Volunteerism and activism build strong communities

Hamilton Spectator Dec 28,2015

As the year draws to a close, I am reflecting on all the good that has happened in this community to counter the not so good. Hamiltonians get volunteering; in a country that understands and values volunteering, Hamilton has one of the highest rates of volunteers in Canada (Vital Signs). We contribute our skills and time freely, and do our part to make things a bit better for the communities and interests we are concerned about.

What I find interesting is that with such high volunteer numbers, why aren’t we as politically motivated, why aren’t more of us pushing for solutions to root problems?

That is what makes volunteering (broadly understood as nonconfrontational civic engagement) palatable and activism (the more in-your-face, status-quo challenging sort) something to shun. And can we really get to a peaceful, habitable and just planet (Maurice Strong) without more of us putting ourselves out there and tackling what we know to be wrong?
It’s socially acceptable to serve the hungry in a soup kitchen, or plant a tree than it is to advocate for a sound food policy or for industrial emissions to be curbed. I suspect that part of the answer lies in a fear of upsetting the ruling powers. Confronting power is always uncomfortable, scary and in many places, dangerous. Continue reading

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Hail the Changing face of the Public Library

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Nov 16, 2015 | Hamilton Spectator

“There is not such a cradle of democracy on earth as the Free Public Library, this republic of letters, where neither rank, office, nor wealth receives the slightest consideration.” Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919)

Our country is still reeling with the aftermath of election frenzy and never have the concepts of inclusion, democracy and a fair society needed more reinforcement. That’s why I’ve decided to write about the public library. What, you may ask, has the public library to do with democracy?

Everything, I will answer. To my mind, it is perhaps the best examples of a democratic institution.Take the Hamilton Public Library (HPL), which has just celebrated its 125th anniversary. With the slogan “Freedom to Discover,” the HPL values include intellectual freedom, and providing access to all expressions of knowledge and creativity. HPL’s other values are inclusiveness (connecting with diverse communities); innovation (anticipating and responding to changing needs); respect (embracing a diversity of opinions and protecting the dignity of individuals); and accountability (ensuring that library services are vital and relevant).

Imagine if countries were run with these values at the fore.

I chatted with Laura Lukasik, who is the outreach co-ordinator and visionary behind much of the HPL’s innovation. “You know that when you walk into the public space of a library, you are welcomed,” Lukasik says. From the chess players, tai-chi practitioners, ukulele learners and newcomers for conversation circles, to parents and young children that story time and teen homework help, no matter your age, your income level, your station in life, your intellectual ability, the public library accepts you. Continue reading

Tales from a Hamiltonian in Montreal

Les Montréalais take pleasure in their home in the way that we can only envy

Hamilton Spectator

It is summer in Montreal; all the windows and doors on the second floor apartment I’m staying at are flung wide open, all day, all night, no mesh. I fall asleep to the sounds of erupting laughter and conversation (two in the morning); I awaken to the shouts of children madly teasing one another.

Looking down from the balcony’s winding staircase and onto the streets below, people ride bikes, no helmets. Bicycles bloom within the flowers, attached to wrought iron railings, everywhere. Even the arrêt sign has vines creeping up the length of the poles, obscuring it.

In this great, romantic city, people hold hands, steal glances at one another; everyone is at their best. It is no wonder that such a city spawned the likes of singer and songwriter, Leonard Cohen.

If you feel isolated, what is there to prevent you from stepping out onto the crowded streets or stopping at a café at brunch to listen to piano and saxophone, or to watch people going by?

The streets welcome you wholeheartedly. They — like the people — are on fire. And it is not the frantic pace that we know of in Toronto, or the erratic movement of people on our Hamilton streets. Here, the streets pulsate, there is a hungering to be surprised, imbued with a spirit of generosity; people add comment to overheard conversation, they offer assistance without being asked.

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Poor. Black youth and the criminal justice system.

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At City Hall June 25th with BBRLM

This was recently printed in thespec.com (July 2nd 2015).

Thanks to technology and digital media, the whole world witnessed the brutalization of a 15-year-old Texan, black girl and her friends at a pool party, by a white police officer in an appalling fit of fury.

Whatever their “crime” was (being black in a white space?), there can be no justification for the severity of the officer’s and that of his fellows’ reaction.

Not long ago, while waiting for my bus home, I too watched an arrest of a young, black woman down town. One officer on a bike, the other in a cruiser were demanding that she get out of the car she was driving, and that the three other (white) passengers remain in the vehicle. From the front seat, the woman’s partner screamed at the officers: “Why are you arresting her? Is it because she’s black?”

As handcuffs were slipped on, I hurried over to see what was going on. The partner (who was now out of the car) explained to me that they had stopped outside the building to pick up a friend from work. The friend was putting on her seatbelt as they were pulling away, at which point they were pulled over. Why wasn’t she even being permitted to say goodbye?  “You wouldn’t treat me that way, like shit.” She told them that while she herself, had been arrested many times, she’d never been handcuffed.

She was voicing what all people of colour know: white kids will get better treatment from police than a black kid will, no matter the crime. White kids may not even get arrested for the same crime.

In the cruiser, the black youth, sweat pouring down her brow on this sweltering day in May, pleaded with her partner to stay calm.

Continue reading