Like many people, I love traveling, and a trip to New York City was a welcome idea. After too little sleep and too much coffee, our team arrived in the Big Apple. We were meeting with the people from MCC’s advocacy offices in Washington, DC and at the United Nations.
I’m no idiot, but already by this point in my internship I had realized there were a lot of things about politics I had yet to learn. Like a lot of Canadians, I voted in the last federal election, paid a bit of attention to headlines concerning Parliament, and read articles in a national newspaper. But for the most part, I have very little knowledge of what is actually going on in the Canadian government.
I’ve had friends criticize my desire to join the MCC Ottawa team, effectively saying that taking part in advocating to governing bodies is akin to joining Babylon in her oppression of minority groups. However, it seems inevitable that humans will find ways to govern and organize ourselves, and political bodies are the manifestations of those organizational aspirations. It seems to me then, that Kingdom-focused Christians who advocate for the “least of these” have perhaps the most vital voice to be heard by governing bodies. So I’d packed my bags in the Fraser Valley, and arrived in the National Capital region.
Back to New York. “The City That Never Sleeps” certainly is a good moniker. Standing at Ground Zero was incredibly moving. The two pillars of light that stretched into the sky were a visible reminder of the pain that this city, indeed humanity, has endured. Now to top it off, we were meeting with MCC staff dedicated to monitoring and advocating with the United Nations and the US government. Part of the benefit of having this meeting in New York is the access to the United Nations, and as Canadians, we also had the opportunity to meet with the Canadian Ambassador, Mr. Guillermo Rishchynski.
It’s a big world out there, and many of us likely feel that institutions such as the UN Security Council, House of Commons, and Congress are completely out of our realm of influence and impact. And yet, in a democratic society, the men and women who work in governing bodies are charged with the task of communicating our needs and desires to others in the world, and finding solutions to balancing these needs with the desires of others.
Yet when we have concerns, we far too often seem to acquiesce and say “well, the government is doing their own thing” or “the corporations hold the vote anyways,” instead of advocating for a change in our government’s policies. It’s as though once we’ve voted, we’ve done our civic duty. “Sign a petition? That’s too much to ask of us!” It’s as though we live in a culture of apathy. Unless we are personally affected by an issue, we barely demonstrate concern.
Canadians were horrified by the use of chemical weapons in Syria last month. And yet, we bury our heads in the sand (or snow), sip lattés, and prepare for the hockey season. Believe me, as a BC boy, I get it. Ottawa is a long way from the Fraser Valley; the changes happening in metro Vancouver’s infrastructure are more likely to be of immediate consequence.
Earlier this week, a team of experts suggested that Canada has failed to engage in the international arena in significant ways in recent years. I think there’s a parallel here; while Canadians fail to engage in our national politics, Canada fails to engage in global politics. This week the UN General Assembly is meeting. Although Prime Minister Harper will be in New York, he will not be joining other world leaders in addressing the UN. Again.
What if we’re called to more? What if we demonstrated that we cared about more? What if we knew what was going on in the world around us? What if Ban Ki-Moon’s statements were as commonly discussed at the dinner table as Miley Cyrus’ latest antics? Would that have the potential to create a culture of politically engaged citizens? Would that engender a generation that sought to work for peace, spread the gospel and share their gifts? Would we have a better understanding of how to love our neighbour?
By Mark Tymm, MCC Ottawa Office Advocacy Research Intern. Mark is an Anabaptist of Northern Irish/Canadian descent, a musician and a graduate of Columbia Bible College in Abbotsford.