Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Left Behind: what happens when the left is too cool to vote

"If you are not doing needles and you are not gay, you wouldn’t get AIDS probably, that’s bottom line. These are the facts."

"Every year we have dozens of people who get hit by cars or trucks. My heart bleeds when someone gets killed, but it’s their own fault at the end of the day."

- some nuggets of wisdom from Toronto's newly-elected mayor, Rob Ford

I would never normally ascribe to biological determinism, but there must be something in my DNA that forbids conservatism. I've tried so hard, at least intellectually, to understand what drives the conservative being, and all I could ever conclude was that it's simply the product of fear, shelter, and a legacy of colonialism in the Western world. Nothing that a little education, exposure, and life experience outside the wealthy or rural bubbles couldn't solve.

There is just a certain something about the right that frightens me (of course nothing I would ever back down from though). As a recent observation by a dear friend goes: "I'm not scared of the far left. What's the worst they can do? Make me work less and still have a roof over my head, learn how to paint, talk about my feelings, and be self-actualized? I'm not afraid of that... But history has shown that the far right will wipe you out completely if you aren't on board with their ideals."

However, I realized yesterday with Rob Ford's 12-point victory to become mayor of the formerly liberal capital of Canada (Toronto), that the left is capable of far more harm than myself and my friend would like to believe: through their own arrogance, apathy, and "I'm too cool and intelligent to vote because I'm above the process" sentiments, by not voting, the left is capable of electing governments that threaten the environment,  health, diversity, tolerance, immigration, and the basic social safety net that protects us from being left behind in our most difficult struggles for survival. Yes, these are ideals and not necessarily realities, but if the ideals are removed from the platform they are no longer integrated as strategic goals to be achieved.

Here we are in the "information age" and the left, rather than mobilizing and strengthening its potential for increased awareness, wisdom, and action, has really just become a helpless post-modern wasteland of spoiled, cynical, apathetic, libertarian brats who would rather talk and judge from afar than take any direct action. Frankly, many on the left make the rest of us look really, really bad.

In spite of my misgivings of the right, one thing I have always admired them for is their belief in the democratic process (however naive some self-proclaimed "pundits" on the left would say that faith is -- but down with them, because criticism of that sort doesn't translate into votes, only lack thereof). The right shows up to the polls and votes. And yesterday in Toronto, they did just that. And won.

We can use Ford's victory as another affirmation of the classic rural/urban divide in Canada, heartland of the 50-plus wealthy homeowner versus the young city-dweller split that seems to come up every time there is a civic, provincial, or federal election. Yawn. Or we can use it to examine the arrogance and apathy of the left and recognize that inaction is as dangerous as the outcome the lazy left is criticizing.

Not all hope is lost though. First of all the mayor is really only a figurehead; a single vote on a council of many. But also, in the same way that Steven Malkmus said frustration and anger with Ronald Reagan's America inspired him to pick up a guitar and form Pavement (one of countless examples of political discontent manifesting into powerful artistic and cultural movements), Ford's election in Toronto may just kickstart a dormant social awareness in Canada's most diverse city, and spark helping hands that would otherwise have remained idle. We could be witness to an increase in community volunteering, career changes, politically-based leisure-time activities, and bringing politics into the centre of discussions and life decisions. The problem with periods of complacency (which apparently Toronto was in) is that the risk of sudden swings to the right against an unsuspecting public demonstrate just how delicate the political process can be. But let it be a reminder that we can all keep our "leaders" in check by getting out of our heads and beds and showing a bit of leadership ourselves.

So go forth and lend a hand to someone who needs it. Chances are under Rob Ford, they will need it even more.