Thursday, April 12, 2012

New Sarepta High's All-Candidate Forum

Last night saw the largest crowd in the eight-year history of the New Sarepta Political Forum.  Every election... municipal, provincial or federal, social studies teacher Kirsten Newman has her grade 10 social studies class invite candidates to introduce themselves, explain their party's platform and answer questions posed by the students and all the people in the community.

Last night, along with candidates from the governing Progressive Conservatives, the Wildrose Party and the NDP, I had a chance to introduce the new Alberta Party to voters.  Unfortunately, the Liberal candidate didn't attend.  Neither he, nor the ND candidate are from the constituency (which I find a cynical response to an election for local representation... but I won't deal with that now)

Over 120 people showed up to hear the four of us explain our vision for Alberta's future.  A huge portion of the crowd walked into that gym believing their voting choices were limited to the ruling PCs or their conservative cousins... the Wildrose Party.  I have a personal bias, but I'm pretty sure nearly all of them walked out shaking their heads, kind of shocked another credible choice had been offered to them... one they hadn't even considered two hours earlier.

Our current MLA George Rogers was his usual, articulate self... but there were some hard questions for him which he handled with noticeable (not by me... but the audience) disdain.  The Wildrose candidate was a gentleman, but  not up to the task of making his party look like a positive, inspiring choice.  When asked for an explanation of his comments (last week) in a local paper describing today's young people as lazy, he provided a wandering story about his experience in business, teaching young people a work ethic.  He ended on an even more negative note, saying today's parents are failing their children.  That was not well-received... even by those tired of the PCs.

At the end of the night, I couldn't get out of the gym because of the number of people waiting to talk to me.  Hard right conservatives posed good questions about the Alberta Party. Dyed-in-the-wool supporters of the PCs told me, "I'm tired of George... and your party is something to consider." One older woman asked  if I really believed in the Alberta Party, and why voting for us isn't a wasted vote.  When I mused Albertans had so long voted against what we don't want, we had forgotten how to dream and hope.  If we don't start voting and supporting good ideas... even when they're young... we'll sink deeper into a malaise of cynicism and antagonism.  I hope my passion makes a small difference in her last moment in the ballot box.

And here's the kicker (at least for me)... a very influential man in the community--and one who I never suspected I could move--approached me and asked to meet  for coffee. He said, "I think you might be able to have my vote.   I just want to talk about a few things.  I want to be convinced."  Wow! 

I suspect he wants to talk about are my feelings about abortion and and right-to-life issues.  I may not be able to convince him... because while I personally live an incredibly traditionally straight lifestyle, I accept differences without judgement.  What was striking though is that I got so far by talking about the Alberta Party and our way of looking at politics.

When I was a Green candidate, I always campaigned knowing my political affiliation  shut people down before they could hear what I had to say.  Telling people in east-central Alberta I was a Green was like slamming a door on someone's ability to accept a new idea... no matter how good it might be.  That was the biggest outcome (for me) last night; the message of the Alberta Party sold itself.  It is something a lot of people are craving.

Regardless of what happens on election day on the 23rd, the Alberta Party is a big idea... one Albertans are waiting for.

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