One of my most vivid memories is from when I was a little girl. I am probably no more than four years old. I am standing in the playground of my pre-school, looking through the chain-link fence that separates the school from the apartment building next door. It is a glaring, grey afternoon. A “big girl”, perhaps eight years old, is walking up the driveway, obviously coming home from school. She has long brown hair, and is wearing an unzipped jacket, a long-sleeved shirt, a skirt, tights and boots. (It may be late winter, or early spring.) She is also carrying a brightly-coloured lunchbox, and it is this that catches my attention. As I watch her swing it back and forth, I notice another movement out of the corner of my eye. I look past the girl and see a group of about three “big boys”, perhaps her age, perhaps a bit older. From the way they are whispering, pointing at the girl, and laughing among themselves, I know what they are about to do. I watch, nearly paralyzed by the anger building inside my small body, as they run up to the girl and surround her. She puts her arms up in defense, and cries, “No, no!” Ignoring her, the boys take her lunchbox and throw it to the ground, scattering its contents everywhere. Then they run away, laughing. Once they’ve gone, the girl bends down and carefully picks up the pieces. She then continues walking up to her building. Maybe she is crying. I can’t tell. What I can tell, however, is how angry I am. My four-year-old self is practically trembling with rage. I want to tell one of my teachers what those “bad big boys” did to that girl. I want to yell at the boys, myself, for being so mean, especially when the girl didn’t do anything to them. But the boys are long gone. And, I know my teacher wouldn’t have been able to do anything, anyway, nor would boys like that have listened to a baby like me. This feeling of powerlessness is almost as paralyzing as my rage.
They say that memories accompanied by strong emotions are encoded more permanently than others. It’s no wonder, then, that thirty years later, I can still remember that incident. My anger at the injustice of it all was visceral: my blood was boiling, and my throat was tightening with the desire to yell something, even as I knew it would be futile. Thirty years later, and I am feeling that visceral anger again, this time because Toronto Transit Commission Chief Gary Webster has been fired for no good reason (and at no little expense to the City). Five City Councillors on the nine-member TTC Board – Norm Kelly, Frank DiGiorgio, Denzil Minnan-Wong, Cesar Pelacio, and Vincent Crisanti – are upset with Mr. Webster because he does not support Mayor Ford’s plan to build subways along key corridors of the City. Instead, Mr. Webster supports the building of light rail transit lines: a plan that has been shown to be more efficient, cost-effective, and environmentally sound.
In other words, Norm, Frank, Denzil, Cesar and Vincent – some of Rob Ford’s flunkiest flunkies – have removed a dedicated, knowledgeable, highly experienced civil servant because he didn’t tell them what they wanted to hear.
I should mention, now, that the “Lunchbox Incident” is a pretty good indicator of why I grew up to be a social justice advocate. Even as a child, I had a very strong sense of what is fair and what is unfair, of what is right and what is wrong. I had a strong desire to speak out against injustice. This, despite the fact that I was a painfully shy child/teenager/adult who didn’t like to draw attention to herself, and who has only become comfortable with speaking out in recent years because of my profession; one which, incidentally, I chose. (I’ll let you ponder the irony of that.) So, my anger at the actions of the Flunky Five is in perfect keeping with the little girl I used to be. What they have done is no better than what those boys did to that girl back then: they saw someone to pick on, so they did.
Fortunately, I am no longer that powerless little girl. I am no longer paralyzed by my anger over injustice. The same can be said of the residents of Toronto, in that there has been resistance to the Flunky Five’s plan to fire Mr. Webster since the news of their “special meeting”¹ was first made public. There will continue to be resistance now that he is gone. I hope that the Flunky Five are prepared for the consequences of their decision. With a city, and a Council, that is becoming more anti-Ford with each passing day, they won’t be able to run away like those “bad big boys” did. They are going to have to answer for their actions. They are going to have to act like grown-ups.
Given their behaviour of late, I doubt any of them are up to the task.
1. I have to say that, when I first heard about this meeting, it reminded me of nothing more than a group of children getting together and arbitrarily deciding that one of their peers was no longer allowed in the club. These are the kinds of power games that some children play as they are figuring out how to become adults. I wonder what Councillors Kelly, DiGiorgio, Minnan-Wong, Pelacio and Crisanti’s excuse is.