Chuck’s going through a phase right now. It’s called “Angry Young Man” (although he likes to call it “being a responsible human being”). I’m familiar with it. I went through it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not as though this phase is bad. It just means that every once in a while, Chuck will send me some article on how many children Disney employs in sweatshops to make Mickey Mouse ears, how much rainforest McDonald’s knocks down to raise beef cattle, and just the latest evil doings of Wal-Mart. “Angry Young Man” is the belief that you can make a difference, and I’m sure Chuck gets distressed whenever we have one of the follow-up conversations to the latest article he’s sent me.
“So, are you going to keep buying Disney stuff after reading that article?” he’ll ask.
“Actually, it reminded me that the 2-disc special edition of Beauty and the Beast is out. That’s a sweet disc!” I’ll reply.
“Well, surely, you’re not going to eat at McDonald’s after reading about what they’re doing in South America.”
“I had a Big Mac and a side of Chicken McNuggets for lunch.”
“At least you’re not shopping at Wal-Mart.”
“Dude! That’s where I bought the DVD and had lunch.”
At this point, Chuck will usually shake his head in disgust and walk away, wondering how I lost my passion and drive for trying to save the world. It’s quite simple, really. I was on the front lines.
I remember being like Chuck: young, idealistic, able to change the world as long as I could get out there and spread the truth. But, the enemy in my targeting sensors wasn’t a corporation, but a government. They way I saw it, there was no greater threat to my home of Alberta than King Ralph Klein and that band of right wing loons he leads known as the Tory Government. This government has drifted so far right, that it’s falling off the scale. This government went ahead with a half-assed power deregulation plan because it worked so well in California. This is a government that’s starting to sell out Canada’s fabulous public healthcare system because private healthcare works so much better. Just ask the people who run HMOs in the USA. This is a government that lives and dies with the oil barrel. “Oh, what’s that? The price of oil has dipped? CUT BACKS! CUT BACKS!! What? The price of oil has gone up? $300 FOR EVERY CITIZEN OF THE PROVINCE! (and more cutbacks).” Yup, every time the price of oil goes back up, and it’s time to reinvest, 9 times out of 10 the Tories use it to give themselves a raise because of such a good job their doing, never mind that classrooms are overstuffed and teachers are underpaid because they’ve been cut back to death. And then, there’s my own personal gripes. While the media was viciously covering Bill 11, the first step in privatizing healthcare, I noticed an article buried deep in the back pages saying that, while all the Bill 11 protests were going on, the Tories snuck through a bill banning homosexual marriages in the province. Whatever happened to “the state does not belong in the bedrooms of the people?” And, the one that really pisses me off, the elimination of the Alberta Film Office. This was a government department dedicated to luring filmmakers to Alberta and getting them to spend their $100 million (US) film budgets in the province. The Tories shut it down in the mid-90s with the fuzzy logic, “Well, the private sector will fill the void.” The private sector hasn’t. Alberta is also the only province in Canada that doesn’t offer any sort of tax breaks to film crews, thus making it one of the most unattractive filming locations in Canada. So, to recap:
– power deregulation that didn’t work.
– Private healthcare.
– Living and dying by the oil barrel
– Screwing the education system
– And, my own personal gripe, fucking filmmakers up the ass.
The Tories had to be stopped.
So, when the Alberta Liberal party, the chief opposition in Alberta, approached my mother (a well-known politician in the local community) about running against the Tories, I was primed. I knew Mom could kick some Tory ass. When Mom approached me about being her association treasurer, I leapt at the chance. Here it was, my opportunity to get out in the world and spread the world. “Klein is evil! Don’t vote for Klein! Vote for a person you can trust! Vote for a person who’s honest! Vote for…Mom!”
The provincial election was called soon after, and I was out there, pounding the pavement, handing out leaflets over what Klein had done, and presenting the viable, more sensible alternatives of the Liberal Party aqua Mom. But, we had one hell of a battle ahead of us. The Tories had been in power for 30 years (Klein’s crew for 10 of them) and had thus had quite the war chest built up. The government’s propaganda machine was in full swing, with commercial after commercial portraying Ralph Klein as this savior. “Oh, the debt’s going to be paid off by 2005!” his ads would boast. “We’re going to have so much money for everyone once the debt’s paid off!” Around this time, the oil prices spiked to, so Ralph said, “Everyone has to share in this wealth!” and sent everyone over the age of 16 a check for $300. So, the Liberals were presenting viable, long term solutions. Thanks to a spike in oil prices, the Tories were promising an easy ride, with more money on the way. Who would you vote for? I was learning the general mood from the phone campaigns. (Actual quotes from actual people I “telemarketed” to spread the truth.)
“Klein’s taking care of us. Why would I want to screw that up?”
“The only good Liberal is a deal Liberal. You tell that bitch Cappis that if she shows up here, I’m getting my gun.”
“Klein just gave me $300. What do the Liberals have?”
“People who vote Liberal are un-Albertan. I’m not going to let that bastard Chrétien come in here and walk all over us.”
(NOTE: It’s a popular misconception that the Alberta Liberals and the federal Liberals [the current ruling party in the Government of Canada] are the same party. Let me say for the record that they are two completely separate entities. The federal Liberals are run by Prime Minister Jean Chrétien. The Alberta Liberals were led by Nancy McBeth in the last election, and currently Ken Nicol. I’ve met both McBeth and Nicol, and I think they’re pretty decent folks. Chrétien, well, he can stay in Ottawa for all I care. So, one last time. Alberta Liberals are not federal Liberals, got it? The NEP was 20 years ago. Get over it.)
Guess who won with the largest majority in Alberta history? Klein stumbled to the podium and gloated his way through a victory speech. And what happened? Oil priced dipped again, so now the debt will be paid off by 2017. The $300 checks stopped coming, and without them, people realized just exactly how high their deregulated power bills were. The teachers finally had enough and had the biggest strike Alberta had seen in 20 years. And, to top it all off, Klein revealed that he was an alcoholic. And you know what? He’s still the most insanely popular premier in Alberta history. There’s still a ton of rednecks out there who’ll say, “Yeah, well, Klein’s taking care of us.” Another politician had the reputation for taking care of his people. His name was Hitler.
After the campaign office had cleared out, and our loss was assured, that was one of the few times in my life I saw my mother cry. A few weeks later was our annual general meeting, and the mood was glum. We were all still hurting over one powerfully huge loss. But still, Mom had a fighting spirit. Rather than letting the Liberal Association whither between elections, she was ready to rally it into a fighting force; continue spreading the truth and turning into a grassroots movement. But people like Nitpicker stood in my way.
Nitpicker was a longtime member of the association, and my adopted arch-enemy in this organization. I called him the Nitpicker because he was always finding fault with my financial report, everything from legitimate math errors (which I did make once) right down to my font choice. Usually, it was the font choice that annoyed him. And at this AGM, he took one look at my financial report, and began to relentlessly attack me. He thought my estimate of the value of our assets was kind of high. And he just wasn’t letting up.
“How did you arrive at this figure?”
“Well, that’s how much we paid for it.”
“What about depreciation?”
“How much does a ball cap depreciate in a month?”
“Don’t you know? Aren’t you the treasurer?”
“Do you want me to get the receipt and show you that’s what we paid for it?”
“I don’t care how much it was worth a month ago. How much is it worth now?”
“It’s there in my report.”
“How did you arrive at this figure?”
He claimed to be a computer programmer. You think he’d know what an infinite loop is. We went back and forth like this for about 15 minutes. Mom finally had to get up there and shut him up. I couldn’t believe it. Everyone was convinced that my mother was going to be a shoe-in in the election. Half the constituency and the entire media was there to try and find some semblance of what went wrong, and this guy was crucifying us because he thought I overestimated the worth of ball caps?
We knew this guy would be trouble, so when the election started, we started quietly pushing him to the sidelines. He only really surfaced about midway through the election, when he wanted to loan us some old computers from his back room for the campaign office. He also had this new database program he was working on that he was hoping we could try out by monitoring the electorate with it. Since we were halfway into our campaign, we knew that by the time the computers were up and operational, the campaign would be over. It wouldn’t be worth the trouble. So, we politely told him no.
But still, after the annual general meeting, there he was, talking to the press about how we lost. “Well, you know why we lost, right? It’s because they didn’t use my computers! I was offering them the latest in election technology, and they didn’t use it! It would have been a different story if my computers ran that office.” And he told that to everyone who’d listen over the next year.
So, let me get this straight. Ralph Klein was literally throwing money around. He was buying votes. The Liberals lost, not just in our constituency, but all over the province. We were battling a Tory war machine. And you honestly think that the whole tide would have been turned had we used your 10 year old UNIX server, and beta-tested your database software? HELLO! PROVINCIAL ELECTION! It doesn’t matter what kind of computer we used, what mattered was getting the message out to the people! Were you out there spreading the message? No! You were writing your little killer app, in the hopes you could ride our coattails to being the next Bill Gates.
That’s when I stopped caring.
I had an epiphany that night. I realized why we had lost the election. You can get out there, pound the pavement, try to spread the truth, but the fact of the matter is, the world is filled with people who will just fail to grasp the big picture. The people of Alberta are like that. You can tell them about everything that’s going to happen 5, 10 years down the road because of the poor planning of the Tory government, but will they care? No. All that matters is oil is high now, so I’ve got money in the bank. Why mess with something as long as I’ve got money in the bank? Maybe the people will be ready for a change in government when they have no more money in the bank because they have to go to the hospital. Maybe they’ll realize that the use of a single computer program isn’t enough to win an election. It takes hard work and trying to make people aware of the big picture. But, most people just can’t see it.
That night, I walked away from being an angry young man. I finally saw the futility of it. How can you tell people how bad the big picture is when they look at you and go, “But the small picture rocks!” Yeah, Klein won’t have the debt paid off until 2017, but there’s a check for $300 in the mail! Yeah, Disney employs kids in sweatshops, but The Lion King shuts up my kids for two hours. Who cares about the rainforest? If it keeps that Quarter Pounder with Cheese combo meal under $5, then slash and burn! And yeah, Wal-Mart may crush the little business man, but have you seen their prices? Wow! So, yeah. I decided to take a sabbatical from changing the world. Give me my Big Mac, I’m going to see Lilo and Stitch.
It’s been about a year and a half now since that election defeat. I’m in Japan and Alberta is so far away. The Nitpicker is now the treasurer of the Liberals, and the losing candidate from three elections ago thinks he can do better this time around. Part of me wishes I could be there to nitpick his financial reports.
I’ve taken to reading a lot more, and I just finished a little sci-fi piece called Timeline. It’s a time travel story, and as our heroes are about to go back in time, someone asks about time paradoxes. You know, “If I go back in time and kill my grandfather, that means my father didn’t exist, and therefore I didn’t exist, so if I don’t exist, how could I have killed my grandfather?” One of the scientists in charge of the project responded with, “Time paradoxes can’t happen, because you are just one person, and in the scope of the whole timeline, one person can’t make a difference. Maybe when you meet your grandfather, you lose your nerve. Maybe he already knocked up your grandma. Maybe, the person you thought to be your grandfather isn’t your real grandfather. One person can’t make a difference in the timeline.” One person can’t make a difference. For some reason, I can’t accept that as easily as that scientist did.
I still cling to the fact that one person can make a difference. I just don’t want to be that one person any more. It’s tough to be that one person. You’ll come across all kinds of opposition, from legitimate worries to the completely inane. It can really wear you down. I think I need a break. I’m sure Gandhi took a day off every once in a while. And there is still hope in the universe. As long as Chuck keeps scouring the Internet and finding out the latest dirt on those corporations, and spreading it around. Keep it up, Chuck. You’ll win me over soon enough. You can be that one voice for now, but it’ll be even better if there are two of us.