Coercion, a community norm?

Coercion. I see it in how we do politics in Guelph and in the way ideological “values” are thrust on us, in the way people, typically centre-right ideologically, are vilified for having opposing political views when it comes to how public money is to be spent.

While it can go both ways, I have to say certain “progressive” elements here are the worst for it.

There is a degree of tolerance for coercion here that makes Guelph unique. And we need to start speaking out about it. Is it really what we want for ourselves?

I see coercion in our formal politics. And in that, we should acknowledge how it condones examples of it in social or political activism here as well.

But to distinguish it from how most of us operate, let’s call it “coercive activism”, and also, that it is part of how we often do politics here. Which is to say, there is a disconnect between how we are trending in how we do politics, formally and informally and the people of Guelph.

Try to square how political Guelph is as a community against the low turn-out rates at recent municipal elections. 

So, what about coercive activism here? What happens within a community when activism is a coercive force? Is coercion now to be expected? Is it how activism has to go, if one is to effect change? No, of course not, and as I’ve said the vast number of us in Guelph provide any number of examples of that. It’s actually not who we are.

But is coercion becoming an accepted community norm in Guelph? That is a different matter.

What happens when this community norm is defined by a handful of people?

If it’s not who we are, who brought it here? Who is condoning it? How?

What is considered appropriate as activist expression is somewhat subjective and will vary by community and perhaps by neighbourhood. So, we could go around in circles about what it means to be coerced. But we all know coercion when we experience it. We know when we’ve been bullied.

For some, it’s just about doing what is “necessary” to save us from some certain horrible outcome, at least until we can figure it out ourselves. There is an unusual tolerance in Guelph for taking license, doing something to property — public or private — or to someone’s character as part of “doing the right thing”. But it’s coercive activism. And there is an unusual tolerance in how that licence impacts on people in the here and now.

Bottom line: You could say we have “boundary issues” in Guelph. I think this is a problem for us, and I think the powers-that-be are afraid to talk about it.

— In part, no doubt, because they are afraid of irritating the wrong people, and in part because in addressing it they would need to own their own role in coercion becoming a community norm.

— And, in part because when it comes to doing politics in this town, it can be and has been useful.

Coercion: This is our darkness as a community. Legacies, indeed.

About Craig Chamberlain

Ward 3 Guelph resident, dad and step-dad.
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