More ideas we need now
On the occasion of our 40th birthday, This Magazine asked past and present contributors—and some distinguished guests—for a big idea whose time has come. We printed 40 in the magazine, but the response was so enthusiastic we decided to publish several more on the web only. Enjoy! (Illustration by Graham Roumieu)
Early childhood education
For Canada and the world, the next big idea is based on something very, very small—the smallest members of our society, tiny children. In their earliest years, children absorb so much, and are alive to everything. They are wellsprings of creativity, as they see the world afresh—wellsprings of new and great ideas. Yet, as a society, we do little to cultivate these ideas—we invest next to nothing in the smallest children. Early learning—where we have the greatest opportunity to do the most good—is ignored by the federal government.
Early learning and child care—affordable, accessible, universal and high quality—is an idea whose time has come in Canada. The NDP has been fighting for our Early Learning and Child care Act in Parliament, to enshrine this in legislation—making it a cornerstone of our country, along with the Canada Health Act. By investing in children, we invest in the future. By thinking small, we can unleash a whole generation of big ideas. Think about it…
I hold a vision of this blue-green planet, safe and in balance. I see a peaceful world in which our species, Homo sapiens, finally comes to terms with the reality that all of our survival depends upon abandoning conflict, working for peace, sharing what we have and living within our ecological means. In other words, I believe humanity is on the verge of growing up.
We have evolved before. We were once hairless apes on a vast savannah. No remarkable teeth or claws; no scaly armor; humanity survived through co-operation and sharing.
We learned. It was less than two centuries ago that we abolished slavery in North America, a century ago that child labour was banned. It was less than a century ago that women got the vote. Admittedly appalling practices still persist, but humanity evolves.
Now, we, at the end of the Fossil Fuel Era, are emerging to a new reality. We are ready to make the next leap—as momentous as abolishing slavery or giving women the vote. We are ready to make the fundamental shifts that allow us to live in balance with our life support systems, respecting each other, achieving social and economic justice, peace and democracy.
We are ready to grasp the future. The idea whose time has come will not be denied. It is time to recognize that having more can never replace being more. We can embrace the idea that this planet is our only home. We can accept the idea that we should treat this planet as if we planned to stay.
The story of the controlling parents who deny their children the opportunity of becoming well-rounded adults perfectly describes the position cities find themselves in Canada. The so-called adults, the provincial and federal governments, have so much money at their disposal that they cut taxes while disowning parental responsibilities for economic redistribution, affordable housing, and infrastructure. When some city mayors squeak about the need for more financial resources the senior government leaders scowl in disapproval or look away.
Cities need to find their way out of this straitjacket. They need wide legislation which gives them responsibility over a broad range of issues—affordable housing, social security, public transit, immigrant settlement—and the direct access to tax bases which provide the revenue stream needed to pay for these programs. Cities are now limited to raising revenue from property taxes, with no access to the big sources of money today—sales and income taxes—and that must change. Revenue sharing with senior governments works no better than in any other parent/child relationship. Cities need to have the ability to be responsible for their own fate.
How the change will be made? Senior governments have no interest in giving up their sources of income or power, since they don’t want to be confronted by political competition at the city level. But economic, cultural and social innovation is now occurring at the city level. If cities aren’t empowered soon, they will rebel and the mess will be considerable. City empowerment is an idea whose time has come, the sooner the better.
I can keep my anarchist leanings and still be Christian. After all, Jesus taught us not to subordinate each other.
And my anti-globalization attitude? It’s a Buddhist view that we’re all connected. My becoming vegetarian, my bias for human-powered transport, and my attempt at solidarity with those at the bottom—these are all expressions of my religion.
I am not alone. I see monks resisting Wal-Mart, churches going green, Christian Peacemaker Teams refusing to leave Iraq, and churches boycotting the Israeli military.
It’s time we untangle the narrative of faith from the fundamentalists, pious self-helpers and religio-profiteers. Let’s blaspheme the gods of super-powerdom and instigate spiritual action campaigns.
Like Buy Nothing Christmas, for example, where people of faith celebrate generosity and grace without placating the gods of materialism (see buynothingchristmas.org).
The Nellie Bly Ban
Nellie Bly, a crusading female journalist in the late 19th century, achieved instant fame after she succeeded in getting herself committed to the New York’s Women’s Lunatic Asylum. Her published report of the appalling conditions led to a grand jury investigation, which in turn prompted substantial improvements at the asylum.
In this century, to offer two prominent examples, George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London chronicled the years he spent in self-imposed destitution, and Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed, published in 2001, could have been subtitled “Down and Out in Low-Wage America.” Ehrenreich worked as a salesclerk, house cleaner, waitress and other bottom-level jobs and struggled to live on her earnings. The resulting book was a major seller and a serious conscious-tweaker.
Recently, The Globe and Mail’s Jan Wong emulated Ehrenreich by spending a month working for a maid service and living with her two good-sport sons in the cramped basement apartment she could afford on her earnings. Of her resulting series she said, “[P]art of the role of journalists in a democracy is to speak for those who can’t speak for themselves.”
Maybe that was the motivation of her colleague Margaret Wente, the proud SUV-driving Globe columnist who subjected herself to a week of TTC riding earlier this year. Her insights on behalf of the voiceless included, “[One] reason I miss the car: It’s a giant purse. It lets you carry all your stuff around with you.” And “[S]hopping is pretty much impossible without a car. You can forget about those 32-roll packs of toilet paper.”
Nellie Bly would not be amused. Hence the Nellie Bly Ban. Ix-nay on any more frivolous undercover escapades. No “Dog-tired: My week as pet groomer.” Definitely no “Arugula angst: I had to do all my shopping at No-Frills.” “Life in the land that latte forgot: My shift as a Wal-Mart greeter”—out.
First offence: A mandatory three-month term during which you’re not even allowed to say the word Chardonnay. Second offence: You must trade in your SUV for a Smart Car. Third offence: A year in a homeless shelter. That will give you something real to write about.