This election has been like no other. Countless agencies are promoting the vote, young people are rallying their peers to make it to the polls, and information is more accessible than ever. But voting alone is not a revolutionary practice, and even an NDP majority, while an impressive milestone, will not truly bring the change we need. There is urgency to regain control of our sustainability, and to do that we must participate in meaningful engagement.
The first time I can remember watching an election was for school in grade 7. Despite being born in St Catharines Ontario, my family moved to the US when I was just one year old, and we resided there for 15 years while my father pursued an education in theology. In 2000, while living in upstate New York, my parents were homeschooling me that year, and my father felt it was important for me to learn about politics by watching the 2000 US Presidential election campaign.
I spent weeks in research, reading essays reading books and newspapers, firing up Internet Explorer, countless hours of CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News, even listening to all sorts of ideologies and political viewpoints from those around me (sometimes these things were simply overheard, other times they were virtually thrust upon me). Finally, like Christmas, the election day came and I found myself glued to the TV watching it all unfold into a fiasco of misinformation, controversy, and recount. After many hanging chits and the announcement that Bush had won, my research was clear, and I had one conclusion; political corruption was spreading and we were being exploited.
This is now the political norm. For some time, Canadians watched safely from our Northern perch (my family returned home in 2001), as the Republican Party bullied its way into the US and destroyed the nation with war, corporate greed, and militarization. But this is no longer a foreign issue. The Conservative Government has been guilty of at least two counts of election fraud, and continues to increase military spending and operations, cut funding to a wide spectrum of public services, endanger the land and its peoples, and driven an increasing amount of Canadians to poverty.
The silver lining is that this has presented a tremendous advantage to Canadians, by enabling us to take on a collective impact approach. Collective impact (a sociopolitical development strategy from Stanford) looks at unifying a large group of various stakeholders under one common vision, which in this election has been to knock our Prime Minister from power. It is through this approach, we can look past our individual differences and bring our unique knowledge and expertise together to research, share information, push agenda items, and create conversation that drives our common goal.
But our collective impact should not be centred around strategic voting, or removing Harper from office. In 2008, the US people embarked on a similar mission, sick of the tyranny of the Republicans and inspired by the progressive nature of Obama. But after two terms as President, the deep societal issues in the US have only worsened. Witnessing this gives the advantage of insight, and we can instead look ahead and change our common vision to something even greater; the wellbeing of our communities and each other.
In the 1960s, nearly 90% of youth left school and entered full time manufacturing work, including livable wages and extensive benefits. In 2015, youth face crowded classrooms, debilitating student debt, and high unemployment. It is also now very likely that their parents will face financial hardship despite full time employment and their grandparents will struggle with retirement due to shrinking pensions. Despite booming urban populations,
we still have not settled the land claims that affect thousands of indigenous people, who have not only lost safety for their culture and traditions, but now experience famine, drought, and sickness from this country’s rapid development and resource extraction. This country has always presented itself as a beacon for immigration and multiculturalism, yet more and more newcomers arrive in Canada to face poverty, racism, and discrimination. It is clear to me that we cannot continue to put our trust and expectation in a government that makes no place for its people. It’s time to take back control.
So in an age of global economic recession, how can we take control and bring sustainability to this land? Make yourself known. Start by learning about how you can keep the important conversations going with the MP you voted for. You have taken the time to choose this representative, but they can only take your issues to the table if you follow through with communication, engagement, or even volunteering.
Take ownership of your community. Bureaucracy cannot bring change quickly, but collaboration can! Talk with your neighbours, start or join a community garden, host events, start a group, create art, and make your community beautiful.
Know your value. Government has become top down, seeing community members simply as problems that need solutions. Don’t forget that in collaboration with everyone else on this land, you are powering this country, and you are a priceless part of our sustainability solutions.
Become civically engaged. It doesn’t matter if you are proud to vote or feel marginalized from the system, the structures and processes found in government will lend to your impact. Join a committee, depute at your city hall, start a board to address an issue, do research and create your own reports and recommendations.
Join a cooperative. There are over 800 co-ops in the GTA alone, and these groups can act as mini governments and have tremendous impact on empowering people and creating change.
My final recommendation comes after two and a half years of building a co-operative which I co-founded with another passionate young leader. Along with a dedicated team, we have approached community development through a practice we call social entrepreneurship. Anyone can participate in being a social entrepreneur, although that does not mean it is easy. In our cooperative, social entrepreneurship means grounding yourself in reading, research, and review; a spirit of cooperation instead of competition; a commitment to community, participate locally and network globally; and passion to proudly bring yourself and your talents into meaningful engagement in your community.
This Monday comes at a volatile, yet opportunistic time for those living in Canada. We have shown tremendous effort this past year, with youth stepping up to bring national awareness of Bill C51, in adding momentum to the restoration of the Bank of Canada, and voting for change both in Alberta and in the GTA. On October 20, those issues will still need our dedicated efforts to see change, and there are many more pressing causes that call for new leaders. As the next generation, we must all be leaders, and leadership will come from participation.