We just finished a hard-fought municipal election in Calgary and I wanted to reflect on a couple of things about it. Some relate to me and some to KRH.
Let’s start with KRH, because that’s the least reflective. He’s only 1, but Monday night reinforced for me the importance of being engaged with the political process. I sort of fell into politics as an interest backwards, in that I absorbed a lot of political beliefs from people around me in my early teens, and then went out and figured out what I actually believed in, which fostered a love of the political and democratic process. I don’t expect KRH to go to university for political science (like I did) but I do hope that he’ll share my belief that engagement in politics matters. I hope that’s something I’ll be able to teach him as he grows up. How will I engage him? That’s a good question. I think by example is a good start (he got not one but two “I voted” stickers because he went to the polling station with each parent, despite not actually voting. Cute privilege.). But so is discussion about the issues and characters and ideologies, if he’ll listen. And engagement in election campaigns, when he’s old enough.
What’s important about all this is that my goal isn’t to indoctrinate him to my political beliefs. Instead, I need to equip him to learn about politics and issues, and then draw his own conclusions. I feel pretty confident that if I do this well, he’ll come around to my political beliefs, but I also run the risk that he decides to believe in the opposite side of the political spectrum. I’d be disappointed, but that would be his choice (so long as he doesn’t decide to support things that hurt people around him. We’ll have no Nazis in any household I’m responsible for). But I really don’t think that’s likely.
Speaking of Nazis, that’s a fine time to consider the election itself. What struck me is just how stressful I found it, and how important it felt until it was over. Elections used to be fun for me. I recognize, of course, that in part elections were fun because the result wouldn’t truly hurt me. Part of that comes from privilege, but I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that the stakes 15 years ago were different than today. But this was a municipal elections. Municipalities, especially for cities, have quite broad powers in Canada and in many ways matter more to day-to-day life than other levels of government, but at the end of the day their primary concerns are with things like infrastructure. The issues that dominated the election were increasing property taxes, whether the local sports team should get a new publicly-funded arena, and personality. If the election didn’t the way I wanted, it would change the tone of the city I live in, but it was unlikely to dramatically affect my home. So why did I find this stressful?
Well, it doesn’t help that the Canadian far-right has been quietly agitating against the tolerant muslim mayor that I support (You can see some of the nastiness here). Those same people are also targeting the federal and provincial governments, so naturally I’m against anything that would make them happy. There was also a pretty clear effort by business interests to support candidates who were favourable to their bottom line, not what citizens need, which felt serious. But this was never an election of the sort that would have installed dangerous candidates, merely candidates I disagreed with.
Nonetheless, it felt like it was. With even a few day’s distance, it continues to feel important, but not as critical as it did. Indeed, the amount of time and energy I spent worrying about it was probably out of proportion.
Politics matters. This was an election that could have changed the course of where I live. It mattered, and staying aware of the issues and voting were important ways I participated. But the campaigns took up space in my brain for a while, space that I’d much rather devote to other things. The next election is a provincial contest coming up next year, and that one will likely be even more concerning because it will be a starker choice between people I support and people whose ideas I believe can be dangerous to those most marginalized among us. Engagement and participation will be critical. But I’m going to have to learn to keep the stress I’ve been feeling about elections in proportion. An election loss next year will be bad for what I believe, but it won’t be a slide toward fascism. It lies somewhere between catastrophic and irrelevant. I’ve got to find that balance in my brain.