Five years ago, after the most painful vote I've ever watched in my life (ahem, pre-Trump), I wrote a post about "perspective" even though I was JUST REALLY MAD AND HAD NO PERSPECTIVE AT ALL..
Tonight, I have perspective. Today, Dr. Ryan Meili became the new leader of the provincial NDP. Which is, turns out, only one of the Very Good Chapter Twos in the stories begun from the loss of that vote five years ago.
I first got to know Ryan on that trip in April 2001, when he got me almost trampled once, almost arrested twice, almost tear gassed a zillion times and actually tear gassed once.
The logical result of that experience was that I've been on Team Meili ever since.
Congratulations, to everyone who worked on that campaign. I hope you guys are having the Best Night Ever of Mammoth Celebration.
Do not let Ryan get you arrested.
The Art of Perspective
Anthony: Eric, you are THE MEANEST PERSON WHO HAS EVER EXISTED!!!
Eric: We need to talk about World War Two.
This week’s disappointing news is that the leader whose campaign I’ve been volunteering with for the last six months lost.
By 44 votes out of more than 8000.
The people who do best with disappointment seem to have a kind of faith about them. They say things like “Well, I don’t know why this happened yet, but the Universe has a reason”, or “Maybe this happened so that something better could happen later”.
I see some evidence for this approach. For example, much as I was unhappy – years ago – to break up with the Bank Robber, the Pot Guy, and That Guy Who Kept Forgetting Who I Was, in the long run I am very happy that those relationships did not end in marriage. That said, I can’t say that all of life’s tragedies turn out for the best. Sometimes the other path was clearly the better one.
I don’t believe it’s true that bad stuff always makes room for better stuff. But that doesn’t make it not a useful idea. Whether or not Option A would have been better is not the point, since it’s not Option A anymore. Options B through infinity still exist, and one will get chosen – intentionally or not.
So, when I’m ready, I ask myself “If this disappointment were a small part of a bigger, better story – how would you tell that story? What would be the next part?”
I’ve been asking myself this question about the leadership race. So what goes in Chapter Two?
It is hard to beat Chapter One, which was the story of breaking all the rules and playing with a deck stacked against us. On one hand, our candidate had most of his roots outside of political life, a platform of “evidence based policy” (great for governing, not so glitzy for campaigning), and an unwavering commitment to politically tricky things like “closing the gap between rich and poor”. He also was deeply committed to a clean, grassroots, and outside the box campaign. On the other hand … he’s somebody that we all believe in deeply, and his vision is one that we are all committed to.
I spent the whole campaign thinking of The Little Engine That Could. Soon, we started leading the fundraising numbers. Then, we brought in wave after wave of new members to the party. We kept taking risks, and they kept working. On the weekend of the big convention, my heart jumped into my throat, then out through my mouth in a series of incoherent but enthusiastic stutters when the result of the first vote came up on the screen. We were leading by four hundred and fifty votes.
There’s a second ballot. Now, it was down to two candidates. Waiting for them to count those votes was the longest hour of my life, and do remember I have birthed two children. Even as they were putting up the final numbers I was re-checking their math in my head… but we were, as someone else put it “on the losing side of a tie”.
As the story of a tragedy, it had everything. I spent days thinking about the things I might have done differently, about all the quirks of chance, and about what might have happened if things had gone the other way. And, of course, I spent time thinking about how I’d tell the story on this blog.
Not the way I just told it to you, that’s for sure.
That story I just told you is all wrong. It was so busy practicing to go in a certain direction… winning the vote, changing policy, changing lives… that it doesn’t know how to shift its focus from the moment of that vote.
Told from farther away, the focus of the story would be much different. The focus wouldn’t be on the vote – it would be on the people.
People like me, tentatively stepping into the world of politics for the first time. Finding it filled with like-minded people, exciting challenges, and meaningful work. The story of our Social Media team, who didn’t fit into traditional methods and structures for campaigning and chose to build from scratch rather than give up their vision. The way that, with every success, there were shifts in knowledge, in confidence, and in perspective.
But mostly, the people we were working for – the ones who are made sick by poverty and who are stifled by unfair systems. Every time one of their stories was told, and recognized – every time we watched how people really are ready to commit to changing the endings of those stories, I became a bit more inspired. Perspectives shifted, and ground was gained.
And that inspiration grounds me now. I didn’t work for Ryan’s campaign, I worked alongside it.
I’ll tell you who I am working for. I am working for a woman who isn’t even pregnant yet, who will one day walk into an ER with a baby who is sick with one of the many things that babies should not – but do – die of in this province. I am working for the teacher who understands that for some of the kids in his class he is the only touchstone in their lives – and who needs the resources to be that touchstone. I am working for the people who feel that our society needs to change but who don’t realize how much power they have in changing it.
In the story of the Long Win, a lot happened in the last six months. The party is different now, and stronger. I hope that the dialogue in the province is improved by that. I have seen first hand how much a small group of inspired and committed people can accomplish. And I know that how I live, what I value, how I spend my time, and what I believe to be possible is different from what it was six months ago.
I don’t believe in a sentient God or Universe that sends us disappointments because it knows that disappointments can be building blocks for something even greater than we’d imagined.
That said, I do believe in the blocks.