Literally seconds after the news of Jack's death hit the stands, Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and all sort of social media channels are filled with tens of thousands -- if not hundreds of thousands -- messages of condolence. There had not been such an outpouring of sympathy and grief since Pierre Trudeau's passing.
It was "getting surreal," lamented Mike Strobbel of the Toronto Sun and others like him, who couldn't stomach why Canadians paid so much respect to a figure frequently reviled by the media as a socialist menace poised to destroy Canada. One Facebook page dedicated to Jack's passing (R.I.P Jack Layton 1950-2011) gained 185,000 followers, while Jack Layton's page itself broke the 190,000 mark.
Canadians from coast to coast have not stopped at sending condolences to Jack's family. They have been making promises to continue his legacy as they envision it, a legacy of courage, hope and optimism. Within a week of Layton's death, $130,000 had been donated by the public to the Ed Broadbent Institute, as requested by the late NDP's family, in his memory. His life and passing has been transformed into an inspiration to continue the struggle for a better world. Social media pages have been littered with not only condolences but also pledges to struggle for a better world.
Jennie Ernewein, 25, vowed on her Facebook page to "push NDP to continue fighting for social justice, against austerity both locally and globally." Jennie has been a member of NDP since she was 19 years old and she is the founding member of the Toronto Young New Democrats (TYND), a city-wide NDP club for Toronto youth. In an interview, she said that she would push the party through democratic process to adopt socialist platform that can offer real alternative to Canadians.
Austerity measures from the Conservative government worried Ernewein the most. She believed the NDP will need to unite, organize, and mobilize against the austerity. She also believed in strengthening international solidarity with the mass movements in Greece, Wisconsin, Egypt, and so on. "Jack has become a symbol of change that dares people to fight back," said Jenny. "The best way to honor his legacy is to continue the struggle. And to quote Jack: ‘Don't let them tell you that it can't be done!'"
Others have renewed their commitment to volunteer for their party.
"I will go door-to-door for the next NDP candidate." (Robert Allnutt)
"I will get involved in October's election in Ontario!" (Hilary Masemann)
"I'm going to offer my volunteer service to Linda Duncan NDP MP Edmonton." (Claire Lewis)
In Saskatoon, Roberta Waldow Fehr, 47, said she would run for the city council to continue Jack's legacy. Waldow Fehr met Layton in person for the first time in a meeting to address the housing crisis in Saskatoon due to the boom in the province. She had, herself, been homeless and couch-surfing, but is now the executive coordinator of Saskatoon Equal Justice for All, and organization that has pushed for rent control.
Waldow Fehr said that she was touched by the care Layton showed to the working class and the homeless and how he felt that we should all be able to have a safe and affordable place to live no matter what your status in life. This inspired her to run for the city council.
"I am using Jack's dream and the legacy of another leader who has inspired me in my journey, Tommy Douglas. I do not want Jack and Tommy's vision to die with them," she said.
There has also been commitments made by those who had been voting for the NDP, and are now deciding to join the party itself.
"I officially joined the N.D.P today, finally, after voting for them my whole life." (Susan Telfer)
"Joined the party for the first time in my life, and sent a letter to my MP's office saying I'm ready to volunteer for whatever needs to be done." (Jesse Staniforth)
"I will re-join the NDP and get involved." (Ruth Warner)
There is no exact figure how many people have joined the NDP after Layton's death, there is no doubt that there must have been a little surge in the NDP membership.
And there are those who were not only inactive in politics but also who had been on the sideline politically. These people see in Layton's death a wakeup call to be more involved.
"I will try and become more involved in politics." (Chantal Nathaniel)
"I am going to get involved in politics in a more concrete way than posting on Facebook." (Vanessa Shaver)
Others simply see it as an inspiration to work harder for a better community and to be more hopeful in their activism.
"Shed my cynicism and work harder at building community and social justice." (Thi Vu)
"I will try to be more of a happy warrior instead of the often peevish, sarcastic cynical warrior I find myself being when all seems lost." (Sian Erith Thomson)
"I will continue on with my social justice work with even more determination." (Eydie Zuk)
Ted Sprague is a labour activist and an independent journalist now based in Ottawa. You can follow his other writings on his blog Red Star Over Asia.
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