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...

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