This is not the piece I planned to post today but neither is this the day I planned to have. Jack Layton – dead at 61.
I heard the news on CBC at 9:00 am when it broke while I was driving my kids to camp and I started crying. “I’m so sorry that happened mama,” Ari said from the back seat which made me cry even more. During the past three federal election campaigns Ari marched around the house chanting “Olivia Chow, Olivia Chow” (we live in her riding) and Noah needed little encouragement to announce his support for Jack Layton. “Everyone at school supports Jack,” he told us. I won’t share his comments about Harper.
I’ve had my frustrations with the NDP over the years and despite the fact I’ve supported the party consistently I’ve wondered if it wasn’t time for a new party in this country, one that cut across and broke down tired binary oppositions labour/management, working class/middle class - lines that no longer define our political difference or allegiance.
But in this last election something magical happened and it was driven by Jack. He blew across this country whipping up an enthusiasm and a fervour for the NDP and the voice of people that we’d never seen. With joy and optimism he seemed to be holding a party or a love-in as much as a campaign to which everyone was invited.
It wasn’t since Ed Broadbent was leader of the federal NDP that I’d heard the annoying yet telling line “If he was the leader of the Liberal party I’d vote for him.” And still 103 seats and the keys to Stornoway.
I feel incredibly sad about the loss of Jack’s optimistic spirit and the dream he won’t get to see through to fruition and new heights. I listened to CBC on and off all day not tiring of their willingness to indulge my need to feel sad, not to cry a blue streak but to cry about one.
A City of Toronto vehicle drove by me while I was out for a run and I wanted to scream “Jack is dead and you’re working for the biggest boor to hit Canadian politics and ram us in the gut with his idiocy.”
Maybe it sounds geeky to say but I love this country and I love this city. I don’t want it to belong to Harper, to Ford, to Hudak. I want it to belong to empathy, humanity, community.
I’ve let activism slip from my life, replaced by parenting, supplemented with the occasional demo. I’ve chosen private indignation and rants among friends over taking action. I’ve bought t-shirts critical of Stephen Harper’s policy on the arts but I’ve neither made nor sold them. While t-shirts and demos by themselves won’t change the world, engagement will.
As I stood at the impromptu gathering with hundreds of others at Nathan Philip’s Square today crying and writing chalk messages to Jack, to Olivia, to fellow NDP supporters, to the country, I talked to friends about my feeling that I need to do get involved more actively in fighting this blue wave. Everyone agreed. We were all thinking the same thing.
So if this many of us feel it’s time to get our middle-aged butts back out there to protect what we value most deeply and build the policies and services still left to be built then maybe a groundswell’s coming. Words chalked on a wall are lovely – goodness knows I’m all for words, but the greatest tribute I can pay Jack will be my action.
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, 1950 -2011