I am…not kind to the people who say that all politicians are alike. I don’t tolerate those who try to tell me there aren’t any good ones. I know better. I’m represented by several at the city, state, and national level. Not everyone who represents me is effective and passionate about making the world better for all, but many of them are outstanding at both.
Nor is Minnesota unique in that respect. Yesterday, Canada lost its opposition party leader, Jack Layton, to his second bout with cancer. Between his battles, and before he first was diagnosed, he had spent his life articulating a vision first of a Toronto, then of a Canada that was strong because it cared for its weak and vulnerable and rich because it properly valued the work of the poor.
He never got to run that Canada, although his message carried his party from fringe to center stage, even as the press failed to take him or the NDP very seriously until just before the 2011 election, when polling numbers required it. But even as he was dying, he continued to lead it. From his last letter:
To young Canadians: All my life I have worked to make things better. Hope and optimism have defined my political career, and I continue to be hopeful and optimistic about Canada. Young people have been a great source of inspiration for me. I have met and talked with so many of you about your dreams, your frustrations, and your ideas for change. More and more, you are engaging in politics because you want to change things for the better. Many of you have placed your trust in our party. As my time in political life draws to a close I want to share with you my belief in your power to change this country and this world. There are great challenges before you, from the overwhelming nature of climate change to the unfairness of an economy that excludes so many from our collective wealth, and the changes necessary to build a more inclusive and generous Canada. I believe in you. Your energy, your vision, your passion for justice are exactly what this country needs today. You need to be at the heart of our economy, our political life, and our plans for the present and the future.
And finally, to all Canadians: Canada is a great country, one of the hopes of the world. We can be a better one – a country of greater equality, justice, and opportunity. We can build a prosperous economy and a society that shares its benefits more fairly. We can look after our seniors. We can offer better futures for our children. We can do our part to save the world’s environment. We can restore our good name in the world. We can do all of these things because we finally have a party system at the national level where there are real choices; where your vote matters; where working for change can actually bring about change. In the months and years to come, New Democrats will put a compelling new alternative to you. My colleagues in our party are an impressive, committed team. Give them a careful hearing; consider the alternatives; and consider that we can be a better, fairer, more equal country by working together. Don’t let them tell you it can’t be done.
My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.
Reading the whole letter, I can’t help but wonder what Paul Wellstone would have done had he known he was about to die. I also can’t help but wonder how many of those passionate people have their influence confined to their city or county or small nonprofit instead of sharing it more broadly with the world because, when they run for a larger election, we can’t bring ourselves to believe that they will or even want to make that bright vision a reality. How many of them never even make it past primaries or caucuses.
There are more people like Layton out there. What could we accomplish if we supported them? I think Layton just told us all.