letter writing,  meaning of life,  politics,  the ethical life

writing letters to politicians

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My days seem a strange mix of tobogganing with the kids, cooking, reading to them, helping them with schoolwork and trying every day to understand the world around me and how I can be an influence in it. I feel very muddled. I haven’t been reading any books the past week or so really, just trying to catch up on the news and understand a bit about the new players in the Ontario Provincial Parliament. I am ever so slightly hopeful that Kathleen Wynne will at least try to live up to what she said she’d like to be: the social justice Premier of Ontario. I’m really hoping her appointing of Ted McMeekin to the position of Minister of Community and Social Services is a good sign. That said, I know a lot of people who are justifiably skeptical that there will be any real change. Are the politicians willing to take serious action or will they simply throw a few more crumbs to the poor?

Last Saturday I attended a workshop on direct-action.  One of the themes in it was the idea that poverty and injustice are purposeful creations. The forces that be want things to be the way they are. It isn’t just ignorance or accidents on the part of those making the rules. Instead the rules are rigged. The argument then is that making change in the world requires more than letter writing, more than attempts to persuade. We have to hold the politicians feet to the fire. It is an argument that justifies direct action such as the sit-in and makeshift homeless shelter in the Toronto City Hall today to attempt to force the city council to take seriously the deaths of homeless people due to a lack of assistance and shelters. The politicians know that their policies are leading to deaths but do nothing. Action must be taken to force them. It is an argument that could be used to justify much more serious action.

On the other hand is it an argument that I still struggle with. Part of me thinks yes, of course the rule-makers know their rules are causing trouble. For example, those who have run the quota system on chickens know that the quotas on chickens make it impossible for small farmers and niche farmers to enter into the market in Ontario. They know that their rules keep control of chickens in the hands of a few big companies. Yet another part of me says no, those in power can’t truly purposely be trying to create injustices. They must at times be ignorant of the hardship they cause. They must just have different ideas about how best to set the rules. They must just feel tied down by all the complexities of issues. Or could they? Could they really think, we need to keep as much money and as much power in the hands of as few people as possible?

A couple of weeks ago I read the book Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit by Parker Palmer. There’s a part in that book where Mr. Palmer talks about creating safe circles where people can explore their dilemmas and questions.

An ongoing circle of trust not only intensifies our sense of accountability to our own truth but also gives us a safe pace in which to imagine and implement ways of witnessing to our integrity in the workplace.  (162)

The idea is to create courageous leadership. The idea is to encourage individuals to work for what they know is right even when doing so could be risky for them. The idea is to find the strength of individuals even within imperfect systems.

I used to write letters to politicians to try to convince politicians that people care about the issue. Now I write letters because I want to reaffirm to myself that I believe there can be good within politicians. I want to believe that if we write to them and share our honest thoughts and stories, that we can help inspire them to do what is right and good.

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  • Paul R. Hewlett

    Excellent post. You raise some difficult questions. In the US politicians never seem to get anything done. All they do is talk of ideologies. Ideologies that no one but them seem to subscribe to. It is very frustrating that’s for sure. Thanks for another great post.

    Paul R. Hewlett

    • christyk

      The American system is a fascinating one, and it does seem to have its own challenges with regards to getting things done. My understanding is that the American system allows each politician more power (to block things) but then the collective group of politicians end up with less power to do anything. In Canada we have it the opposite, where the Prime Minister has all the power and can basically do whatever he wants. For any politician to take a leadership role and break ranks is pretty rare.

      You write: “Ideologies that no one but them seems to subscribe to” and I think that’s interesting. Do you think the politicians are more extreme than most people?

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