Literacy without advocacy (Part 2)

With a purposeful grimace and a terrible sound
He pulls the spitting high-tension wires down
Blue Oyster Cult, Go Go Godzilla

After the provincial Liberals tried (and failed) to sell NB Power - our provincial electric crown corporation - some of us voted Conservative in last September's election; rewarding them, in part, for their promise not to sell off our assets. Now, the same Conservative government is sending a task force about the province, holding public discussions on which bits of NB Power they should sell off first. Such is life in a modern democracy... or whatever system we're living under.

The other day, one of my learners was reading the newspaper, and came across a reference to a likely late-spring federal election. Looking up from newspaper, he asked the fellow beside him, "What do you think about a possible election in the spring?"

Fellow (looking up from newspaper): I don't know. I don't follow that stuff. What do you think?

Learner: Didn't we just have one?

Fellow: I don't know. Maybe in September or something. I forget.

Learner: I wonder why they call them so close together.

Fellow: I don't know.

Learner: Doesn't make sense.

They both returned to reading their papers, and I left them in peace.

Another time, I might have seized that as a teachable moment. I might have tried to explain the difference between federal elections and provincial elections; between our two levels of government. I might have talked a little about the constitution and the division of powers. Or, I might have gone another way, and tried to reinforce the value of elections and the democratic system.

But they weren't talking to me - not everything that happens in class is my business - and, anyway, I'm not sure what I could have said.

Do elections still make sense? Does it matter how often we vote, or who we vote for, or if we vote at all? Will it make a difference whether we re-appoint Harper as Prime Minister or choose that other fellow who, leading the 'opposition' during a minority government, supported all of Harper's major initiatives. (Yes, yes. I know he complained about them to the press - I'm talking about how he and his members actually voted.)

And yet.

In his latest rant, Where Liberals Go to Feel Good, Chris Hedges complained of people like me:
They make passionate appeals to work within systems, such as electoral politics, that have been gamed by the corporate state. And the result is to spur well-meaning people toward useless and ultimately self-defeating activity.
And yet.

Al Jazeera has been reporting on Egypt all weekend. The military in the streets. The fires. The gangs of youth with metal bars. Is that the future we want?

I don't know. I hope not.

But I don't know how to get people back to the idea that our government is chosen; that there are more than two parties running; that it really does matter who you vote for; that, in a democracy, we are responsible for our government - monstrous though it may seem.

Helpless people on subway trains
scream bug-eyed as he looks in on them.

No comments: