A Democracy in Distress


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By Donna Sinclair

It starts with the morning newspaper, rescued hurriedly from the icy driveway by either Jim or me. Whoever brings it in is the first to get the prized front section. This has led to my getting up earlier. Since the paper usually arrives around 7:00, it is useless to get up at 6:00. But I do, in hope.

We drink coffee and are blasted by the news of the day. I am stronger in the morning, so I yelp aloud at times but read on. (In the evening I absent myself from the television news, knowing I won’t sleep if I watch it. But Jim does, and brings me bulletins that I deal with by groaning and pulling a pillow over my head.)

My routine is punctuated by glances at facebook (where I have befriended sites like Leadnow and Project Democracy) and spells of listening to CBC radio. Lately I have salted my steady diet of murder mysteries with books by Chris Hedges and Tony Judt. Oh, and magazines like The United Church Observer and Walrus and The New Yorker, along with bulletins from the church coalition KAIROS.

This fierce attention to the state of the nation is possible because I don’t have to go to work each day. Being an elder is an enviable state of affairs. From this vantage point of sufficient leisure – a condition I have never known before – I would like to offer this report:

Our democracy is in distress.

Our beautiful country, a light to social democracies everywhere, a model of multiculturalism and respect and sheer good intentions, is struggling under increasing domination by corporate power (witness our federal government’s earnest support of various pipelines out of the Alberta tar sands) and dysfunctional parliamentary debate. (Go ahead. Watch CPAC for an hour or two. I dare you.)

Voter turnout is way down. So is crime, but that hasn’t stopped that same federal government from pushing through its brutal Omnibus Crime Bill (C-10) which will cost citizens untold, perhaps unestimated, billions of dollars to incarcerate the sick and vulnerable along with the criminal.

Meantime, that same governing party phones Liberal MP Irwin Cotler’s constituents to intimate – falsely – that he is resigning, and to campaign for their own candidate in a mythical by-election. Caught, they declare this is to be free speech instead of a lie.

And even as I write, Canada’s environment minister is in Durban, South Africa, making feeble excuses for Canada’s determination to protect the oil industry instead of the planet. I used to feel lack of attention to global warming would affect my grandchildren and fought it accordingly. Now I believe it will have terrible consequences for my children.

I could go on, and have been known to do so. Ask my long-suffering friends and my spouse, although the latter has begun to rival my ability to catastrophize.

All of which is a very long way of saying that it is time to stoke up the fire for justice that is the essence of our faith. When I was in Kenya on a women’s exchange years ago, the church openly opposed unjust government policies, a stance for which at least one bishop paid with a mysterious road accident.

In Germany, before the Berlin wall came down, I saw brave little Bible study groups making statements defying the regime, quiet subversion that helped to destroy that wall. In Central America, at the height of the region’s civil wars, base Christian communities provided a holy space for prayer and reflection that enabled resistance to survive.

We, too, know how to resist domination by powerful structures. I remember Rev. Clarke MacDonald being arrested outside missile-producing Litton Industries, and Canadian nuns travelling to Honduras to protest the planned construction of American military infrastructure on the Nicaraguan border.

For decades Maude Barlow (long-ago CGIT-er) has battled on behalf of Canada’s water and sovereignty. And today moderator Mardi Tindal from the United Church, and Willard Metzger from the Mennonite Church, are throwing all their energies into making justice and compassion part of the mix at the UN climate talks in South Africa.

People of faith can find the courage to resist the steady colonization of our commons by private, profit-hungry interests. We can gather to support our beleaguered democracy, yes we can. Many are doing so. Read the papers. Observe the politicians, strengthen the truly democratic and confront the others. Listen to the young activists who are aligning themselves creatively with all that is just and good, and join them.

Hurry up, please. It’s time.

A journalist for more than 30 years, Donna Sinclair is an award-winning writer who has traveled widely in Canada, Africa, Central America, Britain, and Eastern Europe. She is the author of The Spirituality of Bread, The Spirituality of Gardening, A Woman’s Book of Days, A Woman’s Book of Days 2, and numerous other titles. Donna lives with her husband Jim in North Bay, Ontario.

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Categories: Christian Life, Donna Sinclair, Peace, Justice, and Equality, World

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