Hanukkah Matata

I’m a night owl. This tends to lead me toward employment that allows for later hours, like when I worked in an indie video that stayed open well after dark. After renting someone their Tinto Brass DVD that they were watching “for the commentary on the decline of the European civilization,” I would follow up the transaction with a friendly “have a good night!” It became habit, and one I couldn’t shake, even during the occasional morning shift. On the phone or in person, I’d end a conversation with “have a good night,” and inevitably, some jackass would eventually correct me. “Night?” he’d say. “You’re a little backward, aren’t you? It’s not even noon yet!” A good laugh had by all at my expense, but fair enough- I mean, how stupid does someone have to be to wish someone a good night when it’s still light out? Clearly, the ridicule was well deserved.

I could never understand why they were so offended. Did they want to have a bad night? Sure night was several hours away, but I was just thinking ahead. It’s the thought that counts, isn’t it?

 

Deep thought.

One day, around this time of year, I was walking home past the Jewish Community Centre. There was a pair of gentlemen standing outside, wishing passers-by a happy Hanukkah. It was nice of them, to stand in the cold and offer complete strangers a warm smile. As I passed and they said the same to me, I returned the greeting right back to them, and I genuinely meant it. They asked if I was Jewish, and I told them I wasn’t, but that I hoped they had a lovely holiday. They wished me the same. All in all, it was a decidedly agreeable encounter.

And then, as I walked away, it hit me: I’d just become a casualty of the War on Christmas.

I mean, how dare these people push their heathen holiday on me? Why do they hate Christmas so? Why do they hate joy? Wishing a Christian a happy Hanukkah is almost as offensive as wishing someone a good night during the day!

So you see where I’m going with this.

Today is the final day of Hanukkah (which seemed to come early this year for those of us who don’t follow the Jewish calendar). Christmas is still a couple of weeks away, so we’ve avoided the overlap that sometimes occurs. This would indicate that perhaps we’d be spared the “Holiday Wars” for one year. Which would be a shame, seeing as it’s become tradition.

My message to those who believe that war is being waged on the chronologically questionable birthday of our Lord and Saviour: get over it. There are other faiths. There are other holidays. There are people out there who do not celebrate Christmas. Accept them. Forgive them. Extend to them a hand in friendship. It’s the Christian thing to do.

And for those who don’t celebrate Christmas…

Listen. I can’t pretend to know what it’s like to see everyone around you celebrate a joyous holiday and feel left out. It’s unfortunate that our culture is so Christmas-centric that it forgets that there are other faiths out there. But you have to understand, most of us were brought up in Christian households, with Christian families and Christian traditions. When we were kids, Christmas was it, it was the thing, and we weren’t really aware of Hanukkah or Kwanzaa or Festivus. It’s not because we were willfully ignorant, it’s because we were kids. We didn’t know what mortgages or calculus or fellatio or Belgium were either. As we grow up, we become more culturally aware, but the expression “Merry Christmas” that we’ve heard from loved ones and classic films and greeting cards our whole life is a difficult habit to break. It’s what we know, and while we try to translate that into the multi-cultural world as we know it today, sometimes we slip. It’s not because we’re trying to convert you, or belittle your religion. Heck, most of us don’t even believe in Christ as the Son of God ourselves, and it’s well-known that most “Christmas” traditions are either Pagan in origin or merely winter-based. Sure, there are dickheads out there, the ones who believe in the War on Christmas, who might knowingly say “Merry Christmas” to a Muslim just to make a point or start a fight, but they are the exception. It’s the season for giving, so please, give us the benefit of the doubt.

 

If there really was a war on Christmas, we clearly wouldn't stand a chance.

The way I figure it, it’s cold enough out there for us to try to be warm to each other. Dear readers, I propose a new holiday trend: embrace the traditions of other cultures. Christians, place a menorah on your mantle this year. Jews, put up a Christmas tree. Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Pagans, Satanists, Scientologists, Rastafarians, and Atheists, I put this to you: candles and twinkly lights are pretty, cookies and latkes are delicious, and everybody likes presents, chocolate, money, and chocolate money. Let’s not make each other feel left out but invite each other in. If someone tells me to have a happy Hanukkah, I will not be offended by their failure to accurately gauge my religious stance, but instead feel welcomed into their holiday cheer. There is no reason for petty arguments over which holiday is the “right” one. After all, if we put them all together, it just means that the party will be that much more awesome.

 

Some things we can all agree are awesome.

Happy Holidays!

 

 

Advertisements

Built Ford Tough

Toronto is known for its multiculturalism, its cosmopolitan inclusiveness, its vibrant youth culture, its cultural and environmental awareness, and its progressive liberal politics. Which is why, during the October 25th 2010 Mayoral Election, we elected this guy:

Laugh it up, Fuzzball.

You see, the lefty hippies, yuppies, and hipsters of downtown were torn between two other candidates: the amusingly named Joe Pantalone, who seemed to be most popular among downtowners, and George Smitherman, who wasn’t Joe Pantalone, but wasn’t Rob Ford either. No one really wanted to vote for Smitherman, you see- they wanted to vote for the unimpressive but inoffensive Pantalone- but they all did anyway. Why? Because no one was going to vote for Pantalone. And because of this reason, almost everyone who wanted to didn’t.

That makes sense, right?

You see, no one thought that Pantalone had a chance, as the early polls from a limited scope indicated little support. Because of this, the massive numbers of people who supported him decided to vote for the other Liberal instead. Everyone I talked to agreed that everyone wanted to vote for Pantalone, but no one would, due to the fact that no one was going to vote for Pantalone.

So since it had somehow been uniformly decided that the candidate with the largest downtown support base didn’t stand a snowball’s chance, the default became Smitherman, who didn’t have the same support, but stood a chance of beating Ford due to not being Pantalone.

This is what is known as “strategic voting.”

Let’s face it: voting for what you want is for pussies. Voting for something you don’t want out of fear of something even worse happening- now that takes balls.

So, with everyone downtown haggling over whether everyone should put their majority vote toward electing the mayor they want, throw it at the guy they don’t want less than the other guy they don’t want, or vote for one of the over thirty other candidates no one had ever heard of, the way was laid wide open for the lone Conservative on the ballot.

And man, did he work the suburbs.

Toronto is a large city, and most Torontonians live downtown (or so they tell us), where things like Nuit Blanche, TIFF, Luminato, Gay Pride, Caribana, Word on the Street, and the Fetish Fair explode on their doorstep with such regularity it’s not even weird anymore. These are people who support the arts, the rights of minorities, help for those in special need, women’s groups, LGBT culture, local organic produce, and bike lanes. And they depend upon public transit.

Unsurprisingly, this is also a laundry-list of everything that Ford is against. And we downtowners tend to forget how much the car-driving traditional-family-values suburban sect can resent our highballin’ hedonistic street-car-ing ways. In fact, we tend to forget they exist at all (which, upon reflection, might account for some of that resentment). Toronto has a lot of suburbs. And damn, they’re big.

While Mississauga was busy re-electing the kindly grandmother who had brought prosperity to one of Toronto’s finest burbs for the two-hundredth time, Etobicoke was hammering down on our dreams of drug-fuelled all-night Hollywood art-party orgies with the power and fury of ten thousand silent K’s.

It makes sense. There are probably slightly more liberal-minded folks around here than conservative, but the liberals were all confused over who they were supposed to vote for. Some of them gave up and didn’t vote at all, often citing their busy downtown schedules as the reason. The Conservatives had one option and a lot more free time. It was a no-brainer.

There’s been a lot of finger-pointing down round these parts. Who’s to blame for Rob Ford’s election? The Smithermites for not going with their gut? The Pro-Pants lobby for supporting a loser? The Ford group for actually voting for Ford? It’s a question with no easy answers if you ignore the obvious one, but anyway, the suburbs are really far. It’s much easier to blame your neighbour.

Did we do it to ourselves? If the votes for Pantalone and Smitherman were added together, they’d outnumber Ford’s by a hangnail. But who knows? Maybe a more unified front from our side would have stoked those fires of fear in the suburban hearths, and would have driven them out in even larger droves. As it is, only slightly more than half of the eligible population voted, so who knows what the outcome would’ve been if things had happened differently. It’s a dangerous game, this What-If-Roulette, with almost as many penises. But there’s a strange and terrifying kind of comfort to be taken in the belief in Democracy. If you’re an idealist, then it’s impossible for the wrong guy to win an election. Even if you don’t agree with the result, the Voice of the People has spoken.

So why am I angry? Well, we have elected a mayor whose vision for Toronto does not match my own, and mere disappointment won’t cut it. But whom is my rage targeted against? Whom do I blame?

The obvious answer is Rob Ford himself. But then again, in his mind, he probably honestly believes that he is the best person for the job, so you can’t really blame him for trying. So, you blame his supporters. Only, they were only exercising their democratic right to choose their candidate, and I can’t really expect everyone else’s values to reflect my own. Clearly, the man appeals to a large portion of the population whom I’m sure is comprised largely of perfectly nice, rational people. You can’t really blame someone for casting their ballot for the candidate of their choosing, at least, not if you really believe in democracy. So how about all those people who didn’t vote? Seems like a no-brainer, except there’s no guarantee that things would have turned out differently, and if they hadn’t, I’d be just as mad, and for the same reason. So is it possible that it really is the fault of everyone who voted for the other guys? That doesn’t seem right. Each person used their one vote as they saw fit- some to vote for whom they wanted as mayor, some as a stand against whom they didn’t. Sure, I personally don’t see that as an example of how democracy is supposed to work. Those who believed that voting for a candidate you didn’t like would work as some sort of Konami-code for winning the whole election found out they were wrong. But hey, they thought it would work. Sure, logic tells us that if everyone who liked Pantalone best had voted for him, he might’ve won, but that’s just logic-ing with your heart. Some people tried to out-think the election, tried to trick it by voting against their own wishes, because the election would never see that coming. Democracy is no match for the solid strategy of voting for the wrong guy. How the hell did that not work out?

But I’m not really angry with those who managed to over-complicate something that by its very nature is designed to be as straightforward as possible. It’s not really their fault- they only did what they thought the smartest thing was. By some convoluted egg/chicken logic, it seemed like a good idea at the time.

But as much as I disagree with such voting “tactics”, in the end, don’t their values reflect my values? Let’s face it; if Smitherman had won, I’d be okay with it. So how could I be angry with those who voted for him? Whatever their reasons, enough people voted for Smitherman to make him a serious contender. If a few more people had done the same, we wouldn’t have Rob Ford as mayor. I do understand the rationale- early polls had Pants way behind Smithers, so it’s reasonable that certain rats will jump ship. Call it peer pressure or jumping on a bandwagon, but in the end, their hearts were in the right place, even if their heads had gotten stuck in a self-fulfilling prophecy while they themselves believed they were outfoxing “the system”.

Am I angry with those who voted for all the other candidates, including those who had dropped out of the race? Of course not. If anything, their hopefulness is adorable.

So who am I angry with?

Anger is a reaction, so if you feel it, your brain is trying to tell you that something isn’t right. There’s an injustice taking place, perhaps, and where there’s injustice, there’s usually a culprit. That’s what on-the-face-of-it rationale tells us. So, to find the culprit, one must determine what it is that one is reacting against. And maybe it’s not what you think. Maybe it isn’t injustice. Maybe it’s something else, something you wouldn’t discover if you didn’t ask these questions. For someone like me, anger can be a reaction to almost anything. It’s my default. Sadness, frustration, guilt, regret, and fear- they all become anger by the time they get to you.

So sure, I’m disappointed. But for all I know, Ford will be a great mayor. After all, enough people believe in him to have gotten him elected. So, I’m not in mourning just yet, because I don’t really know what the future will look like, even if I don’t like the plans. Frustrated? That usually happens when I hit an obstacle of some kind that I can’t overcome. The voting process at the community centre here in Ward 27 was quick and pleasant. I did what I could, and it’s now time to move on. Again, disappointed, but I have no regrets regarding my own decision, nor do I feel any guilt. I did the only thing I could legally do to prevent a future for my beloved city that looks, from where I’m standing, somewhat bleak. I know he’s just a man, and the new City Council must approve every decision he makes. It’s not Ford himself that bothers me. It’s the legions of people who apparently think that this man having power is a good thing. People who care nothing for the things that I care about. People who, apparently, have us surrounded.

I think … I think I’m afraid.

What will become of us? Of our city? Are we working toward the Toronto we want, as all the campaign slogans said? Or are we merely running away from the Toronto we fear? What happens when it catches up to us?

So I’m scared. Big deal. Bite me. You’d be scared too if your mayor looked like this:

All the better to eat you with...

But, as we’ve all been taught, when a traumatic event occurs, denial happens first. Then comes the fear, which becomes anger. Fear hinders you. Anger empowers you.

But like all power, it must be used responsibly.

Today, as Ford took office, he was met with hundreds of protestors. Some genuinely lamented the loss of David Miller, while others seemed only to foam at the mouth at the words “Mayor Rob Ford.” I don’t like the man either, nor am I optimistic for the future of art and transit in this city. But I respect the fact that he was voted in democratically. And since I believe in democracy, I can at least give the man a chance before screaming expletives at his doorstep. Demanding the democratically-elected Mayor be impeached after less than twenty-four hours in office in order to implement an administration the people did not vote for just doesn’t seem like the democratic way. Whether we like it or not, the majority ruled. I guess I just wasn’t in the majority. If you are a democratic idealist, then it is impossible to believe the wrong man was elected. Which begs the question… is it possible that… (*gasp*)… I’m wrong? We were all wrong?

Now I’m really scared.

And I’m not alone.

I forgive those voters who voted against the man who scared them, or for the man who made them scared of others. I forgive those who didn’t even turn up, intimidated by the weight of civic duty, afraid of making the wrong choice. I forgive us our fear.

But you don’t have to take fear lying down. You don’t like the mayor? Fine, tell us why. Be passionate. Let your anger focus you, let it shut out all the noise so you can target the thing that scares you and face it. Don’t just scream and whine- be constructive. Let’s deal with this shit. Let’s deal with it now.

I hereby resolve to become more active in my community. I resolve to pay more attention to politics, and to take a stand when I think that something isn’t right. I will fight for the Toronto I want, and I will not run from what I fear.

You must be the change that you want to see. You must believe that democracy works, and that it allows you to support those whom you believe in. You must act based on hope, not fear, never ever fear. Let’s make our city into the community we want, the place we are proud to be from. Let us not hide our heads in shame for electing an ogre, but be galvanized in our quest for a better tomorrow. With the combined efforts of downtown and suburbia, from every fire escape to every cul-de-sac, let us march forward into the day of a bright, shining city of multiculturalism, cosmopolitan inclusiveness, vibrant youth culture, cultural and environmental awareness, and progressive politics, whatever those may be. What doesn’t kill makes us stronger, until we’re tough enough for the sticks and stones to bounce off our hides. Let’s lead the world in rationality, let our passion for peaceful protests and outreaching optimism be an example to those places still in the shadows of fear. Miller time is over, but today is the first day in a new chapter of our city’s life, one which will bring challenges and obstacles, and therefore just that much more opportunity to focus our fear into the raging storm of hope and change that will finally deliver us the city we want.