Rallying cry for a generation of Canadians.
I had a chance to work with Jack, as a speechwriter. Because of my respect and affection for him, I actually gave months of thought to giving up my beloved journalism to do this ahead of the May 2 election. Jack was highly persuasive, as you'll see below. In the end, I opted no. As I told him, "I am a Laytonite, not an NDPer."
That was the wrong decision, and the wrong attitude. I was echoing Claude Charron, who quit politics declaring himself "a Levesquiste, not a sovereigntist."
The cause of social justice that the NDP is best able and motivated to advance for our country requires us to be Laytonites in spirit and progressives in action. That's why Jack's words below, written two days before his death, are so important.
We place too much emphasis on leaders, letting ourselves off the hook for the community work we need to do ourselves. Regardless of party fealty or ideological worldview, we must listen and talk with our fellow Canadians - neighbors, relatives, the person next to you at the bar or running machine - about our shared values, where we differ, what we'd like Canada to look like by mid-century, by the year 2100. We cannot keep abdicating civics - and the direction of our community - to an elected few, expecting own our work is limited to casting a ballot. (Photo: June 2010.)
I say this as someone who has attended the meetings of the West Toronto-Junction Association precisely once in the 26 years I've lived in this neighborhood. That stops now. That group has done wonderful things for this neighborhood, giving about two hours of its time every two weeks to this task of reshaping our community into something better, more liveable.
When we talk of selected groups "hijacking" the agenda of a city, nation, political party and so on, abidication by the silent majority is how that misfortune - sometimes tragic - comes about. We elect a promising leader and walk away. That leader then stumbles - politics is a series of messy compromises among people of varied and often conflicting interests - and we lose confidence in that leader and indeed politics.
By contrast, the ideal of the town meeting is sound. We gather to devise - not without some harsh words, but always goodwill even to those with whom we disagree - a path forward. We empower our leaders to pursue it, and have their backs as they do so.
Excerpt from a letter to Canadians by Jack Layton two days before he died this morning:
To young Canadians: All my life I have worked to make things better. Hope and optimism have defined my political career, and I continue to be hopeful and optimistic about Canada. Young people have been a great source of inspiration for me. I have met and talked with so many of you about your dreams, your frustrations, and your ideas for change. More and more, you are engaging in politics because you want to change things for the better. Many of you have placed your trust in our party. As my time in political life draws to a close I want to share with you my belief in your power to change this country and this world. There are great challenges before you, from the overwhelming nature of climate change to the unfairness of an economy that excludes so many from our collective wealth, and the changes necessary to build a more inclusive and generous Canada. I believe in you. Your energy, your vision, your passion for justice are exactly what this country needs today. You need to be at the heart of our economy, our political life, and our plans for the present and the future.
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. We can build a prosperous economy and a society that shares its benefits more fairly. We can look after our seniors. We can offer better futures for our children. We can do our part to save the world’s environment. We can restore our good name in the world. We can do all of these things because we finally have a party system at the national level where there are real choices; where your vote matters; where working for change can actually bring about change. In the months and years to come, New Democrats will put a compelling new alternative to you. 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.
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.
All my very best,