Walking into Dufferin Grove Park on Saturday (Sept. 10, 2011), a bright sunny afternoon, the last thing I expected to see was over a thousand Torontonians huddled over ideas, policy choices and alternatives for the direction of a city under siege. These people couldn't all be here for the Toronto Stop the Cuts event, I thought. But they were. They were there to imagine, join forces and devise plans.
The event was incredibly well-organized, right down to the food. That's right. A huge food table stretched out loaded with salsa, beans, tortillas. Taking in a pot of steaming rice, I overheard a person with a red armband giving a lay of the land. People were organizing themselves into about 17 different groups, according to priority interest: housing, policy, libraries, Scarborough, Parkdale, Jane-Finch, cycling, LGBTQ, etc. If it falls into a line in the city budget, there was a group discussing and strategizing about what would you declare to city council?
Getting a gander of each of the groups, several people told me why they'd come out. Yael, a parent and food activist, said that he came out to see what the organizing was about. He expressed his unhappiness with the direction that city has taken under the Ford administration. An ideological stand and movement inform this direction, he thinks. As his young son and partner darted off to the much more entertaining playground, he added, "The fiscal, social and cultural -- they are all connected. Yes, we have to make our priorities... I don't think the priorities are the ones I believe in..." He added, "It's a discussion of ideology and priorities."
Anna, a young woman but mature student, came to the park because, she said, "What make my life great are things that the city touches. City policy affects so much more than federal policy and provincial policy." She wanted to hear what other people were saying about it.
The city governs all of the things that make her life great.
"For a concrete example, I love running," she says. "I love it. I need that in my weekly life. And I can only do that because I have a beautiful park, which is maintained by the city. I can do it a lot more lately because we haven't had smog days. And that is something that is affected by the city."
The city budget supports park programming which increases safety, something she values a great deal as a single, female runner.
"I feel relatively safe there and I think that's because we encourage programs in the park, so there's families, there's dog owners, there's cyclists. And, that's all the city. And even policing. Like proper policing, focused policing, good policing policy." These are the factors that directly "affect how I safe I feel in the park."
While there were many ideas ricocheting around the park, an LGBTQ activist, Kim, whom I've caused some trouble with elsewhere, hit the nail on the head. "I'm here," he said overlooking the crowd, thoughtfully, because "we need to fight the artificial deficit that he's created." His concern is that the direction the city is taking will "decrease the quality of life for everyone..."
We all have ideas about what how we should spend public resources, he added. "But what's more important to me is the fact that we're watching Ford spend money on things that we don't have to spend money on."
Kim cited the removal of bike lanes, the proposed removal of the Scramble intersection at Yonge and Dundas and the plans for "steamrolling over Waterfront Toronto". This last move I have alluded to previously.
Kim found the most interesting thing in his discussion group around LGBTQ issues was the idea proffered that the mayor "shouldn't be allowed to cut any service unless he can prove that they are being replaced somewhere else." Now that the S.O.S. program serving trans, street-involved youth has been ended, the group is concerned that other resources will be directed away from these particularly vulnerable people.
As sun slanted into the late afternoon, I recognized a familiar face from my time with council and on the recent press coverage of his father's passing: Mike Layton. Leaving, Coun. Layton thanked a group working diligently to hammer out results of the day's discussion groups into a single, unified statement of resistance. A few whispered, "Was that Jack Layton's son?" Mike's dad, of course, inspires a great deal of reverence a few long weeks after his death.
When I came to Canada and Toronto, Canadians and Torontonians assured me they never get worked up over politics the way we tend to in the States. I have seen the people come together to resist more than several times now since Mr. Harper moved onto Sussex Drive and Mr. Ford into the mayor's office. The days of citizens rolling over as politicians sell off their wealth and health for private gain may be drawing down in North America. We can only hope -- and come together.