Admittedly, I was heartbroken last fall when one of my favourite Canadian politicians was defeated by Rob Ford to become the mayor of Canada’s largest city.
Rob Ford stood for everything I did not.
His record, both in the way he spoke and in the way he voted, proved that Toronto’s next mayor was ready to declare war on the poor, the homosexuals, the cyclists, the immigrants, and anyone else deemed to be at the margins of his socially conservative agenda.
I could not believe (and still cannot) that the good people of Toronto, collectively, voted in a man that was the antithesis of the progressive, diverse, and vibrant Toronto that I have grown to love.
I was furious then. Today, I am thankful.
Hear me out.
I am part of a generation that is relentlessly labelled as lazy, withdrawn from politics, and detached from movements of social justice. Supposedly, we are the “Ungrateful Generation”.
This could not be further from the truth.
What the election of Rob Ford has done, at least in the circles I run in, is rejuvenate a sense of awareness in citizens who for a long time took their rights and privileges for granted.
Last month, Toronto celebrated Pride, and the gay and lesbian community, for the first time in a long time, was mayor-less for all of it. Not once did Toronto’s new mayor show up to an event, cut a ribbon, raise a flag, or march in any of the parades.
This year’s Toronto Pride was my fifth in a row, and I have never seen a community (the “Ungrateful Generation” included) be so politically engaged and aware that something just wasn’t right.
Everywhere you looked, “Fuck Ford” t-shirts were worn and signs were being held up reading: “Stop the Ford cuts”. For the first time in my lifetime, I was finally witnessing a Pride that was more political than corporate.
Today, as I was walking my dog at Allen Gardens in downtown Toronto, a group of cyclists gathered. Then, came another group. And then more. In a matter of minutes approximately 1,000 bicyclists and supporters gathered to protest Mayor Ford and his council’s decision to rip the bike lanes out of Jarvis Street.
Agree or disagree, car driver or cyclist, Ford supporter or not, Liberal or Conservative, one thing was certain: one man has been able to get Torontonians pissed off enough to organize a large protest on one of the hottest days of the summer.
As I sat and watched the scene develop, and the speeches take place, there was a slogan that was uttered several times during the bike protest.
That slogan was: “Ford Nation, meet bike nation!” That is powerful stuff, folks.
So, I stayed. I clapped and cheered along with the crowd.
As the cyclists rode by, I decided to stand on the sidewalk hoping my presence would signal my show of support. As I looked at the crowd I noticed there were mothers, and seniors. There were city councillors and media personnel. There were hipsters too. But, for the most part the audience was made up of twenty-something individuals who believed they were fighting for a just cause.
They too donned t-shirts and signs. All of them were anti-Ford. They honked their bike horns, protested peacefully and legally, and did it all with smiles on their faces.
Tonight, I learned two things.
Firstly, considering the amount of civic engagement and the size and intensity of protests I have witnessed in the past several weeks, politically-speaking, the election of Rob Ford is perhaps the best thing that could have happened to the City of Toronto.
Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, the “Ungrateful Generation” has finally (if it was not already) been awakened.