I had a conversation recently with a mayoral candidate from another city. The gist of the conversation was his surprise at my lack of interest in politics in general and historical lack of participation in our democratic process; I have voted maybe twice. Once that I can recall for sure. On that occasion Mike, aka The Best, said that if I was going to waste my vote I should go and vote for his guy. So I did. Fully intend to that is. But I got so rattled by the screwy ballot (Quebec) that I accidentally voted for the other guy.
Politics being his passion, the aspiring mayor was baffled. Revering the democracy and freedoms that we enjoy in Canada, he was, perhaps rightly, scandalized. So I explained it like this, and have been thinking about it ever since.
“Basically, you are competing for a job. You’ll all do the job equally well or poorly within the existing system and it’s a system that I don’t understand or respect. So why do I want to take half a day out of my life to help you to get it?”
I meant no offense and he took none, but I could see that it was a new idea to him, that he was really listening and actually thinking about it and I hope that we get to continue the conversation as I have been thinking about it also. Recent evolution of the discussion hereabouts suggest that it isn’t a new idea in politics. That it’s called You Scratch My Back I’ll Scratch Yours. You get me the job (contract, funding, support etc) that I need and I’ll help you get the one you’re applying for. Shows what I know.
I have also been talking with someone who seems to have a really keen understanding of these things and a great way of explaining them. I learned 1) that the municipal level is different, in that it is not party politics. So when we elect someone to represent or help us, we’re really beginning an ongoing conversation between him and us. That’s actually kind of cool. 2) that party politics, which have always seemed like a three-ring circus to me, are useful in that the elected official has a general idea of the values of the people who elected her to office, enabling her to make myriad decisions without having to mobilize all of us on a daily basis in order to get the job done. Applied politics 101. Somehow knowing this makes the whole thing that much more relevant. Maybe you already knew this stuff.
I had yet another conversation as part of my political education, this time with a municipal aspirant, which ended when I said “I can’t support you unless you can take the high road, and frankly, I sometimes think that you can’t even see it.” A little harsh maybe but if you can’t take it from your friends, maybe you’re not cut out for politics.
The result was that I was “unfriended”. What I thought was a conversation starter turned out to be a conversation stopper. The candidate has since taken out a hit on our neighbourhood association, systematically undermining each constructive effort to help or get to know our neighbours, no matter who is really losing out. Is it any wonder that more people don’t get involved in neighbourhood associations, much less politics? Sometimes it isn’t just the system that’s broken…
The fact is, if someone came along who I thought was going to make a real difference in the lives of you and me and our community, I would not only give up half a day to vote, I’d knock on doors and spread the joy. Probably you would too.