This article was written by Christopher Holcroft, vice-chair of the BWVRA. Reprinted with permission from the Village Gleaner. This originally appeared in the March 2005
I believe in participatory democracy. I believe in community activism. These are our rights, and I believe we have a responsibility to exercise them.
It is something I learned at an early age from my parents, who were both very involved in a number of community, charitable and political activities in my hometown of Belleville.
And it was, in part, a history of community activism that drew my wife and I to the Bloor West Village neighbourhood three years ago.
It is now what drives my participation in a new community organization, the Bloor West Village Residents Association (BWVRA).
The BWVRA will exist to serve the community, to keep residents informed of important and relevant information and to organize public meetings to provide a forum for ideas.
Now some may argue that sending out newsletters and organizing so-called town hall meetings to learn about and debate the key issues of the day is the responsibility of our locally elected politicians. While true, it is also the responsibility of all citizens to engage themselves in the public discourse, by using any number of a variety of avenues. Those avenues could include joining a residents association, a political party, or a community action group, attending a neighbourhood meeting or an election debate.
We all have issues that motivate us or public policies that concern us. Yet acting on them has become increasingly unlikely for a lot of us. This is evidenced most clearly by the unexpectedly low voter turnout in recent elections concerning all three levels of government. This continues to be a troubling trend. If we can’t even be bothered to vote, how likely is it that we will join a community group or attend a meeting, let alone help organize one?
I believe the single biggest issue facing our country today is democratic withdrawal. Certainly a number of factors contribute to the explanation for a growing number of citizens detaching themselves from not just the political process, but the communities in which they live. Busy personal schedules, cynicism towards government and perceptions of the challenges to affect change all play a part.
Yet if we fail to exercise our right of democratic participation, we also fail to understand the important issues that impact us, we fail to effectively hold our elected officials accountable, and we fail to enact changes that can better our society.
Change is possible. We have to look no further than the extraordinary efforts of the citizens of Ukraine. With support from activists around the world, including right here in the Village, an unjust election was overturned, and the will of the people expressed.
Certainly the issues that face Canadians generally and Bloor West Villagers in particular, are not of this magnitude. But that bit of good fortune should not dull the importance of community participation.
There are many issues of local, provincial, national and international importance that impact on the residents of this neighbourhood. There are challenges that must be met and policies that need to be debated. There are ideas that deserve to be heard and voices that should be listened to.
As a society we should be encouraging individuals, families and communities to participate in the democratic process. Not just for political purposes, but not exclusive of them either. As citizens we should be conscious of the struggles others have made, and in parts of the world, continue to make, for this right. We should therefore actively seek the appropriate avenues to ensure we remain informed and have our opinions expressed.
Finally, it is important to remember that community activism is about more than personal responsibility or self-protection, it is also about contributing to the greater good. That in it self can be very rewarding.
Opportunities exist to build a better neighbourhood, city, province, country and world. They are only a town hall away.
Christopher Holcroft is a member of the Bloor West Village community with a strong belief in community activism.