A Raging Bull in a Tea Party Shop: What Foodies Can Learn from a City Election in Toronto that Foretold U.S. Mid-term Elections

I wrote most of this as an assessment of Toronto’s election during the day of October 25, before the polls were closed and any votes counted in Toronto’s city elections. I didn’t know who won, but I already knew what lost — Toronto’s longstanding consensus around the “radical middle” of city responsibilities for social belonging and environmental leadership.

As it turned out – witness the Tea Party results in U.S. elections — Toronto’s election results were a sign of a continent-wide rise of neo-angry conservatism.

Though far-right funders and master manipulators are part of the explanation for this rightward tectonic shift in popular politics, my view is that the way progressives have presented issues over the past two decades has turned them into sitting ducks, instead of leaders, of the fury that’s out there. I worry that the food movement I’ve watched grow over the past 15 years could be subject to the same kind of backlash if we don’t avoid the same mistakes.

Toronto would be anyone’s choice asthe city least likely to succeed as a stronghold of neo-angry conservatism, so the victory of an angry rich white man tells us such political reversals can Dak Prescott Youth Jersey happen anywhere. Of course, to understand what happened, we also need to know some of the peculiarities of city politics, peculiarities that highlight the trap food activists might easily fall into.

David Hulchansky, one of Canada’s leading housing experts, told me about the inescapable yin and yang of city politics about 30 years ago, and his simple and compelling explanation has stuck with me.

He says that progressive politicians flounder if they get confused by problems of the city, which aren’t the same thing as problems in the city. Poverty, hunger and housing are examples of problems that exist everywhere — in the countryside, in exurbs, in suburbs and in cities alike. But traffic jams, overcrowding, public transit, garbage and the like are problems of the city. Of and in problems sometimes intersect, but often live in separate, non-parallel universes in terms of popular appeal and understanding.

The secret to Toronto’s long run at being the leading North American example of “the city that works” was progressive politicians’ success in keeping problems of the city in the foreground – this is what cities are set up to deal with, after all — while keeping a constant watch on broader problems in the city, affecting the people municipal officials are supposed to be looking out for. Keeping these two sets of issues in equilibrium kept negative and polarizing rhetoric out of bounds for most of the past 50 years. There was disagreement with specific policies, but rarely much doubt that politicians had a grip on the in-of political balance they were paid to maintain.

Public transit is a classic issue of the city, for example, but the fare level and customer service levels need to be seen as classic issues in the city, for the simple reason that people on low incomes rely on public transit. Getting that balance wrong — neglecting cost of fares or customer service for example – is the kind of mistake that gets progressive pro-transit politicians gobsmacked and denounced for having their airy-fairy heads in very elite air that’s very different from the air breathed by.

There’s demagogy involved in these insinuations, for sure, because people who are really supporters of private transit and enemies of public transit can pose as friends of public transit users. Welcome to politics: the point is precisely that progressives have made themselves sitting ducks.

Getting the in-of balance right is even more crucial in today’s amalgamated cities, which bring under one political roof people with different of as well as in problems, thereby creating a permanent basis for people feeling left out of consideration.

Over the last decades of neo-liberalism, when all levels of North American governments stopped trying to rectify in issues based on inequality and low incomes, city progressives allowed their attention to be monopolized by of issues, which are not deemed priority daily issues for most of the natural constituency of progressives — a constituency now engaged by neo-angry conservatives. The fact is that most people bearing the brunt of in problems related to inequality are either conservative about of issues or think that of issues are personal lifestyle choices, not issues for laws and political conflict. Losing balance led to losing a political base, which, in a nutshell, is how progressives got isolated from their natural allies.

Look at Toronto controversies over the recent past through this in-of lens. Think of the government time, political time, media airtime and fire-breathing resentment flared by of problems, such as bike lanes, and the relative neglect of in problems, such as fares and customer service on public transit, high rents, unaffordable homes or rising hunger. Progressivism lost its groove because of issues took in issues of economics off the table and out of public discussion (what the people responsible for this shift call “discourse”).

It’s not hard to see how the same kind of false and damaging polarization could overtake the food movement, one of the few social movements riding a perfect wave of near-universal discontent and demonstrably irresponsible and inept corporate and governmental officials. One reason why food is flying higher than other social movements is that food offers the right in-of chemistry.

I don’t want to overdo this, but there is a rough in-of equivalent for food issues.

Top-of-mind in issues include food deprivation suffered by people on low incomes, poor wages and working conditions endured by most workers in the food sector and abuse of monopoly power by corporations buying from farmers. In issues of food, in other words, are understandable as issues caused by corporate abuse of power or corporate-directed government neglect of responsibilities to the general public.

By contrast, the top of mind of issues faced by the food movement include low and tasteless quality of fast foods, decline of family meals, over-packaging and over-processing of foods, the need to honor gardening and cooking from scratch, and absence of lively public presence for food in such institutions as farmers markets. Of issues related to food, in other words, are understood as products of an industrialized food culture.

I’m as much drawn to the of issues related to food as any foodie, and I’m in no way arguing against such issues receiving a lot of high-profile attention. I am saying there has to be a balance between of and in issues if we don’t want supporters of corporate power to get away with marginalizing us as precious and cute yuppies who are indifferent to the needs of the great majority and who are condescending about the tastes and eating habits of average people.

Neo-angry conservatives, shedding their traditional skin as defenders of the wealthy elite, are brilliant at exploiting in-of imbalances. As sociologist Elvis Presley well understood, people who lack power have no choice but to submit to many indignities of being low on the totem pole; but don’t you step on my blue suede shoes. There’s a way in which some presentations of food issues can be Dak Prescott Kids Jersey felt as an excuse for stepping on blue suede shoes. Whenever you meet Angry White Men who should be angry at someone else, check out their shoes to see if they’ve been scuffed by people calling themselves progressives.

There’s another way that progressives have fallen victim to the twists and turns of neo-liberal economics – aka governments that bail out bankers, but tell ordinary people to fend for themselves.

As governments have reduced their to-do list for ordinary people to a minimum, they have increased the list of things people must do to qualify for help, while reducing the list of things powerful people have to do. This means that most peoples’ interactions with government are increasingly a pain in the butt, and calls to increase public and governmental roles in any area are met with scorn.

With Fox-like cunning, this political turnaround since the 1990s has been subject to manipulation by the far-right. Corporations have been all but deregulated. BP made elementary mistakes with little government oversight, leading to one of the great enviro disasters of recent times, forcing the president of BP to resign with mere millions in pension and other goodies. One-time steel giant Stelco in Canada was bought by a foreign corporation and recently shut down without a peep of government protest. Canada’s potash reserves, crucial for soil fertility, are being sold to foreign owners with only belated concern from the federal government. In Dak Prescott Jersey such ways, governments give large corporations almost hassle-free license.

Instead of recognizing government as an equalizing force that stands up to big and foreign corporations, many ordinary people experience government as an intrusively regulating force. The forms and procedures that have to be filled out for simple matters, such as receiving old-age pension (often by people lacking computer comfort or know-how) , are enough to make anyone join a Tea Party rebellion against thoughtless bureaucrats.

Food multinationals do what they please when promoting junk but someone who wants to sell fruit and veggies or healthy snacks off a cart on the street gets the third degree.

Regulation has come undone in its disproportion. Ordinary people are regulated for what seems like “personal” and private behavior, such as smoking, while polluting companies smoke whenever and wherever they want, often with government subsidies and tax breaks.

If progressives are not livid about this unravelling of proportion — human nature abhorring a vacuum as it does — they shouldn’t be surprised when someone to their right steals their thunder and gets away with presenting as a populist instead of an elitist.

Although of issues often require urgent government attention, the in issues of social and economic well-being — jobs, housing and food access being the most obvious, longtime staples of politics — require urgent political attention.

That, I believe, is the cautionary tale of the Toronto election, and the US mid-term elections as well.

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  1. [...] Though far-right funders and master manipulators are part of the explanation for this rightward tectonic shift in popular politics, my view is that the way progressives have presented issues over the past two decades has turned them into sitting ducks, instead of leaders, of the fury that’s out there. I worry that the food movement I’ve watched grow over the past 15 years could be subject to the same kind of backlash if we don’t avoid the same mistakes. ronto would be anyone’s choice asthe city least likely to succeed as a stronghold of neo-angry conservatism, so the victory of an angry rich white man tells us such political reversals can happen anywhere. Of course, to understand what happened, we also need to know some of the peculiarities of city politics, peculiarities that highlight the trap food activists might easily fall into. Wayne Roberts blog. [...]

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