When I moved to Winnipeg by choice 10 years ago, I thought it was just angry grumps that hated this city. But naturally, within a few years, I admitted the bloom was off the rose, having come to terms that Winnipeg does indeed, have major problems.
I spent a few years in the blur of baby days, thinking less about Winnipeg and more about navigating the unpredictable/exhausting waters of parenting tiny people, and noticing the ways the world makes life harder for people with young children, and feeling helpless and jaded about how women and children and families are often treated.
When I thought critically about Winnipeg, it was often with a vague sense of disappointment that we couldn’t get certain things right, or with a deep sense of shame that we were getting others horribly, horribly wrong. And of course, sometimes with conscious feeling of things being not too bad, because they could be much worse (looking at you, USA). These feelings were simply there, but I didn’t know what to do about them, other than write about them every now and then.
But then: I had the opportunity to serve a 3-year term on a WRHA Local Health Involvement Group, which offers citizens a voice and a chance to shape our local health region’s strategies and priorities. The experience taught me so much about equity and made me more conscious of the relative privilege I have in my life, and really made me start to look at the world in a much different way.
And then in 2016, I discovered that I have some of the best neighbours anyone could ask for when we united to keep a pawn shop out of Glenelm. Arising from that pawn shop fight was the re-establishment of a neighbourhood association; though it’s been a ton of work, being involved in that has been one of the most meaningful and exciting things I’ve done in my adult life.
Throughout this election, I’ve not been particularly encouraged about Winnipeg’s ability to evolve. So many conversations I think we need to be having are not happening (stupid pothole monopoly). It’s been easy to feel bummed out and discouraged when reality is such a far cry from how you imagine it could and should be.
Which leads me to this: what I’ve learned in the time since my Winnipeg love-fest honeymoon ended, and what I’ve been reminded of frequently during this dreadfully soul-sucking municipal election, is that doing something really helps. Or at least takes the edge off.
In the past few weeks, for me that’s been supporting the groups like Functional Transit Winnipeg and Vote Open Winnipeg. Volunteering reminds me that I’m doing something tangible–even if it’s simply putting up posters and delivering flyers. The folks running the show in these groups are doing the heavy lifting, but it feels good to know that I can lighten the load even just a bit.
Usually about once a year I have a big old irrational cry, feeling that no matter what I do I’ll never really feel at home either here or in Alberta, or really be part of any particular community, or some other existential mini-crisis. I bet I probably always will, no matter how long I live here or anywhere for that matter.
But joining forces with others in pursuit of a common goal–whether that’s a more connected neighbourhood, a functional transit system, or an intersection at the heart of the city that is accessible and welcoming to all–does make me feel like I am making a difference.
I’m still spending more time than is probably healthy agonizing about the big systemic problems in our city, and individual problems like Portage and Main and our needs-a-lot-of-improvement public transit system. And I’m constantly reminding myself that tweeting doesn’t equal action, and sometimes makes me more anxious than I probably would have been otherwise.
The other day I saw some photos of the awesome Team Open buttons, and <cheese alert> I could actually envision, decades from now, coming across one of those buttons and telling my kids or grandkids about how it used to be that you couldn’t even cross Portage and Main on foot–can you imagine?! And then thinking to myself, I was part of changing that. I was part of something that made this city better.
Of course I worry that the referendum won’t go the way we want. But I almost think it doesn’t matter, because I’m choosing to think positively and believe that it’s only a matter of time before the city does the right thing. (Sure, the candidates are all saying they’ll honour the outcome… but it turns out that politicians break promises all the time.)
The election is less than two weeks away. There’s probably something about our city that you value, or want to see change, and there’s probably a group out there that’s working really, really hard this election to make those things election issues.
If there is something that matters to you, that you feel strongly about, and you can support through your time or effort or dollars, please do! I’m telling you: it feels really good.