Friday, February 11, 2011

Christianity and the Social Crisis

I'm often asked to explain how my political ideology fits in with my religious beliefs. I'll start with a bit of background. When I was very young, my parents were part of a small group of passionate evangelical Christians who left the Church of God in Lloydminster to start a new church called Lloydminster Gospel Fellowship. Today it is the city's most charismatic evangelical church. It belongs to the network of Canadian churches under the banner of the Pentecostal Assemblies Of Canada (PAOC).

I was very involved in that church, particularly during my teenage years and early twenties, roughly from 1997 to 2007. At my most active stage, I was in charge of leading the music there every second Sunday or so. Around 2007, I made a clean break from that church, primarily over its dogma and political leanings (to the right, of course). Most of my family still attends that church today, and a couple of them are staff at the church.

Despite most people's instincts to write off evangelical Christians as being lost forever in a right-wing political wasteland, there is hope. Part of that hope for me comes from history, and another part comes from my own experiences.

Let's take history first. After I got involved with the New Democrats, I began to research the history of the party. As I dug up information on the founders and early leaders of the NDP, I began to discover a recurrent theme; many of them came out of the social gospel movement, which was a social justice-oriented movement within evangelical Christianity. Such figures included J. S. Woodsworth, the first leader of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (the predecessor to the NDP - it existed from around 1930 to 1961, when the NDP was formed) and Tommy Douglas, a Baptist preacher who became the first leader of the federal NDP and "Father of Medicare" in Canada. The movement was also very influential in the United States, where Martin Luther King Jr. took it and applied it to the civil rights movement.

Both Tommy Douglas and Martin Luther King Jr. were inspired by a book called "Christianity and the Social Crisis", written in 1907 by an American preacher named Walter Rauschenbusch. I read the book about 6 months ago, and it is as relevant today as it was when it was first written. The book still inspires some prominent evangelical progressives in North America, including Tony Campolo, founder of the "Red Letter Christians" movement in the United States, and Cornel West, prominent author and professor at Princeton University. The social gospel is not dead.

These progressive evangelical movements tend to be under the radar for almost everyone. The majority of Pentecostal churches in Canada (I can speak from a much more informed perspective about Pentecostal churches than I can about evangelicals as a whole) have a very conservative culture about them. I use the word "culture" for a reason. What most people outside of churches misunderstand is that the large majority of such churches have no coordinated effort to get people out to the polls to vote a particular way or to exert their collective political influence on Parliament. I won't say it doesn't happen, but in the many churches I have attended, I have never seen it done. What does happen is a much more subtle approach in which the church leadership, trained in networks of approved "bible schools" across the country, foster the creation or continuation of a conservative mindset amongst their congregations. The congregations develop a set of conservative values to which conservative politicians often appeal.

Part of what makes progressive politics a difficult thing for many evangelicals to grab a hold of is the culture of ignorance in many churches. I remember sitting in a church service where an active member of the church was sharing some thoughts in front of a couple hundred church members and ended it with a repeated call to "Stop watching CNN!" And it wasn't in the sense that CNN is not the right choice for your news. It was in the sense that you shouldn't care about what is in the news. He had the whole room clapping. I remember another time when I expressed to a long-time church member that I was out to "fix the world." His response was that we don't need to fix the world. Jesus will do that when he returns. I was shocked.

My impression of things is that they are changing, albeit slowly. Over the years since I left the church I was attending, two former pastors who worked there and many people I grew up going to church with (some still attending, some not) have expressed to me their concern with the way a political agenda is spread throughout churches without question. Many more people I know are starting to ask questions. It is a change that I have always seen as inevitable for many (not to downplay the amount of work is required to change things).

I say that because I have never known so much compassion as I knew in that church. Despite my political disagreements with the people around me when I was there, they cared as much or more for the people around them than they did for themselves. Most of them were the types of people who would be heartbroken to see their neighbour without food and would not for a second allow that person to go hungry. The connection that needs to be made is that we now live in a global neighbourhood. That connection is starting to be made. As travel becomes more accessible and connecting with people on the other side of the globe becomes easier and easier, those barriers are starting to be removed. Parents sheltering their children from the "corruption of the world" is no longer as easy as it used to be.

It is time that evangelical Christians began once again to apply the ideals of the social gospel to our society. The focus on individual wealth on the right does not have a monopoly on Christians. In fact, a society where the poor are taken care of and lifted up fits much better into the message of the gospels.

"Let others voice special interests; the minister of Jesus Christ must voice the mind of Jesus Christ. His strength will lie in the high impartiality of moral insight and love to all. But if he really follows the mind of Christ, he will be likely to take the side of the poor in most issues."

- Walter Rauschenbusch, from his 1907 classic, Christianity and the Social Crisis

Monday, February 7, 2011

Where Progressives Belong

I left off my last post saying I would write about why I picked the NDP over any other political party. I'm writing primarily about federal politics on the specifics, though the overarching principles will apply to each of the parties' provincial cousins in Alberta as well (the new Alberta Party falling under the Liberals and the Wildrose falling under the Conservatives).

I'll speak briefly, first, to the Conservatives, though I don't think I need to explain too much here, as there are very obvious contrasts. My mom didn't talk politics much growing up, but it was always obvious to me that my dad was a conservative. Though not overly political, he was very clearly a Reform supporter and still looks back fondly on that party. How I ended up a progressive was not anything to do with any direct political influence from my family. However, the principles of caring for people and being compassionate were clearly given to me from both my family and from the Pentecostal church I grew up in (I'm going to do a future blog about my views on politics and evangelical Christianity). I found those principles most clearly in progressive politics.

Because my principles of compassion were amplified every time I learned about more injustice in the world, I looked for remedies to those injustices as my primary factors in my political ideology. It was obvious to me early on that the conservative ideology lacked those principles. In fact, it was the whole idea of opposing conservatism (or maybe more accurately, neo-conservatism) that got me interested and active in politics. Somehow these people who wanted to solve all the world's problems using violence, cut poor people off of healthcare, and prevent any kind of environmental regulation where people were dying of cancer (to mention only a few things) had gotten into power in my province and country. Someone had to do something about it.

That was why, as I described in my "Political History of Joel" blogs, I initially joined the Liberal Party. I didn't fully explain why I left. A big part of it had to do with the leadership of Michael Ignatieff. When he became the leader of the party I belonged to at the time, I knew many progressives were critical of him. However, I always liked to think for myself, so I wanted to do my own research. I read three of his books ("Virtual War", "The Rights Revolution", and "Empire Lite"), as well as a critical book about him called "Ignatieff's World". I learned about his enthusiasm in supporting the American invasion of Iraq, his support for torture as a way to extract information from prisoners, and his positive judgement on extrajudicial killings, otherwise known as targeted assassinations. I also learned about his views of the United States as a benevolent empire that was using its imperialist tendencies for the good of the planet. After reading all of these things, I knew there was no way I could support this man.

My initial thoughts were that maybe I would remain a dormant member of the Liberal Party and wait until it got a new leader before becoming active again. However, there were two fundamental problems that made me dismiss those thoughts.

The first problem was that I didn't want to be politically dormant. I wanted to be as involved as possible, and I knew I couldn't stick to my morals and campaign for the Liberals under Ignatieff's leadership at the same time. I wanted to do whatever I could as quickly as I could to get the Conservatives out of power, but I would not do it by supporting a party with a morally bankrupt leader.

The second problem was that if a party could pick a leader this bad once, it could certainly do it again. As I learned more about both political history and about other prominent contemporary members of the Liberal Party, I found that they were good at masking their nastier traits. I had theorized that I might have still supported the Liberals if Bob Rae had won the leadership instead of Ignatieff. After that, I learned that the reason Rae had left the NDP for the Liberals was because of its tolerance of what he would call "anti-Israel" rhetoric, which is code for support for the human rights of Palestinians. When Ignatieff essentially took the same position as the Conservatives on Israel's invasion of Lebanon and later its invasion of Gaza, and there was no protest from inside of the Liberal caucus, I knew where the party stood. On the issue of justice for the Palestinians, which was and is my primary issue, the Liberals and Conservatives were on the same page - it was a non-issue.

At the NDP's federal convention in Halifax in the summer of 2009, I attended an early-morning talk by Libby Davies, MP for Vancouver East, and Kim Elliot, publisher of the progressive news site. They had just come from Palestine where they had witnessed the devastation unleashed on Palestinian civilians during Israel's invasion of Gaza. They spoke out clearly in condemnation of it, from a perspective of compassion for the victims. I had never heard a federal politician do such a thing. As I met more and more New Democrats, it seemed that almost all of them were on the same page as Libby (and myself). I began to understand that, on this issue, almost all New Democrats were in line with my position, and almost all Liberals were on the opposite side of my position (there are some exception within the Liberal Party).

Back to my point on Ignatieff being the leader of the Liberals. The Liberal Party is no doubt a party of diverse views and ideologies. Some view that as a good thing. But for someone who wants to be involved in progressive politics, that is a very difficult thing because the Liberal Party's positions on issues can be so unpredictable. Not only do their positions change when their leadership changes, but even leaders change their positions as they go. The first time I heard Michael Ignatieff speak as leader of the Liberal Party, he spoke very clearly in favour of implementing an intensity-based cap and trade system to lower Canada's greenhouse gas emissions (same sort of the plan the Conservatives always talk about). He now talks clearly about a cap and trade system with absolute caps (same sort of plan the NDP has talked about for years). There was no indication as to why he changed his stance. It just happened. The Liberal Party is a party that changes with the wind. It could take a progressive stand one day, but it could very well take the opposite stand the next.

I found with the New Democrats I didn't have to deal with that unpredictability. It has always been very clear to me where the party stands on all of the fundamental issues. Sure, policy evolves and is tweaked, but it is always in line with the principles of fairness for everyone. Corporate income tax cuts, though they may boost the GDP of the country, do not help poor and working-class Canadians. The Liberals have a habit of pushing for them regularly (until recently - Ignatieff is now saying he'll fight an election opposing them). There is a diversity of views within the New Democrats too, but it is among people who all have the same compassionate principles.

I don't want to be part of a party that sways with the wind in order to attain power. I want a consistent, progressive party that I can campaign for and promote with confidence every day of every year. I might not agree with absolutely everything the party says or does, but I can work within this party that shares my values and principles to fight for what I think is right. There are some progressives in the Liberal Party and many progressives outside of the partisan political process, but ultimately we need to be organized and united to realize our greatest potential. That is why the NDP is where progressives belong.

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Political History of Joel - Part 3

It's time to complete the trilogy.

As an ardent anti-Conservative, my goal when I got to Edmonton was to get involved in an election campaign that could get rid of one of the eight Conservative MPs. My first choice was to get involved in a campaign with the Liberals, for a few reasons. First, it was what I knew. I had been working from the Liberal policy book for a while already and was comfortable with what it contained. I also knew the Liberal criticism of the other parties, particularly the Conservatives. And second, as unpopular as it was, I was a big fan of Stephane Dion's "Green Shift" policy of taxing polluters and compensating taxpayers with income tax cuts.

Lastly, I had met Stephane Dion a couple of times, been in a couple meetings with him, and attended a number of townhall meetings where he spoke. I appreciated his willingness to speak to large crowds of people without a teleprompter and to take unscreened questions from these large crowds. Most people don't question his sincerity or kindheartedness. In fact, some say it was due to how "nice" he was that he was unelectable.

The only reasons I could come up with for preferring the Liberals to the NDP were that Jack Layton read his speeches from a teleprompter and that the New Democrats wouldn't support what I thought was a reasonable plan to reduce Canada's greenhouse gas emissions. However, I wasn't put off enough to speak out against the NDP. My goal, again, was to remove Conservatives.

Moving on, I looked at the 2006 federal election results, and it seemed the Edmontonian Liberal who had the best chance of beating a Conservative MP was Jim Wachowich in Edmonton Centre, who was running against one of the most pro-war Conservatives, Laurie Hawn. I e-mailed the campaign indicating my interest in volunteering and detailing my past involvement with the Liberal Party. The 2008 election campaign started a while later though, and I didn't hear back from the Wachowich campaign. I wasn't sure what to do. What should have been the strongest Liberal campaign in the province would not answer my request to help them.

No other Liberal candidate in the area came anywhere close to beating a Conservative MP in 2006. I looked at the past election results again and saw that an NDP candidate named Linda Duncan had come fairly close to beating a Conservative incumbent in the previous election and was running again. I decided to find her campaign office, and when I did, I offered to put in some volunteer time. They signed me up for a shift of phone canvassing right away, and I came back the next week to help out. I only ended up putting in two hours of canvassing time between my busy university schedule and managing Greg Nyholt's campaign in Battlefords-Lloydminster, but that wasn't the last I heard from the New Democrats.

Jim Wachowich's campaign called me about two weeks before election day to ask me about helping them out. I told them I had already committed to Linda Duncan's campaign and that they were too late. On election night, I sat at home hitting the "refresh" button every 15 seconds or so on my internet browser until the full results were in for Edmonton-Strathcona. I was extremely excited when Linda won her seat, despite the overall disappointment of the Conservatives winning another term.

Not only did Linda Duncan win, but her team was efficient. They got back in touch with me again after the election and informed me they were continuing to organize for whenever the next election may be. I went out every time they had any kind of event. It was great to be in a place where progressives could win. I also got to know her campaign manager, Erica, who lived right down the street from me.

I knew Linda had an organization in place that could win (albeit by a small margin). I hadn't done much to help, but I felt I could do a lot more whenever the next election came around. I therefore looked back at the 2008 election results to see who else could beat out a Conservative MP in Edmonton. The next-strongest riding for a non-Conservative was in Edmonton East. The candidate was Ray Martin. I didn't know who Ray was at the time, but I e-mailed the Edmonton East riding association President listed on the federal NDP's website to indicate my interest in meeting with him.

My primary interest in federal politics was justice for the Palestinian people. It was one of the first federal issues I learned about and has remained my primary interest in politics since. So when Ray Martin called me to plan a time to meet for coffee, I told him my main interest was his position on Israel and Palestine. Ray and I met up shortly after that and had coffee for a while. I was impressed that he spoke so candidly about the issue I cared about without fear of the controversial nature of the subject in our political climate. He was not an expert on the issue, but he knew enough to have very clear and strong positions in favour of peace and justice for the Palestinian people. It seemed a rarity in Canadian politics (and still does). At the end of the conversation, I told Ray, despite the fact that I was still a card-carrying Liberal, that I wanted to help him get elected.

Ray put me in touch with his campaign manager, John. John wanted to know what experience I had, so I told him what I had done on the Kucinich campaign and also what I did during the 2008 election. I also told him I was still the sitting Vice President of the Battlefords-Lloydminster Liberal riding association. He told me he would love to have me help plan Ray's election campaign but that I would need to have an NDP membership (and therefore revoke my Liberal membership) before that happened. I understood and told him I would think about it. I wasn't sure yet if I wanted to formally jump ships.

It was the summer of 2009 when I got an e-mail from Erica, Linda Duncan's campaign manager. She said they were looking for a youth delegate to send to the NDP's federal convention in Halifax in August, and she was wondering if I wanted to go. I got very excited, particularly after I found out they would provide me with much support to get there. That night, sitting on my laptop in the U of A Students' Union Building, I e-mailed the Liberal Party, indicating that I was ceasing my monthly donation to the party and canceling my membership. I e-mailed the President of the Battlefords-Lloydminster Liberal riding association, telling him I was stepping down. I signed up for an NDP membership on the party's website. I signed up as a delegate on the party's federal convention website. And I booked myself a round-trip flight to Halifax for the convention. Finally, I e-mailed John and told him I wanted to start getting involved in Ray's election campaign, now that I had my membership.

In Halifax was where I met many very active New Democrats from Edmonton, including the former Leader of Alberta's NDP, Raj Pannu, and the current Leader, Brian Mason. I also learned a lot about how policy is made and changed in the party. I was surprised about how clear, transparent, and democratic the process was. The policy resolutions were debated on the floor where any of the 1400 or so delegates could express their thoughts to every else in the room before everyone voted on them. It excited me that I could see all of this happen in person, especially being brand new to the party. I also met some New Democrats who went to school at the U of A, and I really pushed the idea that we should make the campus a priority for the party. It didn't seem like any of the political clubs there were very active.

On my flight home, I had a layover in the airport in Montreal. As I got off the plane, I ran into Brian Mason again. He and I had the same layover and were waiting for the same plane. We had a bit of time, so he offered to buy me supper at one of the pubs in the airport. I was so impressed by how he was willing to sit down with me one on one after only meeting me once. We both talked about our past and I talked to him about my foreign policy interests. To my surprise, we were very much on the same page on those matters.

When I got back to Edmonton, I re-started the U of A Campus NDP, becoming its President and recruiting some active members and many interested students in the first week. I also attended the Alberta NDP convention in Edmonton about a month later, despite my lack of interest to that point in provincial politics. It was at that convention I started to get interested in provincial issues, including health care and the environment. Because I saw the environment as the most important provincial issue at the time, I attended the AGM of the Alberta NDP's Environment Caucus. There weren't many people at the meeting, and one of the co-chairs of the group was moving away. After expressing my personal concerns about the environment to the group assembled, they encouraged me to take on the position of co-chair, which would also put me on the provincial executive of the party. I was a little unsure about it, but I agreed to do it.

Since that rollercoaster of a start in the NDP, it has become much more clear to me why I belong in this party and not any other. Even though it was due to a number of circumstances that could very well have gone another way, I feel that I would have ended up in this party eventually anyway. There is no other party that holds my values like the New Democrats, and most of the active individuals involved in the party dedicate themselves to it for the greater good of people around them. This is pretty much the end of my "political history", but I'll detail further in my next post what things have solidified my sense of belonging in the NDP, as opposed to any other political party.

Peace. ;)

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Political History of Joel - Part 2

I left off the previous part without fully explaining my membership in the federal Liberal Party. Looking back, I was always more progressive than the Liberal Party tends to be. However, I was living in Lloydminster, which is seemingly a political wasteland for anyone other than Conservatives. The progressives that do exist there tend to keep quiet and disorganized. The general culture in the city is quite apolitical. My letters to the editor were often printed in both local papers. There is a shortage of political discourse of any stripe there.

My choice of political party, then, was reliant on what I saw as the big picture. I saw the Liberal Party as being likely to form government again soon, since they were in power more often than not. They were second only to the Conservatives, and after all, I was not a partisan person. I was simply an anti-Conservative. Shortly after I bought my membership, the Battlefords-Lloydminster Liberal riding association got in touch with me and informed me of the nomination meeting that was happening in North Battleford. The candidate was a farmer named Greg Nyholt. The guest speaker that night was Ralph Goodale. It was the first time I had ever seen a Member of Parliament in person (which is telling of the 2 Conservative MPs, Gerry Ritz and Leon Benoit, who represent Lloydminster). Ralph came into the room and shook every hand, greeting everyone. There wasn't a big turnout, maybe 25 people, but it was the most political room I had ever been in in my home country.

Not too long after that meeting, I was informed of regular meetings the riding association was holding in North Battleford. I would drive up there from Lloydminster once ever month or two to meet with the 10 or 15 Liberals who were active in the riding. I got to know the candidate, Greg, a little bit after a while and we had many political discussions. I was probably the most excited person to be there at every meeting, probably more out of naivety than anything. But I was excited nonetheless and quite ambitious. Shortly thereafter, I became the Vice President of that riding association.

It was around this same time that the Democratic Presidential primary campaigns started in the United States. I don't think I had even heard of any of the candidates when the debates started, save for Hillary Clinton, of course. I decide to watch the debates very closely and even took notes during each of them. There were many candidates at the beginning (eight, I think). The front-runners were identified as Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John Edwards. Clinton seemed slimy from the start. Obama and Edwards seemed okay but were still clearly products of the big-money American political system. The only voice in the debates that really resonated with me was that of Congressman Dennis Kucinich from Ohio. I watched him closely and began following his campaign online.

Dennis was the only candidate calling for an immediate pull-out from both Afghanistan and Iraq, universal single-payer health care, just positions on the Middle East, among other things. These were all positions the other candidates seemed afraid to touch. When I saw a MySpace bulletin (remember MySpace!?) from the Kucinich campaign calling for interns to apply for positions on the campaign, I got excited. I was working full-time for my dad at the time, at his pet store in Lloydminster. It was late-November, approaching the busiest retail season of the year. It was therefore with a mix of shock, excitement, and worry that I read an e-mail message from a Kucinich campaign intern named Sanjay telling me to fly out to New Hampshire as soon as I could. I sheepishly approach my dad and told him what I had done. To my surprise, he saw the opportunity as one I could not pass up. It would be a real chance for me to be involved in politics, and he knew that was what I wanted. Thanks to my dad, I was on a plane to Manchester, New Hampshire, about a week later.

I worked on the Kucinich campaign for a full month in the cities of Manchester, Concord, and Keene. I got a lot of experience there doorknocking and talking to voters about their political views. I helped to set up two campaign offices in the state. I was put in charge of coordinating volunteers to go out doorknocking towards the end of the campaign. I also got to meet actual progressive Americans (not the Obama cheerleader types you see on the news) from all over the country who had come to New Hampshire to work on the campaign. All of the other interns were studying politics at universities all over the United States. It was that experience that made me want to study politics at the University of Alberta when I returned to Canada. The Kucinich campaign, in the world of American corporate politics, got 1% of the vote on primary day. But I had no regrets; the campaign had changed the way I looked at politics and altered the course of my life.

When I got back to Canada, Greg Nyholt asked me to be his campaign manager. The one he had lined up when he decided to run, Ryan Bater, had just come out of the 2007 Saskatchewan provincial election where he had run for MLA. He had lost the race but decided to seek the leadership of the Saskatchewan Liberals after the party's leader failed to win a seat. Ryan now leads the party.

All I really knew about campaigns was what I had learned in New Hampshire, but that seemed to be more experience than anyone else who came to the meetings could offer. I think they were all happy to see someone outside their usual circle get involved. And I was happy to be a part of any political circle. However, I had applied for university and was starting in September of 2008, so I moved to Edmonton before the 2008 federal election campaign even started. I would end up managing the campaign from my basement suite in Edmonton, to the extent that can be done, and making a few trips to the Battlefords during the campaign period. Getting involved in a federal election campaign in Edmonton proved more difficult than I had anticipated and would lead to me making a major shift in my political activities from then on.

But this is getting kind of long again, so I'm going to turn this story into a trilogy. Part 3 to come soon...

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Political History of Joel - Part 1

In the beginning...

Just kidding! Okay, I just got back a few days ago from the Alberta Federation of Labour's week-long school where I was asked by a number of people about how I got to where I am today in politics. I think something we in the political world need to do more is to tell our stories. There are so many people who I think don't understand how personal it can be for many of us. Not all of us were born into political life.

Anyway, on with the story (sorry, it's a long one - I'll do it in two parts):

The furthest I can trace back any significant interest I had in politics is September 11, 2001. I was just beginning my last year of high school. I was on the school bus on my way into Lloydminster from my family's acreage 5 miles north of the city when I heard on the radio that the World Trade Centre in New York had been hit by an airplane. I had no idea at the time what a World Trade Centre was. I got to school where my first class happened to be Mrs. Lang's history class. We watched the towers fall over and over for the full hour. I kept hearing the reporter on the television talking about al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden and a bunch of other people I had never heard of. I did not understand why anyone from as far away as Afghanistan would want to do something like this to people far, far away in the United States. But I didn't like not knowing. I always got good marks in school. I prided myself in being informed, but I had no explanation for this. So I figured I should find out.

It took me a couple of years, but I slowly began reading books borrowed from the Lloydminster Public Library and purchased at the local bookstore, as well as watching online documentaries and reading the news. My search for insight into 9/11 got my deeply interested in the US political system, so that's where I directed my energies. When the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, I was appalled. I was thoroughly impressed that Jean Chretien had decided Canada would not participate in the invasion, much to the chagrin of the conservative twins: Stephen Harper and Stockwell Day.

I don't think I really understood much of the early reading I did, but a popular documentary came out in 2003 that explained 9/11 and the US invasion of Iraq in terms I understood quite easily. I had watched the trailer for Michael Moore's film Fahrenheit 9/11 a number of times and couldn't wait for an opportunity to see it. However, I doubted it would come to Lloydminster. I was playing bass guitar at a bible camp near Prince Albert, SK, that summer, and after the week was over, the other band members and I drove into Prince Albert to go to a movie theatre. I don't recall what movie everyone else wanted to see, but I remember that they went to see it and I went by myself to see Fahrenheit 9/11. It was everything I had hoped for and piqued my interest even more than before.

The next major political event I can remember is the 2004 US Presidential election. I didn't know much about John Kerry, but I knew I preferred him to George W. Bush. And it was for this reason that I was shocked to hear from the pastor of my church at the time that he had been talking to one of his preacher friends in the United States who told him the country would be set back 20 years if they elected John Kerry instead of re-electing Bush. That made me start questioning my religious beliefs, but that's a story for another day. I didn't think there was any way the American people could re-elect such a terrible President as Bush. I guess I was wrong.

It was sometime shortly after that I began reading and listening to materials from Noam Chomsky. The first book I ever bought of his was Profit Over People. Flipping through the book now, I think most of what I read in the book went straight over my head. But the interviews with him I listened to, particularly one he did in 2002 with Evan Solomon on CBC, were much more palatable because they catered to people as ignorant as I was. The CBC interview that I was listening to over and over talked about the criminality of the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, as well as a big chunk on what US support for the Israeli government was doing to the Palestinians. It was the first I ever really heard about that issue, but it has been one close to my heart ever since.

I don't remember the 2006 Canadian federal election very well, but I do remember being interested in the Liberal Party choosing a new leader to run against the terrible Prime Minister we had just elected. I couldn't believe we elected the man who wanted us to invade Iraq. I wanted to do my part to see the next election turned out differently. In the lead-up to the Liberal leadership convention, I purchased my first party membership to the Liberal Party of Canada. I didn't realize at the time the obstacles placed in the way of most of the party membership actually choosing who the leader is, but I was just happy to feel "included" in some way. It was at that convention Stephane Dion became the Liberal leader.


To be continued...