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What My Eclipsed Run For Office Says About Vancouver Politics

07/28/2014 07:32 EDT | Updated 09/27/2014 05:59 EDT
VoteTrishKelly.ca

It's an election year in Vancouver. After decades of Iife as a community advocate working on social justice issues, I decided I would try to move from the role of impassioned community member pitching a great idea, to claiming a seat at the decision-making table. I decided to put my name forward for Vancouver's elected Park Board. It didn't go as I expected.

During my seven years on Vancouver Food Policy Council, a volunteer committee that advises city council, I've learned a lot about how municipal government works, but I had no idea how a person actually gets elected in the city of Vancouver.

Though some brave souls decide to run as independents in this city that has no campaign spending limits, without exception only candidates with party backing won seats in 2011. Given this reality, a person seeks a nomination with one of the several political parties. I chose Vision, Vancouver's progressive party currently holding power at every level, and headed by Gregor Robertson.

Getting a nomination with Vision involves signing up new members, fundraising, developing a contact database, and filling in a 30+ page candidate application package.

It's indicative of the kind of keener I am that I enjoyed each aspect, even filling in Vision's lengthy application. I saw it as a chance to assess what I've accomplished in my 38 years on the planet.

I've had a multi-decade career working for green businesses in the food sector. I had a brief acting career -- highlights include starring in my own Fringe Festival play in 2000 and a role as "Christmas elf" in a movie called "The Hostage Negotiator."

In 2012, Oxfam Canada named me a Female Food Hero for my food policy work. I've also written and self-published chapbooks, and co-edited a lesbian erotica collection.

More recently, I wrote the first draft of Vancouver's bylaw to permit backyard chickens, got the mayor to proclaim Meatless Monday, and helped the Vancouver Park Board come up with an action plan to support local food.

Just a couple weeks after I won my nomination, some bloggers started posting a monologue from my Fringe play. The monologue is a frank and funny take on the sex life of a single person and the ways that single people can feel isolated and invisibilized in our culture. It also talks about masturbation. The monologue is certainly not the most frank or explicit piece of sex-positive work I have published or performed, but some bloggers had a heyday, and I was told this was just the beginning.

During my nomination race, this part of my CV didn't seem terribly relevant. I know that being a park board commissioner is much more about dealing with off-leash dog parks and cigarettes on the beach than it is a venue for challenging the way our society reacts to women who claim their sexual agency. Other issues seemed more relevant, and more clearly demonstrated my potential to handle park board issues.

But now a week after reaching a mutual decision that the sensationalization of my work was not something I could counter within an election campaign, I see that there is an indirect connection between that monologue and my run for park board.

In a city where our degree of social isolation has been quantified with a paltry percentage of us who know our neighbour's name, I ran a nomination campaign that ultimately was about belonging.

Along with my running mates who included a curator/activist tied to the South Asian community, a queer sports league organizer, and what we hope will be the park board's first Filipina-Canadian commissioner, I attempted to raise the question of what communities and perspectives do we want to see reflected in politics? Who belongs at the decision-making table?

Now that I've had visibility into what a campaign looks like, I understand that election campaigns are not organically a place for policy innovation. They are driven by data analysis and war room metaphors, and the issues they lead with are the tested ones known supporters will vote for.

Maybe it wasn't always this way. I certainly didn't develop a crush on then-mayor Larry Campbell back in 2002 because he was risk-averse or overly careful in his comments to the press.

I think it is part of my role as an activist and artist to be hopeful, so I will say I do believe that we as a city and society are ready to have this conversation about who we want to represent us, how authentic we are willing to let politicians be, and ultimately who deserves to belong.

I'm raising that question here, not just for me, but for all the people who met me, or heard about my campaign, and thought if I could do it while revealing all, maybe they belong too.

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