Coffee Chats, Whiteboards, and the Year Ahead

For those of you who have been following along on my blog journey since October, you might have noticed that I have not posted much over the past month or so. Although I haven’t been blogging, there has been a lot going on.

This path of reflection, processing, and sharing that I have been on since the election has brought some surprising things my way. I had anticipated that people would be interested in hearing a bit about what I learned and that my perspective would spark conversation, perhaps encouraging others to share. By choosing to blog, I also knew there were going to be those who didn’t want some secrets revealed and that I was going to take some slack for my opinions. That is always a chance you take putting your thoughts out there for the world to read. For those who know me personally or know me through my public involvement, most would agree that I have never been known to keep my perspectives to myself and enjoy challenging the norms. To me, blogging is just an extension of that. My opinions are not more important or less important than others but I do think they deserve to be a part of the conversation.

Over the last year, there has not been a shortage of people reaching out to me to share their opinions, as could have been expected. When you’re constantly out at community events and going door to door inviting people to share their perspectives, you are greeted with a swath of ideas, opinions, and suggestions for improvement. However, I was surprised at how many of my acquaintances felt the need to reach out and attempt to influence my approach to campaigning, platform on specific issues, or decisions to be made in public office. No more so has this been more evident than over the last two months.

I know a lot of people through the many hats that I wear and think that my connections to a broad range of networks is one of my greatest strengths. I rarely turn down an invitation to connect with someone who reaches out to go for a coffee and appreciate the opportunity to catch up with the people that I know. Since October, I have received many invitations for coffee from past acquaintances, former colleagues, and friends. In most instances, the invitation came via text and sounded something like “I’d love to take you for coffee once things settle down. Let me know when you have some time.” With the flood of invitations and everyone’s busy schedules, it took well into December to find time to meet with everyone I wanted to catch up with. Nevertheless, starting in early November, I began my coffee date tour.

Looking back in my calendar, there were seven chats that stand out for me because they were all so eerily similar. We’d meet up at a local coffee shop, grab a drink, sit down, and within 90 seconds of small talk, the conversation would turn – you need to stop with the blog.

I was then peppered with questions about why I was blogging and what I was trying to prove. The line of questioning often came with a condescending tone of “I’m worried about you” or friendly advice that “there is always a higher road”. In every case, these were people I would consider community contacts but not necessarily friends or confidants. I was surprised at how the relationship I thought we had led them to believe that I would somehow be convinced over the coffee to silence myself.  Most also said they were there on behalf of others, not just themselves, and that everyone is concerned about my intentions. Why were they so worried about me and what I had to say? After the first couple of coffee chats, I thought it was just coincidence but then it happened over and over and over again. This put my guard up and I began to anticipate the same line of questioning with every invitation to get together that came my way.

In every instance, I listened to what they had to say, shared my perspective, and ended the conversation politely. I think most people realized that they had not convinced me to end my blog and perhaps left a bit more on edge about what I might say next. Not only had their persistent attempts to silence me not worked, they now knew I was blogging knowing full well people were paying attention. The best line from one of the coffee dates “I fully support you in saying whatever you like, just promise you won’t mention me”. Guess what, if you are in my life, I have experiences and interactions with you and perspectives on those encounters which I am not afraid to share. What are you so scared that I am going to say?

On top of the odd advice-offering coffee chats, I was recently told that my name has been swirling in conversations in the City of Edmonton communications department. My first and last name appeared, along with nothing else, on the whiteboard of Mary Sturgeon, Branch Manager of Communications at the City. For days my name was on display in her office for hundreds of employees to see while walking the open concept floor at the Edmonton Tower. To my recollection, I’ve never met Mary nor has she ever reached out to me so what earned me the distinction of being mentioned in her office? (Mary – if you’re reading this, I’d love to hear from you)

Over the last month, the coffee conversations have become more direct and pointed in their intent. I have been threatened with legal action if I mention particular names or information on my blog. My livelihood has been interfered with by those in public office. And sadly, this has made me tighten my circle and play an internal game of ‘who can I trust’. I am now more careful about what I share on social media and even hesitated in writing this blog for weeks.

As I’ve mentioned, one of the main outcomes that I was hoping for from my blog was to spark conversation. However, I did think that more people would be interested in having these conversations in a public forum, like in the comments section or on social media. Some of that happened initially but that quickly dwindled off. These coffee talks have proven to me that conversations are still happening, just in more discreet ways. I also know that people who I have never even met are having conversations about me and my blog. The fact that the conversations are taking place is a good first step. It’s interesting to me that I am not being included in the conversations that I have sparked and, because of this, will never know what conclusions people have come to. Overall, I am grateful for those who were willing to talk with me directly, seeking clarity on my intent, rather than gossip and assume.

My experience as a candidate and in the months that have proceeded is an incredible gift. Now more than ever, I realize that there are many reasons for people’s paths to cross and through every interaction, there is a lesson to learn. I am also even more driven, knowing that speaking my truth will lead to important conversations that need to happen and ultimately shifts and the change I want to see in the world. I likely will not be consistently posting blogs anymore – just know that this is not the last you’ll hear from me.

I am starting 2018 with optimism, opportunity, and endless potential. My blog on reconciliation will be the focus of my public lecture at MacEwan University on January 24th where I will be given an hour to elaborate on my thoughts. In February, I will be leading a webinar for Canada’s History on a project that I co-created in 2015, which led to an honourable mention at the Governor General’s Awards. And in April, I will be speaking at the National Council on Public History conference in Las Vegas. Best of all, I am starting a new job that will allow a seed that I planted 14 years ago begin to flourish.

If you want to know more about what I am up to or what’s been going on behind the scenes, reach out. I am always up for a coffee!

The Conversation has Begun

As I mentioned in my first blog post, I wanted to start a real conversation about the systemic barriers and underlying systems that are at play in the realm of municipal politics. My rationale for wanting to have this conversation is simple: I was unaware until I ran as a candidate how much these systems truly impact the process and the outcome. I think most people are also unaware and this information needs to be identified, shared, and understood so that every voter knows the powers at play.

I decided to use a blog to start this conversation to help myself process the experience and share my perspective. When I posted the first blog, a week passed without a mention of it online anywhere. I wasn’t sure if anyone had stumbled across it or read it. I thought I would be able to continue processing my thoughts in solidarity for a while before inviting others to the conversation. Well, that didn’t happen.

Less than an hour after I posted my most recent blog, a known Conservative insider who was involved with Sarah Hamilton’s campaign decided to post it to twitter and share his opinions. Within a couple of hours several Conservative supporters had replied in disgust. This immediate response told me that I must have struck a cord. The swift dismissal of my perspective as ‘sour grapes’ has proven to me the importance of this conversation. I need to challenge the norms and shake the foundation of entitlement.

And so the conversation has begun.

Last fall at the Banff Forum, I had an interesting conversation with a fellow participant about having difficult conversations. Both of us had experience working on the cause of reconciliation and pushing this issue into places where it needs to be pushed. I had been referring to the need to create safe spaces for the difficult conversations – respectful spaces where people felt supported to share openly, free from criticism. In our interaction, my fellow Banffer challenged this notion and said we don’t need safe spaces we need brave spaces – spaces where people feel brave to share how they truly feel filled with people brave enough to listen and learn. This has stuck with me over the last year. Be brave, not safe.

All of us have assumptions and biases which help us make decisions quickly, based on previous experiences or knowledge. Rarely do we acknowledge these assumptions and sadly we rarely share them with others. In my last post, I shared some of my assumptions publicly. This was not intended to say I am all-knowing but exactly the opposite: I have formed opinions based on assumptions that may or may not be true. I am trying to be more brave in every conversation I have. I hope that my bravery will challenge others to consider their assumptions and biases or at least acknowledge them as being present.

I have a few blogs already written in draft form and am planning to release a new one every Tuesday for now. Like this blog, I might also need to pepper a few in between to help the evolving (or in this case, exploding) conversation. I know that my perspective is not one that some people will want to hear and others will not even want to recognize exists. I am okay with that. I have chosen to stay out of the twitter conversation but appreciate everyone who has stepped in and engaged so far. I also appreciate the few people who have chosen to continue the conversation on facebook and on their own blogs. I know this conversation will not be easy so I am challenging everyone to be brave.

For those of you who chose to read along with me, for those who choose to voice their perspectives in response, and for those who need supportive allies on this journey – we can all be brave together.

Let’s Start a Real Conversation

As I shared with my supporters last night, I began my campaign with three fundamental beliefs in mind: anyone who wishes to speak up and share their perspectives should have a place in the political process, decisions for our community should be based on listening to residents and incorporating their perspectives, and our current City Council needs to be more diverse

All of these beliefs come from my own core values that standing up for what’s right will lead to change and that including more diverse perspectives into the conversation leads to better decision making. The last 14 months of campaigning has brought insights and experiences that I never could have imagined. I have met thousands of people that have expanded my own knowledge of the city and what it means to be an Edmontonian. I have garnered support from places where I didn’t even think to look for help, and I have deepened my connection to my community and this place I am proud to call home.

Today I am further reflecting on the efforts of my campaign and pondering the personal commitments that I have put on hold to seek public office. I am thinking about the extraordinary efforts of my volunteers, the support of my campaign contributors, and the relationships that I made with people across the ward and the city on this journey. Something like this takes a vast network of people committed together to pull it off. I am honoured that so many people believed in the gifts that I have to share that they joined me as part of the campaign.

Despite a groundswell of support, despite months of hard work, despite the personal belief that I am the best person for the job, I didn’t win. This makes me sad and angry, not because I lost but because it has become clear to me that the political game was created for people like me not to win. The campaign has broken my belief in representative democracy and I will be mourning that loss for a long time.

The disadvantages that I was faced with were anticipated in the planning of my campaign, yet throughout I maintained a core belief that knowledge, passion, and dedication could overcome these systemic barriers for true democratic representation. In the days, weeks, and months to come, I want to start a public conversation on these barriers that exist for some and the advantages that exist for others.

For me these advantages fall into three separate but related categories:

  • Political Affiliations
  • Affluence Equating to Influence
  • Systemic White Privilege

I look forward to diving into these topics in upcoming blogs. I will also be reaching out to hear from other candidates that I respect to hear their perspectives. Their experiences and opinions on the barriers they experienced through the recent campaign will help deepen my own understanding.

I have a lot more to say. I look forward to using this communication tool as a way to process my experience and provide a dose of reality to how others understand the political process.

More to come.

The results are in

The voters of Ward 5 have made their decision. Of course it was not the result I was hoping for but I respect the democratic process and the people who chose to have their voices heard. I will have many more reflections over the coming hours and days but for now I just want to quietly reflect on the journey that brought me here.

Thank you to my volunteers, donors, and supporters. Your willingness to step up and support my Ward 5 journey has been a gift. It has been an honour to work alongside of you and campaign in the best way we know how – with honour, courage, and respect.

I am excited for the next adventure awaiting for me and for whatever the universe has in store.

All My Relations.