Tomorrow is an election that means that pretty much every kind of media is going to be covered in election coverage and commentary and encouragement to vote. Social media will be full again of encouragement, requests and pleas to people to vote. I have one request as write those posts tomorrow. Don’t use shame.
I get it, you care a whole lot and you want as many people as possible to participate. However voting is one way to be involved in politics, it is not the be all and end all of political involvement. We do not shame those who don’t protest for not caring, we do not shame those who don’t volunteer for a party for not putting in the time, we do not shame those who don’t ever talk about politics for not engaging. So please do not shame those who don’t vote.
By all means encourage those around you. Be excited that you voted. Spread information and make it easy to do so. But understand that some people have made a choice not to vote and respect that. Understand that some people are incredibly disenfranchised and apathetic and respect that. Understand that some people think the system is irreparable and respect that. Not everyone experience this country the way you do and that shapes what participation they feel good about and willing to do. People are not apathetic or disenfranchised out of spite for you, or your political agenda. I am not telling you that you need to like it, but do not make voting something people are shamed into doing. That is not engagement or participation that you should feel good about.
I promise that I will never say you can’t complain about something because you didn’t protest. I will not write articles about how those over 40 don’t have enough conversations about politics. In exchange you need to leave the shame behind, be compassionate, and be respectful of those don’t vote. And whatever you do please do not post “If you don’t vote, you can’t complain”. Just don’t.
I always change things when I speak but this is what I spoke from when I spoke at the 2015 Janes Walk TO launch party. It was a great party with so many amazing people and I know this weekend is going to be amazingly full of awesome walks! Have a blast Toronto!
I often get talked about as smart, well-spoken, interested in politics – but there is something else that is implied. It is implied that I am different from other youth. We can argue later about whether or not this is true, but something interesting happens when people see you as different from your peers. People see you as an anomaly. People say things to you that they would never say to your peers.
I hear a lot about how apathetic other young people are, about how other young people are entitled, selfish, technology obsessed – you name it I hear it. But I want to reframe that conversation. I want us to stop seeing young people as apathetic. I want us to stop using old metrics of political involvement to measure a new generation, with new tools. Just because our political involvement does not look like yours does not make it less real.
We need to stop using voting to measure involvement. Voting is one of the ways that people participate in the political process, but it is by no means the only way. Politics is bigger than elections. When we frame politics as elections and involvement as voting that means that we are politically very little of the time. It means we spend maybe ten minutes in a given year involved politically, and that would be sad (if it were even true). We have to recognize the value in the everyday political actions. The political in existing and walking and talking. The political in making things just a little better. Waves are building a little at a time below the surface long before the casual observer can see them.
My favourite definition of politics is this: Politics is the total complex of relations between people living in society.
Everything is political. The personal is political. Tonight we are celebrating the political involvement that is walking in your city. But here are hundred of other things you can do to be political that are not voting. Everything from volunteering on a campaign to blogging, organizing, protesting, rioting, guerrilla gardening and just talking to your neighbours. For some, just existing is a political act.
In Samara’s report on political involvement beyond the ballot box, Canadians aged 18-34 are as involved – and in some cases slightly more involved – than those over 35… except when it comes to electoral politics. We volunteer three percentage points more (at 58%) to those over 35’s 55% but what is even more interesting is that that gap doubles when it comes to donating money. More young people donate money to political and social causes.
Unsurprisingly, our engagement online is just about double those over 35 – but where things get real juicy is offline discussion. There is a lot of rhetoric about how the so called “older generation” spend more time engaging face to face. 51% of us aged 18-34 have discussed a political issue over the phone or face to face, compared to just 36% of those over 35. We are also more likely to have written a letter to the editor and to have given a political speech in public. But my absolute favourite statistic out of the whole report is about organising. Out of those 35 and over, only 9% have organised a public event or meeting. People aged 18-35? 20%. More than double. Just slightly more, but after taking all this endless abuse in the popular culture for being a lazy, selfish, tech-obsessed millennial I will take every fraction of a point, thank you.
I think what is interesting about these statistics is that overall we are not any more un-involved than anyone else, in fact we are slightly more involved than some populations, yet we are seen as apathetic because of our lower rates of formal engagement in electoral politics. Words are important. They are our way of describing our reality, so which words we pick and what meaning we assign to them is critical. There are words that have been reclaimed and words that we used to use without thought that have now taken on meaning. Those words changed as we changed our reality, and I’d argue they helped change it. So talking about youth as apathetic, especially when in fact we are incredibly involved, is not only incorrect but I’d argue it is beginning to create a reality where that is true.
Many people, including youth, don’t vote for legitimate reasons. And I know one of those people who come out every election “all if you don’t vote you can’t complain” is all what the heck is this youth talking about. But let’s talk about some what ifs:
What if you didn’t have an address?
What if no politician running had ever spent time in your community?
What if you didn’t speak the language the election was happening in?
What if you were away from home at school?
What if you had no photo ID with your address on it?
What if no one in your family voted?
What if no one ever explained how?
What if you couldn’t get the time off from your low-wage hourly job, or couldn’t afford to take the time?
Many or all of these people might give you a very different answer if you asked why they didn’t vote but there are always layers there. Few people don’t because they honestly don’t care. And there are always the invisible things, the forces of oppression at work in society whose effects are often hard to see and quantify but are of course there and affect people’s voting habits.
So here it is: I want you to stop telling young people to vote. Right now. I don’t want you to lecture or preach or demand any young person vote. I want you to set an example. I want you to ask young people for their opinions, and really listen when they answer. I want you to advocate for our future security and wellness with your work today AND I want to encourage you to start inviting us to the table now, so we can help in making these decisions before it’s too late and we’re stuck with the transit priorities of a generation that sees owning a car as a mark of adulthood and the environmental outlook of the same people that are putting a nickel in their own pocket for every litre of gasoline that’s sold. Inviting millennials to the table is not a concession it is not a kind thing you can do for us. Not having us at the table is wrong. To not include the perspective of any large stakeholder in a decision making process is wrong. Millennials are a huge stakeholder.
We must see youth as stakeholders because we will live with these choices the longest. When Joe Oliver says Stephen Harper’s granddaughter can deal with something he is downloading that problem onto my children who ::spoiler:: don’t exist yet.
I can talk about how including young people will improve decision or how different perspectives make things more productive but honestly, that isn’t the point. The point is, for young people to participate in politics it has to feel as though there is something we can do. Especially this generation. When I ask young people about electoral politics, they often have no idea or don’t care. The candidates are rarely speaking to us or about our issues. But when I ask about issues, young people are passionate. Ask a high school student how they feel about public transit, education, the environment, even childcare and I can pretty much guarantee they have an opinion. And they are often also involved in their community in other ways. We are volunteering, and donating. We are signing petitions and protesting. Young people care. Young people are politically involved.
It’s time to redefine politics. Redefine it with our feet and our hands and the words we use, and we can put it back into the hands of all the people – regardless of their bank balance, age, postal code or, yes – even their polling station.
People will be confused that you are in Scouting because they don’t realize it is co-ed. People will also call it Boy Scouts. Yes, it will even happen on official trips, I had to correct the flight attendant on the flight to the 2010 World Jamboree. I give you permission to be as mad as you want about this. It’s been thirty years, not three. Be polite, we are scouts after all, but you can totally correct people. Also, you can totally rant about it. In fact, I encourage you to, it’s very therapeutic.
Don’t be scared to be “girly”, it’s okay if you aren’t but if you are don’t feel bad about it. I spent too long trying to fit in with the guys by not being at all girly. This is not to say camp is the place for a hair straighter or lipstick. (Trust me on the lipstick one, bad idea on so many levels) But don’t feel weird about having your nail polish still on, or owning pink board shorts, or bringing a stuffed animal to camp. Don’t feel like you have to pretend to be something you aren’t to be a scout. I wear lipstick every day in real life. I own purple long underwear. I am also a scout.
That said don’t sell yourself short. Don’t ever think you are too small, too weak, too girly to do anything. Ever. You can play dodge ball, you can light fires, you can canoe, you can tie knots. You can do anything any other scout can. Don’t ever think you can’t. It’s sometimes tempting to let the boys carry the water or light the fire, don’t. You don’t have to do it all the time, but neither do they. Being a scout is sharing the work equally and helping everyone learn to be better.
Being a scout is part of your everyday life and it’s awesome. Don’t be scared to let people in the rest of your life know you are a scout. Maybe that means you are the kind of girl who keeps pocket duct tape (best invention ever) and a pocket knife in her purse. You know what, that isn’t weird its badass. If you don’t carry a purse I still highly recommend pocket duct tape and a pocket knife as everyday essentials. Way more important that the stuff on those lists in Seventeen Magazine. You never know when you need to fix something or cut something.
I want you to know that you are not the only one. Many women and girls have been the only one of something. Know that there are amazing women in scouting who know what it feels like. Many women have come before you and they are there for you should you need someone to talk to, or rant to.
You are a scout and you are a girl and that is awesome. Wear your uniform with pride, you are part of something amazing.
Lot’s of love and happy Scouting,
P.S. MAC Ruby Woo lipstick matched the red uniform perfectly and contrasts with the blue Venturer one beautifully. #justsaying
My family and I at my Chief Scout ceremony. I stood on the stage at the Science Centre again this past November for my TEDx talk.
My trip to Haliburton as a Venturer, and I believe the last time I was there. So many memories of amazing trips here.
The Sweden World Jamboree. Kudos if you can find me.
Scouting for me is also about spending time with family. This is me and my Poppa. (yes my hair is pink)
Don’t ket anyone tell you award ceremonies are no fun. Worth the volunteer hours just for this picture
Proof I once took red lip stick to camp. I regretted it. Let me make mistakes and don’t do this. (Lip stick does however look great with a uniform in other settings)
I was MC’ing and award ceremony. I was terrified and freaking out. Someone took this picture. It all worked out in the end. Scouting in a nutshell.
This was taken the second day of my mayoral campaign. I was at a scouting leadership conference. Scouting gave me so much and I hope it does the same for you.
I will happily send you a hard copy addressed to any girl scout you would like, just shoot me an email at email@example.com and I’ll stick in the mail to you promptly.
My family is non-traditional to say the least. I’ve never felt self-conscious about it, though I’ve rarely felt self-conscious about much of anything. That however is a story for another time.
This weekend I ended up seeing the YTP production of James and the Giant Peach which ended with a moral about how you can create your own family. That family may be a family of giant bugs and a child living in a peach pit, but as long as everyone is kind they can be family. It was a message I appreciated. My family is big and loud and fast and loose with labels.
People however find my family fascinating. No matter how great the interviewer often questions about my family come up. My dad joked after the Hogtown Talks interview that I had misidentified him as straight and it’s true. I also didn’t go into the trans* parent thing in that interview. I joke that it starts to sound as if my family is made up. Which I suppose it kind of is.
I have four parents three of whom are queer. Which means I have a biological brother and a child who is not really my sibling, but who is also very clearly family. He is my Stanley and I am his Morgan that is good enough for us. We often wish it were good enough for other people.
I am often identified as his mother on public transit which is always interesting since he doesn’t have a mother and I am nobody’s mother. I often have to explain my relationship to my extra parents to other people, something that gets old fast. I often have to explain that yes the six foot two black man in that picture is actually my uncle and yes he is my dads brother, and no he is not married into the family. People always have questions when they realize you have listed three sets of grandparents.
Holiday dinners are regularly close to twenty people. The turkey is carved by an old family friend who I have only ever called Scouter Ian. The table is a sea of adoptions, various stages of marriage, remarriage and separation. The word step is never ever used.
It means three sets of grandparents. It means though I had a grandmother die, when my grandfather remarried Janet became Granet*. It means family all over in terms of sexuality and race and marriage and blood relation.
We are loving and loud and more than a little nosy. We are most of a family.
I think that the normal you grow up with is always by default your normal. When I was little I asked j (one of my extra parents) what his real name was. Mum’s real name was Beth and Dad’s real name was Keith so what was j’s. I am also pretty sure I though everyone had a j.
These days I have two houses, like many kids of divorced parents, just without the divorce. I share my grades with both sets and my worries about university. I have lots of keys on my keychain.
The thing about non-traditional families is that as normal as you think your family might be, it’s probably only your normal. Many families have family friends who are now just family. Many families have adoptions and “step” parents or siblings. As they said in James and the Giant Peach above all else, family is kind.
But my non-traditional family is pretty boring. We lovingly argue over who will walk the dog or who will let the cat in depending on the house. No one likes to do dishes. Lightbulbs need replacing. Sometimes toilets and dishwashers break, usually when everyone but me is away. People get sick, and groceries need to get bought, meals need to get cooked. There is excitement when Bear comes back from a trip. Both houses play lots of “has the cheque come today?” On Fridays, there is Shabbos dinner at j and Bear’s and on holidays there is giant traditional made for TV movie style dinner’s at my Grandmama’s. I am very attached to traditions. I adore aging the china and silverware out.
My family loves me. That is what makes them my family. That is how you should define your own family.
Though I will say that if you are thinking about having four parents remember that means four people to ask about grades. Four people to quiz you about your love life.(Also four people to love you and help you solve problems but be aware of the aforementioned.)
There was universal curiosity about my family during the election, I felt the need to always be explaining as I have done my whole life. Someone said to me recently “maybe it’s none of their business” and you know what maybe it isn’t. Maybe I don’t always have to explain my family. Maybe I don’t need to dumb it down for the rest of the world.
The closest I get these days to feeling weird about my family is when there is a queer teen death, happens. I always wish I could gift even piece of my loving accepting family. I am a straight, cis, white girl living in a big city in a big queer activist and most of all loving family, That makes me incredibly privileged, and I know that I could have survived a much less loving and welcoming family and there are youth all of this world who cannot and do not. I strive to do my best to play interpreter to the straight cis world, to educate so queer people don’t have to, to share as much love and welcoming I can with young people I encounter. It isn’t enough, but right now almost nothing would be so we take it step by step. One day maybe family won’t be such a rigid concept and queer young people can find family that loves them no matter what.
So feel okay with your family no matter how it came to be. If they love you and are kind to you they are your family. Don’t worry about labels or what you are to each other. It is what it is, and what it is, is family. If anyone asks you can always say that they are yours and leave it at that. And make sure you channel Ester Grace and tell them you love them, no matter how weird you feel about saying those words out loud.
* A combination of Grandma and Janet. I also have a Grandmama and Grandma and have a deceased GrandD, Nana, Nan and Grandmama (I told you it was complicated)
Some of you may remember though it was ages ago in internet years, that Scott Gilmore wrote an article which single-handedly solved the problem of women in politics or the lack thereof. Well, not quite. He was willing to circulate our responses for free, so I hope he makes sure this makes the rounds. I had said that I didn’t work for free and so would only post something if Macleans or another publication payed me. However, my original rebuttal, which is below, just got me into university so I am feeling generous. Thanks for that Scott! I really appreciate it!
So Scott, assuming I used all your helpful* tips and used this to step up to the plate what’s next? I have my wonderful network, my buckets of donations, my oodles of time, and of course my boundless confidence. I have pried open all the doors nailed shut for women. Here I am running for office. Let’s talk about what it is like to be that woman running for office.
Should we start with the sexual harassment? The online stuff is only the beginning. There are the hands you remove at parties the volunteers you keep at a distance or turn down. There are the men who recognise you in public that you have to manage to put off politely.
How about the interactions you are always second guessing. Is he standing too close or am I imagining it? Is he buying me a drink to be kind or because he wants something? Is he offering to volunteer because he believes in me or because he wants to get in my pants? Is the donation just a donation or does it come with strings?
How about how every time you get dressed you have to think through every possible reaction? Do I look too young? Too matronly? Is this neckline too old? Is my eye makeup too dark? Will I look too different with my hair down? Is this lipstick too bright? Are these heels too high? If I don’t wear heels will I look too short next to the men?
All of these are real questions I asked myself during the campaign, and I am sure if I thought hard enough about it I would have more. I am a woman who stepped up to the plate. I did so with no party behind me, without any political experience or a built in team. I put in a lot of hours, and honestly do not know how I could have done it without parents who were willing for me to use their credit card and feed, house and clothe me during the campaign. As well as friends and family who put in an incredible amount of hours or a media buzz that was bigger than what I would have gotten had I not been 18/19.
I don’t know how much of my own money I spend on campaign-related things that I felt I couldn’t count as campaign expenses. I know I spent about $4000 as a campaign budget. I know I had more donations than a campaign my size could have reasonably expected. I know I had a great dollars to votes ratio. I know I got more votes than an 18/19 year old with her laptop and parents credit card should have gotten. I know 8th place in a city like Toronto is actually great.
I also know I was busier than any of peers. That my relationships friends, family, romantic suffered. I know that my grades dropped about five percent. Lots of things really really sucked about the campaign. I ended it exhausted and frustrated and honestly with my optimistic heart a lot emptier. Politics is not easy. It is not easy as a man. It is less easy as a woman. Less easy as a personal of colour. Less easy as someone without lots of money. Less easy as young person. Less easy without a party. If you tick multiples of those boxes you have your work cut out for you.
Was my campaign good for Toronto and Canada as a whole? I believe so. Was it good for me professionally? Almost certainly? Was it good for me personally? Only time will tell. But I do know that while lots of people felt inspired by my campaign, lot of young women also felt like they couldn’t do what I was watching.
So the next time you give advice think it through. Assuming your advice is any good, which I address below, what happens next? Is it any good for the person who follows the advice? Because, unfortunately while women running for office is good for the greater good, it is kind of shit for women right now. Call me when your advice is worth following.
*helpful being a subjective term
Below is my unedited university admissions essay. Thanks for getting me into university Scott!
There seems to be a think piece every other day about why female representation politics is so low. That female representation is at 25% in politics is widely accepted as a problem, but why it exist and what we should do to solve it are where the arguments begin.
Scott Gilmore suggests in Macleans that the issue is not sexism, but women. That women are not stepping up to the plate and unwilling to make the necessary sacrifices. Assuming this is true, the question is why?
Scott Gilmore suggests in Macleans: “No network? Build it. … No money? Raise it. … Lack confidence? Find it. … No time? Make it.”
Women have networks, just not political ones. Political networks are almost exclusively men, building a network within a boys club is hard. Many men are okay or even happy with the status quo. Few are looking to support women outside the system, which is where most women are. Can women do it? Yes, but it is harder. Since fundraising is directly tied to your network, raising money is that much harder for women as well.
Scott suggests that looking at the men you will be running against will bolster your confidence. Looking at a list of powerful men and probably a male incumbent is unlikely to bolster confidence. In fact, I would say it’s likely to dash it, male incumbents are notoriously hard to beat.
Let’s use a Harvard study on their professors to talk about time. Among tenure-track professors, women are spending more than double the time their male counterparts are on housework. Men report an average of 20 hours a week and women an average of 40 hours a week. The gap is smaller for professors, not on the tenure track but still significant. Women literally have less time. The data here shows that, at least at Harvard, women are not having a step up to the plate problem, men are.
One of the researchers, Claudia Goldin said about the study: “The data shows not just that women feel the most stress, but probably that they are the ones responding to the crises with their children and their parents.” Study after study shows that in heteronormative families, the buck stops at women.
What example are women’s campaigns setting? During women’s campaigns, we see media commenting on looks and family. We see harassment, propositions, rape and death threats, and worse. When a female candidate speaks out against this, she faces further harassment and criticism, she is making something of nothing or taking away from her campaign. Not to mention racism, the feeling that women should wait their turn, stick to women’s issues or the expectation that for women to succeed in politics they must be more masculine.
Mike Moffat said it best, “[women are not running] Because it’s not in their self-interest.” Perhaps women are not stepping up to the plate, but women have valid reasons for not doing so. If you want women to run for the office make it not, taking one for the team, make it a rewarding career choice not just for her but those around her.