By PAT WATSON
Do not let it be said, when it comes to being politically engaged, whether by voting or by seeking your vote, that African Canadians are disengaged. They certainly did not appear disengaged at the mayoral debate held last weekend in the Yonge and Sheppard area of North York. Credit has to go to the Diversity Advancement Network for organizing and presenting the event attended by the usual headliners, Olivia Chow, Rob Ford, David Soknacki and John Tory.
Along with focus on issues that matter to African Canadians in this city, such as accessible public transit, the need for employment, and police harassment, there were two additional mayoral candidates who some must have been seeing for the very first time. They are Dewitt Lee and D!ONNE Renée. Both were impressive in their passion, their thoroughness of information on the issues and their honesty in speaking about the issues that matter to persons of colour who live, work, pay taxes and vote here.
The event also introduced other candidates running for seats on Toronto City Council. Memorable among them is Munira Abukar. The 22-year-old is a recent graduate from Ryerson University and has an impressive record of community involvement including having been on the board of Toronto Community Housing. She is campaigning to represent Ward 2 Etobicoke North. In fact, Ward 2 has to benefit from the outstanding individuals seeking the seat, because Andray Domise, 33, a financial planner is also running in that ward, as is Benn Adeoba.
It was Domise who wrote an open letter to Black people rallying behind Toronto’s current, and infamous, mayor asking them how the mayor has improved the lives of people in this community and what actual votes he cast on council or on a committee to support the community.
One thing is certain regarding the effect of a polarizing political leader: Such a personality generates interest and more civic engagement. It would have to be considered that part of the growing energy for participation in local politics has to do with dissatisfaction with the disorder that held our attention over the past four years.
Mayoral candidates Lee and Renée did not waste any time reviewing Ford’s legacy. Instead, they both made it their mission to be strong voices from and for this community. It was left to the other regulars to slag Ford’s dismal record of consistently voting against funding for social programs aimed at the very people he likes to boast he has helped so much.
But it comes back to this regarding the Ford frenzy among some persons of colour: Desperation.
The level of despair and frustration that is being experienced by young people in this community about their future, given the 25 per cent unemployment rate and the 50 per cent poverty rate in some areas, is palpable. The kind of sweaty sympathy Ford has on public display is being seen as real action, which is pathetic. Yet, among the political class, there is more than enough blame to go around for this result.
On this matter, Lee made perhaps the most important point, which was that once elected, whoever the new mayor will be, it has to be our responsibility to insist that individual as mayor and those individuals as councillors hold to their word and advance the interests that will facilitate the improvement of the lot of Black people in this city. For if we do not push for our interests then, in the cacophony of competing interests, who will?
One more thing: Groups here could take a few lessons from the activists who launched into organized action right after the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. A well-coordinated plan of action is critical to success. Logistical planning and attention to detail will mean the difference between effective use of energy and just another exercise in spinning our gears. The confusion over the format of the debate should serve as a lesson in not overlooking every important detail within an action plan. Review, evaluate, correct.
A note on local Black entrepreneurship…
Toronto has a commercial Black-focused radio station with G98.7 FM and, as of last week, viewers in this city have First Entertainment Voice of Africa Television, FEVA TV. The presence of the African Diaspora continues to grow and to be felt.
Pat Watson is the author of the e-book, In Through A Coloured Lens. Twitter@patprose.