the furor of Jack. Most egregiously, Conservatives even circumvented democracy with the Robocall scandal. This is a scandal that seemed better at home in the Ukraine during the Orange Revolution then in the snow drifts of Canada. Yet the Summer Layton Lovers were now more concerned with the NHL. There was more concern with shouting down the coach of the Maple Leafs then about a party violating basic rules of democracy. All the goodwill and interest in the direction that Canada was going, fueled by Jack’s death, had disappeared. 

Today we are being inundated with remembrances of Jack’s legacy again. Once again the Summer Layton Lovers have returned to NPS to write their messages of hope upon the 1960s concrete walls. Once again we are treated to the spectacle of 'peace, love and friendship.' This time though it is ingenuous. These same people have shown they do not care about Canada. As the government collapses around them they give each other flowers in remembrance of a man who supposedly died for Canada. They are not celebrating Jack’s legacy. They are defecating all over it. 

Jack Layton was a great man, do not get me wrong. He was a civil servant, a leader who fought for Canadians and their country. He is a man to be inspired by because he stood for what he believed in. He defended the disenfranchised. These are all truths. What he is not, is a political deity. He is not a symbol for the Occupy Movement as I have seen him used for. He is not a symbol for idle protest about nothing coherent but mild uninformed anger, an occurrence all to common now, especially amongst folks of my generation. He is not a bandwagon. 

Dear viewer, reader, or whatever the great fuck you are; I repeat Jack Layton is not a bandwagon. I’ll write it again for extra measure. Jack Layton is not a bandwagon.  OK. I concede that parts of this post are more passionate and angry then they are full of fact. I concede that perhaps I am generalizing. I do this out of frustration with a year of inaction. I say to you if you go out today and join in the remembrance, if you flip on your television and get swept up by the hype, really think about the people who are participating. Do not just join in blindly. Jack is not a Che Guevara like image to be hijacked and placed upon the hipster counterculturist shirts who don’t know what he stood for. He is the first of many in Canada who are (yes this is a cliche, esp. if you have seen the film)  ‘mad as hell and wont take it anymore.’ I implore you come join in the movement to finish Jack’s real legacy of change. Come join in what Stephen Lewis passionately spat at Stephen Harper during the funeral. Come be a participant daily in Canadian politics. Stay connected to the issues and be educated. For God's sake, vote! Don’t just idly bemoan the loss of a charismatic figure. Come be one of those disenfranchised and mad Canadians that have much to do in the toppling of the Conservative tyranny. Be one of those, inspired to use all their fibre in achieving the end of a foul and corrupt majority government. Only then are we honouring Jack’s legacy. 

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