To the People of Barrie & Ward 2, 

 

Friday, August 19, 2022 at 2pm is the deadline for candidates to submit their nomination to run for municipal office in the upcoming municipal election on October 24, 2022. 

 

Today, I’m announcing that I will not be running for re-election as the City Councillor for Ward 2. I want to take this opportunity to talk about why I’m leaving, why politics is the worst, and what I think we can do about it. 

 

I got my first taste of politics as a closeted queer student at Prince of Wales Public School and later, Barrie Central Collegiate, fighting alongside the community to save those schools from closure. At the time, I didn’t realize that my existence as a queer person was shaping my view of the world and radicalizing me in the process. 

 

I was, however, very aware that the fight to save both schools from closure was shaping my views. We lost that fight. Despite widespread public support, years of advocacy, and a solid case to be made for saving both schools, the decision was made to shut their doors permanently. The deep disappointment and disempowerment that many of us felt then has become all too common in politics today. For a lot of us, myself included, that disappointment and disempowerment has evolved into a sense of deep despair 

 

As we witness inaction by those in power on the greatest challenges facing our world and growing movements of far-right, racist, transphobic, and misogynist ideologies, it’s no wonder many of us feel that sense of despair and powerlessness. 

 

Like many people, I live with depression and anxiety and these struggles are closely linked to that feeling of despair about the state of the world. Whether it’s the lack of substantive action on the climate crisis, the growing gap between the rich and the poor, or the rise of the far right here and around the world - things are bad and a lot of us aren’t okay. 

 

The COVID-19 pandemic made me acutely aware of how close to the edge I really was. At first, it felt like we really were “in this together” - that it was possible for us to band together to protect ourselves and our neighbours while exposing the flaws in the current political and economic systems that put people in harm’s way. But we saw a powerful counter-reaction to that sense of solidarity and togetherness that has really grown and been enabled by those in power in order to feed capitalist profits. Like so many, I felt like I had lost the sense of connection and community that kept me feeling safe and well. This brought me to a breaking point several times over the past few years. I felt alone, I felt consumed by that despair.

 

One of the lies that we are told by those in power, both implicitly and explicitly, is that our individual actions matter more than anything, that we’re basically alone in this world, and that only we, by ourselves, can pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and succeed. This lie is perpetuated by our economic system, capitalism, that celebrates individualism over collectivism, profit over people, and endless economic growth over the very survival of our human societies as we know them. 

 

But the truth is that we do need each other, we need community, we need connection, we need collective and societal action if we are to solve any of the problems facing us today. 

 

This is part of the reason I’m not running again. I need time to heal and to find a way to engage in community that brings joy and genuine connection. Our current formal political system does not allow for that. In fact, the way our political system works can often separate us further, divide us further, isolate us further. And that’s because our isolation, our disconnection, and our separation helps the wealthy and powerful cling to their power and get what they want. 

 

I can tell you - the old boys club is alive and well in Barrie. We all know that there’s an ‘ugly side’ to politics today and it’s worse than I thought. 

 

A turning point for me this term of council and a contributing factor to my decision not to run again was when a fellow Councillor was alleged to have assaulted and harassed a staff member at the City. I won’t get into all the details here, as that has been publicly reported in local media, but an independent, third-party investigator found those allegations to be substantiated on a balance of probabilities. 

 

The response that I saw from some Councillors shocked and saddened me. Where there should have been clear and decisive action to hold the Councillor accountable for his actions and to protect employees from possible future incidents, there was instead a cloak of secrecy and a reluctance to take concrete action to hold the Councillor to account. I remember breaking down in tears after a closed meeting on the subject because I was so distraught and disgusted to be a member of a body, City Council, that didn’t do everything we could to have accountability and safety for the workers at the City. I never quite felt comfortable or safe in the Council Chambers again. Silence perpetuates harassment and violence and I want to thank all of the community members who have spoken out and taken this issue seriously. 

 

This is bigger than one Councillor or one investigation - this is about power, who wields it, and to what end. Our political system breeds, perpetuates, and even sometimes celebrates this type of abusive power rooted in misogyny, white supremacy, colonialism, and classism. Our political system allows too few people to accumulate far too much power. 

 

This is where I want to talk about what I think we can do about it. 

 

The answer is more democracy, not less. Politics isn’t just about what happens around the Council table, or even in parliament. Politics and democracy don’t just happen once every four years through the ballot box. This narrow view of politics and democracy advantages those who already wield power through their wealth or privileged positions and all of us give up our power when we take this narrow view as fact.

 

Politics and power play out in our everyday lives, through our work, through our identities, and our relationship to others and to our community. And this means that we can build a different kind of power than what exists around the Council table, or the kind that we see trampling on peoples’ fundamental human rights around the world right now. That different kind of power is a collective power, power that is shared equally among us. 

 

This power is built through social movements, through labour unions, through mutual aid efforts - we can challenge those in power in real and radical ways while building lasting, caring, and connected communities and relationships in the process. A key part of this type of work is healing our wounds and confronting the ways in which oppressive systems have shaped us so that we may move beyond those systems.

 

Yes, I feel a sense of despair about the state of our world and the lack of concrete action on the biggest challenges we face. But we have no choice but to cultivate and practice hope, working towards what’s not only possible, but necessary to survive. We can and we must create a world where everyone can live a life of dignity and safety on a livable planet. 

 

I will always be a part of that struggle for justice, but for now, I’m stepping back from this particular role to find ways I can work in that struggle that brings me true joy, connection, healing, and love. 

 

In solidarity and love, 

Keenan

Keenan Aylwin

Ward 2 Councillor, City of Barrie