Me, Rob and NOW. In search of political civility.

This week I was described as a “seal” by NOW magazine, for allegedly being an “unlikely supporter” of Rob Ford, blinded by the “fish” that have been thrown at me by our mayor.  The end result, says NOW, is that I “love” the mayor – along with all the other trained seals.

Wow. Where to begin?

I could begin by pointing out that the whole story is mostly fabricated. At least two other ‘seals’ have angrily accused NOW of misquoting and/or misrepresenting them. D-Sisive says his song has “nothing to do with the Mayor” and Reg Hartt denies his quote, saying it was “created out of air” by a previous NOW writer (not by this week’s writer, Joshua Errett).

Or I could begin by pointing out that Ford hasn’t actually thrown me any ‘fish’.  Is there some new bikelane being built that I don’t know about?  Has Rob Ford promised to introduce legislation to reform our voting system?  Is there a new policy from the Mayor’s office to replace all billboards with public art?  I honestly have no idea which “fish” have been thrown to me, or any of my colleagues.

Or maybe I should start by explaining how I was quoted out of context, how my views were misrepresented and how I’m simply a non-partisan organizer who believes in respectful politics and developing relationships with those I disagree with.

Or should I begin by taking a step back, and pointing out that this is the third time in one year that NOW has singled me out and criticized me for not jumping on the infantile “Ford is the Devil” bandwagon? Yes, I believe I’ll start there.

One year ago, NOW placed me on their ‘barometer’ and declared that I had a “bad week” because I was “caught” wearing a Rob Ford visor at the mayoral campaign launch near the airport.  Actually, I wasn’t “caught” doing anything.  I was proudly photographed at the event by my own friends, many of whom attended the event with me.  As a community organiser and political geek, I attended as many campaign events as possible – for all candidates.  I went to Adam Giambrone’s campaign launch at Revival, and I went to Smitherman’s campaign launch at his Esplanade office.  I had lunch with Rocco Rossi, coffee with Joe Pantalone and I met twice with Sarah Thomson.  I also spent time talking with underdog mayoral candidates like Rocco Achampong and Keith Cole.  That’s what I do.  I like politics, and I like meeting other people who like politics.  And I like going to events and learning by watching.  I also  like going outside of my own comfort zone, to talk to people who I don’t always agree with.  That’s how you learn.  That’s how you grow.  And that’s how you escape political ‘bubbles’ that are essentially echo chambers for the people who stay inside.

NOW referred to Ford’s launch as a “free wine-and-cheese” event, implying that it was some kind of upscale, snooty, rich-folk gathering.  This is just another illustration of how the left misunderstood Ford’s campaign.  He wasn’t connecting with the rich.  He was connecting with Toronto.  With working class people, tenants, immigrant communities, and people of all backgrounds.  It was probably the largest event of the entire election – and quite diverse.

[note: NOW has pointed out that Ford himself promoted the event as a Wine and Cheese, so I’m happy to retract that statement.]

..
For NOW to suggest that it was in any way inappropriate or scandalous for me to be at Ford’s launch is a sad reflection of how we’ve come to view democracy.  And to place me on the “Bad Week” side of their barometer along with Nestle (for eroding the Indonesian rainforest) and the Vatican (for covering up sex scandals involving children) simply leaves me speechless.

Fast forward to November.  The election is over, Ford has won, and NOW magazine again highlights me on their Newsfront page.  This time they call me “Rob Ford’s new best friend”.  Why? Because I had the audacious nerve to publicly declare on CBC’s Metro Morning that Rob Ford “might end up being a real good mayor in terms of listening to people’s ideas.”  For this, they were terribly upset.  He might be a good mayor, in terms of listening to people.  That’s how strict the rules are in the Lefty Handbook.  No one is allowed to have a shred of optimism about anyone who doesn’t carry an NDP card in their pocket.  As George Bush said, either you’re with us or you’re against us.  They went on to say that they “liked” me better when I was more of an activist, and even added a list of their favorite activist things I had done – most of which I’m still doing (more on that later).  They finished off by accusing me of “rehearsing for a bit part in big-city politics”.  So patronizing, and so arrogant.  First of all, I’m not rehearsing.  I’m engaging.  Second, if you think I’m playing a ‘bit part’ in politics – why do you keep writing about me?

Then, this week, they accuse me of being a trained seal.  Up until now, I had mostly ignored these attacks and criticisms, but this time I got fed up – and here I am ranting.  I’m ranting because I’m thin-skinned and annoyed.  But I’m also ranting because I think this is a really important issue, and I’ve been meaning to write about it anyway.

Let me break my thoughts down into a few parts:

1) My relationship with Rob Ford.
2) Working across political lines.
3) Political tactics.
4) Who’s the mayor?

1) My relationship with Rob Ford.

The part that hurts the most from these accusations, is the implication that I’m trying to kiss ass in order to access power.   The first online comment on this week’s story says it best: “Mez: … Your desperation to be relevant and have access to power is becoming sad to watch.  I say this as someone who used to admire you.” Haha.  I’m friendly with Rob Ford because I want access to power?  Really?  Well let me ask you this:  if that’s the case, why was I friendly with Rob Ford in 2006, when he was a fringe rogue City Councillor in northern Etobicoke?  Was I trying to “access power” then?  What power?  He had none.  No, the reason I had a good relationship with him in 2006 was because he was supportive of my work and seemed to have a genuine appreciation for some of the projects I was working on – particularly City Idol.  When Adam Vaughan (the journalist) invited the City Idol contestants onto his CityTV show and asked me to assemble an expert panel, I invited the following people: Royson James, Kehinde Bah, Deanne Taylor and Rob Ford:


That’s 2006 folks.  Four years before he ran for mayor.  So to anyone who says that I’m an opportunistic seal, trying to get friendly with Ford because he’s the mayor – well, you’re wrong.  I’ve always been friendly with the mayor – because he’s been friendly with me and because we have mutual respect.  I don’t agree with a lot of his policies, but I respect him as a person, and he has always reciprocated.  That’s a lot more than I can say for some of my lefty pinko colleagues.

2) Working across political lines.

I’ve always believed in doing political work based on issues – not based on people.  I’ve never recognized party lines, and I’ve always enjoyed working with people across the political spectrum.  In fact, one of the campaigns that I’m most proud to have worked on, was a collaboration with Guy Giorno – who has served as Chief of Staff to both Mike Harris and Stephen Harper.   I was campaigning against provincial legislation that changed our municipal term from three years to four.  The amendment was buried in a budget bill with no debate or consultation and, in my opinion, greatly eroded our local democracy.  I found little support on the left, since I was essentially opposing both our Liberal premier and our NDP mayor.  So I decided to pull together a multi-partisan group that would oppose the legislation together.   I recruited a brave Liberal named Josh Matlow who was prepared to oppose his own party, and I also asked a prominent conservative to join the fight – Guy.  The three of us wrote an op-ed together, held a joint press-conference and made a joint deputation at Queen’s Park.  It was a proud moment, and I’m sad that we lost that campaign.  I have kept in touch with both of them since.

Five years later, I continue to work across party lines, issue-by-issue.  I find it more interesting and more engaging.  I don’t see politics as a sport with teams fighting each other.  I see a multitude of human beings with different ideas and backgrounds trying to develop solutions that make our lives better.

So to anyone who is accusing me of suddenly working with the Mayors office, just to catch a few fish, all I can say is:  you know little about my work, and you have a narrow view of what politics can be.

3) Political tactics.

This is the part that made me particularly disappointed about my quote in this week’s NOW.  I allegedly said “If I want to be a community leader, I have one option, and his name is Rob Ford.”

First of all, that isn’t even a sentence.  It’s a fragment of a sentence, that is taken out of context from a series of sentences.  More importantly, it seems to imply that all community leaders should be working with the mayor, and that we are indeed somehow obliged or forced to.

I want to very clear about this.  There are lots of ways to be a community leader.  And very few of them involve working with the mayor.  I have full respect for anyone who decides to engage in local politics – in whatever way they want.  Street protest, partisan organising, political theatre, public space interventions, viral videos, political blogging, whatever.  It’s none of my business how you choose to organize, and a healthy city is one in which ALL of these forms of protest and politics exist.  When I co-edited Local Motion last year, I made sure there were at least two chapters on street-based protest activism.

This week’s NOW article states that “Meslin made his name in muckraking activism, from guerrilla anti-cigarette-advertising campaigns to public space initiatives. Lately, though, protests are a smaller part of his work.” This is the second time this year that NOW has implied that I used to do good ‘activist’ or ‘protest’ work, but now they don’t like me as much because I’m working within the system.  This is a dangerous way to view political organizing, and it unnecessarily divides us into ‘good’ activists and ‘bad’ activists.  ‘Revolution’ vs ‘reform’.  ‘Outside’ vs ‘inside’.  ‘Real change’ vs ‘incrementalism’.  These are all false dichotomies, and do nothing to further our work as citizens.

Here’s the kicker:  What happened to “diversity of tactics”?  This is the infamous phrase that is used by the left to condone violent protest tactics like smashing windows.  “Solidarity!” they scream.  But does Diversity of Tactics only apply to those wearing masks?  What about those who choose to organize at City Hall without masks on?  Does the Left really respect strategic diversity, or just use it as a cover to support violence while attacking those, like myself, who choose other tactics.

The irony here, of course, is that I’m still doing the same kind of work I’ve always done: grassroots, non-partisan, community organizing.  My tactics have barely changed at all over the last 13 years. My earliest campaigns involved sitting down with City Staff or Councillors to try and advance an issue.  The Toronto Public Space Committee was founded on the principle of NOT just protesting, but rather putting forward constructive positive policy ideas and mobilizing people to actually go to City Hall and make deputations and lobby their Councilors.  Which isn’t to say I don’t believe in protest.  I’ve spent much of the past week protesting against Elizabeth May’s exclusion from the leader’s debate, and I’m helping the Green Party organise a protest rally for Thursday night.

Do I work more within the system now, than I did 15 years ago?  Of course!  I’m 36!  Joshua and I talked about this during the NOW interview, and I explained that it has little to do with my personal views on political strategy and more to do with the fact that when I was teenager I had no idea how to connect with politicians, or the media, or with ANYONE other than my friends.  So obviously I’m going to talk to politicians more, as a 36 year old, since I know many of them – and am older than some of them.  It’s not a strategic shift.  It’s just part of getting older.  People take you more seriously, which means you don’t have to yell as loud to be heard.  There’s no story there, folks.

I work my ass off as a community activist.  I’m currently running a dozen projects, from RaBIT to We Like to Watch, mostly unpaid.  90% of my work is pro-bono.  I recently spent months co-editing a book about civic engagement, and got paid the same amount that a City Councillor makes in a week. I spend almost every day, and most evenings, engaged in politics.  Yeserday I spent an hour on a conference call, organized by Judy Rebick, to plan an ‘Activist Day’ in Toronto.  I didn’t get paid for helping to organize, and I’m not being paid to spend an entire day at the conference.  I do this work because I care, and because I enjoy it.  So please, NOW.  Don’t challenge my activist credentials, or my credibility as a community leader.  I’m working hard, trying to make a difference in my own way.  If you don’t like my work, that’s fine.  But why waste ink criticizing a volunteer activist, when there are more important issues to deal with in this city?

4) Who’s the mayor?

Answer: Rob Ford.  That’s not a matter of opinion, it’s just a fact.  And that’s all I was saying, when I told Joshua that “If I want to be a community leader, I have one option, and his name is Rob Ford.” My entire sentence was something like this: “If I want to organise in a collaborative way that includes working with the mayor, than I have one option: and his name is Rob Ford”.  My point was simply that I didn’t choose the mayor and if I want to work with Toronto’s mayor, I can’t pick a different one.  Would I rather work with Mayor Tommy Douglas?  Sure.  Mayor Nelson Mandela?  Yes, that would be a blast.  But there is only one mayor I can work with “and his name is Rob Ford”.   I don’t even know how that ended up in an article.  I was just stating a fact.  A fact that everyone has known since October 25th.  Rob Ford is the Mayor.  There is no other Mayor in Toronto, and there won’t be until at least 2014, if not 2018.

The quote had nothing to do with the entirely separate theme of political tactics.

To wrap this up, let me just say that I can’t believe any of this was considered newsworthy.  It’s a horribly sad reflection on our city that anyone would consider multi-partisan work to be scandalous.  But this is how low the debate has fallen.

I strongly urge people to move beyond the polarisation and realise that you don’t have to vilify those who you disagree with.  Let me pull a few examples off the cover of NOW:  “Ford’s Cronies, Reformers and Creeps”.  Really?  Are we in grade two?  Why are Ford’s colleagues and staffers “cronies”?  Did Miller have “cronies”?  Oh, no.  There were Policy Assistants and Strategic Advisors. And what about this: “His Evil Plot to Rule the Right”.  Why is it evil to have electoral ambitions?  Did Jack Layton have an “evil plot” to rule the left?  After all, he started out as a Councillor too (and once ran for Mayor).

Let’s raise the quality of debate in this town.  Let’s foster a political culture that is respectful of opposing views, with more collaboration and less back-stabbing.  More policy-based propositions and less personal attacks.  More listening and less preaching inwardly to ourselves.

I earlier quoted a negative comment from NOW’s online forum.  So I’ll end with a positive one.  In response to NOW’s public criticism of my willingness to work with the mayor, Emily Van Halem wrote:

“Maybe Mez was trying to bridge the very deep divide that was made so obvious during the last election. Not like I’m siding with the “right” or anything, but sometimes NOW’s blatantly narrow political agenda gets a bit old. A city under Ford is going to need to take some real banding together here, not more divide and snub.”

I agree.  We can gain so much, as a city, by raising the level of respect in our political dialogue.  Between right and left, and (clearly) between left and left.

[note: this rant is not directed towards Joshua Errett, the author of the NOW piece, but rather to the political culture within which he was writing.  His piece was the straw that broke this camel’s back, but I don’t mean to blame him for all that is polarised in Toronto.]

50 responses to “Me, Rob and NOW. In search of political civility.

  1. Peter MacQuarie

    Well said! Outfits like NOW give community-minded residents a bad name.

    Here’s another one – http://afuitbs.wordpress.com – that purports to be left-minded but censors comments that don’t toadie to its puerile notions or waiver from what it considers to be the important issues .

    There’s much room for improvement on Council and too much focus on the Mayor only allows skirkers of responsibility to hide.

  2. You say that “You are with us or against us” is a George Bush meme. But it actually comes out of the militarized traditions of communism, which sang: “Which side are you on?”

    It may actually be a good way of gaining power, or increasing it for one’s in-group. But black-and-whitism profoundly oversimplifies reality; people who think get alienated rather quickly.

    On the other hand, Ford has barely a redeeming quality.

  3. Nice one Mez! I hope you’ll post any reply you receive from NOW.

  4. Thanks for the comments, Dave.

    The seal metaphor was only a metaphor. I didn’t call you a seal as personal attack. Sorry if that’s what you took out that oversimplified fable. Remember we are all seals in this metaphor…

    I also never wrote or thought that you are getting special treatment in the form of fish or a bike lane. I wrote that you have two issues that could use some fish, ie that could use some of the mayor’s attention.

    As for the other subjects, D-Sisive wrote a song called Rob Ford. When I asked him about it, he didn’t want to talk. So I wrote that the song is “seemingly supportive” but I noted he didn’t reply – all truth. When he did reply, I amended the piece. I don’t see a problem with that.

    Reg Hartt’s quote has been in the public domain for months and months, and is on tape. So hearing an objection to it now definitely sounds…well, fishy. He can contact me directly if he wants to escalate that conversation.

    I think you raise these other two objections to confuse what is really wrong with the piece, which is not much. I took an accurate quote that I think makes sense and is entirely in context. You think it’s out of context. That’s the heart of this disagreement.

    I think it’s fair to object over what you believe to be an out-of-context quote. But it’s not a very strong dismissal of the piece as a whole.

    I should add I very much appreciate you responding to the ideas in the editorial. That’s why I wrote it in the first place. So it’s satisfying to hear you take stock of what I actually wrote, not picking apart the reporting. I approached you for it because I respect your work and your opinion, even though I occasionally disagree.

  5. As someone who also has personal experience with NOW making stuff up about them, my only differences with this post are that A) you take NOW so seriously, and B) you let Errett off the hook.

    To the first part, NOW is not “the left” nor “the city” nor “us.” They’re just one publication with a long track record of undermining their own credibility. They have an agenda that does not include an overwhelming preoccupation with truth or fairness. So while I know how it stings to be publicly and unjustly attacked, I don’t think you should see it as any more than a few people who don’t take their responsibilities seriously.

    Which brings me to my second complaint, that we should let the author off the hook. I don’t disagree with anything you specifically wrote about him (you’re right, of course he’s not to blame for all or even any significant portion of Toronto’s polarization), but this is again someone who has a track record of never letting the truth get in the way of a good story. Further, he’s not just a writer at NOW, but an editor. If editors at self-styled newspapers aren’t responsible for the basic accuracy of what they publish with the assumption of truth, the credibility gap will continue to spread even further.

    (None of this is to say I’m not very sorry you had to go through this, and I’m glad you’ve taken the time to set the record straight.)

  6. Did you say the following? “On cycling, there is common ground – perhaps more than with the previous administration.” If not, please get NOW to print a correction. If so, please understand that any notion that Ford is good for bikes is inane and ridiculous.

    The bike lanes that were approved by Council last year have been unilaterally stopped by Ford. There was no debate. Ford has not even publicly acknowledged that he suspended work on any and all bike lanes. You of all people should be alarmed by this. Lansdowne and Bay spring to mind (because I ride them) but there are others. So Ford would have to push through more bike lanes on major streets just to return to the status quo and undo the damage he has already caused.

  7. Mez,

    I was looking forward to this piece. Thanks for taking the time to reply in detail.

  8. well said Mez. NOW proports to be the LEFT, but in fact it’s nothing more than a feel good newspaper for people who recycle and can afford 3,000 dollar dildos. I forget the price in their Gifts for Everyone section, but I remember it being steep for a dildo! Anyway, NOW has people to please and these folk aren’t about anything nuainced..they like to demonize Ford because it’s easier to hate someone than actually work with him. Rob Ford is not someone who beieves in what I believe, but he speaks to what many people do believe. It’s those folk we have to work with….NOW has it’s audience of consumers and advertisers, that’s who they have to work with. and what I found the most reprehensible about the whole thing were the photos they photoshoped of him on a body not his. NOW would love to frame this as a censorship issue; it’s not. Those photos represent the shallowness of their journalism, that’s what is offensive – not a fat body. Thanks so much for writing this. Disagreement is not wrong; misrepresentation, shallowness and greed is. Well done Mez…you are my hero.

  9. AMEN!!!

    The blinkered battle between left and right is sooooo 19th century. Last time I looked this is 2011, and we are ALL in this mess together. Neither “side” has all the answers, so if we want to solve the problems threatening our common future, we might do we to follow Dave’s advice, here.

    Thanks again, Mez. ( :-)

  10. A thoughtful, reasonable and well-written piece by a guy who shows what activism and integrity can look like. It’s a shame that not everyone is so principled …

  11. Great response Mez. It’s a little long to be published, but I think it would be smart of NOW Communications to post a link to this on their website. NOW does print disenting letters every week, so it may not be a huge leap for them to consider doing this.

    I particularly liked your bit on “diversity of tactics” and is one of the things that has pulled me away from Toronto’s “establishment left” in recent years. I think EYE Weekly actually gets this and understands the new generation better.

    All in all a great read. As a NOW reader (and often a defender) I have to say that your response is thoughful, articulate, passionate and fair (much like everything else you do).

  12. Great response! The Now article was so crass. Ugh!

  13. Mez: “Don’t challenge my activist credentials, or my credibility as a community leader. I’m working hard, trying to make a difference in my own way….”

    I interpreted the thrust of the NOW article to be less about credentials than motives and tactics. No doubt Mez, as an operative in that most shifty and shifting of enterprises, politics, you’d agree that you’re fair game for such scrutiny.

    All media tend to contort themselves into unconvincing and dishonest positions—so much the better to advance their brand and bent dontcha know. NOW is no exception.

    Perhaps you should be flattered that NOW condescends to take notice of your “Bad Weeks”. It’s a testament to your relevancy which, given your response, seems as intact as ever.

    NOW’s provocative, ahhh, insights may even merit praise since they do take you where you enjoy going, that is, right outside your comfort zone. But that may be taking it too far.

  14. Great piece, Mez. You do fantastic work that should be admired across the political spectrum.

    Incidentally, although I identify myself as left-leaning I stopped reading NOW a couple of years ago because I was tired of the rhetoric and oversimplification that unfortunately filled so many of the articles I was reading. There are so many other local sources of information available to us.

  15. you’re all idiots, ruining our city.

  16. If NOW magazine completely misquoted and misrepresented so many people – at least three – in writing this piece, its credibility is seriously in doubt. But those of us who read NOW on a regular basis can’t be too surprised. Yuck.

  17. Tyson Vickers

    NOW is to the left as the SUN is to the right.

  18. I’ll just respond to your first point Dave because, well, I don’t have all day but we, one would think it is obvious, were not criticizing you for being at a Ford event. I was at his”victory party” election night to cover it. That’s what journalists and I suspect self-declared activists do, seek to undestand all viewpoints. It was the wearing of a Ford hat just like a T shirt, button or anything that was the issue. Not very professional. You can cover say, a George Wallace event and listen to what he says but when you wear his swag and promote him, you cross a line. Your freak out at anything less than fawning coverage is a little disappointing.

  19. NOW indeed is to the left as the Sun is to the right, and Enzo di Matteo is basically the left’s Sue Ann Levy.

    Hollett, Klein, et. al. don’t seem to be aware that their magazine is an increasingly obsolete paper-waster full of knee-jerk snarkiness and outdated radicalism.

  20. People who focus on ‘civility’ at the expense of speaking truth to power are always going to be suspect. I think lots of ‘us’ – the amorphous ‘left-wing’ masses – feel that the energy and enthusiasm of many activists provided you with a pulpit, and we’re disappointed that you’re not using it to challenge someone who on his best days, let alone his worst, is a destructive force against pretty much everything you’ve ever stood for. The idea that you can be non-partisan in the face of such an awful administration is pretty hard to believe, and if it stings to be challenged on it, well, maybe you need to look at what you’re doing.

  21. I am less concerned about the lack of civility than NOW’s obliviousness to its own locker-room mentality. While a Sun headline like “GREEDY, PETULANT, SELF-RIGHTEOUS JERKS” is intended to offend, NOW seems genuinely unaware of how its recent cover may have alienated those who may have been prepared to agree with them.

    If lefties still have no idea why Rob Ford is mayor, the answer is: Rob Ford is mayor because lefties have no idea why Rob Ford is mayor.

    NOW Magazine: YOU’RE NOT HELPING

  22. Hi Dave – We’ve never met, and while I don’t live in Toronto, and I don’t read normally read Now magazine, I do read your blog, and generally find your approach to politics and organizing to be extremely refreshing. I had a really hard time with this post though. I get that something nasty happened, and you’re upset, and fair enough. But why are you going from being slagged by this one, single magazine in Toronto to saying stuff like this:
    “That’s how strict the rules are in the Lefty Handbook. No one is allowed to have a shred of optimism about anyone who doesn’t carry an NDP card in their pocket. As George Bush said, either you’re with us or you’re against us. ”
    and
    “I don’t agree with a lot of his policies, but I respect him as a person, and he has always reciprocated. That’s a lot more than I can say for some of my lefty pinko colleagues.”
    I’m a lefty. I’m not intolerant. I don’t have a lefty handbook. I generally find terms like “pinko” to be unhelpful and kind of rude. Etc. So maybe you can see how slagging the entire “left” (whatever that is precisely) just because some magazine in Toronto slagged you is kind of weird/uncalled for/exactly the opposite of what you’re preaching here.
    Thanks. Keep up the good work. Don’t let jerks bug you so much.

  23. Could be worse. Di Matteo could have been the writer.

  24. Not to criticize anyone, but let’s not get confused here. NOW is not a leftist magazine; it is a magazine that purports to be leftist, yet gets all its money the same way that CTV does — by selling eyeballs. Any medium that is sustained *solely* by advertising is inherently a commercialist endeavour, and therefore right-wing, not left. NOW just has a really bitchin’ marketing scheme.

  25. Years ago NOW had a social justice philosophy and provided alternatives tio mainstream media. So far has it fallen that it’s just become a bitter rag, whose only goal is profit. Irony..oh the irony.

  26. Very nicely done. Thank you.

  27. You know, this would have been a wonderfully written piece, but showering the terms “lefty pinko” all over it just brought the tone down terribly. Isn’t this about how being partisan is counter productive? I agree with your points and you make a great case, but the name calling doesn’t make you seem any more noble than the publication you’re making a point about. Instead of blaming everyone who ever wanted to be Liberal, just stick to the publication or individuals in question. “Lefty handbook”?

  28. Mary-Margaret Jones

    I stopped reading NOW years ago because of its knee-jerk reactionary writers and editors. What the publication lacks in research and objectivity, it gains in vitriol and hyperbole.

    Anyone who has worked with Mez, knows that he is committed to finding solutions to issues that affect us all. This means working across party lines, at times, openly, transparently, and judiciously.

    I’d like any one of NOW’s staff “news” writers to refrain from criticism, and instead, take that energy to analyse a problem, create a plan, and make a change in his or her community.

  29. totaly disagree
    you said “I’m simply a non-partisan organizer who believes in respectful politics and developing relationships with those I disagree with” but i think there has to be a line and ford crosses it.
    not that i think this needs to be clarified but some of the things ford has said, in my mind, are hate speech and he has basically declared a war on poor and vulnerable communities.
    this is only one example (there are a million more) but when a politician proposes to stop providing meals for homeless people (i.e. his canceling of the existence of shelters) that for me crosses the line of someone with which you can engage in “respectful politics”

  30. Mez, I found this piece inspiring. I agree with some of the commenters that some of the language you use seems to be generalizing the left and that detracts a bit from your piece, but I also understand why you’re angry.

    The thing is, your comments about the left have some truth to them. I worked with the left during grad school. I was a member of a radical socialist organization, an executive on the student council and a member of coalitions comprising a wide spectrum of points of view. Although I learned a lot during this period and connected with some wonderful people, I also encountered, and frequently used dichotomies like “revolution” vs. “reform”. Along with the challenges of trying to pay the rent while paying off student loans, this rigidity I encountered turned me off of political activism after I left school. Indeed, I distinctly remember a radical left colleague rolling her eyes at how I had sold out to take on a corporate clerical job (which I hated) to pay the bills.

    It’s true that this rigidity doesn’t characterize all of the left, but the mainstream perception is that it does. The kind of approach that Now takes covering politics and the inability of some commenters here to even see the value in your strategy (one strategy among many as you point out) only serves to reaffirm this perception. It is not a generalization to point out that union membership continues to shrink along with the political clout of the left. As you point out, a large part of Ford’s base of support, and that of conservatism in general, comes from working class folks. The right has done a great job of harnessing the anger and sense of disenfranchisement felt by many in the working class.

    But anger is part of what leads to black and white politics. What you’re talking about is overcoming this anger divide and getting some actual work done towards improving things. Black and white politics make better sound bites, but nothing gets done and people feel less connected with the process. These days most people don’t even vote. I think people will feel more engaged when they see how they can work together across ideological boundaries to achieve real results. As a cyclist, a father with a daughter navigating a flawed school system and a worker (to name a few of the many hats I wear) I have often fallen prey to this anger. Thanks for opening my eyes to this, Mez.

  31. You wrote: “I respect him as a person”???????

    Really? You make great points about political insights, and its great to see you clear the air. But you respect him as a person? He was charged with beating his wife! He was charged with DUI! He has spewed anti-gay and anti-immigrant comments!

    Your job as a community organizer is to meet with people you don’t agree with, and Ford is one of them. But you do not have to has respect for him to do so. Considering how careful you were to dissect your relationship with Ford, I’d say you must believe your own words, and I must believe that you’ve had serious flaw in your judgment to say you respect him, as a person, in any capacity.

  32. This is tiring and is a wonderful example of why the so-called left is in deep dissarray not only in Toronto but everywhere.

    Putting aside the Now said/I said aspect of the article, and addressing a little perspective instead, I would remind the author and the commentators that the heated acrimony over cycling in Toronto began with Rob Ford and his supporters. Who coined the phrase, “the war on cars”? How did an effort to introduce more bike lanes become a left/right wedge issue? Don’t conservatives ride bikes? Don’t lefties drive?

    A plan to improve traffic congestion, air quality, and do just a teensly little bit about climate change, and just like transit, was turned into an ideological issue by Ford and his supporters and Ford, as mayor, has acted like a vandal in his approach to both of him.

    But rather than recognizing that ‘Ford Nation” is engaged in an ideological assualt on Toronto, an assualt that threatens to leave the city marooned on a smouldering pile of financial ruin, and regrouping to mount a defense of those things that make Toronto great and that could make Toronto better, the left instead curls up into a fetal position and accuses each other of “not being nice to the effers that want to crush us”.

    While the political right never apologizes, never retreats voluntarily, and never abandons a pledge no matter how ultimatley destructive and verifiably stupid, the political left always congeals into a mound of an apologetic mess seeking forgiveness for the principle and values it claims it defends.

    Screw that. Ford is not going to govern for all of Toronto. He is not going to govern pragmatically or fairly. He is vandal and a barbarian and all the nicey-nice, on your knees boot-licking won’t change that.

    Cyclists belong on the road because the taxes of cyclists paid for those roads and cyclists are equals to car owners.

  33. I do get frustrated with ‘don’t talk to people who aren’t pure’ attitude, and I liked your response. No matter how sloppily done, I like that NOW published this series of articles. I don’t like the ‘ford is the devil and anyone near him is too’ approach, but on issues that many of us care about, Ford has shown that when it is not in his interest, no amount of democratically expressed outrage and no rational argument will sway him. We do need people in the press stoking the anger against the damage Ford’s policies are doing to our vision of the City. Often the Sun spurs coverage by more mainstream press and NOW could do the same thing. We need outlets for keeping track of the damage and building a different or even just a ‘we don’t want anything Ford wants’ vision. The fact that NOW wants to be an outlet for this can be very useful.

    As you suggest, we also need to think about how to work with the fact that he is the mayor. It is so difficult when we know that we will get thousands of people out and expressing their outrage and that Ford will ignore this. It feels like organizing against Iraq in the US during the Bush administration. Anyway, good to know that Ford sometimes listens and we need to figure out how to build on that.

  34. Scott Hudson Riley

    I heard this mornings interview on Metro Morning. Dave is totally right. Politics is about working with people you may not have anything in common with, but middle ground must be found. Progress and compromise are corner stones of the democratic progress. Even your worst enemy can have a good idea. Congrats Dave for being a true leader. Your moral compass is right on. While other bicker about alignment, you search out progress and want to help those who may not be able to help themselves. Chin, Chin.

  35. some great comments and analysis here by all – thanks to mez’s courage. i especially like the part on ‘diversity of tactics’ …..and i’m mostly ‘left’ with the question: how does social change happen? through civility or force? i wish howard zinn was here to offer an historical and enlightening comment.

  36. Begging your indulgence once more: some more detailed thoughts here.

    Keep doing what you’re doing, Dave.

  37. The broadside attack against “the Left” is uncalled for. I very much consider myself to be on the Left, the radical Left actually, though much less of an “activist” (an overused and abused term if ever there was one) than I was 20 years ago. I don’t particularly identify with NOW magazine (and definitely not its stupid photoshopped pictures last week) but recognize that NOW’s different positions on issues (and there rarely is just one, by the way) are pretty reflective of the Left and left-liberal opinions of many tens of thousands of people in this city. And by the way, whatever one thinks of the direct-action crowd’s “diversity of tactics” position around the G20 protests (and I’m generally skeptical), I don’t recall NOW as a publication — let alone the supposedly monolithic “Left” — taking a specific position one way or the other, contrary to what Meslin seems to be saying in this post.

    Meslin’s work over the years has had its interesting and inspired moments, but I have serious doubts about his claim to hover above partisan affiliations and differences like some kind of angel of providence. In his CBC Radio interview Wednesday morning, he claimed to be looking for “common ground” between the different partisan groupings and praised the (at least potentially) non-partisan nature of municipal politics. And here in his blog post he covers a lot of the same ground.

    The problem is, though, that we are faced with the most right-wing mayor since at least the 1950s. That is not “left-wing group think” but an accurate description of the mayor’s own program, trajectory and electoral base (which, contrary to what many have said, is not qualitatively more “working class” or “immigrant” than that of any of the other candidates of the centre-Right and Right that have won in the past) — not to mention the context in which he was elected and his statements and initiatives thus far. And the municipal’s scene “non-partisan” character is a pure legalistic formality with the different party machines operating at full throttle behind the scenes. Meslin obscures these two overwhelming features of the present Toronto municipal scene, and it’s hard to see what broader purpose this serves.

    Meslin describes what he does as a way of engaging with regular Torontonians, but it mostly appears to be about getting people to support a personal agenda grounded in an almost touchingly naive but ultimately contrived and misleading view about how politics and government actually work. Frankly, it’s not much of a solution for regular people to sit back and watch while nominally NDP media-savvy figures like Meslin cobble together alliances between themselves and media-savvy Liberals (eg. Matlow) and Conservatives (eg. Giorno) around specific issues and pet projects they happen to agree on. Not only is this an unappealing prospect, it’s a political dead-end. There’s nothing that original about proclaiming oneself to be “non-partisan”. In fact, this was the Miller approach through and through. His victory and subsequent administration relied heavily on strong logistical and financial support from Liberal and Tory heavyweights in the city, not to mention large chunks of their electoral base. Most of this crowd decamped over to Smitherman in 2010, leaving the more genuinely “partisan” NDP candidate Pantalone (as opposed to Miller in 2003 and 2007) totally in the lurch. Not unlike the Rae provincial government in the early 90s, the Miller years of “finding the middle ground” have left the Left in this city discredited, divided, demoralized and demobilized, creating an open door for Ford and other right-wingers. Sorry, but “finding the middle ground” is old hat and has been a disaster for the Left and the working-class communities and transformative ideas we are meant to serve.

    I’m not really interested in media-driven personality conflicts of the sort this seems to be at least in part, but the biographical and personal-drama side of this story is certainly compelling. It’s difficult to make the transition from an (initially) marginalized 20-something hyper-activist to a 30-something prominent media and political figure of the sort Meslin has become. And it’s a credit to Meslin that he hasn’t tried to hide that this difficult transition is precisely what a lot his recent behaviour and positioning have been about. It’s a shame, though, that he has decided to slag all the rest of us on “the Left” who have made the transition from our 20s and 30s to our 40s and 50s at a rather greater distance from the media spotlight — while remaining true to our beliefs and commitments, and lucid about what we are up against now more than ever.

    A final note, on the question of anonymous postings: people have many reasons for posting anonymously on forums like this. It could be because they have jobs that don’t allow them to publicly broadcast their political views, or maybe just that they don’t want to call much attention to themselves. My reasons for making this post anonymous fit both of these descriptions. Meslin apparently has different options and has made different choices about such things, and that is all well and good. It’s even admirable and courageous up to a certain point, but he shouldn’t expect that everyone can or wants to follow his example. As long as anonymity isn’t used to slander someone, spread rumours or misrepresent one’s own role in the public sphere, I think it’s perfectly legitimate.

    Anyway, thanks for this opportunity to have my say on the issues at hand and other ones too. These kind of clashes are mostly regrettable, but they can be constructive too if they allow us to get at some of the important strategic debates that are always hovering somewhere in the background.

  38. Pingback: With Friends Like These… « All Fired Up In The Big Smoke

  39. Pingback: Me and Matt – talkin’ about respect in politics | Mez Dispenser

  40. Pingback: Civility, Responsibility & Opposing the Mayor « Ford For Toronto

  41. Mez, the notion that you’re after power is hilariously absurd. You’re one of the most genuinely decent, ethical people I’ve ever met. It’s disappointing that you’d have your character attacked by some thoughtless “journalist” who hasn’t bothered to try to tell the difference between selfish ambition and selfless leadership, and I can only hope it doesn’t interfere with what you’re trying to do for all of us.

  42. Matlow the zionist wants to cut all funding to Pride.
    A good reason never to vote for that idiot again.

  43. I also heard Dave Mezlin’s middle name is Thatcher, and he was actually born in South Carolina.

  44. Pingback: REVISED: Finding your way through City Hall | Mez Dispenser

  45. When I was at city hall at midnight last night, I was reminded of this posting. No one’s commented since May but I think it’s even more interesting now. It’s not to single out Mez, whose work I have very much respected or to say I told you so but do a lot of the people who agreed with this posting still agree to this statement below?:

    “Rob Ford “might end up being a real good mayor in terms of listening to people’s ideas.” For this, they were terribly upset. He might be a good mayor, in terms of listening to people.”

    I didn’t see much listening on RoFo’s part last night at city council. Letting people talk isn’t listening.

    Is this still true?

    “I’ve always been friendly with the mayor – because he’s been friendly with me and because we have mutual respect. I don’t agree with a lot of his policies, but I respect him as a person, and he has always reciprocated. That’s a lot more than I can say for some of my lefty pinko colleagues.”

    I guess I’m a lefty pinko because I don’t respect Ford. There is a line people can cross, where you know that you’ll never be able to work or collaborate with them but rather minimize their damage. His hate speech transcended that and painted a picture of a Toronto where the lives of our most vulnerable residents would go from hardship to eradication.

  46. Pingback: NOW foe Michael Hollett makes friends with Rob Ford | canada.com

  47. Pingback: Enzo Di Matteo: a continuing series | Warren Kinsella

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