Saturday, August 27, 2011

photos: continuing Jack's legacy

More than 10,000 people united to honour the life of Jack Layton and to continue his legacy. 
Many media commentators have been irritated by the "political" or "partisan" nature 
of the ceremony, as if you could separate Jack's personality from his politics, 
and as if politics played no role in why people mobilized in such large numbers. 
But it was because of the personal and the political that there has been such an 
unprecedented response to his passing. His last letter calling for love, hope 
and optimism especially hit a nerve. 

These words, along with thanks and messages of change were some of the more common words 
written all over City Hall in a rainbow of chalk in multiple languages. As people have returned 
after the rain to rewrite messages, the content has shifted to specify what kind of hope 
and what kind of change. As people move from the initial shock and grief to think 
of why Jack meant so much to him, and what continuing his legacy means to them, 
the messages have come to reflect the movements ordinary people have built--
movements that shaped Jack and that Jack shaped: 
from the pro-choice and gay rights movement, to the anti-war and labour movement, 
to supporting healthcare and the environment. 

The historic election results for the NDP, a reflection a popular surge to the left and which gives 
the potential to magnify social movements, gives people the confidence they themselves 
can change the world. 

This is why Jack's passing has not created demoralization but determination, as both the volume
and content of the chalk messages made clear right from the start: "we will defend the house
that Jack built", "we'll do our best to carry on your work, I hope we make you proud",
"we'll mourn today and continue the fight tomorrow", "you'll live on through us",
"power to the people", and "think we'll turn around? You don't know Jack!"

This collective confidence will inspire upcoming mobilizations, like the September 26 
Rally for Toronto. What better way to honour Jack than to unite all the movements and people 
that shaped him, and that he shaped, into a rally to defend the city he called home. 

Monday, August 22, 2011

Photos: Jack Layton vigil

Remembering Layton's best moments

Today progressives across Canada and Quebec are mourning the tragic death of NDP leader Jack Layton, who died of cancer at the early age of 61. As well as leading the NDP to its recent historic election results, Layton provided a number of lessons about how opposition inside and outside Parliament can work together for peace and justice.
2003 Iraq war protests
In the midst of the largest global anti-war movement in world history, Jack Layton was elected leader of the NDP, promising to help stop the war. Despite Parliament being dominated by a Liberal majority and Tory Official Opposition both intent on war (a configuration much more challenging than today), Layton united the small NDP inside Parliament with the mass demonstrations outside Parliament. This united opposition split the government, forced Chretien to say no to war, and increased the NDP vote by 1 million the next year. Under Layton's leadership the NDP -- especially Olivia Chow -- has continued its opposition to the Iraq war by supporting U.S. Iraq war resisters.
2006 opposition to the war in Afghanistan
In 2006 the anti-war movement again shaped the NDP, which officially adopted a position opposing the war in Afghanistan and calling for immediate withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan. Jack Layton became the target of the pro-war machine, who labeled him "Taliban Jack," a smear which five years later even the National Post had to retract. If the government had followed the NDP position -- which the majority of Canadians support --119 Canadians and countless Afghans would still be alive today. Instead the Conservatives and Liberals have joined to extend the war three times.
2011 historic election
Jack Layton will be most remembered for his stunning electoral success this year, leading the NDP to historic status of Official Opposition, based on historic gains in Quebec, and a historic crushing of the corporate Liberal party. Layton drew on popular anger at Harper's war and austerity, Ignatieff's complicity, and steps towards recognizing Quebec's right to self-determination. Like other electoral gains, there was also the influence of events and movements outside Parliament, as I wrote after the election results: 
"The two biggest gains for the NDP in the past 10 years happened in 2004 (after the anti-globalization and anti-war protests of 2001-2003, when the NDP gained 1 million votes and increased their popular vote by four per cent) and in this past election (after the economic crisis, mass protests in Wisconsin and ongoing revolutions across North Africa and the Middle East, when the NDP gained 2 million votes and increased their popular vote by 12 per cent). Over the past decade, these movements outside Parliament have depleted the combined corporate vote inside Parliament from 78 per cent to 58 per cent, a significant drop of 20 per cent."
2011 filibuster
Layton showed the reciprocal actions that Parliament can have on movements when he led the filibuster to support striking postal workers. This demonstrated that when confronting a Harper majority, the new Official Opposition can magnify struggles outside Parliament -- with a large and confident group of MPs that will continue Layton's legacy.
It's with these memories and others that we mourn today, and organize tomorrow.