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Archive for August, 2011

I am sure that if you are Canadian you heard the news of the passing of one of Canada’s great political leaders. Jack Layton lost his fight with cancer at the age of 61 this morning with family and friends at his home in Toronto. Jack Layton was a democrat in a conservative era who fought his opponents with the politics of relentless optimism and sunny hopefulness. This is why he was known as “Similing Jack” in the media, it was this attitude and game plan that would always get under his opponents skin. He was a highly intelligent political theorist, a doctor of political science and former professor at Toronto’s Ryerson University. He was also the man that lead his party to be elected the official opposition for the first time in the NDP’s history, with 103 seats (the highest before being 43 seats), the NDP became the official opposition in the House of Commons this spring, something that I honestly never thought I would see in my lifetime.

His message was different than other politicians, he refused to use attack ads filled with anger, he offered an alternative political agenda that did not include the mantra of tax-cutting and balanced budgets (the base of Conservative campaigns), instead he talked about better pensions, education, health care and the wrongs of economic inequality. At the same time, he avoided a culture war with the Conservatives. He repeatedly told his party’s inner circle that he didn’t think the Tories were evil, just misguided. Jack has brought three gifts into politics: an overwhelming energy, an ability to think of imaginative solutions and a skill – which became much clearer when he got to Ottawa – at helping people find common ground. There are many other things that he left as a legacy, but I think that the most important is that he transcended party lines, he was the symbol of optimism and hope. Here is the letter that he wrote to the Canadian people before his passing, I think that this letter might be his greatest legacy.

Dear Friends,
Tens of thousands of Canadians have written to me in recent weeks to wish me well. I want to thank each and every one of you for your thoughtful, inspiring and often beautiful notes, cards and gifts. Your spirit and love have lit up my home, my spirit, and my determination.
Unfortunately my treatment has not worked out as I hoped. So I am giving this letter to my partner Olivia to share with you in the circumstance in which I cannot continue.
I recommend that Hull-Aylmer MP Nycole Turmel continue her work as our interim leader until a permanent successor is elected.
I recommend the party hold a leadership vote as early as possible in the New Year, on approximately the same timelines as in 2003, so that our new leader has ample time to reconsolidate our team, renew our party and our program, and move forward towards the next election.
A few additional thoughts:
To other Canadians who are on journeys to defeat cancer and to live their lives, I say this: please don’t be discouraged that my own journey hasn’t gone as well as I had hoped. You must not lose your own hope. Treatments and therapies have never been better in the face of this disease. 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.
To the members of my party: we’ve done remarkable things together in the past eight years. It has been a privilege to lead the New Democratic Party and I am most grateful for your confidence, your support, and the endless hours of volunteer commitment you have devoted to our cause. There will be those who will try to persuade you to give up our cause. But that cause is much bigger than any one leader. Answer them by recommitting with energy and determination to our work. Remember our proud history of social justice, universal health care, public pensions and making sure no one is left behind. Let’s continue to move forward. Let’s demonstrate in everything we do in the four years before us that we are ready to serve our beloved Canada as its next government.
To the members of our parliamentary caucus: I have been privileged to work with each and every one of you. Our caucus meetings were always the highlight of my week. It has been my role to ask a great deal from you. And now I am going to do so again. Canadians will be closely watching you in the months to come. Colleagues, I know you will make the tens of thousands of members of our party proud of you by demonstrating the same seamless teamwork and solidarity that has earned us the confidence of millions of Canadians in the recent election.
To my fellow Quebecers: On May 2nd, you made an historic decision. You decided that the way to replace Canada’s Conservative federal government with something better was by working together in partnership with progressive-minded Canadians across the country. You made the right decision then; it is still the right decision today; and it will be the right decision right through to the next election, when we will succeed, together. You have elected a superb team of New Democrats to Parliament. They are going to be doing remarkable things in the years to come to make this country better for us all.
To young Canadians: All my life I have worked to make things better. Hope and optimism have defined my political career, and I continue to be hopeful and optimistic about Canada. Young people have been a great source of inspiration for me. I have met and talked with so many of you about your dreams, your frustrations, and your ideas for change. More and more, you are engaging in politics because you want to change things for the better. Many of you have placed your trust in our party. As my time in political life draws to a close I want to share with you my belief in your power to change this country and this world. 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.
And finally, to all Canadians: 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.
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.
All my very best,
Jack Layton

I know that I will miss having Jack in the Canadian political landscape, and I think that we all owe it to Jack to continue his agenda. One of hope, optimism, and love; I think that it is a Canada that we can all be proud of! RIP Jack, we’ll make sure to take it from here…

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I know that I am a little late writing about the rioting that has been happening in London the past few days following the death of a young black man in one of the poorest neighbourhoods. I find that there is a lot that needs to be examined if we are to truly understand why this happened and what was the real cause, we can also ask ourselves if rioting is really a political act. I find that since the rioting has started and continued, maybe we have lost sight of many factors. I find that the media has spun this into a story of looting and the meaninglessness of these actions, which I can see, but do not find, is entirely true. I also believe that this is a sign of things to come, more and more the poor and disenfranchised will rise up against an unjust and totalitarian regime that is oppressing them. If there are no real changes in these systems that protect the interests of the rich and marginalize the poor, we will live more and more events like this. Let’s start at the beginning of these riots and try to make sense of all of this.

Since the coalition has come to power there has been dozens of protests happening in London; multiple student protests, occupations of dozens of universities, several strikes, a half-a-million-strong trade union march and now unrest on the streets of the capital. Each of these events was sparked by a different cause, yet all take place against a backdrop of brutal cuts and enforced austerity measures. The policies of the past year may have clarified the division between the entitled and the dispossessed in extreme terms, but the context for social unrest cuts much deeper. The fatal shooting of Mark Duggan last Thursday, where it appears, contrary to initial accounts, that only police bullets were fired, is another tragic event in a longer history of the Metropolitan police’s treatment of ordinary Londoners, especially those from black and minority ethnic backgrounds, and the singling out of specific areas and individuals for monitoring, stop and search and daily harassment. A black or Asian youth is 7 times more likely to be searched by police in the London area, the stop and search has created great discontent among minorities, and rightfully so.

Combine understandable suspicion of and resentment towards the police based on experience and memory with high poverty and large unemployment and the reasons why people are taking to the streets become clear. Those condemning the events of the past couple of nights in north London and elsewhere would do well to take a step back and consider the bigger picture: a country in which the richest 10% are now 100 times better off than the poorest, where consumerism predicated on personal debt has been pushed for years as the solution to a faltering economy, and where, according to the OECD, social mobility is worse than any other developed country. Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett stated that in countries where there is less of a gap between the rich and the poor, a country that is not so unequal, there is less crime, ill-health, imprisonment rates, and mental illness. We can maybe agree to a certain degree that the system in England is broken (just like the US and Canada of course, I am not saying that we are better off) and we have to unsure that real change happens if we are to solve these problems, of course, capitalism is a great part of the problem also.

But, can rioting be revolutionary? I saw in an Adbusters article a good point on the debate that occurred between Michel Foucault and French Maoists in 1971 about the difference between the Maoists wish for a “people’s court” to judge the police in contrast to Foucault’s position of unconstrained brutal “popular justice”. Foucault, the history buff that he is, brings the example of the French Revolution and the September Massacres of 1792 where a thousand people were murdered by revolutionaries. For Foucault, this is what “popular justice” looks like and even the “moral ideology” that finds these illegal outbursts repellant “must be submitted to the scrutiny of the most rigorous criticism”. The Maoists believe that the people’s outrage and fury should be channeled into appropriate party structures. This debate does show how we imagine revolutionary change to take place. Will the revolution be an uncontrollable insurrection, like the examples of looting in London, or will we fear the mob and work on the side of power and the status quo?

So when does a riot become a revolution? Do the youth have to wear Black Block wear and shout Anarchists slogans? Must they be well-read, to be able to explain their ideas on the same level as Alain Badiou, Giorgi Agamben, and Antonio Negri? Is this the only way for people to recognize the flashmobs as the highest form of networked insurrection? Micah White believes that when the revolution comes, the ones that have been waiting too long will be the ones that miss it. They are too accustomed to looking in the wrong direction, waiting for the wrong words, the wrong actors, or the wrong kinds of political deeds. This is a revolutionary moment, it may happen in ways that the left may not like. There is a strong possibility of violence, even though we want nonviolence, and there will most definitely be pillaging, although we prefer a peaceful transfer of wealth. We are quick to condemn the looting and riots, are we to set up an approved structure of dissent? Why are we denying riots as a political act? Foucault stated “It is from the point of view of property that there are thieves and stealing”, we view looting as theft and don’t even consider it to be a political act. This is an outburst of “popular justice” against a corrupt and corrupting capitalist system, instead we listen to the views of the system that we are trying to overthrow.

The London riots are not as picturesque as maybe how we imagined the revolution to be, but the left as always said: “Revolution is not a dinner party, nor an essay, nor a painting, nor a piece of embroidery; it cannot be advanced softly, gradually, carefully, considerately, respectfully, politely, plainly, we like it or not, what an insurrection might look like if the forces of capitalism do not peacefully, voluntarily relinquish their stranglehold.”

I find that we must take some time to really look at what is happening, this is not a black and white issue. Also, a last thought to why maybe the looting could make sense, this is just a quick remark and don’t claim to be on official source on this. Wouldn’t it make sense that the poor and marginalized, who have lived a life of never being able to afford the stuff they are told to buy by the capitalist system, would take this as a good opportunity to finally accumulate the goods they have been denied for so long… I also do not think that cutting access to Twitter and Blackberry messenger will do much good (the people will still organize), if anything, it will demonstrate how our governments try to control all aspects of our lives. Let’s also not forget the West’s condemnation of Egypt and others when they blocked social medias to the masses that were taking to the streets. Also, this is not an isolated event, also when the people are clearly out-numbering the police, we know that this will not just go away.  I find that this is what happens when youth are bored and filled with inexplicable anger towards a system that oppresses and denies any opportunities in life (most of these people will never be able to buy a home, to find a secure form of income, etc.), riots are an option for change when someone has nothing to lose…

 

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I started watching the MTV reality show called, If you really knew me…, about Challenge Day and the impact that they have in schools all around the US. If you are not familiar with the work that is done you should really take some time to check out Challenge Day, it is a great answer to helping solve what is happening in schools all over with bullying, racism, etc. During the day, students are put into small groups and they each take turns letting people know the real them, we hide so much of ourselves to others which in turns creates real separation between people. They say that we are like icebergs, we only show 10% of ourselves to the world, so the exercise is to drop the waterline (get out of that comfort zone) and expose 100% of ourselves and be “real”.  What happens is that once everyone has started sharing how they really feel and what they are going through, we realize that we all have our struggles and insecurities, and that all we want is to be accepted for who we are and free to show ourselves and not hide behind masks.

Buddhism does also talk about the other and how we relate to them, especially when discussing the Bodhisattva vow and its mission of releasing all beings of suffering before leaving this earth. Awakening compassion is something that I have struggles with, especially towards myself. I am sure that we all have struggled with the inner critic inside of us, distancing myself from emotional pain – my vulnerability, anger, jealousy, fear – by letting it be covered over with self-judgment. So by pushing away parts of myself, I was digging myself deeper into the trance of unworthiness. I was not able to accept my experience because my heart was hardened by fear and blame. As long as I can remember I have been relentlessly badgering myself, ignoring the hurt in my heart. I think that it had all started with my relationship with my parents that were always quick to judge and criticize me when I was dropping my waterline, I thus developed an incapacity to acknowledge the real suffering that I was living with these harsh words and instead judging myself for being so stupid to show my real self to the world. I would never be accepted and loved if I didn’t create an image of myself that had his shit together all the time, and maintained an image that was respectable with the others around me.

This all came back up when I was watching these kids pour their hearts out, I saw myself and I remembered how hard it was to hold myself with compassion the first time that this surfaced in my meditation practice. I remember doing the body scan to see where in my body I could feel these feelings of unworthiness and judgment, feeling in my chest like my heart was bound with tight chords, realizing how painful this pain really was even though I had become used to feeling it all the time. Realizing how sad I felt to have always been carrying this pain with me, and for so long, ever since I could remember in my childhood. I had read that I should put my hand on my heart, the area where I felt the pain, and to say to myself  “I care about this suffering”. For the first time I could remember I was acknowledging the pain that I felt and realizing that it was Ok for me to care and tend to it. With time and practice, I must admit that the pain slowly softened, it never went away, but I must admit that I have a much more compassionate response to it. This care that I had always offered to others was for the first time in my life being directed towards myself, I could comfort myself with words of kindness and understanding. So now when I start feeling judgments about myself and the physical pain that comes with it, I am able to put my hand on my chest and offer words of kindness by saying that I care about my suffering and the pain and anger subsides and it is replaced by a warm feeling spreading throughout my whole body. My edge has softened with time and I am much less angry than I was.

May this suffering awaken compassion, these are the words of the Bodhisattva, a beautiful promise that is given by people who will dedicate their lives to awaken the compassion of all beings so they may be free of suffering. Challenge Day and its amazing staff are doing the work of the Bodhisattvas, they are showing that we are all suffering and we all want to be heard, loved, and accepted. We all live the same fears, insecurities, and we all have the same desires of being free from suffering. I find that they are showing that we are all in this together, so why do we judge and bring more suffering to people? We should be accepting and loving towards all people, no matter if they are different, because in the end we are all the same. I find that we get so caught up in our own stories sometimes that we forget and make the other to simply be an enemy or an object and forget the humanity that lives inside them. All beings experience love, fear, suffering and we should welcome them with love and openess in our lives. I find that the other is an illusion that we create to help justify our selfishness and to validate our suffering, that it is something that is out of our control. But if we take the time to open to our experiences and meeting them with kindness we can see ourselves in all beings. It reminds me of a story that I read once:

An aged spiritual master calls his two most devoted disciples to the garden in front of his hut. Gravely, he gives each one a chicken and instructs them, “Go to where no one can see, and kill the chicken.” One of the men immediately goes behind his shed, picks up an ax and chops off his chicken’s head. The other wanders around for hours, and finally returns to his master, the chicken still alive and in hand. “Well, what happened?” the teacher asks. The disciple responds, “I can’t find a place to kill the chicken where no one can see me. Everywhere I go, the chicken sees.”

Bring this wisdom into your life and I can assure that you will live a much kinder and compassionate life. I try to bring this attention and compassion to everything that I do, and I find that a Challenge day also lets a school see that we are not alone in our suffering and we should be helping each other out instead of creating boundaries and fear. So tomorrow when you are at school or work, say hello to someone that you normally would not talk to and let them know that you are there and you are listening!

 

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