Sunday, August 30, 2015

Bullying, Politics, and Crossing The Line

Yes, vandalism IS a crime. The actions described below have been reported to the police

I have withheld writing about this topic, because - of all silly reasons - it's an uncomfortable topic.

But as a writer, as a woman with a strongly opinionated voice, and as a member of humanity, if I shy away from the uncomfortable, I'm no better than those who stick their heads in the sand hoping life won't kick them in the butt.

So this morning, the tipping point propelled me to open this page and begin to break this down.

As you all know, I am involved in the campaign of my local Conservative Party candidate, Valerie Assouline. And I know the politics make people cringe, I know conservatism makes people lash out but I am not one to allow that to shut my voice down.

It's bad enough to be associated with a Party whose reputation has been unfairly and inaccurately smeared as everything from racist to sexist to homophobic to "right-wing nut job". Those qualifiers are only assigned to the Conservatives - both here and south of the border - by people who don't know the truth or care to disseminate it.

But when that kind of derision leads to the vile acts that occurred this week, it is not only infuriating and offensive, it is seriously abusive.

I'm referring to the posters of my candidate being defaced. Oh sure, you'll say every poster gets graffiti sprayed across the faces of candidates. That doesn't make it right.

However, these posters were defaced using sexual innuendo, outright sexual symbols, and some were even "decorated" with condoms - filled condoms (filled with what, I don't know, nor do I need to know). A sex toy was left at the side of her mobile office - a place where her kids can be found when she's at the office with them.

This sparked an outrage from many people, from all sides. And while we hoped it would be contained, it grew legs.

The story hit social media - as every story will, inevitably.

CBC ran the story on its Facebook page, and though I usually know enough not to read comments, I was compelled to do so.

They were interesting. They ranged in nature from those who found the acts funny, to those who found them justified "because she's Conservative." To those types of remarks, others surfaced defending the candidate. One such remark was:

"I don't support the Conservatives but this was offensive."

There were those who stood up against the defacement, stating - oh, so logically! - that if one disagrees with a person's politics, why insult them with sexist, sexual slurs?

It's good to know there are smart people out there.

But it's also disconcerting to know that there were multiple remarks supporting, dismissing, or perpetuating the sentiments scrawled across my candidate's face.

Those who said "suck it up, that's what public life is about."
No, it's not.

Those who dismissed it to the fact that she's pretty.
Victims don't deserve abuse or bullying for any reason.

Those who laughed and addressed the nature of the words on the posters instead of the acts of defacement.
 The bigger picture is what's more important

Those who used the platform of a comment to complain about how many posters are up in the riding.
How does that invite obscenity? How is obscenity EVER okay?

People who don't realize - or care - that the woman on the poster is a real person. A woman with 4 young children. Children who have - till now - squealed in delight when driving in their mom's car and seeing her picture on posters.

Children - from ages 4-11, 3 of them girls - who might have seen those defaced posters, and had more questions than their parents were ready to address at this point in their young lives.

People making comments like those who either didn't think, or didn't care about the feelings of violation not just our candidate, but every woman experiences when confronted by the kind of vulgarities smeared across the face of a female candidate.

People who think it's okay to invoke sexist remarks whenever the opportunity arises. And those who are, sadly, so desensitized to sexual innuendo as a slur that they don't realize the deeper implications.

But we expect that kind of reaction from the public. As tragic as that seems, it has become part of our experience in politics, or public life of any kind, to expect people to veer into the dirt, and to go there.

 Where the tipping point came, for me, was this morning when one of our campaign staffers posted this screenshot on Facebook:

Shaun Lydon is a member of the team for the NDP candidate running in LaSalle, Verdun, Ville Emard.

When he was confronted about this insidious accusation, he deleted his entire Twitter account:

But as we all know, the Internet is forever, and a screenshot of his tweet has been circulating.

Someone confronted the NDP candidate about her team member, and her generic, dodgy reply was inadequate:

Not one to keep silent, I got into the fray:

And there has been no response.

Folks, this isn't something that should go unacknowledged. If someone on any political team - in any democratic country - steps out of their professional zone, they should feel the full repercussion of backlash.

Politics are ugly.

Correction: politics can be ugly. And that's too bad, because if there were fewer politics of personal destruction, perhaps the general public would get more involved, have more of a say, and vote with their heads not with their eyes closed, their noses held, and their "eenie-meeny-miney-moe" low-information-voter tactics in full force.

People get turned off politics because they lump all politicians into one category, and I believe part of that is the ugly nature of campaigning.

And it's the politics of personal destruction - the attack ads, the negativity and especially the personal (politically irrelevant) slings and arrows that turn us off even more than the sniping about policy.

As a woman, I have been deeply offended by what I've seen on the posters this week. As a human being, I am dismayed that vandalism is still the method people use to express their dissension.

But I don't believe this was dissension. I believe it was an attempt to denigrate, devalue, objectify, and bully this candidate in particular.

As I well know, as I've continued to impart to others, bullying is about power differential. Those who bully feel they are more powerful than their target. In these cases, it is both anonymity and - likely - gender that makes the attackers feel more powerful.

But in the end, they have no power. Because their utter lack of decency nullifies any perceived power.

It is up to us to speak out and be an example of the decency they sorely need to acquire. It is up to us to stand up and denounce this kind of defacement and this attitude toward women, toward conservatives, and toward candidates - of all parties.

Please share your thoughts - and this post; let's start a dialogue.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Door-to-Door: The Candidate Makes The Difference

Taken August 10, 2015, at the official office launch, with the Honorable Denis Lebel

 As I've posted recently, I have been enjoying my experiences visiting homes in my neighborhood, in other neighborhoods, learning more about the campaign, and generally meeting people in the riding (district) I inhabit.

Tonight was a completely different experience - again.

Let me clarify: it's always different. Every door is different.

But tonight, with the lack of any volunteers to team with (more about that in another post), I was delighted to experience D2D with the candidate herself.

Now, I've known Valérie for a little under a year, and my every encounter with her has been increasingly impressive. She is likeable, she is smart, she inspires confidence, and she impresses me with how much she does in her life - all with panache and capable strength.

But tonight, I saw Valérie The Candidate. I've seen this Valérie before. At awareness evenings for her campaign, at formal evening events, at her launch party, at the launching of her office just this past Monday afternoon, and at official events in which she sits with the other Conservative Party candidates, interacts with the Prime Minister or with cabinet Ministers, and exhibits the finesse that is her hallmark.

Tonight, the Valérie I saw was the one who will govern. The one who will represent our riding in Ottawa, and our country in Dollard-Pierrefonds.

The one who got the instant looks of hero worship when doors opened and she introduced herself.

See, she and the team have been going out D2D for a while. We haven't only been doing this since the campaign dropped a week or so ago. Her strategy was to start pounding the pavement and knocking on as many doors as she could from the get-go, so that when the Prime Minister did call the election (whether that was the expected 37 days prior to the Big Day or the 11 weeks prior, which is what he chose to do), the name of Valérie Assouline was already recognizable.

It's branding that makes the difference. Whether one is a writer, a politician, a celebrity or an athlete, that branding is what people gravitate to - which is why the ersatz "leader" of the Liberal Party got the initial numbers he has gotten: his father branded the name.

But when you put branding together with ability, it's the full package. And I saw that tonight, and was truly inspired.

We went to a neighborhood neither or us had ever really visited, so for us, it was a great experience to see the homes, the surroundings, and meet the people.

It started off slowly, with few people home. We turned onto a side street where suddenly, we were greeted by supporters:

  • The girl whose fiancé works with Valérie's dad, and who smiled in recognition of the name;
  • The girls from Sri Lanka, dressed in beautiful native clothing in preparation for an evening at their Temple, an annual festival; they either recognized Valérie's name or were impressed by her candidacy. Their eyes lit up, their smiles were instantaneous, and there was a bit of celebrity they bestowed upon Valérie with their respectful awe.
  • The couple standing outside their home, talking with a neighbor from another street, who immediately welcomed Valérie and instantly offered their solid promise to vote for her
  • The grandmother whose young granddaughters smiled at us as Valérie introduced herself; this young-looking grandmother also offered instant support, praising the Conservative Party and Prime Minister Harper
  • The gentleman from India who didn't even let Valérie finish before saying that Stephen Harper's support of his community had already gotten this man's vote for the CPC
 And there were those who were not sure, but who politely told us they would consider all the options.

The experience that impressed upon me the most was one of those visits that has an addendum.

We walked up to a house where a man sat outside, holding his little dog. The dog reminded me of Theo, and was barking at us but extremely friendly.

The man politely listened, and then - genuinely apologetic - said that he would not work for Stephen Harper. He did not like the government's handling of certain issues, and that if we were from either of the opposition parties, he would vote, but said that he could not vote for the Conservatives.

Valérie expressed to the man what I had been thinking: he was polite, he was respectful, he was thoughtful in his response, and even though it was a firm "no", it was done with the utmost example of class. In fact, she thanked him for his respect and expressed hers in return.

We crossed the street, rang the next doorbell, but no one answered. As we walked to the next house over, that "not home" became occupied as a car pulled into the driveway. Seizing her opportunity, Valérie walked back toward that house, and when the gentleman emerged from the car, she instantly recognized him, and they embraced.

Valérie is a lawyer, and this is a man who had sought her advice. Had she not been campaigning, she would have taken his divorce case. Instead, she asked him how things were going, and asked him to please drop by her office to talk further about the case.

The serendipity was fun, but not as remarkable as what happened next.

As we moved on from this man's house, we saw Valérie's acquaintance across the way, talking with his neighbor - the man with the dog who had said he couldn't vote for us.

Valérie called out her acquaintance's name, and said, "tell him he should vote for me!" We walked back across the way, and to the bottom of the stairs, and she jokingly asked her friend to convince his neighbor of her sincerity.

At that point - because it is not what D2D is about (convincing the undecided or the opposing voters) - she was approaching the situation with levity. But the neighbor began to listen. And remarkably, I watched him begin to understand that Valérie is not Stephen Harper, and that if his neighbor believes in her, perhaps he, too, should rethink his position.

Then Valérie, as we parted, said something to him that will stick in my mind and become a talking point for me: she said, "vote for the person, not the party."

Now, as I've explained in these pages before, we do not get to vote for the proverbial top of the ticket. We vote our local politicians, and the party with the most voted-in members becomes the ruling party.

The neighbor smiled, and waved, stating that he would think further; and suddenly I began to believe that he was actually going to change his mind. Whether he does or not is not something we'll know; but he was left with food for thought, an endorsement by someone he clearly likes, and a newfound understanding of the process.

We ended the night with a Greek couple who listened to Valérie address some of their concerns. They are elderly, and worried about home mail delivery coming to an end. This has become an election issue. The opposing parties are promising that they will restore door-to-door delivery, but they will not be able to uphold those promises.

Valérie listened to this man, thoughtfully offering her concurring opinion that for those who are elderly or infirm, a community mailbox located on a snowy or icy sidewalk in the winter is not ideal, and can be dangerous.

She explained that she is going to be a strong voice for the neighborhood. And that she will express her opinion and concerns, and those of her constituents, and arrive at a solution that will help those who are in need.

Again, the gentleman seemed to come around to supporting Valérie. He said to her, "you will be our voice?" She assured him that she will. And he smiled, and nodded, and shook her hand.

It was quite the experience to watch her interact with the people. Because to me, that is the most basic, and most important element in this entire election: those voters who have needs to be met, and who trust in the person they vote for to address those needs.

From Valérie Assouline Pour/For Pierrefonds-Dollard Facebook

In this riding, for the past 4 years, our NDP MP has done absolutely nothing. She has sent flyers, don't get me wrong. She's sent requests for support and donations, she's sent misleading pamphlets and has taken credit for Stephen Harper's tax credits.

Valérie's visits to the neighborhoods, her outreach, her personality and her confident, savvy conversation have been eye-opening to those she meets.

And I truly believe it has already begun to turn the tide in our riding, to convince people that a woman who actually lives in the riding (as opposed to both other candidates who live as far as a 90-minute drive from the closest neighborhood) does care about it, and about the people who live here.

I believe simply making an appearance has made people more likely to see her as the caring candidate she is.

But her engaging with the voters, her greeting some of the neighborhood residents sitting at the local park watching a softball game, and getting almost starstruck smiles in return, and her taking the time to walk for 2 hours in search of face-to-face contact...

Those are the fundamental qualities of someone who will speak up for those very people who shook her hand and expressed their personal concerns with important issues.

I knew I would enjoy the D2D experience. And each one is insightful and builds on my experience.

Tonight was a level higher, as I was there to observe, smile, represent my candidate as her accompanying witness and to take notes for her if needed (like the man who will not be in town for the election but to whom we will send early-voting information).

I enjoy each and every experience. I love going with other volunteers, and I loved accompanying Valérie. I will love training new volunteers and watching other teams take to the streets.

This campaign has already been such a packed bag of new knowledge and experiences for me; I can only anticipate the next canvassing evening, the next door, the next voter with the knowledge that I will, without a doubt, be adding to the richness I have already accumulated.

And that I, just one person on the team, am helping to make a difference at the very least in this campaign, and at the utmost, in people's lives by doing so.

I urge you - wherever you live, whatever you believe in - to try, at least once, to become involved in a local campaign. You'll never look back, you will want more. If you love people, the experiences are intoxicating.

Because tonight, truly seeing Valérie in action, I can predict the kind of MP she will be: strong, outspoken, capable, and compassionate to the needs of those who will entrust her with their concerns.

Valérie is not a woman of words; she is a woman of her word. Victory will, indeed, be sweet - as she will, indeed, change the flavor of this riding from inaction to concrete actions.