Do you know the local city councillor who is representing you? Do you know who your member of parliament is? Do you know whichriding you live in? If not, please go find out.
As an ace reporter for a small daily newspaper, one of my jobs is to do streeters, otherwise known as street surveys. The streeter is the "cleaning the toilets" of the journalism world. It is usuallythrown on a reporter as punishment for a late assignment or talkingtoo much when he should be working. Buddy on the health beat tellsone too many jokes and the news editor is bound to spring out ofhis office and say "You! Streeter!" as everyone else in thenewsroom lapses into looking extremely busy.
Streeters are the section near the editorial page of your localnewspaper where there are pictures of Joe Citizen and Joe'scomments on a topical issue next to it. They are hell.
The reasons they are hell are a) everyone likes to talk but no one likes their picture taken and b) no one pays attention to what goeson around them. I live in Haldimand-Norfolk, which is one of theregions that Mighty Mike Harris (the premier of the province ofOntario, and if you didn't know that, I'm talking about you)decided should restructure. Haldimand-Norfolk could be splitdown the middle, taxes could increase roughly 14 per cent forabout 22,000 people and everything about crucial services suchas ambulance and road maintenance could change. Not only didmany of the people I asked not know this, but many couldn'tname the municipality in which they reside. I stood in the mallon a freezing evening and asked about 20 people before I gotthe six necessary to fulfil my streeter requirements. One girlnot only didn't know the region was restructuring, but shedidn't know she lived in Haldimand-Norfolk.
The standard sheepish excuse is "well, I don't read the paper" or "I don't watch the news." Is it really that tough to know where yourmoney is going? Even if you pay rent, you are indirectly payingproperty tax, and you can bet that if taxes were hiked 50 per centyour rent would go along with it.(Premier Harris scrapped a bunch of rent control laws, but most of the people who "don't watch the news" don't know that, either.)How much effort does it take to know who is getting paid tens ofthousands of dollars to represent you?
Our regional council decided that they deserved a pension, which would of course mean a big chunk of our tax dollars going to peoplewho have served a three year term in office. One guy I encounteredstepped out of a big shiny black truck, had perfect hair and washolding a little girl in his arms. When I asked him if he thoughtour local politicians deserved a pension, he didn't know we livedin Haldimand-Norfolk and didn't know there was such a thing as aregional councillor. "I don't watch the news," he explained.Then, as I walked away, he shouted after me "But I think theyshould leave Clinton alone!"
To everyone who "doesn't read the paper," please start. The worldis going on around you and it is likely to collapse before youwill notice anything different. If we do not pay attention,Adolf Hitler could come into office and commit mass genocideand we would be none the wiser. Knowledge is power and you don'thave to be a political activist to know the basics of the worldaround you. The people who "don't watch the news" are usually theones who do not vote, either. While they are paying attention towhether or not President Clinton got any from Monica Lewinsky,the guy they hate is gliding into office on the backs of theundecided vote.
Local politics are not boring. Your town councillor is boinking underage girls and grandstanding in the council chambers the sameway the big guys on TV do. But he can get away with it because youaren't paying attention. Such lethargy is a vote of confidence forthe guy who is fucking up your community, and every municipalperson in your district, from the public works guy to the Memberof Parliament, is working for you.
One woman told me tonight that she didn't know anything was going on because she's "not political." You don't have to be political to knowwhat people are doing to your hometown. Lose the ignorance, educateyourself and hang onto what's important to you in the process.
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