The Stoney Creek News has a timely editorial in this week's issue. Entitled 'Make a difference -VOTE!', I urge you to read it. Though its title is misleading and ill-chosen, it addresses the issue that has been front-and-centre for me during this campaign: increasing the relationship of engagement between residents and their Councillors. (For the record, a more appropriate title for the piece would have been 'Voting is only the beginning'.)
I'm heartened to see that the editorial staff at the Hamilton Metroland publications under Group Managing Editor Mark Cripps has recognized that there's a problem with our current paradigm, the one where we have such low voter-turnout, where more than half will probably cast their ballot according to 'name recognition', where in the main, the public's participation in the process ends there...and isn't further added to but for the whining, the bitching, the complaining when things eventually ('inevitably'?) go south, and in three and a half years time, the hew and cry 'Get rid of the bums!' is repeated. (I need to acknowledge that there is a portion of our citizenry, people for whom the role of 'the governed' does not end on Election Day, residents who by default take a far more active role in this paradigm. But they are not sizable, they are not 'the norm', and I do not believe that celebrating them to the exclusion of the other 95% of the population is how my time and efforts are best applied. I'm far more concerned about the behaviour of 'the average' Hamiltonian, or as I diplomatically put it to mayoral candidate Mahesh Butani, 'Those of The Many'.)
The Stoney Creek News notes some suggestions from various candidates as to how we could address this need to increase the relationship of engagement with our City Council. (This is my term, not theirs, but regardless, this is the goal, no matter how it's labelled.) I won't quote them here, because they take up a good half of the article. Each suggestion has its own merits, and I salute those quoted for having recognized the need for change.
Additionally, Raise The Hammer has published articles this week bringing to the fore how 'social media' can facilitate more participation. One of the references was Calgary's new mayor and how he managed his victory by way of Facebook, Twitter, etc. To say that I was encouraged by this further dialogue would be an understatement.
Yeah; there's always an 'however' on My Stoney Creek, isn't there? Mostly because of my 'reasons behind the reasons' approach to things, my need to dig a little deeper while taking another step back. (Even I'm a little puzzled by the imagery here, but there ya go.)
The Stoney Creek News does a good job of naming the problem, that of ambivalence, of apathy on the part of the average voter. But I'm not convinced that in simply naming it and listing some suggestions as to its solutions we can effect genuine, systemic change, not even were we to see an increase in town hall meetings, in actual face-to-face contact between City Council members and residents, in the use of social media.
Why? Well, consider someone who's obese and unfit, with all the associated health problems that such a state brings, including depression. They're detached from their physical existence, they're frustrated with their circumstances, they're angry. Rife with apathy and despondency, they've lost hope. (Sound familiar? Hmm...?)
If you were to provide them 'resources', if you were to provide them a gym membership, a personal trainer, a dietician, an opportunity to address the various elements of their situation, do you believe that these would guarantee success?
As someone who's been actively (and ardently) involved in the pursuit of fitness for three and a half decades, and as someone who has both advised and trained people over those years, I can tell you that it doesn't. No amount of resources 'guarantee' anything. Not if the motivation is missing, not if authentic desire to change their default is absent. Gym memberships end up being unused, advice is ignored, eating habits return to their indulgent, comfort-providing ways...and the situation deteriorates all the more. More excess weight, more concomitant health issues such as Type II Diabetes, arthritis, cardio-vascular ailments, lower self-esteem, more frustration, more anger...more depression.
I guess this is where I come across as 'The Great Naysayer'. Fair enough; I believe that while acknowledging where we are with our current default is a wonderful first step, I do not believe that applying some well-meaning solutions without fully examining the ins-and-outs of how we created it really accomplishes much at all. In fact, I can guarantee that we could potentially do more damage in the long run simply because our seemingly innate Hamiltonian cynicism would latch onto things not having changed in any appreciable way, and therefore we'd accept our lot all the more...yadda, yadda, yadda.
I believe if we're going to sincerely address this issue, the issue of more participation, of involvement in our own local governance, then we owe it to ourselves to be 'in for a penny, in for a pound'. We owe it to ourselves to fully acknowledge what needs to be acknowledged, to examine where we are, how we got here, how we'd like things to be different, and most importantly whether or not we want to effect the changes required for things to be different.
Here's my bottom-line:
We've created a world defined by entitlement.
A world where instant-gratification is the norm.
A world informed by an 'Us vs Them' mentality, where reason and logic have to so great an extent been usurped by emotion.
A world in which we have the paradox of wanting to get rid of incumbents while hoping 'fresh blood' will provide us political salvation...and then go through the very same process four years down the line. ('Insanity is repeating the same behaviour while expecting a different outcome.')
Politicians cannot provide us the change we crave. Only we can accomplish that.
Politicians cannot provide us the quality of Life we crave. Only we can accomplish that.
Politicians cannot be the engines of authentic revitalization, of enhanced vibrancy. Only we can accomplish that.
And I believe we can only accomplish these things if we change the paradigm that has us voting at abysmal turnout levels, casting our ballots with an equivalent level of discernment, then saying 'Well, that's it for me for four years!' and going back to our lives, leaving our elected officials to their own devices.
Do I have suggestions as to how to accomplish migrating this paradigm? To achieving the value-system shift, to growing motivation, to inculcating ourselves and our children with a far more evolved level of civic responsibility and enthusiasm? Absolutely; over the past few months on this blog, in posts found under the tag 'Civic Engagement', I've proposed some fundamental suggestions, and will continue to do so. And in doing so, I'll be hoping that others promote additional dialogue, because only when we reach a critical mass of exchange and engagement will our own potential begin to be realized.
So yes, I agree with the Stoney Creek News: get out there and vote. But please, put some time into crafting your decision, no matter what that decision ends up being...and know that in casting your ballot, your responsibilities as resident, as citizen, as partner in local governance should only have just begun.