There are a lot of assumptions made about politics and politicians. I learned this last summer at thousands of doorsteps.
That's when I entered the Toronto Centre nomination race in the federal by-election prompted by Bob Rae's departure from the House of Commons. While canvassing, I often heard my frustrated neighbours express their concerns -- from "nothing ever changes" to "politicians are all the same." At times, I've thought the same thing myself. It's one of the main reasons I decided to make the move to politics. Be it the Senate scandals to preserving the status quo of income inequality, I thought, it has to get better than this.
I recently delivered a TEDxTalks in Toronto's Distillery District, inspired by the event theme "invented here." I wanted to talk about politics, but I knew if I did that, I'd likely lose the audience. So I explored the reasons behind the yawn reflex when someone mentions politics: I titled my talk "How to Hate Politics."
I believe it starts with how we define politics. According to a report by Samara, Canadians rarely even talk about the subject. And following the standard rule of etiquette (don't talk about religion or politics at the dinner table) that seems the right thing to do. In the research, only 40 per cent polled said they've discussed a social or political issue recently. To me, that seems impossible. Politics isn't just a bunch of partisan bickering, although there is a lot of that. If defined broadly, politics is all around us, from the air we breathe to the food we eat to the schools our children attend.
When we do talk about politics or government in a formal sense, it's often what we hate about it. Taxpaying voters and everyday citizens raised over $200,000 for the Rob Ford-inspired Crackstarter. That's a lot of money and energy to push someone out of office -- instead of investing in candidates we'd like to see in office.
What piqued my interest in politics at an early age is that it requires participation. I found it exciting that my voice was needed at, or at least invited to, the table. A very similar appeal can be found in the recent rise of crowdfunding. As we enter a municipal election year in Toronto (a year that will also likely include a provincial election and several by-elections), we have an opportunity to support candidates, or even become one.
Which leads us to voting. If you don't show up to vote, you unfortunately won't be alone. In the last Canadian federal election we witnessed the second-lowest voter turnout in the country's history at 54 per cent. What a luxury it is not to vote. Giving up on politics is a privilege for those of us living in democracies, where the freedom of the press even allows us such a discussion. I see voting as earning my right to complain about politics.
Following my TEDxTalk -- in which I touched on some of these themes - members of the audience approached me and confessed that I was talking about them, that they hate politics too. But somehow they said they still enjoyed my talk. We laughed, and then continued to talk about how we talk about politics (at a TEDTalk).
The best part about politics is that it's up to us. It's a living, breathing entity that we get to define and invent. We are the candidates, we are the voters. Yes, politics is messy, and full of problems, but politics is ultimately what we make it. The question is, what do we want to make it?
Jennifer Hollett is an award winning broadcast journalist (CBC, CTV, MuchMusic) and a leading digital expert. She uses social media to increase participation and mobilization in politics and social issues.
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