This has been a difficult week, hasn’t it? It’s a struggle to not succumb to the horror of the events in Charlottesville, see how politicians are reacting, and think, “It’s never going to get better. Every one is all talk and no action.”
It’s difficult to believe that there is anything that we, as individuals, can do to make it better. A lot of people feel disenfranchised from politics, and rightfully so. They hear catchphrases and slogans, and it can feel disingenuous, because let’s face it, often it is.
I have been very vocal about my support for Jagmeet Singh for NDP leader. I already wrote about some of the reasons why, from the perspective of someone who lives in the intersections of multiple disabilities, is gay, and a trans man. But, I want to talk about Love and Courage and what it means to me based on my lifelong experiences.
I grew up in a world that I didn’t know wasn’t everyone’s experiences until I was able to connect with other intersectional activists online.
In elementary school in Victoria, BC., my classroom always had at least one quarter of new Canadians whose families fled eastern Europe. I heard the stories of how their parents had to shield their bodies from bullets as they made their escape down rivers in boats. Because I went to a school with a lot of new Canadians who fled eastern Europe, our school incorporated those cultures in a lot of different ways. I just thought this was how all schools did things as a way to learn about the people who have chosen Canada as their home so that they were not “other”.
In my high school years, I went to school in a town that my grandparents helped build. But most importantly, the town was built on the backs of Sikhs, Chinese, and Japanese immigrants. Ten minutes down the highway was the remnants of an entire town, built by Mayo Singh, that was a haven for people coming from Punjab, China, and Japan. Once logging ended, the town of Paldi disappeared but the importance of Singh to our community was ingrained in me. Many streets in Lake Cowichan are named after the Sikh people who built the town. In those years, one quarter of my classmates were people from South Asian descent. Today, Mayo Singh is now part of B.C. school curriculum. Again, I thought this was everyone’s experiences.
I had a very troubled high school life. I was in an abusive home. I was kicked out and became homeless. A Sikh family “adopted” me and made me one of their family, making sure I had things like clothes, meals every day, glasses so I could see at school, until I was placed in foster care. And even after I was placed in foster care, I was still their family and would still join them on family trips. Their home was always my home and I was free to come whenever I wanted or needed.
It wouldn’t be until years later that I was able to see the racism they faced from the white people in the community, even though the community would not be there if it were not for the labour of the Sikh community.
I also went to school with people fresh out of the last residential schools back east, and with children whose parents were part of the residential school system. I grew up hearing their stories and seeing the pain and generational trauma caused at the hands of a government not interested in taking responsibility.
Again, it wouldn’t be until years later that I would learn this is not a normal experience and I was blind to the racism that is ingrained into Canadian society. It has taken, and continues to take, a lot of hard work to confront my own part in systematic racism and learn what I need to do to confront others and dismantle it.
And then there was my church. I grew up in the United Church of Canada which also embodies the very essence of Love and Courage. We had indigenous elders come in a lead prayer as per their customs, and talk about truth and reconciliation long before it was part of common vernacular. The United Church apologized and paid reparations for their role in residential schools while others fought against doing so.
When the United Church started to ordain openly gay ministers, we had a student minister ask, “What if G-d purposely made people gay?” I’ll never forget how that divided the church. One guy stood up and started yelling at the student minister and half the congregation walked out, right then and there. And it wasn’t just our congregation, but congregations across Canada experiences losses because the United Church had the love and courage to stand up for truth, and never even thought of doing anything else. The list goes on.
Growing up in that environment greatly influenced my activism. You don’t have a choice but to stand up and fight for what is right and just. When you do something that hurts people, you say sorry and do what is necessary to repair the harm you’ve done. That is how you should love and it takes an act of courage, because when your right and just idea is not the popular idea, people will reject you.
I know this rejection all to well. When I told the world I was transgender, I did it in a very big way: On Wired. I felt it was important to use the highly visible platform available to me to show trans people they are not alone and to educate. Even before using my platform for trans activism, I used my online platform for activism on a variety of fronts.
I’ve received threats of violence for close to a decade now because of my activism. But those threats were nothing until I started to talk about transgender issues. Those threats moved from online-only threats to in real life threats, including threats to my children. These threats continue to this day because I dare to act, born out of love, and infused with the courage. And while the threats outnumber the voices of support, those voices of support and the youth who contact me to say I’ve helped them, help me keep me going.
Jagmeet Singh understands what it means to act with love and courage. It is part of his very core. He was born into a system and society that does not want to confront its racism, and has faced a lifetime of barriers and acts of both overt and covert racism as a result. To be where he is today has taken extraordinary acts of love and courage. To tackle the issues that effect the most vulnerable people in society and to understand if the most vulnerable suffer, we all suffer, takes an enormous act of love and courage.
But to circle back to the beginning of this piece: Jagmeet does more than just act with love and courage. He gives me hope. Hope is a difficult thing to have during these times. Since Saturday, I’ve read this thread, where Jagmeet calls out Trump by name, multiple times. Right now, I need a leader who is not afraid to say it like it is; a leader who won’t distill things to a single tweet. That Twitter thread is an act of love and courage.
He makes sure everyone on the team knows they have a real voice and can make a real difference; everyone is included. You need to watch the tour of Jagmeet’s office.
You can tell that he genuinely cares for every single person there. You can tell that he will listen to people because he doesn’t have all the answers. He isn’t afraid to say he made a mistake and then learn how to do better.
You can tell everyone loves working on the campaign, even when it’s stressful and under a deadline, by the way they blow off some steam on a Friday night with a little bit of hilarious Twitter shenanigans.
What I’m about to say may sound ridiculous: When I see Jagmeet interact with people, I’m flooded with images of Jagmeet playing with cute puppies, which then floods my system with good dopamine. It may sound like “fluff” but I’m going to tell you from a psychology point of view: To survive a time in history where people are getting PTSD from watching the news, we need these moments that actually produce hormones that give us pleasure in order to survive. And the triggers that produce dopamine aren’t things that can be faked. You can’t fake genuine love and care.
I know from the very bottom of my soul that if you were to tell Jagmeet a story that causes you to cry, he’d have a very difficult time not crying with you while holding you in the tightest embrace. This isn’t an act. When Jagmeet says “Love and Courage”, it’s isn’t some platitude of, “love is love is love is love”: It’s a call to action.
The world is in desperate need of many acts of Love and Courage. The world needs a leader like Jagmeet Singh who will not only energize the party and draw in new members, but who will also build a movement that isn’t afraid to tackle issues that will cause discomfort among those who benefit from the current system; a leader who will stand firm in his dedication to help the most vulnerable.
Today is the last day to join the NDP so that you can vote Jagmeet Singh as leader of the NDP. I strongly encourage you to do so.
After today, the work is not done. We still have a lot to do before we start to vote in September. If you want to help bring positive change to Canada and be part of a campaign that will actually make you feel like you are heard, are truly making a difference and feel genuinely good while doing so, then volunteer.
With extraordinary acts of Love and Courage, we will make a true difference.
To pledge your support for Jagmeet Singh, become a member of the NDP now. Membership deadline in Midnight eastern. Membership deadline has passed. You can still join the NDP at any time but you won’t be able to vote for the new NDP leader.
And then sign up to volunteer for his campaign and let’s make history, together.