A Call for Digital CivilityPublished on July 11, 2018
First campaign blog post!
I’ve always believed that a sense of community starts with the word “Hello”. The simple word, the simple act of neighbours greeting each other as they go about their busy lives and affairs is incredibly powerful. It’s how we acknowledge to each other that we share a connection to this space we call our neighbourhood.
Since choosing Beaches-East York as the neighbourhood where I want to live and raise a family some years ago, our community has time and again reaffirmed the decision. This has become even more clear recently when, with the encouragement of family, friends, and neighbours, I started my campaign for City Councillor for Ward 37 (Beaches-East York).
For anyone who has ever done it, canvassing is physically demanding – especially when it’s 40 degrees Celsius or there's a torrential downpour. Our streets have a lot of steps and they stretch literally to the beach. But every time I do it, I return home recharged and excited about the opportunity to represent our community at City Hall. Talking to neighbours, business owners, attending community events, is by far the best part of this journey. I’m incredibly impressed and grateful for people’s willingness and excitement to start a conversation, engage, share their opinions, and propose solutions.
As those who have visited my website can already attest, I’m equally excited about the technological opportunities available in 2018 to tackle community issues and solicit input and feedback.
Politicians don’t know everything. City experts spend a lot of time and considerable effort developing plans to improve our neighbourhoods, but they don’t know everything either. It’s critically important that any city initiative takes into account the considerations and opinions of the people who live where the decision will have the greatest impact. Not only that, it’s necessary to solicit meaningful feedback that isn’t just a “check in the box.” Residents might know a specific reason why a certain idea might not work on a certain street or, even better, they might have the solution or idea that will make an initiative an even greater success.
Citizens using online forums, petitions, e-mail, even Facebook, to organize and discuss local issues, can be an important part of the consultation or feedback loop. Online forums open up the discussion to include people in the community who might have a tough time making it out to a Wednesday evening meeting during a busy week at the Legion or Community Centre. Our “online” Beaches-East York community, just like everyone working to improve our real-world community, deserves our collective thanks.
The one difference I’ve noticed between the old school (and still valuable and relevant) Town Hall meetings versus the online ones, is that too often an online forum can become an intimidating place where only the brave, the foolish, and the nasty dare to stray. They can become an environment that stifles discussion and promotes pile-ons and conflict. We all know that people say things with a keyboard that they wouldn’t say to their neighbour if they were face to face at a Community Hall.
With the resources of a local, grassroots municipal campaign (read: volunteers!) it’s incredibly rewarding and powerful when we feel that we are connecting and people are sending us comments and ideas. I read them all. Sometimes, however, we can become overwhelmed by the success and it becomes difficult to monitor all the discussion going on in real time on the various platforms associated with our movement. With that in mind, I sometimes worry about people thinking that a rude post or comment is something that the campaign endorses. This is not the case.
I’ll end this post with a call for digital civility:
We should be able to talk about any issue – even so-called “wedge issues” – on any platform just as we would if we were at a Town Hall or Parent Advisory Council meeting. The person presenting a different opinion isn’t an enemy – they’re a neighbour. It’s not a war. It’s a discussion. And we’re all on the same team. The secret is to work to find common ground and build consensus from there. We live in a great neighbourhood in the real world – let’s do our best to make sure that it’s also great online.