There is something rotten in the city of Winnipeg. This may not be what Hamlet was referencing in his comments on the state of Denmark, but there is an odour wafting through the city that gets worse by the week.
We are more than halfway through Mayor Brian Bowman’s term, a mayoralty intended to bring to life the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce’s BOLD vision for the city. That vision has been reduced to demolishing the old Public Safety Building, creating grey space around City Hall and trying to turn Portage and Main into a kill zone for pedestrians, letting them wander through eight lanes of traffic.
This week, Bowman engaged in the politics of dismissal recently demonstrated by others: I’ll rule how I want.
For all the discussion at city council about organic wastes, greenhouse gases and the decision by elected councillors to go ahead with some kind of a compost plan, Bowman has decided to dismiss them all with an imperious wave of his mayoral hand. Not on my watch, he has decreed.
It seems to me the language is supposed to be “mayor and council,” but there was no evidence of it in his personal decision to throw any waste management strategy the city might have developed into the trash.
To quote one of my favourite poets, W.B. Yeats: “Tread softly, for you tread on my dreams.”
It has been a tumultuous week for many, not just those people (mainly young) who still march in the streets of American cities proclaiming “not my president.” I have heard from many friends, from delegates at 22nd Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC (COP 22) in Marrakesh, Morocco; to people in Kenya; to former students in the Canadian Forces; and students at the universities here in Winnipeg. I have been disturbed by what they have told me about their anxieties and fears.
The last time I experienced something like this was after the twin towers of the World Trade Center fell in 2001. At least among younger people, 11/9 has awakened feelings similar to 9/11.
It’s not so much about losing the election — after all, nearly half of the American electorate didn’t vote and the rest of us never had the option. Nor is it even about the attitudes of the winner — one American friend observed it was hardly the first time a white male racist had been elected president.
It’s about something deeper and more upsetting. The people in the streets are worried because they feel they have lost their future, their dreams, their hopes of having a better tomorrow than the one sitting on the doorstep.
The current crisis in Western democracy reflects a deep popular distrust: we understand it is government of the people, but question whether it is by the people. What is worse, we are increasingly not convinced it is for the people at all.
It is appropriate to evoke this line from former United States president Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address as we look south and see the struggle to block the Dakota Access Pipeline, while the U.S. presidential election hangs in the balance.
The Battle of Gettysburg was the high water mark of the Confederacy, the turning point of the U.S. Civil War. Up until that point, it seemed Lincoln’s stand against slavery was a catastrophic mistake. Principles are fine, but at what cost?
Even after the Union victory, it took a hundred years to pass the laws that transitioned the U.S. into a country where justice before the law did not depend on race. Or so everyone still hopes — just as everyone hopes that fair treatment no longer depends upon gender.
But it all traces back to one man, one person, who chose to make a stand because it was the right thing to do.
If we distrust politicians after their election, it’s because that act of taking a stand for everyone because it is the right thing to do — not just for the people who elected you or who funded your campaign — is not a common occurrence.