New Decade, New Direction

I just got back in from a quick wheel around the community. It is still warm enough (the sun is bright) to do a good wheel and not lose too much air out of my tires. However, based on the numbness of my fingertips it was chillier than I thought. But they are forecasting a drastic drop in temperatures in the next couple of days so I grab those outdoor moments when I can. Anybody that knows Calgary understands just how fickle our weather can be.

When I got back into the comfort of my condo I flipped on the news. Big mistake with the current conditions of the world these days. Between the fires of Australia, the craziness of the middle east, the insanity of Brexit and the twisted ideology sweeping across Canada flipping on the news was a huge mistake. So then I switched over to my computer monitor to hit some social media sites.

While catching up there I was quite please to see the 2020 “Best of Calgary” list has been released. The four nominees for “Best Civic Activist” were Jason Ribeiro, Mike Morrison, Mark Hopkins and Hannah Kost. One I know, two I’m aware of and the fourth was a new name to me. Regardless activism is in my blood so I pay attention to those and congratulate all four of them. Voting starts Jan 15th so Calgarians pay attention. If you visit the voting site you can really realize just how much of the City has changed. I would never even have thought of “Best Ice Cream or Gelato” shop, Best Coffee, Best Night Spot and the list went on. Calgary has moved a long way since the 80’s and I use to know every spot out there. I have lost touch with the City that I love.

I traditionally wrote a weekly “Monday Meanderings of the Mindless Myth” blog which was dedicated to advocacy and activism. I was beginning to feel like I was talking in a vacuum so I pulled back about two months ago. However in light of recent political events in Alberta I have come to the realization that now is not the time to back off. I am witnessing the continuing erosion of so many things my generation of activists fought for now is not the time to quit. There are four good nominees for the Best Civic Activists on the City list however they all lack history.

This being the first Monday of a new year in a new decade I am refocusing my energies and changing the direction of my blog. I am going to be examining advocacy and activism by decade rather than years. It has really been hammered home to me recently that the new generation of activists have little knowledge of why we are where we are. Rights are being eroded and many activists have no understanding, in part, because those rights were already here. They’ve never known anything else so how would they know what they are loosing.

A generational chart showing a dozen generations from the Lost Generation (1890) up to the most current Gen Alpha born since 2013
Where we fit in the demographics can often determine our commitment to activism

Education, healthcare, community inclusion, cultural protections, federal transfers, the Canada Pension Plan, and the list goes on are all under attack these days. These development made in the past sixty years are very generational and that is reflected in how we vote, who we put in power. The generation that fought for those programs are now becoming seniors just to discover so many things they fought for have been whittled away. Each generation has their own belief’s when it comes to politics. Where you fit on the political spectrum is usually dictated by the rights and programs your generation could access based on the work of the generation before you. The generation before me died on the battlefields of Europe so my generation would not have to face fascism and have access to a better standard of life than those that came out of the “Dirty Thirties“.

I want those four “Best Civic Activist” nominees to understand the ground their work is build upon. This is where words matter and being an “activist” should not be confused with advocacy or lobbying. Words are powerful and the power of an activist is found in the strength to their commitment. It is based on their understanding of the details that come from out history and that history could be as recent as ten year ago. It is often build on the graves of others.

A black and white picture of an elderly lady holding a sign reading "I can't believe I still have to protest this fucking shit"
A true activist does not let age dictate their commitment

So I am back with my Monday Meanderings but I will be adding more. From my perspective we are facing a provincial government that no longer cares about people. They have given repeated indications that all they care about is what they can impose or take away from us. And they can only impose if we, as the voters, don’t take a stand and speak out. We need to support our activists but we also have to be vocal. We have to let OUR politicians aware that they work for us, the VOTERS. So I am back and I am speaking out. I am here to remind people of the decades that went on before many of you arrived and not just what has happened in the last year. History is more than 365 days and civic involvement doesn’t end at the polling station. So until next time be loud, #WordsMatter…

If you have any questions or any matter of particular interest to you, leave a comment. Plus the “donation” button is meant to be more than decorative, with Kenney deleting so many supports for seniors and persons with disabilities I have just resorted to the times of the 50’s and 60’s. Except instead of a “begging bowl” I’ve gone upscale with technology and now present a “Donation” button…

Activist or Advocate?

Advocacy is often seen as working “within the system” whereas activism is seen as working “outside the system” to generate change. I think this is really useful, as clearly the role or issue can shift from one to the other.Author unknown

A meaningful meme basically black and white with the exception of a young child staring down a long hallway wearing the only coloured item in the picture.  The meme reads "There comes a moment when you realize that what you are advocating for is more than just accommodations.  You're really advocating for someones quality of life.  That's the moment you realize that you won't give up"
#SpeakOut, make your voice heard, silence only supports injustices

I have fifty years experience as an activist with another 25 years of advocacy experience built in there. The advocacy was a fight to ensure the successes gained as an activist were maintained. There is a difference between the two. Activists organize, advocates initiate. This difference is lost on a lot of people and it frightens me.

As a polio survivor I grew up in a time where there were not a lot of protections enshrined in any form of policy, regulations or legislation. I grew up in a time when I wasn’t guaranteed an education due to my disability. I grew up in a time when you “warehoused” the disabled in institutions. I grew up in a time where I wasn’t guaranteed a a vote until I was just about 26 years old. I grew up in a time when I had to have people of “sound mind and body” co-sign any contract I may enter from a rental lease to a credit card application. To me this isn’t ancient history, it was the experience of my life and it turned me into an activist. I fought hard for legislative change and protection.

I discovered early that, as an activist, words matter. Words like “should”, “try” and “consider”. When the word “should” shows up in a piece of legislation or regulation, that’s not a directive, it’s a suggestion. Legally should, as a noun, holds a different value than “will”, a directive. This understanding of language (semantics) are important lessons for any activist and they provide the groundwork for advocacy.

One of the words least understood is that of “public”. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is build on a specific understanding of the word “public”. Social programs such as “public” education, “public” health, or “public” service account for a substantial part of public spending however this is “public” as an adjective and has a legal bearing.

Public, as a noun, is simply the whole body politic, or the aggregate of the citizens of a state, nation, or municipality. Public as a noun has little legal ramifications when it comes to legislation, public as an adjective is where legislative protections come into play. What is happening in Alberta these days is a complete erosion of gains made by activists in the 70’s and 80’s because so few people understand the semantics around the word “public”.

Even fewer people understand the legislative process so people appear willing to let their rights be eroded rather than study the details of how we got here. Right now “public education” is a primary example. The Alberta Education Act does NOT supersede the Charter. The Charter is recognized as Primary legislation, which consists of Acts of Parliament or statute that hold a higher ranking and can supersede other legislation. Provincial legislation, like the Education Act is secondary legislation (delegated legislation) which grants additional law-making powers to other branches or jurisdictions of government. This is also part of the federal transfer payment arrangements designed to maintain “universality” in programming This is the types of knowledge an activist develops but not a necessary tool for an advocate. It provides the support an effective advocate needs but the detail can be irrelevant for their purposes.

A screen capture of Calgary business development advocate Jason Ribeiro reading "We cannot let the last thing the remaining members of the Greatest Generation see be the betrayal of the values and principles they fought so hard to protect.  We ignore neo-fascism at our own peril and dishonour their service".  Captioned "Defending and promoting change
Defending and promoting change

An “advocate” works hard in the community. An effective advocate is someone who is adaptive, open to change and can react quickly as new information unfolds. When I returned to Calgary a couple of years ago I was plagued with concerns over the future of Alberta. I initially bought into a generational myth that Millennial’s didn’t care about governance.

They lacked the historical context while seeming to show little interest in the detail of todays political system. However after meeting and getting to know Jason Ribeiro I was able to dispel that generational myth. It is not disinterest in the political system but a desire for modernization of the political system, something I fully agree with. We can no longer conduct 21st century business based on a system build over a 100 years ago. There is a reason for their frustration which many baby-boomers see as “generational indifference”.

There’s a large contingent of Millennial’s in Calgary working hard to keep the City moving forward while transforming into a more progressive environment. Jason is one of those leading that charge. It is difficult to check the local news without seeing Jason involved in something from business development to immigrant aid support. He is very multidimensional which is a major factor in being an effective advocate.

Knowing their are people like Jason out there advocating for the City does help me validate my years of activism. Jason’s remarks on this video remind me that my generation of change-makers can’t take what we know for granted. We were there and we lived it. The Millennials weren’t and will be dependent on us to be the story tellers, the sharers of knowledge. Don’t ever take “mentorship” for granted. We have a historical perspective that is of value to the policy makers of tomorrow. Regardless of your role or background, activist or advocate, be a mentor, don’t let the years of your accomplishments fall off the rails because you’ve given up.

Watching what Kenney is doing to Alberta had me close to “giving up” but I couldn’t bring myself to let my life’s accomplishments go down the drain because of a false belief. There are advocates out there that want to pick up the torch, like Jason, so pass that torch and keep a free democracy alive. It may look like it’s on life-support but it is not dead. As long as there are people like Jason working at the grass level and the Greta Thunberg on an international stage it’s looking like a flame of freedom is still there. Be informed…

Alberta’s Spectre of Trumpism

“The rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man is threatened” – John F Kennedy

I know I promised to do an article on my perspective of the changing education system in Alberta and I will. However I will save it for my Monday meanderings post because right now I want to raise the issue of the Trumpism spectre being cast over Alberta by Premier (that’s hard to say) Jason Kenney.

To the future policy makers of our province (and possibly our country) please be aware of the power of words. I listened to Jason Kenney’s address to the Oil Sands Trade Show in Fort McMurray this week. I was blown away that a Canadian politician would find the deprivation of human rights to Greenpeace activists to be “instructive” for Alberta. I find it not only frightening but also insulting to every Canadian that believes in the protection of human rights.

It tears at the fabric of my soul as a Canadian to listen to Kenney justify human rights abuses with the same glee he proudly echoed over his success in removing spousal visitation rights for those dying of aids in California. This isn’t a leader “for all people”, this is an ideologist who will say or do whatever he has to in order to accomplish his agenda. It is truly frightening.

Kenney has back off from most of the sound bites of misinformation he expressed during the run up to this election. He not only removed the protection of anonymity that had been provided by GSA’s to vulnerable youth but also exhibited his lack of understanding regarding education. A large part of learning happens “outside” the classroom so his ignorant remark about his acceptance of kids protesting was fine but should not be done during class time, totally out of touch with the realities of experiential learning. That response was as much Machiavellian as it was absence of knowledge.

Kenney and his government put a freeze on funding to students and adults living with a disability. This left thousands of young people moving from children’s service to adult programming over the summer (a consequence of turning 18) with little or no supports. He suspended an agreed upon teachers contract condition and froze school board funding up to the last minute resulting in understaffing with oversized classes.

The creation of this “Blue Ribbon Review Committee” on education was, in my opinion, an exercise in optics. The results were a foregone conclusion. It would be like me suggesting an “independent committee” made up of the Calgary Catholic Bishop, two priest, the retired Mother Superior of the Alberta Grey Nuns, maybe an obstetrician/gynecologist (need that medical expertise) and a couple of foster parents (community balance) to determine the need to change the abortion issue. I can pretty well guarantee the results.

My main issue here is nobody should be surprised. If you followed Kenney’s time in Ottawa at all you would be aware of his operating style. Remember this is the same guy who was forced to issue an apology in 2012 to the then Deputy Premier of Alberta, Thomas Lukaszak for calling him an asshole. Kenney wasn’t always Alberta’s biggest fan.

Picture with seven boxes rows of two side by side, first row reads The Holocaust was legal" next to "Hiding Jews was Criminalized", second row "Slavery was legal", "Freeing slaves was criminalized", third row "Segregation was legal", "Protesting Racism was Criminalized" Bottom row )one square) "Friendly Reminder:  Legality isn't a Guide to morality"
Ideological differences

And this brings us to today. The federal election is being called and Kenney has vowed to be on the trail helping his friend, Andrew Scheer. Well there are rules about that so I have to ask, “Premier Kenney are you doing that on the tax payers dime?”. If so are you making every Albertan complicit in contravening the federal election regulations. Have we, as citizens of Alberta become “third party donors” to an election campaign? Are we registered in compliance with the regulations? #WordsMatter and I’m not donating $1600 to a campaign I don’t support.

We are at a point in our provincial history where it has become imperative for the collective electorate to speak out for services. If we don’t by the time we get to that point where we want a better place for our kids nothing will be left. The Kenney government is busy dismantling education, human rights, labour relations and starting to tackle healthcare. If we want these protected, we have to speak out. We cannot afford to live in the spectre of Trumpism politics…

Writing From Frustration

(A variant quote) – “It’s easier to ask forgiveness than to get permission” – Grace Hopper

With the writ finally coming down for the next federal election it is time to start writing again. I have ignore my writing all summer while I took on other challenges only to realize my absence of expression only contributes to the erosion of democracy. I needed a good kick in the ass and I received one this morning (actually numerous but I’ll only focus on one).

First a quick history lesson to the members of @YYCShapers. They are a group of young Millenial professionals dedicated to making Calgary the best city it can be and kudos to them for that. This opening quote is a variant attributed to Read Admiral Grace Hopper someone who laid a lot of the groundwork for the likes of the Millenials. Get to know Grace who was one of the early pioneers of computer coding and is often overlooked. She contributed to the development of the Advanced Research Project Agency Network (ARAPNET) which was the ground work for todays Internet. Grace passed away in 1992 but her work has carried us to where we are today.

Now to business and I am a bit pissed off. I have tried repeatedly to work with Calgary around the whole issue of “accessibility”. Many of these issues I felt had been dealt with years ago. I was wrong. From my recent dealings it appears that the City of Calgary doesn’t really gives anymore than lip service to access.

I spend almost two hours on the phone this morning with the City’s “Accessibility Specialist”, Dave Morton. He was polite, tried to be helpful but fell back onto the denials offered by limited policy interpretation. He basically told me “too bad, so sad, wish I could do more, keep up the fight” (click) over almost a two hour period. I suspect he meant well but can only do what his policy interpretation allows.

Policy should never be allowed to guide a myopic ideology. Having been a government policy analyst for years there are always (or should be) alternative solutions. Policy should never be that rigid that it eliminates the need to use “common sense” and practice some critical thinking. From my experience policy should be used as a guiding map, not a restrictive law.

Picture of front of Dorchester Square condo building, drive-way and pedestrian ramp to front door
Dorchester Square – condo building where I live

My issue of frustration, access to where I live. This was the front of my place up until recently. That ramp, which is non-complaint by todays standards but served the purpose, was recently replaced with a couple of stairs. This ramp has worked fine for over 25 years but it recently disappeared. I didn’t notice it right away because I was always parked in the underground and entered the building from the underground garage. I had to make a very drastic decision this summer and sell my car. The old shoulders just are not working well enough anymore for me to do a safe transfer and since where I live in the Beltline 90% of what I do is within wheeling distance. That changes in the winter with the arrival of snow but the reality was the car had to go.

Front of Dorchester Square after modifications involving removal of ramp and installation of stairs.
The new look

So imagine my surprise when I went out recently and discovered stairs had replaced the ramp. I use to think I had a pretty good understanding of how peoples minds worked but this one blew me away. Why would a condo building swap out a ramp access for stairs? Everyone I spoke to in management positions with this condo had no idea it had happened. Now I’m sorry but somebody had to authorize it and issue payments to the contractor. This not knowing is just a blow off to me.

Enter the City. I did what I believe every well meaning citizen should after failing to get an appropriate answer from the condo management people. After all, access is suppose to be promoted and protected is it not. Well apparently I was wrong. After being placed in the gerbil exercise wheel by the City’s answer to everything, the 311 phone line (Service Request Number: 19-00814592) I finally received a call from a gentleman with the City Roads department suggesting I call the aforementioned Dave Morton. He is reportedly the City Specialist on all things “access”. After a couple of phone conversations it would appear nada. This City has no real interest in accessibility issues.

First of all Dorchester Square never made application to do this ramp conversion. They did make application to upgrade and change the ramp to the underground parking. I remember that well because one side of the underground parking ramp was out of service for about six weeks last summer. They replaced that ramp to include a water warming system to help avoid freezing over the winter. The ramp to the underground parking is quite steep so I appreciate that action.

However that ramp upgrade had nothing to do with the removal of the current front door access ramp. You don’t replace an access ramp with stairs and consider it “job well done”. It makes absolutely no sense but then the lack of common sense is becoming pretty self evident in todays society. The City, who is already battling a budget deficit, states this issue is on private property leaving the City with no jurisdiction.

I would think that a City with budget issues should be fining those businesses who don’t comply with the current process. Despite the fact that no permit was ever applied for or issued the City has removed themselves from my service request and it is every man for himself. No wonder the City has a budget problem when they allow the “chosen” few to do whatever they decide and process be damned. Why no fines? Why does the victim pay the price?

Fighting for access is now up to each individual. We cannot collectively battle for something that I thought was already settled. I just have a really hard time accepting a City that talks about “inclusion” while almost going out of their way to make the community less inviting. Accessible living accommodation are hard enough to find so to start rolling back the few options that are available sends a very firm message that certain members of the community don’t really count. This is yet another situation I find myself in clawing my way back up hills of battles previously fought. There is no retirement for someone who is a self declared advocate.

Then to add insult to injury (and the mentality of this blows me away) getting rid of my car and using Access Calgary Transit is no longer an option. One of the criteria is that if a bus stop is within two blocks you are expected to use public transit. I can partially understand that but I have a few questions for the City. Do you consider a difference in two blocks when it is 25 degrees versus -25 degrees because trust me, there’s a huge difference. Will the City stop piling all of the plowed snow across every curb-cut to eliminate the mountain of snow one has to get over to get to that “two blocks away”? Where has common sense gone?

Stay tuned, I’ll be back. With an election looming and a Premier who is using tax dollars to stump for Scheer on the national stage while proroguing Alberta legislature I will be watching and writing. Next on my list, the removal of the word “public” from education. This may appear innocuous enough but those with disabilities are only guaranteed educational opportunities in “public” venues, #WordsMatter.

So yes I am frustrated…