The black elephant in the room
Thinking outside of the box. Pushing envelopes. And buttons.
While these cliches might sound hokey and trite, they still carry much weight in most of my analysis around civic engagement. The answers to voter apathy and civic disengagement are sitting right there in front of us, and I am no rocket scientist (though as a toddler I’m told I had a penchant for all things Stars Wars).
Torontonians from all stripes will always be less likely to engage civically for a few clear reasons. When you don’t really see yourself represented in the corridors of City Hall, on a simple, base level, it interferes with your ability to dig deeper (or vote). Or rally those around you to collectively clog up ballot boxes.
For example, my early knowledge of politico living and policymaking comes from seeing Zanana Akande being elected by the NDP (at the provincial level), and her looking like me, and speaking like me, as a proud African-Canadian. In the realm of public school trustee’s, it was seeing another African-Canadian, John Mills push forth some ideas that I could relate to, on a micro level, in my ‘hood. With former City Councillor Rob Davis, it was the same thing. He lived in the neighborhood. I bump into him at the local area bodega. It’s all good.
This doesn’t even mean I would be racially bound by some unwritten contract to vote for these candidates. It just means that getting my hip-hop generationers out to the polls – which also means forsaking a few hours of watching BET - is within the realm of possibility. I’d like to think these might be some of the same reasons my parents and most of the other kids I grew up with, and around, who came from racialized groups watched City TV - if you were black, and of African descent, Jojo Chinton was The Man (not that Man). So you tuned in.
And that’s the reason why many of my friends might "auto tune" out of local area politics, like T-Pain. It seems too Baby Boomer aligned. So, if you're youth-ey, of colour, into digital culture, are equally versed in hockey as you are in hip-hop like I am, are forward-thinking and have your pulse on the genuine community’s beat, what candidate truly represents those interests?
Maybe no one. Or the lesser of a few evils. Adam Giambrone? Surely you jest.
I'm still constantly amazed at how in such a world-class cosmopolitan city like Toronto, we do an incredibly fabulous job of tip-toeing around these kinds of hard issues, around aggressively diversifying the political landscape, running candidates who aren’t born between 1946 and 1962, aren’t blah and yada.
I’d like to think that a change is gonna come, in a Sam Cooke-ian kinda way, but progress in this area in Toronto has been glacial.