Diaries Magazine

Remembering Jack

Posted on the 18 August 2012 by M0derngirl @M0DDERNGIRL
Remembering Jack
Leader of the NDP and the official opposition, Jack Layton died August 22nd, 2011.
Nearly a year ago this weekend. The press has been covering lots of stories of how people are remembering Jack - from an online website of the public's anecdotes, to community vigils, to Olivia Chow's sculpted and bronze bust of Jack that will be placed where his ashes are buried.
There are lots of skeptics and cynics saying, "Why should we remember Jack?" and saying rather nasty and trollish things about the man, like he wasn't a good politician, and he wasn't anything special.
I want to point out why he was special, and why I am remembering his life and death.
I had voted NDP in a few elections before moving to Ottawa in 2006, but I never had the opportunity to meet Jack. Until then, my votes had been based on party platforms on websites and television broadcasts. I had met Stephen Harper and Paul Martin in person when they visited Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. Paul Martin was at a rally during an election and really never mingled with the crowd - he kept close to his cronies. Stephen Harper was at a BBQ with Peter Mackay and shook my hand. And then we had a terribly awkward conversation. He was a complete robot, stiff, unemotional, and distant.
I thought all politicians were that way - until I met Jack in person.
I was only in Ottawa about 6 weeks - it was right around Thanksgiving. A few people in my residence mentioned that he'd be speaking at a coffee house on campus. I was collecting personal meetings with politicians like trading cards, so I went.
I expected boring rhetoric and party lines. As I sat on my stool and listened to Jack, I was completely drawn in. He was so passionate, and alive, and relatable, and human. He was talking with the clarity and interest like a great professor or teacher. I couldn't help but hang on his every word.
But, I've always prided myself in thinking critically. Jack was talking a lot about anti-oil sands positions, while still saying he speaks for the working class. At the Q&A session, I really wanted to get up and talk to him. Some people were firing rough questions out. I got off my stool, nervous because of the tv cameras and student media. As it turned out, the last question taken was the person right before me. I never got to ask my question publicly.
When the event concluded, Paul Dewar and Jack Layton were still sitting on stage. I approached, and Jack turned with interest towards me - maybe because he knew I had my question cut, but then maybe not. I explained to him that I didn't understand how he could be pro-working class but anti-oil sands. My family was a working class family, my hometown was a working class town and our factory was shut down. The men in my hometown could not get work unless they moved out west and worked for the oil sands. My father was in the process of trying to get hired in the oil sands. While I agreed that the oil sands were terrible for the environment, I felt that my family and many other families had no other economic choices. By slowing down the oil sands, he would be taking away other opportunities from struggling Atlantic Canadians, and how did he feel about that.
The response I got was amazing. It was life changing (that why I'm writing about it). Jack Layton was not a robot. His facial expression, his body language, his ability to listen astounded me. He heard me out, took in my thoughts, and then engaged in a real conversation. He told me about "green collar jobs" something I had never heard about at that point. He explained that he wanted to create opportunities for the working class in Atlantic Canada, and he could if we invested in green energy and green industries, and we could center those industries in Nova Scotia. This was a completely novel idea to me.
Jack was so real. Essentially, he was like a top notch teacher that left an amazing impression on me. I left the coffee house that night excited over what I had learned.
Being in Ottawa, I started following political events more closely. That's all there really is to do around this town. And over the years, Jack continued to impress me. Of course, there were times he didn't. I remember one spring, when the house budget was being proposed, he took a "we will not support this budget" stance before it had even been released. I made sure to email his office immediately, stating that I found that unacceptable, and that if politicians want to get things down, they need to debate in good faith.
Perhaps someone in Jack office read my email and liked it, perhaps hundreds of Canadians also sent emails and felt the same way. But Jack never said that again. In fact, he made a point in the future of stating that "Canadians want us to get to work" and talked about "working for Canadians to get things done." I will never know how this change came about in his rhetoric, but it perfectly matched my beliefs. As a politician, he began to represent my values and my priorities even more closely.
From the time I was learning about politics (during the 2004 election) to the spring 2011 election, I tried to convince myself that I was non-partisan. Yes, I had almost always voted NDP, but I swore that I did not let the party decide my values. I chose my priorites and beliefs and values, and I would vote for the party that matched those values the closest. I would not let a party tell me what to think. Once, when the NDP sent out a card telling us about their position on child care funding, I was disgusted that only my Mom, my sisters, and I received the mail-out card. My father and brother were also registered voters but didn't receive the card. I sent an angry email to both Jack Layton and Olivia Chow regarding this blatant form of sexism, and I threatened to vote Liberal in the Nova Scotia provincial election that was happening that very weekend. On the next business day, the day after the election, my dad and brother received the child care info cards. Our mail is particularly slow. I know the child care cards must have been sent out before I wrote that nasty email, and I knew then that it wasn't sexism, just a Canada Post delay. However, the damage had been done, and I had cast my vote for Liberal on a matter of principle.
Over the years, I got warmer and warmer to the idea of being partisan. I finally took the dive and joined the party in the spring 2011, for the 2011 May election. It had been a lot of years of watching and scrutinizing, and deciding that yes, in almost every topic and issue, the NDP reflected my values. they spoke and represented me.
So I took the plunge.
I went to Jack Layton's campaign kick off at the Chateau Laurier. I was excited to see the big orange bus outside when I walked up to the hotel. Inside, I learned a lot. We stood around, watching large televisions, waiting for Stephen Harper to address the Governor General to ask for Parliament to dissolve so the election could be called. Then we watched the televised broadcast of Michael Iggnacieff strut a power walk with the Liberal shadow cabinet in front of the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill.
Then, we all stood on bleaches behind Jack Layton, and cheered him on as he kicked off the NDP campaign. The imagery really impacted me. Jack spoke a lot about how the NDP is really the people's party. It really works for the people, to represent the people. And there we were, on camera with Jack. In the spotlight, during a major political event. The Liberals didn't put the people first. Their broadcast just showed their leader and 4-5 head cronies during a power walk. From the rally with Paul Martin, I attended, it felt exactly the same. The Liberals were all about the status quo, and appearing higher, and better, and more authoritative than the people. The Conservatives were even more strong that way - but Harper doesn't even let his cronies in on the camera shot, because he's a crazy autocrat.
When I arrived at the Chateau Laurier that morning, I didn't know anyone. I found this group of people wearing "I vote child care" t-shirts that were bright amber yellow. I didn't own much orange and wanted to wear NDP colors. They gave me a t-shirt. Because I was wearing the team colors, other people in the NDP bleachers made way for me to get in a good position on camera. Normally when Jack appears at rallies, he goes around and shakes lots of hands - it's very rock star like. That wasn't new to me. But because I was front and center, the footage from that rally made its way into various NDP campaign ads. In a few weeks, I had gone from joining the party, to being in a party's ad shaking hands with the leader.
I had recently stopped going to my local place of worship, and was on the rocks with religion. NDP became like a new religion to me. I volunteered with the Marilyn Rivier campaign in my riding, and I attended all and any events I could. I walked many kilometers delivering campaign flyers to mailboxes. I knocked on doors and delivered more pamphlets and led around the local candidate. I attended an NDP breakfast held in the Eggspectations next to NDP headquarters. I even got on a group bus and went to Gatineau to hear one of Jack's rallies. I re-did my blog over in the color orange, and blogged frantically about the election, and only the election for about 2 whole months.
And I never did it because I thought we could win. Even if the NDP only had 17% of the popular vote, and even if we only had 30 seats, I still would have been happy. I poured my heart and my effort into the NDP because I believed in the values. Not because I believed we were going to win. Admittedly, I was sick and tired of CTV, CBC, Macleans, and most other media discounting the NDP. Of course they'd always get less votes if they got less air time and less media coverage, and that bugged me.
But things started to change, and they pulled ahead in the polls. Old fashioned people that just pulled the Liberal-Conservative party lines were forced to change their rhetoric, they were forced to pay attention. 
On that election night, I literally drank Orange Crush. And I was completely blown away by the results. Yes, I could have cried regarding the Conservative majority, but I was so blown away by the success of NDP, it made up for it. I was so completely elated. People would finally take the party seriously!
But that joy would inevitably end. One mid-July day, I was at home when the NDP media conference was aired, and an extremely frail and sick Jack Layton was shown. I felt shattered. Jack's voice was so weak, so alarming. He words remained hopeful, but his image, his appearance were making me greatly pessimistic.
Never-the-less, on July 25th, I wrote the following email to Jack:
You are my hero Mr. Layton. I volunteered during the last election and I attended election events at which you were present this year. I was completely impressed with your campaign and the positive stance you took to create change in our country.

I am truly sad to hear about your health and I write this with a tear in my eye. This past spring, my father had a scare with prostrate cancer, and we used your triumph as inspiration to stay positive. My grandfather has defeated prostrate cancer and skin cancer, but he is currently undergoing radiation for lung cancer.
Your struggles are the struggles of Canadians. We are in this with you Jack. And we are behind you! Good luck, and get better soon. I can't wait to see you back.
 Jack had championed the cause of hope and optimism, and I wanted to write him something hopeful. Not only did his political beliefs reflect mine, but his situation was emotionally tangled with my family. As my email mentioned, my grandfather had just started treatment for lung cancer that same month. And, on May 2nd, the very day of the federal election, my father phoned me to say he might have prostate cancer. Thankfully, it was just a scare - one that was cleared up in June of that same year.
The day of Jack's newcast, and his announcement of stepping down as leader of the opposition, I felt changed. Between my Dad, my grandfather, and now my political hero, I felt so completely angry at cancer. I buckled down, did some research, and within a few days I registered to run the Terry Fox Run for cancer research.
On August 18th, one year ago today, my fiance and I left Canada to travel with my fiance's family for a month. It was an early morning in Israel on August 22nd when I woke up and went on Facebook to the tragic news of Jack Layton's death. Both of my sisters had written me sympathetic notes telling me of the news, and hoping this would not ruin my trip overseas.
I sat at the table at our apartment in Israel, and unhibitedly, unashamedly, and cried, and well-uped, and wept. I knew it was going to happen. I could tell by his appearance in July. I even knew that it was going to happen relatively soon. But it was still so completely painful to learn.
After living in Ottawa for 5 years, after being able to go to Parliament Hill anytime I wanted to, after being so connected with the NDP in Ottawa, I was now stuck, alone, in Israel. All I wanted to do was go downtown, near the centennial flame, and be around others. But I couldn't. My in-laws were with me in Israel, but it wasn't the same. I was around the world from others like me. I was around the world from others who would understand.
I watched all the live streaming footage that I could. Despite the time difference, I found out about Jack's death at almost the same hour that most Canadians found out. I sat and streamed as much Canadian tv as possible. I saw the chalk memorials. I wanted to contribute so badly. I knew that's where I belonged. I knew I needed to be there to mourn. But I couldn't be.
One thing that really truly helped, was discovering all my friends on Facebook and online who cared too. I had people in my life that I never knew were Jack fans. Seeing them post even the simplest and smallest of status related to Jack's death really helped me. It really made me feel not so alone. And the amount of people quoting Jack's letter - amazing. His words were great. I know that he had help writing those words. I know that various NDP party members have taken credit for some of those words. But there were his as much as anyone else's. I was so grateful for his letter. He knew we'd need it. And we did. 
Our last day in Israel coincided with the day of Jack's state funeral. I had followed the public showings with Olivia in Ottawa, and I watched almost every minute of his funeral service. The next day, we started traveling to various European cities, and I did not have reliable internet for the rest of the trip.
The day after I returned to Canada, it was a chilly autumn day. I put on an orange scarf, and went down the Parliament Hill. It was nearly a month since his death, and there were no signs of a memorial. The tributes of orange flowers, and soda, and signs had all been cleaned. I still was not really able to mourn.
Two days later, I completed the 10k Terry Fox Run, and raised over $500. It helped me to find some consolation and to help feel some closure.
There were many outlets online to write messages. I don't believe in an afterlife, and I don't believe Jack will ever get that message. So I don't see the point in that. I believe my message I sent him in July 2011 was the last he could possibly ever get from me, and I'm ok with that.
What I crave, is something for the living. Something to reassure me that his essence and message will continue among us that are still here. Something to comfort me and let me know that even if I don't have him on tv and at Parliament Hill, standing up for my beliefs and my values, that my beliefs and values will not be forgotten. I needed something to remind me of the light that Jack Layton brought, and the inspiration that he created.
And so, over the past year, I have done a few various things to help me "Remember Jack."
If you know me, you know I'm a highly symbolic person. For example. I like to hide lots of symbolism in my jewelry. In November 2011, I was looking for a pendant or necklace to help represent my values, to make me feel closer to my ideals. I thought of a peace dove, but because they're usually depicted as white, I didn't feel that spoke to my multicultural awareness, and my empathy for all of humanity. Also, I wanted something that was not an overused or previously affiliated symbol. I wanted something that could reflect the universality of the beauty of humanity. I didn't want something that was a perfect geometric shape, because no one and nothing is perfect.
Remembering Jack
By chance, I found a little, tiny, piece of golden rutilated quartz. From a distance, it looks like nothing. It almost looks like a yellow-ish, brown-ish piece of quartz. Nothing special. But up close, you can see that it's actually a clear quartz with many different colored strands of gold, brown, yellow, white going through it. it's and irregular shape, sort of like a bell. It's not a precious stone - it cost almost nothing. But to me, it represents compassion for all, solidarity with humanity, hope, optimism, peace, tolerance, empathy, and working hard to make this world a better place. To me, it's the inner light of humanity, especially because the golden colored strands can catch and reflect light. And it's a yellow-ish color, somewhat close to NDP orange.
I've worn it around my neck almost always since I got it in November. And it's the main thing I use to remember the beautiful hope for humanity that can never be taken away, and that did not die with Jack Layton.
But aside from buying myself some jewelry, what have I done?
Well, this weekend (tomorrow actually), I am launching a book club. It's called "Critical & Compassionate Thinkers" and it's a book club dedicated to reading non-fictional books with a humanitarian or compassionate emphasis. Our first book that we'll discuss tomorrow is "Notes from My Travels" by Angelina Jolie, which talks about the UNHCR work with refugees in Sierre Leone, Tanzania, Cambodia, Colombia and Pakistan. Other books we'll read include "12 Steps to a Compassionate Life" by Karen Armstrong, "My Spiritual Journey" by the Dalai Lama, "Long Walk to Freedom" by Nelson Mandela, "Half the Sky" and "Little Princes" which both talk about the human trafficking and using children in war, and "Beginners Guide to Changing the World." I also want book suggestions for titles that talk about Syria, Haiti, and marginalized groups within Canada.
I started this book club because I love reading these types of books, and I want to meet others who do. If I can start to build a network of like-minded humanitarians, that would be awesome. But even if all I do is encourage people to read more books which promote hope and optimism and compassion for humanity, then I will consider it a great success. I scheduled the first meeting to match closely to Jack's death, because it mattered to me, and I thought it would be appropriate to show that we haven't given up, and we have not forgotten about his message.
I also recently discovered that tomorrow (August 19th) is World Humanitarian Day, so the first day of my humanitarian book club is actually scheduled quite nicely.
After I picked the book club's first title, I spotted Jack Layton's "Speaking Out Louder" on sale at Coles. I snapped it up immediately, and I am currently reading it. His words are comforting. It's like listening to an old friend talk, his rhetoric, and linguistic style are exactly as how I remember them. I especially love how he takes a point that Conservatives use against him, then presents a rational and well thought out argument for why the naysayers are wrong. I'm so happy this has been republished.
This no question that Jack Layton helped to shape my character, my perspective on world issues, and my thoughts towards Canadian politics. While I never wanted a political party to tell me what to think, Jack took the approach of a great teacher. He never outright told me. He enlightened me, and empowered me to think for myself. And he listened, responded to feedback, and continued to work for me. He was an amazing leader, a great person, and someone I will always consider myself to be inspired by. He was just a man, and was completely mortal. But he had a profound understanding of compassion and empathy and his heart reached out to so many. And that is why he left such a huge impact on me, and on many.
And that is why it is important to remember Jack.

Back to Featured Articles on Logo Paperblog

About the author

M0derngirl 62 shares View Blog

The Author's profile is not complete.