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December 11, 2015

Warning:foullanguage

This post may contain more salty language than usual. If you’re easily offended, click out now. I will try my best to contain myself but can’t make any guarantees.

Let’s talk about fucking Uber versus the taxi industry again, shall we? As if there’s nothing else more important to deal with other than what should be, arguably, the 4th best choice in getting around the city. Fuck.

Like I have written, I don’t know,  8 or 10 times previously, I could give a fuck about this issue in terms of policy or technology or whatever. I am in the fortunate position of having a multitude of choices at my disposal in terms of mobility. Paying somebody money to drive me around in their automobile falls pretty much way down to the bottom of the list. It is either out of sheer necessity or absolute laziness that I occasionally wind up in a cab. An after-thought or very pre-planned forethought before an early morning trip to the airport, say.

I could only wish taxis played as incidental a factor in everyone else’s life as it does mine.pottymouth1

But alas. It doesn’t. Evidently, as somehow I keep winding up talking about something I don’t really fucking care about.

So it was with Wednesday’s taxi protest which shut traffic in parts of the city down to a dead crawl. Drivers buzzed in and out of City Hall during the first day of city council’s December meeting. They threw what might be called a spanner in the works if I were writing 70 years ago for a British publication.

They came and fucked things up.

I’m not going to get into the reasons why other than the easy summary that cab drivers came to protest the lack of any serious crackdown on the illegal Uber operations going on in the city. Their sense is the city’s dragging its heels while coming up with new regulations to adjust to the 21st-century reality of what lots of people are mistakenly calling the “ridesharing” entity Uber which has rolled into town flouting a by-law or two. foullanguage1While indulging in what the taxi industry views as rather lax enforcement, the city’s helping to threaten a lot of peoples’ livelihoods which, for many, isn’t much of a livelihood to start with.

That’s a whole other fucking bottle of wax.

So cabbies took to the streets, fucked things up here and there, and didn’t some peoples’ noses get out of joint? Pretty much, How dare they! How Dare They!! Postmedia’s Matt Gurney vowed never again to use a Toronto taxicab. Oh, how will the industry survive such a blow?

By inconveniencing and annoying and generally pissing of so many people with their protest, it was deemed that taxi drivers lost the PR battle. Lose the PR battle, I guess such conventional wisdom goes, you’ve lost the PR war. Lose the PR war and…Oh, who fucking knows?!

Fuck you people and your fucking PR battles. Fuck winning your hearts and minds! Fuck Matt Gurney. pottymouth2Fuck everybody who’s ever had a bad cab ride and now hails Uber as some sort of little guy conquering hero. And fuck every one of you who can’t withstand the inconvenience of some mild civil disobedience thrown your way.

Nobody burned down your fucking house, did they? I’d like to burn down your fucking house right now. Nobody burned down your fucking house. So stop your fucking whining.

(I warned you I was going to swear a lot, didn’t I? I wasn’t lying. If you want more nuanced views about this ongoing civic disruption, let’s call it, give a read if you haven’t already of Desmond Cole’s Toronto Star article yesterday or @pangmeli’s Storify take.)

Look, nobody but nobody except for the exceptionally vested interested thinks the livery system here in Toronto isn’t seriously fucked. It has been for a while now despite regular attempts (some well-intended, others less so) to fix the problems. pottymouthMany of the solutions and the problems both have proven sticky, gumming up the works and gooily pulling in more attempted fixes until finally what we have is something of a clusterfuck pile on.

But here’s the thing, if you were so concerned about the state of the taxi industry, if it so negatively impacted your life with its terrifying rides, smelly drivers and refusal to accept anything but cash as payment, why not do something about it? Why not demand reform? Why not hold your councillor politically responsible if they did not contribute meaningfully to changing the industry? Why not organize a boycott?

Instead, you mope around, bitching about how badly you’re treated when you’re getting driven around the city, how much it costs you as if there wasn’t any other possible alternative for getting from point A to point B, until Uber suddenly appears to do your fighting for you. Illegally, it turns out. Defiantly so. But hey, what disruptive technology doesn’t skirt the rules, you rationalize. You can’t regulate the future, baby. Adapt or die. washyourmouthoutThe customer’s always right, amirite?

It’s lazy democracy, is what it is. An endorsement of lawlessness for the sake of a few bucks and a smooth ride. But when somebody steps outside the bounds of the law and gets in the way of that ride, delays your forward progress? Anarchy. Outrageous. An epic PR fail.

We deserve a few more protests like we saw on Wednesday. Toughen us up. Shake our priorities around a little. Move us on beyond thinking just about how we can get around the city in the optimum of comfort at the lowest price possible.

Fuck.

cursingly submitted by Cityslikr


A Vital Civics Lesson

June 8, 2015

Let’s set aside the cynicism for a moment. Ignore the urge to tabulate political calculations. Don’t discuss whose voices get heard in this city, whose opinions matter. cuphalffullNot yet, at any rate.

We need to revel in the fact that fierce citizen engagement can directly affect change. Take a moment. Take that in. Enjoy it. Learn from it.

Mayor John Tory came out yesterday in full support of ending the practice of police carding in this city. It’s a huge shift from the mayor who, less than a week ago, was full of — How’d John Barber put it in the Torontoist? – “marshmallow circumlocutions” in defense of reforming rather than ending the system.

The personal stories I’ve heard in recent months and even before, the words, laden with deeply-felt emotion, have been building up in my conscience and they have stuck with me.

And so after great personal reflection, and many discussions — highlighted by a very candid, thoughtful discussion with a number of people including Desmond Cole and others — I’ve concluded that time has gone on too long and that it was time for me to say, enough.

It was time to acknowledge that there is no real way to fix a practice which has come to be regarded as illegitimate, disrespectful and hurtful. It was better to start over with a clean slate.

On Metro Morning today [no link yet], that very same Desmond Cole whose article in Toronto Life on his personal experiences with police carding served, I think, as the tipping point in the conversation, humbly deferred any sort of hero designation, rightly pointing the community and members of it who worked to bring about the change. No one person can ever successfully challenge a status quo system. desmondcoleThey can lend a voice, serve as a catalyst, contribute mightily, doggedly, relentlessly as part of the cause. Lone white knights are just fairytale characters.

The few times I talked with Desmond Cole about the issue, it was obvious the kind of personal and professional toll it was taking on him. I’ve been caught up in far less significant issues (yes, the Gardiner East pales in importance next to carding) and found everything else can fall by the wayside. Doctor appointments. Social engagements. Personal hygiene. Civic engagement, especially something as fundamental as our civil rights, comes at a cost. There are only so many hours in a day, so many fucks to give.

Which is why the more people who slice out even a few hours of their lives to contribute collectively to issues that matter to them, their family, their community, the less onus we place on individual efforts. Yeah, everything needs an instigator, an organizer, somebody to do a website. But it takes an army to knock on doors, to stand up and speak at public events, to testify on that one thing that serves as a barrier, that squeezes opportunity, that impedes the possibility of living fulfilled and meaningful lives.

So, let’s acknowledge this moment. That time when a bunch of people, almost exclusively from communities throughout the city normally without such a powerful voice to force the powers that be to take notice and actually change course. firststepIt’s something we need to relish. Change can happen.

Tomorrow’s the time to worry about the fuller picture. I am always wary of an on the road to Damascus conversion like Mayor Tory has seemingly experienced. He foisted himself immediately into the middle of the carding issue, putting himself on the Police Services Board after becoming mayor and mucking about with carding reforms that were already underway. But his words, if bloviatingly verbose at times, came across yesterday as genuine and heartfelt.

There’s no reason to expect the police services and its new chief will roll over passively on the issue just because the mayor said so. The service (with its former chief of police) resisted earlier calls for carding reform, ignoring directives from the board to do just that, creating the impasse Mayor Tory coddled up to just a few days ago. Systemic racism isn’t magically wished away by some mayoral fiat.

This issue ain’t over, is what I’m trying to say but, holy shit, did it receive a decisive body blow with Mayor Tory’s change of heart. Grab hold of that. Hug it close to you for a moment. Realize, as a matter of fact, you can make a difference. We just have to stop waiting for someone else to do it.

lilliput

hopefully submitted by Cityslikr


A Repugnant Blight

April 24, 2015

So there I am, minding my own business this week, catching up on my magazine subscriptions, making my way through the June 2014 issue of Harper’s. Second article in, The Civil Rights Act’s Unsung Victory by Randall Kennedy [subscription required unless you’re much better with the internets than I am which is a very real possibility]. The following day Desmond Cole drops this searing piece for Toronto Life, The Skin I’m In [no subscription required].

Mr. Kennedy writes about how his family used to pack food picnic-style for their trips back to South Carolina from Washington D.C. to avoid having to find meals on the road in the few places that served African-Americans. Even the car ride itself was fraught with danger. “My father was particularly burdened by the drive,” Kennedy writes.

He became noticeably nervous at the sight of police officers. Over the years several of them pulled him over. They did not charge him with any infraction. Rather, they stopped him seemingly out of curiosity and a desire to test his willingness to accept the etiquette of white supremacy. Their colloquies went something like this”

“That’s a nice car you’re driving, boy.”

“Thank you, officer. Have I done something wrong?”

“Not from what I can see just yet. I notice you’ve got out-of-town plates. You know, we do things different down here. You do know that?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Boy, you do know that, right?”

“Yassuh.”

“Okay. You’re free to go.”

In one of the most dispiriting and gut-punching passages in Desmond Cole’s article, he too describes an encounter with the police, our police, on a highway from Oshawa to Niagra Falls. His cousin throws a Kleenex out the window and police pull the car over immediately. Almost as if they’d been following, waiting for a reason.

A hush came over the car as the stocky officer strode up to the window and asked my dad if he knew why we’d been stopped. “Yes,” my father answered, his voice shaky, like a child in the principal’s office. My dad isn’t a big man, but he always cut an imposing figure in our household. This was the first time I realized he could be afraid of something. “He’s going to pick it up right now,” he assured the officer nervously, as Sana exited the car to retrieve the garbage. The cop seemed casually uninterested, but everyone in the car thrummed with tension, as if they were bracing for something catastrophic. After Sana returned, the officer let us go. We drove off, overcome with silence until my father finally exploded. “You realize everyone in this car is black, right?” he thundered at Sana.

We here up in Canada use the ugly, overt, Bull Connor racism of the American south (or apartheid in South Africa) as a smokescreen to hide our own inherent racism. Come on. We’re not that bad, as if a kinder, gentler racism is possible. We have no history of slavery in Canada. Therefore, no racism exists.

Events in the past couple weeks here in Toronto should disabuse us of that notion. Not only is racism a clear and present danger, it has been justified under the banner of effective policing. At its heart, the current practice of ‘carding’ is the assumption that people of colour, young men of colour especially, are more prone to criminal activity, therefore they forfeit their charter rights to lawful engagement with the police.

If Desmond Cole and I were walking down the street together, any street it seems, he would more likely be stopped by the police and asked for his personal information than I would be. Why? For no other reason than the fact Desmond Cole is black and I am white.

That’s racism, pure and simple. Hum and haw all you like, rationalize it, spin it and massage it. But if we condone the current practice of police carding, we are condoning racism.

By doing so, what kind of democracy does it say we live in when people are forced to go about their lives, negotiating how they move around their shared city differently? Take equality and fairness off the table. They don’t exist unless the words mean something other than I thought they did.

Show me your papers! That’s the essence of police carding, isn’t it?

If an appeal to a sense of decency or basic human rights doesn’t move you, what about the fundamental attack on civilian oversight by our police services we’ve been subject to? Recognizing there were some questions of legality with carding as it was being done, the police services board last term demanded that in a non-investigative interaction with the public, the police had to first inform a citizen that the exchange was entirely voluntary, they could walk away if they so desired. Also, the police were required to provide a receipt of the interaction giving, among other things, reasons for the interaction.

Turns out the police didn’t want to do that. So they ignored the request from their civilian oversight board, rendering their demands non-‘operationalized’, to use the term of our mayor who also doesn’t believe such a thing as white privilege exists, thus there’s no such thing as racism. Police dictate the policy they follow. It isn’t dictated to them.

Raising the equally dire specter of who’s exactly running the show here?

Not only does a strong democracy require an unwavering commitment to equality in all its forms, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, law enforcement must be subservient to its political masters. Anything else bends toward authoritarianism. We tried in good faith to negotiate a workable, acceptable form of carding. That failed. Nothing short of a complete abolition of the practice will now do.

demandingly submitted by Cityslikr


Eventually You Have To Stand For Something

March 18, 2015

That’s why it’s not C51 that’s the issue. The problem in this country is we have a prime minister called Stephen Harper. And long as he is prime minister, whether it’s the Supreme Court, the workings of parliament, the politicizing of the police force and the walk away from science and evidence, all of these things can be laid at the feet of Stephen Harper. It’s the reason why he must be beat in the election…The focus we need to have in this country, quite frankly, is not on one bill it is on all the legislation which has been problematic. We need to change this government.

Elect Justin Trudeau and the Liberals or Bill 51 gets it! And by ‘gets it’, we mean, gets enacted and implemented by Stephen Harper and the Conservatives. You wanna talk about fear now? Fear that.

Vote Liberal!orthebunnygetsit

I sat listening to two of my favourite Toronto political figures, Trinity-Spadina M.P., Adam Vaughan and one of the best reporters around, Desmond Cole, on the latter’s Sunday afternoon talk radio program (where the above quote comes from). Before being elected to Parliament in a by-election last year, Vaughan was pretty much enemy number one of the Rob Ford administration, riotous fun to watch poke great big smoking holes in that clusterfuck we called a mayoralty, sometimes with righteous anger and other times outright mockery. Cole has established himself as a major voice writing (and talking) about the stuff most of us would choose not to think or talk about: racism, poverty and the corrosive effects of poor policing. He’s now taken to sitting for one hour a week in the belly of the beast, hosting an a.m. talk radio show.

Their segment, unsurprisingly, centred mostly around the Canadian government’s proposed bill, C51, their terrorist bill which has generated much (and increasing) pushback. c51protestsThere had been nationwide demonstrations protesting the bill the day before, on Saturday, with the turnout numbered in the tens of thousands. Vaughan had appeared at the one in Toronto, raising eyebrows among some folks, since the leader of his party, Justin Trudeau, has come out and stated that, despite some serious reservations, the Liberals would support the bill. Support it and then change it if elected as the government in this year’s elections.

Once more, the Liberal Party of Canada quakes in the face of theoretical machinations of the diabolical Conservatives. If we do this, then they’ll do that. If they do that, then we’ll look like this.

At a purely crass political level, it’s understandable. c51protests1For the past two elections, the Liberals have been defined to the electorate by the Conservatives, fighting both campaigns from back on their heels. In 2011, the unthinkable happened. They wound up in 3 place, setting out immediately to find a fourth leader to lead them into a fourth straight campaign.

With Justin Trudeau then in place, rather than burst forth with a sense of purpose, driven by, I don’t know, youthful optimism and a truly liberal or progressive agenda, they chose instead a certain tentative amorphousness, nothing which could be defined by anyone especially the Conservatives. Sure, they purged the party of anti-choicers. Trudeau mused about pot decriminalization. But mostly, it was vague generalizations that could not be pinned down.

Nothing anyone could throw a punch at. Equally, nothing anyone could hang a hat on and call home. Just place your worst fears or greatest hopes here.c51protests2

Pretty much the not-conservative politics of our generation. The progressive collapse of vigour and ideas. Hum and haw while licking our wounds in defeat, waiting for the inevitable crash and burn of whatever right wing government is in place. A crash and burn that is inevitable because modern right wing politics is designed to crash and burn, and take everyone around with it.

Tony Blair after the disintegration of Thatcherism. Bill Clinton, post-Reagan. Barak Obama in the wake of W.

We here in Ontario are living it with the McGuinty-Wynne doing little more than smoothing out the rough edges left behind from the Harris years. Much of Toronto’s current woes aren’t due to the Harrisites’ assault but because the Liberals haven’t done enough to fully reverse those policies. Conservatives destroy. nothingleftLiberals validate the principles but deplore the excess.

(Don’t mistake this as some partisan attack. No party on the left, as far as I can see, has stood up strongly enough against the basic tenets of modern conservatism. Challenged its bankrupt orthodoxy.)

So it happens again with Bill 51. Few I have encountered or read outside of Conservative supporters have expressed anything less than outrage, horror, contempt for this piece of proposed legislation. The words of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, appointed by Stephen Harper, as Michael Geist points out:

…the scale of information sharing being proposed is unprecedented, the scope of the new powers conferred by the Act is excessive, particularly as these powers affect ordinary Canadians, and the safeguards protecting against unreasonable loss of privacy are seriously deficient.  While the potential to know virtually everything about everyone may well identify some new threats, the loss of privacy is clearly excessive.  All Canadians would be caught in this web.

As a result of SCISA, 17 government institutions involved in national security would have virtually limitless powers to monitor and, with the assistance of Big Data analytics, to profile ordinary Canadians, with a view to identifying security threats among them. In a country governed by the rule of law, it should not be left for national security agencies to determine the limits of their powers. Generally, the law should prescribe clear and reasonable standards for the sharing, collection, use and retention of personal information, and compliance with these standards should be subject to independent and effective review mechanisms, including the courts.

The scope of the new powers is ‘excessive’. ‘Limitless powers to monitor’ by national security institutions. ‘All Canadians would be caught in this web’.

Yet somehow, Justin Trudeau and the Liberals found enough in bill C51 that they could get behind, support even without changes in oversight or to the vague language defining terrorism. duckandcoverNothing problematic enough to make a political issue out of it. Just go along to get along.

From a strategic standpoint, it may work out for the Liberals. The Conservative government is currently setting itself on fire in a flaming burst of racist demagoguery and other populist nonsense. Support for bill C51, which initially ran high, now seems to be tanking the more people read and talk about it. Perhaps we are witnessing yet another right wing crash and burn. The Liberals might’ve played this one right for a change.

Yet, by mouthing any type of support for the bill, regardless of how guarded or calculated, Liberals again endorsed a conservative narrative. milfordmanThat there is need for increased surveillance, further intrusion into our privacy, perceived security trumps individual rights and freedom. Accommodation not repudiation.

In the above quote, Adam Vaughan runs down a list of offenses committed by the Harper government against the country as proof of why they have lost any sort of authority to govern. It’s long and damning, for sure. But somehow, he wants us to think that such an immoral, unethical government is still capable of delivering a surveillance law with enough integrity to it that his Liberal party can get behind.

That’s the vacuity of our modern day liberalism, folks.

sadly submitted by Cityslikr


Book Club III

January 9, 2015

You want to know the kind of white privilege I live with? Back a few weeks ago, listening to the Sunday Edition interview with Tony Award winning dancer and choreographer Bill T. Jones talking about James Baldwin, jamesbaldwinI actually had to Google James Baldwin. I had an inkling. I’d heard of his novel, Go Tell It on the Mountain. But it was pretty much blank after that.

It says as much about the shallowness of my literary knowledge as it does my literary racial bias, I hope. Still. Given the shit that’s going on currently, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Toronto’s ongoing race based debate over police carding, it struck me that now might be a very good time to get to know a little more about James Baldwin.

The Fire Next Time is where I started and, man, what a place to begin. It is a book of sheer fucking beauty. Divided into two essays, My Dungeon Shook: Letter to My Nephew on the One Hundredth Anniversary of the Emancipation and Down At The Cross: Letter From a Region in My Mind, it’s a quick read even allowing for the time you inevitably take to stop to fully appreciate both the content and style of the book.

“God gave Noah the rainbow sign/No more water, the fire next time” the book’s epigraph (h/t Twitter people) states. We were drowned once for our wickedness. Without repentance, eternal fire awaits us now.thefirenexttime

That is, if you’re reading it literally in a Biblical sense. Written in 1963, The Fire Next Time now seems prescient about the burning of cities that commenced the following year, from July to August, in New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia and Chicago. And in 1965. And in 1966. And in 1967. 1968. 1969. 1970…

Of course, you probably didn’t need to be clairvoyant to see the blaze coming. A hundred years of alleged freedom is a long time to wait for justice and equality. When your patience finally runs out, shit will burn. “The most dangerous creation of any society is the man who has nothing to lose,” Baldwin said. And if you’re the easily dispirited type, the last 50+ years since the book’s publication will have done little to convince you much improvement has been made along racial lines.

Ferguson, Missouri, 2014.

The amazing aspect of Baldwin’s writing in The Fire Next Time is how lacking in bitterness it is. Hope runs throughout the book. Angry? You bet. But not self-annihilatingly so.

This to his young nephew:

This innocent country set you down in a ghetto in which, in fact, it intended that you should perish. Let me spell out precisely what I mean by that, for the heart of the matter is here, and the root of my dispute with my country. You were born where you were born and faced the future that you faced because you were black and for no other reason. The limits of your ambition were, thus, expected to be set forever. You were born into a society which spelled out with brutal clarity, and in as many ways as possible, that you were a worthless human being. You were not expected to aspire to excellence: you were expected to make peace with mediocrity. Wherever you have turned, James, in your short time on this earth, you have been told where you could go and what you could do (and how you could do it) and where you could live and whom you could marry. I know your countrymen do not agree with me about this, and I hear them saying, “You exaggerate.” They do not know Harlem, and I do. So do you. Take no one’s word for anything, including mine – but trust your experience. Know whence you came. If you know whence you came, there is really no limit to where you can go.

In a paragraph with 13 sentences, the first 12 unrelentingly bleak in their analysis of what it’s like to be black in America, Baldwin turns and detonates the entire construct. That’s how it is. Fuck that.  “And if the word integration means anything,” Baldwin continues to his nephew, “ this is what it means: that we, with love, shall force our brothers to see themselves as they are, to cease fleeing from reality and begin to change it.”jamesbaldwin1

Gut punch writing that somehow doesn’t leave you gasping for breath but simply marveling at the optimism, the courage, the empathy and understanding. All wrapped up in a conversational style that makes you wish your life was filled every moment of every day with such talk. That I’m just discovering this now is nothing more than an embarrassment. A happy embarrassment, for sure, an embarrassment nonetheless.

Given the events of the past couple days with the shootings in Paris and the international reaction to it, I was immediately reminded of the bit in the book’s 2nd essay, Down At The Cross where Baldwin is summoned to meet Elijah Muhammad, the leader of the Nation of Islam. While the two men agreed on the 2nd-class status of blacks in the U.S.A., they clearly differed on approaches to changing that. Baldwin’s account of their meeting and then his dissection of the impracticality and undesirability of self-imposed segregation was firm but generous, decisive without ever stooping to dismissiveness. Not to mention, glorious. Have I said recently how much I liked this book?

I wonder if we, those of us suffering under the burden of white privilege, possessed even a fraction of Baldwin’s ability at self-criticism jamesbaldwin5– and by that I mean, criticizing the group of which we are part of – Baldwin and Elijah Muhammad weren’t both just black, they were, to use the parlance of the day, uppity blacks who didn’t know their place, yet they couldn’t have possessed more divergent ideas about how to battle that – if we were nearly as brave or bold in our willingness to dismantle the beliefs and societal constructs some of us maintain, things might be a whole lot more peaceful and pleasant around the world. But, of course, we don’t have to, do we. We’re the ones who’ve set the table.

I could go on and on (like that last paragraph) but I’ll spare you. Except to say that, if you haven’t already, it’s never too late to discover James Baldwin. Need more proof? I’ll leave you with the passage that left me in tears.

This past, the Negro’s past, of rope, fire, torture, castration, infanticide, rape; death and humiliation; fear by day and night, fear as deep as the marrow of the bone; doubt that he was worthy of life, since everyone around him denied it; sorrow for his women, for his kinfolk, for his children, who needed his protection, and whom he could not protect; rage, hatred, and murder, hatred for white men so deep that it often turned against him and his own, and made all love, all trust, all joy impossible – this past, this endless struggle to achieve and reveal and confirm a human identity, human authority, yet contains, for all its horror, something very beautiful. I do not mean to be sentimental about suffering – enough is certainly as good as a feast – but people who cannot suffer can never grow up, can never discover who they are. That man who is forced each day to snatch his manhood, his identity, out of the fire of human cruelty that rages to destroy it knows, if he survives his effort, and even if he does not survive it, something about himself and human life that no school on earth – and indeed, no church – can teach. He achieves his own authority, and that is unshakable. This is because, in order to save his life, he is forced to look beneath appearances, to take nothing for granted, to hear the meaning behind the words. If one is continually surviving the worse that life can bring, one eventually ceases to be controlled by a fear of what life can bring; whatever it brings must be borne. And at this level of experience one’s bitterness begins to be palatable, and hatred becomes too heavy a sack to carry. The apprehension of life here so briefly and inadequately sketched has been the experience of generations of Negroes, and it helps to explain how they have endured and how they have been able to produce children of kindergarten age who can walk through mobs to get to school. It demands great force and great cunning continually to assault the mighty and indifferent fortress of white supremacy, as Negroes in this country have done so long. It demands great spiritual resilience not to hate the hater whose foot is on your neck, and an even greater miracle of perception and charity not to teach your child to hate. The Negro boys and girls who are facing mobs today come out of a long line of improbable aristocrats – the only genuine aristocrats this country has produced.

 

reverently submitted by Cityslikr


On Activism And The World We Live In

June 13, 2013

The great thing about doing the thing I do, and yes, this is me doing something, aside from getting to trade barbs with former Harris government knobs, goodnewseveryoneis all the smart, engaged people I meet along the way.

Two of the smartest, most engaged people I’ve had the opportunity to meet are Desmond Cole and Dave Meslin. On Tuesday, the two helped roll the rock of voting reform a little bit further up the hill as the Government Management Committee’s Proposed Electoral Reform item made its way through city council, relatively unscathed. Now the questions of permanent resident eligibility to vote municipally, ranked ballots, internet voting and a review of municipal election finance rules are on their way to Queen’s Park to secure the provincial approval needed for any of these initiatives to go forward.

It’s just another step, for sure, with more than a few obstacles still to clear but, pick your own hoary cliché here, a long march is only completed step-by-step.rollingrock

Being an activist can’t be easy.

There are assholes like me, just popping up on the scene, who start yelling and think that’ll make an immediate difference. True, effective activism doesn’t work like that. It’s a slog. A long, tough slog.

Meslin has been stirring up the pot here in Toronto since the last century it seems. Oh. I’m sorry. What? 1998 is the last century. Well then. Meslin has been stirring up the pot here in Toronto since the last century.

Reclaim the Streets. Toronto Public Space Committee. City Idol. Toronto Cyclists Union. RaBIT. He was part of all those movements.

For his part, Desmond Cole’s been around the activist block a time or two himself. A Project Coordinator for I Vote Toronto, he’s been at ground zero for the push to open municipal voting to permanent residents. busyHe was a winning candidate for City Idol back in 2006, running in Ward 20 against Adam Vaughan. As a writer-activist, Cole has also been front and centre covering relations between the Toronto Police Services and the city’s visible minority communities.

The status quo is firmly entrenched. Budging it even just a little takes a lot of time and effort. You’re labeled a special interest or a usual suspect by those who like the status quo just fine, thank you very much, or who can’t see anything past it.

Even those fighting the same fight can turn unfriendly and unhelpful. I’ve witnessed firsthand the internal warfare going on between the camps trying to change our first-past-the-post voting system. Allies fighting for a better way to elect our representatives arrive at loggerheads over the exact method to do it.

Activism is not for the faint of heart. I think that’s especially true in these days of deep cynicism and disconnect to our political system. getbusyMuch easier to throw up your hands and say, well, they’re all corrupt, they all lie, a pox on all their houses than it is to roll up your sleeves, get into the trenches, firm in your conviction of changing this motherfucker up.

So I tip my hat to the likes of Dave Meslin and Desmond Cole, and say thank you. Not only are they fighting the good fight, they do so in such an infectious, enthusiastic way as to make it almost seem like fun. And why not? Civic participation is fun, despite opinions to the contrary.

And it would be remiss of me not to send out a big thumbs-up to Councillor Paul Ainslie as well. As chair of the Government Management Committee, he grabbed hold of the electoral reform issue and saw it through some very choppy waters especially at times due to his own unfriendly committee. His determination to see this through was as dogged and tireless as that of the likes of Meslin and Cole.

We here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke spend much of our time expressing disappointment in the conduct of our local representatives at City Hall. So it behooves us then to take a moment and acknowledge when they exhibit exemplary behaviour. (Frankly, they do so at a much higher rate than they are ever given credit for.)

At the outset, Paul Ainslie never struck me as a particularly outstanding councillor. Early on in this term, he seemed to be just another right wing lap dog for Mayor Ford, obediently doing the mayor’s bidding and voting along party lines. thumbsup1That started to change for me when he stood up, outraged as the TPL board chair, to respond to then budget chief Mike Del Grande’s dim view of all the non-English language books and videos in the library’s catalogue.

His drift toward independence has continued and, while still too right leaning for my particular tastes, he has come to represent a moderate voice on council. Maybe he always was and it got lost in the ideological thunder that rolled over City Hall in the fall of 2010. He deserves a lot of credit for rising above the partisan tumult and delivering on what could be a real game-changer in terms of local politics.

Not immediately. But soonish. That’s the reality for activists and the politicians responsive to them. We owe both a huge hug of gratitude.

thankfully submitted by Cityslikr


A Term Limit On Dumb Ideas

February 12, 2013

You want to know how meritless the idea is of term limits on politicians? Both Mayor Rob Ford and I agree it’s without merit. timesupI’m not sure of the internal logic of that statement but, hey, if the Toronto Star’s Royson James can riff on the theme who am I to shy away?

“Public service is an honour,” Councillor Jaye Robinson says in Don Peat’s Toronto Sun article. “It is an opportunity to bring your knowledge and your experience to City Hall but it is not a career path. It is simply a calling, it is not a career.”

What is it about a life in politics that makes it so different from being a doctor or a bank manager? There’s a hint of Tea Party populism in the councillor’s statement, the dismissive view of career politicians. theresthedoorSomehow a politician’s ‘calling’ is finite — twelve years in her view – while a calling into the priesthood, say, is a lifelong pact.

It’s almost as if Councillor Robinson is suspicious of those who would make politics their life’s work. That no one could possibly want to make a career of public service in a capacity they excel at. You know what the problem with politics is? Politicians. Career politicians.

A call for term limits is the laziest of reactions to political disengagement and disenchantment. And that they’re being touted by two rookie councillors, Robinson and Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon, who turfed incumbents in 2010 to get into office is even more puzzling. Their new blood and ideas can now infuse the politics of the city, to paraphrase Royson James, because of successful election campaigns.

Yes, there are huge advantages to being an incumbent, mostly name recognition that’s especially pronounced at the municipal level but for reasons beyond James’ overly simplistic office budget “re-election slush fund” thinking. I’m of the belief that being an incumbent at the municipal level is so formidable because, until recently at least, voters didn’t pay that much attention to local politics between election cycles. It’s the most junior level of government after all, concerned mostly with garbage pick-up and neighbourhood stop signs. publicparticipationSo remembering who their councillor’s name was the biggest effort most people put into it.

But I think there’s much better ways to effectively engage the public. Directly involving a community in the decision making process is one. That may mean using the easily hated councillor office budgets to host town halls and other types of meetings we’ve seen crop up recently like on the casino issue or transit funding. Let’s promote a more participatory budget approach that elicits public input before most of the decisions have been made rather than just in reaction to them.

We could also invigorate our electoral system to make it both more inclusive and more competitive. In the Torontoist yesterday, Desmond Cole made the case for extending municipal voting rights to permanent residents. “In 2006,” Cole writes, “Ryerson municipal affairs expert Myer Siemiatycki estimated that at least 250,000 Toronto residents, or 16 per cent of the city’s population, could not vote in municipal elections because they were not citizens.” stuntA quarter-million currently disenfranchised residents suddenly eligible to vote would most certainly shake up our local democracy.

How about modifying the way we vote? For years Dave Meslin and the folks at RaBIT have pushed the idea of alternative voting as a counter to the power of incumbency. A quick glance at the 2010 election results shows that a ranked ballot might’ve led to the defeat of 10 incumbent councillors.

This isn’t an argument suggesting that governance here in Toronto has no need of modernizing or recalibration. Imagine my smirk after reading the deputy mayor’s claim, “We’ve had people (at City Hall) that should never have been there for a day that have been there for years.” Talk about your kettle throwing the pot around in a glass house. But if it takes term limits in order to rid the place of do-nothing councillors like our budget chief, speaker or deputy mayor, well, we have bigger fish to fry. Term limits smack of cheap fixes and political stunts. Toss away ideas that make a lot of noise but deliver very little meaningful change.

time sensitively submitted by Cityslikr