Sunday, August 19, 2012

Jack Layton: One Year Later, Let Us Be Loving

It is hard to believe that it has been one year since Canada lost a charismatic leader, Jack Layton. A year since the chalk memorials at Toronto City Hall, a year since spontaneous vigils popped up nation-wide, a year since his widow Olivia Chow showed such grace.

I have Jack's final letter to Canadians in front of me, but let me offer a few words of my own before providing commentary on the rich and inspiring letter that Jack left.

What I would like to say is that politics, and being involved in politics, is utterly meaningless if love is not present. I come from a religious background - as did Jack and our first leader Tommy Douglas - so let me quote from Scripture:
"If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing." ~ 1 Corinthians 13:1-3
Politics must be about love and love ultimately is about community.  How often can you and I forget these basic principles - that politics is about taking care of each other - as the weeks and months go by in the heat of either provincial or federal partisanship. How often do I demonize any Conservative politician with (or without) a pulse? How quickly do I offer my stamp of disapproval at any idea that any opposing politician may propose, no matter if it may be good for the citizen?

Here's an example. Currently in our region there is a provincial by-election set for a few weeks time. Each of the major parties are holding rallies, with partisan speeches and enthusiastic crowds.  That's all well and good, and I quite enjoy them. But it doesn't amount to one iota if the candidate we are supporting is not committed to bringing positive change to their constituents rather than just warming a seat at Queen's Park. (For the record, I fully support our local NDP candidate and look forward to the race).

Jack reached out to a number of groups in his last letter, the first being people who also struggle with cancer. He wrote:
  "You have every reason to be optimistic, determined, and focused on the future. My only other advice is to cherish every moment with those you love at every stage of your journey, as I have done this summer." 
Jack knew that his time here was coming to an end, but rather than spend it in retreat, he reached out.  We would be wise to take Jack's words very seriously, to "cherish every moment with those you love at every stage of your journey." Keep making those weekly calls to that relative. Keep asking if that friend needs a chore to be taken care of. Slow down as much as you can in this busy world and laugh with the ones you love.

Next Jack spoke to members of his party, emphasizing as always, social justice, and making sure that no one is left behind. Jack believed these words, it wasn't just a nice slogan. From my view, one of the NDP's greatest strengths is that it stands up for "the little guy" and stands up for the rights of those who society would marginalize, whether that be women, immigrants, the LGBTQ community.  As exciting as it is that we are only a step away from forming government in this country, we must never forget the values that have brought us here, the values that people like Tommy Douglas, Ed Broadbent, Audrey McLaughlin, Alexa McDonough, and Jack Layton believed in. I have full confidence that these principles, and our party are in more than capable hands with Tom Mulcair at the helm.

Jack then spoke movingly to the youth of Canada:
"There are great challenges before you, from the overwhelming nature of climate change to the unfairness of an economy that excludes so many from our collective wealth, and the changes necessary to build a more inclusive and generous Canada. I believe in you. Your energy, your vision, your passion for justice are exactly what this country needs today. You need to be at the heart of our economy, our political life, and our plans for the present and the future."
 Jack "just got it." He was in tune with the hopes and dreams of young Canadians - and particularly young Quebeckers - and knew that Canada and our party needed our drive (ok ok I'm 34) going forward. No longer should youth be an afterthought or merely backdrops at political events; they should be front and center as we build "a more inclusive and generous Canada."

Finally, to all Canadians, Jack wrote:
"Canada is a great country, one of the hopes of the world. We can be a better one – a country of greater equality, justice, and opportunity. We can build a prosperous economy and a society that shares its benefits more fairly. We can look after our seniors. We can offer better futures for our children. We can do our part to save the world’s environment. We can restore our good name in the world. We can do all of these things because we finally have a party system at the national level where there are real choices; where your vote matters; where working for change can actually bring about change. In the months and years to come, New Democrats will put a compelling new alternative to you. My colleagues in our party are an impressive, committed team. Give them a careful hearing; consider the alternatives; and consider that we can be a better, fairer, more equal country by working together. Don’t let them tell you it can’t be done."
And then, as if riding his bicycle into the sunset, Jack offered us words that will stick in the hearts and minds of Canadians for a very very long time:
"My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world."
The greatest of these is love. Are you (am I?) involved in politics just to bring down the bad guys? Have we been working in politics so long that we've forgotten the broad values in favour of making sure one more sign gets posted and one more volunteer recruited?  What are we trying to do here people?

Politics is about people. Politics is about love.

On this first anniversary of your passing, we miss you terribly Jack, but are thankful for the legacy you have left behind.

Mark Andrew Alward is the LGBTQ  Representative for Kitchener-Centre's NDP.