The community crisis over rising fascism can be addressed by meeting with the Mayor, councillors, police representatives, and other key people who can work together on a plan of action.
By Nicole Smith
Published July 19, 2019
"My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we'll change the world."
-- Jack Layton
It has been an extremely intense month and a half in Hamilton, especially since the violence at Pride. Hearts have been broken over and over again witnessing the arrests, the Yellow Vests weekly protests, and the strife between the Mayor, much of Council, and the police on one side, and the LGTBQ Advisory Committee and hundreds of members of the LGTBQ2S+ community and allies on the other side.
Cedar has been freed but where is the release for the community? Where is the sense of being ready to move on?
I have heard people lament, "What is happening to our Hamilton?" And, "This is not us."
Ryan McGreal, a man I respect deeply, galvanized not just Hamilton but people all over Canada and the US with his incisive special to HuffPost, titled Here's What Canada Can Learn From Hamilton, Ont.'s Far-Right Problem.
Since it was published, I have been reading and re-reading it, reflecting upon it, and speaking to councillors and others in the community about their thoughts, feelings, and discomfort about the situation we have been living.
With profound respect, I do not agree with all aspects of his analysis.
Certainly we are in the throes of a community crisis whereby Yellow Vests and other right-wing extremists have felt emboldened to take up more space at City Hall and in our public discourse than many of us feel comfortable watching.
Certainly the violence at Pride was abhorrent to us in the community of LGTBQ2S+ and allies.
Certainly we badly need an effective dialogue between the community/allies and the Council, Mayor, and police.
However, where I differ with some of the strongest voices in the community is on how that dialogue might move forward.
I have read many criticisms of Mayor Fred's decision to seek wider consultation with voices within the LGTBQ2S+ community by appointing Deirdre Pike and Cole Gately. LGTBQ advisory committee chair Cameron Kroetsch and Graham Crawford not only refused to meet the Mayor and others, but also strongly discouraged others from meeting until their demands were met.
I struggle to understand this approach. In my role as President of the International Association of Kumon Franchisees (IAKF), I have welcomed every opportunity the company offered for dialogue and have been able to work on many areas of mutual concern over the years with representatives of Kumon North America. I have sought to be generous with input for the company on what I see are the key areas to focus going forward.
Thus, watching people not only refuse to come to the table, but also seek to discourage others from dialogue, I am confused as to how this will contribute to healing and forward momentum for us as a city.
Note: there is a private debrief being organized by Hamilton Pride for July 24. Participants will be limited to those who attended Pride 2019. On the one hand, it makes sense to debrief an event with those who were there. On the other hand, it seems to me that what is most needed now are ways to connect as widely as possible with as many allies as possible to gain fresh perspective and insight.
This article began with the famous last words of now deceased NDP leader Jack Layton. Though spoken years ago, they will never cease being relevant and inspiring.
In the spirit of this love, hope, and optimism, community members including myself embarked on the #SaveTheWesleyDayCentre initiative a month ago. The rewards have been overwhelmingly positive, with Council unanimously approving a plan to keep the Wesley open till the end of March of 2020 and seeking to come up with a permanent alternative by that time for a seamless transfer, hopefully integrating a second Consumption Treatment Services facility to further address the growing opioid crisis.
The town hall on July 17 was also a fantastic opportunity to hear from lived experience that we need the Wesley restored to its former glory with full time hours and services that have vanished through lack of funding.
That we could get this far in under a month speaks to the incredible community support for the services at the Day Centre as well as the determination by the campaign's executive committee members to meet with the Mayor, councillors, directors of the Wesley, and everyone else who was key to working on a plan of action.
There were moments over the past weeks when we were not getting the answers we wanted. But we were not deterred. Perseverance was rewarded richly.
I understand that a campaign like #SaveTheWesleyDayCentre is very different from the community crisis with the LGTBQ2S+ community and allies struggling with hateful pressure from right wing extremists. That said, the latter is still a political issue, and as such, can be addressed by meeting with the Mayor, councillors, police representatives, and other key people who can work together on a plan of action.
I would like to close with these further words from Jack Layton's final letter:
"And finally, to all Canadians: Canada is a great country, one of the hopes of the world. We can be a better one - a country of greater equality, justice, and opportunity...
"My colleagues in our party are an impressive, committed team. Give them a careful hearing; consider the alternatives; and consider that we can be a better, fairer, more equal country by working together. Don't let them tell you it can't be done."
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