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On politics and relevance

It was bound to happen, and really, I’ve known this was on the horizon for a long time. Yesterday, I was confronted with it yet again. An unnamed someone, after hearing my description of TransitCamp, called what we’re trying to do irrelevant, saying that the time has passed for this kind of activity due to the dark cloud on the horizon known as Bill 43. As I told my confidantes as I was freaking out yesterday, this was like the Titanic comment, except said right to me (if phones count as “in my face”).

There is plenty of insightful coverage on this issue, that is better informed and more knowledgeable than I will ever hope to be.

But I’m not going to talk about why to oppose this Bill, or how to mobilize or organize against it, because there are many others doing an excellent job of doing that and I am supporting them every step of the way in their work.

Instead, I’m going to talk about relevance. The person that I was addressing has a memory of Vancouver politics longer than I’ve been alive. I respect his perspective, his skill, his interpretation of the events that have led us to our current state with Bill 43, and his feeling on what’s needed for us to take back our democratic system for making transit decisions. But I do not believe this is irrelevant.

In the countless times that I have been asked, So, what’s this TransitCamp thing?, I have continuously emphasized that it is self-organizing, collaborative, creative and fun. While these events often have a theme, in order to focus effort, I believe in the spirit of the idea, which is that we provide a venue for the community to come together and to determine what is most important to them. Not for me or any of the other event organisers to dictate what the space will be used for. For one thing, that’s not what our sponsors are expecting, and that’s not what we’re telling participants is the purpose of this event.

That said, I don’t at all think that the community cannot be convinced that Bill 43 is something to be very, very worried about. I don’t think this event is a platform for me, or for the organizers, to sit someone down and make them understand why something is important. For one thing, I don’t think anyone would come to TransitCamp if we did that. (If you do want that, I highly recommend the We Ride Transit events, they’ll work with your negative-jollies for sure). I would rather that we inspire people – to be curious, to listen and learn honestly, to ask each other questions, to have fun, to get involved because it is fun – then make the decision themselves, whether to come to your session because it sounded interesting, to stay in your session because they’re contributing or finding it valuable, or to abide by the law of two feet and go somewhere else.

Let me make this clear: we are not and have never discouraged anyone from having discussions about political issues at TransitCamp. We merely prefer that we be able to make space for people who want to talk about other things, because everyone needs a break from the good fight, to have some fun with it. And others need to learn why it’s a good one to begin with.

With this, I extend an invitation, once again, to the person I was speaking to yesterday, to come to TransitCamp, to have a session and to ask the other participants, through old-fashioned oratory, to design the action you want to see. I’m sure you’ll get more free consulting out of it than you’d be able to buy in one day, if you are willing to make a good appeal to them.

In some people’s eyes, the fact that we’re not throwing an event that Gateway Sucks would put on, makes TransitCamp irrelevant – because we’re trying to be non-confrontational, because we think people might appreciate having fun instead of being made to feel guilty for what they’re not doing. We’re sorry the fight has made you bitter about who we are – people with agency, people who may not always recognize the connection between what’s morally just and what’s individually important or convenient, who may not see the urgency of their involvement as self-evident.

The question that has always burned within me on this topic: how is this confrontational approach any different than ‘you’re with us or you’re against us’? Why is there no room for people not quite ready to join the crusade? I would actually consider bringing my mother to a TransitCamp. I would not bring my mother to a rally on Bill 43, because my mother is an immigrant who doesn’t know what it means to participate in a democratic process because she lived/still lives in a paramilitary British territory now under communist rule. Are megaphones and letter-writing our only conception of democracy? Is telling me we’re irrelevant what respecting political diversity is all about?

As a parting note: there’s a rally at Canada Place this afternoon protesting Bill 43. I’ll be there.


  1. Excellent post! You hit it right on. Thanks for your work in getting TransitCamp going here, you’re doing great!

    Posted November 21, 2007 at 2:14 pm | Permalink
  2. yes!
    diversity of discussion, media, etc

    Posted November 21, 2007 at 4:09 pm | Permalink
  3. Transit Camp and opposition to Bill 43 are two different issues.

    Transit Camp is, as I understand it, trying to make transit work better. Bill 43 is about who is going to control the body that – among other things – provides the transit service.

    We have to make our voices heard – and I think 300 people outside the convention centre tonight did that – but we must also recognise the reality that the Liberals have a big enough majority in the house and enough contempt for popular opinion that they can press on regardless.

    Making transit “suck less” is, in and of itself, a worthwhile cause. I happen to think that more funding and more buses are an essential first step, but better use of what we have is also needed.

    You are not irrelevant! Keep up the good work

    Posted November 21, 2007 at 10:38 pm | Permalink
  4. You know, in my academic life, I was actually a geography/urban planning geek, not a computer geek, and I spent a lot of time thinking about stuff like this. And I would like to say with much optimism that TransitCamp is a perfect example of exactly what IS relevant. The fact of the matter is that when you’re rallying *against* someone or something, that is when they are least likely to want to listen to or incorporate your ideas into their own vision. Fun and collaborative or unconference style events are perfectly suited to something like public transit, where a lot of people have different ideas of how things should be working.

    It’s a great thing you’re taking on here, don’t let the naysayers get you down!

    Posted December 1, 2007 at 10:14 am | Permalink
  5. Thanks Dustin, Roland, Ariane and Stephen for your supportive comments. I’ve had a few more conversations over the past few days to solidify my perspective, as well as a bit of academic reading to bolster it as well, funny enough.

    My comment was starting to get a little long, so I’m going to start a new post to riff off your comments and my further reflection on this topic.

    Posted December 2, 2007 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

3 Trackbacks

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    […] Background and commentary here, here and here [Source] […]

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    […] up fast on December 8th. Congratulations to Karen (Quinn) for surviving the existential angst and politically charged atmosphere just getting to launch. Karen was at the first TransitCamp in Toronto and has been passionate about […]

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