Dark Days

The shock of the American Presidential election has worn off.  It took a long while as I was blindsided by the outcome.  Like so many others, I fully expected to be celebrating Hillary Clinton’s victory. (The first woman – champagne in the fridge!)  Her long record of public service, activism, and political experience had to prevail against an opponent so obviously unsuited to the presidency.  How wrong.

There is a natural best before date for every democratic party leader in power, and in the United States, Obama’s two term Presidency might naturally be followed by a Republican; however, surely there were so many factors against that outcome.  Trump’s absurd bombast, political inexperience, appeal to racist, sexist, xenophobic, religious, homophobic hysteria, and litany of falsehoods had to be recognized as disqualifying him. Not so.

In fact, the very personality weaknesses and policy absurdities (build a wall!) that I found likely to disqualify Trump from electoral victory were his attraction.  Many Americans pointed to the failure of globalization to benefit the “rust belt” regions, desired a strident “decider” to kick start the economy and “drain the swamp” of reviled politicians, and embraced the deep-seated nativist appeal of Trump.  Here was a political outsider and serious businessman who would “Make America Great Again” –  a simple slogan to rouse the masses.  Law and order would be restored, manufacturing jobs returned, and the influx of dangerous outsiders halted. That the economy in the United States is enjoying high employment rates and declining crime rates overall is beside the point.  That unemployment for many is related to automation and a shifting post-industrial workplace is ignored. Turn back the clock.

Trump’s success has to do with his appeal to those who hark back to the 1950s when decent paying industrial jobs were plentiful, the economy was booming, and America’s enemy was clear – Communism. It was also a time when white males enjoyed hegemony in every sphere.  For all women, people of colour, and indigenous peoples, the post-war decade was one in which inequality continued to be the norm.   Gender roles held firm, segregation continued, and patriarchy prevailed.

What is deeply disturbing is the extent to which America’s 45th President epitomizes the  1950s’ Zeitgeist.  An aging white man, privileged and entitled, though with no political or military experience, he is nonetheless touted as the “businessman” and “strongman” needed to set the nation back to rights.  “Back” is the operative word.  I was struck by one of the many executive orders recently signed by the President which ends federal funding to international organizations that mention or provide abortions. The President and the group of white men surrounding him looked so very pleased.  It’s as if the 1950s coughed, and up came the new administration.  And what a hairball it is.

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Money/Gender Matters

 

It was with considerable delight that I read Agnes Macphail is to be one of two women honoured with a statue at Queen’s Park.   Macphail was a female politician of uncommon courage.  She deserves more; indeed, she’s the obvious choice to put on a bank note.  The Prime Minister and Finance Minister’s recent announcement that a woman’s image will be selected for a Canadian bill is a largely symbolic, but nonetheless important step.  Many observers have weighed in with suggestions as to who the honoured woman should be, from the suffragist Nellie McClung (the favourite to date) to the painter Emily Carr.  The enthusiasm of the response and the number and range of the names suggested is heartening, but “Aggie” deserves the distinction for a number of reasons.

Macphail was the first woman elected to the House of Commons in 1921; she would go on to serve the nation as a MP for 19 years and spend a further five years as an Ontario MPP.  But Macphail does not deserve to be on our currency simply because of her political longevity or the fact that she was the first federal female parliamentarian; rather, her dedication to the interests of a wide ranging number of groups – many of which had few advocates, is her real distinction.

As the only woman in the House from 1921 to 1935, she was besieged by letters from those hopeful that she would be kind hearted and concerned with their plight.  Elected as a Progressive member– the name of the farmers’ party that represented widespread post-war rural discontent, Macphail nevertheless took on issues well beyond the interests of her party affiliation; she championed women’s issues and supported a plethora of social-welfare measures designed to assist the poor, aged, and unemployed.

When her party’s fortunes waned, Macphail sat in the House as an Independent before becoming a founding member of the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation in 1933.  In the darkest time of the Great Depression, she was among those calling for legislation to assist the unemployed.  Measures that Canadians now take for granted, such as Old Age Pensions and Employment Insurance, were championed by Macphail and a small phalanx of similarly-minded reformers, well before government enacted legislation.  But Macphail’s call for an end to the physical abuse of Canada’s prison population was her most singular and difficult struggle.

She was vilified by many for calling attention to the practice of paddling and shackling prisoners, and the dreadful conditions within penitentiaries.  Demonstrating  considerable personal courage, given the hostility she evoked by speaking up for inmates, Macphail called for an end to brutal prison conditions and demanded the government  make improvements.  Her work embarrassed and annoyed government and prison authorities, but she kept up her criticism in the House, which led towards a more humane system of incarceration and an end to some of the most abusive practices.

When Macphail went to Ottawa, she entered a male house of privilege in which she was an unwelcome gender interloper.  She relied on support from reform-minded parliamentarians and the courage of her convictions to help ease the sting of the disdain and dislike she evoked.  She persevered – her very presence engendering jeers and heckles; however, over time, she earned the respect of her colleagues and enjoyed the loyalty of her constituents.  Her courage and commitment to the betterment of others- whether women, children, farmers, labourers, the elderly, impoverished or imprisoned, in addition to the extraordinary length of her parliamentary career, was exceptional, but  sadly, Macphail, largely unknown to Canadians of today, has not made the final cut.  The list of twelve women who will be considered, inexplicably, did not include Aggie.

Election 2015

On October 19th the Liberals won a majority government.  The campaign signs are down and the first shock has worn off, but not the hum of optimism that I’m still experiencing over the outcome.  The closing weeks of the election campaign were characterized by divisive politics, a nasty tone of condescension, the bizarre spectacle of the Prime Minister using cheesy props (ka-ching!) at rallies, and the final low of seeing Stephen Harper embrace “Ford nation”.  Really?  As political campaigns go, the Conservatives’ strategy and relentless negativity fell flat.  In contrast, Justin Trudeau’s pitch, positive in tone, and focused squarely on the leader’s aspirational message of a “better” Canada, floated above the negative din and appealed to Canadians looking for a new message.

On election night, I dared only to hope for a minority outcome for the Liberals.  I attended the Calgary rally for Justin Trudeau held the day before the election, as did hundreds of others. It was heartening to see so many people, happily queued up in a long line that meandered around the building.  Upon arrival, Justin Trudeau fearlessly waded into the crowd. Not everyone could be squeezed into the facility, but it didn’t matter.  We listened to Trudeau’s speech from outside. Could the turn out be any indication of a swing to the Liberals – surely not in the heartland of Conservatism, Alberta?  But in the end the seat was taken by the Liberals as was another one in Calgary and two in Edmonton.  A breakthrough in the two largest cities in the province and a clear indication that Trudeau’s appeal was particularly strong in urban centres across the nation. That urban sweep would contribute to a sound majority.  Watching the results come in on Monday night, it was with wild enthusiasm and some disbelief we realized that a progressive tide had just swept across the nation.

Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister designate, must confront a number of challenges from a weak economy, a looming international conference on climate change  (the environment being a file the Conservatives have determinedly ignored – thus explaining Canada’s dreadful reputation), and a host of complexities associated with the massive TPP agreement.  An expectant electorate will be waiting for the fulfillment of a plethora of campaign promises – from the legalization of marijuana, to myriad tax and legislative reforms, and much needed infrastructure spending.  It’s dizzying and exciting and promising.

It’s as if the nation is emerging from a long, dark period when we were repeatedly admonished to be fearful, wary, and worried, and to celebrate balanced budgets and tax cuts to the exclusion of all else.  But nations are not nourished on such watery gruel.  We are, collectively, more than our individual fears, narrow prejudices, and tax brackets.  I’m anxious to see improvements for struggling seniors, veterans, and First Nations people.  Let’s show compassion to refugees fleeing intolerable conditions and investigate the murder and disappearance of so many indigenous women.  Let’s develop a strategy to address climate change, provide all Canadians with pharmaceutical coverage, and carefully review Bill C 51. Surely we can move forward to improve the lives of Canadians.  As Justin Trudeau has reminded us:  “In Canada, better is always possible.”

June 2015

This June has been a banner month; two graduations and a wedding all within two weeks. Being an observer to the achievements and celebrations of others is a pleasure – especially when the events mark your own children’s milestones. Watching my daughter walk up to receive her degree brought tears to my eyes. She worked very hard and deserved her degree.

Sitting in the large auditorium, I remembered the times she would surface after hours of researching and writing, from the basement office. Usually she would be wrapped up in an old sweater or hoodie or blanket to keep off the chill. Sometimes I’d hear a blue stream of invective from downstairs, which usually meant that the printer was refusing to cooperate or there was a glitch with the computer. Reflecting on those times, it was a very happy moment to see her walk across the stage – degree in hand.

Our oldest son also graduated this month; seeing him march before the audience, handsome and uniformed, was another emotional moment. For a brief second, he reminded me of my Dad, long gone, but alive, briefly, in my son. Justin has always carried himself and moved in a way that brought my Dad to mind. But there he stood, solemn, competent, and handsome – himself. It was hard not to break into tears. He had achieved his goal and it was such a joyous occasion to witness.

A wedding celebration, lunch, dinner, coffee and walking dates with friends – all events, large and small, for which I am grateful.

In addition, a grandchild to anticipate!

A happy June indeed.

Five Angry Spots

It’s a glorious April Day. March seems long ago, and that’s a good thing, as a very bad thing dominated my March. This is a cautionary tale.

Mid March on a normal weekend Sunday I awoke to a feeling of slight sensitivity on my left torso. I checked and saw no marks or rash. I carried on with my day while the sensitivity increased somewhat, but still no telltale physical signs of danger, and the discomfort was merely annoying.

Early on the following Monday morning – 3:00am – I am awoken by the dreadful pain on my left side, but still there is no rash; nevertheless, I am alarmed, not to mention tired. Could this be Shingles? I went to work and was able to teach my morning class with the assistance of Advil, and then off to the doctor. Yes, he thought I had Shingles, though still I had no marks on my skin. I was on the anti viral medication by 11:00am.

A day or so later I had a tiny circle of five spots on my abdomen; those spots – small and few – were the only physical evidence that I would have of a raging pain that made laying down excruciating and daytime life manageable only with medication. Several awful nights in which my left side and back were a blazing, angry, zone of pain were followed by a steady reduction of discomfort until, roughly three weeks later, I was blessedly pain free. My spots remained – gradually fading – my reminder of a dreadful interlude that was not made any easier by the requisition form I had on my desk for the Shingles Vaccine. I had every intention of getting the shot – soon, but NOT SOON ENOUGH.

I had a virulent case of chicken pox as a child; I know many people who have had Shingles and Suffered; therefore, I was going to get the shot, but I was in no hurry as I’m only in my mid fifties. Well, my bad. I was fortunate in that I was quickly diagnosed, promptly put on medication, and thus ended up with a mild case, but avoiding the malady altogether is best – so take heed. That is my cautionary tale.

Happy New Year

One thing that is clear to me, on this New Year’s Eve, is that I’m really not much of a blogger.  I lack whatever the compunction that motivates others to reveal, discuss, and share everyday details of their lives, current interests, and pursuits.  This reluctance to “share” is surely a factor of my age; I did not grow up in the digital world of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and I have a much more guarded notion of privacy than most younger people.  In addition, I have difficulty embracing the idea that any but close friends and relatives should play witness to my life.  In consequence, I only blog intermittently and largely when motivated by a current event or issue.  Still, there are many baby boomers and beyond who have taken to the blogosphere with aplomb.  I’m just not one of them.

Realistically then, I don’t think that I’ll take as one of my New Year’s resolutions, the clearly uncharacteristic commitment to blog more, but like a lot of others, I do have a list of resolutions.  I intend to read more, exercise more, eat well, take the vitamin D pills that I bought and stuck in the cupboard, and umpteen other, pretty pedestrian, intentions.  I resolve to pause to enjoy my life, as I’m fortunate in so very many ways.  Finally, I resolve to do less housework in the coming year –  I’m very confident that I can achieve that last resolution.  Happy New Year!

Q

It’s been a tumultuous week for CBC Radio 1 listeners, and I count myself as one.  I listen to CBC radio regularly and rely on the morning programming to keep me informed and entertained on my morning commute.  Like so many listeners who have weighed in on the events of the past week, I feel a relationship with both the organization and some of the hosts.  When I could, I liked to listen to Q with Jian Ghomeshi.

In the early days of the show, he was a bit precious and inflated, but he and the show improved, and I would pause to hear the opening essay with particular attention.  The essays were often insightful, progressive, and sensitive. I thought, naively I realize now, that the ideas and opinions in the introduction were those of the host as the show was identified, by name, with Ghomeshi; as it turns out, according to the Globe and Mail (Friday, October 31, 2014, p.A21), ” . . . at least 95 per cent of the trademark essays Mr. Ghomeshi read at the opening of each show” were written by two other employees.  This misunderstanding is likely why I feel, as do so many others, a sense of betrayal at the unfolding revelations of Ghomeshi’s alleged assaults.

The CBC has fired Ghomeshi; at least nine women have come forward, to date, to claim that he assaulted them, without consent, and three of the nine have taken the matter to the police.  Though no charges have been laid, the court of public opinion has been loud and clear, careening from vocal support of the host just one week ago, to shock and condemnation today.  Like others, I was in disbelief that a familiar radio voice, who expressed empathetic and feminist opinions, could act in the repugnant and abusive manner he has alleged to have done.  It turns out from the revelations in the Toronto Stars‘ investigation and CBC interviews with some of the women who have come forward, that the assessment I made of Ghomeshi, based on his radio persona, was erroneous.  However, the aspect of this story that I keep returning to, is how an individual, albeit a “personality”, could perpetrate such actions, if it’s proven that he did, for such a long time?  The societal pressures that forestall women from reporting assault are complex, but the discussion of this topic, that has been generated by the Ghomeshi allegations, is long overdue.

“Why Don’t You Speak Up”, Elizabeth Renzetti’s examination of the “culture of shame and silence” around sexual assault (Globe and Mail, Saturday, November 1, 2014, pp. F1&5), profiles the many difficulties faced by women who are victimized by sexual predators; it’s a grim reality that women are routinely “blamed for the violence committed against them.” (G&M, p. F5.) The Ghomeshi file, now before the police, will unfold over the next weeks, months, maybe years; it’s the sort of salacious story that draws attention; let’s hope that whatever the future for the former “Q” host, a space will be opened up for the alleged victims to tell their stories and obtain justice.