Musings from the ever-changing, ever-amazing and occasionally ever-baffling Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Democracy, Politics, and the Intrepid Junior Blogger

You can tell election season is now in full swing. Just driving down Thickwood Boulevard on the way to the Intrepid Junior Blogger’s school this morning we counted signs, and the signs prompted the kind of political discussion we often have.

The IJB, you see, has a keen interest in politics. She worked on the last provincial election campaign, going door to door to drop off leaflets and brochures. She even took a stab at writing a press release, and while the “zombie apocalypse provisional plan” press release may have never been actually released I think it was quite likely the best press release from any candidate in the entire campaign (and the detail was impressive – our candidate was well prepared to meet an impending zombie invasion). She learned a great deal, and while she had always been interested in politics I think it truly cemented her desire to be involved. And so this past week, when signs went up and candidates were announced, we began discussing politics with more intensity again.
On the way to school this morning she pointed out signs, ones with large Canadian flags (which she declared were very cleverly “playing the patriotism card”), and ones with a vertical orientation so they rose above the more standard horizontal signs (again, she was impressed). She commented on some signs that were unique, and she commented on the colour schemes of others. We talked about the vital emphasis on last names, as that last name is the first one you see on the ballot on voting day, and we talked about those who didn’t seem to have signs out yet, and what that might mean. We talked about credible candidates, those who put in the time and work and effort and long days and hard nights to mount a campaign, and those who just put their name in but don’t seem to realize the incredible amount of work a successful campaign involves. And we recalled my exhaustion after the provincial campaign, feeling like I’d run a month-long marathon, and I hadn’t even been the candidate but just a volunteer on his campaign.

The IJB told me about how at the beginning of this year, when her social sciences teacher announced they would study Canadian politics, she raised both her arms in triumphant victory, as they were heading into territory she already knows well and hungers to know more about. Her teacher, knowing her well too, commented that they were all aware of her interest in politics, and while the students around her likely groaned she was gleeful about a year studying a subject that has captured her.
I believe one day the IJB will run for political office. She has already run for student council, and been successful last year, and this year she plans to run again. I think, though, that this young woman, who can tell you all the details of the robocall scandal and who knows the parties and their platforms like she knows the world of Minecraft, will one day seek office a bit higher than student council. I think she has political aspirations based on a desire to change the world, and to lead.

I will never forget during a trying time in the provincial campaign when she wearily asked me what politics was really all about. I had been talking about some of the antics, fake Twitter accounts and mudslinging and posturing, and I think she was becoming a bit jaded. She looked at me with those trusting eyes and said, “Isn’t politics about making things better? It isn’t really just some big game, is it?” – and her question made me pause, because too often we treat the political process as a big game. We act like it is some high school drama, and often we behave in ways that are less than becoming. We exchange heated words and engage in behaviour that is beneath us, as the real goal is to elect those who will best represent us, and make our community a better place. And I suppose what hurts me is that young people, just like the IJB, are watching all this and it is changing the way they view politics. They are forming their opinions of the political process not from their social science classes discussing leadership and policy and democracy but rather on fake Twitter accounts and verbal “gun fights” between those who seem to have lost view of the real end goal.
There are those who would say this is just the way politics is – often dirty, and far too often about personalities rather than policies. And yet as the IJB often reminds me things are only the way they are because we make them so, or allow them to be that way. We have the power to control these things, and they are not runaway trains with no brakes. We can engage in healthy democracy, free of mudslinging and fake Twitter accounts and vandalized signs – but only if we choose to.

Last year when I told the IJB about the voting statistics for our region she was aghast. She would do anything to be able to vote, to cast her ballot for those who she feels represent us – and her future – best. She is so envious of those who can vote, and today as she left the car in front of her school she turned to me and said, “I wish I could vote. I really do”. And I wish she could, too, because this is about her life, and her future. Since she cannot vote, though, I will, and my choices will be guided by what is best for her.
And to all those brave candidates running in this election I say this: you are being watched. Not just by voters, though, but by young people like the Intrepid Junior Blogger who are forming their opinions on politics by watching your every move. You are the leaders, and I hope you will show her and other future voters what democracy is really about. You see she might not be able to vote right now – but one day she will, and her vote will be deciding your future, too. You are her role models – and I hope you will be ones of which she can be proud, and perhaps one day when she runs for office she will look back at you as her mentors, and the ones who taught her the beauty of democracy. This is my hope for this election, and for the Intrepid Junior Blogger, who will watch it unfold. This will be an election she remembers - and I hope she will recall it as the time when she learned about the real purpose of elections, politics, and democracy. But that isn't up to me - it's up to you. I trust you are up to the challenge, and I wish you luck as you embark on a month-long journey of democracy in action. The IJB is watching.

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