Democracy Talks Dispatches: This is what democracy looks like

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Tuesday, April 16, 2013 View Count = 4002

Democracy Talks Dispatches: This is what democracy looks like

Democracy Talks is a community-based discussion series that brings people together to discuss politics and share ideas for improving civic and political engagement in Canada. Lately, we’ve been chatting with groups of youth and new Canadians about their experiences with politics. Over the next few weeks, we’ll introduce you to some of these Democracy Talks participants, and their big ideas for transforming Canada’s political culture.

Now introducing....Uzma Irfan
Occupation: A TESL teacher and photographer by training, Uzma is currently the outreach coordinator, photojournalist and event planner for the Malton Women Council, director of the Malton Community Festival and an Advisory Board member for the Malton Community Building Project.
A bit of backstory: Uzma is a Pakistani-Canadian who has been living in Malton for 14 years. She is a mother of three and a community organizer.
Where we met: In Malton, Ontario at a meeting organized by Malton Moms
What we talked about: Building relationships from the bottom-up and the top-down

Uzma arrived in Canada with her husband in 1989, but she had already heard plenty about Canada from her father who studied here as a young man, and her brother who lives here. Uzma was less familiar, however, with Canadian politics. In fact, she says she would never have thought of contacting a politician until recently.

         “Only one year back I wasn’t very experienced so I was hesitant to talk
          to political leaders. It was lack of confidence as well as I think that back home we
          have to 
be careful regarding [politicians’] protocols and we still think that it applies
          over here too.”

It was her community group, Malton Women Council, that made the difference for Uzma.

         "Now with confidence, knowledge and experience I can talk to them (politicians) easily.
          In fact, I...recently submitted a community petition to [our] MPP"

She told us she thinks that lack of confidence is a barrier to many people's political involvement. Her advice to other community groups who want their members to become more political is to “trust the abilities of your members, encourage them, give them opportunities to explore their potential and assure them that they can represent the group at high levels. This is exactly what my council did with me.”

It also helped that the politicians Uzma was reaching out to reached back. For example, she followed up her petition by inviting her MPP to a community event; he came and listened to their concerns. Her city councillor visits the local community centre every Thursday to meet with constituents who live far from City Hall.

Uzma’s community group gave her the tools to become confident in her politicking, and when it came time to action, her representatives met her halfway.

It was nice to talk to Uzma and hear a story about the political system working the way it should. On Thursday we'll share some more success stories of citizens and politicians working together to create positive change in their communities.

To learn more about navigating Canadian politics, read our Top Ten Tips for Reaching your MP.

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