A call to activism

Recognition of Jack Layton’s political achievements has sparked a renewed sense of the need for greater civic activism.

Remembering the work and the many achievements of the former Toronto city councillor, not only since he went to Ottawa as leader of the federal New Democratic Party but throughout his political career, has stirred in many a need and desire to become involved again (or more involved) politically.

Our community can find energy in this renewed sense of purpose in advocating for the issues that matter to us, especially with the next provincial election some five weeks away.

Who are the candidates that show an interest in what matters to our community? Which party or candidate will commit to pushing for immigrant settlement services defunded by the federal government to receive provincial funding? Who will advocate for improving other much needed services for our racialized communities? Who will best advocate for healthcare support for our seniors, more community-focused seniors’ housing and after-school initiatives for our children and youth?

Can we expect more of the kind of strong advocacy which resulted in the provincial Liberal government providing $2-million to Tropicana Community Services to help in the acquisition of a new building for this agency which has served the community with distinction for so many years?

There is still time to make those connections and support the campaigns of candidates who we believe will take the issues of our community seriously and fight for them.

But looking to politicians to take up the causes that affect the lives of people in our community is only one part of what needs to happen if we are to benefit from the momentum that has sprung from Layton’s death. Civil activism for our community has to also include a rejuvenation of the organizations already in place as well as the birth of others that will further our interest and protect our rights.

Civic activism in the Black community requires that, among other things, we establish our own watchdog association that will be a force to be reckoned with when our rights and interests are threatened or violated. We have been here in Canada for far too long to be without such an advocacy organization.

The late Dudley Laws made the Black Action Defence Committee (BADC) a force in dealing with the issues on which it focused. Organizations like BADC must be supported so that they remain strong and relevant. But more than organizations that react to crises, we need organizations that can see the needs of our community and provide policies for our benefit and in our interest, organizations that represent the collective strength and support of a critical mass of Black people in this country so that when such groups raise their concerns, they will be given the attention they deserve.

The time for complacency is long past. Rights that have been fought for and attained cannot be taken for granted; we must ensure that they are maintained. It doesn’t take much for a government with its own agenda – one which is not in the interest of minorities – to erase from the books legislation that would otherwise ensure fairness. After the provincial NDP under Bob Rae brought in legislation to support employment equity in the 1980s, the Mike Harris Conservatives campaigned on repealing it and, once elected, reversed employment equity legislation under the offensively titled bill “to end employment quotas”, although no such quota existed in the NDP’s timid employment equity action plan.

And now the Stephen Harper government wants to spend scarce resources to build more jails.

For so many reasons, activism in our community needs to wake up – while it is still capable of doing so.

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