Hope Is Better Than Fear is a newly released eBook about Jack Layton’s legacy. Contributors to the book volunteered their time and effort and Random House of Canada Limited is donating the net proceeds from the sale of the eBook to two charities, as designated by Jack Layton’s widow, MP Olivia Chow: the university and college bursaries and scholarships program of the National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation and Shannen’s Dream, named in honour of Shannen Koostachin and dedicated to continuing her fight for equal school rights for First Nations children.
In this excerpt from the book, Jane Doe reflects on late NDP leader Jack Layton’s work to further feminist goals.
1991: Layton co-founds the White Ribbon Campaign: Working to End Violence Against Women. It now operates in more than sixty countries.
1992: Layton offers to put his house up as collateral for a loan to provide financial assistance to the White Ribbon Campaign.
Jack of Our Hearts by Jane Doe
Feminist! There I’ve said it: Jack Layton was a feminist and he liked it. He understood feminism as a social justice movement central to economic and cultural equality and he understood the crucial value of feminism’s community grassroots. Throughout his life as an activist and politician, Jack worked with women like me to further feminist goals. I met him shortly after I was sexually assaulted in 1986, when he was a newbie Toronto city councillor. He agreed to attend a media conference I arranged to call attention to police discrimination and negligence in their investigation of that crime, and to alert women to the serial rapist in their downtown neighbourhood. Jack created numerous openings for me in the protracted battle that ensued, even stepping down from his seat on a panel about rape so that I might speak in his stead. In that one act he demonstrated what was most unique about him politically — his ability to realize what he did not know and to seek understanding and expertise from individuals and communities who did, and then form an alliance with them.
And there was more: when activists decided it was important that only women took part in candlelit Take Back the Night marches, Jack did child care at the Toronto Rape Crisis Centre so mothers could march; he supported the work of Women Against Racist Policing; he stood with us on the steps of the Morgentaler Clinic on Harbord Street in downtown Toronto; he campaigned for pay equity and the rights of disabled women. Jack was the guy you could call and say, What the fuck is going on? and instead of getting defensive, he would come to the meeting. I always saw him as an intermediary between government and the people who, like so many of us located in community, worked as change agents. But he did it from government. Jack made the political personal, made us forget our fears and reminded us of our goodness. In his life and in his death he raised us up with hope.
But let’s not consecrate him — or hope.
Personally, I’m hoping for some outrage that he appears to be the only politician in Canada who could function as he did. And some in rage that despite what Jack represented, the majority of Canadians consistently vote against it at ballot boxes federally and in most of our provinces and cities. How about some plain and fortifying rage that a Conference Board of Canada study released in August 2011 shows that women’s advancement to the top echelons of business came to a dead halt in the 1980s [and] has been stalled ever since, iii or that research conducted in 2010 by the federal Conservative government shows that working women earn only 71.4 percent what their male counterparts earn.
What about some hope and fear because there are things women need to be really afraid of on present and emerging political fronts. In particular, if we are poor and low-income women, seniors, youth, aboriginal, racialized and immigrant women — or the children or husbands and partners of such women. Which adds up to pretty much two thirds of the population. What Jack saw — what he understood and appreciated — is that we, the majority, are organized in our communities and can speak to what needs to be changed and how, what is working and why. He listened to us and he got us partway — there as our elected proxy for diversity, equality and civic engagement.
Jack Layton didn’t wake up one morning and say “Violence against women? White Ribbon Campaign! There — done!” Or “Hey! Daycare! So glad I thought of that!” He took direction from activists and organizers who informed him and taught him, and he used his position to create space to define the systemic problems in our governments. With us he challenged legislation, policies and practices that allow for the violation of women’s equality rights. His was one of the loudest political voices reflecting the demand for democratic rights for LGBTQ individuals. He helped get us out of Afghanistan and into searching for solutions for the environmental crisis. He listened to the workers and the homeless.
I know, St. Jack of Layton, right? But he was not that; he was just a man doing what he could do, should do, not accidentally but strategically in response to community initiatives and with organizers and activists.
He worked with us in order to work for us. He acknowledged the work of people on the front lines of communities, didn’t throw away the T-shirt after the parade, inhaled, and understood the power of civic engagement to effect change. And he did it from the municipal level all the way to the top. He brought our community experts with him, knew where to find us, and in his success, we saw our own.
But Jack did not link arms with all of us all of the time, or please some of us at all. If he stumbled, or erred in trying to make our work his, he took the reprimand. Even more reason that his deeds suddenly feel so large, that the loss of his ability to do seems so stark. It’s Jack’s doings we must build on at a time when so many political players believe they can make deals with us that they have no intention of keeping, pay lip service (if that) to the idea of civic engagement, and dismiss our communities as special interest groups or recently, in Toronto, as a communist.
This excerpt is from Hope Is Better than Fear. Reprinted with permission of Random House of Canada.