Saturday, September 8, 2012

Politics: More Than Buttons And Lawn Signs

Thursday night was a politico's dream if you lived in the Waterloo Region of the province of Ontario here in Canada. There was a provincial byelection in the riding of Kitchener-Waterloo and the results started rolling in around 9pm EST. At the same time, another tab on the browser was open to live coverage of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, NC. I had volunteered for my preferred candidate in the byelection nearby, but just barely due to an ongoing illness. Over 700 volunteers on election day ensured that the New Democratic Party's Catherine Fife won the seat vacated by a Progressive Conservative (and no that isn't necessarily a contradiction for my American readers.)  Results kept rolling in and rolling in as Senator John Kerry, Vice-President Joe Biden, and President Barack Obama fired up the Charlotte crowd.

Politics is in my blood. My grandfather Harry Alward was a councillor and reeve of my hometown of Port Burwell, Ontario, and he sat on pretty much every board possible at one time or another. He ran for the provincial Liberal party in the 1950's, coming up short. My father is also very interested in politics, though I think he'd rather go to a Marilyn Manson concert than put on an orange NDP shirt (which I happen to be wearing today).

I say all this to lead up to my major point. While campaign stickers and buttons and signs and literature can prove to be effective during a campaign, that is not what politics is all about.

The reason that so many people are disillusioned or just plain disinterested in politics is because most politicians seem to not relate to them at all. They don't appeal to their deepest desires. And what are our deepest desires? In the words of the late New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton, when we dig deep, we are people of love, of hope, and of optimism. But for years, politics has been seen as divisive, playing to each others fears, and "just getting by."

The division between politics and our deepest dreams need not be so. And thankfully we see that in certain politicians. I tend to be left-leaning - ok, I am left-leaning, and what I hear coming out of the mouths of the New Democrats and the Democrats in America is that they simply want to look out after each other, they want to make sure that no one is left behind. Whereas right-leaning parties often come across as mainly being concerned with balancing the books and being responsible fiscal managers (both of which are admirable), they seem willing to do it on the backs of the most marginalized people in society. There is a distinct lack of compassion in their voices and policies, and they reach out to a base that thinks there should be "no free handouts" and "people should work harder to get out of their plights."

Surely we must be more caring than that.  We must do a better job of caring for those who are on the bottom-rung of the ladder - hell, who aren't even on the ladder at all. These people live on social assistance, do not have family who can swoop in and help them, and their social assistance rates are so meager that they can barely live a decent life. Americans who until recently were terrified of going to the hospital because of the bills they'd face, and being met by insurance companies who wouldn't even look at you if you had a pre-existing condition.

How can this change? How can we as North Americans, as a planet, take better care of each other.  First we can elect representatives who truly "get it," who truly have a listening ear and know that we must do better for all citizens, not just some. Representatives who realize that they only have a job because the people have hired them.  Secondly, those volunteers - the ones with the buttons and flyers and lawn signs - they need to stay involved, both during an election campaign and afterwards.  Political engagement is crucial and we can make a huge difference, in municipal, provincial (or state) and federal politics.

No one must be left behind. Love, hope and optimism are not just lofty words or a cheap campaign slogan.  Politicians would do better to appeal to these qualities within our hearts; then more people would be engaged. And that my friends, is democracy.

Mark Andrew Alward