Opinion

We Can't Move Forward Without Dialogue

The community crisis over rising fascism can be addressed by meeting with the Mayor, councillors, police representatives, and other key people who can work together on a plan of action.

By Nicole Smith
Published July 19, 2019

"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."

-- Jack Layton

It has been an extremely intense month and a half in Hamilton, especially since the violence at Pride. Hearts have been broken over and over again witnessing the arrests, the Yellow Vests weekly protests, and the strife between the Mayor, much of Council, and the police on one side, and the LGTBQ Advisory Committee and hundreds of members of the LGTBQ2S+ community and allies on the other side.

Cedar has been freed but where is the release for the community? Where is the sense of being ready to move on?

I have heard people lament, "What is happening to our Hamilton?" And, "This is not us."

Ryan McGreal, a man I respect deeply, galvanized not just Hamilton but people all over Canada and the US with his incisive special to HuffPost, titled Here's What Canada Can Learn From Hamilton, Ont.'s Far-Right Problem.

Since it was published, I have been reading and re-reading it, reflecting upon it, and speaking to councillors and others in the community about their thoughts, feelings, and discomfort about the situation we have been living.

With profound respect, I do not agree with all aspects of his analysis.

Certainly we are in the throes of a community crisis whereby Yellow Vests and other right-wing extremists have felt emboldened to take up more space at City Hall and in our public discourse than many of us feel comfortable watching.

Certainly the violence at Pride was abhorrent to us in the community of LGTBQ2S+ and allies.

Certainly we badly need an effective dialogue between the community/allies and the Council, Mayor, and police.

However, where I differ with some of the strongest voices in the community is on how that dialogue might move forward.

I have read many criticisms of Mayor Fred's decision to seek wider consultation with voices within the LGTBQ2S+ community by appointing Deirdre Pike and Cole Gately. LGTBQ advisory committee chair Cameron Kroetsch and Graham Crawford not only refused to meet the Mayor and others, but also strongly discouraged others from meeting until their demands were met.

I struggle to understand this approach. In my role as President of the International Association of Kumon Franchisees (IAKF), I have welcomed every opportunity the company offered for dialogue and have been able to work on many areas of mutual concern over the years with representatives of Kumon North America. I have sought to be generous with input for the company on what I see are the key areas to focus going forward.

Thus, watching people not only refuse to come to the table, but also seek to discourage others from dialogue, I am confused as to how this will contribute to healing and forward momentum for us as a city.

Note: there is a private debrief being organized by Hamilton Pride for July 24. Participants will be limited to those who attended Pride 2019. On the one hand, it makes sense to debrief an event with those who were there. On the other hand, it seems to me that what is most needed now are ways to connect as widely as possible with as many allies as possible to gain fresh perspective and insight.

This article began with the famous last words of now deceased NDP leader Jack Layton. Though spoken years ago, they will never cease being relevant and inspiring.

In the spirit of this love, hope, and optimism, community members including myself embarked on the #SaveTheWesleyDayCentre initiative a month ago. The rewards have been overwhelmingly positive, with Council unanimously approving a plan to keep the Wesley open till the end of March of 2020 and seeking to come up with a permanent alternative by that time for a seamless transfer, hopefully integrating a second Consumption Treatment Services facility to further address the growing opioid crisis.

The town hall on July 17 was also a fantastic opportunity to hear from lived experience that we need the Wesley restored to its former glory with full time hours and services that have vanished through lack of funding.

That we could get this far in under a month speaks to the incredible community support for the services at the Day Centre as well as the determination by the campaign's executive committee members to meet with the Mayor, councillors, directors of the Wesley, and everyone else who was key to working on a plan of action.

There were moments over the past weeks when we were not getting the answers we wanted. But we were not deterred. Perseverance was rewarded richly.

I understand that a campaign like #SaveTheWesleyDayCentre is very different from the community crisis with the LGTBQ2S+ community and allies struggling with hateful pressure from right wing extremists. That said, the latter is still a political issue, and as such, can be addressed by meeting with the Mayor, councillors, police representatives, and other key people who can work together on a plan of action.

I would like to close with these further words from Jack Layton's final letter:

"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...

"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."

Nicole Smith is the Director at Hamilton West End Kumon, as well as the president of the independent North American Kumon franchisee association, IAKF.

6 Comments

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By fmurray (registered) | Posted July 19, 2019 at 15:29:26

If you know Cameron Kroetsch and Graham Crawford, you'll know they always support "...a better, fairer, more equal country by working together". This article glosses over -- no completely obliterates -- the history of events. Many people wrote to the mayor, or spoke to the mayor, about possible ways forward, urging him to meet with Council's OWN LGBTQ Advisory Committee, to listen, to act with humility and to learn from people with lived experience before he tried to create a cookie-cutter solution behind closed doors with his hand-picked representatives. The police and mayor have not acted with anything like humility, mutual respect or grace.

It sounds like you expect all of the effort to take place on one side of the table and the table has to be set up on THEIR terms. How is this equitable? That is not the way to approach collaboration as equals -- surely you must know this from working in the community on PB?

Thank you for your work on the Wesley Day Centre, but as you mention, these two situations are completely different.

P.S. FYI, what I've learned is as an ally, you go when you are asked to stand with the group/person to whom you are an ally. If you are asked to stay away for any reason, you trust the person and the request.

Comment edited by fmurray on 2019-07-19 16:41:07

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By nicolesmith (registered) | Posted July 20, 2019 at 04:27:19 in reply to Comment 130239

Hello F - thanks always for your input. Indeed in a negotiation or dialogue there must be positive movement on both sides - I hope you can agree that prolonged yelling from one side on social media and in public meetings does not facilitate rapprochement. Hopefully the debrief will bring clarity among the different views within the community and there will be steps prepared toward healing the rift. I wish you the best.

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By Tybalt (registered) | Posted July 19, 2019 at 15:51:19

Nicole says: "Certainly the violence at Pride was abhorrent to us in the community of LGTBQ2S+ and allies."

First off, I'd point out that which of these communities (at least two communities are mentioned there) one belongs to goes a very long way to conditioning how one responds to the homophobic violence, and genocidal rhetoric, involved in the attack on Pride.

Allies do not face the same levels of risk, (just as all members of 2S, Trans and Queer communities do not face the same level of risk either) regarding the active plans and wishes of the far right to commit genocide against us.

It's important to remember that the City of Hamilton's own employees have been shown to have been distributing, in 2019, hate rhetoric that includes calls for a second Holocaust and specifically naming queer and trans people as principal targets of that, as we were the first.

With all respect that is due, your role as the President of the International Association of Kumon Franchisees is terrifically, titanically, and utterly useless as guidance for how a community is to respond to literal threats of genocide against us, from government employees that Fred Eisenberger still signs paychecks for. Similarly useless as a guide for how to live with it. Because live with it we must.

Take a **ing seat please. Thanks.

Comment edited by Tybalt on 2019-07-19 15:52:22

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By Tybalt (registered) | Posted July 19, 2019 at 15:57:44

I'm glad that the attacks on Pride bothered you, I am. But that you were bothered does not give you some claim on the response. YOUR HEALING IS NOT OUR PROBLEM. Our problem is fighting fascism and hate, and the Mayor has literally proven himself no ally in this. We shall choose who our allies are. Not you.

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By nicolesmith (registered) | Posted July 20, 2019 at 04:33:40 in reply to Comment 130241

Hello Tybalt - absolutely I hear what you are saying. The trouble is that fighting fascism and hate with more absolutism and hate is ineffective at best and destructive at worst. You may consider the Mayor no ally, but he is still Mayor and as such he is the person to work with along with other people at the city, as difficult as that is right now.

The City has 8,000 employees. That there is one who has shockingly been a right-wing extremist leader is totally something that must be and is being addressed. But how it is to be addressed, with respect, is the purview of the Mayor and council.

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By grok (registered) | Posted July 25, 2019 at 02:58:54

You're NOT my 'friend', lady. And neither was that Rightwing, anti-working-class, anti-socialist NDP opportunist, Jack Layton. Anyone who cooperates with the Pigs -- aiming to co-opt the class-struggle in #HamOnt and everywhere, as all NGO careerist types invariably do (being their REAL job, under Neoliberal capitalism) -- is NO ONE to be leading any Movement of fundamental change concerning the mass of the working-class. Got it??

I intended to say a LOT more about this fraud here, a couple of days ago, but got distracted by the endless crisis engulfing the entire Planet... so I'll get to all that in any responses I am allowed to post here subsequently. Suffice it to say that this is just the BEGINNING of fundamental change here in Hamilton, and in Ontari-ari-ari-O, and in the rest of Canuckistan and the World, for that matter. And many in the proletarian working-class are NOT going to be letting opportunist reformists like yourself hijack anything we start in earnest.

Look to Puerto Rico or France for an idea of just what lies in store for us. I know that CSIS and its criminal goon-/death-squads are right worried about this sudden turn of events (they tend to menace The Left all the more, when they're worried and feeling outmaneuvered...) -- as they well should be. Fred Weisenheimer & Crew's days in office are numbered -- just like the governor of Puerto Rico's. Or Emmanuel Macron's too, for that matter.

The Neoliberal World Order's (guffaw) days are truly numbered. Not even their fascist street gangs can save the degenerate, failing World capitalist Imperialist system. This ain't the 1930s. Or Kansas.

CU in The Streets, lady. You WILL be on the other side. Behind Police/Military lines. Where you belong.

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