Choosing a Future: An Election Column

By Tooker Gomberg, Montreal, Canada.

Highlights of our federal election bid.

Running for office is never dull. One guy phoned our campaign office suggesting that nowadays erections were more meaningful than elections. Someone else left a voice mail message saying: “O.K. Tooker, if you’re ready I’m ready. Let’s go rob some banks…”

By the time election day rolled around, I was almost ready for a miracle. Our team of volunteers had worked hard: 45,000 leaflets delivered, 1,500 posters hung, thousands of doors knocked upon. We raised fundamental issues of ecological sustainability, social justice, and fair taxation. Now, with a pencil mark, the electors would consider the future.

I wasn’t holding my breath. But what if…?

During the campaign we pulled off some incredible things. We even held up a bank. Dressed as Robin Hood, with a band of a dozen or so merry women and men, we stormed the local Royal Bank to claim unpaid taxes owed to the neighbourhood. “Un million pour Outremont” we chanted while stunned customers waited in line. I drew my sword at the bank manager, and demanded a million dollars in cash. Or a cheque, if it was more convenient. He just called the cops and we were escorted out.

While the corporate and public media focused on Duceppe’s hairnet and Charest’s sound bites, we got political. We held weekly demos. A few days before E Day we travelled up to Prime Minister Chrétien’s cabin by the lake to demand action on the most important election issue that never was – climate change. We had hoped to meet the man face to face, but when he wasn’t around we pitched our tent and waited. Again the cops showed up, but before leaving we managed to nail (well, tape) a list of demands to his front door: Stop subsidies to the fossil fuel industry, Renovate all buildings in Canada for energy efficiency, Build more bike paths. Though we left my phone number, the Prime Minister has yet to call.

Even our weekly cabarets got political. The open mike was used to decry the secret negotiations to implement the Multilateral Agreement on Investment, to denounce the Liberals’ dismal record on immigration, to announce plans to shut down some Provincial government offices in Québec City, and much more. These key issues were virtually ignored by the mainstream media: they just followed the leaders.

Have you ever wondered what people really care about? Elections are a special time when you can knock on a door, introduce yourself, and ask “what’s on your mind?”. I had the chance to meet one of my neighbours and discover that he is growing an olive tree (under glass) in his front yard. Actually, I was more impressed with his superb homemade red wine.

One time I got riled when a resident bragged to me about how he had been ripping down my Robin Hood campaign posters. Before I could get a word in he explained how much he loved them, and was mailing them to friends across the country. I gave him a few extras and requested that he leave the others hanging.

Even those that defaced my posters had a sense of humour. They scrawled on neckties. They must have noticed that I wasn’t wearing the corporate uniform.

I was warned to stay away from one constituent. His neighbour told me to not to knock on his door, but I figured that canvassing Premier Lucien Bouchard was too good to miss. He wasn’t home, but I had a nice chat with his wife. She complained to me that their kids aren’t allowed to play ball in the parks of Outremont. After all is said and done, maybe it’s not the complicated international issues but the daily annoyances that bug us the most.

The possibility of a miracle flickered for me when a friend firmly shook my hand, looked me straight in the eye, and told me that he was certain that I would win. Maybe he was right: we won by exercising our democratic right to stir things up, to talk about positive alternatives to ecological destruction, to bring more than a hundred people together to work together for a better world. We refused to believe that our future was just platitudes and generalities from the mouths of political slicksters.

On election day, after voting, I did my last radical act of the campaign. I grabbed a shovel and helped a friend depave a lane that was infested with speeding taxis. Now that the election is over we can get on with the real work ahead: building an ecological future and depaving Montreal. And I’m dreaming, what if each of the 2,852 people who voted for me was to grab a shovel…?


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