Accidental Activist

Losing It, Learning, and Moving On (Digging Through The Custard Part 2)

Here's to the next twelve months of political pudding. Let's hope we can all make a difference.

By Ben Bull
Published February 19, 2005

(This is part two of a two part series. Read part one.)

The first time I was called a "leftie" was at my Mum's wedding eight years ago. The Labour party had just won the UK general election after 17 years of Tory rule, and I was thrilled. In my speech I asked the unsuspecting guests - most of whom were diehard Thatcherites like my Mum - to, "kindly raise your glasses to...the Labour party!"

I shuffled off the stage to a stony silence.

It didn't matter much in the end. My Mum and 'John' split up a year later. They probably won't be re-running the wedding tape anytime soon.

Anyway, I was reminded of this incident, and the subsequent berating I received from my Mum, last October when I got an email calling me a "leftie loon" or some such nonsense.

It was after a couple of Green Beret shows featuring first, a citizens lobby group called Water Watch, which successfully lobbied the city to take back the management of the water supply, and then, the City Council watchdoggers Citizens at City Hall.

Apparently, by hosting this radical and subversive collection of housewives, pensioners and school teachers, we, the un-opinionated, unaffiliated, inoffensive and ever-so-sensitive Green Berets, had inadvertently cast the dreaded red dye all over ourselves. We had been branded, and no amount of back tracking or statements like, "I'm not a leftie - not that there's anything wrong with that" could take the sting from our tails.

We were as Red as the Valley we had tried so hard to avoid mentioning!

"What a load of crap," I thought to myself. Whining and complaining about law abiding activists is at best unsympathetic, and at worst undemocratic. And besides - these people don't know my politics! And since when did a person's political leanings become the stuff of swearwords? The word "leftie" was being bandied at me as if it were "wanker" or "dipstick" or any of the other such words my wife and work colleagues frequently throw my way.

What a crock.

But, despite my protestations and denials, the criticism still stung. For the rest of October and most of November I shuffled away to lick my wounds and deal with my shame. What if it were all true? Perhaps I really was a loonie leftie - or a leftie loon?

Was that why my new Dundas neighbours had been pointing at me on the street and whispering?

"Look honey! The new guy is a Communist."

"What! How could this be?"

"He must've snuck in over the border while we weren't looking."

"What border? Aren't we all amalgamated now?"

"Eh? Oh yeah, whatever."

No, no - that wasn't right. I wasn't a Commie. If I was anything at all I was dead center, steady Eddie, middle of the road Jack - that was me - right? Absolutely. No question about it.

I called my Mum and asked her.

"Hi Mum, it's me. Am I a leftie?"

"Hello?"

"Yeah Mum, it's me. Do you think I'm a loony leftie?"

"Is this one of them telephone scam artists?"

"No Mum, it's me. I just want to know if I'm a left winger."

"Sorry love, I gave all me money to one of them Nigerian royal families. Try Vera next door. She's loaded."

Who did I vote for? I wondered. I had never voted in Canada. I have never gotten round to filling in all the boxes on my citizenship. But I voted many times in England. I thought back to my first ever vote, nineteen years old and filled with the fire of democracy.

I remember trudging down to the local polling station and looking hard at all the names, and trembling with excitement as I put my cross against the party - the same party - the same person, that my parents had always voted for: Thatcher!

Margaret Thatcher was God in our house - my parents worshiped her. And so, of course, by that ever-so-subtle osmotic process known as "parental influence," so did I.

The only thing my parents were as fanatical about was their hatred of "bloody lefties." Whenever Labour leader Neil Kinnock or Michael Foot came on the telly and said things like, "Comrades!" or "Let's bring back nationalized industries!", my Dad would curse and, "Pray those lunatics never get in."

I grew up knowing one thing for certain: I never wanted to be one of Kinnocks' "comrades." I never wanted to be a "bloody leftie."

As we digested our first ever criticism, fellow Green Beret Jason Leach sent out an email outlining his views on the economy, taxation, American relations and lots of other light-hearted stuff I couldn't be bothered to read. But it was clear to me - from his voting record if nothing else - that Jason was a complete and utter out of the closet Harper Tory.

Sharlene did not divulge her politics - she didn't have to. What with my Thatcherite tendencies and Jason's Harper-mania - we were squeaky clean! We had not a left leaning bone on our bodies!

With all this settled I took some time off from activism. I turned off The Current and tuned in The Q. I steered past Dreschel and Dunphy and went straight for the GO. I put The National on mute and watched irate pundits and politicians turn red with rage - and I pitied them.

During this activist sabbatical I threw myself back into the life I had known before my monthly five minutes of CHML fame - before I started to appreciate fully the futility of the Hamilton political scene. I found some nice surprises: four little urchins running round my house claiming to be my kids; an out of tune guitar pleading to be picked up and played (badly); and an unhappy wife who wanted me to be funny for a change.

It was great to be back.

As I settled down to a life of political ignorance it occurred to me just how easy it was to block out life's grim realities. Ignorance really was bliss.

Curled up on the sofa with my three little girls or battling seven-year-old Ninja Jack on the living room carpet helped me remember there is more to life than urban boundaries and budget deficits.

After a few weeks of this even my beer was tasting better. Maybe, I thought, I should quit activism altogether.

But, alas, it was not to be. In the end it was not my choice to make. I was like that little kid from the film Witness: I knew too much. I had seen too much! Harrison Ford was going to cart me off to live in a barn with the Amish people, and then get it on with Kelly McGillis, and, erm, I can't for the life of me think where this particular line of thought is going...

Ah yes - activism: The great addiction. Whether it was the illusion - or reality - of getting closer to the truth, or just the pleasure of kicking up a fuss, I soon found that I was missing the buzz of activism too much, and I needed another fix.

So I've fallen back off the wagon. And thanks to Raise The Hammer, the on-going exploits of the Green Berets and a couple of new activist groups that have started up this past month, I think I'm going to enjoy the ride a lot more this year.

Our city needs a change, desperately. I suspect I may be preaching to a converted audience here, but it's worth repeating - Hamilton needs a new direction!

And to be honest, I don't think a person's political persuasions have much at all to do with how - or whether - we achieve it.

It is, after all, inevitable.

Because, as we will be detailing in this, and successive, issues of RTH, towns all over the world have realized the importance - and the necessity - of providing a good quality of life for all their residents. Other towns have realized the importance of providing more green spaces, better transit, cleaner air, walkable neighbourhoods and happening downtowns in improving their prosperity. They know that employers want to see this as well. And they have learned how to bring it all together - and make it happen.

Hamilton can learn this too, and we will. I am proud to know that I will play my part - however small - in helping to change Hamilton.

So here's to the next twelve months of political pudding. Let's hope there are many more shiny sixpences to be found. Let's hope we can all make a difference.

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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