Monday, November 17, 2008

Voting for Vision: How I wish I could have

Barak Obama’s victory, less than two weeks ago, and indeed the election itself, was a stunning defeat for Politics… in Canada.

Over the past few months (years), I, a Canadian, with no impact on the US Federal Election, was completely engaged in the US election process. So, it seems from Facebook status updates and blog posts, were most of my friends and peers.

While the same was true for the Canadian Election the previous month, with posts and blogs, newsletters, calls to action and more, we were all voting against Stephen Harper far more than we were voting for Stephane Dion, for Elizabeth May, or for Jack Layton. Had any of these others won, I don’t think I would have been, as I was the night of November 4th, dumb-struck and in awe, eyes welling with tears, as the networks announced President Elect Barack Obama. No, I would have sighed, declared it a victory for nobody and gone to bed. Just like it did do on our (Canadian) Election night.

I HATE voting against something. It makes me sick. It leaves a bad taste in my mouth and churns my stomach. When I cast a vote that is against, I do so knowing I must, knowing that to not vote against a party, platform, or person who stands for so many things with which I disagree is akin to voting for that person. I vote against knowing that to not vote is not just akin but fundamentally the same as voting FOR this person or people with whom I disagree (not voting is actually quite abhorrent to me – too bad that about 40% of Canadians think not voting is just fine, thank you). And so I vote, as I must, against that person. But not FOR someone else. Not really. My votes become strategic, like so many others. Strategic to keep someone else out of power. Strategic to keep a lid on ideas fundamentally different from mine. Strategic to cripple in some small way one party’s ability to rule without check or balance. But, not, sadly, not for a different vision, and not really, for the person or party beside whose name I place my “x”. Certainly not, as so many US voters were lucky to have, for a vision of a new, rejuvenated, Canada.

All through the day, November 4th, so many people stood in long lines to vote FOR Barack Obama or vote FOR John McCain. True, some voted for McCain perhaps out of racially based fear, or other fears promoted by the McCain team and perhaps also some people voted for Obama out of anger stemming from the economic meltdown, or the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan or otherwise. But so, so many people voted for a vision, and they were offered visions from which to choose. They were offered options and choices. And they were able to walk into their polling stations, exercise their civic duty, and vote for one of those two visions. And they did.

How I wish I could have voted for a vision of Canada on October 14th that I believed in. How I wish I could have shared with my friends and peers that feel of comraderie, of collective hope for the future. Instead, we were all “faceless for the arts” and promoting letter campaigns, and supporting a vision of Canada that was “Anything But Harper”.

That is so fundamentally sad that I am ashamed now to admit it and put in it writing. Oh, it worked alright. But it was Stephen Harper, mostly of his own doing and not a much more than a pinch of ours, who kept himself from the majority he so desperately wanted. Had he not blown his chances in Quebec with his stupid cuts and comments on arts and culture, he stood a good chance of winning the few extra seats he needed for that majority. Instead, his appeal to a perceived western base that centred on knocking the arts lead to a resurgence in support for the Bloc leading to the saving of the nation from a conservative majority by the one party whose constitution seeks the separation of a big chuck of that same country. How, my fellow Canadians, did we manage that?

So here’s my call to action. If you are not a member of a political party, please consider joining one. I don’t care which one, but all the party platforms are available online. Read them, understand them, and pick one that is reasonable close to what you believe.

Then, take part in that party’s programs and consultations. Make your voice heard, and share your thoughts and opinions. Make yourself part of any leadership races or reviews. Help pick someone in whom you believe and for whom you will volunteer to spread a message or vision you honestly support. Do your civic duty, and on the day when you are called to that duty and get off your sofa go vote. Maybe if we all do that, we’ll be able to walk into our polling stations at the next Canadian election and make our mark beside a name and party in which we believe, and not feel sick or disgusted, but smile as we leave the ballot box because we know we’ve voted for something.

Like they did.