Nathan Phillips Square seen from the City Hall green roof near sunset

Five years ago yesterday…

…I walked into Toronto City Hall for the first time ever. I’d lived in Toronto since 2003, but I had very little interest in city politics—I was too busy first being a student, and later being poor. Then word started going around about proposed sweeping budget cuts. I was worried about how it would affect Parkdale, the neighbourhood I’d moved to in 2009 and grown to love. The mayor had said he would sit at City Hall and listen all night, if need be, to people’s concerns. How often do you get a promise that the mayor will listen to you, personally?

So, off I went. It was magical. You can read my account here. (Or the Star’s. Or Torontoist‘s liveblog. Or watch Matt Elliott’s hand-picked highlights.) I got thrown out near the end, when I yelled “Shut the fuck up” at Cllr Mammoliti. (I was horribly ashamed at the time. I cried about letting down all the councillors who had behaved with such dignity and composure all night. Later, I would learn that this was a normal response to Mammoliti and I was just saying what everyone else was thinking.)

I was hooked, and I kept going back. Normally cautious about privacy, I unlocked my Twitter account so I could livetweet and talk to strangers. I started reading reports and writing blog posts. I became part of a cadre of amateur City Council watchers who followed City Hall for fun—and later, as a calling, as many became writers, editors, political staff, and activists. Many of the people from the 2011 all-night meeting became familiar faces, friends, colleagues, and even chosen family.

I remember the morning I showed up to a Budget Committee meeting and realized that being motivated to show up to Budget Committee meetings in the morning was a rare gift. I remember that night in the pub I started crying because I realized politics could be a genuine career and a ticket out of poverty. I remember when people started buying me beer. I remember the first time I knocked on a door for a Council candidate and asked a complete stranger to vote for them. (It was fucking terrifying, and I’ve done it countless times since.)

It’s been a wonderful five years. I’m intensely grateful for it, and uncertain but optimistic about what the future will bring. Thanks to everyone for reading and being a part of this journey. I will totally hit you up to fund my publication/campaign in the future.

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