The Parallel Parliament

by Glen Pearson

Tag: city

I’ve Got a City in Me

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This past weekend a great group of citizens got together with some of our new city council (they get inaugurated today) to hold Poets-n-Politics, where our new politicians, and a few others, presented poems about themselves and the city.  I was fortunate enough to be asked to participate, writing a special poem for the occasion.  A number have asked for copies and I told them it would be the subject of my next blog post.  So, as promised:

 

I’ve got a city in me, pushing me forward, setting me free,

It contains multitudes; I am not alone,
It houses my hopes and has become my home.
Yes, it pushes me outward, to a place uncertain,
And begs me join it, pulling back the curtain.

I’ve got a city in me, challenging my mind, framing my thoughts,

It enhances my insights, gives meaning to life,
And reminds me that tolerance is better than strife.
Yes, it makes me think, and challenges my mind,
But it crafts my thoughts and makes them refined.

I’ve got a city in me, lifting my eyes, to a place of shadows,

I see hundreds of others, for justice they stand,
Who reach to the margins, holding out their hand,
Yes, they bring love to this city, providing a new start,
And remind us all that great cities have heart.

I’ve got a city in me, growing new themes, changing it course,

By providing its leaders with a task that’s immense,
Who, in turn, look to us to help it make sense.
Yes, politics is hard, but it need not be,
If we play our part, and work as a team.

I’ve got a city in me, inwardly churning, moving upward,

With dreams of its own and a future unclear,
It looks to us all to build it right here.
Yes, I once thought we shaped this place ,
But now I see it has its own pace.

We have a city in us, waiting for release, let loose,

Requiring us all to look around, not just ahead,
Working with others with whom we must tread.
Yes, our city is changing, history stirs,
Like the phoenix it rises, more lofty than these words.

Yes, we have city within us, yearning and vibrant,

It’s our home, and, God, we know we all love it,
Not wanting to put ourselves above it,
Yes, this city is us; we know that to be true,
Let’s give it the best within us, me and you.

“We’re Back”

people volunteering graphic

ONE OF THE CRUCIAL BATTLES OF OUR DAY is being fought in the political arena, but its essence is far deeper than politics. It’s more about whether constructive or destructive tendencies will define our communities than whatever person it is that we choose to lead us.

Take London, Ontario’s recent election results as an indication. The winds of change blew so completely through the community that hardly any incumbent was left standing. Citizens came out of the experience sensing it was a new day and that new players would take them in a more positive direction. In a very real sense they were correct and, following months of hard work fighting for change, deserved the opportunity to bask in it.

One nagging problem remained, however: almost 60% of the community didn’t bother to even vote. True, voter turnout was up, but in a season of obvious change the increase was marginal. Which means that if change is to be effective, somehow its mandate will need to move into new areas of citizenship that have heretofore been allowed to atrophy – left in isolation by the historic politics of ambivalence and divisive friction.

It did seem to me in this last municipal election that citizens had begun the process of circling back to the importance of government and citizen engagement. And it wasn’t only the younger generations that did so; a healthy portion of those who voted were from the older generation , who joined with those younger in their sense of frustration and the desire for something better. This was an inter-generational, or multi-generational, change that swept through the community and that should tell us something special had transpired. A kind of city mandate had been reached that said enough was enough, and that they were using their own power of choice to reverse direction, as opposed to leaving the future to the politicians themselves.

Which leads to the big question: will they stay that way? Will they come to terms with the realization that things were continually struggling, not merely because politicians weren’t up to the job, but that citizens themselves more often than not turned away in disgust instead of engaging and changing the outcomes? Four years is a long time to wait if you’re looking for change. Would it not be better to continually engage with the system (join committees, demand frequent neighbourhood meetings with councillors, bring institutions together to force politics to listen, combine social media efforts instead of always incorporated the “scatter” approach), instead of deciding to re-enter the fray at the end of a four-year cycle and hope for the best?

If we wish to actually build on change and create the kind of community we want and live the kind of citizen lives we were meant to live, then attention and not distraction is the great criteria for making change permanent and effective. We can’t say we want a certain kind of city for our children and then hide ourselves for four years and hope to achieve it. That is expecting too much of our politicians and too little of ourselves.

If the politics of places like London, Ontario are to truly mean anything in the future, then social inclusion and civic participation must be the key over-riding practice. Without them we simply return to the form of babysitting oversight that so readily characterized the political patterns of the past. Perhaps such practices could have endured had the political class held on to pubic trust rather than squandering it away in the fashion they did. Those days are now in the past, and if we desire that people return to the kind of politics that matters, then it’s time to acknowledge that political chaperones must be put aside in favour of adult participation and responsibility.

If change really has infused the hallways of city offices then it will soon enough appear on committees, public gatherings, public participation in administrative decisions, and, ultimately, a deeper public monitoring of political decisions that involve all of us.

Has change come to London? Well, that depends on who we are expecting to be the agents of change. If it is merely the new political council we have recently elected, then we are doomed to disappointment – not because they aren’t sincere, but because the system itself can only be renewed by more citizen activism and not merely better politicians. Should we have little intention of showing up again for the next four years, then our great democratic experiment will remain just that – a trial run that never matured into a structural and communal reality.

We’re back. Citizens, even if only incrementally, decided to mix things up a bit, donned jerseys, and got back on the field. Should they grow distracted by their own personal pursuits in the months ahead, then change itself will have to be postponed once more because we couldn’t capitalize on it. We can’t merely change our destination in an instant, but we can change our direction. And for that we require citizens to pay attention and assist in driving our political institutions into a new era. Change is not a place but a process, and it should never cease until a truly equitable, prosperous, and inclusive society is achieved. “The village is coming back, like it or not,” wrote David Brin in his book Tomorrow Happens. But for how long remains the deep and abiding question.

A Place For Us

How do you write a book about the city in which you live? Seriously. There are so many takes on London from people with countless points of view. In the last year and a half I have had a wealth of conversations with others about how they feel concerning their city. Everyone has an opinion, and a good many put forward solutions that they believe would help our city get its game back. Their energy is inspiring, but it’s also true to say that they are in the minority. While many citizens have an opinion, it doesn’t mean that the majority of them are engaged. This is London’s chief problem at present, and unless we support groups like ReThink London in its efforts to get the public back into the mix for collectively deciding upon our future as a community, then our future will be decided for us.

I wrote the book A Place For Us as a means of condensing much of what I have heard from Londoners in the past year. There are overarching themes that transcend the myriad of complaints out there and those issues must be addressed. You’ll notice in the book that I don’t name names. That’s on purpose, because I don’t think there’s any point in laying blame anymore when instead what we require are two others traits: solutions and the will to implement them.

London is like a book, with chapters, a table of contents, appendix, and pages. We are writing it everyday, whether we realize it or not. Our inactions speak volumes; our actions make up the chapters.

The preponderance of television shows and movies these days focus on average people as victims – anti-heroes in times of challenge and change. Londoners often fit right within this mould, blaming governments, politicians, corporations, media, even themselves for our collective lethargy. That is beneath us, I believe. Our parents created a meaningful and livable city; why can’t we recreate one? We are our own action figures, the modern heroes of citizen possibilities and potential. Our old heroes are experiencing trouble getting their act together, but we need not be victims to their present dysfunction. This is now our tale to write, not theirs alone. We need to start acting so at least we compose our own plot and aren’t the victims of someone else’s design. Now more than ever we have to know why we matter – if not for our children, at least for one another and the future.

And so in that sincere belief I wrote A Place For Us. It took me time to realize that it wasn’t really about my ideas; it was about you – every Londoner who possesses the potential to graduate the place where we live from a city into a community, and our peers from consumers to citizens. In the process of that great enterprise we turn ourselves from victims into the vanguards of a new age.

You can purchase the bound book from Amazon.com here, or you can download the ePub or audio book by following the links at the top of this page. No money is made from the book; it’s more or less a conversation piece. The first installment was published in the London Free Press this past weekend, with three more installments to come in the next succeeding Saturdays. You can read it here. Some copies are also available at the Red Roaster at the Covent Garden Market. Read it if you can, but above all be part of the city’s future. I was asked the other day in an interview about the book what was my main purpose in writing it. The answer is two-fold. First, I am a citizen here and I have to play my own part, regardless of how small it is. And second, the book is for discussion – a means for bringing us together to discuss the community we want. As I say in the last paragraph of the book:

“This is our own story we are writing. The plot, the characters, the situations – all of these are ours to blend together in a story that is uniquely our own. We have merely lost track of the historic narrative we once possessed. Rediscovering means that inevitably we have to rediscover one another.”

There is a place for us in London, Ontario, but it is no longer a place apart. It is about citizens collecting in the public space to fight for their quality of life together. That was always the space we were meant to inhabit; it just got away on us for the last couple of decades, that’s all. Time to get back on our game – together.

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