Redefining Social Justice – Part 2, Knowing Your Place is Not Knowing your Role

“Never fry bacon wearing a tank top on while sitting in a wheelchair” – Ancient Chinese Proverb

I have always considered myself a political “centrist”.  There isn’t a political party that hasn’t presented a few platform I agree with and others I don’t.  But that is alright, that is what makes me a centrist and that is what democracy is about.  The one ideology I adhere to is my commitment to social justice.  My role and my place are consistent on that one.  I may not always agree with someones beliefs but I will always defend their right to express it as long as it doesn’t involve violence.  If it can’t be settled in a peaceful means, even if that involves agreeing to disagree, then it’s a form of fascism and we are starting to see too much of that in this new evolving political environment.

A common theme among my centrist friends is the diversity of their background and they have all lived in different areas of our great country.  They have moved around enough to recognize the wide range of cultures in Canada.  That type of diversity breeds centrists, it is hard to get locked into one ideology when you have experienced so many others.  It’s much easier to become entrenched with only one way to do something when you have never been more than 200 KM away from your roots.

I was born in Manitoba, grew up in Calgary, have lived and worked in Toronto, Vancouver as well as Vancouver Island.  I lived and partied in Montreal for a year before I had to admit that my lack of French would keep me from ever finding work so it was off to Toronto.  Each and every time I gravitated back to Calgary.  Now I am back in Calgary and I am becoming increasingly aware of the shrinking centre.  I believe (and this belief is re-enforced by my like-minded peers) that one’s commitment to being a centrist is directly proportional to their experience and exposure to other areas of Canada.

Without purposely trying to insult anyone, while firmly hammering the message home, anyone who believes all of Canada is alike probably has someone wiping the drool off their lower lip.  Canada is a vast and diverse country.  Each area is unique while having it’s own issues that require solutions tailored to that culture.  This is what makes centrists so important in our community.  They relate to solutions and not ideology.

Over the last fifteen years I’ve come to the conclusion that the centre isn’t really shrinking but has more to do with the right and left swinging so far in their own directions that the centre is stretched tighter than a Mae West face lift.  And we have political parties that feed on that.

Picture of Guy Fox mask with caption

Why is it so much easier to choose ignorance rather than accept fact…

Remaining uninformed on details allows the justification of personal ideologies over what is best for society as a whole.  We have a political system that has sunk to the point where politicians think they are speaking for the people while being advised by a bureaucratic buffer zone.  A bureaucracy that is more about self preservation than citizen representation.  And since it has little direct impact on many of these life’s it is more comfortable to remain uninformed.

When you throw in a new demographic that really doesn’t understand civics, the erosion of democracy begins.  When a bureaucracy will spend $15,000 on an appeal to keep a family from receiving $2000 in speech therapy for their special needs child, that’s not democracy, that’s not social justice, that’s a bureaucrats control issue.  The centrists I know tend to be more focused on social justice than bureaucratic control while many on the fringe prefer not to know.

Social justice is not something that is just given, it has to be fought for and defended continually.  That absence of knowledge or worse, the desire not to know, makes social justice (and by extension democracy) very difficult to maintain.  One gets tired of fighting and thats where allies come in.  The maintenance of social justice requires informed allies otherwise you just become a “special interest case” and you become “white noise“.  Continue reading

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Redefining Social Justice – Part 1 Convergence

“When you are fighting for social justice, one of my biggest pet peeves is speaking out of ignorance” – Eva Longoria 

I have spend a life-time as an activist and an advocate for social justice.  In that time I have also worked, maintained a career, raised a family and accomplished all of this with a life-long disability.  I am one of many baby-boomer polio survivors.  Next to the WW2 veterans, the polio survivors were probably the largest disabled group to integrate back into the community.

What makes this extraordinary is that it occurred spontaneously driven solely by an ingrained sense of social justice held by so many that had fought in the wars for democracy.  The policies and regulations that promoted inclusion didn’t really start until the activists of the 70’s and 80’s pushed for them.  Prior to 1972, the same year the Alberta government finally repealed their Draconian Sexual Sterilization Act, those who didn’t assimilate faced a life time of institutionalization.  The activism generated by the anti-Vietnam war movements changed all of that.

So to many of my generation, this isn’t ancient history, it is personal experiences.  It wasn’t until I read a fascinating set of articles by Arti Patel and Maham Abedi focused on Generation Z that I really took a hard look at the changing faces of activism.  The days of the activists like Robin Cavendish are now history and we have a new tool box that many of my generation don’t understand but are second nature to Gen Z members.  Activists of times gone by now have to assume the mantle of mentors for the committed of today.

I did see this coming but ignored it.  Twenty years ago, in 1998 actually, Global New Vancouver introduced a new news function, instant feedback to news stories through e-mails.  The beginnings of a community based social media program and the same time Generation Z kids were entering kindergarten.  These seemingly innocuous events would have a ripple effect that is being felt today. Continue reading

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The Baron’s of the Badlands

“Loneliness is the poverty of self; solitude is the richness of self” – May Sarton

I love good writers, poets and story tellers so to be able to open with a quote by May Sarton (also an outspoken activists on gay rights years before its time) is a good omen.  I can’t take anymore media coverage regarding #ChildrenInCages, I now need to tune out the world news and maybe just do some writing.

Here it is, 5:30AM, I’m wide awake, out of bed so it’s time to hit the keyboard.  We just past the summer equinox and the sun should be out however it is stuck behind a thick blanket of clouds and the occasional downpour.  There is a pleasant aroma to summer rains on the prairies but they are also harbinger of severe lightening and wind storms.  We need the rain, we don’t need the lightening or accompanying winds.  Right now there is a light rain with a gentle wind so I have my balcony door open to enjoy the aroma.  As I write I also watch as the two black squirrels in the alleyway begin their daily back and forth along the power lines.

Last week I watched the season finale of “Into the Badlands” and felt a small tinge of loneliness.  That loneliness comes from the realization that a void of time will now exist which will need to be filled with something.  It may not sound like much to many of you but every four or five hours I have to get out of my wheelchair for awhile, hence my recliner.  Rather than sit there and stare at nothingness I watch certain TV programs.  I tend to favour shows like Into the Badlands because, like Game of Thrones, it uses fantasy to reflect some realities of life.  So in keeping with the theme of my last post, “The Fiefdom of Bureaucracy“, I would like to continue by using the theme of the Badlands.

I completed my resettlement quest this week and, despite the shortage of master healers in the fiefdom of Calgary, I was able to find a good one I hope.  Portent signs for that hope include her Irish heritage.  I have an affection for many things Irish.  It began with my fascination with druids and their impact on the Irish culture.  That dates back to 750 AD (their history, not my affection).  The Irish Druid played a major role in the development of medicine, laws and early democracy so Dr. Kelly has some favourable heritage qualities.  For those interested I would suggest giving “Táin Bó Cúailnge” a read for an interesting background.

The philosophy of The Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids

The philosophy of The Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids

My love and fascination for the Irish druid aside a couple of other positive omens were, she is considerably younger than myself so it should be safe to assume she will be my doctor for what is left of my life.  That’s important.  She is also mature (and insightful) enough to understand the importance of being a prefecture for the new initiates of the medical profession.  This was also the role of Doc Cloud, Ankara and Vitania, all healer/teachers in the Badlands.  During my introductory meeting with Doctor Kelly she acknowledged the up-to-date influence of the symbiotic relationship a teaching environment creates.  She is quite open to new ideas and procedures introduced by her initiates .

Her clinic is part of the Alberta Health care system’s adoption of the “Primary Health Care” team approach.  She may be my primary health care provider but it is just as likely for me to see one of her “clerks”, “residents” or “interns”.  All fit a role in the health care environment.  Having grown up in the health care system and then working for fifteen years in the system I know enough about how it works to have some appreciation for this approach.

This same approach is used for the training of healers in the series I opened with “Into the Badlands” but a major component of that health care approach is the poppy fields, which is what helps keep the Baron’s wealthy but I will get back to that. Continue reading

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The Fiefdom of Bureaucracy

“In any bureaucracy, there’s a natural tendency to let the system become an excuse for inaction” – Chris Fussell 

 

A couple of weeks ago I was interviewed by a BC reporter, Melanie Green, regarding the conundrum of aging with a disability.  This was done, in part, because of her interest in the recently release B.C. Seniors Poverty Report Card.   One of the common themes of the interview, as well as the report card, was the increasing dependence on a complicated bureaucracy which got me to thinking, so let me spin you a little tale using my sense of romanticism.

When I was younger, and I’m sure this hasn’t changed, I would traverse the urban and rural fields of the outland of our society while avoiding the baron’s of bureaucracy as much as possible.  That is one of the benefits of youth.  The only times I would wander into the wasteland of a baron was when I had no option.  If I needed a drivers licence I would have to enter the fiefdom of the transportation baron.  If I needed a birth certificate or marriage licence I would slowly slink into the fiefdom controlled by the baron of vital statistics.  When forced I would enter the fiefdoms with the stealth of Strider (Aragorn) rather than the tumultuous entrance of the Nazgûl otherwise I traversed the hinterland in an attempt to be as unnoticed by the baron’s as possible.

These baron’s of bureaucracy were all appointments of a much larger institute made up of our elected officials.  The elected officials were really the only gatekeepers of the modern day serfdom.  And whether you choose to believe it or not we are all serf’s in our own way.  Our life’s are governed and controlled by bodies of appointed baron’s of bureaucracy.  We have some control which is called a “vote” but that is a control that almost a third of the population ignores.  In other words you choose to be a serf and then complaint when a baron of bureaucracy puts barriers in front of you.

The walls of the baron's of bureaucracy

The walls of the baron’s of bureaucracy

Again, in youth, we just jump over that stone fence and keep traversing the area while avoiding the cottage of the baron.  As a young man I didn’t let the vagaries of regulations get in my way.  I wasn’t about to let some baron tell me (or charge me) to pitch a tent in some picturesque valley to enjoy an evening camp-over.  And I would be damned if I wasn’t going to drive ten K (sometimes more but I did have a bit of sense on self regulation) over the posted speed limit.  And forty years ago I wasn’t about to let some baron of bureaucracy tell me I couldn’t smoke a joint based purely on their regulations and ideology.  Now here we sit just weeks away from the legalization of marijuana in Canada arguing over which baron’s the control will be given to.

I have little faith in a group of baron’s who will spend $15,000 of Canadian tax dollars to keep some marginalized family from receiving $2000 worth of speech therapy for their disabled child.  These are the baron’s that do that, not the elected overlords.  The baron’s keep that kind of thing to themselves all in an effort to maintain their own fiefdom using the funds grant to them by those we elected to collect our taxes.  In other words these baron’s use our money to suppress our freedoms and rights.  Common sense never enters the picture until serfdom outrage reaches the ears in the houses of power, when we by-pass these baron’s. Continue reading

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Introspection on Perception

Reflection or Refraction

I look in the mirror and what do I see,
The reflection there, that can’t be me,
Others see what they want me to be,
From the reflection that’s there I want to flee.

Who can say why Anthony Bourdain took his own life when a perceived success was knocking on his door?  Most of us have an idea of what others see in us but very few know how we see ourselves.  This had to be true of Anthony.  I enjoyed his adventures and his perceptions of the world however there was something Anthony saw differently.

His life wasn’t easy by his own admission.  He lived with our perception which can make it easy to avoid talking about the inner machinations we have to live with.  It is very difficult to survive the trauma’s of life Anthony went through on his way to success and then express your true feelings to those who admire your strength.  I believe this was Anthony’s curse. Continue reading

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The Winding Road of Life

“Let us never know what old age is.  Let us know the happiness time brings, not count the years” – Ausonius

With the exception of some birds twittering outside it is very quiet however it is only 5:30 in the morning and for some reason I am awake.  It’s grey but refreshed.  It rained sometime in the night and natures water cleansed some of the earth.  We need some rain to help cut back on the threat and presence of the summer forrest fires.  Water can be so cleansing and represents life or renewal.

Many years ago today my mothers waters also ran and I came into this world.  It was the day of my birth.  May 31, Gemini through and through.  I celebrate this as my “arrival day” however in true Gemini style I celebrate my birthday in another four weeks.  Four weeks following my third birthday is when I was diagnosed with polio and the person that was became the person who was to be.

I have no idea who that little person that came into the world may have been if I had not contracted polio but I am well aware of the person I have become.  I am very good at deductive reasoning and all I have to do is compare my personalty to that of my five siblings to recognize the differences.  They are all very concrete, linear thinkers while I am very much an abstract lateral thinker.

Small black and white personal picture of me as a baby with a tiny curl of hair on the top of my head

Baby Terry

I can’t say with a 100% certainty how much of that difference is attributable to nature versus nurture but I grew up in a hospital (nature) while my siblings grew up in a family setting (nurture).  I suspect my development is partly from growing up in an environment (hospital) where there were no real definitive answers to so many issues while in the family setting it was basically yes or no.  So my upbringing by so many standards (except mine) was anything but normal.

I arrived early in the morning so maybe that’s why I am up so early today.  Perhaps on some sub-conscience level the sound of mother earth’s water released during the night triggered some memory of my mother’s water breaking announcing my arrival.  I do know the person I started out as arrived early in the morning many years ago but the person I became was born three years later.  It was almost like having been in a cocoon for three years.  I could ask myself why, with three other siblings at the time, I was the only one to contract polio but that is really irrelevant.  Most of my family became other polio kids in the hospital.

By the time I was 16 I had lost five peers who would never see 16 while all my siblings had to deal with was the death of a family pet.  That goes a long way to the nature versus nurture developmental philosophy.  Somewhere deep down I made a commitment to each friend who never got half way through their teens to squeeze a bit of fun and experience into my life for them.  I believe I did that.  I don’t count my life by years but by the experiences I have enjoyed and there have been not only many but also very diversified.  My life experiences were never simple but always varied. Continue reading

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Back Home and Back to Basics

History never really says goodbye.  History says “see you later” – Eduardo Galeano

Between dealing with the “normal” aging process of a non-conventional body and watching the erosion of disability rights I have been withdrawing into a numbness.  I feel like I have been fumbling around a dark tunnel for the past three years while searching for a light at the end of the tunnel by feeling along a wall that seemed never ending.  It is a slow process pushing a wheelchair while continually stopping long enough to reach out and touch the wall.  The ability to feel that wall was the only anchor to hope one had in the darkness.

Each time I perceived some light at the end of the tunnel a mist would creep in to blanket out that light.  Often that mist was the creation of the erosion of rights or the neglect to access.  Systems that were established thirty or more years ago to make life easier for a segment of the community, those with disabilities, had slowly evolved into a wall of stress that turned those needing the supports to a product for a system of jobs for administrators.  By keeping those needing the supports the most in the dark these workers were protecting their futures.

I stopped writing, I stopped socializing, I was overcome with darkness and met nothing but further rejection whenever I attempted to speak out.  I had entered the twilight of depression and allowed the mist of solitude to envelope me.  I was questioning my purpose continually.  After over 45 years of fighting for rights I was taking on the mantle of failure.  I was personalizing the failure of the social safety net and creating a vicious circle of entrapment.  I started to realize I had to adapt or succumb.  I am not good at succumbing or quitting so I took a lighter out of my pocket and shone the light forward.

I was beginning to see a light at the end of that tunnel but it required me taking action I had been denying.  It meant giving up on others and focusing on myself.  As a life-long advocate I have always been very good at finding solutions for others while ignoring the personal barriers I may have faced.  I had always overcome my barriers by opening doors for others.  That was my strength and that was the light I needed to see.  I had to return to the beginning and get back to basics for myself.  That meant me leaving the situation I was in rather than trying to make the situation fit me.  There was no option for “fit” so I had to remove myself from the situation, I moved.  Continue reading

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