Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Blog Post by Glen Pearson, MP London North

Altered States – No Better Example

July 29, 2009 by glenpearson

“The future of democracy lies with what we might call strong democracy – with a revitalization of citizenship that is not collectivistic, a form of public reasoning that is not merely conformist, and a set of civic institutions that permits vital citizen input.” So said George Bernard Shaw. Even in his day there were concerns that proper citizen skills weren’t being developed or welcomed by a political order that preferred to keep matters to itself. In fretting that democracy would inevitably be weakened by an isolated citizenry, he believed citizens should themselves come together, learn the working and policies of government, and force the system to sit up and take notice – not negatively but proactively.

We have been fortunate enough in Canada to have just witnessed the kind of input Shaw was looking for. Last week I wrote about the remarkable resilience demonstrated by the prospective parents seeking to adopt through the now bankrupt Imagine adoption agency (see Adopting a New Attitude). What they have accomplished since that posting is even more remarkable.

This was a case in which, when confronted by the financial failure of a government licensed adoption agency, a group of hopeful parents sought to come together in various parts of the country, organize task forces and a steering committee, and positively engage both the media and the political process in ways that were truly constructive.

But first they had to learn. More than anything else there was the need for information. Who was responsible? What was the status of their files? Could the situation be salvaged? And so, rather than just bemoan their fate, they reasoned that for the sake of the children they hoped to acquire and for the integrity of the adoption system itself, they pulled together all their vast experience and information and sought to make it available to public officials In numerous ways they were the experts, having gone through, in some cases, years of working through the system. The information gathered, they then went to the media and offered any assistance they could to the various ministries involved. In refusing to turn their own personal torture into a media circus, they constructively “prodded” the political system by offering to assist in any way they could. Whatever complaints they had were kept in private as they publicly used the vast skills in their combined group to force politicians and the system to realize that they weren’t dealing with angry taxpayers or some kind of over-the-top fringe group, but were in fact being invited by hurting partners to make the process work better for the children.

I was there personally to witness these developments and have been inspired by the sheer professionalism of these families. And they have achieved results. Through provincial and federal intervention, some families are being united and the process is at work trying to build long-term sustainability into the future of the children themselves. This kind of remarkable action is what Mandela was alluding to when he stated:

Strong democracy creates the very citizens it depends upon precisely because it does depend on them. In many ways it forces the individual into a permanent confrontation – between the me as citizen and other citizens, thereby forcing us to think in common, act in common. Put crudely, the true citizen is by definition a we thinker.”

A large group of families, ably led and spread across the country, has just succeeded in making the political process more caring and more efficient. For this we owe them a deep sense of gratitude. They could have immediately reacted by threatening lawsuits and denigrating politicians; instead they took on the mantle of citizenship in the midst of great pain and loss. This is the way forward and these families are guiding us on the path. Now it is our turn to respond to them.

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