Wednesday, October 26, 2011

My year of living civically

I wonder if Canadian data would be similar?
When your source of employment evaporates, almost overnight,  what would you do?

In August 2010 that choice was put before me.

So I strapped on my boots, printed up a few business cards, and headed out.

Part of my motivation was the ole' networking thing.  Maybe something or someone would turn up that could offer me employment or at least some contract work.  But, to be truthful, a much larger part of myself was excited at the prospect of just getting out there.  Being involved.  Being aware.  Being engaged with the citizens of my community in a way that I was deprived of for most of the past 12 years living in the city.

I moved to Toronto from a community where I was actively involved during most of my adult (post undergraduate) life there.  I was on the board of the community band.  I volunteered at my child's preschool.  I was on the board of the food cooperative.  I started exploring alternative community based groups such as a local bartering system.  I got involved in a fledgling political party.

When I moved to Toronto my life went into a kind of warp drive of frenzied employment search and then the life of teaching seemed to suck the soul right out of me.  Couple that with a diminishing physical ability due to a degenerative illness (undiagnosed for years) and a lack of child care options led to a huge gaping void in my life that I was unaware of until last year when the option to renew this core part of my life was put before me.

My first civic minded involvement came early.  I recall launching a class endeavour in grade 3/4 (I did both grades in one year).  We staged the Wizard of Oz for a performance to the the younger grades with minimal help from our teacher.  Years later, in middle school, our catholic school religion department became infested with hippies and my life as a protestor started in earnest.  I recall signing my first petition and proudly wearing my first protest button in the late 70s (the boycott Nestle movement).  I attended an anti-nuclear protest shortly afterwards. Besides being roped into a pro-life march or two, the civic engagement training provided by my religion (hippie) teachers throughout middle school and high school was most informative and taught me the importance of being civically aware AND involved.

So, after almost 12 years being trapped in my own home due to unavoidable circumstances, my sudden and unplanned state of unemployment was like a gift.  My life literally opened up.  My child, now old enough to feed herself occasionally and also quite active with her own teenage social life, no longer needed me around and my time was like a blank slate.

So I got out there.  I had already been dabbling a bit with the Toronto Food Movement and had spent a year on the board of one of the food co-ops.  I had petitioned my councillor about urban chickens.  I had attended a few local food policy events.  So that was my starting point.  The fall of 2010 also had a municipal election so I became aware of my local issues and joined the only local resident's association (which isn't very local).  I jumped into the spring 2011 federal election by volunteering to be a campaign manager.  I was a founding organizer of a local arts festival.  I volunteered for three different food organizations.

I figure that in one brief year I managed to cram in about 5 years of community involvement.  Not one job offer but a wealth of experience was gained.

I've learned that politicians can be slimey.  Even the ones that purport to be your friends (my local councillor has recently blocked me on facebook and so did his provincially elected father, I have supported both of these men so the blocking is rather puzzling and irritating since I no longer have access to community information).

I've learned that young people make up the backbone of the food movement which startles me (a bit) since they are not the ones actually feeding the next generation, yet.   My own food awareness was basically launched the day I gave birth so perhaps that clouds my judgment.  I do believe there should be more representation from people actually feeding families and perhaps events should be orchestrated to facilitate this.

I've learned that most people are on a payroll of some sort when they are civically engaged which means that there is always an ulterior motive and/or agenda.

I've learned that volunteers might be recognized but they will never be given more than a terse thank-you.  I've also learned that most volunteer jobs should be paid employment - and that especially is applicable to the alarming rate of growth of the Canadian internship industry.  And many perpetual volunteers are unpaid women in my general age range.  Male volunteers/organizers [unpaid] are few and far between.  They tend to get paid for their civically engaged gigs - maybe not directly but in the form of future speaking gigs or book sales which are promoted at the volunteer gig.  I've also learned that stating this fact does not make one very popular.

After my month pseudo-unplugged I decided to reign in my civic involvement.  I've beefed up my resume a bit with these experiences and I have no regrets.  I've met some very interesting people and look forward to watching some of their personal endeavours blossom.  And I suspect that this past year will act as a bit of a reboot for the rest of my life since I don't think I will ever let my civically minded inner champion disappear like that least not without one helluva fight.

1 comment:

  1. Yes, the (un)hidden agenda of most volunteers. I've met very few without one. And even then, it can be escaping a negative home environment, or a desire for some/any kind of recognition, the awards placed on the sideboard or wall to be admired:
    See I exist.
    Not necessarily financially motivated.
    Quite a learning curve for you.


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