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Community activist Meslin talks civic engagement in Pemberton

Talk covers organizer’s 36 points of action to improve participation in local politics



Toronto activist and community organizer Dave Meslin is coming to Pemberton to talk about civic engagement and influencing political decision-making.

The Fourth Wall: Transforming City Hall was developed by Meslin to build awareness of what he calls the "fourth wall" in politics, referring to the sense of disconnect between politicians and citizens. It is essentially a list of 36 actions - some fall under municipal jurisdictions, others at the provincial level - that can be taken by councils and organizers to encourage public participation. Some are as simple as setting up free WiFi at city hall, some take more effort.

About 18 months ago these points developed into an interactive exhibit, a series of panels and materials, and a PowerPoint talk.

"It's about the general theme of what role citizens play in local decision making, and how can we increase that role," he said in an interview.

"It started out Toronto-specific but it turns out that most of the ideas can be applied in any city. People are hearing about it and inviting me out to speak."

Meslin's talk in Pemberton, at Pemberton and District Library on Tuesday, May 29 at 7 p.m., is one of the road trips he has taken to spread the word outside the Greater Toronto Area. He has also spoken in Calgary, Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Vancouver and Halifax - Pemberton is the smallest town he's been invited to, by far.

"I'll be learning as much as the audience will be," said Meslin.

"It's so different (in) a small village. What I usually hope people leave with is a greater sense of the role they can play and a greater sense of confidence that they have a greater role to play and their voice matters."

His project is beginning to get beyond the talking stage now.

"I don't like doing projects where I am just complaining. I'd rather put forward concrete proposals to move things forward," Meslin said.

On Thursday, May 25 he was on hand as the famously fractious Toronto council led by Mayor Rob Ford agreed to forward eight of the proposals forward for further consideration.

"This council is so polarized that it is so important that this was successful. It's not about left and right," he said.

Meslin will speak at a free forum Tuesday, May 29 at 7 p.m. at the Pemberton & District Library.

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