My last writing proved very cathartic for me. The numbness of the American election is beginning to wear off and the reality is settling in. As a life long activist I spent almost three weeks questioning my purpose while letting doubt seep into the crevices of my mind. Some of that doubt comes amidst a sudden spike in hate crimes following the American election which is very reminiscent of the 60’s civil rights movement. This is a huge step backwards and goes unchallenged by the new President-elect who is not speaking out and in many cases actually fanning the flames. Unfortunately this is not restricted to south of the border.
Canada is experiencing its own explosion of hate attacks so now is not the time for activists to suddenly go quiet. I have fought many battles over the past 40+ years and my purpose was always that of an advocate. Lack of purpose can result in the loss of hope and not being one who wants to lose hope it’s time to redefine and refocus my purpose. I fear scary times ahead with a huge amount of responsibility being handed off to the activists of today which would make my best role that of a mentor.
Sadly, based on my experience of dealing with the new generation of activists, I am not convinced they are truly prepared for the level of activism that will be required to confront the threat we are facing. A threat to an open and free democracy goes way past battling homelessness or opening food banks. It requires a strong network of advocates who are watching for the ripple affect of any change that impacts an individuals freedom and safety. Now my hope is that I can be a good mentor rather than a semi-productive advocate. It’s time to pass the torch but in a teaching way. Why re-invent the wheel when the blue prints already exist?
Life long advocates know how insidious the erosion of rights can be. I spent a good part of the 70’s and 80’s helping to guide legislation and community education on access for all. However over the years a little regulation change here, another one over there, etc and they begin to add up usually resulting in the loss of a right. Traditionally you don’t lose rights in Canada but regulations can be created in such a way as to make the application of those rights almost unattainable unless you are prepared to go though the human rights complaint process.
So now is not the time to be silent. I have spend over 40 years speaking out about injustices in our society. I have invested a life time into the promotion of human rights for all. As I matured, the system we know today, was also maturing however many things were becoming unsustainable and people have moved away from “compromise”.
As someone who helped develop this system it’s like losing a piece of my soul every time I see a hard fought for solution ignored or denied. The history behind the development of human rights, as we know them, has been a long and complicated affair. It didn’t just happen and I cannot, in good conscience, decide now is the time for me to stop.
I competed in the first Canadian National Wheelchair Games held in 1967. My first “real” advocacy exercise was being involved in challenging the transportation regulations of the day. Based on air travel regulations of that time you were only allowed to have two people with a disability on any flight. We had a team of almost 40 which, based on air traffic availability at that time, would have taken us five days to get the complete team to Montreal from Calgary. There was no Charter, no human rights legislation but there was room for dialogue. Individuals, my mentors much more educated than myself at the time, met with the airline and worked around the regulations. It was called compromise and considered a tool for “social advocacy“.
I spend over fifteen years advocating within the labour movement to encourage policy that would advance employment opportunities for persons with disabilities. I worked within the health sector for over 20 years advocating for “culturally competent” service delivery.
It didn’t happen overnight however today’s generation of activists tend to be issue focused and time limited. It doesn’t work that way. I have been an activist on a wide range of issues but I use an advocates approach and there is a difference as Melissa Schwartz of the Huffington Post pointed out.
There is an interconnectivity that so many activists fail to see. A dedicated activist is traditionally very emotionally entwined with their cause and that emotional attachment can get in the way of a compromise solution. Compromise is about moving forward, not stopping. Social activism is like a game of Jenga and the deeper you can see (history) the stronger your current tower will be. You have to understand how a change here could affect something over there and to do that effectively requires historical perspective.
Advocating to open a local food bank is one issue. A local activist that fought for that food bank might consider that battle complete once it opens without realizing it may be not meet the needs of the entire community. Would that same activist feel they had succeeded for someone with particular dietary needs due to something like Crohn’s which the current stock of food products cannot accommodate? Or the activist who fought for those extra emergency winter shelter beds for the homeless and was successful at getting a local church to provide there basement for emergency cots. Traditionally basements are not accessible to someone in a wheelchair (and yes there are homeless persons in wheelchairs, it knows no boundaries) however the activist did succeed in creating protected sleeping spaces. An advocate would have pushed for a shelter that met the needs of the entire community, not just those homeless that can manage stairs. People need to understand the similarities and differences between activism vs advocacy.
Every right accomplished in the last fifty years is the result of compromise, unity and patience. Those traits are as important as the issue. Now more than ever the advocacy community is going to have to be hyper vigilant to ensure the gains made over the past fifty years don’t get wiped away in this wave of hate that appears to be sweeping across the country.
So to my friends and fellow advocates who may be questioning their life’s work (including me) don’t quit. Never has a generation of activists needed the mentorship available from so many knowledgeable advocate. We know the history, we know which Jenga stick can best be moved while mitigating ripple damage. We need to make ourselves available to the new generation of activists. We are the mentors of the future except the future is here now. If you want to be part of this contact me. We may be close to the backdoor of life but our kids are not.
The future of my grandson will be based on the effectiveness of the new generation of advocates. Passing the torch to that generation will work best if it is accompanied with a mentor. They have no idea that history didn’t start 30 years ago so now, more than ever, we need to hang in there and guide. We are that history…so lets help focus on the future!
A number of people have suggested I change my original tag line “Just One Man’s Opinion” since they shared the opinion so I am changing tag lines so…
An Opinion Shared…