Happy Birthday

Today friends is a very special day. Today my daughter reached the age of sixteen and marks for me a time to reflect on the journey she, her mom, and I have been on for those 16 years.

My girls some serious disadvantages that many of us don’t have to deal with. She has Bi-polar disorder and it can make life tough for her mom and I and infinitely harder for her. See Bi-polar disorder is a sometime rapid back and forth in her emotions from rage to joyful mania to deep unrelenting sadness none of which she can control.

But despite that she is thoughtful and funny and I could not imagine my life with out her. We could not have gotten to where we are as a family though with out the unending belief and support of family, friends, and the many many people in the school and mental health system who have given us their guidance and help when the three of us have been at our lowest.

That’s what community really means though, People coming together to help one another so that someone who wouldn’t normally succeed have an opportunity to thrive.

Today I had the great privilege of being a part of a review of the social assistance programs in our province. The government had decided that they wanted to see if there were recommendations made by the citizens of Ontario that could improve this often bewildering and often difficult system. So today some 120 people came out in the snow to offer their input. Some of them were people who use these services and some had never before, until recently, even thought about it. But they came out as a community to do something about it.

Just like the community came out and rallied around my family and made tit possible for my daughter to have a chance to succeed.

So today it was a very happy birthday for my daughter because of the chance community gave her and maybe it’s a very happy birthday for the rest of my community as well because they showed up to improve what is infinitely hard for so many.

Advertisements

The Best Opportunity We Have

We are having a hard time right now in the Forest City.  There’s a strike at Electro Motive Diesel, Unemployment is around 10%, and there are some 3500 people per month needing to use the London Food Bank. So what are we to do? Our Mayor, Joe Fontana, gave a speech on the state of the city and we got a song about London being the city of opportunity. Doesn’t feel like that right now though.

And while we could collectively shrug our shoulders and sigh there are people in London who are trying to create change, are agitating against the common belief that there is nothing we can do, and are trying to create a more meaningful community. People like Abe Oudshoorn who is ringing the bell on homelessness, companies like rtraction, Echidna Solutions , Orpheum Web Hosting, and so many of those in our local unions  who give back to the community again and again.

Then there’s the group I have been working with over the last few months, the Citizens Panel. Born out of a want to engage and a request through Glen Pearson by the City to engage other citizens, we are trying to create meaningful dialogue and change around the questions of social assistance and how we support those in our community who are the most disadvantaged. You can come and talk to us and your fellow citizens about this on January 29th 2012 @ 1 pm. At the Convention Centre..

We have groups like Pillar, The United Way, Glen Cairn Community Resource Centre, The Food Bank, The Sisters of St.Joeseph, London Community Foundation, and my new place of employment Emerging Leaders, where people can get involved and add to the discussion and work of who we are and where we are going in concrete ways. Yet still this is not enough.

Shakespeare said through the lines of Hamlet “What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god!, the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals”. Powerful words those. They speak of “our better angels”. And right now we need those qualities to be put to use in London. To be applied to questions of economics, wellbeing, and the commitment to how and where we live.

So many of you, and yes me to, don’t show up and don’t engage when those better angels we all have speak to us and ask us too. Times are tough and are likely to remain tough for some time to come and that is why now is the very best of times to look around you and ask where can I add my voice? Where can I contribute my time and labour? Where can I offer some of what I have to those that might need it, be that financial, spiritual, or emotional?

We have so much potential here in London but it is only realized through our combined efforts towards a common goal of community and caring. In order for that to happen we need you .We need you on the line at EMD, or volunteering in your neighbourhood, or asking questions and sharing your opinions with our leaders, or on the 29th at the convention centre. Add your industry to those mentioned above and join in on what may be the beginning of what may be the best opportunity we have.

The Undiscovered Country

Shakespeare’s Hamlet said something interesting:

“To be, or not to be–that is the question”

The traditional interpretation is that Hamlet is weighing whether to take his life or not but beneath or beside this is another struggle, to take action or not to take action. For Hamlet he is also struggling with deciding to take the life of his uncle/step dead and honour the request of his father’s ghost or to not.

But there is something about Hamlets soliloquy that has had me thinking for quite a while now. Our collective “To be or not to be” is around how to get to that, to borrow a phrase from the Puritan John Winthrop,” City upon the Hill”. That place of potential we all want and which,  should we take actions, could be a better for us and our fellow citizens to live. To create that forested city on the hill.

I was lucky enough tonight to run in to my good friend Adam Caplan and we fell into, as we often do, these meaningful conversations about who we are and what we believe. Adam pointed out to me that he found the system of our traditional political parties to polarizing and that it was difficult to engage in critical thought and the dialogue that follows in the face of the contentious poles of Left and Right. I agree with Adam here, it is hard and there is a sense, one that I am sometimes guilty of using, that you’re either with us or against us. But perhaps there is another path here that we need to consider.

My friend Glen Pearson and I have been having an ongoing conversation about the ideas of citizenship, this is something Glen has been talking about for some time, and from those conversations I have come to agree with his ideas that the new power that needs to be developed amongst us is that of the engaged citizen continually speaking to the issues in his or her community/province/country rather that the politics of left and right. What we end up with is community coming forward to make sure our political, business, religious, and community leaders understand what we support or don’t support.

In the past months I have been involved with the citizen’s panel with Glen, James Shelley, Kevin Dixon, Eric Shepperd, and Sue Wilson. We have been working away at the Social Assistance Review Process at the behest of City Council. At the first City Symposium last month we had a huge turnout of Londoners who were interested in learning about the income gap and we will ask them to become further involved in two events this month so we get their input on the systems that most affect the disadvantaged in our city. This is a clear example of the idea of engaged citizens becoming involved – of answering their own to be or not to be question.

Today I went down to the Electro-Motive plant with James and Glen to support my fellow Londoners on the picket line. Essentially their employer, Caterpillar, has said to them take a 50% pay cut or nothing with no middle ground. The shear indifference of this offer is breath taking. But it has led to some troubling thoughts and discoveries as well. Many people whom I respect and genuinely like are not supporting their fellow community members in this struggle because they don’t like unions. But if using Glen and Adams ideas of having critical conversations outside of polarizing party lines and of citizens coming together to move ideas forward we then reach something else Hamlet talked about: the undiscovered country.

Our friend Hamlet goes on to say:

“But that the dread of something after death,

The undiscovered country, from whose bourn

No traveller returns, puzzles the will,

And makes us rather bear those ills we have

Than fly to others that we know not of”

Our Danish pal has some important ideas in these lines that I think we need to consider. Let’s take that first line, the dread of something after death. We can, and again I’m as guilty as anyone else, speak to an issue not out of critical thought or even compassion but out of our comfortable well-worn beliefs that may be an uncritical habitual reaction – our individual death of reason. In the case of the CAW on strike is the reaction against, or at the very least not in support of, these workers\based on an assumption, or maybe one or two bad stories , of what unions have actually done ? Has this opinion been politicized in terms of right and left? Is our will puzzled because we cannot imagine being in support of such a group? Do we not support our fellow citizens because to do so would go against our comfortable viewpoint of the lazy union worker and that is uncomfortable or deadly to our previous viewpoint? And does this lead us to” bear those ills” and see these workers go down alone rather than come out strongly in support of them together?

The beginning, the middle, and the end for me are the following 3 points when it comes to the fight at Electro-Motive:

  1.  It is not fair that these workers are being told to cut their wages in half even though we , as represented by the federal government, have given this company tax incentives to be in our community
  2. If we allow this to happen without a fight then this will happen again and again and again and the result will be a race to the bottom in terms of wages – something that has already happened in the service industry(can you say Wal-Mart?)
  3. I cannot stand by and not speak out in support of my fellow Londoners when they are being unfairly treated by a company that has shown indifference toward their wellbeing and the wellbeing of our community

I know for some of my friends reading this that it is a difficult place to be in – on the one hand they do not like the  unions but on the other hand they do not like to see their fellow community members be treated like this. To them, and to all of you, I suggest we resolve the to be or not to be and discover the undiscovered country of critical thought, compassion, and engagement in order to make London a better place for us all and support those who need it even in the face of what maybe personally uncomfortable.