By Jay Ménard,
When you draw lines in the sand, you create a front upon which battles must be fought.
That’s what we saw last night at the BRT public participation meeting, held at the Budweiser Gardens. It’s clear that people aren’t listening — or, I should say, they’re selectively listening. And the result is a polarization of debate.
Of course, that’s what you get when you argue for or against a “vision.”
I’m pro transit; anti BRT as it’s presented. It doesn’t mean that I’m not progressive, that I hate London, or that I’m stuck in my ways. It means I don’t think this particular BRT proposal is the right one and I would like to actually explore alternatives.
Actual exploration. Not lip service. Not a dog-and-pony show to check off the ol’ engagement box or validate a mandate. A true, proper engagement strategy that is inclusive.
Those who suggest that anti-BRT (as it stands) are not progressive are simply not listening to the pro-transit part of that message. This is dogma — but you can’t argue with a vision. However, if we all realized that we want the same thing, a better London, and worked together, we could make a difference.
Instead we get ad hominem attacks — on both sides. From ageism to false parallels to mockery to calling people snowflakes and other belittling names. On one side we have a group that chooses a puerile name that’s dismissive of the real concerns people have; on the other we have an group that prints out signage that does little more than foster an environment that’s designed to intimidate. Both sides accuse each other of being ill-informed, when the truth of the matter that it’s more likely both are selectively informed.
How does this behaviour help anyone? How does turning this into a personal battle improve our city as a whole? To fix the problem, we have to get away from labels — both the ones we place on others and the ones we assume for ourselves.
Again, you can be pro-transit improvement and against the BRT as its proposed — it’s not exclusive, even if one’s made to feel that way.
Progressive is a dangerous mantle to assume because you automatically insinuate that those who don’t march in lock-step with you are regressive. That’s simply not true. Progress comes in many ways — large and small. And there is no one clear path towards a clear decision — remember, even that yellow brick road led to a facade of a city, built upon lies. There are multiple paths and diverse opinions as to what progress actually is.
And to do that, we need to listen better.
In general, though I felt the discussions got heated at times, they remained largely on point. But if you followed Twitter, you’d get the impression that there were two completely different meetings happening in the same place at the same time. However, if you truly listened — and didn’t just hear the things that supported your point of view — you heard that the majority of people said they want to improve transit for London.
The difference of opinion comes in how. And the majority who showed up last night were against BRT as it is presented. They were upset and they used this forum to express their displeasure.
How did it get this way? Yesterday’s meeting was the result of selective engagement. When you set up a process that only let’s a handful of privileged people have access to discussions, people are going to get angry and feel shut out. Had the process encouraged true engagement from day one (and not to toot my own horn, but I pointed this out years ago) then we wouldn’t have been there. Instead, people felt railroaded (I know, that’s an LRT issue); they felt that they didn’t have adequate opportunities to share their thoughts; and they felt that council wasn’t listening to them. So when they got a chance, they took it.
One one side, people will argue there were multiple opportunities to engage. I’ve made my point about how I feel those were privileged opportunities — and the fact that one person could be counted as multiple engagements is ludicrous. The reality is that we, as a city, did a horrible job of ensuring everyone was heard, equally. It doesn’t matter if you’re 80 and have lived in London all your life; it doesn’t matter if you’re a student only here part of the year; it doesn’t even matter if you take transit or not! As taxpayers and contributors to London, everyone has the right to ensure their money is being used to its maximum efficiency. Maybe that’s a dedicated BRT route through the heart of downtown; maybe not.
But we need to have a better discussion. I’m not sure that’s possible with the current advocacy leadership (many self-appointed) — both sides are dismissive of each other and entrenched in their own views. They have contributed to this culture of polarization and discouraged countless others from participating. We need to investigate a forum that allows for a proper discussion and investigation of options — one that can be facilitated in a way that’s free of bias, free of aggression, and with a focus on improving the solution for the city as a whole.
It can be done. Even in the heat of the discussion last night, I was able to have productive and positive discussions with people who don’t agree 100 per cent with my view. It happens often — it just takes a willingness to listen, consider other people’s needs and views, and a desire to find a mutually beneficial solution. Not just a solution that is created in one’s own image.
Discourse shouldn’t be polarized. It shouldn’t be black or white — there are many shades of grey. This city is made up of a variety of different age groups, socio-economic backgrounds, races, religions, and accessibility levels — there are many needs and points of view that need to be considered. No one group is more “right” than the other.
It may sound cheesy, but instead of a line in the sand, we need to reach out and shake hands. The current advocacy leadership has shown they’d rather ball theirs into a fist, so it behooves council to start fresh, build from a foundation of inclusion and trust, and hand the wheel to people who will drive the idea of improved transit for all. A path that may mean navigating some side streets and listening to others for direction sometimes.
Instead, we have people who are hell-bent on running down anyone who stands in their way. And that’s why we are stuck in a multi-vehicle accident of our own making!