Thank you, Deschenes!

Posted 10.02.12

SHAWVILLE, QUEBEC | Say the word "democracy" and most of us think of voting every four years. That's the shopper's view, similar to choosing a brand of toothpaste or detergent in the store. What if democracy means music in a park, kids parading with banners and drums, and choices among chili-dogs, salmon burgers or a Mexican atole drink? Democracy is closer to what goes on in a park like that, than it is to voting once or picking out one of 100 identical toothpastes.

Two weeks ago, families in Aylmer, Quebec, staged their latest block party in a wooded lot on Lamoureaux Street. There was plenty of music, Latino rhythms, hip-hop, old rock and roll, plus live music from the back of a pickup. Kids were everywhere, faces painted, playing their games, parading with banners - and finally with a big procession of musical instruments. Parents chatted or discussed with earnest, visitors stopped by, several community leaders were there, having a pulled-pork sandwich, and even one new city employee mingled with the families, soaking up not only the fun and noise but also absorbing the sense of democracy he saw at work in that park on that wet and windy Saturday afternoon.

That civil servant got it: he saw that the families, who have been organizing these block parties for several years, were not waiting for city hall nor for events to be set up by consultants. These families, including members of the Bulletin staff, work with staff and volunteers at the Deschenes community centre, but they do not wait for officialdom to grant them an event. They see clearly what their community needs, and they set about accomplishing it. Whether there is government funding, whether there are celebrities or fancy facilities seems irrelevant; what's important is that there is a community need and those who feel that need, and profit most from its satisfaction, are the people who move out of their comfort zone and accomplish it. That's a more realistic definition of democracy than the "freedom of toothpaste-choice" we normally chatter about.

We hear everywhere complaints that the city -- or any level of government -- is not doing what its citizens need or wish. Go to any city, any province, any country and the complaints are similar: "Democracy isn't working." We each pick our brand of toothpaste, we pay our money, and yet life remains full of problems and insufficiencies.

The real message is that consumerized democracy isn't democracy at all. It is consumerism. Merely having a choice, any choice, even a choice of equally bad alternatives, does not create democracy. Can't we grasp that, and stop waiting for officialdom?

Or accept that a choice every four years doesn't mean democracy?

The Deschenes community is showing us what democracy means: citizens working together for their mutual benefit, citizens themselves improving their community's quality of life. And this certainly includes the laughter of children and the warmth of neighbours.

Copyright © 2012 Fred Ryan/Log Cabin Chronicles/10.12