Accidental Activist

Good Grief!

Free speech is the fair price of our democracy, and patronizing remarks by our very own free press do nothing to encourage civic discussion.

By Ben Bull
Published January 09, 2006

The Hamilton Spectator's Boxing Day editorial caught my eye, and my ire, the other day. In what must be one of the most belligerent and patronizing paragraphs I have ever read, the editors mused:

It's possible to look back over the year Hamilton has experienced and allow oneself to be drowned (or perhaps drowned out) by the endless noise created by the perpetually aggrieved in our city. (Casey Korstanje, "A fine city needs great people", The Hamilton Spectator, December 26, 2005, p. A24)

Oh, dear. Who are these "perpetually aggrieved" people?

Perhaps it's those pesky anti-pork plant folks, or the ever-present anti-aerotropolis protagonists, or maybe even the hardworking members of Hamilton's alternative media scene.

These days there are so many "aggrieved" Hamilton citizens that the Spec was probably referring to us all.

From the wording of this editorial, though, it was clear that the Spec itself has become somewhat aggrieved with the "endless noise" that's "drowning out" our city.

But why would that be? What does the Spec care if there is an unusual amount of discontent in the city? What's it to them?

Do the editors consider the musings of our municipal politicians, as they bemoan the lack of secure long-term social services funding, to be part of this "endless noise"? What about our Mayor's diatribes against the Commonwealth Games selection Committee? Is our very own Smoove D one of this town's "perpetually aggrieved"?

I could forward these questions to the Spec but I think we all know there's no point. We already know the answer.

Since moving to Hamilton five years ago, I quickly became aware of the worrying tendency our civic leaders, and many local residents, had developed toward discouraging open discourse and other "noise" in the community.

I received a confidential City Hall email that referred to an activist friend of mine as "that woman". CHML listener reactions to some of our more contentious on-air discussions elicited e-mail responses referring to us as "disrespectful," "troublemakers" and "left wingers".

As recently as last month, I read a Citizens at City Hall (CATCH) council meeting report that featured Councillor Terry Whitehead questioning the ethics and appropriateness of appointing CATCH volunteers to the newly formed Transit Committee.

Time and time again, since arriving in this town, I have been asked myself the same questions: What the hell is going on? Why can't we just all get along?

I believe that one of our greatest dangers as a community is in not speaking our minds: in keeping quiet. In progressive towns like Toronto, activists are embraced. They are truly interwoven into democratic fabric.

Sure, they are not always liked or even trusted, but they are at least tolerated. Segments like CityTV's The Livable City and forward-thinking groups like the Committee for Public Spaces are frequently quoted and included as part of the local decision-making processes.

Here in Hamilton, established citizen collectives like the Transit Users Group, CATCH and alternative media outfits like Mayday and RTH contribute countless hours of volunteer commitments and a genuine professionalism to their respective causes.

As in Toronto, their efforts could be integrated into the political decision making process, but instead they are marginalized and written off as the "troublemakers" about whom the Spec editors wring their hands.

What a wasted opportunity.

Speaking for myself, I am perpetually aggrieved. So are you. In politics, as in life, nothing is ever exactly as it should be, and it's important to take notice.

Free speech is the fair price of our democracy, and snarky, snide, patronizing remarks by our very own "free press" do nothing to encourage the very essence of what this town, and indeed the world, needs a lot more of: collaboration and discussion.

Today, Hamilton is awash in important issues and uninformed debates. Whether our elected officials and media "get" this or not makes no difference - the last thing any of us should do is keep quiet.

Ben Bull lives in downtown Toronto. He's been working on a book of short stories for about 10 years now and hopes to be finished tomorrow. He also has a movie blog.

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By jason (registered) | Posted None at

right on the money Ben...except one thing - the 'free press' is certainly not the spec or CH. They are as free as their advertisers allow them to be, which as we can all see, isn't very much at all. They do an amazing job at spinning hard working, caring citizens as 'special interest, wacko' groups. The fact is, we are affiliated with nobody and get paid by noone. The special interest wacko groups are the ones who buy their favourite candidates each election and continue their attempt at hijacking democracy. To make matters worse, they advertise like crazy in the local media and therefore 'buy' that voice as well. Watch who the Spec supporst in the upcoming election. Then, check out the ads in the GO Section every Saturday. Independent citizen groups and media are the only true non-partisan voices in our city. If we have any 'agenda' or 'motives' it is simply to make Hamilton an amazing place to live. Too bad that same agenda doesn't run the decisions at city hall.

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By adrian (registered) | Posted None at

I get the feeling Hamilton is run by an old-boys club who feel they have the answers and us whiny citizens haven't a clue. Then again, what do I know - I'm just a perpetually aggrieved Hamiltonian.

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By Ted Mitchell (registered) | Posted None at

Indeed to all the above. There is a (somewhat limiting) similarity to the contributions to this site. This arises from a common sense analysis of Hamilton's problems. I would not recognize most RTH writers on the street - would that be the opposite of the old boy's club? History tells us that when people arrive at the same conclusions from very disparate backgrounds, you are getting close to truth. City hall is dominated by unimaginitive types who cannot help but see life through the economic prism. That is why the solutions they propose are same old regurgitations of the ones that got us in this mess. But ignorance is not culpable. Contrast that to the mainstream media - creating ridiculously negative spin out of anything that threatens their topdown powermonger control of self interested, unimaginative, antidemocratic politics-and they are very much guilty of causing the negativity that pervades Hamilton. Reasonable leaders and media are not afraid of open and complete discussion on any topic.

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