Finding hope in days of despair

As I sat down to write this, my mind was full of the most recent assaults on civility in Ontario, with the announcements earlier this week — shutting down the basic income pilot before any data about its effectiveness has been analyzed and cutting social assistance increases from the 3% in the Liberal budget to a miserly 1.5%, out of “compassion” — at the front of my mind.

I had planned to rant and despair about not just the announcement itself, but the smug, self-satisfied and vindictive tone of the Minister of Children, Community and Social Services (within whose ministry women, immigrant and refugee now cower) when she made it:

“Let me be clear. The best social program is a job.”

But I changed my mind, because even as we must pay attention to what is happening here and take action to show our opposition and resistance, we also need to take the time to find the bubbles of hope that can inspire us.

“The left wing of the possible”

On June 26th, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez – a 28-year-old waitress from a Puerto Rican family living in the Bronx – won the Democratic primary for Congress. In doing so, she unseated Joseph Crowley, the fourth-ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives. She is expected to win the seat in the mid-term elections this fall.

Ocasio-Cortez admits to being surprised by her solid win in the primary:

“I am still emotionally, intellectually, spiritually and logistically processing all of this. The whole thing’s got me knocked a little flat.”

She is a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, with a long history of activist politics as well as working within the Democratic Party. Supported by the Brand New Congress organization, Ocasio-Cortez ran a populist campaign built on small donations. In debates with her opponent, she was well prepared, passionate and articulate about the issues that matter to voters in the Bronx. During the primary campaign, she and her workers made almost 200,000 phone calls and knocked on almost as many doors.

Ocasio-Cortez identifies herself as being part of a movement. She believes government should belong to the people:

“I feel like it is supposed to belong to us. Not all of it belongs to all of us. Not yet. But that’s the whole point of going to Congress, isn’t it?”

I find hope in such an ambition.

“The resistance continues”

When then 16-year-old Ahed Tamimi was arrested last December after slapping and kicking Israeli soldiers who had just shot her cousin in the face outside her home in the Palestinian village of Nabi Saleh, she was vaulted to international attention. Recently released from prison after serving an eight-month sentence (in a trial held behind closed doors, she pleaded guilty to assault, incitement and obstructing soldiers), Ahed continues to fight against the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory.

Ahed comes from a family of activists (her mother, Nariman Tamimi, who circulated the video of Ahed’s actions, was convicted of incitement and also imprisoned for eight months) in a community of Palestinian freedom fighters. Parents in Nabi Saleh raise their children to defy Israeli authority, including the military. They have brought lawyers to the village to explain to the children their rights to silence and legal representation. They have even role played a typical interrogation with children so they will be as ready as possible should they be arrested.

Ahed’s aunt, Manal Tamimi, who has two sons presently in prison (it is estimated that approximately 300 Palestinian children are in prison, most for such acts such as throwing stones at Israeli soldiers), notes:

“I wish that instead of giving them training about interrogations and their rights in prison and what to do if you get arrested, I wish I could take them to swimming training, or karate, or basketball. But this is our life, and they should be strong enough to deal with this life.”

Ahed spent her time in prison studying international law and plans to become a lawyer so she can hold Israel to account in international forums.

I find hope in such an ambition. 

“We can’t just talk about it, we need to build it”

Niki Ashton is the NDP MP for the northern Manitoba riding of Churchill-Keewatinook Aski. She has run twice for the leadership of the NDP, and I hope that when she runs again, New Democrats will finally appreciate what a radical opportunity she offers social democrats in this country.

Ashton has never hesitated to speak out on controversial topics such as the Middle East, reproductive rights, ending poverty and Indigenous issues. She has advocated passionately for the residents of Churchill, who have been without a working rail line for more than a year.

Recognizing that electoral politics needs fundamental change, she has established Our Movement, a campaign school for women, femmes and non-binary folks who want to be candidates or organizers. Free of charge (although donations are welcome), the on-line school covers such topics as how to be a candidate, campaign management, media, organizing, fundraising, issue-based advocacy and youth issues.

As the 25-year-old Ashton puts it:

“I want to take our networks, our experiences and share them to build up the next generation of all star progressive female candidates and organizers.”

I find hope in such an ambition.

Changing the world

It is hard, right now, to imagine how we can effect change in Ontario. Alexandria, Ahed and Niki offer us three inspiring examples of what can be done. There are many more. As Jack Layton said shortly before his death:

“Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. Let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic and we will change the world.”

2 thoughts on “Finding hope in days of despair

  1. Pam,are you connected to the Basic income Ontario network.Lots going on since the recent announcement.
    Toni Pickard is a key contact. If not I can connect you.
    Enjoy your blog. Trying to have hope. Not easy!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *