I have a confession to make. Even though electoral politics in thiscountry are not perfect and no political party totally reflects mybeliefs, I voted in the last election. And what’s more I actually ran as acandidate. I can just hear the collective gasps of Chicken Little progressives across Canada as they read these words. The hard cold truthof the matter is that the formal political system does matter, and it ispossible to create positive change from within.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe choosing to abstain from the voting processis a valid political expression, just as valid as my choice to mark an X.And I completely understand the frustration people feel with politics andpoliticians. But the same frustration that pushes others away from thesystem drives me to participate.

Part of the problem with capital “P” politics is widespreadmisunderstanding of the roles and operations of political institutions.Meaningful social change comes not from the mechanisms of the electoralsystem, nor from the operations of any political party. It never has, andno amount of democratic reform will ever change that.

Change happensbecause people demand it. Distasteful as the term may be, politics ismarket-driven. Every action of government comes as a direct result of thepolitical activities undertaken by a group of committed individuals.Political parties are merely tools for social change. The only question iswhose agenda will be put forward and what kind of social change will weget.

I am a card-carrying member of the NDP. I do not agree with everyposition my party or my leader takes, but I do believe the NDP is thebest political tool for me to build the kind of Canada that I want.

Somesay that all political parties are the same. For the most part I wouldagree with that statement. All political parties operate in a similarmanner, and exist for the same general purpose. The difference isn’t inthe name of the party or even in the leader. No, the true difference liesin the membership of parties. What makes the NDP different from theLiberals and Conservatives is the fact that I, and many others withbeliefs similar to the ones I hold, are members.

Long story short: political parties don’t effect change, people do.

Over the past 20 years we have seen large interests monopolize theglobal political discourse. Reaganomics, globalization and the CommonSense Revolution are not some natural by-product of human civilization.They represent ideas from the right-wing agenda successfully translatedinto practice by those holding the reins of power. I highly doubt MikeHarris and Brian Mulroney were overly concerned about the people who chosenot to vote while they implemented their regressive policies. In fact,I’m sure they would have been very happy to see more progressive peoplewalk away from the formal political system.

Alternatively, medicare, the Canada Pension Plan and unemploymentinsurance came to exist in a political environment where the less affluentpresented a strong unified voice. The only reason we have any of thesocial programs that have come to be taken for granted in the country isbecause average Canadians demanded them and were willing to use theirvote to get them. If you think medicare would have started in Saskatchewanwithout thousands of frustrated citizens voting for the CCF, you shouldgive your head a shake.

Clearly things aren’t perfect. But have they ever been? Will they ever be?Would ignoring the formal political system make things better? The answeris no. Someone is going to be elected, and someone is going to makedecisions on our behalf. Even if the party you vote for is elected it’snot going to do all the things you want it to. The very notion seems achildish dream at best. Deal with it. Real change doesn’t happenovernight, and if it does it doesn’t last very long.

If the left couldlearn one thing from the right, it is the virtue of patience.Globalization and the rise of the corporate agenda had been in the worksfor decades. Slowly but surely the paradigm shifted, and thisallowed for such travesties as NAFTA and the Harris government.

If youlook hard enough you can see the paradigm still shifting. We can seeit in health care. The people who push the corporate agenda had been hard at work even before1995 when Paul Martin made the largest cuts to health-care spending inCanadian history. Underfunding has created a “useful crisis;” it hasstarted to shake the public’s confidence in our system. Next we have mediareport after media report of failures in the system — front-page articlesabout the 85-year-old woman waiting to long for her new hip. Meanwhile,hundreds of people have their lives saved daily by procedures for whichthey couldn’t possibly pay. And now we have right-wing think-tanks andneo-liberal political leaders offering innovations — read privatization. Ifanyone thinks that not voting is going to help protect medicare, then theydeserve to lose it.

It’s easy to be disgusted with the state of politics; I think mostinformed people are. But not voting is basically accepting serfdom.Whether we like it or not, change happens. We can make it happen, or wecan let it happen to us.

I have run in two federal elections and currentlysit as an elected member of Selkirk City Council because I know politicscan be about hope. I am 26 years old. I grew up in social housing becausemy parents had nothing — social housing that an NDP government built. Iworked two jobs to pay for my university education that would have cost muchmore had it not been for an NDP government rolling back tuition by 10 per cent andthen freezing it.

As a member of a local government I am working on aproject that will see the construction of new affordable housing units inmy community. I am working hard on a project to see the creation ofSelkirk’s first public transit system. While it’s easier to lump allpoliticians and political parties together the reality is, there’s adifference and we have a choice.

And just for the record, the sky is not falling.