Election Reflection

Those of us in Ontario have been rather wrapped up in an election campaign these last several weeks.  With the polls set to open in the morning, I thought I would share some thoughts on the campaign.

6 Weeks?  I’m not sure who decides how long a campaign will be, I suspect though it was the sitting Premier, but I can’t help asking why 6 weeks.  Regardless  of whether a campaign is 20 days or 40 days, or even if we know years ahead when the election will be, some folks are going to complain about the length of the campaign.  Why shouldn’t I?  There are pros and cons no matter how long the campaign runs.  More time gives community organizers, advocates, and even the candidates, ample opportunity to get their message out and mobilize their teams.  But those extra weeks also tire everyone out.  I’m quite sure all the candidates and their volunteers will be rather pleased to have some time off soon.  As someone who helped organize all-candidate sessions, at a time I habitually put my feet up for a few weeks, I am looking forward to doing absolutely nothing for a while.  And I’m not convinced a longer campaign equals more time to consider the issues and decide who to vote for.  On a totally anecdotal basis I’ve heard that many voters either decide right at the beginning or will decide tomorrow at the ballot box.  So why so long?  You’ll have to ask someone else.

The Issues?  You may not have noticed but such social justice issues as homelessness and poverty were hardly mentioned by the various political parties this time around.  So I am forced to choose my next government without knowing where they stand on the issues I am must engaged with.  I’ve heard similar criticisms from advocates on other issues as well.  This likely has more to do with how politics is done in our country, than with what issues are really important.  Political parties have for many years tended to put out platforms that were easy to grasp and stayed away form messy like policies.  It has been decades since I saw politicians discussing principles, philosophies, mindsets, or just plain ideas.  If you want me to think well of you, show me you can think.

Social Media Campaign?  What social media campaign?  This was to be the year social media became to big election battle ground.  It was a dud.  Politicians posting selfies tells me nothing about the candidate.  And what I saw passing for dialogue on Twitter these last few weeks could hardly be called civil discussion, let along reasoned debate.  Repeating yourself does not make you necessarily right.  And re-tweeting someone repeating himself , doesn’t say much about you either.  Finally beating others over the head with the ‘truth’ is NOT advocacy.  Advocacy entails an actual exchange of ideas which I did not see happen this go round.

To vote or not to vote?  In a democracy, to my way of thinking at least, this should never even be a question.  But in these last few weeks, thanks to a commentator I choose not to name here, it has become one.  A colleague of mine made a statement, I think impromptu, about this last week.  https://soundcloud.com/spckw-cic/take-control-ontario-election-2014  If we, whoever ‘we’ is, who think ourselves to be ‘correct,’ whatever correct means, do not vote, then who does that leave?  Do you really want this decision to be made solely by people who disagree with you?

One last word.  VOTE.

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charlesnichols@rogers.com'

About Charles Nichols

I was born in 1961, becoming the oldest in a moderately dysfunctional family. My dad was in the Canadian Navy until I was 12, during which time we lived near Halifax. I have very fond memories of a place called Lewis Lake, that even now is still not on the map. When dad's 25 years were up, our family moved to Stratford ON, where my life began going sideways. My eyesight had always been poor, but soon after arriving in Stratford, it began to be obvious at school. On top of that I was the new kid at school, and also the shortest. I almost never talk about the bullying I went through, but it happened. Before long, I was an angry, rebellious young teen, who firmly believed no one cared. Soon I was a 'problem.' Before all that long , I didn't care either. My worsening eyesight (which for some reason teachers never really clued into) meant that no matter how smart I was (I once tested in the top 1% of the school) it almost never showed in my grades. Working my butt off to almost manage to keep up didn't make me any happier. Finally, on March 26 1980, my parents had had enough with my behaviour and I was told to move out within 48 hours. Roughly 48 hours later, I was huddled under the Huron Street bridge when I noticed that I was now 19 years old to the minute. I had already been homeless more than 36 hours. It would definitely not be the last time. I have been on social assistance almost my entire life since then, with several bouts of actual time on the street. In 1985, I was declared legally blind, due in part to a welfare worker insisting I get my eyes checked, and I was elevated to Ontario Disability (then called Family Benefits). Despite my poverty and disability, I made a couple attempts to earn a degree in the late 80's and 90's. Unfortunately, my mental health decided to act up each time, so after nearly nine years in school all I had to show for my effort was a student debt I could not pay. Fast forward to 2001. In one more attempt to get off the system, I entered a training program and got a placement at the local Social Planning Council. I was told I would be working on something called 'the homelessness project.' It was a full two weeks before I told my new boss that I had been homeless, and only then because I needed to explain why I had acted 'strange' during a trip to a drop-in to do a consultation. Now, all I wanted out of this placement was a few new skills and a decent work reference so I could finally land a real job and get off the system. The very last thing I expected to be was a homelessness advocate working mostly for free. But during that placement I met a 2 year old girl and her single mother. As I began to realize that this child's life was being totally shaped by poverty and homelessness, I knew I just could not walk away. And the rest, as they say, is history. After my placement ended, I joined the very community group my co-workers and I had been serving with our research. I had found my voice, and my backbone (turns out my rebellious years were not a total waste) and I was going to make sure these people were going to hear what I had to say. Two or 3 people believed in me and before long I was sitting on the executive, with the responsibility of external communications (read 'advocacy'). I continued to hold on leadership position or another until I left the group in 2013. I also found other groups to join, many of them lived-experience groups working on poverty and homelessness issues. Over time my skills and confidence grew, but so too did my frustration with how things were being done. There had to be a better way. A more effective way. But what was it? That question led directly to the birth of Homelessness Awareness Week. A small group of colleagues, none of whom worked for the agencies, began brainstorming and planning in Sept 2008, and we held our first event the last week of April 2009. Since then we have moved the events to the first week of May, but essentially nothing else has changed about our mission and vision. Since starting this effort, my student loans were forgiven on medical grounds and I have been able to resume my education on a part-time basis. While my physical eyesight continues to worsen, I can clearly see what must be done. Help end homelessness or die trying.
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