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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Apathy the major opponent of Convo speaker

<urnalist and grassroots activist Dave Meslin opened his convocation speech January 13th by presenting on the issue of public apathy. Spending years being what he called a ‘community activist,’ Meslin expressed his hopes to dispel the notion that politics is ‘a spectator sport’. He stressed the importance of how political questions are asked, illustrating that the populace is largely indifferent when asked directly about politics, but when prompted about ‘public library hours, work safety standards, or a park in the neighborhood’ the same people often become engaged. This, Meslin argues, is what illustrates that people are not apathetic, but instead disengaged about political issues.

He gave a few reasons for this disconnect, the main one related to the media-perpetuated stereotypes about how to become involved in politics. Meslin recalled the two main images associated with the political scene – politicians and demonstrators – and lamented that these two extremes overshadows the many people in between working for non-profit groups and attending the fundraising meetings. In addition, he emphasized the lack of mechanisms in place to ask for public feedback: “Aside from checking a box every four years, people feel their opinion is not needed in the time in between.” As a result, Meslin argues, “a lot of people think the world is not malleable – they may be eager to change things, but unconvinced that such change can actually occur.” Many people therefore have trouble connecting politics with their everyday lives.

Meslin described his activism as ‘Community Choreography’ and himself as an artist. Citing one example of resisting the domination of public spaces in Toronto, Canada by billboard advertisements of large corporations, Meslin has and continues to spearhead numerous campaigns involving the community with issues it cares about, noting that he has been inspired by the efforts and enthusiasm of the people who wish to make a difference. He illustrated the general distinction in the two types of campaigns he organizes: policy-driven ones, and then those of a more ‘abstract, philosophical and metaphorical’ nature. This distinction has allowed people of completely different groups to mix and participate, expanding the notion of political engagement in the community and, in Meslin’s view, “getting beyond the usual suspects” to achieve an even greater overall social impact.

One of his more notable accomplishments is the hosting of ‘City Idol’ in 2006. The show played on characteristics of the popular show from the United States ‘American Idol’ by allowing members of the public to discuss what they could change, given the opportunity, when they had a seat on the City Council in Toronto. Noticing the creativity in the activist and non-profit campaigns he started, Meslin wondered about the possibilities of taking this energy to policy-oriented circles. The experiment was a huge success, representing many of the ethnic minorities who live in Toronto, and allowed the winning candidates to run a campaign running for office in City Hall.

In conclusion, Meslin discussed his next challenge, which is to spread awareness of what he calls the ‘fourth wall’ in politics. Referring to the sense of disconnect between politicians and citizens, he hopes to change ‘the passive way that politics is consumed, because when society is as much our world as theirs, we also have a say in how it is shaped.’ 

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