Democracy is a Verb | Amber Church | Walrus Talks


[Applause] Good evening, my name is Amber Church and I’m very honoured to be on the traditional territory of the Kwanlin Dün and the Ta’an Kwäch’än with such an inspiring group of speakers. When I got asked to deliver this talk it was last fall and we were in the heat of a couple election campaigns. We, everyone in this room, went through the Yukon one first and, as someone whose voting priorities are climate change and the Peel Watershed and our relationships with First Nations, I came out of that feeling a certain amount of cautious optimism. The next day, we went through the American election and I was a little worried the apocalypse had actually happened. [Laughter] The good news is is that in the intervening period, although what we’ve seen from our Southern neighbours in the echelons of power has been some of the most devastating policy that we’ve seen in a long time, what we’ve seen from the grassroots has been absolutely empowering. Be it people who, citizens, who are phoning their elected officials every single day clogging the phone lines to discuss their views on whichever bill is being discussed that day, to the Women’s March and to, we know, the upcoming science and climate change marches that are planned in the coming months. To the response to the absolutely horrendous Muslim band and to things like developers creating apps that are playing the stock market based on what Trump says on Twitter and giving the funds to Planned Parenthood. [Laughter] It makes me happy. And I think we, as polite Canadians, could actually learn quite a bit from what’s going on in the South right now and start thinking about democracy as a verb, as something that we should be doing every day, not just something that, once every four years, we tick a box on a piece of paper and we.. “Let’s see how that turns out four years from now.” Which, let’s face it, some of us do do. We have this incredible right as Canadians to actually vote and to participate in our democracy and we owe it to the country and to ourselves and to the world that we actually use that right. I’ve been very lucky in my life to have some pretty cool opportunities to act on that right, be it spent working at the United Nations on climate change and getting the opportunity to help draft the language that preserves the rights for the public to participate in that process, be we talking Indigenous communities or youth or scientists or innovators of the business community or you, in this room. Or, be it, giving my working hours to non-government organizations be that CPAWS and the Peel Watershed here, or Special Olympics or the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition. I’ve had some really wonderful chances to put my democracy, and working for democracy, to use; but those are just tiny ways, my way, of doing it. There’s a million other things that everyone here can be doing and it’s as simple as finding out what’s happening. How many people the room actually know what being discussed at City Council and the band Council? There we go, talk to the Mayor. [Laughter] What’s happening…[Laughter] Thank you Dan. Find him in the reception, he’ll tell you. In the legislature or in the house of commons, there’s actually a number of politicians in the room who could probably answer that for you at the reception tonight. Find out what’s happening and make sure that your views are known. I had a really interesting conversation with a former premier of a Southern province one day and he said to me he had lost, his party had lost power, and he said “You know, our supporters really let us down,” and I thought this was going to turn into a sob story about not getting out the vote and etcetera, etcetera and instead what he said was “They didn’t hold our feet to the fire.” Democracy is, well, everyone throws the Churchill quote out, that it’s “The worst form of government except everything else we’ve already tried.” It’s a compromise, and we all know that. And if you elect a party and then don’t push them, somebody else is pushing the other way and that compromise is going to move. So yes, you do have to write letters and you do have to make phone calls, and I know it’s not very glamorous, but it does make a difference. I promise that the politicians in the room really do love to hear from you and we’re in a small enough place that you can actually talk to them in the grocery line up as well if you want. [Laughter] If you have the financial means and the time, there are a plethora of organizations that would love your help and your funds to keep doing the work they’re doing. And pick your issue, there’s an organization for every single one of them out there. If you are not hamstrung by non-partisanship, which people like me who are kind of in a charitable sector are, but if you don’t find yourself in that situation, I would certainly encourage you to join a political party whose views align with your own or, for that, matter join several if there’s a few that align with you. We know there’s a divide there, and some of the politicians in the room may not thank me for saying that, but it’s a chance to help shape the policy before it ever hits the floor of the House. And if you are feeling particularly brave or maybe a slightly sacrificial lamb, depending on your perspective on it, you could always run. Because we do need people who care desperately about our democracy to be stepping forward and taking part in an active role. I guess I would just like to conclude by saying we have this incredible, incredible right that so many in the world do not, we should be championing it and celebrating it and we should be acting on it every single day. Thank you. [Applause]

Maurice Vega

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