The Parallel Parliament

by Glen Pearson

Tag: community

Millennials Put the Positive Back Into Politics

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My article in today’s London Free Press, for April 25, 2015.  You can link to the original article HERE.

“I’M NOT A PARTISAN LIKE MY FOLKS WERE,” she said in reflection. “I just want politics to work and I don’t see why it can’t. Most of us want the same basic things, right?” Interestingly, the older generation isn’t all that partisan either, and, as we saw in the last column, they are checking out of the “gotcha” form of politics as fast as anyone else.

Yet the emphasis on making things “work” is perhaps the key desire of my 41-year old friend’s generation in their view of politics. Part of a cohort called the “MIllennials” and born in the span between the early-1980s to the early-2000s, they are increasingly making their talents, frustrations, resources, and energies felt on everything from consumerism to community values.

Younger generations of Canadians are, at once, clearly more passionately individualistic and yet fervently communitarian than any group we have seen in decades. Research has revealed them to be more socially tolerant, more comfortable with racial and ethnic diversity, and most welcoming to new immigrants than generations that preceded them. These values undergird their attitude to towards community, public life – and politics.

The Millennials have watched as fundamental Canadian values have suffered decline in recent years, regardless of which government was in place at all levels. As a result, they want to take risk, to do good, and to invest in their communities, families, and countries in ways that will last. Social media has permitted them opportunity to vent their frustrations and their aspirations, often in negative ways, but also in a fashion that is constructive, collaborative, with innovation as one of the key drivers to future efforts.

Robert Kennedy would have felt at home with this restless generation because he once tried to elevate younger Americans past historic prejudices and limitations through his own presidential aspirations. “Few will have greatness to bend history itself,” he reasoned, “but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of those acts will be written the history of this generation.” That’s exactly what the Millennials are committed to and they’re determined to blow past historic limitations that have refused to yield control to a more equitable world. They harbour few illusions, but they are driven by hope.

Will they collectively apply themselves to remaking the present form of politics that has grown hyper-partisan and angry? Research reveals they are, but we have to look no farther than our own city of London to spot the evidence. The youth of our present city council is now familiar, yet in numerous nomination battles waged over the last number of weeks an entirely new generation of candidates has stepped forward, saying they are ready to press for change and are confident enough to believe they can deliver it.

In an era where an increasing number of Canadians has given up looking for politics and cookie cutter politicians to solve our greatest challenges, the Millennials are acknowledging that we can’t adequately handle those tasks without a politics that matters. Yes, they are skeptical of the standard politics that puts party above principle and confrontation over collaboration, but instead of checking out they are checking in, and in that reversal might come the reformation of Canada’s political structure before it is too late.

Our nation’s history has witnessed reformed minded generations before, and Canada moved progressively ahead as a result. Those generations melded their aspirations to public service and better communities with the possibilities of politics. They would have agreed with Michael Sandel’s observation that, “when politics goes well, we can know a good in common that we cannot know alone.”

In troubling fashion, large portions of Canadians no longer hold to that bond between values and a beneficial politics that could deliver on them. But many of our younger citizens, tired of waiting for political change, have opted to change things themselves by challenging the very culture of modern politics. The fate of the next great political consensus is now in their hands and they simply won’t accept the tribal mentalities that so characterize the present political class. Just as their great example of business ingenuity is Apple as opposed to General Motors, their politics will become about their communities as opposed to political camps. They are fighting to bring together active government with innovative public policy and community service.

It is yet to be seen if the old and partisan political order can fend off the Millennials in its desperation to retain power, but should the new generation find ways of bringing Canadians back to a more relevant politics, then they will have already triumphed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It All Starts With Words

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FORMER SLAVE AND ACTIVIST DURING the Civil War era, Frederick Douglass, spent much of his childhood in very difficult circumstances.  But he wanted to learn, and when he got the chance he jumped at it.  Learning to read introduced him, not only to Abraham Lincoln, but to a whole new world of freedom for himself and others.  He affirmed that very truth when he wrote, “Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.”

I was honoured to be asked to write a guest blog for this This IS Literacy – a terrific London, Ontario organization that promotes and supports literacy for not just children, but entire families.  I wrote about my own children whom we adopted from Sudan and the challenge we faced when they first came to Canada eight years ago.  They had never learned to read nor write, but our greatest task was to help them recover a childhood they had never had, and for that it would take words.

You can link to the blog post here, but better yet, visit This Is Literacy’s website and see how a community that wishes to discover itself has to first begin with the power of words.

 

A Virtuous Circle

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IN A WORLD WHERE A KNIFE, a gun, or a raised fist rapidly become defining symbols of the modern age, an emblem as old as humanity has emerged to stand up against intolerance – the circle.

Norwegians have felt the deep sting of hatred in recent weeks and as a people they could be forgiven for secluding themselves in their homes, with curtains drawn. They chose the opposite, preferring to testify to their respect of tolerance in the light of day.

It all started on Saturday, February 21, when more than 1,000 Muslims gathered together to form a human shield around Oslo’s synagogue. It was a direct response to an earlier attack on a synagogue in neighbouring Denmark a week previous, where a Danish-born son of Palestinian immigrants killed two people in an event promoting free speech at the city’s synagogue. It was Copenhagen’s only synagogue and the effects were immediately felt.

So it was that Oslo’s Muslim community showed their solidarity with their Jewish neighbours by forming a circle, 1,000 people strong, around the synagogue as the service progressed. Norway’s Jewish community only numbers 1,000 people itself and was understandably insecure following the attack of the previous week. The demonstration sent a clear signal to not only Oslo, but all of Europe, that the time had come to stand up against hatred, prejudice, and killing.

The Jewish community and all of Oslo could have left things at that, but they had a further statement to make, again in the form of a circle. Hundreds of Norwegians from all walks of life gathered to form a “human peace ring” around a Muslim mosque as a kind of symbolic “thank you” for what the Muslim supporters had done the week previous. The call for citizens to join the rally put it simply but firmly:

“We want to stand shoulder to shoulder with our Muslim fellow citizens to show disgust towards increasing Muslim hate and xenophobia in society. In this time of fear and polarization we feel it is more important than ever to stand together and show solidarity. We believe in and will highlight the human will to live together in peace and in respect for each other regardless of religion and ethnicity.”

This is what it will take, not just in those areas where attacks occurred, but in every peace-loving community around the world, to remind us that we still have to gather if we are to prevail. Or, as Albert Schweitzer put it: “Until we extend our circle of compassion to include all living things, we will never find peace.”

Haters have to find objects against which they unleash their own inner turmoil. They lack a sense of proportion, believing that their own violent and hate-filled acts are greater than they really are. They live out their own alienation. In their actions they seek out respect as confirmation of their cause. But they can’t get it because the larger community of citizens and institutions are built on a greater understanding of tolerance. The powerlessness of those who hate to such a degree is revealed by those communities that refuse to yield. If forming a circle is the way move forward in peace, then so be it.

Life Values

“The biggest thing we get out of it is seeing the kids smile. And hopefully we will also see that the lessons we’re teaching – not only the fundamentals of hockey, but also the life values – are sinking in.”

… Bobby Orr

The Strange

 

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FOR ALL OF OUR TALK ABOUT CITIES AND THEIR economic and architectural importance for the future, we must never leave behind the understanding of the human in those places where we live.

Our knowledge is growing that cities have become the context whereby we will largely figure out our future and how we should learn to “be” together. And, as we are learning, they will become the places where we must live constructively or destructively together. As municipalities absorb more and more of human activity, there will be a strong tendency to tear ourselves apart – verbally, economically, socially – unless we find new ways to confront our collective challenges.

Unfortunately, the problems facing our cities have taken on a kind of mechanical nature, as if some economic formula or some overall policy will heal all ills. These are vital to consider, but it will only be as we put the emphasis on how we live in the “everyday” of living that we develop the will to cooperate together for the difficult years ahead. In other words, every city-making exercise must be matched to the vision of who we are as a people if we are to find success.

Many years ago, I visited Brasilia, the modern capital of Brazil, when it was just being completed and as the population moved in. There were buildings without tenants, streets without cars, government offices without public servants, and neighbourhoods without neighbours. It was built in 41 months and stood as a testament to the ambitions of a proud people. Yet they were antiseptic dreams until the people moved in and made it the thriving community it is today.

Most of us will never get a chance to build a city from scratch; we have to design one and live in it at the same time. How we exactly do that has become one of the major challenges of our age. Where we live has a direct impact on how we see the world and our place within it. The intersection between a sense of place and the human narrative that enlivens it is one of the key driving forces for the future of the human race itself. We don’t just live in a city, we form it with values, with a sense of what the world means to us. The more the global structure reveals deep fissures on so many levels, the more difficult it will be to keep such realities, internal or external, from ripping us apart from one another. It will take work … and respect.

At the same time as technology and easier travel have increased the number of interactions internationally, they have also had a hand in revealing frictions long submerged. Social media, while introducing new possibilities to communities, has already developed a propensity to rip apart the fabric of city living, and unless we are careful, it can turn where we live into a place of mere opinions as opposed to shared values.

Who we are at our most human level will determine the nature of place in which we live and it will require spirit and understanding and not just modern buildings and transportation systems if we are to make our cities great. We all require some physical setting in which to pass through the various stages of life in order to securely reach our full potential. But if our cities become fractured by fissures of anger or suspicion, or just plain dysfunction, then it is only a matter of time until they threaten our progress as individuals and families.

Ultimately, our cities need to be built on what is precious to us, and not merely steel, fiber optics, digital domains, or concrete. To be human involves a common life and a common sense of purpose. If we don’t have that, it won’t matter how physically beautiful our communities are. The truly great city is a state of mind that offers a vision of the best we can be together.

That great author on cities, Jane Jacobs, once observed in The Death and Life of Great American Cities: “By its nature, the metropolis provides what otherwise could be given only by travelling; namely the strange. Our cities now bring the world – the strange – to us, and only by discovering our shared humanity will be build places of merit.

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