A well-timed gathering of progressive powerhouses for a good cause
The event was called Hope Rising and mine certainly was by the end of the night.
Still buoyed by the NDP’s miraculous growth but of course nervous about a Harper majority, the fundraiser for the Stephen Lewis Foundation proved a truly inspiring gathering that appeared to have half of the city’s NDP supporters packed into the Sony Centre auditorium and adjoining halls.
Alicia Keys, Knann, Rufus Wainwright and more were the musical headliners of the night but some of this country’s progressive powerhouses were the ribbon tied around an evening filled with good vibes and intentions. The music was superb but the discussions and smiles ultimately awe inspiring. Lewis participated in a round table talk before the concert that looked largely at western inaction to fight AIDS/HIV in Africa.
There’s something wonderfully surprising about hearing a well-dressed, worldly man in a suit deliver such unabashedly radical and even accusing pronouncements as Lewis so articulately did. He pulled no punches but delivered compelling word play to power his points that racism and sexism were at the core of the abandoning of Africa to its fate. Lewis skillfully noted that helicopters and money are easily found for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan but always unavailable to help the women of Africa stay safe from sexual violence or to pay for medicines to fight HIV.
A day after a new NDP chief has taken a top job as leader of the opposition, I was reminded of Lewis’ amazing run as the leader of the provincial opposition in Ontario in the 70s. I used to sneak away from a government summer job in the afternoon, easy enough to do, to be enthralled by Lewis masterful work during the Question period in the Ontario Legislature. Lewis was the ultimate opposition leader, able to ring decent legislation out of the Progressive Conservatives then running the province. Sometimes he could shame them into doing the right thing.
It was politics of hope, intelligence and insight and it’s an approach largely missing from our national discussion these days. And while I was not yet an NDP supporter, Lewis intelligence and vision propelled me into the party’s realm not unlike the way the current NDP has managed to captivate young people again.
Newly minted federal opposition leader Jack Layton was there with his wife, re-elected MP Olivia Chow and neither appeared too burnt out after their breakthrough the previous night. Layton was beaming and happy to receive the unending well wishes from those in the hall. While sharing the angst of all regarding the Harper majority, he was absolutely giddy contemplating his immense new caucus.
“I can’t wait to see everybody all in one room,” he gushed and enthused about some of his Kiddie Caucus from Quebec. “We want to get young people engaged with politics, why not have them as members of Parliament? It beats asking them to all vote for a bunch of old white guys. It will be like the 60s with young people involved in politics again,” he said chuckling.
Certainly, it was a night filled with engaged people willing to look at the difficult issues of Africa and AIDS without being overwhelmed by the immensity of the crisis. Yes there was hope as well as help on offer and we all were buoyed dwelling on a world filled with new possibilities where kindness and caring were as important as more concrete concerns.
The NDP claims to be a party that supports families and Lewis’ own was well represented as daughter Ilana Landsberg-Lewis coordinated the event and son filmmaker Avi Lewis wrote the night’s script.
When Layton entered the Hall as the show was about to begin, waving his cane the way a mayor once waved a broom, to a thunderous and extended standing ovation, it was easy to get lost in the dreams of what we and Canada can become instead being burdened by the nightmare of what others might attempt to make it.