Wish List for the Mayor
In my work with ArtReach Toronto, we provide free monthly workshops on different topics of interest to young people. Recently, we held a workshop on civic engagement. Various youth and adult facilitators (as well as one city councillor) brought different perspectives on this broad concept.
Throughout the workshop, voting was addressed by all of our speakers as one basic form of civic engagement. One set of presenters (Salon Camden Centre for Urban Dialogue, www.urbandialogue.ca) showed a short film interviewing people on the streets of Toronto about their wish list for the mayor, asking what were the issues that most needed to be addressed. Check out the film at http://vimeo.com/14284578.
All the young people in attendance at the workshop were asked to identify the issues they felt most passionate about, and record their own wish lists for the mayor. Taking into consideration that youth are not a homogenous population – every young person comes from a different social location and has had different experiences -- this is just an attempt to share what 50 young people shared with us.
Their wish lists included: increasing funding for the arts and community events; improving public transit; preventing cuts to community program funding; improving education; increasing support for harm reduction; adding more bike lanes; having cleaner streets; reducing police violence; and increasing accountability for politicians spending public dollars (i.e. - G20, a steadily rising police budget).
Some of the most common answers included increased resources and core funding for grassroots youth organizations/initiatives, as well as supports for young people to become more civically engaged.
What I found to be truly profound from our audience was how much they wanted our future mayor to focus on dealing with systemic issues, like poverty and adequately supporting the most vulnerable, not just creating measures that make it easier to get re-elected, like budget cuts.
It made me ask myself, how do we get our civic leadership to not just focus on voters' needs for the next four years but the needs of Torontonians on a whole? The Torontonians who are too young, the ones who contribute to our economy but don’t yet have official citizenship, and the ones so marginalized that they aren’t truly aware of the power they hold as voters. They often face the toughest time adjusting to the economic changes we’re all affected by, yet their issues are often bypassed for those deemed more politically expedient and appealing as “voters.”
In order to truly make change in our communities and in Toronto as a whole, we need to ensure that all levels of society can benefit in the longer term, instead of pitting ourselves against each other in the short term without addressing the root causes of these issues.
After the workshop, I sat down to make my wish list for the mayor and then compared it with the platforms of the leading mayoral candidates. I’m disappointed to say that there isn’t a good fit with any of them. I am frustrated with increasing taxes and public transportation issues, but I also care about poverty, systemic racism, homelessness, community and youth programs, education, the arts and culture, police brutality and so much more… issues that don’t seem to be priorities for any of the high-profile mayoral candidates.
When Mayor Miller ran for office, I was among many “swept” up by his clean up