With the 2017 Municipal Election wrapped up, Edmontonians now know who will be representing their voices and issues on council. A city news release last week described the swearing-in ceremony as “historic” — but can it really be called that?
On the second floor of Edmonton City Hall, located in the hallway between the offices of the mayor and councillors, are displays that highlight our city’s historical milestones, recognizing foPreviewrmer councillors and mayors and their contributions to Edmonton. As you walk the corridor, you pass by the faces of men etched into the glass. Their names, echoing the names of parks and streets, flash at you from the side.
Where are the faces of non-white, non-male people that have worked to create positive, progressive change in Edmonton?
This installation is a point of pride for Edmontonians — and it should be, as it’s a physical representation of the progress our city has made. But it’s rare to happen upon the face of a woman, let alone a person of colour.
I believe that the takeaway lesson from this walk should be two-fold: One, Edmonton has grown a lot over the years and that, in itself, should be celebrated. Two — and most importantly — the lack of women or people of colour etched on glass is not representative of the change that non-white, non-male people have brought to the city. Instead, this should be a point of analysis: where are the faces of non-white, non-male people that have worked to create positive, progressive change in Edmonton?
Even if the corridor is only representative of municipal councils of the past, the question still stands. This year, Sarah Hamilton joins Bev Esslinger in representing Edmontonian women on council. Is it historic to have two out of 13 council members represent more than 50% of the population? Or perhaps it is historic that Aaron Paquette now makes up the sole Indigenous voice on council after more than a decade of a lack of Indigenous representation on Edmonton’s council.
But this council is still not representative of so many voices. So how can we make sure that our issues are being addressed? How can we affect change in our community as citizens?
The process of citizen participation allows private individuals to get involved in democratic decision-making at the council level by providing feedback, and to influence public decisions by simply speaking out. This kind of involved citizenship asks you, Edmontonians, to keep up with community issues and hold your representatives accountable for the decisions they make on your behalf.
If a conversation with your councillor does not create the ripple you were looking for, you should seek out other ways of getting your pebble of change to skip across the pond of progress.
On the surface level, it is easy to ask the larger population to be active, involved citizens by simply asking questions and requesting they provide their opinions in order to affect change. And while this form of active citizenship is possible in Edmonton for a lot of its citizens, there are so many who are unable to have their voices heard for a variety of reasons: language barriers, lack of legal identification, barriers to resources leading to barriers to information, etc. Additionally, a common complaint is that their individual voices get drowned by the crowd, making it difficult to get traction on an unpopular issue.
Political theorist Holloway Sparks conceptualizes dissident citizenship as a way for citizens to get involved in the democratic process by not just voting or petitioning, but by marching and protesting. She writes:
“Dissident citizenship [is] the practices of marginalized citizens who publicly contest prevailing arrangements of power by means of oppositional democratic practices that augment or replace institutionalized channels of democratic opposition when those channels are inadequate or unavailable” (75).
While my suggestion is not to ask all of you to take your issues to the streets, in some aspects, it can be a really powerful way of getting your voices heard. I genuinely believe that if a conversation with your councillor does not create the ripple you were looking for, you should seek out other ways of getting your pebble of change to skip across the pond of progress.
Whether the councillor you voted for got elected or not, it’s their job to listen to you and make decisions based on those conversations. Just because the election is over, that doesn’t mean that our work is. Whether we broadcast our own single voice above the cacophonous crowd or whether we support the voices of those that are silenced daily, we are responsible for holding our representatives accountable. While this recent election was referred to as a “historic” one, it can only be truly historic if Edmontonians encourage positive, progressive, ongoing change in the city to make it safer for everyone… and not just those that have the power to be heard.
Sparks, Holloway. “Dissident Citizenship: Democratic Theory, Political Courage, and Activist Women.” Hypatia vol. 12, no. 4, 1997, pp. 74-110.
Banner photo: Photo of Edmonton’s Women’s March, January 2017
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