What's in a name?: from 'Free the Children to 'WE'

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Craig Kielburger. Image: ThatSiavash/Flickr

What's in that name? It sounds like the crucial moment for the Kielburger brothers came in 2016, when they changed their organization's name from Free the Children to WE Charity. Free the Children was earnest and urgent; it reflected the burning concern of the 12-year-old (Craig) who started it. It was action-focused, potentially reckless, and highly moral, even moralistic.

WE is vague, self-absorbed verging on self-indulgent, and unthreatening to anything or anyone. It sounds corporate, like Exxon, Alphabet, or the Canadian Auto Workers (so concrete) becoming the abstract UNIFOR. It reflects a tectonic shift in who they think they are, their task, and approach. Hence the explosion of inhuman jargon in response to criticism of, say, bullying: "It would be an inaccurate representation to use anecdotal information of a very small number of anonymous individuals to reflect WE Charity's workplace culture." Hard to pack more PR into one sentence, and the boys took the same mewling, self-pitying, passive-aggressive tone at the House finance committee.

It's a way of saying to big donors, public and private: Nothing to fear here, we're more about brand than action. Now give us some money.

I also want to wax apoplectic on the inclusion of Charity in the moniker. Of course you must qualify as a charity to get appropriate tax benefits, but that doesn't mean you need to slap it across your forehead. United Way isn't United Way Charities. What "charity" always establishes is a moral hierarchy. You know who's on top. It flatters and spotlights, as WE came to do, the donors. It's a Western version of caste.

Finally, a word of empathy about the voters' dilemma. Justin's government hasn't delivered much (pot and USMCA, if you care). But in my opinion it's been outstanding in its economic response to COVID-19. It poured money to people in real need, while ignoring taboos about austerity, deficits, and so on, all of which involved hapless minister Morneau. So do you stick with them despite their stupid crush on the Kielburgers, or spank them to make a point about principles?

These are insoluble quandaries. The versions we have of rule of law or democracy are so minimal and ridden with contradictions, that it hardly seems worth dumping individuals if it means material losses to real people -- especially if the next batch of leaders will almost certainly do the same. Yet there's also a point in not letting the principles slip entirely from sight.

What's poignant, in Justin's case, is you just know -- without a frisson of doubt -- that he'll do it again if he stays. Your guess is as good or bad as mine.

Buffalo, poor Buffalo. Count me onside for the reopening of sports. I've often tried to fathom its grip, but never in terms of sheer mental health. If you're going to justify reopening the schools for the sake of sanity, sports surely also gets a pass. I know sane, wise people who are driven to the brink by politics (because they're sane and wise, precisely) but take refuge in sports.

Following your team can be maddening, but it's less bottomless than the labyrinths of politics or family. It rewards merit, more or less, and somehow never quite extinguishes hope. Since the resurrection, I've found myself watching exhibition games and scrimmages. Why? It's live, it's sports and you don't know what's going to happen! I even stuck with the Jays' maddening late-inning loss to Washington, and didn't feel I'd just squandered a chunk of life.

In the midst of this, spare a thought for Buffalo. It once overshadowed us, it glimmered on our horizon, we yearned for its sophistication. Night clubs! Shopping! Then, Toronto vaulted past it. It became (curses!) our minor league outpost. They had the Bills and Sabres but still -- Toronto's farm team?

Fate seemed to grant it some MLB games when our border was closed to U.S. teams. But the Jays treated it scornfully, delayed playing there, and now the whole season may be done. If fate were kind, which it's not, it would defer the final debacle until Buffalo at least tasted a moment of its former ascendancy.

Rick Salutin writes about current affairs and politics. This column was first published in the Toronto Star.

Image: ThatSiavash/Flickr

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