Tag Archives: politics

Fill the Space

Last week, one of my dear friends and fellow historians sent around a link to a column by David Perry, about how without us always noticing it, medieval history has frequently been appropriated by white supremacists as part of their world view. It’s a really good piece, and you can read it here.  (Here is a great bibliography of further reading along similar lines, if you would like.)

I’m not going to try to expand on Perry’s thoughts about history (because I don’t really think that I can) but his column did get me to thinking about the imaginary worlds we create. I often read comments to the effect of ‘Leave the politics out of your writing, I just want a good story’ directed at authors. Is it a fair criticism? Should artists provide politically-neutral entertainment for our audiences? Or do we instead have an obligation to use our platform (of whatever size it may be) to promote the values and causes we think are important?

I actually want to hit pause on the question of whether it would be desirable to write fiction that was free of political messages, and consider whether it’s even possible. I don’t think that it is. Certainly everything that I write has a large part of me in it, which includes the values I hold dear and all the assumptions and biases that are a part of me. When I create my heroes and villains, I doubt I could avoid putting my own consideration of what ‘good’ and ‘evil’ are into the mix. Whatever kind of imaginary world I’m creating will always be at least partly refracted through the prism of how I see the world around me: what I like, what I don’t like, what pleases me and what bothers me.

So I think that even if I tried to write a story that was entirely apolitical, I would probably fail. My ideas are in there, in the weave of every tale I spin, and I don’t think it could be any other way.

Even if it were possible to write a story that was somehow free, or even apparently free, of ideology, it would almost certainly be a dangerous idea. Our imaginary worlds can be the blank space that gets filled with dangerous, harmful messages just as easily as the worlds of the past can be. An imagined past, present, or future that carries no expressions of tolerance, diversity, and equality all too easily becomes an expression against those ideas. Perry mentions how we already know this happens with tales like The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, at times. I think the argument that it is the writer’s duty to counteract the use of art to spread hate is as strong as the one placing that duty upon the historian, and the teacher.

Some people suggest that artists have a special obligation to be political in this particular moment in which we find ourselves, to boost the ideas we cherish against what seems to be an increasingly negative tide. I’m not sure whether that’s true or it isn’t, but I think the idea of the writer as apolitical is a false one, unachievable and undesirable. In the end, we must write what we believe. Anything else will ring false, and we do a disservice to our values if we try to silence them. I trust my audience can consider my ideas for themselves, and take them or leave them as they choose.

Finally, to my teaching, at least briefly. From when I started teaching I tried very hard to deliberately leave my politics and my beliefs out of it. For one thing, I didn’t (and don’t) believe that what I think about any particular issue is of any particular interest or import, but it was more than that. I wanted my students to reach their own conclusions, and I felt that I was there to teach history, not to teach them what to think about history. Recently, and at least in part because of other historians like Perry, I’m reconsidering. Probably my politics were already there, just as they are in my writing, in what I chose to put in my lectures and what to leave out, what to emphasize and what examples from the past to bring into the light. Somewhat amusingly to me as I write this, that was more or less the point of my PhD dissertation – that history is never neutral. I’ll never insist that my students agree with anything that I suggest to them, but I do think it’s probably my job to make sure they hear a particular side of the story.

That blank space unto which harmful views can be projected isn’t desirable in the classroom any more than it is in the world of fiction, and it’s space that will be filled if we don’t put something there.

We may as well make sure that space is occupied by something marvelous rather than something ghastly.

That’s what I’ve got for you this week. Thanks for reading.

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Grenfell

I normally keep my politics out of this blog; this is a writing blog, not a political one, and I know you don’t come here to read about my personal views on things. Well, things other than writing. I’m going to make an exception this week, because in thinking about what I should have as a topic for this Tuesday, there was nothing I wanted to write about more than Grenfell Tower.

If you didn’t see it in the news, Grenfell Tower was an apartment building in London in which a fire broke out last week – for reasons yet undetermined – and then, with horrifying speed, the entire building was quickly ablaze. At least 79 people are known to have died (by the last count I have seen) but the number is very probably higher since there are still people missing and no realistic hope of survivors. Apparently the fire was intense enough that there may simply be no identifiable remains of everyone who perished inside.

So, Grenfell Tower was a terrible disaster, but that’s not really why I wanted to write about it for today. I wanted to write about it because what happened there was, among all the other things it was, a particularly graphic illustration of the consequences of a particular kind of politics that seems to have far more support than it should, presently. The disaster at Grenfell Tower was the result of deliberate decisions, to reduce government budgets (for things like fire departments), to cut health and safety regulations, and to loosen restrictions on corporations. All of this is supposed to be somehow beneficial, but what we got was an appalling conflagration.

Obviously this all happened in the UK, but the ideas that led to Grenfell Tower are certainly not unique to Britain. The message of cutting regulation, of lowering corporate tax, and cutting civic budgets is perfectly familiar here as well. We are told that if we do all these things on behalf the wealthy, these benefits will trickle down to the rest of us. Rich corporations hire people and buy things. Let them make money.

The problem with the message is two-fold. First, as most economists seem now to argue, trickle-down is a lie. If you make the wealthy wealthier, all you do is make rich people richer. There’s not a lot of evidence that this has any benefits beyond their bank accounts. Second, of course, is Grenfell Tower. The UK government spoke with pride about abolishing the ‘health and safety culture’ that they said was a hinderance to the economy.

Money. Money placed above people’s health and safety. This, as a policy goal.

The people who renovated Grenfell Tower apparently saved about £2 a siding panel going with the non fire-retardant panels rather than the fire-retardant ones. This is almost certainly why the building went up the way it did. I saw the total savings estimated at about £1500, for the whole building. The contractor says that they followed all regulations, which may well be true. However, the person or people who made that decision simply did not give a damn about the people who were going to live in Grenfell Tower, or what might happen to them. I have no doubt that it helped, or rather hurt, that these people were poor and mostly not white, but the overriding concern was clearly to cram a few more bills into already stuffed pockets.

There were other problems. The building had no sprinkler system and apparently the fire alarms were not working. It’s possible that fire breaks meant to stop the spread of fire from one part of the building to another, which were removed as part of the renovation, were never put back. Residents in the building had complained about all these things, with no effect, probably because the people they brought their concerns to were wealthy and powerful and also did not give a damn about the people who lived in Grenfell Tower.

The former government of David Cameron boasted of cutting the time fire safety inspections took from 6 hours to 45 minutes. Do it fast. Do it cheap. Do it well, or do it right, an increasingly alien concept, to people of this philosophy. There is a frightening truth that I think we need to come to terms with to understand how our society works, and how to make our decisions about what to do and who to support going forward. That is simply this: Corporations are not your friend. The wealthy are not on your side. They will not look after you, they are not interested in helping you. Perhaps it is necessary to be ruthless to be a success in business, but the rest of us need to absolutely recognize and keep that ruthlessness in mind. They don’t care about us, perhaps because they can’t, more likely because they simply don’t want to, but either way – they are rich and powerful and they are not on your side, not ever.

These are the terrorists that I am afraid of, the ones who will look you in the eye and tell you they’ve done their job, smile and tell you that everything is taken care of, and then turn away and let you live in a deathtrap.hey are killers drenched in blood and they do it for a buck rather than any cause that they believe in, or perhaps money is the only thing that they do believe in. They’re terrifying because, again, they don’t appear to be, will tell you with apparent sincerity what altruistic and benevolent people they are, and then make the most ghastly, heartless decisions a moment later, deny it until confronted with overwhelming evidence, and then simply shrug and say it was all perfectly normal practice. It is, really, and that is why ordinary people absolutely need a government that will be on their side to somewhat redress the balance.

I really don’t think there’s anything to be done about people who will save a few dollars getting the non fire-retardant materials for a building people will live in, except that we need our government to protect us from them. I saw a thing a little while ago arguing that we should love our regulations and love our bureaucracy because they keep us safe. They do. You don’t have to look very hard to find slag heaps of evidence that letting corporations ‘regulate themselves’ is an absolutely suicidally bad idea. (If you’re interested, maybe start with the Hanford Site and work on from there)

Corporations will not do a single thing that doesn’t directly help their bottom line unless there’s something that can force them to do so. Left to their own devices they will cut corners and cut the throats of people as long as it increases profits. One might argue that’s literally all a corporation is supposed to do, and maybe that’s true, but it’s also why we absolutely need politicians and governments who are ready and willing to put limits and controls on them. We need them to be on our side, the side of ordinary people. We need to choose allies who are explicitly on the side of ordinary people first and foremost, and we need to carefully interrogate the real policies of people who claim to be to see whose interests they are really serving.

What I mostly want to do is encourage you to remember all of this the next time someone tries to tell you that we need to cut civic services, reduce regulations, and ‘get out of the way’ of corporations. I want you to remember this the next time someone tries to tell you that we need to run government or society like a business. Tell them that you know exactly where that road leads. It leads to a tower of ash and grief.

Thanks for reading. Next week things here will be back to normal, or as normal as they ever are.

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Aftermath

I don’t put very much political content up here because I know that is not what most of the people who come to read this thing are here for.  This is an exception.

The other day I was watching an old Doctor Who episode, ‘Horror of Fang Rock’, which is my favorite, in part because my favorite companion, Leela is such a tremendous badass in it.  There’s a point where things are going badly where she says ‘The creature has got into the lighthouse.  Now we must fight for our lives.’

I thought of that this morning.

I see a lot of ‘you’re worrrying too much’ and ‘oh well’ posted around already and I wish I could feel that way. I have friends in the U.S. who have to worry because their rights are about to come under attack. If you think it won’t happen you didn’t pay very much attention to what the man and his supporters have been saying.  If you’re black, or Muslim, or LGBTQ, or a woman in America, if you’re an immigrant, your new leader made a bunch of promises to do awful things to you, and your country told him to go ahead.

This isn’t just ‘Oh Bush won instead of Gore’ or even ‘Well Harper instead of Ignatieff’, where the government is going to make a bunch of decisions you won’t like but life will be more or less the same.  If the new president does even half the things he said he would do America will not be the same.  I know politicians make promises and don’t keep them all the time.  Most of the time, the promises are not like this.  He has promised deportation forces and punishment for abortions and things I thought I would never hear any serious political candidate say.  For a historian, the parallels are as obvious as they are chilling and I hope I will be as wrong about them as all the pollsters were in the run up to last night.

I find it genuinely scary, and I don’t have to live there.  If you’re horrified like I am, though, now is not the time to give up on the things we believe are true.  There are people who are really in danger and we need to help them however we can.  We need to push twice as hard for the causes we think are right and be as unapologetic about it as this guy who was backed by the KKK just was.  I still believe what Jack Layton said, that love is stronger than hate, but love has to be strong to win.  Hate evidently is.

As much as I can, I’m gonna be there for people who are scared and don’t feel safe under this new reality that has dropped on them.  I don’t know how much help I can be, but I’m gonna try.  If you’re upset about America’s new president, please try to do the same.  People really are going to need it.

I’m profoundly grateful to live in Canada, with the awareness that we’re far from immune from the hate. If we really like our (relatively) progressive society, “It is time for us to fight”.

I’m in.

(For the little bit it’s worth, Leela’s ‘Finished! I did it.’ after the monster is killed is a scene I am also trying to keep in mind this morning)
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Abdirahman Abdi

Ok, so I have said several times in the past that this is a writing blog and that’s what it is going to stay, and that I know (or think I know) that those of you who read this don’t come here for my ideas on politics or morals or whatever else. However, last week something happened in my home city that I feel very strongly about, and after Orlando I also wrote here that I was going to try not to stay safely silent on such issues any longer, and so here we are. I’m going to write about an issue I think is an important one today, and if you absolutely don’t want to read it I both respect your choice and promise that I’ll be back to writing about the odd things my brain does next week.

The thing is that the police killed a man in Ottawa last week. That seems like an overly dramatic phrase but it is the unvarnished truth. They came to arrest him, most accounts agree that he tried to escape, and most accounts also agree that he was punched, pepper sprayed, and beaten with a baton. It’s not clear exactly when he died, although some reports – which I have not seen directly contradicted – say that he was dead 45 minutes before he got to hospital. The man’s name was Abdirahman Abdi. He did not have a weapon.

We are told, by various authorities, that we must all keep our thinking relevant to this matter on pause until the Special Investigations Unit is done investigating and releases its conclusions. However, as Desmond Cole pointed out in the Citizen yesterday, although we do need to wait for the wheels to turn on any legal consequences, it is ridiculous to say that we shouldn’t think anything yet, and cannot yet say that anything is wrong. Among other things, as we are frequently reminded by the verdicts from courts here and elsewhere, there is ever a significant difference between what is legal and what is right.

And it seems so very clear that what happened to Abdirahman Abdi was not right. Before we get to any other issues, one very basic, and it seems to me inescapable, conclusion is that if the police cannot take a single unarmed suspect into custody without killing him, then we have a serious problem. The night Abdirahman Abdi died, the chief of Ottawa’s police was on TV saying that his officers receive training in ‘de-escalation’ and resolving situations peacefully, as though that settled matters. However, that only leaves more disturbing problems, because if these officers received such training, and the training was good, then they should have been able to make their arrest without loss of life. But Abdirahman Abdi still died. Is it more disturbing to think that police are not being properly prepared, or that they are prepared, but choose to ignore what they are taught? Neither is acceptable. Even if the officers are legally exonerated, what happened was clearly not right, and we need to confront that and respond to it.

And of course there are more issues enmeshed with this one. Abdirahman Abdi is described in most reports as ‘mentally ill’ (I have not seen a specific diagnosis), and so we return to the question of how police, and our society in general, deal with and hopefully take care of people with mental difficulties. Not very well. Last week we also saw a verdict (now under appeal) in the trial of a Toronto police officer who shot another young man with a mental illness. We haven’t, it seems, learned much since then It is often said that police are not social workers, and that it is not in their remit to handle such people gently. However, as Nicole Ireland’s article for the CBC pointed out last week, this is a perspective we can’t afford to accept. Officers can’t be psychologists, but if they’re meant to interact and intervene with the public in a meaningful and useful way, then knowing that in some situations pointing a gun and shouting commands won’t be effective and may make things work is knowledge they need. We must insist on it. Everyone knows it is a super difficult job that most of us couldn’t do, but it’s not good enough to say ‘tough job, things gonna happen.’ Police are supposed to be our helpers and advocates and protectors, they are the ones sanctioned to use force in our society. We need to insist that they fill these roles carefully and with empathy and with respect and with consideration. Anything else must be unacceptable. Last week something went terribly, irretrievably wrong, and that must be unacceptable too.

And of course there is yet one more issue at least, because Abdirahman Abdi was black. Now, the head of Ottawa’s police union was on the radio last week saying that it is ‘inappropriate’ to suggest that race may have played a part in how this incident played out to its ghastly conclusion, but this is a ludicrous thing to say. To say that, in light of all that has happened to visible minorities at the hands of police in recent days and weeks and months, is either wilful blindness or simply one of the most unrealistic things I have ever heard. To expect anyone, especially members of minority communities, not to wonder if race played a part in how the police reacted to Abdirahman Abdi, in their decision to use force on him, and in how he was treated afterwards, is simply divorced from common sense. Again, last week we saw all charges dropped in the case of Freddie Gray, a black man who died in the custody of Baltimore police, with a severed spine that (apparently) no-one is responsible for. Time and time again we see these cases, we get the same assurances, and – it seems – nothing changes. The questions the police find ‘inappropriate’ are asked because they have, as yet, received no satisfactory answer. They will continue to be asked until one is forthcoming, and especially until the dying stops. Possibly Abdirahman Abdi’s race had nothing to do with what happened to him, but of course people will ask the question, and given our recent bloody history, we are likely to doubt that it didn’t without compelling evidence to the contrary. To do otherwise would be, to say the least, inappropriate. We are told today that the SIU may not consider whether race was a factor in what happened to Abdirahman Abdi. That seems crazy to me, because the rest of the community will and is considering just that. We have to. We need to.

It is often far too easy for us (or at least me) to sit here in Canada and watch what happens in the United States and think ‘well that’s there, not here’, and to think that we don’t have such problems here. I shouldn’t think that, given what people from visible minorities say about their experience with police here in Canada, and Abdirahman Abdi’s death is a stark reminder that the problems of use of force by police, and how police react to and against visible minorities are our problems too, and of our own racial divisions, that we like to pretend don’t exist or aren’t meaningful. There was already plenty of evidence of this from the many cases of how people from First Nations communities have been abused by officers who were supposed to protect them from harm. We can’t pretend that these problems are safely south of the border or overseas, they are here at home and Canadians must confront them and grapple with them. It may take away some of our comfortable illusions, but people are suffering so it doesn’t matter, and in the end we will be better for it.

That’s one of the main reasons that I don’t like the ‘wait and see’ response from authorities here. However the legal issues around Abdirahman Abdi’s death are eventually determined, it was terrible and sad and wrong and we should have a sense of urgency in our response to it. That happened on a community level, but it would be good to see it from our political and civic leaders as well. Jim Watson, our mayor who I am generally a fan of, has not displayed his usual vigorous response this time. When someone parked in a bus lane and caused a traffic jam he immediately ordered a parking crackdown; when it was revealed on Twitter that OC Transpo directed its bus drivers to stop in bike lanes for timing stops, he publicly shamed them and ordered the practice to cease. When someone got in his face about flying the Pride flag at city hall, he flatly told them he didn’t want their vote. It would be great if that Jim Watson had shown up demanding action and answers, but instead he issued a rather bland statement of condolence and said nothing else. Again, there’s a difference between waiting for the legal process to run (which we must do) and simply doing nothing (which I think we must not do). It’s okay, and I think important, to point out the things that the death of Abdirahman Abdi shows us are not right in our city and our country and our society, and to point the way towards change. That’s leadership, or would be.

There are so many issues attached to this one awful moment. It’s like some kind of prism that casts a terrible light no matter how you turn it. It has revealed, or freshly illuminated, a great many problems. I don’t pretend to know what the solutions to all these problems are; I wish that I did. I do know that at a minimum wrongs and abuses in our society need to be pointed out and we need to insist that they are not okay and that change happens. What happened to Abdirahman Abdi was not okay. Whatever the issues were that lead to his death, there has to be change to prevent it happening again, in Ottawa or elsewhere. We can’t just call it a tragedy and end up saying that things are fine as they are: they aren’t or an unarmed man would not have died on a sidewalk.

We need especially to listen to the people from communities who find themselves mistreated by authorities. We mustn’t try to silence them or to reassure ourselves by pretending that what they are saying cannot be true or that it doesn’t matter. Our fellow human beings are telling us that they don’t feel safe, that they feel under attack in the place that is supposed to be their home and that they don’t feel able to trust the people who they are told to look to for protection. We need to hear them and believe them and do what we can to make it better. I believe them, and I know there has to be change on their behalf, and for Abdirahman Abdi.

I’m not sure if writing this was helpful in any tangible way, but I feel better for having written it. Thanks for reading.

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Fascism

One of the things about being a writer, perhaps obviously, is that I spend a lot of time working with words. I’ve always enjoyed it, and I’ve always enjoyed learning new ones and all their different shades of meaning and how you can use them to express exactly the right thing if you put them together right. I think that’s probably why I tend to find it slightly annoying when words get used incorrectly or imprecisely – words mean things, they convey specific meanings and communication can quickly become incomprehensible if we start using them wrong.

If you get me in the right (wrong?) mood I can go on about how the meaning of ‘tragedy’ – as deployed especially by the media – has strayed quite far from what the word used to mean (I think we have to accept this as a lost battle though). I am frequently dismayed at how almost no-one who uses the term ‘deus ex machina’ seems to have any idea what that actually means. Do not ever get me started on the uses of the word ‘medieval’.

Most of the time this is, in the grand scheme of things, not very important (and arguably just me being a grumpy old pedant) and people get by just fine even if they’re not using the word ‘literally’ completely wrong. Sometimes it really does matter, though. I was reminded of this yesterday when a friend sent me a video put together by Neil Gaiman about the current refugee crisis, about the difference between a ‘refugee’ and a ‘migrant’, and why it is important. The argument is itself an important one, and probably the best thing is just if you go watch the video yourself, if you haven’t.

Of course the more important thing is that we then all try to be kind in our responses and reactions to the plight of these people as they seek somewhere safe to live. I’m pleased that Canada is trying to help.

I guess maybe it also primed me to think about another word that often gets used, shall we say imprecisely, in conversation and in the media – that word is ‘fascism’. I guess we tend to throw that on anything vaguely authoritarian that we don’t like, and certainly any use of force by authority tends (with varying degrees of justification) to attract the fascist label. It’s a word that is much in the media as I write this this morning, but this time (perhaps deliberately, and perhaps not) it is being used correctly.

I am referring of course to Donald Trump. He’s being called a fascist, and for whatever it may be worth I want to add my voice to those pointing out that this isn’t sophistry or hyperbole. His policies really, truly are fascist. It’s important, I think, to say this, to shine that light on what he’s doing, and make it clear that this is what he’s offering to his followers. It’s frightening to watch unfold.

How is Trump fascist? I suspect there’s a very long analysis that could be done. But briefly, if you go through the speeches he’s making, he ticks all the basic checkboxes of the fascist message. ‘Make America Great Again’ is the classic appeal to the golden past of a chosen people who have fallen on hard times in the present. For Mussolini it was the Roman Empire, for Trump I suspect it’s the 1950s. Of course their decline is not their fault – these chosen people have been undermined and sabotaged by enemies; for Trump, these are immigrants and now especially Muslims. But he can fix it, and part of fixing it means excluding those who are not in the chosen few, by closing the borders, by marking out who does and doesn’t belong and restricting the rights of those who are ‘other’. To begin with.

Last night Trump’s campaign manager made a favorable comparison between his candidate’s policies and the decision to put Japanese-Americans in internment camps during World War II, a decision (I had thought) was universally decried as unfair, unjust, and racist, and for which the American (and indeed the Canadian) governments have since apologised. But it shows where Trump’s thinking is apparently going. This morning I see he is also ridiculing the idea of ‘free speech’ as something important as he calls for ‘closing up the internet’ (as goofy an idea as that sounds) to control what people can read and say. If it wasn’t for the clumsy way he says some of these things (a clumsiness that I now suspect is probably calculated), this would be chilling. According to Trump, if you value freedom of speech, you are ‘foolish’. Again, right from elementary fascism – individual rights mean nothing, the interests of the state mean everything.

Fascism is probably the most destructive ideology human society has yet created. It led to probably the most enormous crime against humanity we have ever seen, in the Holocaust. This was the ideology that the world united against in the Second World War. The ‘Greatest Generation’ that contemporary society currently praises went off to fight precisely against that evil. The threat of fascism was seen as sufficiently awful that Churchill and Roosevelt were prepared to ally with Stalin (himself a terrible figure) so that it might be defeated. The fight against fascism is one that we (rightly, to at least some extent) lionize in the stories we tell to this day, and that we honour on Remembrance Day.

When I have taught about fascism in my history classes, my students typically have trouble understanding how it took hold, and how people (very many of them) could line up behind its ideas of division and hate and endless conflict. And yet here it is again, and if the poll numbers from the United States are to be believed (and I think at this stage we have to give them at least some credence) it is working once again. That’s the most frightening part. I think the Marxist-Leninist candidate in my riding got about 14 votes in the last election, but in one of the countries that led the fight against fascism the last time around, a very nearly explicitly fascist candidate is not only far from marginal, but seems to be thriving.

I think it’s time that everyone who can, speaks out and makes it clear that this is not okay and that the societies we have build won’t tolerate this. We can’t. The cost is simply too high. I’m glad to see many Republican candidates directly and unequivocally rejecting Trump and his ideas, although it would also be good if they would say that they won’t support him should he win the nomination. It’s alarming that some have not.

There’s already a lot of damage that has probably been done; it’s been pointed out that the Trump candidacy has done a lot to normalize the use of racist arguments as ‘tough talk’ or ‘straight talk’ that would probably have been political suicide just a few months ago. There’s much worse that can come if these ideas are allowed to continue to grow. I’m not sure how much I can really do, but I’m going to do what I can. I’m not an American, but I’m a human being, and I can’t stay silent on this.

I know you don’t come here for my political ideas and I promise this is not going to become a political blog. In most cases, there are people who write on politics and social issues much more eloquently and effectively than I will ever do. I think, though, that this particular issue is important on a scale that goes beyond most political issues, and thus today’s blog. I’ll be back to writing about books and things next week.

Thanks for reading. Don’t let this go unchallenged, please.

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Action That Day

Good morning. I’m going to do something I don’t usually do on the blog today and talk a little bit about politics. I know people don’t come here for political discussion, and I have no intention of turning this into a place for political wrangling, but bear with me this one time, especially if you live in Canada. We’re just under two weeks out from the federal election on October 19th. I’m going to make use of whatever size of soapbox this blog gives me today to encourage you in the strongest terms possible to get out and vote.

I’m not going to tell you who to vote for; if you know me, you probably already know who I think you should vote for, and if you don’t know me, I don’t imagine you care who I think you should vote for. In any case, I think you should figure this out for yourself. I am going to tell you to vote, though.

Lots of people argue that it doesn’t matter if they vote or not. This is incredibly untrue. In the 2011 election, over 9 million Canadians didn’t vote. That meant that the current government won a majority government – letting them essentially do whatever they wanted for the next 4 years – with the support of less than 25% of eligible voters. Whether you’re happy with what they did or not, the numbers paint a fairly clear picture; there is a tremendous difference waiting to be made by people who did not vote in the last election. They could change the picture completely.

Sure, millions of other people will vote and your single vote doesn’t look like much in that context. That’s what democracy is, though, and every result in the election is nothing more than the adding up of all those single votes. You may argue you don’t have much power on election day, but you have exactly the same amount of power every other voter has. A glance at history shows that ordinary people voting brought in such mammoth changes as women’s suffrage, the minimum wage, health care, laws protecting the environment, and on and on the list goes. Elections have transformed our society, perhaps not always as quickly as we might prefer, but the changes are undeniable.

Some people will say that they don’t vote because politics doesn’t affect them. It’s very clear that this is not true either. The government decides many things that affect us every day; how much tax you’ll pay, what benefits may or may not be there when you need them, what rules businesses have to play by, what the rules of our society are going to be. To make even a somewhat meaningful list would have me writing the rest of the day. In fact, I guarantee that whatever issue is closest to your heart is affected to some degree by the decisions the government makes. This election is your chance to weigh in.

A lot of people will then say they don’t vote because the parties are all the same. This is demonstrably not the case; if you spend even a little bit of time looking at their positions on various issues, you’ll see very different points of view. Now, that’s not to say that there will necessarily be a party promoting the point of view you like the best, and perhaps it’s even less likely that you’ll find a party that you agree with on every issue. That can be frustrating and disheartening. I think it’s still important, if you have even one issue that you care about and think is important, to do a little research and find the option that you like the best, or (in the worst-case scenario) the alternative you dislike the least. You may rest assured that lots of other people will be making a choice, and if you don’t vote, those issues you think are important will be decided by opinions that don’t include yours.

One of the interesting things that I came to understand about young people from my teaching experience is that young Canadians care passionately about many issues: the environment, equal rights, and ethics in the economy being prominent among these. At the same time, they’re not interested in politics and tend not to think that voting is the right way to promote the agendas they believe in. For what it’s worth, I think it’s a terrible miscalculation. Absolutely there are other forms of activism, many of which did not really exist back in the Precambrian Era of my youth. Many of them can be effective. However, that doesn’t seem to me to be any reason to abdicate another way to have your voice heard, by choosing a party that most closely aligns with your beliefs and casting your ballot in their support.

You can go further and engage with politicians and ask them to support the ideas you believe in, but even if you don’t go that far, your vote is a chance to push Canada’s government (which does decide a great many things) in the direction you’d like it to go. Many people say that politicians don’t listen or speak to youth; although there is a lot being talked about in this election that seems to me directly relevant to younger Canadians, if you feel ignored, one way to get their attention is to show that young people are going to get out and vote. Even if you adopt the most cynical interpretation of politicians possible – that they’re ultimately self-serving and interested only in their own power – if you demonstrate that you’re key to obtaining or maintaining that power, they’re likely to help you out.

There is of course also the argument that there are people around the world who are willing to die for the right to do something that many Canadians can’t be bothered with. It sounds a bit overwrought and dramatic, but it is actually true. It doesn’t seem like a significant amount of power to us, and arguably it isn’t, except when you don’t have even that. We do have some opportunity to hold our government accountable and influence the direction it will take. It was an immense struggle to obtain that right, and I don’t believe we should take it lightly.

I suppose my most basic reason why I think people should vote is this: You don’t get asked what you think about all the issues that affect us and our nation and our place in the world very often. Most of the time, especially when we have a majority government in power, the mechanisms of government grind away, relatively heedless of voices from outside the great sausage factory of legislative authority. However you evaluate this one time when you do get asked, it seems to me a terrible shame to throw it away.

Please vote in your next election, wherever you are. Here in Canada, it’s quite soon. All the indications are that this is a pretty significant one. Don’t lose your chance to be one of the opinions that gets heard.

(If you haven’t yet received your voting card from Elections Canada in the mail, now is the time to go to the Elections Canada office nearest you and make sure you are registered to vote!)

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Ok, no more politics for a while, I promise.

I ha a great time at the Ottawa Geek Market on the weekend and, as a result, am looking forward to upcoming events even more! I will be at the Can-Con SFF convention at the end of the month (details to come) and at Ottawa Pop Expo in November (details … also to come). And, of course, we’re now getting very close to the official launch party for The King in Darkness and four other great titles by local authors – details here if you missed them before.

Also, The King in Darkness is now available (in both e-book and paperback editions) direct from Renaissance Press for a lower price than you’ll get on Amazon right here. If you buy the book this way, you can still leave a review on Amazon or Goodreads to help boost signal about the book if you would like, and it’s much appreciated!

Amid all that, I am (I swear) finding time to write and I’m about halfway done the manuscript for what I hope will become the sequel to The King in Darkness. Much work to do.

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