the comfort of why

In The News

A Song And Its Resonance

There is this song.

I have listened to it obsessively. Usually at night before I turn off the lights. As a remedy, as a tonic, as an anthem for the work I’m doing and the work I hope to do.

I’ve written about music and memory before (see here), but this is different. This is about now and the way this music spurs me on in the current social and political climate.

This song is a spark. A spark that is a component of the antidote we need in these dark times of hate, intolerance, and evil.

It’s from a movie I’ve never watched and perhaps there’s a risk in viewing only one four-minute segment from a feature-length film. This video is also now almost a year old. I only discovered it because of YouTube’s algorithmic operation. The same algorithms that have contributed to so much of the strife and misinformation that contaminate our news and information diets. 

The song is from the movie The Greatest Showman. “This Is Me” is sung by Keala Settle who plays Lettie Lutz in the movie (Annie Jones in real life), the Bearded Lady and one of P. T. Barnum’s original nineteenth century cast members. Leaving aside the nature of Barnum’s commercial project and even the commercial project from which this song is drawn, absorb the lyrics as you watch the video. 

As much as the words move me, there is magic in the choreography. It’s that magic that pulls me in — every time. That resonates in my heart. The earthiness of the stamping feet, the power of the arms punched into the air, the rhythmic staccato of the bodies swaying. It’s solid, it’s demanding, it’s asserting the right of these bodies to exist as they are in all spaces. In the light, not the dark, in amongst you and me. In amongst us all.

There’s that moment when the performers are suspended in air. They’ve transcended the chains of exclusion and the labels of derision to float above their cares and their worries, but the truth is in the thud of their landing. That landing on two feet. That is when they reclaim their place. The true power of their existence is in the human groundedness of their experience. 

And as much as I appreciate the beauty of the production values in this video, the version of the song that I treasure is this one.

Here, Keala Settle is not singing the song from the character’s perspective. As authentically as she might inhabit the character in the film, she is not Lettie Lutz. That is the masquerade.

In the workshop version, Settle embodies the song. She embodies the essence of the words, the heart of the matter. Here, she is singing her life story. She is reliving every struggle, every hurt, every joy, every triumph, and every hope. It’s that uncloaked look into who she is, who she is without adornment or disguise, that opens up the whole performance, hers and that of every other person in the room. You can see it in the ecstatic communion of their spirits and voices.

And the universality in the message of this song, the truth of it, is that we are all different. Our differences do not make us less than any other. They only do so when others associate difference with inferiority, with lack, with less-than. 

Unfortunately, it is also a truth that those with power and privilege have gained their rank through a long historical process of magnifying and demonizing difference. Manipulating fear to validate sacrificing others for profit and prestige. For control.

So, there’s a radical — if not revolutionary — message in this song despite the fact that it’s embedded in a cultural artefact that itself is a product of our systems and structures of consumerism and privilege.

And it is this.

I know that there’s a place for us

For we are glorious

Each and every one of us.

And don’t let them, those who benefit from the exploitation of difference, ever tell you differently.

If they do, fight back. 

Do not give them a platform to amplify and broadcast hateful messages.

Vote them out.

 

 

The Indiscernible Tagline

During last year’s federal election campaign in Canada, I received a direct mail piece that I thought flouted the principles of transparency.  

After filing a complaint and an extended correspondence with a representative from the Office of the Commissioner of Canada Elections, I knew that the leaflet met the letter of the regulations.  I was adamant that it did not meet the spirit of them.  

This is a copy of the letter I mailed today to The Honourable Maryam Monsef asking that she initiate a process to amend the regulations pertaining to the tagline on campaign materials.

August 24, 2016

The Honourable Maryam Monsef
Minister of Democratic Institutions
Centre Block, Suite 546S
House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0A6

Dear Ms. Monsef,

Please accept my belated congratulations on your successful election as a Canadian Member of Parliament and on your subsequent appointment to Cabinet as the Minister of Democratic Institutions.

Last year’s election campaign was a long one and, on occasion, bitterly fought. In Canada, the integrity of the general voting system is upheld by its overall structure as well as the regulations and operational details of which it is comprised.

While your main focus now is on electoral reform, I would like to draw your attention to a flaw in the regulations of the Canada Elections Act (Act) that pertain to the tagline in campaign marketing materials.

During last year’s federal election campaign, I received many direct mail pieces. There was one in particular that I found objectionable. While the mailer met the requirements of the regulations, it clearly contravened the intent and the spirit of the rules. I have enclosed the original mailer for your reference.

Reema scans in the side of the direct mail piece attacking the federal NDP. I filed a complaint about this particular mailer, via an online form, on October 9, 2015. My complaint read as follows:

I received a piece of campaign literature today which is national in scope. It does not clearly identify the sender, the political party, or the official agent. Furthermore, it does not even identify the name of the local candidate in my riding. This appears to me to violate the guidelines, at the very least in spirit, for advertising material. Depending on who paid the costs of production & distribution, it may also violate financing guidelines. (9 October 2015)

The response I received was that the mailer met the requirements of the regulations. Specifically, the email dismissed my concerns as follows:

Thank you for your message of October 9, 2015 with respect to the election advertising leaflet that was distributed in your riding.

The Canada Elections Act (Act) requires that a candidate or registered party who runs an election ad mentions in or on the message that its transmission was authorized by the candidate’s official agent or by the party’s registered agent. The Act  is silent as to the size, colour or placement of that mention, which is referred to as the “tagline”. I would draw your attention to the bottom right of the page showing Thomas Mulcair, under the word “Canada” where the following statement appears: “Authorized by the registered agent of the Conservative Party of Canada”. The tagline does appear and provides the information required by the act. (11 October 2015)

Reema scans in the nearly invisible tagline of the direct mail piece.As you can see for yourself, the tagline is barely discernible. I struggled to decipher what it said. It would have been impossible for many to even know that a tagline had been included.

I was not satisfied with the response and had further correspondence with an agent from the Office of the Commissioner of Canada Elections. After sending him a scanned copy of the direct mail piece, I received this response:

Good morning Ms. Faris:
I am familiar with the literature you forwarded me.  We had previously reviewed it and as you noted the tag line is included on the ‘Mulcair’ side of this literature. It does state that the political advertising is authorized by the registered agent for the Conservative Party of Canada. Generally speaking, the Act does not control the content of election advertising (or the font size for the authorization line), but regulates the reporting of associated expenses and requires that an authorization statement appear on the advertising. 
The literature you received is an initiative from the Conservative Party of Canada and an expense of this political party.  It is not associated with the local Conservative Party of Canada candidate in your electoral district.
Hoping this clarifies this matter … (14 October 2015)

I did not find the response satisfactory and wrote again:

It clarifies matters, but does not resolve my complaint.
Here’s the thing: a tagline is meant to identify the sender. If it is virtually impossible to read, then it defeats the purpose. Just having it there is not enough. It respects the letter of the regulation, but does not satisfy the intent.
Similarly, if benefits accrue to the local candidate, then a portion of the costs must be assigned to them even if those expenses are recorded as an in-kind donation.
I’d like to know what steps I should pursue now to continue the examination of this issue. (14 October 2015)

The agent tried to address my concerns and the last note I received was as follows:

Section 320 of the Canada Elections Act (Act) is clear:
Message must be authorized
320. A candidate or registered party, or a person acting on their behalf, who causes election advertising to be conducted shall mention in or on the message that its transmission was authorized by the official agent of the candidate or by the registered agent of the party, as the case may be.
This matter has been reviewed previously.  It is clear that this election advertising (literature) is distributed and paid for by the Conservative Party of Canada – thus the tag line of authorized by the Registered Agent for the Conservative Party of Canada. The tag line may be difficult to read, however the Act does not regulate the content of the advertising other that what is noted in Section 91 of the Act:
Publishing false statements to affect election results
91. No person shall, with the intention of affecting the results of an election, knowingly make or publish any false statement of fact in relation to the personal character or conduct of a candidate or prospective candidate.
It may be noted that national advertising by a Party (any political party) may benefit a local candidate.  It may also be argued that advertising by a candidate may benefit a Party. Almost every advertising generated by a candidate will include their party’s logo.
In reviewing this matter, the Office of the Commissioner of Canada Elections is satisfied that the required information is contained on the advertising being discussed and its expense will be reported by the Party.  With regards to your complaint, we have reviewed the information you have provided and concluded that the circumstances as described do not appear to contravene any provisions of the Act, and as such, cannot be pursued by this Office. (14 October 2015)

Despite the best efforts of the representative from the Commissioner’s Office, I still believe that this direct mail piece stretched the limits of the regulations to the point of absurdity. It is not enough to simply include a tagline; it must be legible and clearly identifiable. I also believe that the local candidate’s name should appear on any directly distributed material since Canadians vote for Members of Parliament, not for party leaders.

Reema scans in the side of the direct mail piece attacking the Liberal Party of Canada.Minister Monsef, I urge you to initiate a process to review and amend the regulations of the Act that deal with the tagline and the identity of the sender. Such details are critical; they underpin the integrity of Canada’s voting system, whether as currently constituted or as altered for future elections.

Thank you for your consideration of this matter and I look forward to amended regulations which uphold the principles of transparency and integrity for election campaign materials.

Sincerely yours,

Reema Faris

cc.
Marc Mayrand, Chief Electoral Officer of Canada, Elections Canada
Commissioner of Canada Elections
Pamela Goldsmith-Jones, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs

 

A Life In Script

I feel the absence of my mother most keenly when I catch a glimpse of her writing.

When I look at the carefully crafted words and sentences she moulded; the ones she wrote down. An alchemy of thought, energy, effort, pen, and paper.

Mom used writing to express her thanks. To scold political leaders. To extend congratulations. To advocate for causes. To nurture connections.

She cherished the handwritten note even after her grandsons helped her learn to use email.  

My mother believed there was a personal quality to a handwritten note that was impossible to replicate in type form. I agree. Each stroke of the pen captures a person’s personality, their character, history, and experience.  The way in which hand-written words create a web of meaning is the most affirmative statement of “I am here”. When I catch sight of my mother’s writing script I wonder how it is that she is not here.

How can the person whose heart propelled the pen across the page not be here to cross that and dot that i?

Reema shares a photo of her mother's handwriting script taken from a travel journal - © ReemaFaris.com

I feel the absence of my mother most keenly when I see her writing, with an intake of breath and a vise clamped around my heart.

My mother’s script is from an earlier era when education had not been commodified and contorted. When it was a gift to learn. A time when writing was valued not only for its content but for its form. When penmanship spoke of culture and education and, yes, privilege.

That script, her unique cursive style, is undeniably and uniquely my mother, Yulanda.

I feel the absence of my mother most profoundly when I stare at her writing.

René Descartes said, “I am thinking, therefore I am.” My mother’s cursive script says, “I wrote, therefore I have been.” And as the ability to recall her physical presence becomes the dream of time lapsed, her writing will remain forever real and tangible.

As her daughters, her children, and perhaps someday her grandchildren and descendants, we will carry her DNA forward in time.  However, her letters, the drafts of her speeches, the thank-you cards, her recipes, the quotations she noted down, her signature — like the one in the volume of William Shakespeare’s collected works that she used for her studies at McGill — these all serve as a testament to her personal spirit.  

No other hand shaped those words, no other mind developed those ideas, no one else forged those connections: letter to letter, person to person, heart to heart.

I feel the absence of my mother most keenly when I catch a glimpse of her writing.  The words and sentences that flowed from the pen she held, the pen she guided into forever.

In the year and months since my mother died (and a month before what would have been her 79th birthday), my family has cried, laughed, and celebrated birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, and weddings.  We’ve attended funerals. We’ve had time at home, we’ve been away together and separately.  Time has carried us forward. It is life’s imperative.  

And she, my mother, has been there with us.  In each moment, in each thought, in each word.

She always will be.

“If we danced more and sang more, we’d be happier people.”

Yulanda M. Faris

July 2, 1937 – April 23, 2015 

Reema shares a picture of her standing in the courtyard of the Hotel des Grandes Ecoles in Paris with her Mom and Dad - © ReemaFaris.com

 

With Labour Peace And A Four-Year Horizon

The results may be unofficial, but they are in.

My congratulations to Carolyn Broady, Dave Stevenson, Nicole Brown, Sheelah Donahue, and Pieter Dorsman: the newly elected West Vancouver Board of Education.

With a new mandate of four years and with the campaign behind them, this group of Trustees can now focus on the key priority which is to ensure that our public education system in West Vancouver continues to be one of the best, not only in British Columbia but across Canada.

We are so fortunate in West Vancouver. Not to deny that we too have vulnerable populations and significant needs here, but we are an economically affluent community and one which benefits from the support offered by parents, residents, and businesses.  As I’ve often said, it’s not a surprise that we have a graduation rate of 99% in West Vancouver; anything less would be a scandal.

As a school district, we also have an accomplished team of leaders and educators working on behalf of our students and our community — a team recognized for their innovative practices as well as their commitment to excellence.  Their efforts are matched by the hard work and diligence of all the district’s employees.

And yet I’m apprehensive.

Lions Gate BridgeWhy?

Because there are pressures on the public education system from which even West Vancouver will not be immune.

The most significant pressure which this Board will face, as with all Boards across the province, is the issue of funding. While West Vancouver has been able to develop other sources of revenue, whether via academies, specialized programs, or international student enrolment, the amount raised may keep annual deficits at bay, but it does not fix the structural deficit upon which our system is based.  There are cracks in the foundation.

There’s also a question in my mind as to what the provincial government’s intent may be with regard to both the governance structure and the bargaining structure.  I’m worried about consultations which may appear to be based on consensus and which in fact are not.

With the election of a new Board and with one more public Board meeting to attend, I will be entering a new phase.  I will now be a former Trustee, but that won’t make me any less committed to the cause of public education, whether in West Vancouver or throughout British Columbia. I will continue to play a part as an interested observer and passionate parent-advocate. To find out more about my plans, please check out EducationForBC.com and the information posted there.

With regard to School District 45, my top three issues for the new Board, in addition to continued advocacy at the provincial level, are: (1) to build and enhance relationships within the district; (2) to ensure the continued prominence of the arts and humanities in all our schools while exploring and expanding new opportunities for students; and, (3) to work towards smaller class sizes as well as enhanced support for students including advanced learners, children with special needs, and English Language Learners.

With a longer mandate and labour contracts in effect until 2019, there’s time and stability within the public education system for this Board to do its very best.

I’m counting on them as are all the members of our community, all our education partner groups, and, most importantly, all our students.

My appreciation to all the candidates who so generously and graciously put their names forward for consideration and my congratulations again to each of the newly elected and re-elected Trustees. Thank you in advance for your diligence, your hard work, and your passionate commitment to public education in West Vancouver.