I finally put my time where my opinion is and got more involved in my world.
I joined a council-appointed committee at the District of Squamish, where I live. Our first-ever meeting was last week.
Granted, the new Public Art Committee won't make enormous changes to the way the town is governed, but it will have an impact on how the community looks and how it spends money on art, with the added bonus of opening up discussion about Squamish's future in cultural tourism development.
People never have an opinion on public art, right? So it should be a piece of conceptual cake, with no arguing over what art is or meant to be. (Tongue firmly planted in cheek.)
For a visual arts nerd like me, the first meeting was fun. I'm expecting a lively debate, which is also good. Every meeting is filmed and put on the district's website. Democracy in action.
We the committee are a diverse group with different skills and experiences to offer. Along with an arts editor (me) and several visual artists (who will recuse themselves if they compete for any proposal), there is also an engineer, an experienced arts administrator, the mayor and a high school student.
Despite having strong opinions on many things, I tend to err on the side of wariness because, as a journalist, I am meant to be neutral in a professional sense, so I usually step back from "forcing my opinion" on others. I need to be able to talk to anyone and deserve trust, and people need to know that I will always do my best to present who they are and what they say.
I already volunteer in different ways, for things like school and community events. It is also part of my journalism job to flag volunteer opportunities in the arts, particularly in Whistler. In fact, the Adventure Film series at the GO Festival this month needs volunteers (more info on this on page 62).
But to shape the community from a "political" side? It's a first for me; I'm usually just reflecting what someone says back at readers.
Being annoyed with how the world is run but not stepping up to be a part of the change you seek is a common enough thing. I get why people are so disillusioned that they don't want to vote, for example, though I don't think their interests are better served by not voting.
In my case, it's time to do more — and I believe more people would be less discouraged by the idea if they shifted their perspectives a little to see it can do good for themselves and their neighbours.
I'm interested in convincing people with reason rather than guilt. They can make a difference in ways that don't take up all their time.
What happens if you don't step up? The vacuum left by non-participation is always filled, often — thankfully — by those community leaders who time and again bust their butts to build where we live. But I don't know a single "super volunteer" who wants fewer fresh faces involved in their community.
Another point is that involvement ensures that all interests are promoted. To do this there needs to be greater diversity in participants, because if your opinion isn't known it can't be taken into consideration.
Once the decision is made to take the volunteer plunge in politics or local government, what can you do?
Some of you may have heard there is an election this year. It's the big one, with Prime Minister Stephen Harper — a man no one is ambivalent about, love him or hate him — trying to top up his majority and continue with his efforts to reconstruct Canada one omnibus bill at a time. The federal election is expected to take place on Oct. 19.
Contact the party you care about, spend time canvassing for them, strategizing with them. You needn't be a careerist politico to do this. In fact, I feel it would be wonderful if more "ordinary civilians" got involved.
Then there are the issues — you don't need to be in a political party to give a damn about what happens to the environment, education, jobs, youth, homelessness, women's centres or other areas.
Along with volunteering for organizations that administer to these issues, you can pay attention to when the subjects become talking points at local council — as all of them do at some point or other.
When something you care about is on the agenda at the next council meeting, you can join roundtables or committees when opportunities arise. Or you can request the chance to make presentations to councils, as a private citizen, or as part of a group.
And check out such opportunities to give back to your community without taking an overt political position. That is how I found out about my new commitment.