Move Along, #Harperman – We’ll Take It From Here

What began as a discussion* (and mocking) of the sideshow of the day song of a generation turned into a great exchange about political/protest tunes. I’ve collected some of the best recommendations, and in addition to my own suggestions, have linked to the better ones found throughout the night.

Feel free to post the songs I’ve missed, but which you’re particularly fond of, to the comments.  I’d love you hear your favourites. Also welcome: Those so bad, they’re amazing.

*To see the full conversation thread, be sure to click the various “view other replies.”

Bruce Cheadle:

Tom Russell – Who’s Gonna Build Your Wall 

Terry Glavin

Damien Dempsey – Sing all our Cares Away

The Internationale (English Version) 

White Riot by the Clash

Douglas Hunter:

Elvis Costello – Ship Building

Sine Nomine:

Rage Against The Machine version – The Ghost of Tom Joad

George McKie:

Midnight Oil – Beds Are Burning

Ken Cunningham:

Drezus – Red Winter (idle No More)

Billy Bragg – Between The Wars


Flynn Flon:

Marvin Gaye – Inner City Blues

Brother Ali – Uncle Sam Goddamn

Crosby, Stills, Nash – Ohio 

A Change Is Gonna Come – Sam Cooke

Laurie K:

Green Day – American Idiot 

Matthew Elliot:

Janelle Monáe – Hell You Talmbout

Robert Cooper:

Manic Street Preachers – If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next

And from me:

First, the songs which initially came to my mind:

Eminem – Mosh 

Black Sabbath – War Pigs

Ramones – My Brain Is Hanging Upside Down (Bonzo Goes to Bitburg)

God Save The Queen – The Sex Pistols

Rage Against The Machine – Killing In The Name

Johnny Mandel – Suicide Is Painless (M*A*S*H Theme)

Creedence Clearwater Revival – Fortunate Son

Nina Simone – Mississippi Goddam

Billie Holiday – Strange Fruit

And below, some gems I wasn’t familiar with, which I found while searching:

Country Joe McDonald – I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-To-Die Rag

Eric Bogle – The Band Played Waltzing Matilda

Donovan – The Universal Soldier

Barry McGuire – Eve of Destruction

Tom Robinson Band – Glad To Be Gay

Bonus! This very fun post, thanks to Kady o’malley, and a what looks like a great book, recommended by Laurie K.

The Assault On Planned Parenthood: A Long Campaign Against Reproductive Rights

In 2011, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted to strip Planned Parenthood of federal funding, a move deemed necessary to ensure no taxpayer dollars were used on abortion despite existing federal legislation which prohibits funds granted under Title X from paying for such services.

This vote, a “culmination of a multi-year effort that involved parallel action by top Republicans and conservative media operatives,” relied on the work of anti-abortion activist Lila Rose, President and founder of Live Action, an organization through which she sought to “take out Planned Parenthood” ahead of the 2012 Presidential election by teaming up with disgraced far-right activist James O’Keefe to produce a series of undercover ‘sting’ videos purporting to show Planned Parenthood staff “willing to assist sex trafficking and exploitations of minors and young women.”

Rose’s elaborate production was eventually exposed for the lie it was — manipulated segments of video spliced to create exchanges which never occurred, or to misrepresent things which were said.

Even so, the ruse was – and still is – championed as a credible exposé within the complex network of organizations which make up the greater anti-abortion lobby, with the disproven allegations repeated by influential anti-abortion leaders including Troy Newman, President of Operation Rescue: a militant organization infamous for their relentless campaign against late-term abortion provider Dr. George Tiller, one which only ended after Scott Roeder, an Operation Rescue fanatic, pursued Tiller to his church and shot him to death as Sunday services began.

A longtime admirer of Rose’s efforts – Rose was named Operation Rescue’s Person of the Year in 2008 for her then-early campaign against Planned Parenthood – Newman helped Live Action’s (now former) research director David Daleiden, business partner of Rose and close friend of O’Keefe, establish a new operation from which to launch a fresh assault against Planned Parenthood, providing “consultation services” and both “financial and material support” to the Live Action off-shoot Center for Medical Progress.

In addition to Newman’s professional guidance and financial support, both Rose and Daleiden were students of Mark Crutcher, president and founder of Life Dynamics Inc., a radical anti-abortion operation whose “professional counter-intelligence … intelligence-gathering” methods – including the covert recording of abortion providers and subsequent manipulating of audio/video to fabricate criminal wrongdoing – have become the activists’ MO.

Much like Rose’s failed 2011 Live Action ‘sting’, Daleiden’s Center for Medical Progress string of videos are heavily-edited, with exchanges intentionally doctored to grossly misrepresent the context of conversations in order to satisfy a narrative being sold. In this case, that Planned Parenthood is trafficking fetuses, “selling baby parts,” for profit.

The sophisticated, coordinated pre-election rollout and subsequent reaction by conservative media and lawmakers mirrors that of 2011, right down to another procedural vote to defund Planned Parenthood. Though passing the House in 2011, nothing became of the vote, and the renewed effort was defeated in the Senate.

And just as Planned Parenthood was cleared of the allegations levelled in 2011, the current round of increasingly-hyperbolic accusations have already been thoroughly, and repeatedly, disproved.

In full accordance with the law – one which has long-enjoyed broad bipartisan support – women who undergo an abortion can choose to donate usable tissue toward science. Fetal tissue is unique and provides a crucial form of stem cells without which public health advances – the eradication of polio, for instance – would not have been possible.

Planned Parenthood is not selling fetal specimens, which, it’s important to note, are acquired with the full consent of those terminating a pregnancy, be it a medically-necessary referral or an elective procedure. Nor do clinics profit from the donation of fetal tissue.

Despite claims to the contrary, abortion services are not the driving force behind Planned Parenthood, nor are they performed for monetary gain (profit) or as a means of facilitating ‘immoral’ and ‘promiscuous’ lifestyles (abortion on-demand as a recreational activity).

Planned Parenthood is a leading provider of high-quality, affordable health care to both men and women across America. In addition to the sexual health and reproductive services — screening and treatment for STIs, low- or no-cost reversible contraception (condoms, birth control, IUDs) and emergency contraception (Plan B), family planning and counselling, including pregnancy guidance and support, pre- and post-natal care, access to adoption services, and sexual education — Planned Parenthood offers a range of general health services, such as screening for breast and cervical cancer, and public immunizations.

Abortions account for only 3% of Planned Parenthood’s activities, and the most recent comprehensive report on induced abortion in the United States found 92% of all abortions occur within the first 13-weeks of pregnancy — only 1.2% occur at or after 21-weeks.

That 20-week mark is a crucial point of contention for anti-abortion activists who, unable to overturn Roe v. Wade, have sought to outlaw the procedure beyond 20-weeks, often without exception — meaning in the case of rape or incest, even if the victim is a child, the pregnancy must, by law, be carried to term.

Beyond the 20-week limit, activists push lawmakers to enact TRAP laws: impose redundant and wholly irrelevant requirements on abortion providers and clinics to regulate them out of service.

It’s the network of anti-abortion organizations who organize and finance the activist campaigns, and which reward the politicians who enact the legislative changes demanded.

Though hardly as influential north of the border, this cabal spans across Canada, sharing resources, swapping speakers, providing on-demand ‘experts,’ and partnering in campaigns  – including the effort against Planned Parenthood – with organizational allies.

Both Live Action and Operation Rescue are revered by Canada’s anti-abortion activists, and two prominent figures – Jonathon Van Maren, communications director for the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform (CCBR), representing the “educational arm of the pro-life movement” and Alissa Golob, Executive Director of Campaign Life Coalition (CLC) Youth, representing the “political arm of the pro-life movement” — the pair behind the graphic #no2Trudeau anti-abortion campaign – recently shared a stage with Operation Rescue’s President, one of the old hands working the strings behind the curtains of the series of video ‘stings;’ controlling the dance of the new, fresh-faced anti-abortion marionettes.

Newman was a keynote speaker at this year’s CLC Youth Banquet (Rose had the honour in 2010), a companion event to the annual March For Life on Parliament Hill. Buried among the litany of hyperbole and flat-out lies about abortion and the medical professionals who provide them – absurd allegations found in the hysterical, low-budget pseudo-documentary Bloodmoney, a film championed by CLC, CCBR and their anti-abortion affiliates, and treated as gospel by Golob – Newman tipped his hand on the upcoming strategy against abortion providers.

As reported by those in attendance:

Because abortion is an immoral activity, Newman and his fellow pro-life activists suspected other immoral activity would also take place in and around the abortion industry and Operation Rescue aimed to uncover and expose malfeasance and criminal activity. “The job is to point out the true villains … to put them in orange jumpsuits and put them behind bars.”

Ironic that Newman chose the following quote to motivate the CLC audience: “In times of universal deceit, to tell the truth is a revolutionary act.”

A more fitting Orwell citation, and perhaps the most succinct summary of the ongoing quest to not only destroy Planned Parenthood, but to rescind advances in public health and personal freedoms gained through the liberalization of sexual and reproductive rights: “We are all capable of believing things which we know to be untrue, and then, when we are finally proved wrong, impudently twisting the facts so as to show that we were right.

Abortion rates are lowest where the procedure is legal — where laws regarding the practise are the least-restrictive and women have relatively-easy access to a full range of reproductive health services.

Of course, the most effective anti-abortion strategy is contraception; a woman need not seek to terminate an unintended pregnancy if she’s able to prevent the pregnancy from the start.

It’s telling, then, that those dedicated to the cause of ending abortion are the ones working to ensure demand for the procedure never fades.

For instance, in 2009, Colorado launched a state health initiative specifically targeted at combating the soaring rate of teen pregnancies. Funded entirely by a private donor over 5-years, the Colorado Family Planning Initiative provided more than 30,000 contraceptive devices at low- or no-cost to women across 68 family-planning clinics.

The result was astounding: By 2013, the teen-birth rate plummeted by 40%; the abortion rate dropped even further, falling a full 42% from its previous demand.

As noted in the New York Times:

The changes were particularly pronounced in the poorest areas of the state, places like Walsenburg, a small city in southern Colorado where jobs are scarce and many young women have unplanned pregnancies.

In 2009, half of all first births to women in the poorest areas of the state happened before they turned 21. By 2014, half of first births did not occur until the women had turned 24, a difference that advocates say gives young women time to finish their educations and to gain a foothold in an increasingly competitive job market.

“If we want to reduce poverty, one of the simplest, fastest and cheapest things we could do would be to make sure that as few people as possible become parents before they actually want to,” said Isabel Sawhill, an economist at the Brookings Institution. She argues in her 2014 book, “Generation Unbound: Drifting Into Sex and Parenthood Without Marriage,” that single parenthood is a principal driver of inequality and long-acting birth control is a powerful tool to prevent it.

Still, when presented with the irrefutable data, Carrie Gordon Earll, senior director of public policy for the Colorado branch of Focus On The Family – a powerful organization within the anti-abortion Religious Right – rejected the findings.

“What we have seen over many years is that access to contraception does not equal fewer unintended pregnancies and fewer abortions,” Earll told the Denver Post. “Availability of contraception leads to increased sexual activity, which leads to unintended pregnancies and abortions.”

And thanks in part to lobbying by Focus On The Family, rather than continuing to fund the proven-effective program, the Republican-controlled state Senate killed the program this past May.

It’s this factsbedamned ideology which drives the anti-abortion coalition, and which leads its members to adhere to an increasingly-nonsensical script.

In 2010, when the Canadian Paediatric Society recommended adolescent health care providers counsel patients on emergency contraception – specifically, Plan B, which does not abort a pregnancy, but prevents it – Golob (as noted above, CLC activist and co-founder of the #No2Trudeau campaign) was incensed. She claimed health care providers mentoring their patients with regards to reproductive options was “a recipe for enabling child rapists to continue sexually assaulting young girls behind their parents’ backs.”

She questioned the “highly suspicious” motives of the Canadian Paediatric Society, claiming doctors would be “profiting off minors who are more than likely going to return because they have some kind of STD, pregnancy etc.”

In a 2012 interview, when asked how sex education “affects the youth’s understanding of sexuality, chastity, and contraception,” Golob responded:

“Sex education that promotes contraception, inevitably promotes promiscuity and abortion. Former abortionist Carol Everett said in the documentary Blood Money, ‘We had a whole plan to sell abortions and it was called sex education. Break down their natural modesty, separate them from their parents and their values, and become the sex expert in their lives so they turn to us. We would give them a low dosage birth control pill they would get pregnant on, or a defective condom. Our goal was three to five abortions from every girl between the ages of 13 and 19.’

Furthermore, a study done in 1999 by the British Journal Education and Health found that government policies that focus on providing family planning, or contraception and abortion, have failed to have any impact on teenage pregnancy rates. Despite the millions of pounds spent in government initiatives over the last four decades pregnancy rates among teenaged girls aged 13-16 have remained steady, while abortion rates have gone up.”

Keep in mind, it’s Golob and her associates who travel across Canada to ‘educate’ Catholic students on issues regarding sex, contraception, and abortion. (Abstinence only!)

Her organization is also one leading the charge against the Ontario government’s new sex-ed curriculum. One only need visit CLC’s website to see just how astoundingly inaccurate and wholly irresponsible their claims are in their push for abstinence-only education — dangerous misinformation which is prevalent throughout the site, such as the promotion of ‘reparative’ therapy to ‘cure’ homosexuality, the presentation of long-debunked health claims regarding birth control and abortion, and the dissemination of anti-vax propaganda to discourage Catholic School boards from implementing the HPV vaccine program.

Planned Parenthood’s Canadian branches, on the other hand – in addition to the exceptional counselling services offered – are working to ensure youth are provided the opportunity to benefit from evidence-based, age-appropriate sexual education.

Lauren Dobson-Hughes, President of Planned Parenthood Ottawa (PPO), says her organization is a proud supporter of Ontario’s new curriculum, which “matches what we’ve been teaching for some time.”

“Through our classroom sessions or our Insight Theatre program, PPO’s sex ed is innovative, interactive and engaging. It covers everything from LGBT issues to STIs, consent, sexting, puberty, and healthy relationships … We not only teach the facts, we teach them in a way that’s meaningful. It’s no good knowing the theory if you’re scared to apply it to real life situations.

At the end of every sex ed session, there’s a question box. This is where youth submit their questions anonymously, to be answered in front of the class. And when youth feel safe, they ask questions like this:”

(Actual questions from sixth- and seventh-graders, as evidenced by photos from a PPO session):

If someone you are texting asks you for a picture, how do you let them know you don’t want to?

Is masturbation normal?

What if it doesn’t fit?

Is one boob supposed to be bigger?

Can you get an STI from kissing?

What do I do if one of my friends thinks being gay is wrong?

If someone masturbates are they still a virgin?

What would be a polite way to say no?

What is the appropriate age for sex?

As was the case in 2011 when – citing the U.S. Congressional investigation stemming from Rose’s ‘sting’ – Canadian anti-abortion activists and their allied MPs set out to strip International Planned Parenthood Federation of funds granted through the Harper government’s Muskoka Maternal/Child Health initiative, the network of anti-abortion operations have latched onto the most recent fabrication, and they have Dobson-Hughes’ organization in their crosshairs.

The recent years’ increasingly-contentious environment regarding sexual and reproductive health had already cut into PPO’s funding, and now, in addition to demanding an investigation, opponents have begun intimidating known PPO donors into rescinding their financial support.

Recently, PPO was forced to turn away a woman a woman whose abusive partner was trying to force her to end her pregnancy.

“I never want to have to do that again,” laments Dobson-Hughes, whose organization does not provide abortion services. What they do offer, however, is confidential, unbiased counselling for those seeking sexual and reproductive guidance.

Case in point, as detailed by Dobson-Hughes:

Summer was 17, and heavily pregnant when she saw Planned Parenthood’s counsellor. Summer hadn’t wanted to be pregnant, but growing up in the rural North, she didn’t have the access to contraception she needed. She had received no pre-natal care, had not seen a doctor through her entire pregnancy, and had no financial support. Planned Parenthood’s counsellors worked with Summer, ensuring she got a midwife, helped her access assistance for housing, and connected her with cultural support from her community.

And in the end, that’s who loses the most. As fundamentalist culture-warriors position themselves the moral gatekeepers of society, demanding government “stay out” of their lives while seeking to dictate how others’ lives are lived, it’s people like Summer who bear the brunt of the fallout.

It’s the students who ask “Is it OK to say no?” whose questions go unanswered; adolescents who wonder “Is my body normal?” who are left without resources, and without reassurance.

In America specifically, it’s the lowest-income who cannot otherwise obtain cancer screening or pre- and post-natal services who are left without; it’s those whose only affordable access to contraception and STI screening is through their local Planned Parenthood clinic that are deprived.

Still reeling over the recent Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality, forced to watch as their opponents’ victory was celebrated across the world, America’s social conservatives are grasping for relevance, desperate to recover the political influence – reclaim a status – they once boasted.

That they are doing so at the expense of some of society’s most-vulnerable ultimately speaks to the emptiness of their moral crusade.

How you can help:

Donate to Planned Parenthood Ottawa  HERE
Donate to Planned Parenthood USA  HERE

Speak out. Reproductive rights are human rights — If you support a woman’s right to choose, do so with pride and without reservation.

Meriting A Quota

In seeking to redress the underrepresentation of women in key positions of political leadership, Liberal Party of Canada leader Justin Trudeau has pledged gender parity within government at decision-making levels, vowing as Prime Minister to appoint an “equal number of women and men” to cabinet.

Unveiled in June as part of a larger “Fair and Open Government” Liberal platform, the gender quota proved particularly divisive, sparking heated debate over the wisdom, or even the necessity, of such policy.

Generally speaking, diversity for the sake of diversity, however well-intentioned, is problematic. It not only fails to address the root of a given inequality, but it feeds into the notion of those underrepresented as being so due to an inability to succeed on merit. Further, it casts suspicion on the credentials of those who advanced on merit, but as members of a subset, are assumed have benefited from the quota.

It’s through this “[x] for the sake of [x]” lens that those who instinctively recoil from forced parity have largely viewed the Liberal proposal.

In pointed fashion, columnist Andrew Coyne challenged the idea that merit need not be substituted for gender. “If merit is defined in traditional terms,” Coyne argues, “this is obvious nonsense.”

“Suppose, in a governing caucus of, say, 180 members, one-third are women. And suppose that the talents and experience to be desired in a cabinet minister are distributed equally between the sexes, such that a fifth of either — 12 women, 24 men — might be considered cabinet material. If nevertheless the cabinet must have an equal number of women and men, then in a cabinet of 36 six women who should not have been appointed will be, and six men who should have been appointed will not be.”

What this scenario overlooks, however, is that a Prime Minister need not restrict cabinet appointments to a given cohort of elected MPs. If based entirely on merit, it would be highly-credentialed, non-partisan, and yes, unelected, experts from pertinent fields tasked with overseeing portfolios.

Proven scholarship of a complex issue would be sought over the proven scholarship of a PMO script.

Coyne acknowledges “the idea that we would judge ministers as individuals, on the basis of their ability to govern the country — that train left the station long ago.”

What, then, is meritorious about the status quo? Beyond the presumption of competence, on what superior capabilities – proven merit – are Ministers currently chosen? What explicit proficiencies would we lose to a quota?

Where Coyne’s column succeeds, if not intentionally, is in demonstrating the problem with how gender quotas, and the notion of merit, are traditionally defined.

In 2014, Rainbow Murray, associate professor of politics at Queen Mary University in London, published a fascinating argument in defence of gender quotas — for men:

“The focus on women’s underrepresentation has the unintended consequence of framing men as the norm and women as the ‘other’ … The arguments against quotas, based on meritocracy, assume (albeit sometimes implicitly) that the significant overrepresentation of men, over time and space, is the correct and fair outcome.

A much less commonly aired argument is that men receive an unfair advantage in accessing political power … men may themselves be accessing politics on the basis of their sex rather than their more tangible qualities.

As the traditional status quo, (men) benefit both from the presumption of competence and from greater opportunity to demonstrate their worth … It is not sufficient for women to be interchangeable with men; they are expected to offer something distinctive, without which the democratic process is incomplete, thus necessitating their presence.”

By modifying how the quota is approached, emphasizing the problem of overrepresentation, the onus is shifted “onto men … to prove their worth and justify their coveted place within politics.”

What makes Murray’s thesis particularly compelling is its ability to be applied to any over-represented group; the normative reasoning underpinning the quota being its key feature.

“The central concern lies not with gender equality, nor fairness, valid and important though these undoubtedly are. Instead, the emphasis is on enhancing the quality of representation for all.”

“Meritocracy,” Murray concludes, “can be advanced through challenging the status quo, opening a debate about quality, and making better use of available resources of talent. For the problem of (un)fair competition to be resolved, it first must be recognized.”

Trudeau’s proposal may not be the answer to the institutionalized gender disparity within government, but in the absence of a definitive solution, for the interim, a gender quota can provide a point from which to work toward a more-representative, more deeply and broadly qualified, group of representatives.

We do our country a disservice, risk forfeiting the range of talents offered by those we elect, not in contesting the status quo, but in allowing it to persist without dispute.

Freedom Of Religion vs. License To Discriminate

This op-ed appeared in The Ottawa Citizen on April 8, 2015. 

There’s a fundamental misunderstanding, or perhaps, a deliberate mischaracterization, of what constitutes religious freedom in a pluralistic society; of the role governments should play in protecting religious liberties, the extent to which citizens are obligated to facilitate the customs of another, and what it means to be unjustly targeted for holding contrary views.

On March 25, a cadre of evangelical leaders and activists took to Parliament Hill to decry “unjust infringements of the State” against Christianity, assail the perceived granting of rights to “others” at the expense of their own, lament being violated by “activist” courts, ostracized by business leaders, and vilified by media. MP James Lunney cited their grievances in his withdrawing from the Conservative caucus to better fight the “unprecedented attack” on his Christian beliefs.

These self-appointed spokesmen of Christianity, the beliefs/values they espouse, their connections and affiliations, merit a deeper examination than space permits, but the following brief should offer some insight into why they, and the various, inter-connected organizations they represent, feel so spurned by modernity:

Bill Prankard of the Bill Prankard Evangelistic Association is a faith-healer who claims that faith through the laying-on-of-hands has cured everything from quadriplegia to cancer; he has written books claiming that the power of God holds the cure for all ailments. He has bemoaned that while Christians “stand on guard” for Canada, “other groups have been coming with agendas that are very anti-Christian and anti-God and they’ve been doing a lot of stuff in our nation. I believe it’s time for Canadians to rise up and to take back what the enemy is stealing.”

André Schutten is a lawyer for the Association For Reformed Political Action. When Alberta lawmakers passed legislation affirming students’ rights to form gay-straight alliances, Schutten declared such a law “would make the Bolsheviks proud.”

And of course, there’s Canada Christian College president Charles McVety, whose most recent claim of religious persecution was evidenced by the coming-together of major corporations in committing to diversity and inclusivity in the workplace.

Seriously.

The concept of religious freedom has long been exploited to justify discrimination: Many religious conservatives, for instance, deemed God “the original segregationist,” and when the couple at the heart of Loving v. Virginia (1967), the landmark Supreme Court case striking down America’s ban on interracial marriage, were initially charged in violating “anti-miscegenation” laws, Judge Leon Bazile contended “Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents … The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.”

As America’s march toward full marriage equality presses on, the Supreme Court set to rule on the constitutionality of same-sex marriage shortly, Conservative lawmakers, backed by Christian leaders like James Dobson, Franklin Graham, and Tony Perkins, are scrambling to preempt a ruling many expect as inevitable, enacting legislation under the guise of protecting religious liberties which would grant the right to refuse service to those who might “burden” the conscience.

As the recent backlash in Indiana against such license to discriminate has shown, however, the majority will not stand for replacing White with Straight on “[X] Only” signs.

Given the ongoing, real persecution faced by religious minorities – Christians hunted down by Islamic extremists throughout the Middle East; Muslims slaughtered by Christian militias and Buddhist extremists in Central African Republic and Burma respectively – it’s appalling that such affluent, privileged members of society cast themselves as the victims of tyrannical government; oppressed by an “overly-secular, militant atheistic” society.

Much to traditionalists’ dismay, society has progressed, and those who continue to preach hatred, foster intolerance, are finally learning the Bible is no longer the impenetrable shield it once was.

Want To ‘Send A Message’? Vote.

This op-ed appeared in The Ottawa Citizen on June 12, 2014 

In October 2013, British comedian and actor Russell Brand, acting as a guest-editor for a revolution-themed edition of New Statesman, penned a bizarre, 4,500-word call to revolution.

“I have never voted,” Brand declared. “Like most people I am utterly disenchanted by politics. I regard politicians as frauds and liars and the current political system as nothing more than a bureaucratic means for furthering the augmentation and advantages of economic elites. As far as I’m concerned there is nothing to vote for. Total revolution of consciousness and our entire social, political system is what interests me, but that’s not on the ballot.”

Brand’s manifesto quickly went viral. He was called “brilliant,” lauded as the “de facto voice of a younger generation.”

What a shame that would be, given that if a generation adopted Brand’s approach to democracy, they’ll have rendered themselves mute.

Brand’s type of misguided effort to affect change has found an audience, though on a much smaller, not-quite-so-revolutionary scale, in the run-up to the Ontario election.

Decline Your Vote, a movement launched by conservative activist Paul Synnott, bills itself as a means to “(send) a message to all political parties that you’re not happy with what they have to offer or how they’re conducting themselves.”

“Declined votes,” the website notes, “are required to be recorded and reported as a separate category from spoiled ballots.

This your opportunity to vote NONE OF THE ABOVE.”

If only change-making were that easy.

Let’s be clear: It is absolutely your right to spoil, decline, or altogether refuse to cast a ballot. That’s the beauty of democracy: you’re free to vote – or not vote – for whomever you choose.

However, declining your ballot succeeds in “sending a message” about as well as abstaining achieves a “total revolution.”

There are legitimate frustrations over the first past the post electoral system; real grievances about the quality of the current slate of politicians/platforms/parties; an overwhelming desire to “throw the bums out,” yet a distinct lack of worthy alternatives behind whom to throw one’s support.

Cynicism toward the political system is understandable. But by forfeiting the influence you do have – the power of the vote – you are handing the power back to those you argue haven’t earned it. Whether by 10 or 10 thousand, the candidate with the most votes will be deemed victorious. Even if more ballots are declined than cast for the winning candidate, someone will be elected by night’s end.

Little notice will be taken of the number of ballots declined. Votes that, it can be argued, were wasted; that depending on turnout, might have made a difference in voting a candidate in – or keeping one out.

Case in point: In Nevada, where “none of these candidates” is an actual choice on the ballot, Democrat Harry Reid defeated Republican John Ensign by only 428 votes, while “none” garnered 8,000 votes. Similarly, Republican Dean Heller beat Democrat Shelley Berkley by fewer than 20,000 votes, as 45,000 votes were directed to “none.”

If you want to have an impact, are disaffected by the current state of political affairs, declining your chance for a say in the matter isn’t the answer.

Though your ballot may lack an ideal candidate, you can choose to support the person or party which represents your ideals better than the others.

Then, after ballots have been counted, get involved. Become politically engaged with your party of choice; have a say in shaping policy, work to recruit quality candidates.

And perhaps, come next election, you’ll have someone, something, to vote for.

 

Ending The Stigma

This op-ed appeared in the Ottawa Citizen on January 28, 2014.

 

On Dec. 29, Christopher Peloso, the 40-year-old husband of former Ontario deputy premier George Smitherman, was reported missing.

“Freedom from depression has been elusive for Christopher,” Smitherman tweeted on the eve of the 29th. “We fear for his safety.”

A followup tweet issued just hours later linked to a brief statement which confirmed that Peloso had been found dead, noting (the family) would “find comfort somehow in knowing that he has found peace from the depression that has wreaked havoc on his mind.”

At Peloso’s memorial, Smitherman eulogized his late husband, telling those assembled in the Toronto community centre he would “not be afraid, in Christopher’s name, to tell his story and to tell our story … A man took his life because the pain in his brain was unrelenting.”

Smitherman addressed those who might be dealing with depression: “If you’re holding something back and you bring it out into public life, it is the first step and it is cathartic and it is powerful.”

To that end, Peloso’s father, Reno, spoke of his son, noting “Chris suffered from depression and committed suicide and there is no shame in that.”

Not only was this a powerful message to send during a period of such personal grief, but it was a remarkable, and incredibly necessary, break from the norm; of glossing over the heart of the tragic situation; of speaking in euphemisms and dancing around the issue that caused so much pain, such unrelenting anguish, that the only reprieve Peloso thought he could find was through death.

Though Peloso’s loved ones were widely lauded for their openness in discussing his lifelong battle with depression, the notion that suicide be addressed so matter-of-factly proved disquieting for many. Some feared that accepting Peloso’s final act without judgment somehow glorified it, that failing to attach shame or scorn to the suicide essentially validated, or worse, encouraged it.

These widely held, though unfounded, concerns demonstrate why it was necessary for Peloso’s family to address his illness — including its end — so candidly: to break the stigma about what it is to live with, or die from, mental illness, so that others might find the courage to seek help for their own demons, or, for those who have lost love ones in a similar manner, to leave behind the guilt or sense of having failed the deceased.

And breaking the silence, erasing the stigma, is what Bell’s Let’s Talk campaign on Jan. 28 is all about.

One in five Canadians will experience some form of mental illness in a given year. Yet a report from the Canadian Medical Association revealed that only half of Canadians would tell a friend if they had a family member with a mental illness, as compared to disclosing a family member’s diagnosis of cancer (72 per cent) or diabetes (68 per cent). But why is that? Like any ailment, mental illness manifests in a number of ways, and to varying degrees of severity. Not every cancer is treatable; broken bones don’t always heal correctly the first time. Some diabetics are able to manage through diet alone, while others require multiple shots of insulin, daily. That lack of understanding of what constitutes mental illness, especially when it presents as a chronic or severe condition, is what drives the stigma surrounding it. And the apprehension about openly discussing the more extreme cases of mental illness — those who self-harm, commit suicide, are plagued by intrusive, sometimes violent thoughts, are crippled by rituals or compulsions — only furthers the ignorance surrounding such conditions.

The same CMA report found nearly a third of Canadians reported being fearful of being around someone suffering from a mental illness; almost half believing people use the illness as an excuse for bad behaviour, and fewer than half reporting a desire or willingness to associate with a friend who was diagnosed with a mental illness.

How terribly sad. It should be noted, however, that such beliefs aren’t because people want to exclude or isolate those suffering from a mental illness. Only recently have people begun to buck the societal norm of only speaking of mental illness in whispers, of “othering” those who suffer. In many cases, people want to better understand; they are genuinely interested in learning more about what it means to live with a mental illness, about the challenges faced not only by those diagnosed, but how their experiences, in turn, affect the lives of those around them.

The problem is, they are unsure of what, or how, to ask.

They don’t want to intrude, are afraid of offending. So they instead make assumptions, quietly draw their own conclusions.

Which then leads to misconceptions, feeds into the fear, and further perpetuates the stigma. This is why Bell’s Lets Talk campaign is so important: It provides a platform for a genuine conversation between those living with mental illness and those who’ve never experienced it. Those afraid to ask questions can follow as people share their stories of living with the disease, silently gaining a better understanding of what it means to have a mental illness. Many who suffer in silence find strength in seeing others talk openly about their own struggles and, in turn, find the courage to open up, and if they haven’t already, seek help.

The family of Christopher Peloso understood the value in having a candid dialogue about the illness that plagued him, and ultimately claimed his life. They were, in essence, doing exactly what the Let’s Talk campaign aims to accomplish on a larger scale: To end the stigma surrounding mental illness, talk openly and honestly about all aspects of the disease, foster a better understanding about life with mental illness, and to encourage those who are suffering to reach out.

There is no shame in having a mental illness, and there’s no weakness in seeking help.

And there’s no better time than now to talk about it. So Let’s Talk, Canada.

 

Yes – Let’s Talk

Though dismissed by some as a cynical marketing ploy, Bell’s Let’s Talk campaign not only succeeded in raising $4.8 million for mental health initiatives, but also provided a forum for canadians to share their stories, reach out for help, and address the stigma associated with mental illness.

That conversation, seeing people I know and respect open up about either having/had issues with mental health, or knowing – and still loving – someone who does, was, to me, so much more valuable than monies raised.

Though mental illness itself can, and does, destroy lives, the stigma attached to those afflicted can be just as devastating.

For me, the stigma was nearly fatal.

My story is long and complicated, so I will do my best to include just the information necessary to understand my experience and explain how it relates to where I am today. I don’t mind going into greater detail and am more than happy to elaborate/answer questions people might have regarding my experience with mental/emotional illness, but I think it’s important to stay focused on the topic of stigma for the purpose of this post.

At the age of ten I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, and by eleven I was in the throes of depression, battling a severe eating disorder. I was hospitalized for 3 months for the anorexia at age twelve, and again for two months when I relapsed at fourteen — a relapse due, in part, to the added burden of OCD.

I’d been an incredibly talented competitive dancer (tap, jazz/contemporary, ballet) up to that point – also competing as a swimmer and in soccer in both my age group and the one above – but found the anxiety related to international travel demands made continuing on this path impossible. I continued with all non-competitive aspects of dance and scaled back my commitments in soccer and swimming, but the competitive void was soon filled with what had long been my passion, though had always played second fiddle to dance: gymnastics.

With the eating disorder conquered, my dietitian continued on as my sports nutritionist and closest confidant. She’d been by my side since I was eleven, and I trusted her.

My athletic career as a gymnast included some of the best years of my life. I was healthy, strong, and successful, and for the first time, I was comfortable being me. I liked myself. I loved that I could push harder than everyone else; I loved the battle between mind and body when engaged in intense conditioning regime, because I knew I could push my body to beat my mind, every time. I craved the exhaustion, loved the pain, and found a sense of accomplishment in the fact that, though I wasn’t the most advanced gymnast in the gym — having entered the competitive realm at the ‘ancient’ age of 15, I missed the crucial formative years, and though it wasn’t in my future, a few of the girls I trained along side went on to become Olympians, others to successful NCAA careers — I was the strongest, the most dedicated, the hardest working and fittest athlete there, and was recognized as such. I was held up as the epitome of physical and mental strength; Where others had to be pushed, I had to be told to slow down. Where others were urged to work harder, I had to be reminded – if not forced  – to rest, to take a break. To let myself relax.

And that felt incredible.

What didn’t feel quite as wonderful was what was happening physically, on the inside. I’d had digestive issues for some time, but always assumed it was due to the physical demands of my sport. After a few years of progressively worsening symptoms, however, the discomfort in my abdomen was replaced by as intense and chronic pain, and I was bleeding. A lot. Every time I landed I felt as if my intestines were being torn from my body.

I know I should have gone to the doctor at that point. Hell, I should have gone long before it got to that point, but I didn’t. I was afraid I’d be told to scale back training; that I’d have to stop competing. And, like any dedicated athlete, I had dreams to pursue, dammit!  I didn’t have time for a sabbatical.

When things really started to fall apart, they crumbled fast. I was losing weight at an alarming rate. What used to be an endless source of energy, my body had nothing left to give. My coaches, my family, my friends all assumed I’d begun to relapse back into an eating disorder, despite the fact I was eating, down to the last gram, the same diet I’d been following for years – the one set out by my personal dietician, who was herself at a loss to explain what was happening.

I’d expected my (relatively new) family doctor – let’s call her Dr. K – would be eager to start testing for whatever was going on, but she quickly chalked it up to an anorexia relapse. Why? Because that was the simplest explanation, and the history of anorexia apparently clouded every visit I’d ever had with her.

When I told her of my intestinal symptoms she brushed them off as psychosomatic; when I showed her the blood, she insisted it was menstrual (even though, as is typical of elite female athletes, I was amenorrheic).

One day, Dr. K decided she was going to admit me to the psych ward. I told her I’d go voluntarily on one condition: that she let me meet with a gastroenterologist while I was there.

She reluctantly agreed.

The GI doctor took one look at me, felt around my abdomen and ordered an immediate scope. Lo and behold, the colon was indeed bleeding, and there was some sort of abnormality – an ulcer? tumor? Chron’s? – in the ascending colon.

A biopsy was ordered but came back inconclusive (or so I was told by Dr. K) and the GI fellow left for a previously scheduled mission trip before I could speak with him again.

I was referred to the GI department in London, but Dr. K refused to send the GI report, so I was met, yet again, with skeptical eyes. The history of anorexia, and whatever had been written by Dr. K, told them all they needed, or rather, all they wanted to know.

I had a J-tube inserted to provide nourishment via machine, but when the weight still hadn’t returned, I was blamed for somehow sabotaging the effort. I soon developed a high fever, and a grotesque odour was emanating from the site of the tube. I had so little energy I couldn’t even make it to the car under my own power. I arrived at emerge in London where I was shuffled to a back room where I remained for hours, splayed out on a gurney, gasping for breath, as the doctor responsible for the tube’s insertion told me that he “will not remove a feeding tube from an anorexic; you are just trying to get out of eating.”

Having remained silent until that point, my mother demanded I be evaluated by someone who hadn’t seen my chart, who didn’t know of the eating disorder I’d battled, and let me stress once again, successfully overcome years ago. She got her wish, and the emerge physician quickly determined the J-tube was infected and I’d developed sepsis. The tube was immediately removed and I was put on a course of IV antibiotics and, after about a week in hospital, was sent home.

By now my family was quietly preparing for my death. My sisters had already written me off, as it was too painful to watch the daily deterioration of my health. As if the years watching their little sister fight through depression, anxiety and an eating disorder hadn’t already strained our relationship, witnessing this prolonged death march proved to be a breaking point. On more than one occasion one or the other would tell me she wished I’d just die already, because the situation, as it was, was tearing the family apart.

Throughout everything, I had never shied away from my mental and emotional struggles; our community was a small one and hiding any medical condition was simply not possible. So I embraced it, offered to talk about my experiences to help educate others, and always took full ownership of my illnesses. There was never shame or denial of the depression, anxiety, anorexia, or OCD. Perhaps it was because I was so young that people were understanding. I mean, who could blame a ten, eleven, twelve-year-old for such problems?

So it was that much more frustrating when, suddenly, I was being accused of lying; of being in denial of a problem I’d fully embraced and tackled in full view. I remember one of my final days in the gym being ignored by one of my coaches. He wouldn’t even look at me. When I approached him, he snapped “Come back and talk to me when you’ve gained five pounds!” and walked away.

That hurt so much. And was rich, considering the other girls all had daily weigh-ins to ensure their weight remained artificially low. To their credit, my coaches (up to that point) had been nothing but supportive. They were well aware of my eating disordered days and never discussed diet, body composition, or weight with me. Another girl in the gym was falling into bulimia at the same time my intestinal issues were too severe to mask, but when vomit was found around the toilet it was pinned on me. Even though I’d never been bulimic.

Anorexia and bulimia are two entirely different disorders.

Yet everyone, save for my dietician, my grandmother, and my mother, had decided I was causing this; that I had relapsed back into anorexia and for whatever reason refused to admit it this time around.

After two years of clinging to life, an opportunity for relocation presented itself; My mother was offered a move to Calgary, and she took it. Given the lack of medical help available to me in Ontario, I opted to move with her, knowing the alternative was nothing short of death.

I faced many of the same barriers when first seeking treatment in Calgary. I’d yet to find a family doctor, and the only medical information at hand was the inaccurate report from Dr. K. My mother implored me to enter into the Calgary eating disorders program. At the very least, she thought, I’d get access to a doctor who could then address what was really going on.

So I went.

I went for assessments, meetings, an orientation, etc., but I refused to play their games. I was told the only way they’d look into my intestinal issues is if I agreed to an intensive in-patient stay, complete with daily therapy for a problem I no longer had.

I wouldn’t do it.

The final meeting with the team at the eating disorders treatment centre included my mother, and I was offered the chance to ‘prove’ my non-anorexic status by eating a chocolate bar. I laughed at the Kit-Kat so smugly being passed my way, and told the lead therapist, in no uncertain terms, to go fuck herself.

That was a long drive home. My mother went to bed, disgusted with me, with the medical system, with the whole experience.

I spent the night sobbing, trying to decide the least painful way to end my life by morning.

It was shortly after that incident that I connected with the man who would take my case, who’d become my family doctor and advocate, and ultimately, who’d save my life.

Let’s call him Dr. J.

Dr. J was the first medical professional to take me at my word with regards to the past mental health issues being, indeed, in the past. Time would tell, he argued, whether or not I was being truthful.

He quickly realized, I was.

Dr. J made it his mission to solve the medical puzzle at hand. It wasn’t all smooth sailing, however, and there were a few more instances of being written off as “the anorexic in denial” without so much as a basic examination.

But thanks to his unwavering commitment to my case and a keen interest in a good medical mystery, Dr. J built a team of specialists and surgeons who dealt with me as if I’d never had a history of anorexia; who evaluated and treated me as they would any other patient who presented with these symptoms, but who didn’t have that scarlet letter stamped on their medical chart.

Due to the lack of proper diagnosis/treatment for such an extended time, the damage to the intestine was extensive. Recovery would not only be a long one, but it was unclear as to what extent recovery could occur.

I had a segment of my large intestine removed (only one segment because it wasn’t clear I’d be able to survive a more extensive surgery) and an intestinal prolapse repaired. What remained of the large intestine was left intact, but disconnected from the small intestine at the ileocecal valve.

For the first time since 2002, I was entirely free of pain.

I was 58 pounds at that point, and it was determined my small intestine had lost the ability to function. I devoured obscene amounts of food to no avail. I could – and did – eat anything and everything, but my gut simply could not digest or absorb nutrients.

An intensive intestinal rehabilitation program was proposed as a last-ditch effort to restore the small gut’s function before I’d be resigned to a life on TPN, and, in the end, it proved successful. 18 months of round-the-clock, high-volume, high-caloric intake, in addition to a steady stream of complete meal replacement drinks, allowed the lining of the small intestine to regenerate and the gut to regain function — though at a less-than-normal capacity.

Next step was tackling the endocrine deficiencies and dealing with the fallout from the period of chronic malnutrition.

My mother remortgaged the house and I took out a $30,000 medical loan, allowing for all medications required as well as one treatment not covered by medicare (long story).

So, after two years of fighting the stigma assigned to me based on a battle from childhood to find a doctor who’d look beyond, followed by proper investigations and diagnoses, two intestinal surgeries and six years of intestinal and endocrinological treatments, I find myself where I am today.

That, being the final stretch of the treatment plan, preparing for one final surgery and planning for life after the completion of treatment.

I can only imagine where I’d be right now had I received prompt medical attention; had the ulcerative colitis not been allowed to get to the point of severity it did. It’s somewhat comforting to know the medical professionals I’ve dealt are now using my case to teach new doctors how not to handle people with a history of mental illness.

It’s nice to think that, in the future, someone will be spared the barriers to treatment that nearly cost me my life.

At least, I hope they will.