June 10, 2022 — Tired, But Practicing the Discipline of Hope

Given the number of shots I’ve taken at Doug Ford and his Ontario government over the past couple years, one would think I’d be mired in a deep pit of despair over the recent provincial election, which resulted in the Conservatives not only being returned to power, but winning with an even larger majority. It’s truly disappointing, no question, but I’ve also found it difficult to get fully agitated over the outcome. It seems like I’m not alone in reacting apathetically; after all, only 43% of those eligible even bothered to cast a ballot, a troublingly-low turnout characterized by columnist Gerry Nicholls, in The Hill Times, as “a perfect storm for voter apathy.”

“Maybe we’re all just tired” suggested Matt Gurney, in a TV Ontario article posted 3 days before the vote and entitled “Are Ontarians just too exhausted to care about this election?” “Maybe this was an election that people just didn’t have the emotional energy for. Maybe, after two and a half years of living in a pandemic, a lot of us are just at the end of our wits and couldn’t care less about … all that stuff.”

It’s not hard to find examples of the “stuff” to which Gurney alludes. On the environment alone, Emma McIntosh and Fatima Syed of The Narwhal have compiled a comprehensive tally of 32 ways in which Ford’s Conservatives have altered Ontario’s environmental policy landscape. (Spoiler alert: it’s not for the better.) And perhaps, in the interest of not getting all worked up again, we can all just agree that it’s best to not reopen the can of worms that is the provincial education file.

But — to be charitable — Ontarians seem to be in a very forgiving mood these days. Continued living at work (currently week 116 of working from home) aside, the pandemic, for now at least, finally seems to be receding; it may be less than 14 months since Ford’s government briefly and very illogically closed playgrounds, but it appears that, at this point, most folks are dealing with plenty of more recent and pressing concerns which have pushed COVID-19-related anxieties down the list. And despite the fact that COVID-19 is irrefutably still very much present — fatalities continue to be recorded each day, and 550 hospitalizations were reported on June 9 (less than half were specifically for the virus — the remaining patients were admitted for other reasons and then tested positive) — the provincial government is doing nothing to dissuade the impression that the pandemic is all but over, having just announced that almost all remaining mandatory masking rules (on public transit, in most health-care settings) will lapse as scheduled this weekend. Many hospitals, however, have already confirmed that their policies requiring masks will remain in force.

In my case, the pressing concerns include thinking about my parents’ health and the future of their farm; helping my kids navigate the day-to-day challenges of school, life and mental health; mulling over the somewhat murky status of a relationship with a good friend; considering the urgency of various potential home renovation projects… and thanking my lucky stars that no one in my family was affected by the recent derecho windstorm/thunderstorm, an amazingly destructive event which resulted in widespread property and tree damage across a wide swath of Ontario, and left some Ottawa residents without power for over a week.

So all that, cumulatively, sucks up a fair amount of mental energy. Coincidentally, as I wrote that paragraph, “What If I Said,” a track on the excellent new COVID-inspired album (recorded at home during a period of lockdown) by New Brunswickers Julie Doiron and Dany Placard, was playing. Though it was the very first time I’d heard it, the opening verse was not difficult to commit to memory:

What if I said I had nothing left to give?

What if I said I had nothing left to give?

What if I said I had nothing left to give?

I guess I could — grasping at straws here — take a kernel of solace in the fact that only 40% of those who actually bothered to vote were receptive to Ford’s calculatedly unpolished, man-of-the-people schtick. (As CBC Ontario provincial affairs reporter Mike Crawley quipped, “the idea that Doug Ford’s Conservatives are on the side of workers has got to be one of the most magical bits of political alchemy ever performed in Ontario. This is the same party that within months of forming government scrapped a law giving workers the right to two paid sick days, froze the minimum wage and made it harder to join a union.”) Almost 53% of voters selected the NDP, Liberals or Greens, but combined that resulted in only 40 seats, compared to 83 for the Conservatives. Yet again — plus ça change — our archaic first-past-the-post system has delivered an election result which is “a gross misrepresentation of what voters said with their ballots” — in the words of Fair Vote Canada, a non-governmental organization which advocates for switching to a proportional voting system in order to augment governmental legitimacy.

So on the political front it’s all a bit bleak, isn’t it? On the face of it, yes, absolutely, and — combined with everything else that we all have going on — it can make it a bit hard to remain hopeful. But dig a little, and one can find folks that, inspiringly, are urging us to do just that. Mariame Kaba, for instance, the author of We Do This ’Til We Free Us: Abolitionist Organizing and Transforming Justice. Kaba’s philosophy of living— “hope is a discipline” — is, I think, one that is tailor-made for our current pandemic (possibly approaching post-pandemic?) era. In a March 2021 interview in The Intercept, Kaba elaborated on her hope-positive thesis:

It’s less about “how you feel,” and more about the practice of making a decision every day, that you’re still gonna put one foot in front of the other, that you’re still going to get up in the morning. And you’re still going to struggle… It’s work to be hopeful. It’s not like a fuzzy feeling. Like, you have to actually put in energy, time, and you have to be clear-eyed, and you have to hold fast to having a vision. It’s a hard thing to maintain. But it matters to have it, to believe that it’s possible, to change the world…. We’re constantly changing. We’re constantly transforming. It doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily good or bad. It just is. That’s always the case. And so, because that’s true, we have an opportunity at every moment to push in a direction that we think is actually a direction towards more justice.

Coincidentally, I’ve just finished reading Lea Ypi’s fascinating memoir Free: Coming of Age at the End of History, an account of her childhood in Albania during the final years of communism and the chaotic initial transition period of the 1990s, which featured the ‘shock therapy’-informed switch to capitalism and political pluralism for the state. In a June 2022 interview with Kate Kellaway of The Guardian, Ypi asserts that “Hope is a moral duty — we have to act as though there is the chance of things going in a way that is favourable to what we want to achieve.”

You can argue, as Ypi’s book engrossingly does — and, it occurs to me, as Spirit of the West did throughout their wonderful record Labour Day, released almost (how is this possible?) 35 years ago — that everything is political. Love very much included, it sometimes seems, and as their first hit song, “Political,” memorably describes. (“I ran into a wall. You told me I built it.”) But back to current music: you know, my favourite tune on the Julie and Dany album isn’t “What If I Said” — it’s “Jean-Talon Market,” a songwhich is all about the joy and the jolt of adrenaline and, yes, the hope that comes from unexpectedly being smitten:

And we walked on the old streets where I used to live / And found a bench and we sat / And we talked / And I kissed you / And we talked / And I kissed you.

My point, I suppose, is that while everything is political, politics itself is only one small aspect of life. Sometimes we have to just set it aside and prioritize other more immediate and personally relevant concerns.

On that note, it’s almost summer. Seize the day — in fact, seize as many days as you can grasp. Decide to be consciously and deliberately hopeful, and push forward in a positive direction. Committing to hopefulness won’t necessarily will good things into actually happening. But I figure it can’t hurt.

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