Meeting Mr. Lee

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Participation Wednesday, November 05, 2014 View Count = 1265

Meeting Mr. Lee

vancouver garden

John Beebe is Outreach Manager at Samara. He spends his days building Canadians’ appreciation for democracy and helping them strengthen their political communities through
 Democracy Talks and other initiatives. This post is from his recent west-coast excursion.

I arrived in Vancouver prepared to walk.  It was only my second trip but I knew that this city revealed its beauty when explored on foot.  So when executive director Donna Chang invited me to visit her Cedar Cottage Neighbourhood House and offered to pick me up, I happily accepted her offer to visit but declined the ride. I was rewarded when my walk took me past a verdant community garden ready for harvest on a busy street corner just down the block from Cedar Cottage.

Donna had attended the Elections Canada workshop where I presented the Democracy Talks program the first time I was in Vancouver.  On this trip, she kindly invited me to visit Cedar Cottage to discuss opportunities for collaboration. 

While we toured the centre Donna introduced me to Mr. Lee, who was at Cedar Cottage for programming they offer to seniors in the community.  Mr. Lee is tall and has a confident, relaxed bearing. I guessed he was 70 years old.

When Mr. Lee asked me what I did and I explained I was involved in increasing democratic engagement, he shyly responded, “I don’t pay too much attention to politics.”  

I then asked Mr. Lee a simple question, “what issues do you care about?”  Mr. Lee explained that he is most concerned about providing opportunities for younger generations.  He went on to provide thoughtful perspectives on the leadership in the BC government, who he is supporting in the upcoming federal election. For good measure he explained how the legacy of the Bush presidency is impacting Obama’s presidency. 

All the while Mr. Lee asserted he does not talk about politics, although he did admit that he likes to read the newspaper.  He also explained that he had served in the Canadian armed forces in Southeast Asia during WW II. Donna Chang and I were equally impressed with Mr. Lee’s insights and depth of experience and wisdom he brings to his views.  Donna also later told me that Mr. Lee is not 70 but 95 years old.

Not everyone I meet has Mr. Lee’s depth of knowledge of our political system or wealth of experience, but everyone I meet does have an interesting response to the question “what issues do you care about?”  Whether it is youth in foster care sharing their concerns about educational opportunities at Queen’s Park in Toronto or new and expectant mothers discussing the challenges of navigating the public transit system at a community food centre, that simple question has never failed to begin a meaningful conversation.

According to Samara’s research, 60% of Canadians never talk about politics.  Many are like Mr. Lee and believe that “politics” is not a socially acceptable topic for discussion.  But just like Mr. Lee, we have seen that Canadians of all ages and experiences have strong opinions about issues that matter to them and welcome the opportunity to discuss those issues in a non-partisan, community-based setting.

At Cedar Cottage Community House Donna Chang was so impressed with Mr. Lee’s response that the two of them are now planning to hold the first intergenerational Democracy Talks program. My trip to Vancouver taught me yet again that, like the community garden that I saw on my walk to Cedar Cottage, this country is full of democratic vitality—there’s more growing here than meets the eye, it just takes a walk to see it.

To find out more about Democracy Talks, click here. To learn more about Samara’s research around Canadian political participation, check out this page.

(photo credit: John Beebe)

 

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